A time for sober reflection

Race Issues | Forty-six years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, America still struggles with racial tension and divisions
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 1/19/15, 08:50 am

Had Martin Luther King Jr. lived to see his 86th birthday he would have witnessed a year of frustration among races in the United States. Even before the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., seeds of distrust between racial groups were sprouting in America. Here is a collection of images and words that capture a year of tension and what Americans had to say about events as they unfolded:

“As my father stated, ‘When the dawn reveals a landscape dotted with obstacles, the time has come for sober reflection, for assessment of our methods, and for anticipating pitfalls.’ This nation, and indeed, the world, is in need of an influx of citizens who are soberly reflecting, assessing and anticipating, then choosing nonviolence as a lifestyle,” said Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., as she awaited the grand jury’s decision about whether to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“So when this thing in Ferguson hit, all the raw emotions of being black in America just found me. … I try hard for them not to find me, but they just do,” said Mike Higgins, pastor of South City Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in St. Louis after the shooting death of Michael Brown.

“I was extremely worried that people would lose their lives like they did in 1992 in Los Angeles. Gunfire, all of the armed folks engaging in civil disobedience, those are very dangerous combinations, so I was very afraid for the people of Ferguson and the police department. … It also reminds me of how far we’ve come,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, comparing the situation in Ferguson to L.A.’s 1992 riots, which erupted after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers from charges of excessive use of force against an unarmed black man. Above, people in L.A. protest a St. Louis grand jury decision not indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

“You have these kids out here who think, ‘Nobody cares about us. No one’s paying attention to us. We don’t count for anything. You’re not listening,’” said Tamara King, a St. Louis resident who joined peaceful daytime protests in Ferguson, such as the one seen above, after Brown’s death.

“In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates,” said President Barack Obama, speaking the night a grand jury issued its decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown. Obama met Dec. 1 at the White House with leaders and community members, shown above, to discuss ways to improve police-community relations.

“President Obama gave a very helpful, good statement the other night after the decision to not indict the police officer was read. It wasn’t alarmist. It wasn’t race-baiting. It just was what it was. And if we can look at this and say that there’s nothing more to this, there’s really no wounds in the African-American community that are legitimate … these are real issues. And it’s time for Christians to listen,” said John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced. Above, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a pastor from First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., gives instructions during a protest training session in in St. Louis in November.

“[A] government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, after a grand jury declined to indict officers in the death of Eric Garner in New York City. “We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African-American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.” Above, demonstrators in New York City protest that decision.

“For every one looter there are a thousand people willing to help,” said St. Louis County resident Bart Bouchein, who with Jodi Wurm, pictured above, and many others helped clean up in Ferguson after protests.

“We don’t see each other—the people, the police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us—we don’t see each other. If we could learn to see each other, then when we see each other, we’ll heal. We’ll heal as a department, we’ll heal as a city, we’ll heal as a country. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate honor for Officers Ramos and Liu? That their deaths would help us heal.” New York City Police Commissioner at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos, who was gunned down by a man who claimed to be taking revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Ramos is survived by his wife Maritza Ramos (center) and sons Justin, left, and Jaden.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.”

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

Read more from this writer