Marty Levine recalls the famous saying by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. He read a new book about police killings of Black men and wonders if Dr. King was overly optimistic. Consider this to be a validation of critical race theory.

He begins:

In 1968, shortly before he was murdered, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was still giving us hope that we would overcome. Speaking at the National Cathedral, he said we needed to keep not become despondent when things seem to be stuck because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I am now wondering if he was correct.

I’m reading “America on Fire”,  a recently published book looking at police and community violence written by Elizabeth Hinton, a Yale Associate Professor of History & African American Studies and Law. Spurred to write by the series of police murders of Black men and women and the protests and violence that arose in response, Professor Hinton has found a history of a national failure to learn and unwillingness to confront reality. Time after time police violence was the match that set off violent uprisings in Black communities which had been marginalized and systematically kept in poverty and neglect. Time after time she found we said we knew that we needed to invest in people and communities. And time after time, she found, that we ignored these lessons and turned our resources to defending the built-in bias, expanding our police forces, and expanding our prison systems.

Hinton’s conclusion, formed after she analyzed more than 2,200 separate community outbreaks between 1964 (Harlem, New York) and  2001 (Cincinnati, Ohio) was that the conflict is more than just a symptom of racism and poverty. “They happened when police seemed to be there for no reason, or when the police intervened in matters that could be resolved internally (disputes among friends and family). Rebellions began when the police enforced laws that would almost never be applied in white neighborhoods (laws against gathering in groups of a certain size or acting like a “suspicious person”). Likewise, they erupted when police failed to extend to residents the common courtesies afforded to whites (allowing white teenagers to drink in a park but arresting Mexican American teens for the same behavior).”

Those in power were interested in protecting their power and the status quo rather than bringing the changes they promised. They listened to the voices of the hurting communities, said pious words about their now seeing the pain of those left out of the American Dream, vowed to take on the underlying and systemic problems that had been ignored, and then did little beyond strengthening the police.