01/13/2012 05:29 pm ET Updated Mar 14, 2012

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend and next Monday our nation will once again commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He would have been 83 years old had he lived. I am proud that Stanford University once again has placed a large red banner over the main entrance to the campus, which says "Stanford Remembers Martin Luther King, Jr." It will remain up for all of next week. Other universities might consider following Stanford's example.

The most frequent question asked of me since April 4th, 1968, the date of Dr. King's assassination, is what do I think Dr. King would say or do about this or that issue confronting our country and communities today?

Of the many things spoken and written by Martin Luther King, Jr., one which often comes to mind is:

We must rapidly begin to shift from a 'thing oriented" society to a 'person-oriented society.' When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

What are some of the issues Dr. King would most likely talk about in January 2012? It is formidable and challenging, even for those of us who worked closely with him to interpret his views today on current issues. However, it is not difficult to recite some of those issues and events that would undoubtedly attract his attention and illicit a response.

For example:

The income and wealth disparity in our nation today. In an earlier post of November 26th, 2011, entitled "The Moral Challenge of 'Shared Sacrifice' to Income Inequality in the Second Decade of the 21st Century." I wrote:

Over 40 million Americans live in poverty today in the richest country in history. 50 million or more are without health insurance, and over 40 percent of the poor are unprotected. The child poverty rate increased from 1968 to 2007. For children aged 5 and younger, the poverty rate in America is almost 25 percent today. The American child poverty rate is about 4.5 times the average child poverty rate for Western European countries. The African-American poverty rate has dramatically increased since 2000 and has continued to rise after Jan 19, 2009, the inauguration of President Obama... Over the last 40 years, America has had the most growth in wage inequality in the industrialized world... productivity has increased significantly in America, but corporations have increased wages little, in real terms... Today, CEOs of large American companies earn about 275 times or more than the average worker.

Dr. King would marshal every strength in his body to summon the attention and conscience of our nation and our government to this existing income and wealth disparity and publicly comment on the potential adverse consequences to our body politic.

2. The rise in the absolute number and in the ratio and percentage of African-American males incarcerated in the United States. He would seek the wisdom and counsel of Professor Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Professor Alexander brought to our attention that:

  • There are more African-Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
  • As of 2004, more African-American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
  • If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African-American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits -- much as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.

These facts and findings convert Dr.King's August 1963 "Dream" and hopes for a better America for African-Americans in to a temporary "nightmare" of horrors. Initially it might seem to him that everything that he had worked so hard and died for had been subverted into the worst of all possible worlds.

Dr. King was a minster of the gospel before he was a "civil rights leader." He would look on the issue of this new "mass incarceration" described by Professor Michelle Alexander as an unprecedented opportunity. He would "seize the time" and call for national action by our government and leaders of Faith based community organizations to immediately develop effective programs responsive to the alarm sounded by Professor Alexander.

3. The rise of the Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy the Dream, a coalition of African-American churches loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, plans to hold demonstrations at all 13 Federal Reserve Banks across the country this month. The protests, set for Jan. 16 -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day -- will draw clergy, Occupy protesters and "others concerned about income inequality and economic injustice in America. (Excerpt from their Press Release) Read more at the Washington Examiner.

In an earlier blog posted on November 2nd, I referred to an August 29th, 2011, New York Times in an editorial, entitled "Dr. King's Dreams." The editorial reminded us that "The "Dream" speech occurred at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Times continued, in their editorial, to note:

In the following years, until he was assassinated in 1968, Dr. King focused primarily on the need for economic justice and the grim problem of poverty that remains so significant for all races today.

He later proposed a "Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged," calling on government to spend $100 billion over the course of a decade (the equivalent of $650 billion now) on assistance for housing, employment and education. The Chicago campaign of peaceful protests was met by angry mobs -- hurling rocks and shouting slurs. The effort sputtered.

While Dr. King would likely embrace efforts of OWS to focus on the apparent unfairness and arrogance the way Wall Street titans of finance, treat its customers, he would disassociate himself and disavow all acts of violence or expressions of anti-Semitism that have occurred in some OWS demonstrations. And, of course, he would join with his brothers and sisters leading a coalition of African-American churches this weekend and throughout their demonstrations at all 13 Federal Reserve Banks.

