The right way to protest

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holding a "peace torch" outside Santa Rita Prison in January 1968, when he said, "There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice." AP Photo

What we saw Monday night outside Busch Stadium in a verbal clash between a small group of St. Louis Cardinals fans and an even smaller group of self-described Michael Brown/Ferguson protesters is the error in deviating from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s path for social justice.

What we saw Monday night in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in a clash between white sports fans and black protesters is the difference between baiting bigots and promoting racial equality.

The difference is easy to discern. Baiting bigots is rather elementary. You need only speak their language of hostility, disrespect and intolerance, and they will quickly join their provocateurs in a rhetorical war of racist roulette. It takes no courage or intellect to unearth the bigotry and bias buried just beneath the surface and/or in the deepest, darkest pockets of our minds.

The struggle for racial equality and justice for the poor requires courage, intellect and much more. Those pursuits demand a level of sacrifice, discipline, dignity, resolve and love that cannot be found in the videotape of Monday's confrontation.

What we saw Monday night was the philosophical disconnect and moral distance between the rallying cry of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome," and the rallying cry of the modern-day uncivil rights movement, "no justice, no peace."

Despite the one-sided, look-at-how-racist-Cardinals-fans-are narrative presented by most news and blog outlets this week, there was a sad and troubling equality to the ignorance on display at Busch Stadium, a trend that could very well escalate during this weekend's National League Championship Series.

No objective person should be surprised that protesters at a sporting event shouting profanities -- "give us our s--- or we're going to shut this s--- down" -- and advocating for the death of police officer Darren Wilson would spark an ugly and hateful response. Ugliness begets ugliness. It is not effective or wise to demand respect disrespectfully and violently. A droning protest intended to intimidate and force submission fuels the resolve of your enemies and hides your humanity from your allies and potential allies.

There is no excusing the bigoted, "go back to Africa" and "get a job" responses of the white Cardinals fans. But to ignore the obvious inappropriate/trolling behavior of the black protesters is a form of hipster-approved white supremacy that is equally dangerous. The not-so-subtle message is that we expect only one group to act appropriately. It will be interesting to see how ugly things get this weekend at Busch Stadium when the Cardinals open the NLCS on Saturday night. You can bet, with all the TV cameras descending upon St. Louis, there will be Michael Brown/Ferguson protesters hovering around Busch Stadium.

If they are there to promote racial equality and justice and remind the one-African-American Cardinals and nearly all-white Cardinals fan base that an unarmed black teen was gunned down a short drive from the stadium, then we should applaud their effort. If they are there to troll and bait, then we should let them know they are harming the Brown family's quest for justice and dishonoring the sacrifices made more than a generation ago by Dr. King and others.

We should use this as a teachable moment.

Fifty years ago this week, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded MLK the Nobel Peace Prize for his unprecedented and remarkable ability to assassinate the character of white bigots and undermine their ability to oppress people of color.

Dr. King was the Michael Jordan of promoting racial equality and advancing the cause of African-Americans. He killed bigots with kindness, intellect and love. His dignified, nonviolent approach to civil disobedience is primarily responsible for the freedoms many African-Americans take for granted today. You could argue he wrote the Dummies Guide for Dealing with Bigots.

"Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation," Dr. King declared during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on Oct. 14, 1964. "Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation."

I do not want Darren Wilson dead or murdered. I want him brought to justice. I want him to answer for the actions that led to Michael Brown being gunned down while reportedly posing no threat. I want America and Americans to move away from our military mindset, our delusion that policemen are troops, neighborhoods are combat zones and the rules of engagement on the ground in Iraq are the same on the streets of Ferguson. I want policemen and the people who oversee them to realize Marines are the "first to fight" and police "protect and serve."

Slogans say a lot about our mentalities and goals.

African-Americans adopted the protest slogan "no justice, no peace" after the 1986 Howard Beach incident, a case involving the beating by an angry white mob and death of 23-year-old Michael Griffith. The formerly tracksuit-wearing, unrefined Rev. Al Sharpton led the justifiably angry Howard Beach protests and unwittingly ushered in the "no justice, no peace" era of civil disobedience.

You could argue -- and Sharpton often does on his MSNBC television show -- that America is rolling back many of the freedoms and rights African-Americans won during the "We Shall Overcome" civil rights movement. You could argue -- and I certainly am in this column -- that the "no justice, no peace" uncivil rights movement hasn't been effective at protecting the rights won by the previous generation or advancing the cause of racial equality.

"No justice, no peace" is a failed concept disconnected from faith. "No justice, no peace" is an unsubtle threat covered with the fig leaf of righteous indignation. It is the perversion of a thought uttered by a man who sacrificed his life based on his "We Shall Overcome" faith.

In January 1968, Dr. King visited folk singer and anti-Vietnam War activist Joan Baez inside Santa Rita Prison. In his short speech outside the jail, Dr. King said: "There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice."

He eloquently and succinctly expressed the essentialness of and his commitment to peace and justice. All of us, but especially the well-intentioned folks in Ferguson and St. Louis, would be wise to affirm our faith in our fellow man and disavow a cynicism that impedes progress. Cynicism is the life partner of bigotry.

The angry white St. Louis Cardinals fans and the angry, misguided and black Ferguson protesters have more in common than either realize.