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January 2011
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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Anthony Papa

Civil rights advocates are honoring Dr. King’s legacy by standing up against the “new Jim Crow” – mass incarceration and the racially disproportionate war on drugs. It is impossible to talk frankly and honestly about racism without talking about the drug war. Few U.S. policies have had such a devastating effect on Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities than the drug war. Every aspect of the war on drugs – from arrests to prosecutions to sentencing – is disproportionately carried out against minorities.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. […]

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” […]

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. […]

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust. and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. […]

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

[Thanks, Radley]

This is an open thread.

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12 comments to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

  • Rhayader

    An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

    King’s work on racial equality is, for good and obvious reasons, his most enduring legacy. But in terms of political philosophy and tactics, he was certainly one of the most influential and visionary thinkers in modern America.

    His defense of civil disobedience — not merely on political or pragmatic grounds, but on moral grounds as well — is striking and insurmountable. King’s senseless murder represented a great loss for our society, and those of us striving for continued change should keep his legacy in mind at all times.

  • Sick........!

    Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. […]

    How many laws does this apply to today? Prohibition certainly. The tax code ? Does it not restrict the human personality , the human spirit. Grow and advancement?

    Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

    Prohibition most certainly fits here also. We have been living for too many years in times where things that are not crimes are called crimes.It is time for this to end.
    It is time for opperssors to ask for forgiveness from the oppressed.That can be done through just actions.

    ” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.

    Time is used so well by those prohibitionists. They only stand because men of good conscience let them stand by their silence. Time is their ally, for the longer you tell a lie , the longer it will remain. Men of good conscience need only expose this lie,for it is built on a house of cards and can fall in a day, as all unjust laws should.

  • claygooding

    April 14,1968,,,,,I was 18 years old and fighting over in VN along with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers in a war that seemed to be accomplishing nothing,except in reducing the gene pool for my generation.

    And a very high percentage of those soldiers were black,a much higher percentage of them were black than an equal enlistment/draft system would have produced.

    I was on guard duty,walking the perimeter between machine gun bunkers when we heard of MLK’s assassination and my bunker/gunner was one of those black men and he cried when the announcement came.

    The military,in all it’s wisdom.withheld the announcement for 16 or 18 hours after it happened because they feared the reaction of the blacks serving in the war,because there were that many over there.

    We had heard rumors all day though,because even in the middle of the war,there was phone service at the big bases,so there was no way they could keep a lid on it and they were reporting some of the riots but not giving the reason for them,only the amounts of damage,usually too their own neighborhoods.

    It was my first experience with the government and it’s attempt to control people by controlling information,at least that I knew for sure that they had done it.

    It was the same day that I learned not to trust a black man.

    My fellow guard was so depressed by the event that he told me he needed to smoke a joint,to pick himself up and since I was from a small town in middle of nowhere Texas and I had not ever experienced marijuana,I told him to do what ever he wanted,just don’t get me hooked on that shit.and that man lied to me,he said I would never get hooked………

    I have a very good memory and for the life of me cannot remember his name or I would hunt him up and cuss him out,while I was hugging his neck.

  • Duncan20903

    Topic: Drug and Alchohol Education
    Marijuana Leads to Murder

    from: http://www.nolanchart.com/article8277.html

    Well he may well be correct. I certainly enjoyed the thought of wringing his geeky little pencil neck while reading his fairy tale.

    He’s even taking comments. I just don’t have it in me tonight. Oh, get this, he self identifies as a Libertarian. Can somebody go over there and edumacate this clown?

    I think it’s a safe inference that he is in fact referring to drinking alcohol where he uses the non-word alchohol. Doesn’t it make sense that an expert on drugs and drinking alcohol would know how to spell the word?

    Darnital, now I’ve got the munchies and I’m going to have to go buy some food & pizza.

  • DdC

    “There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.”
    ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and MMJ Prohibition

    As soon as your born they make you feel small, By giving you no time instead of it all, Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all, A working class hero is something to be. They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool, Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules, A working class hero is something to be. When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, Then they expect you to pick a career, When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear, A working class hero is something to be.

    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, And you think you’re so clever and classless and free, But you’re still fucking peasents as far as I can see, A working class hero is something to be. There’s room at the top they are telling you still, But first you must learn how to smile as you kill, If you want to be like the folks on the hill, A working class hero is something to be. A working class hero is something to be. If you want to be a hero well just follow me, If you want to be a hero well just follow me.
    ~ John Lennon

    The Racist Ganjawar

    “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
    ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Ganjawar on the Poor

    “One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
    ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

    DC: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday
    Is the Drug War the Next Big Civil Rights

    “In any civilized society, it is every citizen’s responsibility to obey just laws. But at the same time, it is every citizen’s responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
    ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Servetus

    I was in New Orleans for a few months in 1970 when the color lines were still drawn. They still are, but to a lesser degree, thanks to Martin Luther King. In 1970, possession of a kilo sized brick of Mexican weed in Louisiana was punishable by life in prison.

