In an opinion piece written by United States Attorney General Eric Holder, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, Eric Holder sent a message in writing to the people of Ferguson, Missouri, Holder today called for "an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson". Holder's op-ed was sending a message to not just those who are being arrested and causing property damage in Ferguson, a largely African-American suburb of the U.S. city of St. Louis. His message was also meant to encourage civil rights organizations, as well as the media, to confront and challenge those who were responsible for the majority of the unrest, rioting, and looting in Ferguson.
The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.
Holder visits Ferguson today to receive a briefing, related to the ongoing civil rights investigation that he ordered the Justice Department to conduct, from FBI and Department of Justice investigators, in the death of an unarmed 18 year-old black teen. The dead teenager was the prime suspect in a robbery only minutes after the crime, and had assaulted a Ferguson police officer just moments before he was shot dead by the officer who had been assaulted by the robber.
The violence in the streets of Ferguson is only one kind of reaction that a community can have when a tragedy strikes. In confronting demonstrated acts of racism and violence, committed against black communities all across the southern U.S. a half-century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made plain, to any who would listen, the proper response to resolving conflict and violence.
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation for such method is love.
Holder's trip to Ferguson recalls the impact of a young Robert F. Kennedy, seeking to bring an end to the violence being perpetrated against the "Freedom Riders", a group, mainly college students, seeking to integrate interstate bus travel all across the southern U.S. King reached out to Kennedy to help protect parishioners and visitors of Ralph Abernathy's First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Kennedy promised to protect those inside the church from the mob of angry white protesters who had been gathering outside. The Attorney General quickly mobilized federal marshals, who used tear gas to disperse the mob. The Alabama National Guard replaced the marshals, and the troops escorted folks inside the church outside at dawn.
Fifty years later after that "Summer of Freedom", why have we forgotten those important lessons from the past? The tactics and methods employed by Dr. King were not too dissimilar from those used by Mahatma Gandhi, as Gandhi convinced the British to simply avoid bloodshed during the end of rule by the monarchy. Gandhi's strong promotion of non-violent struggle and civil disobedience became a torch picked up by Dr. King as the 1950's quickly dissolved into the 1960's. Of the many quotes by Gandhi, which Dr. King felt directly influenced his own interaction with government and those determined to keep black folks in segregated lives, was this one:
Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.
I do not know how many people, marching in the streets of Ferguson during the past week, are wanting to project non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, as a strategy to draw attention to the perceived injustices ongoing in Ferguson. From the actions of the crowds who are present in the center of Ferguson most nights after 9 P.M., it seems that the rioters and looters would prefer to use the tactics of the infamous African National Congress party, once headed by the great South African Nelson Mandela, who consistently promoted violence and sabotage as a way to end white rule in South Africa.
Mandela and Dr. King are polar opposites when it comes to the kinds of strategy and methodology each used to achieve their personal political aspirations. Dr. King was dramatically influenced by Gandhi, and because Dr. King was willing to risk his life, rather than focus on taking lives or hurting others, to see his "dream" come to fruition, his use of, and promotion of, non-violent resistance led to some of the most significant civil rights legislation ever to be considered or adopted by the United States Congress.
Mandela's tactics are not ones that are endorsed by Americans. If the people of Ferguson, not the interlopers from outside who have primarily and prominently injecting violence and hatred into the present circumstances in the city, truly want to see their community change for the better, Holder is absolutely correct. The violence must end before we can begin to address grievances.
Those who condone or promote violence cannot be permitted to use violence as a negotiating tactic. It is one of the most fundamental things necessary for a negotiation between two or more parties to be a successful one. For so long as there is no peace in Gaza, there will be no justice. The same thing can be said to be true in Ferguson as well. If there is not to be peace in Ferguson, then there will never be justice for any of the parties affected by the tragedy that has unfolded in the city.
It simply is not possible to conduct any kind of negotiations, or to consider future shifts in the political construct of any society, so long as violence and conflict are ongoing issues. The level of mistrust that breeds from consistent violence interferes with the long-term issues which must be resolved to reach lasting piece between multiple parties. As long as those who are present in Ferguson continue to act in an aggressive and violent manner, it is not going to be to anyone's benefit, specifically the property and business owners in Ferguson, to begin speaking about changing the racial demographics of the Ferguson Police Department, the local elected leadership, and those who seek to open businesses or set down roots in Ferguson.
Well known civil rights leaders Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and Reverend Al Sharpton have both been advocating for nonviolence in Ferguson for days now, and the only conclusion that I have been able to draw from the continued unrest in Ferguson that continues to plague the city is that there is a small group of people that do not want peace, or justice. Hamas is too busy promoting violence to be concerned with bringing peace to the Gaza Strip in the Middle East, and yet the world complains when Israel defends itself from such violence.
Civilized society here in the United States cannot be the victim to a mentality that believes it is okay to loot and burn a convenience store that cost over $1 million to build, and employs members within your community. It has to be asked: "I wonder how many of the people rioting and looting actually have a job?" The lack of any kind of backlash from the mainstream media is helping to perpetuate a cycle of violence in Ferguson.
It is time for the national media to leave the residents of Ferguson to build a new city for themselves. Once the reporters and the cameras have left this St. Louis suburb, their job is done. The more difficult one is putting yourself on the line for a better life for yourself and your family.
Changing the climate in Ferguson is going to take a lot of sacrifice on the part of many people. Those who become involved in the civil rights struggle there are going to be attacked, and are going to suffer. The reality is that the only people who are suffering now are those who freedoms are being curtailed in Ferguson because of people who do not live there.
If the media overwhelming Ferguson is not a part of the solution, then it is a part of the problem. When the outsiders can provide enough space and quiet for those who live in the city to begin to plan meetings and conversation, then in the calm and peace, there can be long-term solutions proposed, then placed into practice. Until the violence ends, there will not be calm, peace, or justice.