The city of San Diego has a city sponsored and organized Martin Luther King parade. It takes place on the Sunday of Martin Luther King Weekend. It is very commercial, lots of fun, and light on substance. This is a complaint by many of the local activists. Among them is Reverend Shane Harris, President of the National Action Network, San Diego Chapter. During the last few years, he organized a march, which ends up in substantial speeches. Why? As Pastor Jared Moten, vice-president of the San Diego Chapter of the National Action network said. “You chose to stand for justice. You chose to say that the things that are happening in our communities, in our world, through our president, are not what we are going to accept.”
This was the tenor of the day. Current events challente us to think about civil rights in both new and old ways. Moten added, “we need to undertand what we are marching for. This is an individual that in thirteen years with the civil rights movment undid over 300 years of injustice, or worked towards that.”
“Dr. Martin Luther King used words, his faith in God and he used positive acts to make a difference.” The question was where are we when it comes to civil rights these days? Under the presidency of Donald Trump, we may not just stopping any progress, but taking a step back. The people on the dais, after the march, were clear in their views regarding this.
Councilmenber David Alvarez, who represents District Eight in the San Diego City Council, was the only elected official to show up at the gathering. He was the only one to march with faith leaders as well, from Park Avenue, down B Street to Civic Center. This is significant, since many of our elected leaders are still trying to ignore this civil rights march.
Alvarez used humor. “That march was a little too fast. Unfortunately, here at city hall things move a little too slow.” He also told the story of how he read the *I have a Dream* speech to his eight year old daugher yesterday, Then they discussed it. Seeing things from the perspective of the next gneration matters, and Alvarez made that point. He could not help but think of whom Dr. King was marching for. “For our jobs, marching against poverty, marching against injustice, and marching for equality.”
“Why is it that now, over fifty years later we still march for the same exact things?”
Alvarez also emphazied some of the lessons from that era. The first is that we have to develop patience, and indeed the patience of saints. Why? “Things are not going to happen right away.”
He also admitted what most of the local politicians do not. The city has a lot of problems in bow it treads different communities, not fairly and equitably. He said it is time, and the homeless is a good place to start. “We should start with the fact that year over year we have more and more people who are living in our streets.” He added children are among the homeless, and that this is a critical issue to work on this year.
Alvarez said that the immigrant community has to take priority, right after the homeless, to exact. “We welcome them here in San Diego. Bienvenidos a todos, welcome to everybody.”
When Alvarez wished for somebody like Doctor King, others turned to Harris, who is the same age when King started his work during the Birmingham, Alabama bus boycott. That was the first time that King led. Harris is walking in those shoes, and his mentors walked besides King. His mentors are Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson, s well as MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III.
The other matter that was central to the march was criminal justice reform. Bishop Cornelius Bowser spoke at length on the issue. He said that the issues we are facing start in the White House.
“How did we get to where we are, right now?” Bowser went into Luke 10, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which King liked to tell. This parable applies today. What will you do when you are called to action? “We have to get involved,” and cannot stand in the sidelines, when racism and other issues rise to the surface.
Bowser also brought the parable to the present and the political class in DC. In their case, they prefer not challenging what is happening because of “what would happen to themselves.” They prefer to do that, “rather than stepping out and fighting for the marginalized.”
“The faith community must take a stand against Trump and the policies.” He mentioned something important. We might fight for specific policies, but miss the big picture. Some of this big picture is the rollback of policies enacted during the previous administration regarding criminal justice reform.
“We gotta stand against Trump and the policies that Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General is returning us to.” These policies include the roll back of consent degrees with police departments, the criminaliation of the community, undermining voting rights, mass incarceration, and the militarization of the police.
Some of the policies that Sessions carried out, also include scrapping the plan to stop the use of private prisons for federal prisoners. As Bowser reminded us of, 40 percent of prisoners are black, while 13 percent of the general population are black. So when Sessions denies racial animus, “I can’t believe what you say, becuase I see what you do.”
Sessions also has removed leniency in sentencing laws, which will increase long prison sentences. This is a new form of Jim Crow methods of Social control. Bowser referenced Michelle Alexander in this respect. Making money from small driving offenses, by cities is likely back. If you think this is limited to Ferguson, not really. We also have problems in California.
The event also involved the families of those who have lost relatives to officer involved shootings. Rev. Harris is demanding that the county, and the city, actually deploy Psycological Emergency Response Teams (PERT) that include a clinician at all times. The state has led in this respect, but the teams are rarely staffed, especially in the overnight shits. Nor do we have enough teams.
This yearly tradition, and we just scratched the surface, is meant to raise policies. And how those policies affect people in very real ways.
I would be remiss if I did not mention an issue raised by Harris as well. Harris stated that if people are going to develop their communities, in City Heights and South East San Diego, “we need to have our fair share of development jobs.”
Harris wants to see the space for entrepreneurs to revitalize these areas of town, that at times are considered blighted by city leaders. (Council President Myrtle Cole represents South East and she promised these developments during her campaign, but they seem to be vaporware.)
Harris also went into another important aspect. This is housing and homelessness. He was not kind in his demands that this is dealt with. He was not the only one who raised this. Nor that we need rent control in San Diego.