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Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford: Mass incarceration begins with hypersurveillance of the Black community and ends in death as it did in Milwaukee

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KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown. The streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin are attempting to regain order today after a weekend of protest and disturbances after the shooting death by Milwaukee police of Sylville Smith. He was a gentleman who was being pursued by Milwaukee police. He was shot and killed. And today we are joined on the line from Plainfield, New Jersey. We are joined with Glen Ford. Glen is the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. He’s also author of the book titled The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion. Glen, good day. Thank you for joining us. GLEN FORD: Thanks for the opportunity. BROWN: Glen, we’re getting some information out of Milwaukee after a weekend of tension and protest that saw dozens of people arrested. Also numerous businesses torched. There are also some reports of police officers injured. Tell us what you know about what happened to the gentleman who was killed by police on Saturday. FORD: Well, I know about the same things that you know, as reports from the scene come in. But what we really need to understand is what kind of place Milwaukee is. What was the scenario that these events took place in. It’s very, very difficult to find a good place to be a black person in the United States, but by any measurement Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a very bad place to be black. And we need to keep that in mind as we examine these two nights of rebellion in this 40 percent black city. Milwaukee is the worst city in the country to be a black male when it comes to the prospect of going to prison. Its black male incarceration rate is the highest in the country. It’s twice the national average. Wisconsin is even worse than Oklahoma, which is the second-worst state, in terms of black mass incarceration. In Wisconsin, 13 percent of black males are in prison at any given time. Milwaukee is also the worst city in the country to be a black high school student, if you’re talking about graduating high school without getting kicked out. Milwaukee suspends or expels more black high school students than any other city in the country, twice as high as the national average. It’s also a rigidly segregated city. Three out of every four black students goes to a school that is at least 90 percent non-white. And you can’t even find a movie theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that is accessible to most black neighborhoods. And of course, unemployment, the unemployment rate is astronomical. But it is really the state’s reaction to the very presence of black people in Milwaukee that is at the heart of the confrontation that occurred this weekend. That reaction is and has been for many, many decades mass incarceration. And mass incarceration actually means mass criminalization of the community. And that’s why you hear the Milwaukee police union blaming the rebellion this weekend on what he calls ‘thugs’ and ‘terrorists’ who have to be held accountable. They treat the whole community as thugs and as terrorists, and that’s how they justify waging this police reign of terror against the community. That’s how they justified killing that young black man, Sylville Smith, who was not threatening them, who was, in fact, running away from them after a traffic stop. The cops are calling Smith a career criminal, but when you look at his record, it turns out that almost all of the citations against him came from traffic stops. Things like not having your seatbelt fastened, or something being wrong with your driver’s license. And in the ghetto, and especially in a place like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that kind of history is very good reason to run when the cops stop the car you’re in for no good reason except that they are suspicious. The cops say that Smith had a gun. He may have had a gun. He may not have. But he did not point a gun at anybody. And possession of a gun is not a capital crime in the United States, unless, of course, you’re black. And especially in Milwaukee, Wisconsin it’s a logical response for the young folks of Milwaukee to react as they did. A logical response, that is, to a mass black incarceration regime. And that should be the subject on everybody’s minds. BROWN: Absolutely. And Glen, you know, reading some of the details about what happened to Mr. Smith in Milwaukee, it’s eerily similar to what happened to Paul O’Neal just I believe it was last week, or the week before in Chicago, where this young man was shot and killed by police as he was running away, and subsequently the police then proceeded to give themselves high fives, they instructed each other to turn off the body cameras, which many have touted as a tool of police transparency, but we’re seeing that sort of used in a discretionary sense. Glen, when we talk about Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this is not the first incident that we have seen recently with the community responding in such a way after a violent encounter between a black American and the police force there. Is–are we seeing some sort of ongoing enlightenment, or ongoing anger coming from communities of color across the country? Every single time one of these instances happens, where a person is killed under dubious circumstances and the police seem to be less than forthcoming about the truth and the actual details that actually happened to this individual, the communities seem to be reactive in a more hasty fashion, as opposed to relying on the police giving their account. Are we seeing people come out right away instead of waiting for the police statements? FORD: In the two years of the experience with what goes under the heading of the Black Lives Matter movement, the legitimacy of the police mass incarceration regime has been seriously damaged. That is, folks have seen these killings by the thousands, and over decades in tens of thousands. But the veneer of the legitimacy of police actions have now been shattered. And so people now are not so hesitant to express themselves in the only way that they can. And that is a real victory of the movement, to destroy the legitimacy of this totally illegitimate system. You were speaking of the eerie resemblance between the killing of Mr. Smith and other incidents. Well, they are reminiscent of each other because the police are uniformly trained across the United States to behave in exactly this fashion. They are reminiscent because mass black incarceration begins with hypersurveillance, and hypersurveillance means stopping every walking person or driving person who is black on some subjective suspicions. And that’s all that happened over the weekend in Milwaukee. It of course led to death. There was a logic to that. The [inaud.] is in the system. But this system has been in place for 40 years, and it’s not a system of faulty training or bad training in Milwaukee, as if there’s some better training somewhere else. This system was imposed, in fact, by the federal government after our civil rights and black power movements of the ’60s. The federal government directs and finances these police training academies. The federal government makes available their riot gear and their tanks, and in fact, President Obama has done more to militarize the police than any of his predecessors. So this is not a Milwaukee problem. It’s a Milwaukee expression of a national aggression against black people. BROWN: Very well said. That’s Glen Ford. Glen is the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report; also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of the U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion. He has been joining us as a series of reports called the Ford Reports. Be sure to go to our website and check those out. Glen, thank you so much for joining us, as always. FORD: Thank you. BROWN: You’re watching the Real News Network.


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Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.