Professor and hip hop historian Davey D analyzes why some protesters get called heroes and some get shot with tear gas and rubber bullets.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Mark Steiner: Welcome to The Real News, this is Mark Steiner. We’re about to hear a take on what’s happening in America today from Davey D. Davey D is a hip hop historian, journalist, DJ, community activist. He’s been in the scene since 1977. He’s been a community organizer and a worker and Davey D maintains his website called daveyd.com, Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner, and he’s also one of the hosts of Hard Knock Radio. And here’s Davey D’s take on what America is going through now.
Davey D: Well, we’re at several intersections. First, we’re coming out of… Well, first, we’re still in a pandemic and we’ve had three months of people not working, not having any income, many families having to decide, do they pay for food or rent, $1,200 stimulus check only if you paid all your taxes and took care of your back thing. If you didn’t do that, you didn’t get any stimulus. And no sense of normalcy, right? In the sense of being able to get up, have a routine that you could tap into. The people advocating for the shelter-in-place are usually folks sitting on TV who make half a million dollars a year who don’t know that there are thousands of families that live in one or two bedroom dwellings, have young adults or teenagers living there. And it’s okay for a rainy weekend, but when you’re talking about three months, it becomes a whole other ball of wax.
And so the inequality that’s been exposed is something that I don’t think we really have accounted for, which says that people are angry, people are traumatized, people are sad. People are appended economically, emotionally. And we have this push to have people go out and make money for folks who caused this thing in the first place with their willful ignorance and refusal, to make sure that there was infrastructure in place for people to get healed or get help if they caught this virus or even to acknowledge it.
So that’s going to be with us for a long time, this appending economically. And it’s exasperated now in many communities with the brutality of police who we are now seeing over and over again on camera to the point that I don’t think it’s accidental, but it’s very deliberate. And it’s designed to add more terror and confusion into a community and it is being done with impunity because it feels like people are saying, “I’m not going to get caught.” So you have that sort of situation that is developed. That’s made people even angrier, but they’re kind of stuck because up until maybe this weekend, a lot of people could… What are you going to do? You can’t go out, you can’t demonstrate, you can’t really be in community with folks. So all that has exasperated the situation over and over again.
Then you’re contrasting that with selective or unequal reaction to people coming together. So we almost have forgotten that two or three weeks ago we saw thousands of people showing up at capitals all over the United States, carrying shotguns and talking about, they want the economy to reopen and that they want to get a haircut and all this sort of stuff. And what was coming across was an undercurrent of racism. By that I mean, it was quite obvious that these folks that were protesting weren’t fighting to go back to work. They were fighting to open up their jobs so I can go work and unsafe conditions.
And so I think that was kind of crazy. Plus, the optics of seeing people threatened to shoot a governor in Michigan or hang in effigy of a governor in Kentucky, or walk around with the mega hats on and storm a beach in Southern California. All these things that people saw and saying, “Wow, we got tear gassed when we protested last year or the year before.” And all that really came to a head with the killing of George Floyd, right? There had been other killings and other acts of brutality. Brianna Taylor comes to mind, situations in New York where you saw the selective enforcement of who wears a mask and who doesn’t, police pummeling people in Brooklyn, handing out masks to people in the village, in New York and all that sort of stuff.
But the George Floyd thing brought people out and here they are marching to a police station, demanding justice for something that was pretty egregious and pretty obvious. The thing that we’re dealing with is watching this inequality where folks who came out to protest the murder on tape, on film of George Floyd were being repelled with tear gas and rifles… I mean, rubber bullets and the whole nine, whereas just weeks before, they were storming the Capitol in St. Paul, which is right up the road damn near from where George was killed and nothing was done. Right? These were heroes exercising their American right to descent.
So we have a battle of have and have nots politically, have and have not economically, have and have not socially, who’s accepted, who isn’t, who is deemed worthy of listening to their petitions and their concerns, who is going to be rejected. So all that is just made for the type of volatile situation that we’re seeing. And now we come to the complications around the fires in the streets and the quote unquote, lootings at malls. And that’s very layered. It’s layered because I think that has happened before in the past, but it’s layered because I haven’t worked for three months. I’ll have no money and the Best Buys getting looted, why wouldn’t I go in there and grab me a TV or whatever I can, because I can actually make some money by selling it. I don’t think people are buying it because they can’t. But we also forget that people have ran up into grocery stores and probably got their first bag of groceries. They ran into the Walmarts and the Walgreens and what have you and grabbing food and whatever they could to satisfy just immediate needs.
