WASHINGTON – Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King, Jr., told PJM that the Trump administration should “take the lead” around “voter suppression” and work to make it “as easy to vote as anything.”
King was asked what he wants to see from the Trump administration in the area of civil rights.
“First of all, if the administration would take the lead around voter suppression that would be one of the first steps. All over the country states have passed legislation to suppress the vote,” King said after his speech at the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Washington on Monday.
Referring to states that have passed laws requiring photo identification to vote, King called for online voting and allowing Americans to register to vote on Election Day rather than only permitting registration in advance of the election.
“We need to make it just as easy to vote as anything — online voting, same-day voter registration. Those are some of the things the administration could lead on to make sure more people vote,” he said. “This nation, out of 160, 170 democracies, we are 138 – 137 nations have higher participation than us. We should be able to participate in voting easily and that hasn’t happened.”
Hilary Shelton, president of the D.C. chapter of the NAACP, said Martin Luther King, Jr., would be unhappy with the current government shutdown and a lack of legislative progress that’s happened under the Trump administration. However, Shelton said he does want to show “some appreciation” for the president signing the criminal-justice reform First Step Act.
“I think it would begin with an agenda being stalled or frozen. King often talked about the paralysis of analysis and what we are seeing with this administration, sadly and unfortunately, is not even the analysis of the problems we are trying to solve, whether we are talking about problems with our criminal justice system,” he said. “We do want to give the president some appreciation for having signed the First Step Act allowing us to move forward on the issues of prison reform and sentencing reform in this country – it’s crucial.”
Shelton continued, “So I think Dr. King would be not happy about the slowness or even the stalemate that has occurred during this present administration. He would recognize what he said to us so many times in his life and his writings that there’s so much to be done.”
Al Sharpton previously told PJM that President Trump asked to meet with him one-on-one after the 2016 presidential election, but Sharpton declined because he wanted the NAACP, Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League and other civil rights groups in the room as well. Shelton said he thinks a meeting between civil rights groups and the Trump administration would be helpful.
“I would commend Al Sharpton for taking that position and continuing to demonstrate what he understands as the value of working in a coalition with those who are searching and trying to achieve the same goals regardless of where they’re coming from,” Shelton said.
“There should be an opportunity for us all to sit down under the right circumstances. It must be a serious meeting that goes far beyond a photo op. One of the biggest fears I think we have is that the photo ops are sometimes taken out of context,” he said, explaining that groups involved would have to agree to the specific issues on the meeting agenda in advance.
King slammed Pence’s recent statement about Martin Luther King, Jr.
“One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make the real promises of democracy.’ You think of how he changed America,” Pence said on Sunday. “He inspired us to change through legislative process to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do: Come to the table in a spirit of good faith. We’ll secure our border, we’ll reopen our government.”
King said his father was a “bridge-builder and not a wall-builder.” King said his father would say, “Love, not hate, will make America great.”
Sharpton said that the “vice president, in my opinion, misquoted Dr. King.”
King said he doesn’t blame the TSA agents who are calling out of work during the shutdown because they need to “make ends meet” somehow.
“I don’t know how we celebrate when everyday workers can’t work,” King said, referring to his father’s birthday. “The Coast Guard can’t even get paid and nobody seems to care. There’s something wrong with that.”
King told the breakfast attendees that “we observe Dr. King’s birthday, we don’t celebrate it” as long as there is “police brutality,” the government shutdown, separation of families at the border or women making less than men for the same job.
During the breakfast, Sharpton criticized Trump for not participating in any events for the MLK holiday or holding an official event at the White House. Trump, alongside Pence, laid a wreath at the Martin Luther King memorial on Monday.
During his speech at the event, former Vice President Joe Biden expressed support for a $15 minimum wage.
“What the hell are we arguing about a $15 minimum wage for, why is that even a question?” he asked.
Biden also said America has to work to “root out” systematic racism.
“There’s something we have to admit—not you, we, white America—has to admit there’s still a systematic racism,” he said.
Teasing his possible 2020 candidacy, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said he has to get “some pointers” from Biden about what it’s like living in Washington, D.C. The crowd laughed and Bloomberg replied, “I actually thought that was funnier than you did.”
“Whatever the next year brings for Joe and me, I know we’ll both keep our eyes on the real prize and that means electing a Democrat to the White House in 2020 and getting our country back on track,” Bloomberg said.