Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Glen Ford says community-organized events like this could be a possible model for exposing mass Black incarceration state on a national scale
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of the Ford report.
Now joining us is Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, and he’s a regular contributor to The Real News.
Thanks for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you, and happy new year.
DESVARIEUX: Happy new year to you, too.
So, Glen, this past weekend there was a people’s grand jury that took place in St. Louis, Missouri. Can you just explain to us what exactly that is and what happened?
FORD: Yeah. It was a two-day affair on Saturday and Sunday. It was organized by the Uhuru Movement and local activists in the St. Louis area. It took place at a location in St. Louis. It was composed of four prosecutors and 12 jurors. And the prosecutors and the jurors, of course, were black folks who came from the local and national black community.
And they unsurprisingly announced their findings, their verdict, if you will, Monday morning. And that verdict was that Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer, should be indicted for first-degree murder. The vote was 11 to 1. One of the jurors held out for a charge of voluntary manslaughter.
I think this exercise, this project is quite valuable and can be replicated in communities across the country. It’s quite simple in its approach, and elegant, in fact. The people’s prosecutors insisted that it was not Darren Wilson alone who was on trial, so to speak, that he didn’t act alone, that he was part of an institution that has a long history of abusing black people. And, for example, the leaving of Michael Brown’s body in the street, uncovered for four hours in that searing heat, can be compared to lynching practices of the past, in which, of course, the body was displayed in order to strike terror into the black community.
And, also, the guilt, the complicity in this particular crime should be shared by the prosecutor and the rest of the political establishment in St. Louis and the nation at large, because the prosecutor himself, McCulloch, turned his grand jury, which was his tool, as all grand juries are the tools of prosecutors, turned it into a vehicle for a whitewash of the Police Department, but also to defame and criminalize Michael Brown as the whole system is designed to defame and criminalize black people.
And I think it’s quite interesting that we learned recently that one of the McCulloch’s official grand jurors is now suing to be allowed to speak out. And he or she–we don’t know the identity of this grand juror, because it’s against the law for them to go public; that’s the reason for the suit, which is being aided by the ACLU. That grand juror says essentially what activists have been saying, that what went on in that grand jury room needs to be unveiled to the public, that it was heavily weighted in favor of the police and against the victim.
I think on the political side that these people’s grand juries–and it could be expanded to people’s boards of inquiries–are great tools for preventing the dissipation and diversion of black people’s and all decent people’s righteous anger at the behavior of the police by allowing these emotions to be diverted into the same institutions that sustain this black mass incarceration state. And it also allows folks to get around, to bypass these elements of the black mis-leadership class that are part of those same structures, that are part of the elected and appointed leadership that upholds these institutions, that in the end work to maintain the status quo. This is the way for the people to speak directly and for people to share their understanding of what the real status of black folks in this society is, especially regarding the police. And all that is absolutely necessary if we’re really going to build a sustainable movement for genuine community control of police, an exercise in real black self-determination.
DESVARIEUX: Glen, was any of Michael Brown’s family in attendance for this people’s grand jury?
FORD: One of Michael Brown’s uncles was one of the witnesses. The beauty of this kind of people’s grand jury is that since it examines the entirety of evidence of the crime, which is not just some isolated incident, all kinds of folk from the community, experts from outside the community, people who are not considered to be expert outside of the community (but the community trusts their wisdom) can be invited in to give their own testimony as to what they think the situation is regarding the police and how that fits in with a particular crime. So Michael Brown’s uncle was there, not just because he was a relative of the victim, but because he’s a black man who has lived in Ferguson and Greater St. Louis all his life and knows a lot about the police of necessity.
DESVARIEUX: Glen, what would you say to critics that might look at something like this and see that it’s very symbolic but it doesn’t move us towards action? What would be your response?
FORD: That’s not true. In fact, it moves us towards further action, with the aim of developing real autonomous black institutions and to dismantle existing institutions–in the end, the dismantling of the black mass incarceration state. It is the black mass incarceration state, this regime that criminalizes a whole people, which was put in motion as a national domestic response to the civil rights and black power movements of the ’60s, it is this, this interlocking network of institutions with the police as the cutting edge of it and the prisons as the warehouse mechanism, that leads to Michael Browns every 28 hours in this country.
So setting up these kinds of people’s institutions that can be replicated, that’s not symbolic. Political education is not symbolic. Organized response to injustice is not symbolic. And tearing down the structures of oppression certainly is not symbolic. That is the goal.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Glen Ford, joining us from New Jersey, thank you so much for being with us.
FORD: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.