Capitol Alert

Unrest shows MLK’s work unfinished, California lawmakers say

FILE - This Oct. 24, 1966 file photo shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.
FILE - This Oct. 24, 1966 file photo shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta. AP

Nearly half a century after his struggle for civil rights cost Martin Luther King Jr. his life, California lawmakers Friday pointed to the social unrest of 2014 in arguing that King’s dream has not yet been realized.

Lawmakers regularly commemorate special occasions or the lives of notable people with speeches and resolutions. But Friday’s proceedings took on added weight, reflected in multiple legislators’ remarks, after a year in which the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York City spurred widespread protests and a debate about race relations in the United States.

King lived “a life that would grieve for the young, black and unarmed men whose lives still (don’t) seem to matter - a life that would wonder why the newsreels of protests are so similar, so similar to the protests of 50 years ago,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, head of the Legislative Black Caucus.

“We hope that one day we will get to the point where if just one of us can’t breath, that it suffocates all of us, and we call out in one voice,” Jones-Sawyer added, an apparent reference to the “I Can’t Breath” protest slogan that emerged after Eric Garner, a Staten Island man, said he could not breath before dying in a police choke-hold caught on video.

Other lawmakers echoed Jones-Sawyer’s description of history repeating itself.

“After the events in Ferguson and New York, I had a hard time believing in the ideals of this country,” said Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, adding that “the high ideals of this country, the thirst for justice, is not yet something that is, but something that will be if all of us take appropriate actions.”

Those actions could include a stack of bills that seek to address police violence. Speakers on Friday invoked a range of other policy issues, from protecting immigrants to bolstering California’s schools, but the conversation frequently returned to the anguish of the past year.

“As Dr. King boldly and resolutely faced the Jim Crow of his day,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, “let us face our Jim Crow of persistent poverty, over-incarceration, racial profiling, gender bias, unequal education, limited opportunities- and, yes, let us face our Fergusons.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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