The shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. looms large over inaugural weekend. The holiday celebrating Dr. King happens to coincide with Inauguration Day. A new King memorial resides on the Tidal Basin on the opposing side of the National Mall from the spot where the 44th President will take the oath of office on King’s own Bible.
The Inauguration takes place of course in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. The residents of the majority-black District aren’t living the full-color version of King’s dream. The District’s license plates say, “Taxation without Representation,” and for many, obtaining statehood for DC is a campaign for full citizenship. “We have been a colony of the rest of the states of this country,” said a speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Walk, which celebrated the civil rights hero on January 19. “We need to become a state, the state of New Columbia.”
Statehood wasn’t the only thing on the minds of marchers remembering Dr. King. The event kicked off in Anacostia, an area of Southeast DC which suffers significant social and economic problems. With high unemployment, half of all its residents collect food assistance, and household income and wealth stagnate at the bottom of the pile in a city that ranks as one of the highest in wealth inequality.
It perpetually competes for resources. For example, the community is resisting the proposed closure of 15 schools in the District, which they claim disproportionately affects black residents.
Another speaker decried that, while the declining violent crime rate was a good trend, 88 murders in the District in 2012 “is still too many.” Several others assailed the high incarceration rate of young black men–one in three black men will do time in their lifetimes–as a devastating indicator of racial inequality.
Martin Luther King Jr said, “Let us be dissatisfied.” Black communities like Anacostia are communities is distress, not because of the moral failings of individuals or certain cultures, as conservatives claim. It’s because the structural edifice of our society remains racist.