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Yes, protests and marches still make a difference

By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr./NNPA Columnist
On December 27, 2014

Credit: Robert Eubanks/District Chronicles

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” 
“No Justice, No Peace”
“I Can’t Breathe”
“Black Lives Matter”

Those are the chants and hand-written signs that continue to characterize marches, die-ins, sit-ins and other non-violent actions in more than 50 cities across the nation in response to grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to indict White police officers for killing unarmed African Americans.

As always, there are detractors who argue that civil rights marches, while helpful in the past, are passe in an era of a Black family occupying the White House. They are wrong. And if they had studied history, they would know it.

Every inch of progress toward racial justice and equality in America has only come as a consequence of organized public protest and struggle. Each march had goals that went beyond marching for the sake of marching.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Fair Housing Act of 1968, as well as all the subsequent racial justice laws were only established after a protracted period of civil rights demonstrations and protest. It is noteworthy that today a growing number of young people are not only marching, but assuming leadership roles in the mass marches in support of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and Rumain Brisbon.

From Boston to Los Angeles, Miami to Phoenix, from Chicago to New York City, from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, and from St. Louis to Pittsburgh people are demanding equal justice. People are protesting excessive use of deadly force and police brutality. And the  movement is growing.

The coalition includes the National Action Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and the Hip-Hop Caucus. The goal of the march will be to seek additional protection from Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

We want the DOJ to deploy federal special prosecutors to take over cases of Black Americans being killed by police officers. We should work with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to craft the appropriate legislation and remedies that should be adopted into law.  The issues of racial profiling, police use of deadly force, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate police training, video cameras on police officers, and grand jury injustice all are matters that require systemic change.

Yes marching does make a difference in particular if it leads to both a change in how laws are established and enforced with transparency and equal justice.  In his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned, “The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in North and South.’’

It is ironic, although some will say it is providential, that 47 years after Dr. King’s prophetic words, the persistence of racism in America continues with a majority of White Americans living in what Rev. Joe Lowery calls the 51st state – the state of denial. Yet, younger Americans –   Black, White, Latino, Asian, and Native – are jointly protesting racially-motivated police killings. I agree that attaining equal justice today requires more marches and demonstrations. But, as always, they represent a great start.

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