4. Wanton gun violence and "garbagerization" of our entertainment mass media and motion pictures by the "glorification" of violence. In a private email to several friends of mine last week, captioned "The Obscenity of Silence" I quoted an article which had appeared in a local newspaper, The San Francisco Bay Citizen. The article reported that:

Five-year-old Gabriel Martinez Jr. died Dec. 30, shot as he played under a streetlight near his father's taco truck on an East Oakland street corner. He was the third young child killed in Oakland since August, the 110th homicide of 2011, and the 199th juvenile shooting victim of more than 2,000 people who were victims of gun violence in an especially bloody year in an increasingly violent city.

His killer has not been found. There have been no arrests. In that, the shooting of the boy known in the neighborhood as Gabrielito is typical. According to preliminary data provided to The Bay Citizen by the Oakland Police Department, of the 1,500 reported incidents of gun violence in the city last year, arrests were made in just 117 of the cases -- less than 8 percent. In 2010, the police made arrests in close to 13 percent of the 1,280 shootings. There were 1,045 shootings in 2009, according to the police department.

After several years of declining rates of violent crime in the Bay Area, Oakland shooting incidents increased dramatically in 2011. On an average day, five or six people were shot or shot at. The number of shootings is up 60 percent in the past five years, according to Urban Strategies Council, a crime analysis firm previously under a city contract.

What do you think Dr. King would say about events reported in this newspaper story?

5. The role and inaction of the leadership of major religions and Faith based organizations in publicly taking a stand, instead of the "comfort" of amoral silence about many of the critical issues confronting our country.

I believe Dr. King would be absolutely appalled by the extent to which religious leaders have fostered meanness and divisiveness or stood silent in the face of some of the egregious acts and statements of hatred expressed against gays, political opponents, Hispanics and African-Americans, including instances of outright anti-white racism by African-Americans. It appears that religious leaders of the prosperity and motivational gospel live in a parallel universe, standing on the sidelines, and offering no moral active community leadership on the critical issues confronting and dividing our country. I can hear the voice of Dr. King repeatedly saying during the course of his life and leadership that all it takes for evil to triumph is for "good "people to remain silent.

I would recommend that all Faith based leaders to read or re-read Dr. King's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail."

6. America's role in the Israel Palestinian dispute.

Dr. King was an early vocal and public supporter of the State of Israel. He was especially mindful of the invaluable strategic support the American Jewish community provided to the success of the Civil Rights Movement in transforming race relations in America and ending racial segregation. He was also a champion of the rights of self-determination and undoubtedly would have fully supported an independent Palestinian State. Dr. King was a politically astute leader and knowledgeable of Jewish history and the liberation movements in several developing countries.

Accordingly, it is my best conjecture that he would counsel that no lasting peace can be achieved between Israel and the PLO without an absolute commitment to non-violence by both parties; that a "two State solution" is probably unlikely in the absence of a public commitment by the Palestinians to recognize Israel as "a Jewish State" AND a public commitment by Israel to freeze all settlement activity in territory it occupies; currently the subject of the very land which is necessary for a viable "two State solution." (I want to make it very clear: this is MY OPINION after years of close political advisory work with Martin Luther King, Jr. as to how he might view the current Israel Palestinian dispute. By definition, then, it cannot be cited as in fact Dr. King's opinion.)

7. The conspicuous consumption of material things and ostentatious display of wealth.
Jay Z and Beyonce paying $1.500,000 to reserve a private floor at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY for the birth of their baby, the purchase of $25,000 medallions as neck wear by several NBA players, and multiple expensive cars.

8. The continued failure of the War on Drugs and its social and economic consequences.Those who regularly read the Huffington Post can easily discern my comments on this issue.

9.The Forthcoming Presidential Election.
I have stated in at least two earlier blogs that this election will be one to redefine who we are as a nation. It may be the most important election since that of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr, in 1932. Dr. King would indeed comment on this major political event.