The Death Penalty: What Would Dr. King Do?

martin luther king death penalty quoteDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be eighty-two years old this year had he not been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in the middle of a campaign for the human rights of sanitation workers.

Volumes have been written about his powerful life and legacy.  Innumerable awards and tributes have been paid to this giant for justice.  Many often imagine how much more he would have accomplished had he not been killed at such a young age.

I have no doubt that Dr. King, if he were alive today, would be an outspoken critic of the U.S. criminal justice system and a bold and authoritative voice for an end to the death penalty (below are ways you can act to end the death penalty too).

When Dr. King was alive, he addressed the issue directly:
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Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance Has Strong Roots

Remarks made by Bono , New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and President Barack Obama stating they hoped Palestinians would find their Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) or Gandhi completely ignore Palestinian nonviolent resistance to brutal oppression.

The presumption that the Palestinian struggle is mainly violent is disturbing. And the dismissal of the people who have sacrificed time, money and even their lives to fight injustice with nonviolence is callous.

Although Palestinian nonviolent resistance dates back to the early 1900’s, the image of armed and violent Palestinians still prevails.   In the 1970’s and 80’s, Palestinian refugees from camps in foreign countries, seeing no resolution after decades of displacement, chose armed struggle and  more recent suicide bombings in Israel  reinforced the perception.

Several factors have hindered a single, iconic figure from emerging or a cohesive civil disobedience movement from blooming despite its continued use by different sectors of Palestinian society.

Israeli policies are repressive and brutal.  The use of live ammunition, beatings, destruction of property,  rejection of building permits, constant threats, repeated administrative detentions and the escalation in arrests is discouraging and has been effectively obstructive.

Nongovernmental delegations, employees and individuals who are perceived as critical of Israel or sympathetic to Palestinians are increasingly denied entry or proper work permits for the Occupied Territories.

Sami Awad, Coordinator for the Holy Land Trust, a not-for-profit community support organization committed to nonviolence and the teachings of MLK and Gandhi, aptly points out, “Nonviolence is not something that happens overnight.  It’s not a means to end the conflict tomorrow. It’s something that evolves over long periods of time.”

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Keep the Dream Alive in Memphis

Despite all setbacks challenging our basic freedoms and fundamental rights, somehow we continue to keep the dream alive.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people will come together in Memphis, TN to create an aerial image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event will celebrate the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech that launched the civil rights movement.

The Keep the Dream Alive event represents communities coming together to honor heroes and carry their human rights work forward.