In his 1967 address to Stanford University, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of two Americas. He described them as, “two starkly different American experiences that exist side by side.”
In one America, people experienced “the opportunity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all its dimensions.” In the other America, people experienced a “daily ugliness” that dashes hope and leaves only “the fatigue of despair.”
The uneasy coexistence of the two Americas is brought to bear by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Although I was born into the America that experiences and believes in opportunity, my trips to Ferguson, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago have revealed that there is an undercurrent of unease.
Congressman John Lewis, who heroically marched in Selma, still sees two Americas. He writes: “One group of people in this country can expect the institutions of government to bend in their favor, no matter that they are supposedly regulated by impartial law.”
The other group: “[C]hildren, fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers . . . are swept up like rubbish by the hard unforgiving hand of the law. They are offered no lenience, even for petty offenses, in a system that seems hell-bent on warehousing them by the millions . . . while others escape the consequences of pervasive malfeasance scot-free.”
We need to notice and be aware of the injustices embedded in our criminal system. However, we shouldn’t be misled to believe that excessive force is the norm, not the exception. I believe that most police are conscientious and want only to provide safety for us.
The blame should be directed to the laws and the politicians who order police into untenable positions, that insist on “taking down” someone for selling a couple of untaxed cigarettes.
Our pursuit of justice should not obscure the fact that on many occasions, good people do step forward to find justice.
This past fall, Helen Johnson was desperate to feed her two daughters and their small children who had gone two days without food. When she got to the store, she discovered that the $1.25 she had was not enough to buy eggs. She was a mere fifty cents short, so she stuffed the eggs in her pocket.
Helen didn’t even make it out of the store before the police were notified.
When Police Officer William Stacy arrived, something special happened. Instead of handcuffing Helen and taking her to jail, he used discretion and compassion to mete out justice. He warned Helen not to steal again and he bought her the eggs himself. Helen saw Officer Stacy again on Thanksgiving Day. He delivered a truckload of groceries to Helen’s home. Her grandchildren were overjoyed and proclaimed that they had never seen so much food in all their lives.
It isn’t hard to find injustice around us, but we must not let injustice smear the good deeds that do occur everyday.
I am optimistic, but peace will only come when those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream become more aware of those who are missing out on the Dream.
The future of our country will be secure when we break down the wall that separates us from “the other America.”
Let’s commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King by uniting the two Americas into one: an America that includes justice for one, and justice for all.
Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.