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CHAVIS: Marching to the Ballot Box

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. | 9/3/2014, 3 p.m.
Peace is not the absence of violence, war, inhumanity or oppression. Peace is the presence of equality, empowerment and justice.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

It is inaccurate for newscasters to say, “In the aftermath of the recent racial turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., calm and peace has now been restored.” Peace is not the absence of violence, war, inhumanity or oppression. Peace is the presence of equality, empowerment and justice.

The truth is that across the United States of America, in the wake of the tragic murder of unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, there are still raised emotions, traumatic stress, and serious racial disparities. Because of the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown and many others, Black America continues to endure physical and spiritual trauma as a result of persistent racial violence, hatred and injustice.

Let’s first be crystal clear. There is no justification for murder. No one of any race or ethnicity or religion should be killed as a result of prejudice, hatred or fear. No one acting under the color of law enforcement has the right to use race and prejudice as a conscious or subconscious basis to lynch, execute or to assassinate people.

I agree with Harvard University Law Professor Charles Ogletree when he compared the sentiment of Black America after Michael Brown’s funeral to the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Ogletree stated, “This reminds us of exactly what happened years ago when I was a young kid to the great Emmett Till, the young kid who was killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman.” For those us of who lived in the 1950s and the 1960s, the memories of those tragic days are still fresh in our minds.

While civil rights protest marches and demonstrations are necessary and somewhat therapeutic in response to obvious and wanton acts of racial violence, the trauma of years of witnessing injustice does have its long-term cumulative effect. This is the reason that I believe we all should be careful not to allow the contradictions or the madness of social and racial injustice to drive our consciousness into self-destructive bitterness or hopeless cynicism.

Joy Degruy Leary, in her authoritative book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, documents how Black Americans for generations have had to learn how to cope and transcend the social impact and cultural memories of the traumatic horrors of slavery in America. Yet, in 2014, it’s not just the knowledge of the past that causes stress and anxiety for Black Americans, it is the present day racially motivated violence, inequality and injustice. In other words the problem today is a “Present Day Traumatic Slave System” throughout the nation that negatively and severely impacts Black American life.

Equal justice and fairness will not only benefit Black Americans, but also all Americans who value a just society that ensures equality and respect for all humanity. In November, the nation will once again go to the voting booths. This should be the year of transitioning away from the politics of fear, voter suppression and racial inequity. I am hoping that, especially the young people in Missouri, New York, Florida, and in all the states, will continue to stand up, speak out and mobilize for change.

One of the positive results of the uprising in Ferguson was the mobilization of thousands of local young activists who cried out and marched in protest against the injustice. That youthful momentum will hopefully continue to grow into a national sustainable movement for change. In the meantime, we should stay busy increasing voter registration in every region and state. Many of the new job opportunities require advance education or digital technical training and experience. We have to encourage our young emerging leaders to get a good high quality education and to develop a long-term commitment to fight for freedom, justice and equality. We cannot afford to be pessimistic at this point. We must not permit the deaths of Trayvon, Eric and Michael to be in vain.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is the interim president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and can be reached at dr.bchavis@nnpa.org or http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.