Originally published in Orlando Sentinel, May 05, 2015

Black youth protesting on the streets of America should be recognized and celebrated, not demonized. For four centuries, black youth have been the moral compass of the U.S.

Black youth have borne the brunt of violent oppression fighting enslavement, racial segregation and inequality from our landing in 1619 through the demise of Jim Crow in 1965 to the present. There would be no abolitionist crusade, civil-rights movement and ensuing anti-Apartheid and women’s rights movements without them.

In the 1960s, black youth internationalized America’s civil-rights movement by confronting racial tyranny and violence from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and by staging Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins from Greensboro, N.C., to St. Augustine. They, too, were called “thugs” and terrorists, and many were brutally beaten, jailed, tortured and murdered fighting for equality and justice.

Most Americans considered the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his youthful followers to be anti-American troublemakers, traitors and communists. Not unlike today, they were spat on, beaten, hosed, gassed, attacked by dogs, unlawfully detained, terrorized and murdered by police and white citizens, begging the question: Who were and are the real thugs and terrorists?

Black youth have fought in every American war from the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and ongoing military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in the Middle East. They’ve acquired special training and skills while sacrificing life and limb to protect freedom and democracy at home and abroad. It’s in our interests to ensure that they succeed.

Black youth have earned the right to protest against systematic police abuse, and we must realize that not all protests must duplicate the placidity of the 1963 March on Washington. Not all resistance movements can or should be docile; some necessitate lively provocation. Even Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress included a military wing; yet he, like King, was a Nobel Peace laureate.

Unfortunately, unarmed black youth, especially young men, have endured the brunt of violent repression by police agencies across the country. Is such cruelty producing a national security crisis? Black youth have played a critical role in protecting our nation since its founding, but neglect and abuse change tradition.

Since when have driving while black, running while black, walking while black, standing while black, shopping while black, injured while black, making eye contact while black, playing loud music while black, breathing while black and cuffed while black justified summary executions?

Black youth are keenly aware that every encounter with police may be their last. This brand of fear, intimidation and harassment has caused severe anxiety and undiagnosed sickness from depression to intermittent explosive disorder. What caused Ismaaiyl Brinsley to explode, murder two New York City police officers and commit suicide? Was he simply crazy?

Why did Freddie Gray run after making eye contact with the police? Police abuse generates fear, distrust and deep-seated disdain and conflict. Domestic and foreign forces intent on attacking the U.S. through various modes of radicalization are experts at manipulating dread. Will police brutality and its damsel impunity activate recruiters, self-radicalization, lone-wolf terrorism or a new generation of anti-American activists?

The FBI and Homeland Security Department believe there are no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from ISIL. They’re wrong. Information technology and social media know no boundaries.

Disenfranchised anti-establishment youth are potential bombs waiting to be detonated. Elton Simpson may be only the tip of the spear severing the fig leaf. Remember that Sgt. Hasan Akbar, sentenced to death for the murder of two fellow soldiers during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, was from Watts, Los Angeles, notorious for police brutality.

Disenfranchised youth can and are being violently radicalized by one ideology or another. What do the cases of Jasmine Richards, Alton Nolen, Zale Thompson, Jeff Fort, The Colorado Three, Newburgh Four, or the 2009 Bronx terrorism plot reveal?

Black youth have sacrificed more than any other group to uphold and protect America’s security and values. We must stop sacrificing them at the altars of fear, apathy, indifference and hate before we birth a generation of martyrs.

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