“We have some difficult days ahead.” This resounding statement was made by my father, in his final speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968. Who would have imagined that, 47 years later, those difficult days would include one like today, when this nation is grappling with the tragic police-related deaths of unarmed black males? Or that difficult days would become difficult decades, as almost 5 decades later, 147 students were just massacred in Kenya, poverty persists as a global epidemic, and the United States continues to contend with a pervasive racism that seeks to diminish black lives?
As we ponder these questions and endure these difficult days, my thoughts and prayers are with Walter Scott’s family, including his parents, Walter Scott, Sr. and Judy Scott and his four children; and with the North Charleston, South Carolina community. Walter Scott was a former member of the United States Coast Guard, a servant of this country. He was a father to four now fatherless children. I know the heartbreak that his children are experiencing, as I was left fatherless when my father was assassinated. Walter Scott was also a beloved son and brother. And his parents, who probably never envisioned burying their son, now face life without him. As his mother stated, she is “torn to pieces.” I am also praying for the family of Officer Michael Slager, especially his pregnant wife. Her life, too, has been “torn” by this tragedy.
I believe, that if we do not respond to the death of Walter Scott and similar incidents with the “fierce urgency of now,” the moral fabric of this nation will continue to be “torn to pieces.” I implore city councils and police departments, even those that are demonstrating integrity and commitment to protect and serve all citizens, to convene strategic meetings to which other concerned citizens focused on nonviolent social change are invited. The purpose of these meetings would be to discuss officer training, departmental policies and the use of ‘black’ or ‘dark’ targets in target practice sessions. I think that the use of these targets can create a subconscious predisposition to viewing black bodies as a threat and as expendable beings. This, along with hundreds of years of systemic racism and white supremacy, could lend itself to deadly force towards blacks; and are what I believe to be among the root causes of the problems within some of our law enforcement agencies and/or with some of our law enforcement officers, which have resulted in numerous tragic police-related shootings of unarmed men, and especially unarmed men of color, in recent years.
In the next few days, I will extend an invitation to metro Atlanta police chiefs and other City of Atlanta officials for a meeting to discuss these issues, using my father’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology, which The King Center calls Nonviolence 365, as the foundation for the discussion. As a nation and as a global community, we must, with more cohesion, address what my father called the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism. Certainly, all three of these evils factor into the unjustifiable deaths of unarmed black citizens during encounters with law enforcement. And, all three are destructive forces that deter the building of the Beloved Community.
We have a choice to make, a choice that will determine whether we build the Beloved Community or experience the tragic aftermath of violence. As my father stated, our choice is between “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.” We must choose nonviolence.