Where is the black leadership now that a grand jury has decided not to indict the police officer that killed Michael Brown?
Where is Al Sharpton? He advertises himself as a spokesman for the best interests of black America. But he is absent.
Where is Jesse Jackson, another popular media personality who says he speaks for black America? He’s missing in action, too.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have been meeting with younger civil rights activists who are on the front-line in Missouri. The young activists are taking the lead in the churches, the schools, the community meetings in Ferguson. Those young people have led difficult conversations about the importance of moving past anger at the lack of any sanction against the policeman for shooting an unarmed young man.
Incredibly, the best leadership on the scene has come from the family of the murdered teen.
Michael Brown’s family issued a statement right after the prosecutor announced that the grand jury was not going to indict the officer. They said they are “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
They then spoke about the need for “positive change…[the] need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.” They specifically called for requiring the police to wear body cameras and then they added “please keep your protests peaceful.”
“Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction – Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference,” their statement read.
As the black father of two boys and a grandson I can only imagine the pain being felt by young Michael Brown’s parents. If anyone could be forgiven for lashing out, crying out in rage it would be Michael Brown, Sr.
Instead President Obama read Mr. Brown’s words calling for people to avoid violence: “Hurting and destroying others is not the answer,” Mr. Brown said a week ago, setting the stage for a constructive response no matter what the grand jury decided.
President Obama added another quote from Mr. Brown: “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
That “positive change,” is not advanced by riots.
It breaks my heart to see televised images of violence from Ferguson, Missouri juxtaposed next to President Obama, the first black president.
The president represents black power beyond anyone’s imagination just a few years ago. He inspires young black people to dream of fulfilling their dreams. Here is a black man with a seat at the head of the American table of leadership and that means the world’s leadership.
But he is now weighed down by the troubled history of American race relations and the failure of established black civil rights and political leadership. So President Obama had to step into vacuum of national civil rights leadership and appeal for peace on the streets all the way from the White House.
Street violence, riots, only plays into the hands of racial provocateurs who are too weak to engage in the constant, on-going struggle for equal rights and protections for black people. Those self-promoters are never around to clean up after a riot destroys a black neighborhood and tears at the trust between good people of all races.
Some television stations, too, have practically called for riots. They are so self-serving that some have identified them as fans of “Riot Porn.” They want the cheap thrills that come with stereotyping black people as violent and the high ratings that come with racial tensions. Their anchors want to be seen in the middle of the fray.
But as the “Last Poets,” a 60s group of black musicians once said: “The revolution will not be televised.” The riots of the 1960s and the 1990s riots that followed the Rodney King verdict are proof that riots don’t advance justice for black people.
I wrote a history of the civil rights movement – “Eyes on the Prize- America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965” and one clear lesson I learned from my research remains to me to this day. The people with the most guns and bombs did not win the civil rights struggle.
Leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., won with the thunderous power of non-violence. They appealed to Christian conscience. They shared their humanity and a shared patriotism, a belief in the Founding Fathers’ promise that “All men are created equal.”
The people who engineered the greatest social movement in American history engaged the political process. They talked, they pressured, they protested. They used incredible speeches, music and art to change hearts and open minds.
Attorney General Holder offered the same conclusion last week. “History has… shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to non-aggression and non-violence,” Holder said in a video given to young people active in trying to create change and avoid violence in Missouri.
Real change comes but it comes from people who work, who stand up, work some more, and work toward a vision of justice that inspires others to work with them.
Young Michael Brown’s death is a call to action – not violence.