As Protests In Ferguson Continue, Civil Rights Leaders Are Divided

Rev. Al Sharpton (C) speaks during a press conference at Greater St. Marks Church look on November 25, 2014 in Dellwood, Missouri. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images North America)
Rev. Al Sharpton (C) speaks during a press conference at Greater St. Marks Church look on November 25, 2014 in Dellwood, Missouri. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images North America)

Protests against police treatment of black people have laid bare growing tensions between long-standing civil rights groups that have battled discrimination for decades and new groups of leaders who want an edgier approach.

Activists who spurred demonstrations across the country after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Mo., now demand a prominent voice in a national conversation about race, challenging the primacy of established civil rights organizations such as Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the NAACP. While the newer activists may share goals with more experienced groups, they have clashed with them in attempts at joint efforts.

That divide went on public display earlier this month at a march organized by Sharpton in Washington, D.C. when activist Johnetta Elzie, 25, and other protesters pushed to the front of the stage and demanded a share of the spotlight.

“This movement was started by the young people,” Elzie, of St. Louis, said at the Dec. 13 march. “We started this. There should be young people all over this stage. This should be young people all up here.”

It was the second time in the last five months that Ferguson protesters had chastised the old guard. In October, during an interfaith service in St. Louis, young activists interrupted the program by heckling speakers and shouting for a place on stage. Eventually, several clergy members ceded their spots to protesters, who told the crowd that NAACP President Cornell William Brooks was out of touch.

“This ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement,” rapper and activist Tef Poe said while on stage. “A lot of us are not scholars. We’re not trained organizers. We are not professional activists. We are just real people who identified a problem and decided to do something about it.”

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SOURCE: USA Today
Yamiche Alcindor

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