Charles Steele Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), is calling for leaders of social justice and civil rights groups – from young activists to established figures – to meet and develop a unified, non-violent approach to protesting the killings of people of color by police.
He issued his call for a meeting during the bout of civil unrest in St. Louis, Mo., on September 17 – the second time in the past three years that protests paralyzed that metropolitan area, following the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer.
“I say, ‘Let’s collaborate,’” Steele said, adding that it is important for the gathering to include representatives from across the generations and races.
Steel is seeking a formal meeting to be held to exchange ideas, strategize solutions, and recommit all social justice and civil rights activists to non-violent demonstrations.
In 2014, protestors and police clashed violently after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, just outside the city of St. Louis. A movement emerged from those protests, with activists calling for a change in how police treat people of color.
Recent protests arose in light of the Anthony Smith shooting. Though Smith was killed in 2011, Jason Stockley’s trial just held this year, with a not-guilty verdict rendered September 15.
A meeting among older, established civil rights leaders and today’s young activists, Steele believes, can be effective in devising ways to de-escalate tensions in communities where distrust of police may run high, and could ward off the disruption additional gains in civil rights as well as decades of progress.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s, and was its first president. The organization has continued supporting social justice causes and people from marginalized communities. It remains committed to King’s principles of non-violent protest, and offers training in peaceful protest techniques.