This is the day set aside to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., the great American apostle of nonviolence. This year it seems different because on this occasion, as the nation pauses to remember Dr. King and his legacy, Americans have once again been cast into grief by the intrusion of gunfire into a peaceful political setting.
Dr. King was only 39 when he was cut down by an assassin's bullet in 1968 as he led a campaign to improve working conditions for sanitation workers in Memphis. Had he lived, he would have been 82 years old on Saturday. In Arizona, meanwhile, the funerals continue for the victims of a shooting rampage at a place where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was engaging in one of the most fundamental acts of democracy, meeting with constituents on a quiet Saturday morning.
The thread that connects these two reprehensible incidents is the horrifying use of violence against public figures. Those who remember the shock of Dr. King's murder and the ensuing riots might feel they are reliving a nightmare. Some may ask, Will we never learn?
Fair question. Yet the similarities between these two incidents are far less significant than the differences, and for that Dr. King's life and work deserve much of the credit. If Dr. King's example and legacy stand for anything, it is the principle that Americans do not settle their political disputes by violence. The unequivocal condemnation of what happened in Tucson by Americans of every stripe makes clear that the actions of one apparently deranged gunman cannot change the nation's unswerving commitment to this abiding notion.
Dr. King's struggle for equality, his speeches and his leadership of the civil rights movement helped Americans understand that the national agenda would remain unfinished until, as he put it, ``all of God's children'' could claim a share of the nation's bounty.
Last week, at a memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the rampage, President Obama delivered a soaring oration that went a long way toward healing this latest wound. We take for granted the election of a black president now that Mr. Obama has shown it can be done, yet that great milestone in American history deserves to form part of Dr. King's legacy.
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