That is a picture of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL. In the background is a paraphrase from the book of Amos that was used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott: “…Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I’m thinking about that quote as I continue to contemplate the shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. Will the prosecution and conviction of the shooter – Dylann Roof – bring justice?
It’s hard not to think of the tie that binds this event to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 52 years ago in Birmingham that killed four little girls. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke that their memorial and had a much bigger view of what justice requires. He talked about the message we should hear from those four little girls.
And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
Whoah, he got up in everybody’s business there, didn’t he? Preachers, politicians, Dixiecrats, Republicans, black and white. All of us got called out. And while he acknowledged that we should be concerned with those who murdered innocent people, he cautioned us against thinking that is what would bring justice. To do that, we also have to change the “system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
That’s exactly why I wrote yesterday about how we learn to hate/fear. The system that produced Dylann Roof will survive the justice meted out to him personally. And it will continue to result in everything from dog whistle racism to the killing of innocent people until we make changing it our priority. Our criminal justice system hasn’t figured out a way to tackle that one yet. And so it’s up to each of us. That is our task. And it will continue…”until justice rolls down like waters.”