remember, remember

An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.

- Thomas Paine


In a sense, maybe it can be seen as a good thing that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Perhaps even more than that, it might have been the best thing that could’ve happened to America at the time. Had the Baptist minister not been assassinated, we would in all likelihood not remember him as we do now. Because when a public figure is assassinated, history has the tendency to assume a carte blanche while writing down what it feels he should be remembered for. And to ignore what, for whatever reason, it feels should be forgotten.

To whitewash a man’s life.

We don’t remember that while King was a graduate student at Boston University he plagiarized significant portions of his PhD thesis while his professors knowingly looked the other way. The “Dr.” in his title then carries lies and deceit and dishonesty we would rather not acknowledge. Because acknowledging them would mean tarnishing his legacy, admonishing someone who’s supposed to embody godliness.

After all, we’re told from a very young age that Dr. Martin Luther King saved America from herself, forgave our sins of racism and oppression with the power of his dream. Hundreds of years of oppression, all washed away with the blood of his assassination. We are told his was a dream that did not die with him, we are told his dream was his final message to the American people as they gathered on the Capitol Mall of Washington DC on that spring afternoon.

And yet, that dream was not his final message. In what would be the final months of his life Dr. Martin Luther King began to preach a message that was markedly different from the one we willfully choose to remember him by. It was a message that earned him the condemnation of almost every mainstream newspaper in America, with even Reader’s Digest warning he was trying to bring about an “insurrection.”

No one is taught this in school, for the same reason that no one is taught that Dr. King cheated to get his doctorate.

Because all of us seek to hold onto the ideals that tell us that everything is going to be okay. That we aren’t as ugly and oppressive as those who hate us make us out to be and that if we just hold hands and sing kum-by-ya once a year the problems will just take care of themselves. But then that would be a lie. As millions of Americans living in and around Washington DC were so terribly reminded in the fall of 2002 when Dr King’s final message came horribly to life through the same means that had caused his death.

i                               i                          i

You probably take three-inches for granted on a regular basis. Three-inches might’ve been the difference between being able to ride the rollercoaster or having to watch you big brother go without you, between tripping up the stairs and running up them, or accidentally selecting the wrong grade of gas while you’re filling up your car. But then three-inches can be the difference between a scary moment and a fender bender, a missed shot and a National Championship, or between a surgeon taking your life and saving it.

On October 2nd three-inches was the difference between Ann Chapman, a clerk working the cashier at her local Michael’s craft store, only feeling an odd rush of air ruffle her hair – and having her brain explode out the side of her head. For whatever reason the high-velocity round meant for her head missed. It might’ve been a gust of wind or it might’ve been the sniper not adjusting for the store’s glass window deflecting the bullet’s path or something else entirely. But he missed.

Less than an hour later the sniper went for a more reliable body-shot that found it’s mark, and Maryland’s most affluent suburb recorded its first shooting death of the month. Shooting deaths have never been an uncommon occurrence in the DC metropolitan area. So the first few deaths didn’t really cause much of a stir.

They rarely do. The sniper certainly wasn’t fazed by the deaths, and the collective denizens of the beltway’s perpetual grind didn’t so much as downshift when the first death was reported. Which is what you’d expect, since it was only five-sentences long and appeared on page B2 of the next morning’s Metro section in the Washington Post. Just another death.

He had been on the board of his church, an active leader in his eleven year-old son’s Boy Scout Troop, a Civil War buff, and had arranged the donation of ten old government computers to the nearby public elementary school which he mentored at. But the victim isn’t remembered for any of that and never will be by any except those who had been closest to him. The rest of us wouldn’t even be able to tell you his name, but if asked you’d be able to say you remembered when you heard he – whoever he was – had died.

The answers to why he died as he did aren’t as simple as the facts that lay in the parking lot of the Shopper’s Food Warehouse where his punctured aorta and severed spine led to his death. To find them we must return, for one more time, back to the start.

When Ramzi Yousef first arrived in New York City in the fall of 1993 his first stop was the local mosque, where he figured he’d able to find men willing to help him in his cause. He was right, although only one of the men had any previous experience with anything that resembled an act of war.

That man had traveled to Afghanistan to fight alongside his Muslim brothers against the invading Soviets, sustaining wounds from a Russian mortar in his arm and leg while he was there and returning home with the vow to continue his jihad against the West there. But unlike the rest of the muj who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets, home for Clement Rodney Hampton was Brooklyn, New Jersey.

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