50 Years After Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination, America Still Struggling to Reach the ‘Mountaintop’

Nearly 50 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, his protégé Jesse Jackson ticks off a list of the many ways in which the civil rights leader’s push for people to reach what he called the “mountaintop” — a final plateau of racial and economic harmony — continues to be a struggle.

Jackson, who was with King in Memphis to press for fair wages for the city’s sanitation workers on the day of the killing, notes all these years later, more than half of African-American workers earn less than $15 an hour — and income inequality in America has ballooned.

White supremacists, Jackson said, are boldly and more frequently espousing their racist views in the aftermath of President Trump taking office.

And a string of police shootings of unarmed black men and women — including the controversial shooting death of Stephon Clark last month in Sacramento — continues to exacerbate an uneasy relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community.

“We are paying a price for ignoring Dr. King’s prophetic wisdom,” Jackson, head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, told USA TODAY. “Fewer and fewer have more and more, and more and more have less and less. We have a bigger military budget than the next 15 nations combined. At home, we have 350 million guns in the street. We’re becoming consumed and addicted by violence abroad and at home.”

On Wednesday, the nation marks 50 years since King was shot on April 4, 1968, as he stood on his balcony at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel — a dark moment in American history that triggered riots and violence in more than 100 U.S. cities.

In Memphis, civil rights leaders will commemorate King’s legacy with a march through the city. In Washington, the National Council of Churches will hold a rally on the National Mall they say will be the starting point of a multi-year effort with the lofty goal of eradicating racism and bringing the country together. Smaller memorials honoring King are scheduled throughout the country.

But the solemn milestone also is being observed as the nation finds itself wading through choppy waters  in race relations.

Last month’s police shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man who was killed by police officers in Sacramento responding to a call of someone breaking a window, ignited angry protests and renewed the national debate about police tactics in black communities.

Clark, 22, is just the latest in a long list of police shootings of black men —such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Laquan McDonald in Chicago; and Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C.— that have shaken America in recent years.

“I think King would be asking questions today similar to those he was asking near the end of his life with the Poor People’s Campaign and with the garbage workers’ strike in Memphis,” said Kofi Ademola, 37, an organizer for the Baltimore and Chicago student group Good Kids Mad City, which advocates for broad changes in the justice system. “I think he would be a police and prison abolitionist. He’d be the one saying we need better systems that focus more on humanity.”

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SOURCE: Aamer Madhani