These words were spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago this month to some 250,000 people who marched on Washington to protest inequality. Many of the faces gathered around the National Mall that hot August day were black.
This year’s rally for jobs and justice will not only commemorate King’s historic vision, but also offer stunning evidence that poverty hurts not just people of color, but whites as well.
Today, the nation’s unemployment rate is 7.4%, a four-year low. One year ago, the figure was 8.2%. Sadly, more than 11 million Americans remain jobless. Some have already joined another unwanted category: the nation’s poor.
No doubt, a recent Associated Press report showing that four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness and near-poverty will be cited by rally organizers. Those troubling figures show the widening impact a stagnant economy has had on all Americans. Make no mistake, rates of poverty for blacks and Hispanics are far higher than for whites, but the gap is narrowing.
As we reflect on King’s words about compassion and justice, I also have no doubt that Americans of all races will march in memory of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager killed by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who was acquitted of the killing.
I’m exhausted from having people throw black-on-black crime in my face when researchers have argued for years that the criminal justice system will improve when the value of a black life finds equal footing so juries and prosecutors mete out the same consideration and punishment for all.
A report from Amnesty International concluded that 77% of people executed since 1977 were people convicted of crimes involving white victims, compared to only 15% of people executed for killing blacks. And 42% of the 3,100 inmates on death row are people of color. Racial disparities pervade every component of the justice system.
Blacks make up 13% of the population, but represent more than 28% of all arrests and continue to be profiled and prosecuted differently for drug offenses. The arrest rate for possession of marijuana for blacks is 716 per 100,000 compared to 192 per 100,000 for whites.
The Martin case exposed again the difference in racial perceptions about justice in America. But perhaps the shared pain of poverty suffered by black, Hispanic and white Americans will provide a common bond of understanding and compassion that bring us closer together.
This year’s rally for jobs and justice needs to be multicultural and help define the humanity in all Americans vested in cashing the check that King first deposited.