Breathless media coverage of a purported “crime wave” is galvanizing the right and prompting reactionary calls for expanding policing and the prison-industrial complex. Already, just two years after the historic nationwide protests in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, the pendulum has swung violently in the opposite direction, as exemplified in the right’s lionization of Kyle Rittenhouse, the recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and “centrist” Democrats’ calls to “refund the police.” At the same time, the failures of police in Uvalde, Texas, to protect the lives of innocent children poses serious questions about how effectively police actually prevent violence. In this episode of The Marc Steiner Show, New York City public defender Olayemi Olurin unpacks the relationship between white supremacy, the police, and the systematized cruelty of American society.
Olayemi Olurin is a public defender and staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society and an analyst at the Law & Crime Network and The Hill’s Rising.
Pre-Production/Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Post-Production: Stephen Frank
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. It’s wonderful to have you all with us again. Today, we have a conversation with Olayemi Olurin, who has joined us before as a guest on my brother Eddie Conway’s Rattling The Bars program. She’s a public defender in New York City, staff attorney with Legal Aid. Those are her day jobs. She’s a movement lawyer. She’s an activist writer who tackles the injustice and the entangled interlocking worlds of racism and our penal and judicial systems, the call for prison abolition, and addressing the violence and guns that are part of the American DNA.
She had a lot to say about this in her latest writing for Teen Vogue and other places about the mass murders in Uvalde, Kyle Rittenhouse, his AR-15 and his acquittal. So how do we navigate, respond, and address our world in the aftermath of Uvalde’s mass murders, the firing of Chesa Boudin, the attack on progressive prosecutors – Which I know for some is a contradiction in terms – Of continuing death of Black citizens at the hands of police, and the rising fear of the right in America.
Well, Olayemi Olurin, welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. Good to have you with us.
Olayemi Olurin: Hey, it’s good to be here.
Marc Steiner: Think we can solve all that in like a half an hour together?
Olayemi Olurin: Listen, I certainly can talk for that long. I assure you.
Marc Steiner: So, we are facing a real dilemma in this country. When you look at what happened in Uvalde and the continuing fallout about what the police did not do to protect those children, to the firing of Chesa Boudin. And just to be clear, I don’t know Chesa well, but I know the people who raised him, and I’ve known him since he was a baby. And in fact, when he won that election, I was like, yeah! All right.
I’m watching him being pushed out, and the attack on people who are trying to do something different, and the continuing violence in our dystopian communities created by poverty and racism in this country. I mean, it’s this perfect storm of disaster, but we can’t live our lives negatively and go, oh, woe is me, it’s all over. We have to do something different and figure out how to get there. Which is what I think in part you’ve been doing with your writing and your talking.
Olayemi Olurin: Listen, it’s very easy to feel discouraged. This is very uphill battle work where you know this is something you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. I always recognize people who come before me, the Angela Davises of the world. They’re still writing about and talking about the same issues now that they were talking about 30, 40 years ago. And there’s a reason for that, because it’s important to try to educate people and shift social consciousness.
At the end of the day, our legislators, our government, the powers that be do what we demand that they do. That’s essentially what it is. So it’s about getting everybody, how do you get people to support dismantling systems, the only systems they know, or to believe that things that they’ve been taught to champion, or they’ve been taught that it’s this way, how to push back on that, how to make that intuitive. And I think a lot of that comes from us making it normal, having these conversations. It becoming a popular topic. You have to expect that the status quo is going to be violently defended. It’s popular. It’s the reason it’s the status quo. People are going to try to maintain the institutions and the world that they know because that’s their foundation, that’s their entire understanding.
So for me, I don’t find it so discouraging when you get the pushback, because what I’m really hoping for you to do is hear the things. Hear the ideas and recognize that. Because it’s about effectiveness. I always tell people it’s not a matter of, when pushing for abolition or being anti-criminal system or wanting to decarcerating, these things, it’s not just a moral issue or because I want you to care about something. I want you to do something that’s not in your best interest out of goodness, because that’s what’s better for communities. It’s because it’s not in any of our interests. It’s about effectiveness. We have this system in place. We’ve constantly put billions and billions of dollars into criminalizing certain populations, incarcerating people, profiling people, arresting people. And yet we have the same issues that we’re constantly saying, you’re just elevating, elevating every year.
And I think an important note to recognize is it’s not as though crime, the issue with crime is in all the communities. In the sense of the exact people that you’re criminalizing, that you’re sending to jail, are the people from the communities that… You know what I mean? Who is it you’re protecting? You’re criminalizing the exact same people, exact same populations. You’re helping to keep them in the same circumstances that are allowing for these issues.
