Karon, Martin, and Devastated Dreams

Karon, Martin, and Devastated Dreams

(Karon Blake, screenshot from NBC News)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Quincy street in northeast DC is normally a quiet road, lined with modest bungalows and brick homes, with the peaceful Franciscan Monastery at the top of the hill, bisected midway by 12th Street with its dry cleaners and pubs, and, at the bottom of the hill, the Turkey Thicket playground and recreation center just across Michigan Avenue.  Also, adjacent to the rec center, is the Brookland Middle School where 13 year-old Karon Blake was a student before he was shot to death on the corner of Quincy & Michigan at 4 am on January 7.

A violent death in our city is a great sorrow at any time, but Karon Blake’s death has triggered a level of outrage, pain and anger beyond the usual grief at too much violence.  Fueling the outrage is the refusal by police and city authorities to name the suspect, rumored to be a Quincy Street resident who allegedly shot Karon for breaking into cars on the street outside the suspect’s home.  Mayor Bowser, MPD Chief Robert Contee and other officials have pleaded for calm, insisting that the investigation and judicial process must play out before an arrest can occur.  The outrage continues unabated.

In an effort to quell the anger and stop rumors on social media, the Mayor and Police Chief have revealed three aspects of the suspect’s identity:  he is a city employee but not law enforcement; the gun he used was legally purchased; and he is Black.

That latter statement, identifying the suspect by race, is a profound indictment of our nation’s failure to internalize the message that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to preach and teach so long ago.  Dr. King envisioned a society where people would be judged on “the content of their character” and not the color of their skin.  But in this deeply divided nation —- riven in so many ways by the ongoing consequences of slavery and racial oppression from 1619 to this very day — the color of skin still infects human judgment about other persons no matter how hard we try to say it does not matter.

Why does the race of Karon’s killer matter?  For many, if not most, it does not matter at all — a person who kills a child commits a reprehensible act regardless of the race of either.  But in this society hyper-charged over issues of race, the possibility that the shooter is white is immensely inflammatory.  But, paradoxically, why would the outrage be any less if the shooter is Black?  I get it about why Chief Contee felt is necessary to identify the shooter’s race, and yet, that very statement plays into the racism and hatred of the real racists in this nation, the white supremacists who will chalk this child’s death up as one more tally point about Black-on-Black crime.

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

So, the gun was “legal.”  Let’s consider that dimension of Karon’s case as well.  At last count, America has more guns than people, and the stockpile keeps growing.  The Second Amendment activists claim that the Constitution protects Americans’ right to amass guns in order to protect themselves and their property (and, oh yes, deer hunting…).   The death of Karon Blake is a natural consequence of a society that has invested more value in the “freedom” to own guns than in the protection of human life.  The shooter who took Karon’s life was protecting…. car windows.  Second Amendment activists rejoice.

The inability of this nation to have sensible gun control is a massive moral failure; the bloodshed as a result if overwhelming.  If the shooter was unable to possess a “legal” gun, perhaps he would have reached for his phone to dial 911 instead of reaching for his pistol in an act of pure vigilantism.  Anarchy is the result of a political system that cannot control violence, and the excessive arming of American citizens is a manifestation of the growing tendency toward anarchy in the United States.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Dr. King wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail not in response to a KKK march or blatant government discrimination, but rather, in response to some of his fellow ministers who felt that his campaign of nonviolent protest was rocking the boat, an agitation that might incur the wrath of public officials.  They wanted less noise, fewer marches, more politesse.  Dr. King was biting in his response to his brother preachers:

“Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But they went on with the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven’ and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the archsupporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

We must shout it out — louder, louder, LOUDER!  Too many young people are victims of gun violence in the District of Columbia.  The potential of the rising generation is pouring out on our streets, wasting away in petty disputes and vicious vigilantism and senseless shootings.  Dr. King is remembered for preaching about his “Dream” but for too many of our children, the Dream is gone, replaced by the devastation of losses that mount higher each day.

Of course, the legal process must move forward, and perhaps we will soon know more about the case of Karon Blake and the man who shot him.  But if all that happens is information about that one tragic incident, we will have failed, once more, to make progress in addressing the most fundamental challenges our city and nation face when it comes to building a good society of peace where real justice is possible.

Justice for Karon Blake will not occur on the day that the suspect is arrested, or tried, or even convicted if that happens.  No, justice for Karon will only come when those of us in the supposedly responsible adult community develop a real and effective response to violence; when we stand up to the gun lobby and insist on a reduction in the private armories of citizens; when we practice what we preach by ending the tendency to use race as a prism through which we judge others and their actions. When we develop more effective educational and community responses to the tendency of some children to manifest disruptive and even violent behaviors, not by killing them but by responding with love, care and effective interventions.

Justice will only come when children can actually live long enough to realize their dreams.  The children must have dreams to start with — too many have suffered the devastation of dreams, childhoods ruptured by death and despair.  How many children in our city are suffering the trauma of gun violence, children like Karon’s siblings and friends and classmates?  Our schools, our educators, our community centers and volunteer services must find ways to help the children recover from the trauma they experience too often, to rebuild a sense of hope, to believe again in the potential of pursuing bold dreams for their lives.

“In a real sense all life is inter-related… I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail