Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. wrote an opinion piece on Wednesday stating that after the slaying of an unarmed, black Missouri teenager last week, Americans must demand justice.
The death of Michael Brown, 18, has sparked protests and vigils.
Jackson described the environment in which Brown grew up as one in need of support, and related it to many other working-class communities in the country. He also said that there must be a response to the killing other than looting and calls for peace.
Brown, 18, was a resident of Ferguson, Missouri – a suburb of St. Louis. On Saturday, the teen was with a friend, Dorian Johnson, when they came into contact with a police officer. According to police, Brown struggled with the officer's gun, and the officer shot Brown several times.
Johnson told news station KMOV that Brown had his arms raised in a non-confrontational stance, but the officer continued to fire his weapon.
After news of the shooting spread, Ferguson residents engaged in two days of looting – breaking into stores, stealing, and destroying property. Police engaged tear gas and bean-bag rounds to disperse the crowds, and many persons were arrested.
"Since President Lyndon Johnson, there has been no significant urban, suburban, small town or rural policy to rebuild America," the civil rights leader wrote in USAToday. "Thus we should not be surprised that urban and rural communities, and all points in between, have significantly deteriorated during the past 46 years of neglect."
However, Jackson did not defend the destructive activities following Brown's death.
"I understand the community's anger, and protests are legitimate and in order but Michael Brown's family said things should not be made worse with looting and vandalism.
"That will only cloud the real issues, will not bring Michael Brown back and will not facilitate justice."
On the other end of the spectrum, Jackson said, silence will not achieve any meaningful results.
"Many are observing Ferguson and witnessing the anger, demonstrations, looting and vandalism and calling for quiet," he said. "But quiet isn't enough. The absence of noise isn't the presence of justice — and we must demand justice in Ferguson and the other 'Fergusons' around America."
He concluded by paraphrasing a quote from assassinated civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Injustice and inequality anywhere is a threat to justice and equality everywhere," Jackson wrote.
"To allow injustice and inequality invites a Ferguson to your community. We must stand together, black, white, brown, red, and yellow and fight for justice and equality for all. It's the only way to avoid more Fergusons."