50 Years After MLK’s Assassination – A Tale Of Four Cities, Memphis To Beijing

video still of the Reverend Martin Luther King delivering his "I have been to the Mountaintop" oration in Memphis on April 3, 1968

by Richard Cameron


Memphis and Martin Luther King’s Assassination

On this day, 50 years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death. He had come to Memphis, Tennessee the day prior, to join in solidarity with Black city sanitation workers. They and King were known as ‘Negroes’ at the time – and that was the more polite term.

The men were on strike to protest unequal pay and dangerous work conditions. While whites were paid even if they stayed home during severe weather events, blacks would be docked for those days if they tried it. Whites received overtime pay – not so the black workers. Since they could not afford to lose the pay, they showed up and some paid the cost with their lives, including two men, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by their rubbish truck’s garbage compactors.

In February of that year – 1968, when black citizens marched on city hall to protest the Mayor’s refusal to allow sanitation workers collective bargaining rights, police were ordered to use mace and tear gas on them.

King had visited Memphis on a number of occasions prior to April 3rd of that year. In mid March, he told a gathering of 25,000 civil rights activists and supporters of the sanitation workers that, “You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down”

Just prior to his April visit, King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) received bomb threats, including to blow up the jet that King flew into Memphis on.  Dr. King was undeterred and poignantly underlined his steadfast determination in the speech given on April 3rd, known thereafter as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address.  Here, is the audio and some images of that historic oration:

That was to be the last visit to Memphis Dr. King would ever make and the last speech he would ever make anywhere. In fact it was the day before the last day of his life. Of the remembrance, public assemblies and tributes taking place nationally, the Los Angeles Times notes that, in an echo of King’s visit to Memphis in, many people on Wednesday carried black-and-white signs identical to ones carried that year (below photo) by striking sanitation workers: “I AM A MAN.”

press photo (Copley News) of black men protesting in Memphis during the Sanitation Worker strike in 1968

Washington

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a University of Arizona police officer could not be sued in civil courts for a highly questionable shooting of Amy Hughes. The ruling was 7-2, with Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissenting – Sotomayor demurring that:

“It’s (the court’s) decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public,” she wrote. “It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

The victim of the shooting is not black, but civil rights is at its roots, not a racial issue, but a constitutional rights issue, a human rights issue, a basic decency and fairness issue.

The record of court cases and trials, including those that wound their way through the system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, dealing with demonstrable uses of excessive force against American citizens has been one of serial rubber stamping of brutality, extra-judicial executions in streets and neighborhoods and violations of civil rights.

Sacramento

photo montage of Stephon Clark and his family, unarmed victim of 20 rounds of bullets in a Sacramento police shooting, including 6 shots in the back

Protests continue in California’s state capitol city in response to the shooting of unarmed black man, Stephon Clark (above photo).

Autopsy reports show the 22 year old Clark, who had on his person, nothing more deadly than a cell phone, was shot at least 6 times in the back – 20 bullets smashing into his body overall.

The medical examiner that conducted the post mortem on Clark – Dr. Bennet Omalu, told reporters in a press conference that Mr Clark was shot three times in his lower back, twice near his right shoulder, once in his neck – the bullet fired from the side and once under an armpit. The victim was also shot in the leg.

Matt Barnes, former Sacramento Kings NBA team athlete, spoke to protesters at the Rally for Unity and Action during the fifth day of protests which continue today, telling them that “It’s more than color. It’s about wrong and right.”  But Barnes, who also attended Clark’s funeral, promoted solutions, not violence. Mr Barnes told the crowd that at least part of the answer is a renewed effort towards better understanding between communities and law enforcement: “These officers don’t know us and we don’t know them. Together we’re much stronger than being separate.”

Clark’s uncle, Curtis Gordon said regarding the violence against men of color, “You don’t know what it’s like until you experience it. You can see it on TV, it’s totally OK to deal with those realities when it’s just through a television and they’re not in your home. It’s different now.”

While it is certainly true that blacks have made advancements in the five decades since MLK’s murder, it would be a bit presumptive to classify America as in a ‘post racial’ era.  It should also be said that more whites, in terms of numbers, if not per capita – are victims of excessive force from police.  Nevertheless, African-Americans are still the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” in terms of how much and what sort of justice actually takes place in the American justice system – and still, too often, the canary is suffocated by it.

