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Eddie Conway talks with Jacqueline Luqman about the myths surrounding peaceful protests, uprisings, economic oppression and capitalism, valuing property over people, and the country’s founding on violence.

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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Eddie Conway: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. We have been listening to a lot of social media chatter about why people are rioting and we thought we would have a discussion and a conversation about why do people riot. And so, joining me today for this discussion is Jackie Luqman. Jackie, thanks for joining me.

Jackie Luqman: Thank you for wanting to have the discussion with me, Eddie.

Eddie Conway: First, I think, I want to share a personal story and a personal experience about riots. I was in Europe in 1967, in Germany. I had been over there for about two and a half years, I was in the Army. I was getting ready to go to Vietnam. I had signed the reenlistment paperwork and we was working through the process of what was going to happen and how it was going to take place. And one morning, I woke up and I looked at The Stars and Stripes and on the front of the newspaper was this picture of a riot in Newark, New Jersey. And in the picture there were 20 to 30 Black women on the corner protesting and you could see them, they were yelling, their hands were in the air and they were very angry.

And in the center of the street, we’re both streets cross was an armored personnel carrier with a 50 caliber machine gun, a belt of bullets running through it and a White soldier sitting behind the gun with his thumbs an inch away from the triggers. And this gun, it’s an automatic weapon, if you press both triggers it will automatically go off and shoot 25 to 50 rounds. You get caught up in the momentum of it like an electrical shock, you can’t get your hands off of it. And I realized that, well, if he sneezed or if he pressed those triggers, all those women on the corner would have been killed. And they would have been cut in half and the building that they were standing in front of would have had a huge hole in it that’s how powerful those rounds are.

And I had to ask myself, “What’s going on?” And I realized Newark, New Jersey, my mother is in Baltimore, my mother could have very well been on that corner. This could have been happening a few miles to the South and I had to question, why was I getting ready to go to Vietnam and fight to make the world safe for democracy when there was real serious problems in the Black community? And I’m sharing this story because when people talk about riots, they don’t realize that when people are so desperate that they riot, it’s a cry to be heard. And that cry in most cases are heard all around the world. And for me, I was like 6,000 miles away in Europe and I heard that cry and decided not to go to Vietnam.

Jackie Luqman: Wow.

Eddie Conway: But Jackie, what are some of the people saying about this rioting that’s going on now. I think it’s in seven major cities and what’s your take on it?

Jackie Luqman: Well, that’s really an amazing story Eddie, because that reflects a real life connection with what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, when he said that, “The absolute guarantor against riots was social justice.” And he went on to say that a riot is the language of the unheard. And people are hearing, right now those very cries of oppressed people still. This is still why we’re having uprisings and rebellions in these cities across the country and I think they’re just going to grow because people have not been heard about the very things that King was talking about in 1963 and the very things that people were rising up against in cities like Newark, New Jersey in 1967. And one of the issues is police brutality and police terror against civilians, against citizens.

So when we bring these issues up again and again Eddie, people always come with these crazy, well, maybe they’re not crazy, right?

Because people really believe the things they say. They believe the deflections that they give but they don’t really want to have a conversation about what’s really going on that led these uprisings. So Eddie, when I hear people say, “Why are they destroying their own neighborhoods?” That just is the first indication for me that people still aren’t listening to anything people who live in these neighborhoods have said about how they’re treated in their neighborhoods, particularly by the police.

Eddie Conway: You would think with the Garner case in New York, the Mike Brown case, the Tyrone case, the Corrine Gaines case, I mean, there’s just thousands of cases, you would think by now people would understand this is a systemic problem. In this particular case, the officer that pinned this brother down had 18 complaints against him.

Jackie Luqman: Right.

Eddie Conway: 18 different people had went and said that this person uses excessive force and is destructive to the community and no one heard it.

Jackie Luqman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eddie Conway: What are people supposed to do after that?

Jackie Luqman: Right. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s like not only do people in Minneapolis the political structure not listen to the demands for justice from these people. And these aren’t just like frivolous things like, “Oh, this cop isn’t nice to me.” No, these were instances of this cop having actually shot other people, having killed another person. And at the time in 2009 or so, Amy Klobuchar was the top prosecutor and she refused to prosecute at least a dozen cops who had various police brutality charges against them. She refused to prosecute them.
So when people follow the rules, they go through the process, they ask for justice in the way that they’re supposed to along all the proper channels and murderers still go free, to not only not face any kind of justice but to also continue to do the job of so-called policing people, which only gives them the opportunity to abuse more people, I don’t know what people think that folks are supposed to do with that. I’m at a loss for how people think that somehow people are just supposed to take that and be like, “Okay, well, we’re just going to have to deal with seeing this murderer on the street every day, harassing us and maybe we’re next and that’s going to be okay.”