And where it gets layered, it’s like, if you’re out on the streets, it ain’t black people breaking these windows. It’s white folks that have done it. So in some parts of the country, there’s kind of like a friendly relationship. “I’m going to break these windows because I can, but if you all go in and do stuff, have had it.” But in other places it’s designed to discredit the movement. So you’re hearing the story, the Minneapolis, about white supremacists dressing up or police officers who are undercover, smashing windows and setting things into motion. So that becomes very complicated and you have to dig deep and go, “Okay, what’s going on in this city? And what is the relationship with political organizations,” and what have you?
So in the Bay where I’m at, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily white supremacists coming into the Bay. No proud boys or anybody like that coming. I just think there’s folks who saw an opportunity and understood that they have an angst with capitalism and there’s exploitation and they’re going to expose that by doing what they’re doing. But that’s very different than what’s going on in a place like Milwaukee, where some of the things that are getting burned up are mom and pop businesses, black-owned businesses, all that. You didn’t necessarily have that here.
The one other complication that shows up here where I’m at, which adds to this layering is that there are folks that are criminals for real. So they’re like, “Hey, in the middle of this, let me go rob all the weed spots.” Which has happened. Every single weed spot it’s happened. That wasn’t looters or anything like that. Those were people that’s like, “This is what we’re going to do.” There are folks that have come in and said, “Let me settle the score with these folks,” and they knocked folks off or knocked off their businesses.
So you have all these different things that are going on. All of it at the end of the day comes down to inequality and the immediate reaction to all this, the immediate reason why we have all this is because there was a refusal by that guy, the DA. I forget his name. I think it’s Freeman or whatever, to prosecute and demand the arrest of the four police officers in Minneapolis. Imagine if he did that, imagine if he said, “This was a crime, you, you and you…” Two of those officers have lengthy records of police misconduct. One of them is being sued right now because of his egregious behavior. The other one has 18 and never been disciplined. Imagine if he said, “You all arrested, you all being charged.” I wouldn’t even be on the show. We’d have a different conversation right now. We would be talking about whether or not it’s safe to reopen the country. What does normalcy look like? That’s where we would be at.
But the refusal to do that has resulted in what we’re seeing, which comes to the last point and it’s intersection where you asked where we’re at. Folks got to make a decision as to what side they’re on now. Are you rolling with the police and the things that they have come to represent, the protection of property, the protection of a ruling class, the protection of a 1%, the suppression and oppression of people who are quote unquote, the have nots? Are you rolling on their side? Because that’s where the contradictions are coming. Are you going to reign them in? Are you going to punish them? Are you going to lead the charge to put laws in place to make sure that anybody who behaves that wears that badge in a way that is harmful to people is severely punished?
And we’re not seeing that. We’re seeing mayors take a knee in San Jose or in Brentwood where I’m at in other parts of the country. And we’re hearing mayors, every single mayor says, “I feel your pain.” You feel my pain. Okay, then let’s alleviate that pain. And how are you alleviating it? Right? You’ve had all these uprisings or unrest all around the country, have those mayors huddled together and say, “You know what? We need to change things. Let’s reign in these police.” No, instead what they did is they put curfews on and they’re coming up with laws to penalize protesters versus penalizing the cops who started this in the first place.
So the unwillingness of a DA and an infrastructure in Minneapolis to immediately arrest four cops, which says that they were on the side of the status quo and keeping people oppressed, is why we’re at this moment right now. Is why we’re at this moment. So we need to know the names of those folks and the people that preceded them. If it’s Amy Klobucha when she was the DA or attorney general, or what have you, why didn’t you step in and prosecute these cops? Because it’s not like you didn’t know about it. It’s not like they didn’t have Philando Castile, it wasn’t like they had Jamar Clark. It wasn’t like people in Minneapolis who are organized and smart and resourceful, hadn’t gone and petitioned and demanded some sort of justice. You ignored it and you let the fire burn. And here we are in the June 2020, looking at a president who now wants to use this as an excuse to bring the military in and basically enact some form of martial law and bring up laws from the 1800s, resurrection laws or whatever he’s talking about. It’s a mess.
This is also a opportunity for a whole lot of folks to really come up in a different way. And what I mean by that, there’s been some egregious situations in the past, but we never had 50 cities with unrest all at once, except during Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, right? And even then people weren’t running around looting malls and all that. But let’s look at this because now you have Rudale Drive, you have places in Walnut Creek, City Center in Philly, all these affluent places to River Walk in San Antonio. How does this happen at this point in time? Well, those malls have been closed for three weeks or three months. People miss Mother’s Day, people miss graduation, people missed Easter Sunday. All that revenue never happened. Some of them probably got a stimulus bill or money, but they ain’t make their sales.
