COMMISSIONER BILL HOLLEN: MLK Day has critical lessons for all of us today

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On Monday, we honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday.

It wasn’t until 1985, with much controversy, that the United State Congress designated the third Monday in January as a federal holiday honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The City of Aurora has celebrated a week long MLK program for the last 31 years. The week celebration, founded by Dr. Barbara Shannon-Banister, includes lectures, forums, church services and a ceremonial wreath laying honoring Dr. King’s legacy.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s non-violent efforts to bring down the veil of racial prejudice and bring together a coalition of many races and religious leaders to help him in his quest for justice is a remarkable achievement. His nearly thirty years of persistence helped focus America’s attention to the most heinous examples of hateful behavior toward Africa-Americans to deny them the basic principles of human and political rights.

Through the concerted effort of many, America was exposed through the graphic television footage, the examples of coordinated violence against African-Americans being denied the right to assemble, fair housing, the right to vote and free speech, at the end of a bully club, or worse.

It took Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination before President Lyndon Johnson and his persuasive congressional lobbying to enact the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which put the federal government behind the effort to grant and enforce the civil rights of all minorities.

Unfortunately, the dream of Dr. King continues to be under threat, it has been over 50 years since the monumental enactment of civil and voting rights legislation.

In 2013, The US Supreme Court gutted provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by removing provisions of the Act that required certain southern states to be monitored by the US Department of Justice to ensure that minority voting rights were not denied or restricted of their Constitutional right to vote.

Almost immediately several states placed restrictive barriers to prevent minorities from voting. Those restrictions included changing voting locations, enforcing burdensome voting requirements such as voter ID requirements, and the purging of eligible voter files.

The federal and appellate courts continue to overturn these local and state efforts to restrict minorities from voting. But these issues to deny or restrict minorities from exercising their Constitutional right to vote continues in some states.

Another troubling phenomenon is the rise of hate crimes against many minority communities.

Even in Aurora we have seen a significant increase in anti-minority and religious hate crimes against Africa-Americans, Jews, Hispanics and Muslims. These crimes include spray painting KKK symbols on doors, slashing tires of Hispanics and threatening and insulting Muslim women.

Per national crime statistics, hate crimes throughout the nation have seen a 26% increase in just the last year. Much of this increase in ethnic discriminatory behavior is attributable to the hateful rhetoric coming out of last years’ presidential campaign. Apparently, many hate groups see the rise of hateful rhetoric against minority communities as a license of acceptance and encouragement to them to come out of their basements and physically act on their prejudices.

Many of the leaders of the African-American communities are alarmed by increases in discrimination against minority communities and the preserved lack of support expressed by the new president-elect and attorney general in supporting their civil rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, called for all Americans to judge people by the “content of their character” not by their ethnic or religious background. He also said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that.”

We all must play a role in helping to drive out the darkness of hate and discrimination so that everyone can fully embrace the freedoms we all should share.

Bill Holen sits on the Arapahoe County Commission and is a resident of Aurora.