Several years ago, I had lunch with my friend Clarence Jones, who is currently Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. He previously served as Dr. King’s personal attorney and also helped draft the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which King delivered during the March on Washington in 1963.

              To that end, I asked Clarence what Dr. King would have thought about progress in civil rights over the fifty-plus years since his death. And Clarence responded with a statement I will never forget: “Martin’s primary commitment was never civil rights. His first and foremost commitment was to non-violence and this country has become much more violent over the last fifty years.”

              I was reminded again of this remark by Clarence Jones yesterday when I briefly watched the trial of three White men accused of killing an unarmed Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who resisted what the defendants have claimed was their attempt to effect a ‘citizen’s arrest’ of Arbery for allegedly entering the property of a newly-built home in their neighborhood.

              So, here we have on national TV, two trials, one in Wisconsin and the other in Georgia. In one trial the victim who was killed was White, in the other trial he was Black. In the Wisconsin trial the defendant, who was also White, used his assault rifle to defend himself against individuals who he believed were going to assault him because he was protecting the private property of someone else. In Georgia, the shooter and his accomplices used a shotgun to defend himself from a man who allegedly attacked him because he and his accomplices were trying to defend the property of someone else.

              Let’s pause for a moment while I ask my readers a question. Have any of you ever been in the town of Skidmore, Missouri? I’ll bet you haven’t.

              I drove through Skidmore in 1989, when the population was around 350 people, of whom at least half lived on farms surrounding the town. As of today, the town’s population is probably down to 250, along with some dogs and cats. In other words, Skidmore is a rural dump.

              The town, however, became famous or better yet infamous in 1981, when just about every adult standing around the main street on a Saturday afternoon witnessed the shooting of Ken McElroy as he left a saloon and got into his truck. McElroy earned a living by rustling cattle from various farms or stealing equipment from unlocked barns.

              The previous year he had come into town and almost beaten to death the 70-year old owner of the dry goods store who was considered as the nearest thing to Mother Theresa because he extended credit to the local farmers on very generous terms.

              McElroy was convicted of the assault but didn’t serve one day in jail. When he showed up on a weekend day in July 1981 a crowd of 60-70 townspeople confronted him in the saloon and then he was shot by ‘persons unknown’ as he got into his truck.

              This murder, which occurred in daylight and was witnessed by more than forty adults, was never solved. The county cops investigated the shooting, but nobody talked, and nobody was charged. Then the state police showed up, conducted a second investigation,

and again, came up with a blank.

              This shooting then became national news when the FBI was called in. It was referred to in the media as ‘vigilante justice alive and well in the Old West,’ but the results of the FBI’s efforts were the same: no results. The case remains unsolved to this day even though it became the subject of a pretty decent book as well as a pretty crummy Hollywood flick.

              The shooting of Ken McElroy took place before we had cell-phones which took video and of course it took place before we had an internet news cycle which has an inexhaustible appetite for anything which can be described as ‘news.’ In both the current Kenosha and Georgia trials, videos of the shootings taken by onlookers or independent media producers have been shown in court.

              I don’t recall the last time that two trials in two different states were being held at the same time to determine whether defendants were legally protected from criminal charges because they shot and killed someone while claiming to be protecting private property which they didn’t own. In both instances, the shooters took it upon themselves to determine whether the person they killed represented a threat to them or to anyone else. And even if the victims were threatening to attack these self-made community protectors, why didn’t the men with the guns try to back down?

              I’ll tell you why. Because they had guns. And why did they have guns which allowed them to pretend that all they were really trying to do was protect the community from harm? I quote a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a month before he delivered ‘I Have a Dream’ in 1963: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim; by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing,  we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

              For all the people who were shocked by the video that shows Kyle Rittenhouse running down the street with his AR-15, just remember that his mother has already raised $460,000 on the internet to cover the costs of his legal defense, and yesterday she sent out a message asking people to donate $100,000 more. She’ll get it, I’m sure.

              Have we become more violent because we have so many more guns? Or do we have so many more guns because violence, pari passu, has become as American as the pie we’ll all gobble down next week? 

              To quote what I never hear from any of the online experts and pundits these days – I don’t know.