But significant political gains were made in response to the protests of the 1960s, said Gaude. “Those rebellions had concrete political implications for how the nation understands the urgency of the movement,” he said.
In response to those protests, President Lyndon Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known informally as the Kerner Commission in 1967. It made policy recommendations on the underlying reasons for racial unrest that made evident to policymakers the overwhelming social and economic disparity between the nation’s whites and blacks.
And despite what gains were made, the rebellions still face criticism from the president and even members the black power movement, as Ferguson organizers continue to call for calm.
“What we have now is a characterization of lawlessness and criminal behavior, because we have narrowed our idea of black political behavior,” Gaude said, adding that on Monday night Obama offered more of the same.
“When black folks step out of the orbit of white folks’ expectations, all hell breaks loose,” Gaude said.
But after the grand jury decision, there’s no point, many activists say, in working within a legal system that they no longer feel works for them, and the options for black political participation has been "narrowed" by people focused on being polite and garnering the support of non-black Americans.
“People last night who were on the fence on whether the system would work, many said, ‘no, this is not going to work,’ ” said Jessie, a Ferguson protester who requested anonymity because fellow protesters identified by the media have been targeted by the police.
“People across the nation are finally waking up and seeing that the system doesn’t work for us,” Mollie Costello, a prominent anti-police brutality activist in Oakland, California, said in a phone interview.
In Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Shafeah M’Balia, a 61-year-old activist with the advocacy group Black Workers for Justice, says that for many young people, Monday’s ruling in Ferguson has “begun a serious question of the participation in the U.S. political system.”