MIDDLETOWN — Butler and Warren County residents on Monday will pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. at church services, marches and ceremonies honoring those committed to living out his dream.
But as the holiday approaches, leaders locally and nationwide are also calling for residents to remember King’s teachings as the nation grapples with last week’s Arizona shooting that killed six and injured 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Middletown City Councilwoman Anita Scott Jones, who is a native of Montgomery, Ala., said the tragedy in Tuscon is in stark contrast to King’s mission.
“Martin Luther King’s life was about nonviolence. He was all about inclusiveness of all races and all people regardless of their beliefs. What happened in Arizona is a reminder that we still have a ways to go,” Scott Jones said.
Giffords was shot in the head allegedly by 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner during a public forum. The assassination attempt has some questioning the political rhetoric on the national stage that has referenced guns and targeting government officials with whom they disagree.
Jeffrey Diver, director of Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families, said the actions a week ago are a sad commentary on the extreme response to differing beliefs.
“Regardless of anyone’s politics, even if we disagree with them, we have a great recourse and that’s called voting them out,” Diver said.
In his words
“We as a society have not learned to disagree without being violently disagreeable.”
Those were the words from Martin Luther King Jr. following the assassination of fellow civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965.
King’s words came to bear again last week when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot during a public forum in Tuscon, Ariz.
As area residents prepare to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the King holiday, leaders locally and nationwide are cautioning people against dangerous rhetoric, placing politicians in gun-sight cross hairs, and asking them to learn from King’s teachings of nonviolence.
“It’s unfortunate that we have political leaders who are advocating violence in their speeches, but who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions once violence takes place,” said Hamilton City Councilman Archie Johnson, referring to former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, who once urged her followers: “Don’t retreat, reload.”
“If we’ve learned anything from King, it’s that we have to be very careful and very critical about people advocating any kind of violence.”
The civil rights leader fought to end racial discrimination through nonviolent means and was a champion for the poor before he was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.
Johnson called for politicians to tone down and steer clear from violent metaphors and bring people together as King did.
“King’s vision was to give the downtrodden a voice, to help people who were not given an opportunity,” Johnson said.
“Our role (as politicians) is to help bring people together toward a common goal, to find commonality. That’s why he had people of all ages and races a part of that movement. We’ve deviated from that. It’s now more about the party than it is about the people.”
Former Miami University Middletown visiting professor Darius Prier agreed.
Prier said at a time when the poor economy has caused record numbers to lose their jobs and homes, leaders locally and nationwide should be fighting to help those who are struggling and not dividing the nation along party lines.
“Before (King) died he was fighting for a poor people’s campaign. He was fighting for the underclass,” Prier said.
Prier called for a return to healthy debates.
“We need to learn we can agree to disagree without using a gun to solve the problem,” Prier said.
“We have to ask ourselves how what we’re saying impacts society as a whole.”
John McCluskey, a Middletown native and retired Indiana University Department Chair and professor of African American Studies, surmised that King would be disappointed with the political discourse, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and increase in violence in the country today.
“He’d be disappointed and shocked at the amount of violence that still takes place in this country,” McCluskey said.
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