NEW YORK (AP) — The civil rights battles fought by Martin Luther King Jr. are different from today’s problems, and the country must work together to end poverty and gun violence, state leaders said Monday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton hosted a forum to honor King’s legacy at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand attended, as did U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was booed by some residents still angry over the handling of the post-Christmas blizzard.
Sharpton said it’s time to stop trying to fight the battles of 50 years ago, to work to boost education and wage levels in minority communities and to enact tougher laws against gun violence.
“Don’t act like Dr. King didn’t get anything done,” he told a packed audience. “He did. He changed the world. We’ve got to deal with our own children. … We’ve got to end gun violence. … We’ve got to get equal education.”
Both Schumer and Gillibrand invoked the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., as they asked for a recommitment to King’s values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice on the holiday that remembers the leader killed by an assassin’s bullet 42 years ago.
“What happened in Arizona is very much relevant to today,” said Schumer. “We all know of the brutality of gun violence.”
Schumer said there was nothing wrong with putting reasonable restrictions on guns so that people with a history of mental problems or serious drug use would not have ready access to them. Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old suspect in the Tucson shootings that killed six and injured 12, was described as a mentally unstable man who was kicked out a community college last year and became increasingly erratic in recent months.
“We have many things to do in Dr. King’s name, and one of those is get the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Schumer said.
Gillibrand gave an impassioned speech about tolerance and the need to put an end to ugly discourse and angry, hurtful words. Gillibrand, who is a friend of Giffords, said the injured congresswoman is a person of courage and great strength.
“She can inspire us all,” she said.
Sharpton and others said the Tucson shootings are similar to the random shootings that frequently occur in urban areas.
New York resident Joanna Soto spoke of her 17-year-old son, Londell, who was shot dead on Dec. 4. Londell, a studious boy about to graduate and go to Pace University, got into a fight with a man and was killed when the two gathered supposedly to make amends.
“My son pulled out his hand, and this man pulled out a gun and killed my son,” she said, sobbing. “This has got to stop.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)