THE BLOG
09/02/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

Demonstration, Legislation: Hand-in-Hand Towards Progress

MICHAEL B. THOMAS via Getty Images

As I stood and gave the eulogy for young Michael Brown last week, I kept thinking about the fact that this child should have been in college instead of laying in a coffin. I looked towards his parents and saw the pain in their eyes from such a heavy loss; a life so tragically cut short and with so many questions surrounding the incident still left unanswered. This emotional funeral took place just two days after our rally in Staten Island for NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner. Thousands marched and chanted through the streets with us as we demanded justice for the father of six whose death was ruled a homicide by the city's own medical examiner. From Ferguson to NYC, to California and in between, demonstrations continue calling for police reform and accountability. We must get federal intervention immediately. We must challenge Congress to deal with police brutality and misconduct. We must see federally implemented standards in precincts and jurisdictions across the country. During the civil rights struggle, it was the federal government that intervened when states failed to deliver equality and fairness. We require the same now. It was persistent, peaceful demonstrations that brought about that change. We will continue marching today until we see results.

In 1999, I was in St. Louis with Martin Luther King III as we led protests against the state's failure to hire minority contractors for highway construction projects. We went at dawn on a summer day with over a thousand people and performed acts of civil disobedience. At morning rush hour, we shut down Interstate 70, a major artery in the St. Louis area. I was even arrested along with others for our nonviolent march. But as a result of our push, not only were Blacks hired, they were also trained for these construction jobs and projects. Fifteen years after that moment, people came up to me in Ferguson this summer and said they still had construction work. So don't tell me that demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience do nothing when history continuously shows us the opposite.

It has been years, literally decades, since I have been fighting against police brutality and misconduct. I cannot continue to look into a mother's eyes as she buries her child because an overzealous officer made a mistake or fired over and over again on an unarmed person. We need federal guidelines immediately, and we need Congress to take action without delay. We need a bill that includes requirements for cameras on police officers, rules on aggressive policing, treatment of low-level crimes and more. We need the Justice Department to take over excessive force cases so that they are out of the hands of local prosecutors and so that the appearance of conflict doesn't shake the community's trust in the system. If candidates running for the 2014 midterms want our votes, they must be ready to take concrete steps to address our concerns. Until we see change, we will continue to march.

All across this country, we are seeing Blacks, Latinos and the poor suffering under repeated incidents of harsh policing tactics. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, not all police officers are bad; in fact, most are doing their tough work in the interest of keeping us all safe. But when cops violate their own procedures or break the law themselves, they must be held accountable. When the culture of police departments is sometimes infused with bias or preconceived ideas against certain groups, there needs to be reform and retraining throughout. And unfortunately, we cannot rely on local departments to police themselves; we need intervention from the top. This is a national problem and it requires a national solution.

Whether it's Ferguson, Staten Island, New Orleans, Oakland, or anywhere in the United States, we know that change will only occur when national standards are implemented and enforced. Our job is to continue raising our voices, continue hitting the pavement, continue registering people to vote, continue to elect people who represent our interests and continue demanding change until justice prevails. Even in the direct area where we find ourselves in following Michael Brown's tragic death, I know that if you sustain your indignation, you must resolve things with concrete solutions. This is why we continue to march. This is why we cannot stay silent. This is why our work remains.

Demonstrations, legislation will go hand-in-hand towards progress. March onward we will and march forward we will. Don't let anyone ever tell you to sit down; we stand up so that no one falls behind.