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To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “Today we honor a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality. Our country is better thanks to his inspiration and sacrifice #MLKDay.”
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 21, 2019
Sanders’ remark seems benign enough, but it leaves out an essential detail.
He was assassinated Sarah https://t.co/SZ14TXQqGq
— Mary Wilson (@MaryWilsonTV) January 21, 2019
he was murdered Sarah
— Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) January 21, 2019
He didn’t make the sacrifice, his life was taken from him
— Hugo• (@ohreillyy) January 21, 2019
You really think she knows ??
— Enrique (@Enrique48792874) January 21, 2019
*MLK was ASSASSINATED. That wasn’t a choice that he made. He died fighting for racial and economic justice which is the opposite of everything your administration stands for. BYE! pic.twitter.com/Du4pTlyNtD
— James (@blkoutloud) January 21, 2019
But Sanders isn’t alone in ill-informed tributes. A tweet from the National Rifle Association sparked outrage, as well.
Today, the men and women of the @NRA honor the profound life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King applied for a concealed carry permit in a "may issue" state and was denied. We will never stop fighting for every law-abiding citizen's right to self-defense. #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/wtSQOO5Kaq
— NRA (@NRA) January 21, 2019
oh my fucking god
— Rebecca Schoenkopf, Wonkette Editrix, King Of You (@commiegirl1) January 21, 2019
You know you guys could have just not said anything today right
— Fancy Boy 2019 (@MrPhetz) January 21, 2019
not tweeting is an option guys
— ntanner (@nathan_a_tanner) January 21, 2019
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) January 21, 2019
You know he got shot, right?
— Mitla96 (@Mitla96) January 21, 2019
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. King was supporting striking sanitation workers and staying at the Lorraine Hotel; he was shot while standing on his balcony.
James Earl Ray was convicted for the murder of King. Ray died in prison, but maintained his innocence. The King family believes that Ray was innocent, and Coretta Scott King was firm in her belief that her husband’s murder was a conspiracy.
King did have an awareness that his life was in danger; he was ruthlessly targeted by the FBI. Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute has a detailed list of the ways the FBI attempted to intimidate King—even trying to convince him to commit suicide.
King was also stabbed by a mentally ill woman in 1958, which almost killed him, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There were many, many other threats against his life and his family during his fight for civil rights and for economic equality.
However, Sanders’ statement whitewashes the reality of King’s death. He was targeted for assassination; it wasn’t an accident. He didn’t die on the battlefield, or from friendly fire. It was not part of his job to risk his life.
To imply so is to imply that people who continue to fight for civil rights should expect their own lives to be at risk.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.