Fifty years ago Wednesday, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. A well-known sentence from the message encapsulated his vision: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
America’s civil rights movement and racial balancing act have taken many twists and turns in the five decades since those words were spoken. What would Dr. King think of the current racial climate if he were alive today? Are modern leaders—who claim to be continuing King’s work—really fighting to achieve the colorblind society of judgement based on character that he envisioned?
For the answer, take a look at one of the most high-profile news stories in recent memory: the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
The case was about whether or not the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense. But activists, newspapers, columnists, bloggers, tweeters and politicians—including the U.S. president—were largely uninterested in the evidence. Most focused instead on another trial that’s still underway today. In this ongoing trial, the culprit is white racism, the offense is harming black people, and the verdict is always the same: guilty.
That’s the unyielding narrative pushed by modern activists. Anything that contradicts it is ignored or labeled as racist.
In Florida v. Zimmerman, there was no shortage of evidence shining light on what Dr. King would have called “the content of Trayvon Martin’s character”: A text message record showed that the 17-year-old picked fights often and wanted a rematch with a certain opponent because he “hadn’t bled enough” the first time Trayvon overpowered him; a Facebook post showed Trayvon’s half-brother acknowledging his fighting expertise and asking Trayvon to teach him how to brawl; another Facebook post showed that Trayvon used an illegal codeine-based drug known to cause paranoia and panic attacks; school records showed that he had been suspended for possession of illegal drugs; a search of his backpack produced a burglary tool and some stolen property.
Zimmerman’s attorneys wanted this evidence presented to jurors because it could help determine questions relevant to the case about Martin’s character—primarily if it was possible that he was the aggressor in the fatal confrontation. But Prosecutor John Guy said jurors shouldn’t be presented with it because, “It would mislead the jury and be prejudicial.” The judge agreed and the jurors were not allowed to know about Trayvon’s history of violence and lawbreaking.
Since media outlets, political leaders and activists were focused mostly on the unyielding narrative, they did little to bring these findings into the public eye. Many actually seemed to do all they could to push aside details about the nature of Trayvon’s character in order to direct the focus entirely on the color of his skin. Evidence of this push is available in a litany of statements from all kinds of activists and extremists upset by Zimmerman’s acquittal. But for a representative sample statement, we can go straight to the leader of the free world: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” President Obama said a few days after the ruling. He continued:
There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me .… The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Between the lines of this surcharged statement, the president made it clear that he believed Trayvon was targeted only because of his race. The unyielding narrative trumped the facts, laws and ruling of the case. Race was what mattered. Columnist Roger Simon said the president’s statements were “the work of a reactionary, someone who consciously/unconsciously wants to push our nation back to the 1950s” (July 13).
During anniversary celebrations last Wednesday, the president urged Americans to “keep on marching” to fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. It was a curious admonition, given his fixation on skin color and disregard for character, both of which contradict King’s message.
Trayvon’s texts and the other pieces of evidence don’t prove what happened the night of the tragic killing, and they certainly don’t prove that anyone’s death was justified, but the way they were ignored as all emphasis was given to skin color is the diametric opposite of King’s dream.
Shortly after Zimmerman’s acquittal, an image depicting Martin Luther King Jr. wearing Trayvon’s now-iconic hoodie went viral. The political art was an attempt to connect Trayvon’s death to the struggles of America’s civil rights movement, and was also a statement saying both men were killed because of their race. But, to connect Dr. King to the recent incident makes a mockery of what he stood for. King’s ideology demanded, above all, that a person be judged based on personal character instead of race. He would have viewed those who tried to suppress, downplay and ignore details about Trayvon’s character because of his race as racists.
Dr. King’s dream has not been realized by America’s political leaders and activists, but what about in the country’s policy of affirmative action? The policy was created to prevent employers, colleges and the like from discriminating against people based on race. It originally served a noble purpose, but what message does it send to today’s black people? We think you can’t achieve at the same level as white people, and we don’t expect you to. That’s OK though. You shouldn’t try to perform up to that level. You probably can’t. But we will hire/accept/promote you anyway, regardless of your performance or character.
It’s a destructive and racist message. Granting favor based on race instead of qualifications and character is racism. And previous racist sins can’t be atoned for by more racism. Race-conscious politicians, media outlets and programs betray King’s dream of a colorblind society. Instead of healing, they heighten racial sensitivity and increase tensions among people of all races.
Where are these rising tensions leading?
Fifty years ago, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “Racial tensions, passions and hatreds are being deliberately stirred by organized planning. It will explode into mass violence that will stagger the imagination!” (Plain Truth, October 1963).
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has proclaimed that same warning for years. Five years ago he said the U.S.’s simmering racial frictions will erupt into widespread violence. “This is not a small problem. We must understand where the race issue is leading us. The end result is going to be worse than anything you imagine,” he wrote on July 21, 2008.
To understand God’s views on the subject and how true peace for all races will ultimately replace the tensions and violence, order a free copy of Mr. Flurry’s booklet Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet. The chapter called “Terrorism and Race Riots” is especially relevant to this topic. ▪