Anniversary of MLK’s death prompts rally, reflection

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Martin Luther King Unity Day Coalition rallied on the steps of Providence City Hall yesterday to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The speakers and organizers connected the death of the famous civil rights leader to the recent killing of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, by a neighborhood watch coordinator, citing his death as an example of continued racial strife in America. The approximately 50 protesters also voiced support for initiatives that the coalition said honored the civil rights leader’s legacy.

Speakers addressed economic inequality, immigration reform and health care reform, and the group coalesced around the issue of Martin’s killing as an example of King’s “unfulfilled legacy.”

“We’re here to commemorate the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King as well as another unjust killing – the murder of Trayvon Martin,” Roger Harris, a co-chair of the event, said to open the rally.

“In this country, when a black man is killed, nothing happens. When it’s black on black, nothing happens. When it’s white on black, absolutely nothing happens,” said Joseph Buchanan, a member of Black America’s Political Action Committee.  “Dr. King would roll over in his grave knowing that 44 years later a white person can walk away free from a police station after murdering a black person,” he said.  

The Rhode Island People’s Assembly and the Unemployment Council organized the protest. “We want people, especially right now, to remember what MLK stands for,” Kathi Riley. Jones, an organizer from the People’s Assembly, told The Herald. “United, nobody can stop us. We might not have five-figure jobs … but united, we have the numbers to make change,” she added.

Providence residents and organization members comprised the majority of the crowd attending the protest. One volunteer handing out pamphlets was an 11-year-old girl who has lived in Providence her whole life. “When I get older, I want to be to get a job and have a good future,” she said, describing why she took part in the protest.

The meeting was interrupted several times by drivers shouting and honking in support of the protest. 

The protest was affiliated with the Occupy Providence movement but also featured a number of organizations and speakers from various causes. Ray Watson, a representative of the Native American community, told the crowd the time has come for minority communities to stand up for their rights. The black community has forgotten King’s call to action and has become passive and complacent, he said. Watson then performed a hymn about the Cherokee Trail of Tears with several local Native American chiefs.

Cino Eang and Nara Alvarado, two students at Hope High School, spoke in support of Providence Youth Student Movement, a group committed to ending racial profiling. Eang said he became involved in the movement after the police confronted and searched him even though he was doing nothing wrong, presumably due to his race, he said. 

The protest’s organizers applied King’s social justice message to issues beyond race, positing him as an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised.

Speakers also expressed support for an economic bill of rights. The bill of rights, a list of economic initiatives put forward by the People’s Assembly, declared support for a higher minimum wage, universal health care, better and cheaper public education from preschool through college, and improved public transportation.

Nancy St. Germain, co-chair of the Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, confronted what she called the “Republican war on women” in her address to the crowd. St. Germain criticized the Republican Party for risking the health of women by advocating policies that restrict access to birth control and abortions. She also recounted her experience losing her job and consequently her health care coverage after surgery for a brain tumor “the size of a tennis ball” left her incapacitated for a month. She advocated a nationwide single-payer system as the only solution for the country’s broken health care system.

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