Eddie Conway: As you were talking, I was thinking about Ferguson and after Ferguson there was a federal investigation, they evaluated the police department there and what they found was that excessive ticket traffic violations were being handed out to the Black community, the Black community was being harassed constantly daily. And part of the outcome of that harassment was all of those monies were going to help prop up the police department. Similar thing happened here after Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the federal government came in, they looked at things, they set up a consent decree but what they determined was every single day the police department were violating the rights of Black people in the city. Every single day, on all levels, on all scales from just verbal abuse to death.

So now what happens if you go through all these processes and no one hears you, then what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to respect the government in that community or are you supposed to respect the people that own property in that community when in fact you don’t own any property? In most cases, most of these things happen, although I look at Henry Gates and realize that they don’t always happen in the lower economic class communities, they happen all over. If you got a PhD and you’re Black you are still subject …

Jackie Luqman: Still a target.

Eddie Conway: … to be killed. So how do you deal with it?

Jackie Luqman: Right. And I mean, the thing is, and I’m thinking Eddie about these stay at home or the anti-lockdown protests, right? And these people were mad because they claim they wanted businesses open and they got so angry that they’re out in the streets fully armed up in police officers faces, storming the state house, blocking the entrances to hospitals, harassing nurses and doctors who are out counter protesting against them, trying to stand for people who are infected with this virus and in those hospitals dying, these people are mad because they couldn’t get a haircut and couldn’t go out and have a beer at a bar and that’s perfectly reasonable for a lot of people.

People are like, “Well, they’re just standing up for their freedom.” But somehow people can’t make the connection between people who live under just unconscionable police oppression every day. And somehow the people can’t understand why at some point those folks are going to act out as well. They’re going to act out in frustration and anger and rage as well but the response to those folks is vastly different than the response to the so-called Patriots who are standing up for their freedom protesting some lockdowns.

Eddie Conway: I was looking at the Twitter stuff that’s going on now with Trump using a statement that a mayor in Miami during the riot in ’67, that says that if there’s looting, there’ll be shooting or something similar to that and I was noticing that during some of those protests last night, at least seven people were shot.

Speaker 3: Here we go, here we go.

Speaker 4: Looks like more police are coming up.

Eddie Conway: No one knows right now who the shooter is and of course the police are probably not trying to be determine that but it’s interesting and it’s also dangerous that Trump would call for shooting people and then that night people would get shot as a result of a protest. What do you think about that, Jackie?

Jackie Luqman: Well, listen, you and I have been around long enough Eddie to understand that there is such a thing as agent provocateurs who will infiltrate all kinds of movements to discredit them, whether they are organizations or protests, so-called peaceful protests and I don’t think that’s something that we can discount. I think you and I, of course, we’re not going to discount that because we’ve seen too much, we’ve seen too much of it and there is video, at least out of Minneapolis of one such questionable person that we don’t know who this person is, person hasn’t been identified but some person casually just breaking the windows of a store, the auto zone there in Minneapolis and the citizens, the residents are asking this guy, “What are you doing? Stop. Stop that.” He’s just going along about his business.

So I think that there is a very real possibility that some of this provocation is done by agents. I really believe that’s true only because historically that’s always been true. And I don’t think there’s ever been a case of uprising that our people and our brothers and sisters who are Indigenous and Latino who haven’t experienced agents in our midst, so that’s definitely something we have to be really, really careful of. But you know what Eddie? I’m so glad you did raise the point a little bit earlier that in this conversation about, oh, why do people destroy their own neighborhoods? People aren’t destroying our neighborhoods.

We don’t own anything in these places and we’re not talking about people burning down apartment buildings where people live in, homes where people live in, what we’re really talking about is property damage, like commercial property damage. And that definitely sends a message that people are more concerned about broken windows and a burned down construction site then they are about decades and centuries of police abuse of people. I think that’s an incredibly striking part of this whole conversation that just annoys me but then I believe that’s how ingrained they are into aligning with capitalism over standing up for justice for people.