And that’s something interesting about how the criminal system comes in and condemns something that’s happening as though the system itself has nothing to do with how they got there. So for me, it’s like, well, we have to ask why. Too much in this country, and I think with anything else, we know it intuitively. If I’m depressed, if I’m sad, if I’m anything, I know that part of the journey for me getting away from that place is to ask myself why. I have to figure out why I’m sad. I have to figure out why is it this? If people are mad or people lash out about you, you ask him what happened. In a normal world, that would be the following question like, why are you mad? What are the problems? That’s the only way to correct something. So you can’t continuously just condemn them bad, bad, evil, violence, blah, blah, blah, gunshots, and never, never want to engage in the why.
You can’t fix a problem if you never actually address the problem. That’s the thing, we don’t. We don’t. We get the same under-resourced communities, and we take all the resources that we don’t give them to help them on all the socials they need, and we give it to another community to police them and to vilify them. And how’s that getting anybody anywhere?
Marc Steiner: So I was thinking about this, and let me try, if I can be clear about this. When you look, as you’ve written about Kyle Rittenhouse and his trial that took place, and he was released. He wasn’t really found necessarily innocent. They just couldn’t convict him, they said. It was weird legal things, and racist things to boot.
So, you have a Kyle Rittenhouse or the killer at Uvalde and they, at young ages, can go in and get an AR-15 and do what they want to do. At the same time, we are addressing the dystopian existence that so many poor people face and the violence that it engenders in societies that, I think, I said to you before we went on the air together today, that here in Baltimore where I’m recording from, we could be on line for 300 to 350 more murders this year, mostly of young Black men.
And to me, how do we address the question of transforming the police or abolishing the police, transforming “criminal justice” and prisons or abolishing them, giving these two different things in some ways? One, it’s kind of pushed by the kind of unarmed world of white people who do mean to do harm to the rest of this country. And you’ve got the other madness that we’ve created in America, racism and poverty. So, how do we work that through?
Olayemi Olurin: Okay. So, I love the nature of having a beautiful, honest conversation. Let me tell you what I really think. We have to stop pretending as though the people calling for police have the interests of or are trying to heal or save the people. The people, like you said, the majority of the people who are being killed where this violence is happening, or these crimes that we’re talking about even, let’s take Baltimore, are young Black men.
That’s the problem within our community. But the people that are calling for the police, that are saying, oh, we need the police to address this crime, as though it’s impacting them, which it’s not. It does not. It’s not their issue at all. Their communities are not the one, you’re not the one dealing with this crime or these issues or whatever. But they are the ones calling for this community to have police, we need the police. We’re having these issues, having all these crimes. But what are the police doing in that scenario? The police are not stopping. They’re not stopping or preventing these murders or any of those things from happening. But what they are doing is fostering and exacerbating an area of violence and oppression and criminalization and all those things and how that is a vicious circle in those communities.
So the first thing we need to do is stop pretending, I think, that there’s a super good faith effort to have the police. The safest communities are not the communities with the most police. They’re the communities with the most resources. These white neighborhoods and white communities and white people calling for all these police do not live in the communities with the police. The police are not there to protect them. The police are not there to protect them. What the police do is help create a caste system, keep these people that they’re policing away from them. That’s what that is. So that’s the first thing I want to do. I want to move away from this idea that these things are so connected and, whoa, you see all this crime. How do you want to get rid of the police? The police don’t have anything to do with addressing those issues.
So now I want to move to what is the why of it all. I always tell people, environment and life circumstances and all these different things have everything to do with where you end up. The reason I went to college is because my parents went to college. I never asked whether or not… I never thought, I never deliberated, am I going to go to college? I knew I was going to go to college because my parents went to college.
I’ve never thought about in life, before I moved to America and I recognized the criminalization of all these different things for Black people. In my country, I never thought about jail or prison I would ever go to or anybody in my family. I’ve never conceived it. Because what is normal for you is what you’re exposed to, is what is real for you, what is the environment for you.
If you live in a community that is filled with police, police in your schools, police on your corner, police in your subways, police on your buses. Or every man, the average Black man in America between 18 to 29 years old has been arrested or incarcerated at some point in time in their life. If that is what is the norm for you, first of all, we never even discuss how those things psychologically impact the people and what it makes them think about themselves. And that’s how it makes them act out.
I was always told as a little girl, my Grammy told me I was smart. Everybody thought I was smart. I was stubborn. I was going to be a lawyer and all these different things. And I believed that. And that was what the plan was. That’s something I believed about myself. It’s like, I could see it. I can make that real. If you are constantly told you are a criminal, you are vilified. You’re nothing. You are in these communities where you’re not given anything. You have no resources. You have no resources to survive. You’re housing. You’re this, you’re all these different things.
What kind of person do you think it makes you? What do you think is the impact on that? I know for a fact, just yesterday I had a bill due that I couldn’t pay and listen, pissed, in here, angry, a whole different kind of temperament than the positive way I’d be moving. We have to start asking why.
Police have nothing to do with addressing how violence… We talk about violence and stuff too much in the abstract. These are real scenarios. People are getting into confrontations, conflicts, issues with one another. And why is that? Why do you think that they’re more likely to resort to violence? Because violence begets violence. And poverty begets violence and frustration and lack of mental health resources, all these different things compile.
If you have problems, you have issues, and the government that you have around you, the government there, by the way, with all the resources, you pay all the taxes, you are the people least helped in resources in society, whatever. Your whole family is burdened by… Let’s not forget a cycle of criminalization only deepens the cycle of poverty. A lesser known fact I know as a criminal attorney, when people go to prison, they get saddled with huge fines and fees. For every hour they’re sitting in prison, they’re racking up a bill.
So they take already poor people. The average person in the criminal system is literally dirt poor beneath the poverty line. So they are taking the poorest of the poorest of Black and people of color incarcerating them. So now not only the violence, by the way, what do you think they’re learning? What are they experiencing in prison? All these different things. They experience all that, the violence, the psychological wear down, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And should they get out of prison, not only can they not get a job now, they were already poor, but they can’t get a job now because they have a criminal record. On top of that, they are saddled with huge, massive fees. All these things, child support, all these things continue to accrue while you’re in prison. So you come out, what kind of person do you think that makes? How do you think you’re going to respond to life circumstances? What kind of parent do you think you’re able to be? What kind of interpersonal dynamics do you think you’re going to be?
And if you do that to every generation and generation and generation and generation of people just… What do we think happens? To me, it’s not this phenomenon. In order to keep a system in place that has been getting us nowhere, there is this commitment to throwing our hands up as though we don’t know what’s going on. Like, whoa, we keep giving so much money to the police, what are we going to do? The crime keeps rising.
Is it shocking? And so I cannot believe that all over this country, it has been blowing my mind for the last two years to watch every major city talk about a spike in crime. And with all the media, so much confusion. Everyone is like, well, what? Well, surely we must give more? I’m like, so we weren’t in a global pandemic, where we know literally tons, hundreds of thousands of people perished. Let’s not forget the medical fees and all those different things or whatever is left for families and stuff dealing with that. Perished, fully perished.
People lost their jobs. Businesses closed down. People could not pay for housing, the homeless part. Do you not know why crime would go up? If people like – What is the connection? I cannot understand this feigned ignorance and pretending. This is the confusion at the crime spike and why the police. It’s very obvious. If you have a bunch of citizens, you do not pay them a livable wage, they cannot afford to live comfortably in the places that they have to be. They are in circumstances where they’re losing their homes. They are losing their jobs. They don’t have healthcare. They are facing a pandemic where they don’t have healthcare. How do you think they are going to survive?
If people can’t eat, I would say this to people. People can’t give you money they can’t have, they don’t have. They can’t pay bills with money they don’t have. They can’t eat with food that they can’t afford to get. And they have to find a way. People are going to find a way to survive. People are going to respond to things. And at the end of the day, people are as good as their circumstances. People are as good as their circumstances.
I always say I don’t have to steal because I don’t have to steal. That’s the only reason I don’t steal. You do what you’re able to do. Nobody wants to live a life of crime. Nobody wants to be in the criminal system. Nobody wants to be in the positions where they have to fight to defend themselves, or they feel like they have so little respect in the society around them that they feel… They act out and they respond, because that’s a lot of what it is.
I have conversations with my clients. People are mad, they are frustrated. They are resentful towards their circumstances and the world around them. And they have no way to take that out. And so you’re more likely to pop somebody. In those circumstances, it’s just not that perplexing to me. It’s a direct result of the society that we are maintaining and doing and steadfastly fighting to maintain at the expense of real people.
Marc Steiner: So I’m going to come back in a little bit before we leave each other about Uvalde and Kyle Rittenhouse and more, but I want to really pick from what you just said. So the question for me is your ideas and thoughts on what that means about where we go from here and how you build something that’s an alternative. I sat here and watched the last 50 years after those of us my age have gone in the Civil Rights Movement and organized the way we did and fought inside unions and all the things that we did. And then you saw the mostly white right wing take hold in the early ’70s and build this power back, which they really have, at the moment.
Olayemi Olurin: Yeah. They always do that.
