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Dr. Ray Winbush discusses structural racism in Baltimore and urban centers across America

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And here in the studio with me today is Ray Winbush, a professor from Morgan State University that’s an expert in black affairs and an expert in urban conditions. And he’s been studying these things for some time. And today I’m going to ask him to share with us his opinion on what’s happening to Baltimore, what’s happening in terms of the epidemic of violence, and what’s happening in terms of the conditions. So please help me welcome Dr. Ray Winbush.


CONWAY: You know, one of the things that we’ve notice is that there’s been in the city a lot of violence. And we can’t figure out exactly what’s the cause of it. And so could you share from your policy institute your insight on what you think is happening?

WINBUSH: Well, Eddie, there’s a remarkable similarity between all urban areas relative to black violence in the United States. What happens is that media focuses on places like Chicago, Baltimore, and so forth. I like to ask the question of people when I’m talking, which is the number one city for black homicide in the United States? And most people say Chicago or Baltimore, D.C. But it’s Flint, Michigan, per capita. But you don’t hear Flint, ’cause it’s not as sexy as a Baltimore or a Chicago.

I think when you put people in conditions over long periods of time, deprive them of jobs, over-police them, and make available services very, very sparse, food deserts, if you please, violence is inevitable. And that’s what inner cities in this country have become since the assassination of Dr. King in the ’60s. You know, the fleeing to the suburbs, the urban rebellions of the ’60s, all created these pockets of violence. And Baltimore is the same way.

Baltimore is unique in that it’s the largest city next to a destination city in the United States, the destination city being Washington, D.C., and they share some of the same problems. I think it was Gil Scott-Heron that wrote about Washington. He said Washington 9-to-5 and Washington 5-to-9. In Baltimore you have the conditions about it being violent from 5 to 9.

CONWAY: So what do you think, in terms of the citizens in Baltimore, that we can do to kind of, like, try to see if we can turn that around?

WINBUSH: Well, see, I think what African people do globally is that we focus on how do we fix ourselves in a system that’s corrupt. It’s almost like saying, where do we want to build this house in the middle of a swamp? You know, you can build a house in a swamp, or you can say, look, we need to deal with this swamp or we need to get out of swamp.

So Africans, we are oftentimes [incompr.] we need to be independent and have our own businesses, build our own schools, teach our own children. That’s all well and good, but there’s examples of that when even when we did that, the system of white supremacy tries to destroy it. Rosewood, Florida, for example, or Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1920s.

I think that any organization and any people, they have to say: how can we improve ourselves? But at the same time, those same people and that same organization has to say, what do we do about the system of racism that is causing us to do this? So, for example, in Baltimore we know, research shows, for example, on issues of police brutality, that if you attach a camera to a police officer, that in a year’s time–Rialto, California, is a good example of that–you can reduce police violence towards black people and the residents by 67 percent. We know this. I mean, it’s undisputed research. But then you’ve got to run into the issue of a mayor, for example, here in Baltimore who says, I don’t really want to put cameras on police officers, even though we know and she knows that that would reduce police violence. So that’s what I mean by we can say, let’s fix ourselves, but we also have to deal with the system that’s creating these conditions in the first place.

CONWAY: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you brought that up, because just recently in The Sun paper they had an article in which the epidemic of police brutality against the citizens were outrageous and cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money, $5.7 million, right? So I’m wondering, why would the mayor or even the City Council not support something that would help curtail that violence toward the citizens by the police?

WINBUSH: Well, I’ll give you three letters, FOP–I mean the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the most powerful organizations in the city. I read yesterday, in regards to that article that you just mentioned, there’s police officer in New York, this one officer alone, has cost the city of New York $1.5 million, just him by himself, in terms of police brutality issues. Why isn’t he fired? Because the FOP protects him. We know Eric Garner–you’re familiar with the case–who was choked to death by police officers in Staten Island in New York a couple of months ago. The FOP came out and said that it wasn’t a chokehold. And the mayor, who is really kind of–.

CONWAY: [Bill de Blasio].

WINBUSH: Yeah. He said, well, I’m not going to say anything about that.

I think that we don’t understand, again, how the system of white supremacy in the form of the FOP works to bolster and support criminal activities among the police. We are seeing it out in Ferguson, Missouri, right now with the support of Derek Wilson. FOP and others have raised over a half a million dollars in his defense. He’s not arrested. He’s still at large. And I don’t say he’s–you know, he is still at large, ’cause I see consider him a criminal.

So what we’ve got to do: we’ve got to take care of ourselves. I mean, we’ve got to do things and stuff. But we also have to deal with the system. I’ve been really kind of a little bit–I’ve got mixed emotions about the fact that after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, that I started seeing all of these things coming out in social media, what to do when police arrest you, ten things you’ve got to do. Keep your hands on the–. Look, I had that back when I was a kid growing up in Cleveland. My father taught us that stuff. But, see, we need to not only talk about what we should do, but we have to say, how do we organize to deal with the police department? How do we put pressure here in Baltimore on a mayor who’s reluctant to say, let’s attach small microphones and small cameras to police officers? We’ve got to do it both ways.

CONWAY: Yeah. One of the things that seems to be, like, a flaw in that particular system is the community review board. It seems to have no teeth.

WINBUSH: It’s a joke.

CONWAY: But that’s the mechanism that citizens are supposed to send their complaints to and they’re supposed to get redress. Is that not working?

WINBUSH: It’s not working at all. In fact, The Baltimore Sun did an article about six or seven months ago about the police citizens review board, whatever it’s called. It’s impotent. I mean, it doesn’t do anything. There’s people that has been on there four or five hundred years. I mean, I’m exaggerating, of course, but the point is is that it doesn’t do anything.

But, again, look at it as a national issue. Citizens review boards of police tend to be impotent. There are things that–it’s like throwing a bone to a hungry dog, saying, look I know you want this [incompr.] citizen review board. They don’t do anything. Most of the people that are appointed to that are appointed by mayors who have, again, close connections with the FOP.

So I’ve always advocated, and have written about this, the citizen review board should be an elected–that you should be able to run for office to be on a citizen review board. And if you don’t do your job, you get voted off. But, unfortunately, most of those things are by appointment. So the one here in Baltimore is totally impotent.

CONWAY: Alright. So we’re going to return for a second part, in which our guest will talk about solutions and how we can address this stuff from down in the community on the grassroots level.

So thank you, Dr. Winbush, for taking your time to share this with us.


CONWAY: And thank you for joining The Real News.


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