Eddie Conway: And I think probably one of the pieces that’s always missing out of this is the research that the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement did. They looked back to 1900 and they looked through that whole 20th century up into the 21st century and they determined from [inaudible 00:17:27] Wells research and other research that a person of color is killed in America every 12 hours by law enforcement, correctional officers or security personnel. One person every 12 hours and if that was happening in the White community, or if that was happening in the Jewish community, if that was happening anywhere else, there would be an overthrow of the government.

Jackie Luqman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eddie Conway: But yet people see that they are being targeted and killed because of the color of their skin don’t have a voice and when they complain it falls on deaf ears and there seem to be, and I’m certainly not a supporter of riots because I think people probably need to organize themselves in order to protect themselves but I certainly understand that riots is going to result from too much abuse. In fact, that’s what the Declaration of Independence says.

Jackie Luqman: Right.

Eddie Conway: After a long train of abuses when do you call for a break with this kind of behavior?

Jackie Luqman: Yeah. I mean, I’m so glad you brought up the point about the Declaration of Independence because really at this point in the history of this country if it’s not clear to people that the Declaration of Independence doesn’t apply to some people, it doesn’t apply to us, it was never intended to apply to us then I don’t know what else to tell people. When people say things when an uprising happens, “Well, this is why the cops abuse you.” No, people have it backward. People have it absolutely backward. The police, law enforcement and that includes campus police, that includes security officers, that includes, what do they call them? School resource officers. School resource officers and nothing but cops in public schools, that’s all they are. All of them, they are abusive towards certain people because that’s the nature of policing. And it is unaddressed police abuse along with unaddressed economic and social and racial oppression that leads to riots.

The police don’t abuse us because we rise up against nothing. This is years and decades and centuries of abuse that has been documented as you said Eddie, that all the evidence is there for someone in authority to do something about this abuse but no one in authority ever does. And as Dr. King said, “Social justice is the absolute guarantor against riots.” If you don’t like riots, then do social justice. Make sure that justice is served and that society is equal. Don’t do that, you will always have riots at some point but you know what I want to add Eddie? This whole notion of how so much of White America and too much of a segment of Black America really does love law enforcement.
And I’m wondering if you can help us parse through this response that people always have when there’s one of these videos that come out of the police killing someone on camera and people are always saying, “Well, we don’t have all the information and maybe the cop was right or we don’t know what the person did.” My feeling is that the police abuse people because they know they have the power of the police union behind them to pay their legal fees and defend them against prosecution, all of that. But they also know that most citizens, especially most White people are really going to support them regardless of what they do. And I’m wondering what you’re thinking about that and where you think that comes from.

Eddie Conway: Well, for me, it obviously comes from the way the economic system is set up in America. The capitalist system is set up and designed to protect property. Property is more important than human life. And most of the laws about protecting property, the more property you own, the more protection you get the law enforcement agencies know that. They get their money, donations, et cetera, from people with wealth. Here in Baltimore they’re flying a spy plane that’s been financed by a millionaire somewhere and given to them to carry out their mandate and their mandate is to protect property and to protect the capitalist system. And so, people outside of that system, people that’s not benefiting from that system, they have serious grievance and they represent a serious threat because they are not part of that system. So they need to be controlled, they need to be maintained and they need to be occupied.

And so, in most of these communities where you see things like this happening, you can find out that Trump’s son-in-law owns 3 or 400 pieces of that property or other very wealthy people. Some of them are in Australia, some of them are in France, they own this stuff and they use law enforcement to protect this stuff. Now the sad thing is that there has been an inclusion of and because we demanded it, we protest, we marched about it and so, now there’s been an inclusion in law enforcement for Black officers, the Black people, people of color and of course we thought that would make things better. We thought that that would make the police more humane, that would understand the problems and the conditions that exist by allowing people that suffered under those same conditions there but what we find is that uniform, that authority, the ability to determine whether somebody will live or die, that’s the kind of power that corrupts the human spirit.

And one of the things, some years ago, decades maybe, back in the ’70s they did a study and they took a graduate class and they divided it up into two groups. They put one group in uniforms and they put another group in jumpsuits and made them prisoners. The experiment was supposed to take place for seven days. These are grad students. I mean, they’ve got their bachelor’s degree, they’re seeking their master’s degrees and they’re studying what power does to people, they know this going in. They get in there around the third day, the uniformed students are abusing the prison students. And around the fourth or fifth day one of the students even hung himself. This is an experiment.

They had to stop the experiment because what they determined is when you put all these buttons and badges and bells and whistles and give weapons and tear gas and billy clubs and tell people they’re in charge, it gets into their psyche and they start behaving differently. And if they don’t behave differently, they become an outcast within their group. In other words, if they’re not join the rest of their group in doing whatever they doing in supporting abuse of the rest of the people then they are ostracized and they’re pushed on the side and this is what happens. So now people of color have become engaged, involved in that work or activity, they either have to join the ranks or they’ll get pushed out of the ranks. All of these friendly fire, accidental shootings or unexplained suicides from officer this or that, this stuff happens all over. That’s weeding out the people that’s not going to be part of this secret club.

Jackie Luqman: So yeah, that experiment is called the Stanford Experiment, there’ve been countless studies done about that experiment and there have been some pretty disturbing movies also. And it absolutely rings true to life but it’s also a part of the way regular citizens respond to law enforcement. And I think that comes from the way regular people, regular White people where pretty much deputized by slave holding States and some States in the North to be able to have the authority to detain Black people wherever they encountered them, demand their papers and if they weren’t satisfied, then they could turn them over to the slave patrols and send them back to enslavement whether they were actually so-called runaway slaves or whether they were actually free people.

So that gave your average person in this country, this feeling of authority, like there were a part of this club and they had this authority over other people and they liked it. Even if those folks where despised themselves by rich landowning slave holders and were despised by the slave catchers. That sense of power over life and death, freedom and enslavement that people had over enslaved Black people or Black people in general, it did something to the psyche of Americans since then. And I think that has stuck around and now you throw in capitalism where some people believe that they are a part of the capitalist club, so they are supportive of law enforcement protecting their property from the angry, unwashed hordes outside of the gates of their gated communities.

This is has been a long time coming, these continued uprisings, but do you know Eddie, one of the questions that I get stuck on, because this is where I think people prove that they really don’t care about the real history of this country. When people say things like, “What if someone burned down your community, destroyed your community, stole from your house, destroyed your businesses? What if we did that to you? What would that solve?” I mean, the history of this country and Black people in this country is rife with people doing exactly those things to us. So just in the last few minutes we have left, speak to how that’s not foreign to us at all.

Eddie Conway: No, that’s not. And the thing of it is, is that our businesses, or businesses to people of color are not very welcome in wealthy communities or gated communities, or communities that’s exclusive. And if they were, if they managed to get in, they would be burnt down. Black wall street is not just a myth, 600 businesses got destroyed during the red summer. All throughout the Black communities across the country there were attacks and riding by White people and lynching and et cetera. And in fact, this went on all the way up, all the way up to the end the World War Two and it is that behavior that we learned from, that our communities learnt from.

We didn’t start riding in other communities and we didn’t even riot in our own communities until after so many, so many riots across the nation in our communities occurred. Eventually young people say, “I’m going to do this too then. If this is the only thing that will get results, if this is the only thing that will resolve the issue, then let’s do this.” And that’s what happened. We’ve learned from the arrangement of oppression, from the arrangement of people being deputized or self deputizing themselves. We’ve learned from that and our young people and older people for the warrant of any other way of having their voice heard is responding in kind now.

Jackie Luqman: Yeah. I mean, we could go on because there’s so much ridiculous stuff out there in response to the legitimate grievances of oppressed people but I think we want to end with this. People will often say, “Well, that’s not the way to do it. That’s not how to protest.” Listen, we have tried marching. We have tried singing. We’ve tried praying. We have tried kneeling and this country has responded with hatred and dismissiveness to the grievances that we’ve tried to raise with all of those other means. We’ve tried voting, we’ve tried pleading and begging and still our grievances were unheard. So here we are again in 2020 echoing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King once again, that a riot is the language of the unheard. That’s why I call them rebellions and uprisings instead of riots, because at some point the oppressed will have to rise up against our oppression.

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Jacqueline Luqman is a host and producer for TRNN. With more than 20 years as an activist in Washington, DC, Jacqueline focuses on examining the impact of current events and politics on Black, POC, and other marginalized communities in the US and around the world, providing a specific race and class analysis at the root of these issues. She is Editor-In-Chief and a co-host of the social media program Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation with her husband, and is active in the faith-focused progressive/left activist community.