Marc Steiner: And they controlled 26 state legislatures and more, and the judiciary, and more. So the question is, how do you begin to respond to all that, especially given the world that you’re coming from with your work?
Olayemi Olurin: I think we all have a different role to play in a movement. We all have different arenas where we are best served. And I think to me, like I said, I think that the thing that’s going to change, that’s going to impact everything the quickest, the most, the fastest – Or not fast, but the thing that is going to get us where we need to be, is in terms of shifting like social consciousness. And that’s why I think education, to me, is actually the most important of all the arenas.
I know people like to think, as a lawyer, they think that’s why you go in. I don’t think that. As a public defender, as a lawyer, I’m a cog in the system. I’m a harm reductionist at most. I see my role there as trying to diminish the negative impacts of the criminal system and trying to make sure my clients are humanized and doing what I can. But you’re still in a system and in a world it’s already been… The deck is stacked. The deck is stacked.
The law is already like this. The police are placed where they’re placed. They prosecute the way they do. The judges believe what they believe. And fundamentally, the jury thinks all of these people, because these people have been able to control the narratives around our society. There’s only so much you could do if the legislator, the police, the prosecutors, and the judges are not only all aligned, but your entire society has built your jury to believe in them. To believe in them and to believe that your clients are bad and you’re deserving of the circumstances, to turn a blind eye.
So for me, it’s about educating people. And I don’t mean educating like you debating with people and this dah, dah, dah. But we have to be pushing back. We have to be openly having these discussions. We have to be trying to educate people on what it really is, because people just don’t know. A lot of people just really don’t realize, and it’s fair. In a world where you’re raised to believe in something called the criminal justice system, you’re going to believe that it’s in the business of pursuing justice. That’s going to be your default presumption.
So when you hear things and all these horror stories from people, you think that they’re outliers, or the system is making a mistake of some kind. So for me, I’m in the business of trying to… Personally, I want us to divest from the criminal system. I recognize abolition. They’re not going to abolish it. Abolition today is not what’s going to happen. They’re not going to go and open up all the doors. That’s not what it means.
What it means is we need to start investing in the root causes of crime. If I believe that crime is exacerbated by poverty, by lack of mental health resources, by lack of education, infrastructure, all these different things, what I’m trying to do is create a world and do the work to get people to take money out of these systems and start putting money into that, whatever. So that the cause, the reason that we rely on prisons, isn’t there, so that we get to a world eventually where we’re not seeing these social ills and things like that because we’ve addressed those issues and those needs. Because it’s not a coincidence, again.
Yet again, all these things are happening where people don’t have the resources to survive. That’s what it is. We all need therapy. We all need help. We all need to be able to pay for schooling and all these things. So for me, I think the greatest push is education. And I don’t just mean in the formal sense. Obviously we need to put money into education infrastructure. But I mean in terms of just changing how we see the world, we see each other, how we see marginalized people in communities that are in these societies. That’s what I think is the largest thing.
And also to recognize that this is a step-by-step process, brick-by-brick process. It’s very easy to come into your time in the present and look at history where things have already been happening. People like to be, slavery is abolished, dah, dah, dah, all these different things. If we could abolish slavery, trust me, if we could abolish slavery, the prison system is not untouchable. It’s insane.
Marc Steiner: That’s a great line. That should be a line somewhere. I like that.
Olayemi Olurin: Yeah, if we can abolish slavery, the prison system is not untouchable. All this is is a modern day remake. And so slavery involved, I mean, millions and millions of people, slave trade, all kinds of countries, just a far huger, longer history of a thing. The prison system is a man-made institution that’s fairly recent. You come into it now and people think, oh, a few people just got up or something and said –
How do you think they received the slave abolitionists? The people who said, oh, this is bad. This is this. Dah, dah, dah. There’s going to be pushback. There’s going to be a fight. But it’s a brick-by-brick process. The same way now, it’s universally unacceptable. Nobody is allowed. No reasonable man is allowed to come and outright say in America at this point. And these politicians, even if they want it in their heart, they have to pretend like we’re all in alignment that slavery was bad.
That’s because it became… Some people, a bunch of people gave their lives, worked very hard, tirelessly, for unknown amounts of time, to make us come to a world where slavery sounds alarming and egregious to everybody, universally. But let the record reflect, a bunch of people were born into that world where they thought that was absurd and radical and crazy and, importantly, impossible. There are a lot of people that would be a lot more receptive to abolition if they didn’t incorrectly perceive it as impossible. Because in their mind, because they’ve only ever known a world with prisons, they think of prisons as natural to the world, like water and air.
