Is civil rights leadership on the sidelines?

December 11, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Marching in center city the Ferguson protestors on South Broad at City Hall, Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo / The Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk )

Marching in center city the Ferguson protestors on South Broad at City Hall, Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo / The Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk )

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

PHILADELPHIA, PA –Its not clear that this generation of civil rights leaders can win this one.

Thousands of defiant marchers protested across the nation this weekend where hundreds lay prostrate in the streets whispering “I can’t breathe.”

The chant has become almost ubiquitous since a Staten Island grand jury refused to indict a white police officer for the death of Eric Garner last July. The protests–some riotous–have also been in response to the death of Michael Brown, victim of a similar “death-by-police” scenario.

Here in the “City of Brotherly Love,” emotions and racial discontent continue to smolder, reflecting a duality of perspective as revealed in national polling results released over the weekend about race and law enforcement.

A Bloomberg Politics poll reveals a growing racial cleavage: While 64% of white respondents agreed with the Ferguson, Mo. ruling where a grand jury refused to indict a white officer accused of killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 71% of African-Americans strongly disagreed with the decision.

A CBS/Marist poll reported that: “By more than two-to-one, African Americans are more likely than whites to say law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton is calling for a “March on Washington” this weekend to bring a civil rights focus on the justice system.

But will Sharpton’s agitation help? More profoundly, has the efficacy of the civil rights coalition abated? Can it produce the efforts won in Montgomery, Birmingham or Selma?

“For the first time we are having a [civil rights] movement that is not really being led by the [black] church,” said the Rev. Alyn Waller to 4,000 worshipers at Philadelphia’s Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Sunday. “And quite frankly the church is not really out in front of this like we could and should be. And this could be the reason that the fight is not there.”

In the meantime, President Barack Obama offers protesters and the nation the anemic solution of “time.”

Monday night he told BET: “When you are dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society you got to have vigilance but you have to recognize that its going to take some time and you have to be steady.”

The president’s comments fall flat five decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued against the brand of systemic racism clearly visible in Ferguson and Staten Island.

If he were present, King would push Obama to make bolder statements about the justice system and the plight of black men. King would chide the president’s hesitancy on forming stronger national policies on race and the law. King would urge Obama to embrace the activism on the streets to galvanize public opinion.

King would say what he uttered in the 1960s: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior director at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston and is founder of the New Democracy Coalition.

 

 

(The views expressed in the editorial are those of the author.)

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