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Written Reflection from November 11th, 2013 @ Age 32




INTRODUCTION—My Mental Illness:  What it Means.


Removal of my Civil Rights Without Justifiable CauseResulting Lag in Capability to Cultivate Self-Autonomy, Self-Confidence & Self-Respect.

Now, last month, October 2013, I dealt with Ohio Senate Bill 43, which proposed that our state government step in, regardless of presence of immediate harm, and unjustifiably remove from our mentally ill population their civil rights, and force unwanted and incompetent medical treatment upon them.  And yet, here we are just one month later, in November 2013, and I find myself again dealing with the same proposed legislation!  Now relabeled and repackaged not only as Ohio House Bill 104, but also, Substitute Ohio House Bill 104 (just in case they can’t get the first one voted through), both of course, proposing, that our state government step in, regardless of presence of immediate harm, and unjustifiably remove from our mentally ill population their civil rights, and force unwanted and incompetent medical treatment upon them.  I mean, I don’t even know what to say…

And I don’t know if you know, but then too, someone else dealt with Ohio House Bill 299 back in 2007 and 2008 (suggested “Jason’s Law”), which proposed that our state government step in, regardless of presence of immediate harm, and unjustifiably remove from our mentally ill population their civil rights, and force unwanted and incompetent medical treatment upon them.  I mean, talk about sociologically “justified” discrimination against our mentally ill population…

I’m not sure it can get any worse than this.  The only thing I am sure of is that I cannot sit by acquiescently and watch you harm my people anymore.  I would rather lose my job, lose my ability to fund all of my health insurance coverage, and watch you blow my flame out and cage my spirit, and then kill myself because of you and the harm you allow to happen in this world that we must live in together, than sit by idly and watch you continue to harm my people.  My people deserve so much better than this.  I, deserve so much better than this.

You continue to dance the same dance, all the while believing for some reason, or just consciously disregarding and pretending, that even without the key distinction between our proposed law and Kendra’s Law, that we will still reap the same results.  The key distinction is the funding provided to uphold the treatment programs promised by such laws—New York dedicated $32 million to move Kendra’s Law from theory into operation.  To the best of my knowledge, Ohio has dedicated nothing.

The legal language between Kendra’s Law and Substitute House Bill 104 may be the same, but please acknowledge that without funding, the effects will not be equal.  All you are doing in effect, with all of this proposed legislation, is stripping us of our civil rights without providing the treatment promised, the very basis for the reason which justifies your argument for removing our civil rights in the first place.

You promise us nothing.  You agree only to remove from us our vital civil liberties—civil liberties vital to any human being, vital to support any kind of opportunity for any human being to cultivate self-autonomy, self-confidence and self-respect—and in return, we are promised your continued acquiescence supporting others’ discrimination against us?

I don’t think so.  You need to think again.  You need to think different.


November 11th, 2013

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”  Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.  If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.  But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.”  I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.  We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.  Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates.  Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary.  We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise.  So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here.  I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.  Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.  Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.  Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham.  But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.  I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.  It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.  We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham.  There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.  Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.  Its ugly record of brutality is widely known.  Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts.  There have been more unresolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation.  These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.  On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers.  But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiations.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community.  In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants—for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs.  On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations.  As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.  A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.  As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.  We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.  Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification.  We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves:

“Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?”

“Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”

We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year.  Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day.  When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues.  Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement.  Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask:  “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?”

You are quite right in calling for negotiations.  Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.  Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.  It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.  My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking.  But I must confess that I am not afraid of the wordtension.”  I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.  Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.  The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.  I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation.  Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely.  Some have asked:

Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?

The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act.  We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham.  While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo.  I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation.  But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights.  My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure.  Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.  Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.


Letter from a Birmingham Jail

April 16th, 1963