Beijing

And in Beijing, China – we bring you news of a woman who is arguably a strong symbol and legacy of the spirit and courage of Martin Luther King, Jr. in her corner of the world, boldly defying authorities in one of the most oppressive and hateful police state regimes on the face of the planet in 2018 – and for over 80 years. 

Li Wenzu, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, talks to reporters outside a Supreme People's Court complaints office in Beijing, China April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Li Wenzu Quanzhang, (photo right) wife of ‘detained’ civil rights attorney, Wang Quanzhang, began her 100 kilometer (62 mile) march to Tianjin city, where it is believed state authorities are holding her husband currently, and have been since August of 2015.

The government has not disclosed Quanzhang’s official whereabouts, have not allowed his wife to see or to speak to him and have even denied access to Quanzhang’s own legal representative.

Li does not know even if her husband is still alive or in what condition he might be in if he is.

The Chinese ‘Security Police’ and prison authorities are known to torture political prisoners for the purposes of teaching them a lifelong lesson – if they survive it; to extract ‘confessions’ and, at other times, merely for the entertainment of the captors. 

photo of protesters calling for the release of Chinese civil and human rights lawyers imprisoned by the Chinese government as political prisoners during the '709' crackdown

Quanzhang was swept up in a party ordered national crackdown of civil rights lawyers in July, dubbed the “709” (July 9) crackdown – in which 200 – and according to other reports, 319 of these watchdogs and reformers were arrested, jailed and held without charges.  The People’s Daily, the official propaganda organ of the ruling Communist Party, described some of the prominent detainees as “a major criminal gang that has seriously damaged social order”.  ‘Social orde’ is code for silence, acquiescence and subservience to the national and regional government.

Dissent in China touches a very sensitive and paranoid nerve with top national and regional party officials. Going on three years, most of these men, considered ‘enemies of the state’ are still being held.  A number of the men arrested in the 709 sweep, were successfully forced to admit to political crimes and sentenced in sham proceedings lacking any semblance of due process.

Mr. Quanzhang, who himself represented defendants that the Chinese government both feared and loathed, including members of the peaceful Falun Gong and Civil Society movements, remains the only of the over 300 whose status and whereabouts have not been disclosed.

Reuters reported that  Li Wenzu said she expected the walk to Tianjin, to take 12 days and that she would be on the road during day 1,000 since her husband was abducted by the security police.  Li also stated that, “[They have] abused all of our rights. Arresting an innocent person like this, locking him up for almost 1,000 days, I think this is cruel. It’s heartless.”

She is being accompanied by Wang Qiaoling, wife of another prominent rights lawyer, Li Heping.  Heping was more fortunate than Quanzhang, in that he only received a three-year suspended sentence for ‘subversion’ last April.

Li is not the only woman to risk standing up to the government regarding the conditions and treatment of her detained husband. The Hong Kong Free Press says that after Chinese New Year in February, Wang Qiaoling and Li Wenzu started visiting other families affected in the crackdown. “This brought a very big change to us. Because alone we were very lonely, and facing these circumstances we were very afraid. But together we can encourage each other. This was of great benefit to us,” said Li.

The Chinese government spares no occasion to proclaim that it has provisions to protect human rights.  No one – not even, and especially not their own citizens believe any of it. They have no reason to. The Chinese state is very analogous to that of a wife battering husband, who steadfastly maintains publicly that he loves his wife dearly, has no idea where she received the bruises and broken ribs – and when she turns up missing, hasn’t the slightest idea where she might be. In this similitude – the wife is the Chinese citizen, under a constant shadow of fear.

What we know of the reality of Chinese society originates from two basic sources, the national publicity machine of China, putting the best face on the situation to the world – and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The average citizen you see in media portrayals of life in Chinese cities has to be tempered with the reality that Chinese citizens, by and large are terror stricken of what the state is capable of and keep their heads low, accordingly. They are surveilled virtually everywhere – knowing that the security police are using the latest in cutting edge facial recognition and tracking software networked with the street cameras. 

Women like Li Wenzu are the Martin Luther King’s of that nation’s civil rights struggle – a struggle that continues throughout the world.  

Please follow and like us:

Related posts

Leave a Reply