'Work and sweat, not tears and TV'

January 20, 1994|By Jesse L. Jackson

THE CHOICE today is not between violence and non-violence, but between non-violence and non-existence." Those were the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. three decades ago. They are even more profound today, both for our world and for our country.

In 1990, handguns were used to murder 10 people in Australia, 13 in Sweden, 22 in Great Britain, 68 in Canada, 87 in Japan, 91 in Switzerland and 10,567 in the United States.

In 1992, 2,829 juveniles were arrested for murder in the United States, roughly two-and-a-half times more than were arrested for the same crime in 1984.

Violence threatens our most basic civil right -- the right to live. To live, but in a state of terror and fear, or under repressive laws and an increasingly repressive police state is not much better.

Unless the "state of fear" can be removed, an increased "fear of the state" -- of government-sanctioned institutional violence -- is virtually inevitable. When frightened, human nature prefers order and stability to civil rights and justice.

In Chinese, a combination of two symbols representing "danger" and "opportunity" combine to form the word "crisis."

For a quarter of a century our country has ignored the official "wind" of change -- the analysis and recommendations of the 1968 Kerner Commission Report -- and as a result our country is reaping the whirlwind of escalating violence.

Even at this late date, however, the danger of continued and escalating violence is not inevitable. It's not too late to change directions.

We still have choices. We have the opportunity to go another way. Even to go the way of non-violence.

But we cannot delay, or look for someone else to save us. The victims must be responsible for initiating change.

Victims of crime and violence have the greatest self-interest in ending the violations of their personhood and communities.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans ended segregation. Indeed, some politicians fought ending it, and most tried to avoid the political confrontation and the moral choice.

The victims of segregation had to take the initiative with determination and courage, draft the laws with marches and demonstrations, and revise them in blood in order to see them finally passed in controversy and signed in ink in Washington.

Obviously, there are underlying causes of crime and violence that must be addressed -- issues of racism, unemployment, education, health, housing, environmental racism and more.

A comprehensive solution must have a balance between moral and social obligation; between individual ethical responsibility, and government and private industry's social and economic responsibility.

"Get tough" laws alone will not work. We must address the underlying issues of poverty and racism if we are to reduce crime and violence.

If one looks at a map of poverty in the United States -- white, black, brown, yellow or red -- crime will parallel those areas.

Where there are areas of high unemployment, inadequate health care, housing and education, you will find lots of hopelessness, despair and low self-esteem. If people feel they are nothing, they will project their nothingness onto others.

The result? Projected self-hatred in the form of violence and self-destruction in poor communities.

Part of The National Rainbow Coalition's objections to the current approach is that the Senate passed a $22.3 billion "get tough on crime" bill, but failed to pass President Clinton's $16 billion economic stimulus package to create jobs.

And even this was a failure on Mr. Clinton's part, because he promised a four-year $50-billion-per-year economic stimulus package during the campaign on which he reneged and for which he would not fight.

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, nobly proclaims ending homelessness as his No. 1 priority. But the Office of Management and Budget proposes to cut the HUD budget for fiscal 1995 by $4 billion. That will cost 40,000 jobs in construction and related industries.

As long as unemployment remains high, crime will remain high. We cannot solve the crime problem by only attacking the consequences. We must also attack the underlying causes.

But history has taught us that it's the victims who must rise up to change circumstances. The victims must fight back.

Slave masters (and drug pushers and pimps) never retire. Slaves (and the exploited) must change their minds. Oppressors never stop, the oppressed must fight back.

We must fight back against crime and violence with the same courage, determination and moral authority that won us public accommodations, the right to vote and open housing.

Work and sweat, not tears and television, will change our situation.

We are in desperate need of a spiritual, moral and ethical revival. Even with limited economic and social options, each of us has an obligation to make personal moral choices. We can choose the high road or the low road even in limited circumstances.

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