The State of Iowa held a ceremony at the Botanical Center in Des Moines today in honor of Martin Luther King Junior. Governor Terry Branstad read a proclamation honoring the slain civil rights leader.
Branstad says the state has a history of working to bring about equality, and talked about the state motto.
“It says ‘our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain.’ And you think about that Iowa state motto, it is very similar to the ideals that Doctor Martin Luther King Junior stood for and promoted in fighting for civil rights for all people,” Branstad says.
Branstad called for all Iowans to continue to uphold the ideals of King. “On this day, this special day, this national holiday, this state holiday, we honor Doctor Martin Luther King Junior,” Branstad says. “And I ask you to join with me in reaffirming our American and Iowa ideals of freedom, opportunity and justice for all.”
Polk County District Court Judge Odell McGhee gave the keynote address. He says Doctor King has brought us a long, way, but there is still a long way to go, and racial disparity still exists.
“This is horrible, I mean it is just horrible what has happened to us as African-Americans,” McGhees says. “We are 14 percent of the population, 40 percent of all the arrests. We are 14 percent of the population, we are 60 percent of the prisoners. We are 14 percent of the population, 43 percent of all the murders in the country. We are 14 percent of the population, nonetheless, 72 percent of all of our babies who are born, are born without a father in the home.”
McGhee touched on the recent events involving white police officers shooting black men.
“Police brutality still exists. Black Lives Matter, and I hoping most of you have taken the time to know what that is,” McGhee says. “It is not saying that nobody else’s lives matter. But it is saying that in terms of our relationship with law enforcement — we have to really understand that you just can’t go out and shoot people by the mere fact that they are African-American.”
McGhee says the state has some “serious problems” when it comes to sending young people to jail. “Why is it that a young person, all he does — I don’t think it is good that you smoke dope — but you smoke dope one time and they give you a deferred judgment. You smoke dope two times and they give you a few days in jail You smoke dope, or you smoke marijuana and then you are a major criminal. Why are we making major criminals out of these kids who smoke marijuana,” McGhee asks.
He says more needs to be done to rehabilitate young people involved in drug crimes. “I mean they have done nothing really to hurt society other than hurting themselves. But nonetheless, 60 percent of the people in jail today are in there because of dope,” McGhee says. “Now some of them deal it too, but I’m just saying a lot of them — in fact most of them — are in there for the mere fact that they use it. And of course, not being very bright, they try to sell a little bit of it too to take care of their use.”
McGhee says those who smoke marijuana are not criminals, but they make up a large portion of the prison population. “We need to consider giving new life to Martin Luther King’s dream. We need to acknowledge that the dream began with love for self and love for mankind,” McGhee says. “For without love for self and mankind, there is no absolute truth for which we can base a call to justice.”
McGhee was appointed to the Polk County District Court in 2002 and is one of only five African-American judges appointed to the courts in Iowa.
Audio: Odell McGhee comments 28:30.