Dr. Ray Winbush speaks about how to address structural racism in Baltimore
EDDIE CONWAY, FMR. BLACK PANTHER, BALTIMORE CHAPTER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, and I’m here for a second part of an earlier interview with Dr. Ray Winbush, a professor at Morgan State University and an expert in black affairs, in urban affairs. And he’s going to share with us some of his insights about what we can do.
Thank you for coming again, Dr. Winbush.
DR. RAY WINBUSH, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR URBAN RESEARCH, MORGAN STATE:
Thank you. Thanks, Eddie.
CONWAY: So earlier you kind of, like, told us what the problem was and different aspects of it. Can you share with us from your studies, from your institute, what might be some of the solutions that we can apply down on the ground to solve this?
WINBUSH: Yeah. Well, an unanticipated kind of a byproduct of the social media is the camera, which everybody has on their phones now, or nearly everybody has on their phone. And if you think about the Michael Brown incident this past summer, the Eric Garner event that occurred in Staten Island, the reason why these things became nationally known was because a conscientious person filmed the incident. This is something, in one sense, that is very old, because the Black Panther Party in Oakland did this years ago, many years ago, during the 1960s. We’ve been recommending to people the use of their cell phone cameras. We’ve also said that when you are stopped by the police–and there’s actually, believe it or not, apps for that right now that you can push and record the conversations between police officers. That’s one thing.
The second thing: there’s got to be pressure placed on mayors, as well as city council members here in Baltimore and around the country, to really give community review boards teeth. And people need to organize around that area. I mean, you have to really say, we’re going to be involved with the political process to try to move against candidates that do not support community review boards that have teeth in them.
And as I said before, we have to participate in the political process. One of the problems, as we were talking about earlier in Baltimore, is that black folks see the most important elections as being the presidential elections, and we’ve got to create interest in local elections, midterm elections, which create some of the problems as far as gerrymandering and stuff, so that we can intervene in that process. There’s no reason why Baltimore, with a set agenda, if we all voted–and I’m talking about black folk–if we voted en masse the way we vote in the presidential election, we could elect whoever we want to. Hold people accountable, write petitions, sign petitions, but also organize in your own local community to go up against people that are elected.
CONWAY: But is part of the problem–I mean in terms of just the electorial politics, ’cause I’m not sure what the numbers are, but I’m sure that they’re very low in terms of the voting turnout. You say 20 percent.
WINBUSH: It’s about 20 percent.
CONWAY: Isn’t part of the problem that you only see these politicians once every four years, when it’s time for election, and then you hear a lot of great promises, and then after the election they disappear?
WINBUSH: Well, they do. And it’s not only that; it’s also that organizations disappear. There was a survey done in Baltimore about seven years ago. As you know, the national headquarters of the NAACP is located here, but only, I think, one out of every four black Baltimorians knew where it was located. So we’ve got to become more aware of what’s going on in our communities. We need to be involved with the day-to-day stuff that’s going on. Politicians who only appear at funerals, who only appear at churches or big gatherings, who want to be introduced so that people can say, I met him or her, that is not what the electoral process is about. It’s us being involved constantly, writing congresspeople, writing your city council, picking up the phone. And if a bunch of people are doing that, it makes a difference. If a handful of people are doing it, it doesn’t make a difference, because elected officials will just say, well, Ray Winbush or Eddie Conway, they’re just a nuisance, or something like that, whereas we’ve got to look at this is being what we see as our civic duty. We really do. And I know it sounds kind of wishful thinking, but we really need to be more involved with the political process. We really do.
CONWAY: And probably–I don’t know how this works, but one of the things that I was looking at is, like, some of the rec centers and some of the areas in which young people can have recreation in seems to be either in disrepair closed down. I mean, is that something on the local level that we could do to maybe help heal the community?
WINBUSH: Well, it is. I mean, we’ve got to keep in mind that elected officials in this city shut down several rec centers two summers ago, and then at the same time imposed a curfew to keep young people in the house. I mean, if you just say, we’re not going to let you have a place to play, associate with, and at the same time, we’re going to make you get off the street at a certain time, I mean, you’re creating an atmosphere of potential violence, potential criminal activity, and stuff like that. It’s ironic that in the city we’re saying we’re opposed–you know, we’re going to support this, probably the strictest curfew law the United States, but we’re not going to provide anything for young people to go to have a place, just an outlet. And, you know, young people have got energy, man, you know, and they want to express it in playing basketball, organizing, whatever they want to do. I think that that was something that I think and still is something that we could organize around. I think that at rec centers that are open we need to have political literature there. We need to have members of churches and stuff.
And I want to say this real quick about churches. Churches ought to be open seven days of the week. In most congregations in a city, you have teachers, you have nurses, you have doctors, you have plumbers, janitors, all types of people. They could be teaching classes in the church and help politicize people, because like it or not, the church is still one of the major institutions in the black community. But it has abdicated its role as compared to 50 years ago when Dr. King was out and even Malcolm X was a minister. You know, it doesn’t do the same thing as it did 50 years ago. It’s very much interested in, I guess, what they this call this stuff prosperity ministries and, you know, pulling in the cash. You know.
CONWAY: The big Cadillac, huh?
WINBUSH: That’s right.
CONWAY: Yeah. You know, one of the things that kind of baffles me is this whole thing around the dirtbike guys.
WINBUSH: Yeah, 12 O’Clock Boys.
CONWAY: Yeah, the 12 O’Clock Boys, because I was thinking–you know, and I hear them riding up and down the street and whatnot. And I was thinking, like, why not give them an area, a park or someplace, that they could go and exercise and have their recreation where they won’t become outlaws, where they won’t be illegal? I mean, why would you make it illegal when all around the city, in every other county, people are riding dirt bikes?
WINBUSH: Well, but, see, you just offered an enlightened idea, and apparently politicians don’t–I mean, to me that’s a very simple thing. I saw the film when it came out. I’ve seen the 12 O’Clock Boys. They’ve ridden past my car as I’m driving. You know. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Police have a problem with it. The neighbors don’t have a problem with it or anything else like that. But it’s, again, what could local politicians do, like you said? Give them an area, say, well, look, you can operate from North Avenue over here to whatever, you know, do something. You know. But, again, politicians aren’t really, in many inner-city situations around the country, they are really saying, our number one constituency are the businesses, secondly the entrepreneurs, and the people really are really low on the risk list of what their priorities are.
CONWAY: Okay. Thank you for that insight, and hopefully we’ll share that message with other people and we’ll learn, and maybe we can organize and do something about it. Thank you for joining us.
WINBUSH: Thank you, Eddie.
CONWAY: And thank you for joining The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway.