There remain numerous questions to be answered about the circumstances of King’s death. Still, many observers summarily reject the notion that his death was the result of a conspiracy of subjects known or unknown. Yet in December, 1999, after hearing the testimony of over 70 witnesses, including the owner of a restaurant close to the murder scene who admitted his complicity in the plot to kill King, an interracial jury in Shelby, Tennessee unanimously concluded that King’s murder was the result of a conspiracy of unnamed “governmental agencies.” A June, 2000 report of the United States Department of Justice disputed the verdict as flawed and based on numerous factual inaccuracies. It recommended that there be no further investigation unless new corroborated evidence is presented. However, the family of Martin Luther King remains convinced that he was the victim of a conspiracy of persons unknown, as do his closest aides. And, again, many questions remain unanswered.
The public will probably never conclusively know whether King’s assassination was indeed the work of conspirators and if it was related to fear of an effective Poor People’s Campaign. Yet we do know that the specter of the economic radical that Martin Luther King had become, standing at the head of a successful Poor People’s Campaign of many hundreds of thousands, demanding sweeping restructuring of the political economy, posed a threat to the federal government and the capitalist class of potentially enormous magnitude.
Thus it might be said that King’s April 4, 1967 speech condemning the Vietnam War was his death warrant, and that his determination that America realize true economic democracy for all signed it. And one can plausibly conclude as well that it was protectors of the unjust status quo who executed it.
Here’s a refrain you’ll hear a lot in conversations about gentrifications: “Well, it’s really a class issue.” Davidson’s piece manages to avoid any race analysis whatsoever. Of course economics plays a huge role in this. But race and class are inseparably entwined. Rising rents, along with institutionally racist policies like stop-and-frisk, have forced black people to leave New York and urban areas around the country at historic rates. And yes, there are many layers at play: When non-black people of color with class privilege, like myself, move into a historically black and lower-income neighborhood, the white imagination reads our presence as making the area a notch safer for them. The mythology of safety and racial coding regards our presence as a marker of change; the white imagination places higher value on anything it perceives as closer to itself, further from blackness. We become complicit in the scam; the cycle continues.
These power plays – cultural, political, economic, racial — are the mechanics of a city at war with itself. It is a slow, dirty war, steeped in American traditions of racism and capitalism. The participants are often wary, confused, doubtful. Macklemore summarized the attitudes of many young white wealthy newcomers in his fateful text to Kendrick Lamar on Grammy night: “It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” But as with Macklemore, being surprised about a system that has been in place for generations is useless. White supremacy is nothing if not predictable."