But that’s not the case. That’s not the case at all. So I want to remind people a lot more difficult things have been done. You had to free a whole lot of people that were… It’s not just a population of people that have been criminalized, and almost two million people imprisoned in America. But it was the entire… They literally had a system in place where anybody of that race was quite literally enslaved. You’re born into slavery.
And if we can abolish that, if we manage to get to a world where we could convince people we actually do not need this. People thought the same way they seem to think prisons are as necessary to crime and safety is how people believed slavery was as necessary to capitalism and the means of production. That’s what they believed. Even in a negotiation, how do we do this in a way gradually enough that the South’s entire economic system doesn’t crumble out from under them?
There are people who are like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Morally, I hear you. I’m morally opposed. I see why slavery is bad. But, you know, the economics. And eventually they got over all those people and managed to dismantle the system as a process, it was a fight. They fought tooth and nail. There was a civil war. So I don’t know why people think a little bit of backlash on Fox means that we can’t do this. I don’t know. It’s unclear to me. I’m like, y’all got to dream a little bigger, read a lot more. Really, it’s not undoable. It’s not undoable. So, I’m just in the business of that work.
Marc Steiner: I’d hate to have a go up against you in court. So, I can hear people listening to this and who really hear this argument about abolition and how do we change the future in this country. Let’s talk about, for just a minute, the kid who cried at his trial because he was so terrified.
Olayemi Olurin: Oh, Rittenhouse?
Marc Steiner: Yeah. So, I mean…
Olayemi Olurin: Them fake tears?
Marc Steiner: Pardon?
Olayemi Olurin: Them fake crocodile tears?
Marc Steiner: Yes. And his fake crocodile tears. Yes. What should happen to him in this world where we are trying to build a different system of justice?
Olayemi Olurin: Oh, I love this question. I’m glad, and I love this. I know where this is –
Marc Steiner: No, no, it’s probably, I really want to hear what you have to say.
Olayemi Olurin: In a world where I’m an abolitionist, what do I think we should do with this [white supremacist kid].
Marc Steiner: What do we do with it, with the Kyle Rittenhouses?
Olayemi Olurin: Yes. Trust me, I got you. So the first beneficiaries of the work of dismantling the system maintained and based around protecting white supremacy should not be white supremacists. People love to think it’s a contradiction when you say I believe that the prison system, the prison-industrial complex, mass incarceration is a means of maintaining social and racial inequality and perpetuating racism. And that’s why I believe that the system should be dismantled, because I don’t actually think it has anything to do with stopping or preventing or reducing the impacts of crime or helping communities.
And they think somehow it’s a contradiction there to want the white supremacist to go to jail. No, right? People say you’re legitimizing the system. The system doesn’t need my legitimization, that’s first and foremost. Second, the system, it’s already in the business of protecting white supremacy. So what it does is not punish white supremacists. So in no way can saying, oh, white supremacist should be punished by the system, is the system legitimizing itself or me legitimizing the system. It’s, in fact, you are using the system not for its means, for once. So, that’s my major underline to that.
And the two of it all is a white supremacist system is going to protect the white supremacist no matter what I say or do. I’m inconsequential to that dynamic. It’s going to do that. It was going to protect Kyle Rittenhouse no matter what I do. So me believing his ass should be under the jail isn’t a reflection of that.
And three, for me personally, I don’t care anything about Kyle Rittenhouse. I don’t, actually, at all. I don’t care, convicted, not convicted, because I know America, and I know America’s criminal system. I knew from the jump that that little boy was not going to be convicted. I already knew. So, I already know what it is. And the racism doesn’t shock me, white supremacy doesn’t shock me, watching the criminal system bend over backwards to do that does not shock me. I see it in court every day.
I remember the first time I realized that the criminal system was insidious. I used to think when people tell you that the criminal system is racist and it’s this and it’s all these different things, you think that it’s something you need a magnifying glass to parse out. You need to go read some books. You need to go do some studies. You need to be lurking behind a curtain, because clearly it’s something you wouldn’t expect, that something could be this racist and open in plain sight and continue to operate like that.
That’s what I thought when I was studying this stuff in college. And then I became a public defender and I represented, same judge, same prosecutor back to back, represented a Black guy that was accused of having a blunt, and they asked for thousands of dollars of bail on him. Immediately next, I represented a white guy who was found with an entire bag of drugs, selling, a dealer, and they consented to release. Asked for a no bail, no nothing. And I was like, oh! We’re not even playing. Oh, okay, I see what world we’re in. I see it now. So I expected all of that stuff to happen to Rittenhouse. That’s what it is.
So for me, it’s not about what should happen to him, it’s about what will happen to him because of the America that we live in. When I identify, when I even take the time out to even talk about a Rittenhouse or what’s happening with Rittenhouse, it’s not because I want him to go to jail. It’s because I want to show you that the criminal system you keep calling a justice system does not care about justice.