So now all of a sudden, all these malls are being looted. All these stores are being looted. So now you go cash out and get insurance and start anew. And so I don’t put it past folks to have hired or turned a blind eye or turned off their cameras, or stood idly by, or actually participated in making sure that their stores were looted or breached or burnt, and what have you. This happened in ’77 in New York during the blackout, this happened in the South Bronx, this happened in London more recently where there were unrest and people were saying, “Hey, man, some of these fires were started by people who weren’t doing very well in a business in the first place.” But we don’t know that because there was a fire. Even with the police station being burned. After 9/11, how do you breach a police station? How do you do that?
Here we are in Oakland, I mean, since the days of the Panther to point out a guest of mine on my show, he was like, “People have been trying to take the police station for 50 years. They never been able to… Couldn’t even light a match. He might’ve spray painted, but to burn down a police station, that doesn’t happen by accident. That means there’s some cooperation somewhere.” And my guess, there’s a little bit more to it. We are going to get a new police station out of this. We’re going to get new equipment out of this. Everybody’s going to come up off this. So I don’t think it’s as simple as a bunch of people, anarchists or white nationalist, or quote unquote folks from the hood, just rolling up and just having their way. Not in such a coordinated way. Not with 50 cities all around the country or even more. This is something else that’s going on and I think we need to examine that and track the money, track the political payoff of this happening and act accordingly.
I think we’re in a pot of boiling water and our first line of business is to get out that pot, right? And then make a full commitment to move forward and never get back in the pot again. There are people that are saying, “Evil is evil, so if you’re voting for the lesser of two evils, you still have evils.” And they like to pull out the quote from Malcolm X, “If I put a knife in your back and it’s six inches and I pull it out halfway, is that good?” Et cetera, et cetera. Well, yeah, actually it is if you pull it out. It means maybe if one was hitting the artery and now it isn’t, or was close to the artery, I have a better chance of surviving.
So I think right now people better be clear that you’re… It’s like a video game. I have a video game here, right? Where it’s a street fighter and me and my son sometimes play. Guess what? We’re going to pick somebody who we’re going to fight. You’re going to fight, but do I want to fight the character that has all the weapons? Do I want to fight the character that is good with their hands? Do I want to fight the character that has the knife or the one with the gun? Who do you want to fight? Do you want to fight the authoritarian who is now talking about bringing the military in and crushing dissent? Or do you want to fight the guy who’s a do-nothinger, who might take his time meandering around before he puts in some of the very same policies this guy wants to put into place?
And I think you got to figure out what you’re most equipped to. I would argue that there were a number of people who said that we needed a Trump in office because it would show people the raw ugliness of America and we would organize. Well, we’re for you then. There’s no third party that is ready to do the job. Obviously the pandemic showed us that we we’re still reliant on food chains and all these other systems, right? We don’t have like community gardens to feed entire communities. We don’t have any of that infrastructure. Stuff that organizers said in 2016, that we should organize and do these things, well, you had Trump in office and it ain’t been done.
So I don’t trust another four years to see it get done because like it or not, this dude is smart enough to know that he’s going to crush everything. He’s like, take no prisoners. So you better go with the guy who’s meandering around, who is sitting down and saying, “It might take me two days to put these things into place,” versus one guy who’s smashing and grabbing and wants to put it in right now. So we’re going to fight, the question is who do you want to fight? What landscape do you want to fight on? And for those who say, “Well, it doesn’t matter,” I say, “Then you are actually coming from a point of privilege at this point.”
Because right now, even what I’m seeing with the demonstrations, for example, people are talking about the death. They’re not talking about the 12 to 15 shootings that took place over the weekend with police shooting people in the eyes with rubber bullets, right? 14 year olds, 15 year olds. Yesterday, we had 20,000 people, downtown Oakland, young people, high school, put it together. They were shooting tear gas 20 minutes before curfew, right? You would think that the mayor would say, “Wow, these high school kids put together a rally and they brought all these people that’s supposedly getting national attention, but you have police lined up and shooting tear gas at them.
So we know where we’re at right now. And we’re going to have to find the path of least resistance. And right now that path of least resistance looks like the neoliberal meandering, Joe Biden, more than a Trump who is empowering a lot. He’s making us have to do a lot of fights that we shouldn’t have to fight right now. And we’re going to need all our energy and resources and intelligence to really move out of this inequality that we’re existing in right now. And I’d rather go up the mountain than swim through the crocodile-infested swamp, or the piranha-infested swamp. I’ll take my chances in the fores and deal with mountain lions and tigers and all that, because I know how to shoot a rifle. I know how to shoot a gun. I can deal with them better. I don’t know how to swim, so I’m not going that way. So I’ll take the mountain.
Marc Steiner, interim co-Editor at TRNN, is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on issues of social justice. He walked his first picket line at age 13 and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested for Civil Rights protests, in the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught Theatre for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993 through 1997 his signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR – which Marc co-founded – and Morgan State University’s WEAA.