Taking the dream forward
Tomorrow we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama’s second term as President. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in August 1963.
We’ve come a long way, of course, but have so far to go, toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation that judges people by character rather than skin color, toward a “more perfect union,” toward a nation that lives out the true meaning of our founding ideal of equality.
There are so many ways to be part of this struggle. If he were alive today, I believe Dr. King would be standing with immigrant activists struggling for the NYS Dream Act and for fair and comprehensive immigration reform, and with low-wage workers (in fast-food restaurants, car-washes, bodegas, and so many other places) fighting for dignity and better pay, as he was when he was killed.
And I think he would be organizing to address the gun violence plaguing our society, while also insisting on policing that respects the dignity of every human being.
In that spirit, I will commemorate MLK Day tomorrow by joining One Million Mothers for Gun Control in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, to call for strong national gun control legislation. You can join us at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn at 9:15 AM, or at the City Hall steps at 10:30 AM. After a year with an unimaginable number of mass shootings in America, the urgency for this legislation could not be clearer. We will be calling on Congress to follow through on President Obama’s call to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and require universal background checks for all gun purchasers. More information is here.
While the media focus is often on the horrific mass killings that have mostly happened in white communities, reducing gun violence is a civil rights issue. Communities of color bear much of the pain and loss of our national gun violence crisis. Too many of the little boys and girls that Dr. King dreamed for 40 years ago are being killed by guns.
At the same time, it is important to remember that insisting on policing with dignity and equality is a long-standing civil rights issue as well. As the data shows, and a Federal judge ruled last year, the NYPD’s current approach to stop-and-frisk is unjustly skewed against African-American and Latino young men, and reveals “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
That’s why, over the past year, I have been working with NYC civil rights leaders to ensure that our policing strategies are the most effective possible to keep guns off the street, build community-police partnerships, and respect the civil rights of all New Yorkers. I am a proud co-sponsor of the NYC Community Safety Act, introduced by my colleague Councilmember Jumaane Williams (who I believe is doing as much as anyone in NYC to lead in the spirit of Dr. King’s dream). The Act will address ongoing concerns with the unconstitutional racial profiling of stop-and-frisk and the surveillance of Muslim communities.
One component of the Community Safety Act is the creation of an NYPD Inspector General. Inspectors General provide oversight and recommend improved practices for the FBI, the CIA, large police forces elsewhere in the country, and every other major agency here in New York City. We want nothing less for the NYPD. If you haven’t already, please sign our petition for the NYPD Inspector General Act.
I hope you can join us at the gun control march tomorrow morning. It’ll be cold, so bundle up. You’ll have enough time afterward to get home to watch President Obama’s inauguration, or to join an MLK Day of Service with young people in Red Hook.
As we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday and President Obama’s inauguration, let's keep marching.
P.S. Last week, we lost a dear friend in our community, and someone who spent her life in service to Dr. King’s dream. Chris Molnar – Park Slope resident, PS 107 & Brooklyn Prospect mom, and executive director of the youth-services organization Safe Space in Queens – was an activist for justice, a real social-service leader, a giving friend, a great athlete, a lover of the outdoors, a joyful person, and a loving mother. You could see the connection she forged between her deep love and care for her two great kids, and the love and care she longed for all kids in NYC to have, through her work at Safe Space. You can read tributes to her here and here, or make a donation to Safe Space in her memory.
What does your neighborhood need? An improved park? Safer streets? New school technology? In participatory budgeting, you give your ideas and City Councilmember Brad Lander has set aside $1 million to fund them. And your votes will decide which projects get funded.