In a few days -- on Wednesday, in fact -- we will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream Speech."
Not surprisingly, it's sparked plenty of commentary and analysis. A small for instance: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued this statement saying it's time to recommit ourselves to meeting unmet goals articulated by King.
A good idea, of course.
But I'm given to wonder what today would most break King's heart, what would he focus on, where would he put his energy and, more to the point, try to put the nation's.
It can be silly, of course, to go through exercises in which we wonder what Abe Lincoln or Jesus or Babe Ruth might think about this or that today. We don't know.
But we do know something about what they thought when they walked the planet, and it's kind of interesting to imagine how they might view current developments.
Here's my guess about how King today would use his prophetic voice today: He'd be raking us over the coals for the terrible shape of our prison and criminal justice systems and especially for being one of the few developed nations left with the death penalty.
I'm thinking King would be talking every day about what my former Kansas City Star colleague Mary Sanchez calls "our grossly unfair criminal justice system." In a recent column, Mary noted this: "The U.S. holds the distinction of the world's highest incarcertation rate. One in every 100 adults -- 2.3 million people -- was behind bars in 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States."
Just willy-nilly jailing people for minor offenses is bad enough, but executing innocent people is far, far worse, and that's what's happening with our system of capital punishment. As The Innocence Project reports, "Eighteen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 229 years in prison – including 202 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit."
What we may never know is how many innocent people were put to death because of our expensive and inefficient capital punishment system.
Well, no doubt there would be much to occupy King's mind today were he still here, and perhaps he would not be just a one-issue man. But I'm guessing the issue he'd care a lot about is prison reform and abolition of the death penalty.
In fact, if we really wanted to honor his memory and achieve his dream, we might start by working in those areas.
(As the photo here today shows, King knew about jails from the inside. In fact, in April 1963 he wrote a famous letter from the Birmingham, Ala., jail.)
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A PLEA FOR FEMALE CLERGY
Former Kansas City Rabbi Jim Rudin, now known nationally for many good reasons, has written this piece bemoaning the continued existence of a stained-glass ceiling for women clergy members. In my experience faith communities shortchange themselves by not either hiring or promoting female members of the clergy. Which is self-defeating.