STATEMENT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY 2010
Monday, January 17, 2011 --- On December 11, 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address in Bal Harbour, Fla. before the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. He stated:
“This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream - a dream yet unfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality- that is the dream.â€
As we mark this decade's first Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we recall the lessons of civil rights of the past in our own city, province and country, and we are reminded that while much progress has been achieved, much more remains to be done. For while racial equality has been achieved in the books and in daily lives in many areas, it still remains an elusive goal for too many people.
The facts speak for themselves: Three Black judges out of 500 in Quebec. Two city councilors out of 104 in Montreal. Zero Members of Parliament of the 75 and zero senators among the 24 from Quebec. None at the helm of any public agencies, universities and colleges, or health and social service agencies, and none on the boards of boards of trade and private businesses (with a few exceptions, hopefully).
Black unemployment and poverty is disproportionately higher than the average, especially among those under 30. We can only take a stroll in downtown Montreal to see so few Black persons work behind the counter in business and government offices, other than being security guards and taxi drivers. We are ironically no doubt one of the few cities in North American where even Black persons are not able to work as garbage collectors and other blue-collar workers.
The U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which bind aerospace companies receiving military contracts from that country, legally and openly discriminate against Black Canadians of Haitian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Cuban, Rwandan and Venezuelan origins, while governments, employers and unions turn a blind eye to this institutional violations of Canadian civil rights laws.
Where Black persons are most present, far beyond their share in the population at large, is in prisons and adult and youth criminal courtrooms. In particular, the predominantly Black presence in our youth court is a matter that still cries out for justice.
Racial profiling by the police in particular still remains a daily fact of life for far too many young Black men. The legal actions by the City of Montreal to legitimize racial profiling in the courts and to prevent the provincial human rights commission from protecting civil rights of these young Black men, are still being actively supported by civic and police officials. And so are policies and practices designed to criminalize large segments of Black community, such as the policy against incivilities and the Eclipse anti-gang unit.
Racial profiling limits economic opportunity because it leads to disproportionate criminalization, which in turns creates problems in job search, background checks and geographic mobility for Black candidates. The effect of these actions is to further marginalize people and to confine them to the margins of mainstream life, not to mention the financial burden on Black families that have to pay thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees to defend themselves from unjust police actions.
These conditions cannot be allowed to be the modern institutional shackles for every Black person's in our city and country.
UNESCO has declared 2011 the International Year of People of African Descent: “The Year aims at strengthening national actions and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture.“
Those actions are indeed necessary, here and now, in our own backyard. Let us celebrate today the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream“, Dr. King said in his final speech on April 3, 1968.
Let us renew on this Day, with determination and moral might, our commitment to end unjust laws and unjust acts and the change the world for the better.