On April 4th, 1968, the world mourned. Assassinated on that day, Martin Luther King, Jr. was no longer a living revolutionary, but a fallen hero transcribed through the annals of whitewashed history. To date, he sprinkles the pages of dilapidated public school textbooks, while his image is conspicuously placed on crumbling classroom walls during Black History Month. History does not detail the radical ideological spirit that encompasses the man who activated an international community towards social justice; he is a diluted and sedated caricature befitting the principles of white paternalism.
In order to correct this grave misrepresentation, #ReclaimMLK is an initiative that highlights the radical underpinning which defines Dr. King’s socio-political ideology. In an effort to humanize the legend and appropriately showcase his labor without whitewashed window dressing, #ReclaimMLK exposes the overlooked radical elements of Dr. King.
Working towards a community adjoined through racial and economic equity, Dr. King’s legacy has not been realized in a country that painstakingly embraces the ruthlessness of capitalism. Ironically, the loudest supporters of unchecked capitalism egregiously use Dr. King and his legacy as a duplicitous tactic meant to alleviate growing discontent and disillusionment with the capitalist system. They do so without a comprehensive knowledge of Dr. King’s work. Talking from both sides of their mouths, they “honor” Dr. King as a good ole Negro moderate, while chastising contemporary Black activists and organizers for our apparent lack of white consideration.
Despite their persistent attempts to make it so, Dr. King was not merely a passive Black leader; he was a radical revolutionary whose vision of a racially and economically equitable society has yet to be realized. Dr. King’s next frontier was confronting economic inequity manifested through institutional racism. The intersection between race and class is exactly where we find ourselves today through the predatory prison industrial complex and broken windows policing.
Towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the longstanding racial hierarchy needed to be maintained. Gone were the days of Jim Crow; overt racism was socially repugnant. The system needed to be revamped in a manner that detached itself from the form of racism that one could easily pinpoint. President Nixon said it best:
“The whole problem is the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
His final solution was the War on Drugs, a national law enforcement program that encouraged hyper-aggressive policing in predominately Black, low-income neighborhoods. The War on Drugs accelerated under the watchful eye of President Reagan. Ever since, low-income communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and victimized by draconian and ineffective policies. The conglomerate criminal justice system has been complicit in these harsh maneuvers, while the corporate sector silently slithers in, routinely amassing obscene wealth from the inorganic demand for prisoner labor. The prison industrial complex is a faceless and barbaric system operating on racist undercurrents with the ultimate intention of stockpiling wealth.
New York City upped the ante thorough broken windows policing. A theory, the broken windows model prompts law enforcement entities to aggressively target minor crimes and offenses in a preemptive attempt to curb more serious crimes in the future. The model does not work. Instead, broken windows policing invites racial profiling, escalates the possibility of violent confrontation, and fractures relations between police and communities. We saw the model at work in Staten Island. Allegedly selling loose cigarettes, Eric Garner was cornered by multiple police officers before Officer Daniel Panteleo applied the illegal chokehold that subsequently killed the asthmatic father of six.
These racist methods stand in direct refutation to Dr. King’s fight for racial and economic equity. Crippling entire generations of Black and Latinos, particularly youth, the prison industrial complex alongside broken windows policing violently creates an invisible underclass of permanently branded criminals. But the criminal justice system is just one example of the dream unrealized. Voting rights, a cause that is durably linked to Dr. King, is mercilessly under attack.
In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (1965), a comprehensive body of legislation that Dr. King courageously fought for. The Court ruled unconstitutional the core segment of the Act which required federal approval for changes in voting procedures in localities historically known for restricting Black access to voting booths. The evisceration of this iconic legal requirement came during the time when states were deliberately changing voting procedures to ensure less accessibility for Black, Latino, and young voters. Active voter suppression laws were of no concern to the highest court of the land, with Chief Justice Roberts reasoning that the crux of the Act was unnecessary since voting rates among the races “now approach parity” and discriminatory voting practices are “rare.” A faux pas in legal judgment, a plethora of acclaimed resources easily dispute the notion that racism in voting methods is no longer an issue.
The basket of institutional racism is topped off by the overarching economic disparities that continue to widen at alarming rates. In a 2014 study, The Pew Research Center showed that the median income for a white household is close to $142,000 compared to the meager $11,000 for Black households.
The amalgamation of racially predatory laws and the economic incentives that fuel them, contribute to the direly uneven distribution of wealth in this nation. Furthermore, with the burgeoning demand for police body cameras, companies like TASER International stand to gain enormous profit from the raptorial surveillance of Black communities. The cycle continues.
This is not the society Dr. King envisioned. Forever enmeshed in the inescapable clutches of capitalism was not the ideal blueprint for a racially and economically equitable world. Many tout that we have effectively dismantled racism in respect to Dr. King’s legacy. Clearly, we haven’t. Racism is still here—creatively hidden, sure—but here nonetheless. It’s an affront to his legacy to suggest otherwise.