08/20/2014 03:21 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

We Need Peaceful Protest to Make Lasting Change in Ferguson

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

There's a saying about good political leadership that if it were easy anybody could do it. I believe that powerful comment is apt for the continuing outrage expressed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, over a white policeman's fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Venting is easy and natural in these circumstances; restraint is hard. By rational, reasoned response we can block the next senseless killing and break the age-old pattern that has become ordinary in our country. We have yet to overcome the devaluing of black life imposed by centuries of slavery, segregation and second class citizenship.

I am calling on the protesters in Ferguson and their supporters around the country to remember that we have brains as well as emotions. We would have to live in a constant state of rage if we only reacted with our emotions to this wretched, dehumanizing pattern. By peaceful protest, we can mount a more meaningful, long-lasting challenge to this deadly pattern which mainly victimizes young black men.

As a civil rights activist I have led many peaceful protests around the country. They tend to work. But there are always a few who use violent, destructive reactions to legitimate wrongs. They make it bad for the organizers. Ferguson police have made peaceful protesting hard, based on televised images of their military style vehicles, outfits and equipment. They seem to be just waiting for some provocation or mishap so they can take warlike action. It's the wrong approach.

Over the past few days bits of information have been made available about Mr. Brown's death. Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (white) shot and killed the 18-year-old unarmed young man in broad daylight before several witnesses. On Monday, ten days after his death, Brown's family presented results of a private autopsy showing that he was shot at least six times with two bullets to the head. Here is the critical issue at hand -- this death and many others of young black males shot or abused by police reflect issues that should be resolved by other means. Mr. Brown should be living today.

As leaders in our communities we have to become more politically astute. If we want to change our communities we have change our leadership. Now is the time to organize and protest at the polls. Too many times we as black citizens want to protest after the fact. I've heard it said way too many times "my vote won't count." I stand my ground today, saying your vote does count. It is only meaningless if you fail to cast it.

This is how it works Ferguson: a predominately black community has a white mayor who selected a white police chief who directs the style of law enforcement. Will voting solve all of the problems in Ferguson? Absolutely not, but voting sure would help by forging a relationship with the persons you have elected to govern your communities.

Whatever happened to the police department's central purpose which is to protect and serve? In the case of Michael Brown it has become a national disgrace to have images shot round the globe of the police in helmets and riot gear. That indicates serving interests outside the black community and protecting others from black people. I'd call it un-American.

Now is the time to mourn Michael Brown and honor his unnecessary sacrifice by making his loss bigger than just his own death. We have to heal a wound deeper than the eye can see. We need to rise above thuggish police behavior, not imitate it. Our communities can stand tall and make America acknowledge that we still have racial tension to cleanse. What we have seen on television is a new generation of invisible and unheard youth. They are clearly saying "See us. Hear us. We matter." And what is happening in our communities of color is unacceptable.

President Obama has heard their cry and called for peaceful action in Ferguson. He has signaled the importance of community hurt and anger by assigning Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate this killing.

We as leaders have to step up as well and do our part. We must learn from the terrible mistakes made by the Ferguson police department and the handling of the Michael Brown death. We can give Michael Brown the dignity he deserves in death, but was denied in life.

I choose to join the fray by making mine a voice for positive change and demanding an end to police brutality. I call today for peaceful organized non-violent protest in Ferguson and elsewhere.