This 25th anniversary of our national celebration of the life, times and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – his legacy of nonviolent resistance, community activism, and social change through peace, love and tolerance – is an important milestone as we reflect upon a national tragedy that has shocked us to our very core and left us trying to understand a heinous act of violence.
Last week, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was critically injured and many of her staff members and constituents were killed or wounded in a mass shooting that lasted only seconds but will be seared into our minds forever. Indeed, this monstrous attack upon innocent lives, and the representative democracy we cherish so dearly, has given us pause and broken our hearts.
No words can give adequate justice or much comfort to the injured who are recovering, the families and friends who are grieving for the loss of their loved ones, and the American people who are trying to understand what happened. What we do know is that Gabby and the other victims, their loved ones, and the first responders and volunteers who leapt into action are all fighters, they are all heroes, and they are all our brothers and our sisters.
Also weighing heavy on my heart is a recent wave of violence in my district in South Los Angeles, violence that is often traced back to gangs that continue to act with impunity and terrorize my constituents like: five-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr., hit by a bullet in his own backyard while showing off his Spiderman Halloween costume to his family; Kashmier James, a young woman killed while visiting friends on Christmas day; 14-year-old Taburi Watson, shot while riding his bike a few days before New Year’s; and Mr. Lewis Smith, who sadly was removed from life support earlier this week after surviving the initial shooting.
In some sad and tragic twist of fate, Mr. Smith was wounded in a shopping plaza and memorial area named after Dr. King, one of the greatest minds to have lived and graced us with his wisdom, his strength, and his vision for a better world for all people, especially African Americans in our fight for equality, justice and freedom. But I understand that already, in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, some business owners and other leaders have come together to address this act of violence against Mr. Smith and stand united as a community.
So I believe it is as relevant as ever to look to Dr. King and his words to help us understand these and other tragedies – and perhaps more importantly – understand how we go forward as a stronger community, a stronger nation, and a stronger people resolved to be: vigorous in our debates, but never violent; impassioned about our opinions, but never intolerant; steadfast in our efforts to work together and implement effective social change, but never scurrilous; and demonstrative of respect toward our fellow man and woman, but never derisive.