TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway has an exclusive interview with Rev. Waltrina Middleton, cousin of AME victim DePayne Middleton, about SC Gov. Nikki Haley’s State of the Union rebuttal.
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Eddie Conway from Baltimore. Today I have a guest that wants to respond to Governor Haley’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. And because she’s a citizen of South Carolina, and because one of the nine members that were murdered in South Carolina is her first cousin, I thought it was important that we hear her response to that response, and also hear exactly what’s going on in the state of South Carolina. So I want you to join me in welcoming Reverend Waltrina Middleton. How are you doing? REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: Thank you. I’m doing okay, thank you. I hope you’re well. CONWAY: Okay. Now, I’ve seen you put out a response to Gov. Haley’s statement. Would you care to share with us what, why you did it, and basically what that response is saying? MIDDLETON: Sure, and thank you for allowing me to join you today. I anticipated that Gov. Nikki Haley would use this platform to once again present herself as a unifier and as a person that’s concerned about racial justice and addressing these concerns, when the fact of the matter is she, to me, has not demonstrated that commitment when she did not seize an opportunity to work cooperatively with members of the Black Lives Matter movement that have been present throughout South Carolina for some time now, calling for justice and accountability. And racialized violence and cases of the like in South Carolina, specifically with Walter Scott and the calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. Instead, Nikki Haley demonized those protesters and organizers, and critiqued them as being loud and violent, and I think failed to try to use that moment to bridge gaps. GOV. NIKKI HALEY: We lost nine incredible souls that night. What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about. Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear, but our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs. … In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results. Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That’s just not true. Often the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. MIDDLETON: When the shooting took place, of course it was appropriate for the governor to respond, to be visible and present for such an atrocity that took place. But how do you simultaneously sit on the front pew with a grieving family, and then just a few days later fly to Washington, to the National Press Club, and critique negatively actions and calls for justice in the same light? I just think that she is being exploited by the Republican party, but furthermore, our families, our grieving families and our deceased loved ones, are being exploited with her political rhetoric. CONWAY: Well, just take a minute and tell me a little bit about your first cousin. MIDDLETON: My first cousin is Depayne Middleton. She was one of the clergy for the church, and she was an educator, a mother, a woman of faith, a recorded musical artist, and just a phenomenal person at large. And she was actually that same evening, just before the Bible study, was approved for formal standing in the AME church to serve as a pastor. And so they had just celebrated that, and then went into Bible study. The pastor of the church was a state congressman, and also a person that was indeed deeply involved with organizing in the community, and had spoken out against racialized violence and state-sanctioned violence in the state, as well. CONWAY: Well, okay. But now it seems to me that the governor is taking credit for taking down the, the flag, the Confederate flag. Is that the, the case? MIDDLETON: I feel as if she is trying to take credit for the removal of the flag. But I know myself, as a person who was born and raised in South Carolina, I grew up aware and very cognizant of efforts by the NAACP chapters for the state and throughout the state, local chapters, the SCLC, the YWCA. There’s several organizations that have been very adamant about seeing that flag removed. And many people have suffered at the hands of racialized violence amidst their protests and lament regarding the flag, and Congressional representatives for the state have consistently blocked those efforts, and regrettably it took the murder of nine persons before there was any incentive for movement and unity. And while Gov. Haley was not the first governor to sit in office while there has been a call for removal, the fact of the matter is she has served the state for a substantial period of time, and has remained silent, and did not make any efforts to push for the removal of the flag until there was a murder, and until there was a global spotlight on the state that put pressure on her, and forced some sense of political expediency. But it’s not only about the flag being removed and her taking credit for that. It’s also her words that follow, that seems to exploit this narrative that has been pushed about these faith communities, these good old black folks that forgave this murderer. And see, our black people know how to behave. They know how to forgive and move on, and they don’t need any violent action. And I think that that’s also an exploitation of the authenticity, the urgency, and the credibility of a movement, of a current and contemporary, or 21st-century I should say, civil rights movement that’s calling for justice. And for her to mock the, the leadership and response by not just black people but communities that say racialized and state-sanctioned violence is wrong, to me that’s irresponsible of her as a governor. CONWAY: Well, it’s–maybe you can update us. The whole world watched Mr. Scott being shot. And what happened? How did that case get resolved, or is it resolved? What’s, what’s the situation about that? MIDDLETON: It’s my understanding that charges have been brought against the officer that was involved in the shooting of Walter Scott. In terms of where that stands, in terms of his hearing and proceedings, I am not familiar with the current status of his hearing. But charges have been brought against him, as charges have also been brought against the man that took the lives of the nine in the church, Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. And so there’s definitely movement to bring charges. And that’s credible. That’s great. But there’s also a greater systemic issue of systemic, normalized behavior in our state and in our society that seems to ignore and accept that these things happen. And in many instances blame the victims for their deaths. And Walter Scott was one of them. You