In order for the Ferguson movement to fulfill its promise and potential, it must find closure. That is, what began in August 2014 must become another catalytic event in the never-ending movement for a better society, which culminates in enduring change, if it is to have more than passing value.
For Ferguson to have more than a footnote role in this movement, it must move past protest to milestone status.
The nation recently marked the 50th anniversary of a movement for change dating back to an 1870 constitutional amendment, which we now sum up in one word: “Selma.” The 15th Amendment, which gave blacks the right to vote, grew out of the movement to end the wickedness of slavery that was eradicated by the 13th Amendment and the movement for human equality that is instilled in the 14th Amendment.
All marked milestones in the societal advancement so eloquently articulated in the Declaration of Independence, whose words summon our most noble human qualities.
The march from Selma to Montgomery dramatized and brought to a pinnacle the denial of democracy to blacks by government-sanctioned and -sponsored brutality and political repression. The 1965 Voting Rights Act arose from the Civil Rights Movement that traced its origin to Rosa Parks’ resistance in 1955. That led to the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a monumental change in American law that directly followed the milestone March on Washington in 1963. It changed forever the American attitude about race.
Since then, other movements began and spread wings to form a more perfect America.
Today a new movement is afoot to change the inequity and iniquity of the criminalization of black America that began in the 1980s. The so-called War on Drugs – an outgrowth of the conservative movement that was the backlash to the ‘70s Black Power Movement – became the tool for incarcerating African Americans in mass numbers, particularly black men.
This action has devastated the black family structure. It has created a criminal subculture and has turned cops into capturers. Gangsta rap was born, with lewd and loveless lyrics ringing through the black community, replacing the anthem: “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
With the killing of Michael Brown Jr., this condition and affliction found its voice in a national movement. It has awakened a political consciousness in the millennial generation that had become mired in a materialist mindset. It has made protest more popular than the clubs and malls, and has imbedded in this generation a social activism that shapes their lives and this country.
They know first-hand (and from the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report) the problem of police who are the product and enforcers of a system of injustice. They also know they live in a world where the pursuit of happiness and their very lives are threatened both by the police and gunfire in the streets.
Although distinct, they are interrelated problems that must both be solved for black lives to matter.
For a previous generation, the march from Selma to Montgomery marked the symbolic culmination of protests for black voting rights. The movement for those and other rights continued through pressure on the government and personal and collective actions springing from the socially conscious mindset the movement had spawned.
Similarly, this generation should bring to a close the serial protesting and concentrate on a national march (on the scale of Selma) on the city whose name 50 years from now should symbolize a milestone change in the American criminal justice system and culture of violence.
When a half-century from now audiences depart theatres after watching “Ferguson,” they should feel proud of that turning-point moment in our history that created a more just and loving society.
Eric E. Vickers is an activist, attorney and former chief of staff for state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed.