I was in Chicago on April 4, 1968, when news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination broke and the rioting began. Driving through the streets, desperate to reach home was a harsh lesson on how to dodge stones, sticks and curses. The sidewalks and streets overflowed with angry African-American youth, mostly males, who sought release for their fury. My brother and I shouted to one another that we would make it, to keep driving through the throng. We hollered above the din to bolster our courage, to dampen our fears that we would be dragged out and beaten or killed. When we reached home — car banged up — we gazed at one another in an effort to make sense of the surreal, riotous experience. We cursed loudly. Boys don’t cry, remember?
Days of burning, shooting and looting swept major American cities in April 1968. From our barrio, we saw the night sky in the near distance glow pink from the flames and watched police cars, colored lights blazing, zoom past our home as they rushed to the segregated black neighborhoods. Mayor Richard Daley ordered the police to shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to maim looters. Later, the Boss reprimanded Chicago cops for their leniency. They would “redeem” themselves in the police riots at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Despite the fact that we lived in the Land of Lincoln, virulent racism infected many Chicagoans.
Almost 50 years later, have we truly advanced from our past racial violence? Reading or watching the news of shootings and beatings of African-American and Latino men, women and children by police, I experience a flashback to the rage that easily flares between the races. A glower, a stance, a word will release a torrent of fists, clubs, Tasers, body slams and chokeholds. Boss Daley would be proud that cops don’t take sass.
When Barack Obama was elected president, hopes soared that our country at last might reach MLK’s promised land. Instead, we witnessed a defiant Congress work to make his tenure as difficult as possible. Donald Trump waged a merciless birther campaign in an effort to humiliate and oust the first African-American president. Some social media postings showed cartoons depicting the president and his wife as simians. President Trump recently questioned, as confirmed by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, why the USA should accept immigrants from “s**thole countries” like Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador. Instead, he preferred we welcome people from Norway and similar countries.
We may not have the lynching, castration, burning, shooting and raping of minorities as in the past, but we still have a violence of words, policies, attitudes, discrimination and marginalization. At a time when the white population is decreasing and African-Americans and Latinos are increasing — whites are the numerical minority in Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas, and Texas today. But violent actions such as voter suppression, gerrymandering, Senate Bill 4, DACA termination, inadequate educational funding, poor health care and social segregation persist. Our mercurial President Trump rants about building a border wall and then how much he loves Latinos and how much the muchachos and muchachas love him. He’s promised to take care of us and then toys with DACA and immigration reform.
Perhaps the most heinous act against blacks and browns is programming their minds to think all the past racial violence and discriminatory policies were aberrant and not reflective of current white leadership such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. How else can we explain the invitation by the Mid Cities MLK Parade Committee to Governor Abbott to act as honorary grand marshal for their 2018 parade in Arlington. Again, I experience a surreal effect as I struggle to make sense of how this committee deemed the governor deserving of this honor.
In glorious folly, parade participants were expected to follow the immigrant-bashing, voter-suppressing, restroom monitoring, confederate hero-loving Governor Abbott in salute to Martin Luther King, Jr. We were asked to commemorate MLK’s marches in which he and his followers were beaten, water-hosed and dog-bitten, by walking behind a man who had decided through political acts Blacks and Browns belonged at the back of the freedom bus.
As a result of multi-ethnic grass roots efforts, spear-headed primarily by Tarrant County African American activists, the City of Arlington decided to cancel the event. Arlington officials claimed the event organizers had not paid in time event-planning and security fees. As some sponsors learned about the community’s opposition, they withdrew their support.
God almighty, more courageous minds are free at last. On Monday, January 15th, let us march in defiance of divisive haters and minstrels and raise our voices as united freedom lovers. Viva King!
Richard J. Gonzales is a local activist, speaker, and author. He has lived, worked, researched, and written about Latino issues in North Texas for 48 years.