For the moment, the nation is focused on Ferguson. Americans are watching the felonious behavior of some young people who are tarnishing the legacy of Michael Brown and giving validity to conservatives and racists who argue, generally, that young Black men are hoodlums and menaces to society.

It’s sad to watch Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, plead for calm in her community while she is also grieving the loss of her son.

“It is important to distinguish activism from vandalism,” said Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, Associate Dean of Contextual Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and the mother of two young boys.

“The thousands of concerned citizens who have participated in peaceful protests, prayer vigils and strategy meetings are actively seeking justice on behalf of Michael Brown,” said Francis, who is interviewing Black mothers for a national research study on young Black males. “But it appears that the few who are stealing and destroying property are acting on their own behalf and for personal gain.”

Francis attended a jam-packed community meeting Tuesday night where concerned citizens gathered inside a St. Louis church to hear from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who has called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Brown’s death.  

I understand the outrage and anger the community in Ferguson is experiencing. I’m angry and outraged, too, I also realize that racism, high unemployment, the paucity of quality public education in this country and a long history of distrust between Black men and police in Ferguson contribute to the rage among its citizens.

However, thugs in Ferguson know right from wrong. The looters who smashed windows and ripped off local stores don’t care about Michael Brown. They don’t care about justice for Brown and his family. They don’t care about Michael Brown’s dream of going to college. They don’t care about collective healing in the aftermath of this tragedy.

And let me be clear: I don’t believe these looters represent all young people living in Ferguson, but for the thousands of Americans – Black and white –who are watching this madness play out on national television, the looters are the perceived representatives of what Ferguson has to offer.

I’ve seen how civil disturbances can tear black communities apart. I’ve covered three major riots in my journalism career – two in Miami and one in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Often times, we burn down buildings in our own neighborhoods and then expect local and federal government to allocate funding for rebuilding and revitalization. It’s a twisted cycle.

Meanwhile, on Monday night, more than one thousand responsible citizens packed Murchison Tabernacle CME Church in St. Louis where civil rights leaders urged protesters to stay calm in the wake of Brown’s fatal shooting by a Ferguson police officer.

James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, a St. Louis social-service group, said local leaders have a civic responsibility to take charge peacefully.

“The eyes of the world are on St. Louis,” Clark said. “Let’s lead.”

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