On Monday, as we celebrate a world-renowned peace activist, the nation still mourns last month's loss of 26 people -- including 20 first-graders -- who were gunned down in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Since that awful day, another 900 Americans have lost their lives from gunfire.
Also in recent weeks, a white ninth-grader in Baldwin, Wis., was suspended for giving a miniature noose and a "KKK symbol" to a black classmate. And earlier this month, four Minneapolis Washburn High School students were disciplined for dangling a dark-skinned doll by a piece of string in a school stairway.
The recent incidents come from opposite ends of the violence spectrum -- ranging from psychological intimidation to physical harm. The man we celebrate today, Martin Luther King Jr., marched, demonstrated, went to jail and ultimately lost his life battling these and other forms of violence. And his passionate, eloquent words on race and peace are still applicable.
This year, King's legacy is being celebrated on the same day that the nation's first African-American president is being inaugurated for the second time. Both King and President Obama are fellow winners of the world's highest award for nonviolence -- the Nobel Peace Prize.
And yet, Obama serves an America that has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Just last week, he signed executive orders and urged Congress to act on gun control and other measures to keep children safe in their schools and communities. Gun control, while necessary, addresses only one form of hateful violence.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that slightly more than 1,000 hate groups operated in the United States in 2011 -- 12 of which have chapters in Minnesota. The center says that 328 hate crimes and hate group activities were reported in the media in 2012, just a fraction of the reported and unreported actual incidents.
Though much progress has been made on race relations between King's and Obama's times, this nation continues to struggle with race-based and other forms of violence. Among the best ways to honor King's legacy is to take his pacifist principles to heart and put them to work.
Report and prosecute criminal hate activities. Reject racist, discriminatory behavior in all of its forms. Advocate for reasonable gun-control changes. Work to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Get serious about protecting society from bias and violence.
American schoolchildren should not have to worry about being threatened because of how they look, and they should be safe in their classrooms. King would expect no less from what he called his "beloved community.''
An editorial of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis.