The Real News speaks to defense attorney Leslie Broadnax, Dr. Marva Robinson, and local rapper Lil Will.
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor. We’re coming to you live from Ferguson, Missouri. Right now we’re standing just a short distance from where unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by white police officer Darren Wilson just one year ago. We have traveled to Ferguson to cover the growing protests to mark the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. Yesterday alone over 140 protesters were arrested. Some remain detained to this moment. Now joining us to discuss everything that’s happening in Ferguson and the ongoing struggle for justice in Ferguson are two guests. We’re joined by Leslie Broadnax, she’s a defense attorney and she’s a whole lot more than that and she’ll tell us all about it. We’re also joined by Dr. Marva Robinson, who is the president of the St. Louis Association of Black Psychologists. We’re going to start with you, Ms. Broadnax. A year ago we traveled to Ferguson, and one of the key issues on peoples’ minds is what form was change going to look like? And over the last several months we know the African-American community went to the ballot box, they tripled the representation of black members of the city council. We know you were part of that effort. Previously you had challenged St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullouch, who was widely criticized for not indicting Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. So give us your perspective on what’s unfolded here in Ferguson over the past year as far as changing the political landscape here. LESLIE BROADNAX, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think you’ve touched a couple of things. So yes, we now have three African-Americans on the city council for the city of Ferguson. When you take a look at prior voter participation it’s always been, especially the election August of last year, around 7 percent in the African-American community here in North St. Louis County. When we had the new election in April for the city council it increased to about 30 percent. And while I say that yes, that is a good start, I don’t think that we have, or should celebrate until we actually have 100 percent of voter participation. But I can say that we do have a good start, and that’s one of the things that have changed. And particularly I want to keep saying to individuals to stay engaged, to continue to be engaged. There are larger elections that are coming up in not only 2016 but 2018. And so I think the city council is just the beginning of the tide that needs to turn. And we need to continue to stay engaged as the years continue to follow. NOOR: And I wanted to also ask you, because you’re a former public defender, about what you know about the current status of the 140 protesters that were arrested yesterday. Some reported being tear gassed, being kettled in, being unable to disperse when ordered to do so. Many protesters still remain behind bars right now. BROADNAX: Well, it’s a process. And so when you are arrested you can be held for up to a period up to 23 hours before you’re either released or you’re charged with something. When you arrest that large number of individuals at the same time, obviously the process is going to be bogged down. So that could possibly be one issue. The second issue is part of being booked and processed is your name being ran through a system. Let’s say there is a warrant for your arrest in another municipality or a state charge, or even a different state. If that is the case, while you may still be awaiting for charges to be issued here, they cannot release you because someone else in another jurisdiction very well may have a hold on you. And so that could also explain why some of the protesters have not been released yet. NOOR: And I want to get back to the issue of arrests and fines of especially the black community in Ferguson. But I want to turn to you, Dr. Robinson. So you’re a psychologist. You’ve been observing and I’m sure studying the psychological trauma that not only citizens have experienced here but people often forget that the police have experienced as well. Talk about what’s kind of unfolded, because the protests have continued, the arrests have continued, and the overall treatment of the black community, from the people we’ve talked to, it’s still continued in a way that many people find unacceptable. DR. MARVA ROBINSON, PRESIDENT, ST. LOUIS ASSOCIATION OF BLACK PSYCHOLOGISTS: Yeah. There definitely has not been the push of resources that is needed to adequately address the problems that we’re seeing. Definitely a year later you have people that are in the same place mentally if not worse than they were before. I’ve seen more people be placed in inpatient hospitals as a result of symptoms, undergoing more stress, unable to cope with things that have changed. And so it’s a real behavioral health concern. And as you’ve hinted about the officers as well, you have a large mass of people that are trained that if you shoot to kill that underwent trauma themselves last year. And the amount of mandated treatment or evaluations, there’s been no mention of that. And so if you had officers that were traumatized, and there’s been no evaluation to see how they are mentally, yet they’re back out on the street with guns again facing the same situation, that’s a huge concern. So you have someone who may not be stable with a gun policing someone who is simply advocating for rights. And so it can be a very volatile situation. NOOR: And talk about how the, especially the black community has been dealing with this. We know you’re the president of the St. Louis Association of Black Psychologists. So talk about what the, over the last year what the demand has been for services and if the community has been able to keep up with this demand. ROBINSON: The demand has been for culturally competent services. So if I want to speak someone and process what it was like to be hit with a flashbomb, or what it was like to be kept trapped in my neighborhood, and you get a clinician who doesn’t understand the importance of oppression and racism that, the impact that it has on the psyche, then their services are a waste of time. So my organization of course has been quite busy with not only offering individual pro bono services but community pro bono services as well, because we have the skill sets and the tools to address these issues. So there’s been a huge welcoming of these services. Not only have we gone into schools and addressed the needs that our children have, we’ve made contact with parents and adults as well. So it’s just about offering the services that are needed, meeting the community where they are, and trying to reach everyone that we can. NOOR: And Ms. Broadnax, can you also talk–we touched upon the amount of arrests and tickets that especially the black community receive here. When we were here last year almost every black man we spoke to talked about harassment, being pulled over. Those claims were investigated by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice chose not to indict Darren Wilson, but they did release an 87-page scathing report. Some of those findings led to the resignation of the police chief here. But the people we talked to today a year later say the overall interactions have not changed. We understand some of the arrest levels dropped, some of the the tickets dropped around the time the Department of Justice report was released, but they’re back near the levels they were occurring last year. And we also know this is a major source of revenue for Ferguson. It’s the second-highest source of revenue for the city. Talk about what’s been happening around that. BROADNAX: I’m going to talk from two perspectives. From a legal perspective, the governor did sign into law what’s considered Senate Bill 5, or nicknamed the Max Creek law. Prior to the signing of that law, statewide a municipality could receive a total of 30 percent of its total revenue from traffic tickets and things of that nature. It has now decreased. So now outstate Missouri, every place else except for St. Louis county, it has now been decreased to 20 percent. And if you are within St. Louis county it’s been decreased even further to 12.5 percent. St. Louis County is comprised of 91 municipalities, with 56 independent policing agencies. And I think that there’s a large percentage, particularly of those smaller municipalities, that most of their revenue is generated from this ticketing. So now that the percentage that they can collect has been decreased to 12.5 percent I wouldn’t be surprised that within the next year to three–. NOOR: You might have to repeat that. That motorcyclist was really loud. So you were just–as far as the percentages go, as far as we know. BROADNAX: So now that it’s been decreased to 12.5 percent within St. Louis County, I wouldn’t be surprised that within the next one to three years that many of those smaller municipalities begin to fold because they’re not able to sustain their budget because of this decrease. So from the–. NOOR: So you’re saying entire cities might not be able to sustain themselves financially because they were depending on such a large percentage of their income coming from locking up poor black people for profit, essentially. BROADNAX: Absolutely. That is what I’m saying. And so, that’s from one, the legal perspective. The second perspective I will say is that the arresting individuals for traffic violations is just a symptom to a bigger disease that we have here within the area. It comes down to education, job opportunities, and a community that feels like that they have no options and lived in an impoverished state. I cannot fault a police officer for curbing a vehicle who may not have the proper license tags on that vehicle. However, if that individual does not have access to appropriate wage-earning jobs and things of that nature, it is a cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s going to occur. And so it’s like, all I have is this minimum wage job. I need this car to get to this minimum wage job, but I don’t have the funds in order to keep the car together under the statutes and ordinances that the city expects from me, too. And so I think that it’s exasperated that you’re in the situation and then you encounter a police officer who may not be, how should I put this, the friendliest, when you have that encounter. And so it is twofold. We have a lot of work to do within the community, but we can’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps if somebody else is holding the straps. NOOR: So the events here in Ferguson helped get the issue of mass incarceration into the public sphere. President Obama’s had to address it, Eric Holder’s had to address it here in Ferguson. Talk about what that psychological impact is of these arrests, of being denied a way to get to your job. And I think I read today that in a city of about 20,000 residents there’s right now something like 16,000 outstanding warrants. What kind of impact does that have on people that are just trying to make it, get by? ROBINSON: I mean, it’s modern day slavery. It’s psychological slavery. If you want to try to do better because you want to be an upstanding citizen, but there is a ceiling and a barrier at every turn, it’s slavery. It just makes you more frustrated. But then if you’re seen as angry, you’re a threat. So you can’t be a threat, but you can’t be frustrated. But there’s no way that you can move upward. So I love the way she explained it, because we very much see it as psychological slavery. This system is set up in a way to keep a certain class of people, black and brown people, at a low minimum. And so those who have power aren’t affected by it. So how can we expect the system to change if they’re not affected by it? They may watch the news, but they can turn it off and then they’ll drive back out to their counties. They don’t have to deal with the same day-to-day struggles that people here do. So it’s kind of like when people ask what has changed, nothing’s changed. Because those that have the power to change it aren’t affected by it. And if you don’t have to change it, why would you? NOOR: And would you like to join the conversation? So we are, we are live. We are live in Ferguson right now, and can you please–and tell us your name and how old you are. WILL, YOUTH MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER: My name is Will. I’m a rap artist around St. Louis, I’m a motivational speaker for the young people, and I was trying to bring young folk together. And it’s kind of crazy. Like she said, you could do better or you won’t, but it’s a barrier on top of barriers, like a sarcasm to it. Like okay, no matter how hard you try. You could do this, but it’s going to be a barrier to stop you from–like, say, for instance, all my life I’ve been growing up in the ghetto. So I’ve been trying to find good jobs just to make good money, just to help my mama. Because I’ve seen my mama struggle. I’ve seen my mama where times were [inaud.] and we didn’t have food. We had to starve. So that caused my daddy to go rob, steal, to try to do those things just to feed and put food in our mouths. Now imagine a population of all black communities feeling just like that. I have to travel outside of my neighborhood, which is the hood, to go get a good job. Or I can’t get a good job because I’m from the hood. Because the area that I fill out on the application says that I’m in this certain section, or this part of the city that’s not tolerated in your administration. So I go to school, I got a good head on my shoulders. I go to the ex’treme Institute by Nelly. I make good grades in school. NOOR: Are you in high school? WILL: No, I’m in college. I’m in college, and I’m a musical artist in the city. So like, it just hurts us because a lot of people don’t know how to deal with young people. And we’ve got to come together because it’s like the teenagers are being targeted. The women are being targeted. It’s just like, don’t give a [care]. Now it went from one police on duty to two police officers in a car to three police, one in the backseat and a dog. You know what I’m saying? And you got those police cars, they creep up late at night. They pull up and it’ll be something minor such as a traffic violation or a postage stamp. And you could call four other police officers to come see your car. Every time someone gets pulled over I see about four cops right behind them. Each car has two cops in it. It just hurt, because a lot of people don’t come from the ghetto. If you lived in the ghetto, if people from different races understood how to feel, then they would understand the retaliation. The anger, the frustration. Because you’ve got people that’s been in the ghetto struggling. It’s a ghetto. That’s what makes us savages, that’s what makes us hoodlums. That’s what makes us sad, because that’s all we know. The government build those projects for us to stay in. they built those projects for us to stay in. You know, you’ve got crooked cops out here. They’re selling drugs to the same hoods, the same communities. You got good officers. But you got officers that’s not hip or that’s [inaud.] not [intact] of what’s going on, and they don’t know what they’re signing on. NOOR: So I wanted to ask you a question. So the conditions you described have been ongoing in America for a long time. WILL: For a long time. But ever since, like, Trayvon Martin, since the very first early warning sign that we didn’t get–I talked to Michael Brown Sr. in [adele] [inaud.] he said it spread like a disease since last August. Like, so many police brutalities and video cases have been reported by the millions, maybe hundred thousands, that is not acceptable. NOOR: So what I wanted to ask you is that, these conditions have been happening for a long time, but it took what happened to young people in Ferguson to take to the streets for this to take national attention, for there to be discussion around it. WILL: And it just, and in our culture as black people music motivates us. So it motivates the energy, the power of that movement, people walking down the street chanting and coming together and empowerment, they don’t like that. Because we’re a threat. We’re animals, like they call, animals. I call my mixtape St. Louisianimal because they call us animals. So I embrace that. And I’m coming with a deeper thought, to make them understand. Because you have nice women like these that stand up for us. And you got people that don’t even understand how to understand [women] like that. They don’t know what secretaries are. They don’t know what governors are. You got people that don’t know how to read and write. They can’t go to school because they’re from this certain zip code. NOOR: So I wanted to ask you, what has changed for young black men like you in this city over the last year? WILL: Young black men like me, my mind frame has changed. I learned a lot of growth and humility in myself and becoming a man, and seeing everything that’s going on out here. Because you have, like–it’s so many teenagers out here. People as dropouts. People getting pregnant, people getting killed. The police is just like, the police is vicious and the target is black people. And there’s not, it’s not just our race. It’s different other races going through this racial discrimination. But it’s more worse about black people. You’ve got, say for instance, last night you’ve got special people that, I forgot what it’s called, special forces. You’ve got people like she said–. NOOR: There was a state of emergency. WILL: There was a state of emergency. So it’s like, different special–you got polices, you got feds. You got DEA. You got so many different polices and they all ganging up from different jurisdictions. And they’re out of their jurisdictions. Say for instance, like she said, you might get pulled over. You might have a ticket in Illinois, and they throw you in like, three different jails in St. Louis County, and then transport you to Illinois, and you serve more time. You see what I’m saying? Like, you got people that’s really trying to do good, but they can’t because the circumstances they live in, the situations like me watching my mama cry struggle and try to feed us, [them hip]. That made me get in the streets and try to help. But what I found out, like, I got to calm down because you’ve got people that’s losing their life over this. And you got, you know what I was saying. It makes it so [inaud.] somebody got to stand up for this city. And I’m going to do that through my music and come together unite us. Because it’s like, young black men, we’re lost right now and they’re confused. And the only reason why they’re confused is because they’re hungry. They need money in their pocket. Money is the root of all things that cause–. NOOR: So I wanted to get your response to what–and tell us your name again, please. WILL: My name is Will. Lil Will. NOOR: So Will just eloquently described the trauma and the pain that young people go through today. Can you give us your thoughts and your reactions? ROBINSON: He said it best. I mean, the grooming of the slavery cycle starts at a very young age. When you look at the lack of headstart programs, the lack of resources, the schools that were unaccredited in the black communities, the fact that a school’s income is supported by that local municipality’s income. So if you have a poor municipality you’re more likely to have a school that’s unaccredited. But if you go out in a wealthier area, kids have iPads and laptops that they–so there’s inequality from the beginning. And so to grow up with that, and that’s all you see and that’s all you know, and there’s always that constant ceiling, you begin to feel like that’s all you will be, that’s all you’ll know. And that just breeds more frustration. NOOR: And I’ll go back to you in a second. Ms. Broadnax, the problems of segregation, of mass incarceration, of the new Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander has branded it, these problems are massive. We know they’re not going to be addressed in one election cycle. But we also know that St. Louis County, the state of Missouri, is largely a one-party, Democratic party stronghold. So I wanted to get your response, because some people feel that the Democratic party is not addressing their concerns in places like Ferguson and around the country. They’re not really addressing the issues of mass incarceration, because there is a huge profit that’s coming from it. BROADNAX: I would want to make one correction. Missouri is a Republican state. What is Democratic is St. Louis County and Jackson County on the other side, in Kansas City, Missouri. I would say if you were to ask me, as Leslie the person, I don’t know that any party has the African-American community in its best interest. I think it comes down to the lesser of the two evils. I think though in order for you to be heard you have to seek a seat at the table. And if you’re not at the table then you’re more than likely to be on the menu. So we talked about how the voter turnout increased from 7 percent to 30 percent. The only thing that’s going to stand up and get anyone’s attention is when you come out in numbers. So that means voter participation by the African-American community at 100 percent. And then at that time we begin to shift the power. Because prior to this past election, particularly in the city of Ferguson, we had a predominantly Caucasian council in an 89 percent African-American community. Why is that? Because no one stepped up. No one’s running. No one’s seeking a seat at the table. So I understand this young man’s frustration and what he has said does have some truth to it. But we’ve got to also make it a point to get ourselves to that table as well. So any young man or young woman that’s listening, I always encourage them, you want to see the change, you be the change. Run for office. It was interesting when we looked at the city council race in April after the Mike Brown incident and all the protests. I would have thought there would have been double digit numbers in candidates. And there wasn’t. NOOR: Will, I wanted to get your response to this. What’s the mood for young people in Ferguson as far as getting change through the streets, or through the electoral system? Like for example, did you vote in this last election? WILL: Yes. The last election and in all elections–in some elections, though, it was successful votes. And in some elections I’ve been using the same address that my mother has been using for years, and I tried to go vote, and they denied it and said there was something wrong with the address. My grandmother’s been using this address. Everybody understands, it’s people that really do try to step up and vote and fix things, but there’s a lot of people that’s not being heard, like I said, to go to [inaud.] Like she said, you have to step up. But it’s some people they don’t even know what this is. Like, they haven’t got the right education, knowledge in it. In school they’re not teaching us the right stuff. And it’s a lot of savages and a lot of people in the hood, because a lot of people in the hood, it’s some stuff in the streets that you can’t learn in school, and a job’s not going to teach you that. And a job’s not going to teach you how to become, or how to pay your taxes. How to be successful and save money and spend money and go to college and make [stock] and [inaud.] and checks. It’s a lot of people that don’t know how to do that stuff. So in order to know that stuff, it has to be known. A person has to be teaching to it. Since we haven’t had a teacher in such a long time, we don’t know–nobody learning. It’s just a lot of confusion and panic, and it’s a lot of angryness and tired, giving this up. Like she said, it’s been going on for years. Like you know how you have Stage I cancer, Stage II cancer, this is a disease spread across the country. And it’s not about black, Mexican, it’s about the differentiation between it and the hatred. The hatred. The hatred, that’s what it is. And it is like, some people in the streets, they hate us so now we hate them. And yeah, bringing it on, we’re going to bring it on to [y’all], but that’s not the case. But it’s like, you got people like me that, like Mike Brown. He was going to go to college. Like, I go to college and make good grades. I could get gunned down by a police officer because I got a backpack on. And it might have a gun in it just like the little boy who shot at the police. And everybody gets cut as the same person that got locked up. Everybody getting put in that shoe, now. Now they’re going to start running up on us because we got backpacks with books in it. You know what I’m saying? Pulling out a notebook, it was a gun. You come up in your head, it’s a weapon. Come on now, like, this is seriously ridiculous. It just doesn’t make no sense. I can’t even get a job because of my content and my skin and where I’m from. And I’m where I’m from because of where they placed us as a community. Like I said, it’s a lot of people that don’t know how to vote. They don’t even know how to spell vote. They don’t know what it is, they don’t know what’s going on. They just know what they know because the life that they’re used to. If you put a baby around a lot of successful kids, nine times out of ten that baby is going to be successful. If you take a black person out of a black community and put him into a white community, 99 percent chance that black person is going to be successful. If you took all blacks and put them in the same community as others and gave them the same wages and gave everybody the same, there wouldn’t be no robbing, no killing, no stealing, because there wouldn’t be nobody out here at home starving and trying to get money to feed their family. NOOR: That’s what it really comes down to, right? WILL: [Inaud.] Like, it’s people out here that’s sleeping house to house, they don’t have nothing. People that sleep outside, you know what I’m saying, and they get labeled as the low-class, or the class–and I would say they’re at their situation. But they [inaud.] NOOR: So Will, we want to ask you, what gives people hope today? Do you have hope for change? WILL: Yes, I have hope. I have hope because I know I’m determined to be somebody in life and I have a strong voice and a strong mind. As a young age, I get that a lot from like, a lot of older people. Because I grew up around old folks. So I got an old [soul] [inaud.]. And I’m very intelligent, smart. So it’s like, now I’ma do what I have to do to make good music, but bring our people together. I’m talking about gangs, every gang member who feel like they’re something, come together, man. I don’t care if you’re black, white. And then that’s another thing. You got white people that you know, and I’m saying might have mistakenly been taken out of their box and put in the hood and struggled just like us. So they’re standing with the cause because they feel that same pain. And then the white police officers who in the outskirts of the city, they go to their rich lives, their [stipend] checks, everything. You know, and I’m saying they are [no] [nigger lovers]. You know what I’m saying, don’t need to understand none of that. Because like I said, we got to leave the hood just to go to a good job and work for them. And they leave a good job going to a good place. And we got to come home and get off the bus and worrying about bullets flying past our head, somebody running up on us out of our own generation trying to kill us, plus our own generation trying to kill us, plus the police pulling up on us. NOOR: So Will, I wanted to ask you, if people want to check out your music, where can they go and find it? WILL: If you want to check out my music you can go on YouTube.com and put in LilWillChannel. L-I-L-W-I-L-L Channel at the end, and scroll down until you see my face. I should pop up. And you can go on the internet and search my debut mixtape, St. Louisianimal. I called it St. Louisianimal because last year they called us animals. And I put St. Louis and animals together, and I’m just going hard on this tape. And I’m making music because what I talk about, everything I’ve seen, seen somebody else do the [struggle] in our, in our, in our government. Even if it’s robbing, killing, stealing, bringing people together, it’s all because that’s the only thing we know, that’s all we’ve seen. That’s all we’ve seen. NOOR: All right. Well, Lil Will, we want to thank you for speaking with us. WILL: I already follow your channel, so I already knew who you guys were, so that’s why. NOOR: We wanted to thank you, Dr. Marva Robinson and Ms. Leslie Broadnax. Thank you for joining us. BROADNAX: Thank you for having me. NOOR: And so we’re–in just a few minutes Real News will be livestreaming from the protests that are going to be happening. Get at us at the Real News on Twitter with questions or comments. If you want to connect us with people in the protest that you want us to interview and speak with, put us in touch. Me and David Doherty will be out here tonight. Thank you so much for joining us.
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