Every year I come to the observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday with a complicated mix of thanksgiving for his life and deep sadness at his early, untimely death at the hand of a hate-filled man with a gun.
But, this year, more than ever I am keenly aware that the kind of violence that ended Dr. King’s life is still at large in our communities and in our nation. Why do we continue to allow guns in the hands of those consumed with fear, hatred, and illness to devastate our communities?
Dr. King frequently called people of faith to be maladjusted, to refuse to accept the status quo. As you will read in this week’s Faith Reflection, King said, “But there are some things within our social order to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob rule….the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination….the inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes….I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence.”
Certainly, maladjustment has not come to the neighborhoods of Chicago. Horrific tragedies like 7-year-old Heaven Sutton, gunned down at her lemonade stand in front of her Austin home, and 13-year-old Tuyquan Tyler, who bled to death in his mother’s arms on a Woodlawn sidewalk, have become too commonplace.
In 2012 fifty-one (51) children died as a result of gun violence, almost one a week, but there has been no national outcry about their deaths. These children are our neighbors, and we are called to mourn their loss. We are called to notice that they are gone. Then we are refusing to adjust to the fact that many Chicago children—and adults—will die this year, and the next, because of gunfire.
Like Dr. King, we must throw off our complacency about the ways things are. Children do not have to die in Chicago. King would likely recognize, as we must, the quiet roots of violence—the toxic mix of poverty, hunger, failing schools, and the systemic injustice that fuels those disadvantages.
Reducing access to guns will help make a positive difference, and we should be involved that conversation and advocacy. On the other hand, we must not be lulled into the misconception that strong gun-control laws will stop violence in all our communities.
The causes of gun violence are deep and complex. Easy availability of weapons and ammunition are definitely one factor. But, race and poverty are also key factors. African American children are being killed more frequently than white, and most of the murdered children live in communities characterized by high poverty, unemployment, and school drop-out rates. Poverty rates between black and white children are dramatically different: fewer than one in 11 white children here is living in poverty, contrasted with more than one in two African American children.
And so, in honor of Dr. King’s birthday and in memory of the children who die on the streets of Chicago almost every week and those who died at Sandy Hook School, let us resolve to advocate for common-sense gun laws, and, at the same time, support after-school programs, insist on fair wages for workers, stop wage theft abuses, and make sure that everyone gets adequate, affordable health care, including appropriate mental health services.
For the sake of the beloved community, let us be maladjusted.