    I was told by some local whites that segregation was a really good deal, that everyone, including the happy black folks, really liked it that way. It was the fault of all those “Northern agitators” who were the source of all the problems. Then they’d go off on Abraham Lincoln, or come other Confederate villain like General Sherman. Obviously, there was a communications disconnect somewhere.

    On Bourbon Street you could be very obviously 17-years-old and still order and be served a pitcher of beer. You could enter a curio shop and find the original Paul Krassner poster depicting Walt Disney’s Snow White characters in compromising sexual positions. There were also front license plate plaques for those who needed them. One plaque with a Bars and Stars proclaimed the “South Shall Rise Again,” Another depicted a Yosemite Sam looking Rebel soldier with a warning that read “Forget Hell.”

    In the French Quarter in 1970, one might visit a classic, French architecture home with its 12 foot ceilings, and dine in crystal splendor. There was the ubiquitous wet bar. Playing with the collection of antique pistols was a trip. On shelves would be the inevitable, vast collection of books about Civil War history.

    As I absorbed the fact that Southerners were obsessed with a failed war that supposedly ended 105 years prior, I realized that an entire culture could actually be insane. All they needed to do was live in the past.

    Someone from Alabama told me that the South lost the Civil War when Dr. King marched on Selma. Maybe. The loss of the war for the South came in moments and degrees. The march in Selma was one of them. There were others.

    Ending a war can be a very long and difficult process,. Whether it’s a civil war, or a drug war of predation against a civilization’s own people, in the present case perpetrated by an authoritarian government, claiming, but deliberately failing, to exercise a public health initiative.

    An end is inevitable. There are too many agitators. Tyranny never lasts.

  • malcolm kyle

    Thanks for that link Duncan!: http://www.nolanchart.com/article8277.html Oddly enough, Paul Benedict considers himself to be a libertarian.

  • DdC

    This is an open thread.

    Of all serious crimes under the law, smuggling… least violates the consciences of men. It is a crime against law and against government, but not against morality. The smuggler robs no man. He buys goods honestly in one market and sells them honestly in another. His offense is against an arbitrary regulation of government…. he simply fails to pay its demands. Many men otherwise honest are unable to see any moral turpitude in smuggling. …government, in exacting toll, plays the part of the highwayman. — “The Kaasan Bay ‘Find,'” editorial, The Oregonian, Jan. 21, 1886, p. 2

    US DRUG CZAR SUPPORTS VENEZUELA SHOOTING DOWN “DRUG PLANES”
    US drug czar Kerlikowske thinks Hugo Chavez’s idea of shooting down suspected drug planes is a good one. It didn’t work so well in Peru in 2001

    Déjà vu all over again…

    U.S. Backs Colombia on Attacking Drug Planes

    U.S. Set to Resume Halting Latin Drug Planes

    We’re Being Shot At!

  • DdC

    Cambodian Ex-drug czar charged with taking bribes
    Jan 17 2011
    The secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs has been charged with receiving bribes and is in the custody of Cambodia’s Anticorruption Unit.

    Dealers Finding Creative Ways To Flout Drug Laws

    Drugs Smuggling Pigeon Caught In Colombia

    US SAYS NO TO LIFTING UN COCA LEAF BAN
    Bolivia wants to undo a treaty clause that has outlawed the traditional practice of coca chewing for the last 50 years, but the US and others stand ready to block that effort.

  • DdC

    Cannabinoid Conference 2011

    WELFARE DRUG TESTING BILLS INTRODUCED IN FOUR STATES
    Bills that would target welfare or unemployment recipients for drug testing are popping up across the country — again.

    DEA EMERGENCY BAN ON SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA NOT IN EFFECT
    That Christmas Eve DEA ban on synthetic cannabinoids? Didn’t happen — at least, not yet. Action has been delayed by challenges from retailers.

    DID YOU KNOW? MARIJUANA USE IN DECRIM STATES, ON DRUGWARFACTS.ORG
    DrugWarFacts.org, a publication of Common Sense for Drug Policy, is an in-depth compilation of key facts, stats and quotes on the full range of drug policy issues, excerpted from expert publications on the subjects. The Chronicle is running a series of info items from DrugWarFacts.org over the next several weeks, and we encourage you to check it out.

  • DdC

    This is an open thread.

    Israel: Wait Six Hours After Smoking Marijuana to Drive
    Patients who use marijuana for medical purposes must wait six hours after smoking the drug to drive a car, the Health Ministry is set to announce soon.

    Choice Strains: Matching Up Strains With Symptoms
    Perhaps the question I’m most frequently asked as a writer and researcher on medical-marijuana issues is: What strain is good for what.