In celebration of the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, members of the Martha’s Vineyard community gathered on Thursday at Lola’s Southern Seafood to listen to a conversation between Judith Dianis, Benjamin Crump and Bukky Gbadegesin, along with the community at large. The event was organized by The Advancement Project.

Coming off the heels of the discussion at the Katharine Cornell Theatre the night before about the recent release of The Ferguson Report by the New Press, the topics at hand focused both on the progress made and the massive problems left to solve.

“We have to let people know what’s going on in these communities,” said Mr. Crump, who had served as a lawyer to the families of both Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. To that end, Mr. Krump praised the use of video cameras and cell phones to at least document some of the assaults against people of color by officers, if not produce outright convictions.

Crowd at Lola's Seafood.

Ms. Gbadegesin, who works with the Organization for Black Struggle, said that white people would not allow an officer of the law to treat them the same way that communities of color are routinely treated in terms of both common traffic stops and outright killings.

“They protect and serve everyone else,” she said. “But they police us.”

The title of the talk, From Selma to Ferguson, was also broadly reflected in the conversation, with the panelists drawing parallels between the march for voting rights that took place in Alabama and the current protests surrounding police killings.

“People should remember that it was not the KKK who attacked people at Selma,” said Mr. Krump, recalling a conversation he had with Congressman John Lewis on the anniversary of the march. “It was police.”

When it came to solutions, the panelists emphasized how direct action could make a real difference. Ms. Dianis, who moderated the discussion, pointed out the collapse of the black activist infrastructure in the late 1960s, and the need in turn to support the black youth who are trying to rebuild it.

The call also extended to legislative support, noting that the event being commemorated that day, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, was in desperate need of a reboot following the Supreme Court’s rejection of a key piece of the legislation. Ms. Dianis pointed out that there is pending legislation in Congress that fulfills the requirements the Supreme Court laid out to restore the law, but emphasized that pressure was needed to make legislators act.

“How many people have called their members of Congress to say ‘Support the Voting Rights Act’?” she said.

Social media, she said, was a key way to do this, as well as one of the best ways to stay up to date on the movements like Black Lives Matter.

But communications seemed to be only half the battle. As Mr. Crump referenced through court work he has done on similar cases, the real key can often be the jury, and that if black people are not represented on a jury, then the opinions and thoughts of the African American community may go unheard.

“If you have a law that they can never use, what’s the point?” he said. “Just having one person in the room can make all the difference.”

Overall, the general mood was one of frustration on recent actions, and a renewed focus on how quickly progress seemed to be slipping away.

“We keep trying to blame the victims, but they’re not the professionals,” said Mr. Crump. “I have never seen a prosecutor help the person they’re trying to indict before now.” He stated this in reference to the lack of indictment for officer Darren Wilson over the shooting of Michael Brown, in a case which he said could have at the very least produced some charges against Mr. Wilson had the prosecuting attorney handled it differently.

But in order to change anything, all on the panel stressed community involvement as the primary impetus for any reforms, along with documenting abuses when they occur.

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” Mr. Crump said. “I don’t care how good of a speaker you are.”

He added: “This is our Emmett Till. But this time, we can be the jury.”