It doesn’t care about right or wrong. It doesn’t care about what you know and see, it doesn’t care. It cares about punishing and condemning and keeping its foot on the necks of certain populations. And there are other people that, no matter what they do, you watch the system transform itself right before your eyes to excuse them, because a white supremacist system will protect the white supremacist. That’s how I feel.
Marc Steiner: Amen. So just to conclude, I’m just thinking about what your analysis tells you about where we are going next and where this struggle goes. Because when I think about the rise of the power of this racist right wing in America, they really are seizing power everywhere.
Olayemi Olurin: They sure are.
Marc Steiner: And control a good part of the federal judiciary system as we speak. And want to take away everything that people fought for, from voting rights, and going back to states’ rights, and all the rest that we see this lineup, this battle taking place. We understand the depth of racism, as well, in America. And so where do you see the movement going? Where do you see the battle for change taking place, and how do you see it kind of…?
Olayemi Olurin: So I focus myself on the people. I know I’m a political commentator, but I don’t care about politics in the sports way that people fought [crosstalk]… I don’t care about these two entities, and I think they’re far more aligned than people realize when they’re not looking at how branding and messaging and how people go about delivering your message, but in terms of what they choose to do in application.
The way I see it, in terms of what we need to do and how it’s going to go as people is, first of all, we have to make demands. We have to. We have to make demands. But in order for us to be in consensus with what those demands are and what we are requiring of these people that we’re putting in power, whatever, we have to first come to some level of understanding and alignment. And this is the next thing.
Olayemi OlurinAnd I don’t care how much the media and everybody else works to make you think that we’re not doing it, it’s not happening, and the progressive stuff is all make believe. That’s not the case. If it were make believe, if we weren’t actually having impact, if we weren’t actually shifting social consciousness, if they weren’t actually seeing the results of our hard work, they wouldn’t be working on bended knee every day to try to stop us, to switch narrative to do this.
So for me, the first thing is about my role in it is trying to get people to start seeing these things differently and questioning it differently. That’s the one. But the two in terms of our politicians, I think the problem with… And I say the Democrats not because I want to be on the Democrats, just because we happen to live in this two-party system where I recognize that’s currently the team we got to be behind.
Republicans rally around bigotry, period. It’s so funny how they love to talk about identity politics when they talk about people of color and Black people, because in their mind, it’s so funny how whiteness makes itself the default. That like, oh, because whiteness is some neutral position, it can’t be identity or anything, whatever you’re invested in, but only the rest of us are like some kind of made up identity or whatever. But nobody is more invested in identity politics than Republicans in rallying around whiteness.
And we need to stop leaning into their talking points and their rebranding of it, how they call it the culture wars now. They’re not culture wars. No one’s having a, you don’t have a right or a cause. Your cause is only opposing what other people want, or responding to what their demands are, or what they want for their life just being mad at them, trying to take that down. That’s not a cause, that is not a culture, that is not a war. That is just oppressors trying to oppress. So that’s what I think.
I think what we need to do in terms of Democrats and liberals, we need to stop trying to appease these people, this centrist world where we don’t call all things out. We lean into all their talking points and we just allow them to get us torn down in the weeds. We need to start being honest, and we need to be honest and be strong about things. There’s too much capitulating to the right and Republicans. It’s very interesting to me that they could be quite literally – I mean, bigotry is not a suitable word to describe it. The only reason I’m using bigotry is as a catch-all. It’s a catch-all for racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, any transphobia, any level of oppressing. I mean, I have never seen people more riled up. But ooh, they love them [getting to] oppress some people. They love to be on an oppression tour.
And I think it’s important to call them out. If they could be as shameless about this, and then why are we doing this song and dance where we let them pretend it’s about something else all the time? Why are we doing that? Let’s be honest about what these things are. We’re pretending like there’s some kind of culture war happening with how DeSantis and all these people are challenging LGBT rights and all. They’re homophobic. That’s all that is. They’re homophobic. That’s all, baby. That’s all it is. They don’t have any cause until they’re mad at somebody else. They don’t have one. All of a sudden it’s June and now they’re mad at all the Pride stuff. Oh, let’s not let the kids go to dance. I said, all they do is complain about what other people do.
And we need to start, honestly, the best thing you could do there… I will say this. I’m sure, I am confident that there is in fact a population of white Republicans and white right-wing people who just don’t know any better in the sense that they haven’t been educated. Like I said, in the same way that I said we could believe the results of our environment where we’re taught blah, blah, blah, and that perpetuates this stuff. In the same way, I’m sure there’s a wealth of them that are drowning in misinformation and just lies built on maintaining this idea.
