Martin Luther King, Jr. Day highlights tensions in Long Island race relations

Margaret Carl, Contributing Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. is most well known for his contributions to American society through the Civil Rights Movement.  For this reason, there is an entire holiday dedicated to his accomplishments.  However, in order to fully understand the extent of his accomplishments and honor his legacy, it is of the utmost importance to revisit the history of racial segregation that Martin Luther King Jr. fought to change.
It is hard to imagine a time where something as superficial as race had the power to dictate society as it did in the time period preceding the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  Segregation began, historically, after the Civil War, during which Southern legislatures made moves to prevent former slaves from experiencing their newfound freedoms, such as enforcing Jim Crow Laws and turning a blind eye to black codes throughout the nation.  Then, in 1896, a black man named Homer Adolph Plessy, refused to remove himself from the “whites only” section of a railroad car.  The infamous Supreme court case of ‘Plessy V. Ferguson’ acknowledged for the first time the constitutional validity of racially separate public facilities, thus beginning the idea of ‘separate but equal’ which would seep into 20th century Southern culture.
In spite of the court case, more often that not, these separate facilities such as water fountains, restrooms, and even entire schools had insurmountable differences.  For instance, in the 1900s these ‘black schools’ often had less qualified teachers and extremely disproportionate funding in comparison to their white counterparts.  In fact, the little funding put into the black schools was frequently transferred into white schools contributing to lower academic rates and therefore perpetuating the idea that African Americans were inherently “less than”.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves as commemoration to King who dedicated his life to preaching values of hope, love, and nonviolence.  Through King’s speeches he conveyed his dreams of an American society without such ethical degradation, when every American would be treated as truly equal.  King not only knew how to rouse a crowd, but also how to lead by example.  The activist was arrested thirty different times for civil disobedience and would later face the ultimate sacrifice for his cause.  However, how much of King’s message of tolerance is followed in contemporary life, specifically Long Island?  The Klu Klux Klan (KKK), though dwindling in active members, have been spotted several times over the last few years in Long Island.  Once, flyers for KKK recruitment where found tucked under windshield wipers in one Patchogue parking lot.  These flyers wrote ‘Our Race is Our Nation.’  In addition, a Long Island Muslim family found threatening KKK messages in their mailboxes (“The KKK are coming for you”).  The national percent of hate crimes has increased twenty percent in latest years.
“I like seeing the ‘No place for hate banners’ when I walk into the lobby,” said junior Frank DiCaro.  “It serves as a reminder for everyone.”
Hispanic Americans are especially prevalent in Long Island with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Salvadorans dominating both Nassau County and Suffolk County.  However, illegal immigration has boomed and therefore the federal administration, Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE), have been performing raids.  In some of these raids, the ICE have been detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, sometimes charging them with criminal offenses if it is fitting.  Recently after a 7/11 convenience store was inspected, twenty-one people were arrested.  In other raids, known as ‘home raids’, the ICE is able to come into the home of a suspected illegal immigrant and make arrests often using intimidation, fear, and surprise for compliance.  President Donald Trump’s administration has allowed for the ICE to many make harsh arrests upon illegal immigrants.  The ICE may have a warrant for one arrest but may find others to detain and later deport along the way, which never occurred during Obama’s presidency.  In addition, the average Hispanic American household income is proportionally lower to their equal counterparts.  What is more, for immigrants and their children there is often a direct disparity in education, there aren’t many initiatives to teach English and provide scholarship funds.  If the education barrier is never broken then these immigrants can never really hope to make any headway.
“I think Schreiber’s policies are paving the way for mutual respect and equal opportunity of education,” said senior Autumn Bluni.
And this respect and equal opportunity is something which Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud to see in America.