Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, and everywhere you look, his central message of social justice is chucked to one side while his name and likeness are showered with hollow praise.
You see it on social media, where King's words are quoted, his likeness lionized. Right next to those are posts calling Stephon Clark a criminal. Or other posts condemning Black Lives Matter. Or other posts justifying a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy who hit a Clark protestor with his SUV last weekend and kept driving.
Since the March 18 shooting of Clark, Sacramento has been viewed nationally as the home of police brutality, and many people here, through words and deeds, have heeded King's messages of humanity, dignity, justice, equality and the oft-condemned right of peaceful protest.
So many have worked to understand the protests of Clark's killing. They kept open hearts and minds hearing the harsh pain of protesters. They tried to keep the peace. The protests within the city limits have not – so far – devolved into violence.
But we have echoes of 50 years ago. Then, an angry chorus of bystanders sneered at King, condemned the brave people who followed his example and took the streets in search of justice. An angry chorus of naysayers lives today, with more unfiltered avenues to express anger.
You know who you are. You take to Facebook and you justify Clark's killing because he was "not following directions" of police officers. You do this even when you know – or should know – of recent examples of white suspects who actually shot at police or murdered people and yet, somehow, were apprehended alive by authorities.
Say, Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the school massacre in Parkland, Fla. Or Oscar Walters, the Louisville man who fired an air rifle at police and fought with them before being taken alive last week. The list goes and on.
But if you don't believe the numbers, that African American males are overrepresented in police involved shootings, then you probably don't really believe in what King stood for. Or if you think it was OK that a sheriff's deputy hit a 61-year-old woman protesting last Saturday, then you probably would have cheered when King was arrested and jailed. Or if Colin Kaepernick's protests make you mad, then you probably wouldn't have been a fan of King. Through the scope of time, you can strip humanity and emotion and convert King to saint status. But the urgency of what he stood for confronts us now. And for some, the reaction remains the same – rage, resentment and racism.
Or a reduction of it all to a matter of inconvenience. I couldn't help but laugh watching a local TV interview with a gentleman who said his support for Clark protesters had evaporated because he was prevented from attending a Kings game. Brother, if that's all it takes, then you weren't supportive to begin with.
And that brings us back to the fraudulence of public salutes to King. If you agree with our president that Kaepernick and other players who took a knee during "The Star-Spangled Banner" are bums, then you don't believe in King. If your response to legitimate questions about police tactics and biases is to accuse questioners of "hating" police, then you don't believe in King. If protests and free speech and peaceable assembly make you angry, then you don't believe in King. If you rail every time racism is alleged, you don't believe in King.
But more than anything else, if you miss King's most central message – of Christian love, brotherhood and understanding – then you don't believe in King.