And if you are living in a world where you’re being told as your white self that somehow all the things you don’t have in this life, or dah, dah, dah, you’re deserving of or some is being stolen from you by the Black people, by the gay people, by everybody or whatever. And you’re being taught to breed and rally around that hate. I’m sure there are some people that simply revealing to them that, they see information. It’s not immediately. I think people make the mistake of thinking that there’s some piece of information you could give to a person and they will immediately just walk away from their entire worldview. That’s just not the case. No one’s going to do that. No one abandons their entire worldview the first time it’s challenged. It’s a process.
And I think there are a lot of people that, if you just reveal to them information over time, they don’t even notice it. It’s gradual. They will just start shifting. I have so many personal friends who thought they were moderates, who are saying the most left-wing stuff now and they don’t even know it, it’s because they talk to me every day. They don’t even realize it’s just been slowly just changing the seeds. Even my own mom, my mommy is an establishment Dem, who like, trust me, in her spirit, right in the heart just… She’d be mad every time I say something about her party, as she says, you know what I mean? And the next thing, she goes, ooh, that Eric Adams. I’m like, you see what I’m talking about, mama.
So, it’s that kind of process. I think overall, what we need to be doing in the business of, we need to be educating each other. We need to be calling things out. We need to stop leaning in. And I think all that really boils down to is not being scary in the sense of not being scared, not being soft. And I think a lot of that is what it is. Republicans do not have a problem. In fact, they enjoy pissing us off. They love saying the thing, the left. They want to say the most offensive, egregious thing, saying what they really think, what they want to say about us, blah, blah, blah. They don’t care, we receive it. They care about mobilizing their base and getting their base to understand and know what their message is and being a part of that.
We know good and well that they’re bigots. We know they’re racist. We know they’re all this… Stop getting caught up and all this, dude, stop. It’s a trick. Republicans are very engaged in the politics of distraction. It’s a trick. You’re trying to talk about something serious, something’s happened and we’re trying to talk about the gun thing, so all of a sudden they start talking about drag, kids listening to drag stories.
They come up with stuff so that you’re distracted. And what do we do every time? Engage in nonsense. And we need to stop leaning into all those bullshit euphemisms like wokeism and culture wars and blah, blah, and all these different things they call to reframe and re-characterize their bigotry as something other than bigotry. It’s bigotry, that’s all it is. That’s all it is. And we got to stop wasting our time.
So that is my overall, that’s what we need to be in the business doing. We got to be strong. We got to be honest. We have to call things out, and we have to start normalizing a world that should really be the world we want to live in.
Marc Steiner: There’s a whole lot there.
Olayemi Olurin: I told you I could talk for the whole time.
Marc Steiner: It’s good though. No, I like it. And I was going to end now, but you said one thing I have to maybe… We shouldn’t prolong this too long, I suppose, but just one quick thing. Because you mentioned a man’s name in your last response –
Olayemi Olurin: Eric Adams?
Marc Steiner: …That you have written about.
Olayemi Olurin: Oh you might [inaudible] on his head.
Marc Steiner: Mr. Eric Adams and the disillusionment that many people in New York are having now with Eric Adams. And it has to do with our criminal injustice system and more. Just to riff on that just for a quick second, I like to hear what your thoughts are on that, and then we will conclude.
Olayemi Olurin: Oh yeah. I always got a mouthful about Eric Adams. But people, whenever you complain about Eric Adams right now, recently there are people whose response is, well, y’all voted for him. What did you expect? That’s what New York asked for, that’s what they deserve. People who will not follow politics, pretend like politics is just a black and white thing like just, everybody clicked yes. You know what I mean? On Eric Adams, no circumstances were involved.
New York City was coming out of a pandemic. Let’s acknowledge it. New York City was one of the only places taking it very seriously for long. We were still not back up in the full swing of things. You know what I mean? New York City was very much so kind of closed. We’re kind of closed. We’re dealing with all kinds of issues. We had quadruple the COVID spikes. We had a lot of stuff going on.
It also introduced ranked choice voting for the first time or whatever, Dianne Morales’s campaign imploded at the ninth hour. There were a lot of different circumstances that came into play. We had a lot of different people running. Also Andrew Yang and everybody. Every Democrat with a dream was running for mayor. We had a lot of it.
So we had a very, very, very low voter turnout. In the first place, it was the pandemic. It was this, we had low voter turnout. We had ranked choice voting, and we had like seven choices. So, he didn’t win because New York City was like, whoa, we love him. It wasn’t like some historic voter turnout and everybody chose Eric Adams. It was a mess. It was a mess. It was a few people who voted. We had a ranked choice. [inaudible] And we got stuck with him. It was a mistake. It was a mistake.