know, one of the responses was, why did he run, or what did he do? But no one, no one deserves to be shot in the back several times. Shot in the back several times. That’s unacceptable. And while the man who killed the nine in the church was a civilian, the fact of the matter is symbols like the Confederate flag and normalized acceptance of racialized violence create a platform for such acts like his to take place. And so I’m thankful for the charges that have been brought, and I look forward to the hearing so that our families will have our day in court. But there are systemic issues that must be addressed. You can’t just say, well, we’ve arrested them, case closed. We can’t just say the flag has been removed, case closed. How do we address these issues? And by her making such negative comments regarding the activists–but also in her comments she made negative statements regarding immigrants. How is that closing the gap and racial divide? How is that supporting healing and unity when you’re actually flaming the fire of hatred and racism with your political rhetoric? CONWAY: Yeah, it is interesting because I notice in your statement, or even in her statement, she claims to be the daughter of an Indian immigrant. And I was just wondering as you were talking about the systemic problems there, what’s the conditions in South Carolina for the black population in general? I notice in your statement you said something about poverty and discrimination, and the prison-industrial complex. Exactly what’s going on in South Carolina for the black population? MIDDLETON: Well, I can start with, you know, growing up in South Carolina in one of the poorest school districts in Charleston County, and having unleveled basketball courts so that we couldn’t even play basketball with our high school. We had to go to, travel to another school to have home court advantage. And to know that they’re closing down many of the predominantly rural black schools, so that our students will have to commute into the city. I’m a Sea Islander. I grew up in the rural Sea Islands of South Carolina. And it’s quite a distance to travel from the mainland, if you will. It takes at least an hour. And so what impact will that have on young students and their learning capability if they have to make such a commute? And what does it say to the self-esteem of students when their school does not have the adequate resources it needs in order to compete on the same level as other students throughout the state and in our country? We also have to look at the healthcare, the Affordable Healthcare Act. Because of the laws and restrictions that South Carolina placed on that act, it limits the benefits that citizens are able to receive, so they can’t even maximize the benefits of the healthcare act. And so someone like my mother still continues to suffer because she’s not allowed to [appear] the healthcare act alongside of Medicaid and other resources or government funds that she has worked hard for all of her life, and earns and deserves to be able to use. And those restrictions by the Republican party that’s imposed on citizens directly impacts rural African-American and communities of color that are often disproportionately working-class poor. And my critique is not only of Gov. Haley, but also President Obama, who failed too often to speak about the poor and the working class. We often pretend as if the middle class and the wealthy are the only constituencies that exist in our society. And also, the prison-industrial complex system is a reality that we face in South Carolina. The largest growing population would be our juvenile detention centers, and the incarceration of young black and brown youth, and–I’m sorry–state-sanctioned violence that targets those communities. And so I think it’s important to address those, and to understand that they feed into the culture of racism and the culture of racialized violence in our communities. And I also should note, gentrification is something that is a reality. When you think about the fact that many African-Americans in the historic downtown Charleston area are being pushed out, and also their waterfront properties are also being lost due to high taxes, as a result of gentrification. Those are socioeconomic concerns that directly impact communities of color. And I think that, I know that the Republican party had meetings in South Carolina recently to address poverty, and I certainly hope that they will be very intentional about those acts. CONWAY: Okay. One, one final question, then. About the voting–I don’t know if this is something that’s happening in South Carolina. But I notice that in a lot of states with Republican governors, there’s been great restrictions placed on voting and voting records to limit the amount of participation that African-Americans have during the election time. Is anything like that going on in this state? MIDDLETON: Well, there are concerns. I mean, Charleston specifically, I can speak to that. I know that we just had our election for the mayor for the city of Charleston, which was the first major mayoral election in a long time, as the incumbent, Mayor Riley, Joe Riley, who had served in that position for several decades is not running again, or did not run again. And so it was very competitive. And so because of a lot of the redistricting that took place, again speaking to the gentrification, it limited the persons that had the opportunity to vote. And so while my family, for example, are members of Charleston County, they were not allowed to vote in the city of Charleston. And largely the persons that are zoned in Charleston, in particular, is a largely wealthy population of implant white citizens, upper-class, wealthy white citizens that have that opportunity to vote. And so African-Americans who have been longtime residents of the city of Charleston just by virtue of the redistricting have been disenfranchised and left without a voice to contribute to what will be a very powerful mayor that has influence on their livelihood. And so I do think that also there needs to be a reexamination of not only those zones that have been created, but also the rights of persons who have been incarcerated, or formerly incarcerated, and their ability to re-enter society and take advantage of their rights to vote as well. CONWAY: I definitely agree with that. Okay, so thank you for joining me, and I’m looking forward to talking to you again in the future. MIDDLETON: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective, and to basically declare Nikki Haley does not speak for the victims and our families, and we must hold those political officials accountable. Thank you. CONWAY: Okay. All right. And thank you for joining the Real News.
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