Moving forward with the dream: On MLK Day, no better time to reflect on past, present, future of equality

“What do apples and black people have in common? They both hang from trees.”

This sickening statement comes from one of five law enforcement officers patrolling in Dayton, Ohio, where 43% of the population is Black. What makes matters even worse is this is just one of many text messages exchanged between these officers from November 2011 to January 2013.

The openly racist, bigoted, hateful messages were not only in reference to the citizens of Dayton–where these officers work–but also to the officers’ Black colleagues.  Other messages included racial slurs, jokes and wishes of cutting or hurting black people. These messages are said to have been uncovered by NAACP Dayton President Derrick Forward, but he will not release how he came across these private messages.

According to RawStory.Com, although these messages were delivered on their personal phones while on and off duty during this period, the officers were not removed from duty until December 1, 2014. But, even then, two of the five officers–Captain Thomas Flanders and Michael Sollenberger–were not simply suspended for their actions, but transitioned to indefinite PAID administrative leave. Names of the additional three officers involved have yet to be released. This case is still under investigation to further determine an appropriate punishment for all involved.

It’s only right that I connect this story with this very important holiday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and recognize that Dr. King’s dream is far from fulfilled.

People of different upbringings are not being treated with equal respect. As a Black female who was raised on Dr. King’s dream, and taught to respect others no matter their background, this story completely baffles me–even with all that has happened in the news as of late. Men and women who took an oath to serve and protect me and my family are continuously tearing us down whether it is physically or verbally, and this has to stop.

But, just as Dr. King did, we must overcome despite adversity, and continue to fiercely yet peacefully fight for our right to be free from hateful persecution. This nation must unify and realize that harmony is the key to achieving equality. Dr. King said: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must take the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back…”

Although this particular story proves that we still have much work to do even after all that Dr. King did during his time, even though we have taken quite a few steps backwards, we must continue to look ahead. We must stand, march and protest together until our neighbors, no matter the race, age, religion or sex, are protected by our officers and by one another in our communities, without fear of discrimination or threats to our freedom.

Let’s keep dreaming…