I don’t want to say that it was ever like the entire New York City, like we were so behind him, and now people are like, oh, what have we done? It’s just people seeing Eric Adams managed to win. He managed to win. And once he managed to win, all the people that are invested in quashing progressive movements started trying to pretend like him being elected is a reflection of New York City’s real desire to have a tough on crime. And that’s what the Dems should be doing, and moderate and centrist this, or whatever.
So I really like to highlight Eric Adams just to show that. While they’re trying to quash, they love to somehow attribute the Democrat’s failure to progressive things that the Democrats never do while celebrating centrist Democrats that continue to perform poorly with poor polling. It’s illogical. And so that’s the main reason I like to highlight that.
But in the case of Adams, Adams comes in. He’s a cop. And people just didn’t know much about him. If you saw Eric Adams’s commercials or whatever, they don’t know. They see a Black guy, he’s a Democrat. He’s a cop that gives them that moderate establishment feel where they think, oh, he is going to be a little bit progressive, but dah, dah, dah, because they’re not paying attention.
But if they were paying attention, if they knew he was a cop the way I knew he was a cop and everything I knew, it wouldn’t have been shocking. But Eric Adams comes in and he immediately begins waging war on the homeless. I can’t describe it as anything else. That’s what it is. It’s been a war on the homeless. Immediately, he puts a million, he puts 1000, specifically, puts 1000 more cops in the subways to drive out the homeless people off the subways. Once they’re back in the streets, he starts tearing down the encampments. He proposes massive budget cuts for them. He’s cut housing. He’s cut all these different things. All the while, NYPD is still shooting at people. People are still dying in Rikers. And he’s still asking, in fact, asked for 200 million more for NYPD, gave them 90 million more, but cut from housing, cut from schooling, cut from parks, cut from everything else, but NYPD got their money.
And then they go, he’s like, we have this major problem with the homeless. I want to say this. The war is not on homelessness, it’s on homeless people. Because he’s not doing anything.
Marc Steiner: It’s a big difference.
Olayemi Olurin: Big difference. And people, I cannot stand the way people love to have this homeless conversation, this homelessness conversation in New York City, and link it to crime rather than linking it to housing and the actual work. The way copaganda doesn’t make any sense, but because it’s so pervasive, no one questions it. It is very wild. They’re never talking about – This is why I think it is so beautiful. They always talk about crime when they talk about the homeless. And it’s interesting because they’re never even there. How often do you actually hear them actually tell you any story about the homeless committing crimes? You know what I mean?
They talk about crime and they talk about homeless people because they just want the criminal system to be used to disappear these people. Because the reality is the homeless person is in way more danger than you and I. If you knew right now you didn’t have anywhere to sleep, you couldn’t come back to your house, you didn’t know where to sleep. You would be worried, you would be scared for you on the streets. You would be worried about yourself. You are the person that is in danger.
But instead, they make this conversation about the criminal system and yada-yada, rather than the fact that New York City is like one of the most expensive cities to live in on this earth. On this earth, we are in a pandemic where rent prices and everything have already risen 22%. We’re having inflation. There are no livable wages. That’s why. Eviction moratoriums were lifted. That’s why this is an astronomically expensive place to live.
And I’m an attorney. I’m an attorney. I’m on TV. I live in a basement apartment. Look at this. That is why. I live in a basement apartment. So why do you think people are on the street? That’s the answer. That is the answer. That’s the clear answer. But he, like many others, they just don’t care about these people. That’s just not what they’re in. That’s not what they’re in the business of doing. They’re in the business of securing, maintaining power, and lining pockets, so that’s what they do. That’s my conclusion.
Marc Steiner: And that’s a good conclusion. It’s a good way to end. This is good. This has been great. Olayemi Olurin, it’s been a real pleasure to talk with you today. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Olayemi Olurin: Great. I did too. This was really wonderful. I actually loved it.
Marc Steiner: And I look forward to more. And I want to thank you all out there for joining us. You can find links and more about Olayemi Olurin’s work here at The Steiner Show site at The Real News. And let me know what you think about today’s program, and I will write right back to you. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can have a dialogue about that. And again, links to all of our articles and her latest in Teen Vogue will be right here. So, check that out.
I want to thank Dwayne Gladden for running this show today with his new daughter in tow, Stephen Frank for his genius at audio editing coming up, Kayla Rivera for all she does as she prepares for her wedding, and all of our hard working crew at the creative group here at The Real News. Thank you again for joining us, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.