January 23, 2015

The Dream of Reconciliation: Martin and Trayvon, Eric, Wenjian and Rafael

With credit to the spirit, as well as the commemoration of MLK, it’s gratifying and a relief to linger over two images that so reflect our higher selves. Barry Blitt’s illustration of Dr. King marching with the slain NYPD Officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, followed closely by Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, is a vision of unity as much as  a statement, with the flag, that we’re all engaged on a deeper plane. Sure Blitt’s drawing, “The Dream of Reconciliation,”  is ironic in placing King arm-in-arm with the law, and matter-of-fact in subordinating the slain young men to a second row. In the same way Blitt brings these men together, however, the cover forces us to do the same. It’s not a suggestion. The eyes on us demand we find meaning in these deaths and assume a larger collective responsibility.

It’s one thing to transcend difference through art. It’s a completely different thing to do it in real life. As part of the King commemoration, we have this scene from Brooklyn that so echoes the arrangement and the spirit of that cover. In the photograph, we see Al Sharpton with Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, laying wreaths at the spot where the officers were killed. The two wreaths, each with a ribbon bearing the officer’s name, are like personages. How fitting, too, echoing Martin (I mean, Trayvon) there’s that young person up front in the hoodie.

If power is unequal, hearts are hard and communication in the public square is all too partitioned and barbed, I deeply appreciate both these images. Talk all we want, unity and understanding are conditions for humanity.

(illustration: Barry Blitt for The New Yorker. photo: Mary Altaffer/AP. caption: Rev. Al Sharpton, center, arrives with Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr, left, to lay a wreath at the site where Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in New York. The life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered across New York City on Monday, the annual commemorations taking on added meaning at a time of increased focus on race relations in the nation’s largest city. Six months after Eric Garner, who is black, died in a white police officer’s chokehold, protests and speeches invoking his name provided a backdrop for the King commemorations.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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