By Robert A. Vella
A half a century ago, America found a way to solve its deadly racial tensions which were tearing the nation apart. That historic effort was led by great non-violent civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., joined by an activist counterculture movement of young Americans from all ethnic backgrounds, and put into law by principled politicians on both sides of the aisle who had found the courage to act.
Today, America’s disturbing racial problems are once again resurfacing. But this time, there is no MLK leading the fight against racism. There is no activist youth movement willing to stand up to bigotry. There aren’t enough brave politicians committed to reversing the current tide of intolerance and prejudice inundating the country’s most basic social institutions.
The eyes of the world are focusing on the town of Ferguson, Missouri where angry protests are continuing over the senseless police killing of an unarmed black teenage boy. From MSN – Police, protesters again clash outside St. Louis:
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Police in riot gear fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters in a St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager had been fatally shot by police over the weekend, as tension rose even amid calls for collective calm.
Between two nights of unrest, a community forum hosted by the local NAACP chapter Monday night drew hundreds to a sweltering church in Ferguson, the nearly 70 percent black St. Louis County suburb where an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot multiple times by a police officer.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said a large crowd that gathered throughout Monday at the site of a burned-out convenience store turned rowdy at nightfall, throwing rocks at police. Officers used tear gas and shot “beanbag rounds” meant to stun them, he said.
Such deeply troubling stories were common throughout the Southern states – and sometimes elsewhere – before and during the Civil Rights Era. Now, the names of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown regularly make the headlines from coast to coast. It’s happening all over again. The very fabric of America must be torn asunder another time because its people have forgotten the terrible price paid for that which they have so carelessly taken for granted.
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” – MLK
That “language” Dr. King spoke so eloquently about will only get louder unless Americans wake up and start hearing it. If there is not justice for all, there will be justice for none. If there is only freedom for some, there will be conflict for everyone. If there is no equality under the law, there can be no prosperity for all.
White Americans must come to terms with their racial, ethnic, and religious fears which trigger aggressive and exploitative behavior towards others. Black Americans must direct their rage towards constructive purposes. All Americans must speak out against the malicious forces of discrimination. Police – and all public servants – must conduct themselves within the law, and must be held accountable when they don’t. Political, business, and religious leaders can no longer look the other way just because doing so is expediently self-serving.
Everything is at stake. The time is now to act. Either we meet this challenge head-on as we have done before, or we succumb to our apathy, our callousness, and our foolish notions about humanity.