Connecting the Dots Between Ferguson and Baltimore
TRNN’s Jaisal Noor interviews Baltimore protesters and Dayvon Love from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News.
As you can see behind me, there’s a few dozen protesters here gathered in front of Baltimore City Hall. They’re here to express solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson. I talked to them about why they’re taking to the streets tonight.
CROWD (CALL AND ANSWER): Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot!
TAWANDA JONES, SISTER OF TYRONE WEST: My name is Tawanda Jones, and my brother, Tyrone West, was brutally murdered on July 18, 2013. But the reason I’m out here is to save lives. I’m totally against police brutality. Nobody deserves to be brutally murdered. So the message is just we need to end police brutality, we need to get all the bad jokers off, because police have a serious job to do. You know, the good ones that take their jobs seriously and respect the community, they need to be respected as well. But we need to get rid of all the bad ones. And that’s what we’re out here to do. Jail blocks for killer cops. And we won’t stop, can’t stop, until killer cops are in cellblocks. We won’t stop.
NOOR: Tyrone West was killed in a similar way that–
JONES: Yeah, a brutal way, a brutal way.
NOOR: –what happened to Mike Brown in Ferguson. So talk about the connections there. And what are your thoughts? Because this thing, same thing’s been happening all over the country. It’s happened in Baltimore. But it took Ferguson for people to really wake up and to rise up for this.
JONES: And I think it took Ferguson because Ferguson said enough was enough, and they actually literally got up there, which I don’t condone, like, turn up the streets and none of that, ’cause violence is not the answer.
NOOR: It’s only a small number of people that were committing violence.
JONES: Yes. But everybody took it seriously and did peaceful things. And they’re still doing peaceful things. And I commend Ferguson. Y’all rock on, y’all go, ’cause in Baltimore, this should have been–my whole city should of been out. With my brother was brutally murdered in a community of credible witnesses, the whole city should have been out backing us in a peaceful manner and protesting, and then that could have saved a life. It wouldn’t have got that ugly, how you’re having people shot down, a young man just shot.
And then the sad part: they want to dehumanize Michael Brown. They want to bring up a robbery clip that had nothing to do with him being gunned down, just like they wanted to bring up my brother’s past that had nothing to do with him being brutally murdered. He wasn’t on any outstanding warrants. He was a healthy young man living his life, driving, and he was living under the grace of God, and they brutally kill him. And then they want to bring up their past and dehumanize him; as if killing him wasn’t enough, they want to spit in your face and dehumanize. I’m tired of them dehumanizing our people.
CROWD (CALL AND ANSWER): Hands up! Don’t shoot!
ABDUL SALAAM, BALTIMORE RESIDENT, ACTIVIST: A key word that I like to use is accountability. The people are tired, and people want accountability. People want accountability for the damage that’s being done by people that are supposed to protect and serve. People want accountability for these same officers, the same district, the same entity that are asking people in neighborhoods and communities to work together to find killers for three-year-old innocent children. The people want the same thing for the officers that are taking lives and brutally beating the community as well. We want accountability. So the people here, we’re tired, and it hurts.
ASARU, BALTIMORE RESIDENT AND PROTESTER: I don’t consider there’s anything different about Ferguson. I consider this the same thing, the same act, with no consequence, no repercussions for injustice, for police brutality.
I’m young. I’m only 23 years old. So my demographic will be the following kids coming up, the next generation. I’m scared of the police, for myself. I mean, even as a young boy I was taught not to mess with the police or stay away from the police.
NOOR: Who taught you that?
ASARU: My peers. and, you know, my parents–stay out of trouble, stuff like that. So the beatings and then the police brutality now, I just feel like it’s gotten out of hand and it just needs to stop.
NOOR: What’s going to make it stop?
ASARU: The people, the community, us coming together as one to fight one major problem, one injustice.
NOOR: And so what do you hope this accomplishes? I was talking to someone about this earlier today, and they said protests don’t do anything.
ASARU: Well, it’s not just about the protesting. The protesting shows the support of the people, the community, how many people actually care and want it to change, because for change to happen, you have to want that change to happen. You can’t just sit back and stand still and expect things to be different. And it’s not going to be like that if you don’t put an effort into it. So I think everybody out here today, all the protesters, or anybody who has anything to say about the matter, it’s just about doing something about it, not just saying anything, do something about it.
PAYAM SOHRABI, ORGANIZER, BALTIMORE BLOC: My name is Payam Sohrabi. I’m out here today in support of all victims of police brutality here in Baltimore, across the nation, and internationally.
NOOR: And so, obviously, it’s been more than ten days of uprising is how I’d describe it in Ferguson, people demanding action be taken to address the killing of Michael Brown. The same type of things happen all over. The same type of thing happened here just a year ago. But there’s an uprising in Ferguson right now.
SOHRABI: Yeah. I’m very glad the community didn’t let it rest. Almost immediately they stood up. And they haven’t stood down yet. And that’s what we’re hoping to see here, not how the media’s portraying it, as rioting and all that. Most of what I see is peaceful. And if you look at the scenarios that happened with Mike Brown, a lot of it is right here, too. We had George Booker Wells III, who was shot six times in the back in 2012. We had Clarence Barry early earlier this year with his hands up when he was shot. You have all kinds of cases. A hundred people have been shot in the last ten years by Baltimore police. Over 60 percent of them have been killed. And not a single one of those officers has been prosecuted.
NOOR: Now joining us in our Baltimore studio is Dayvon Love. He’s with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, where he is the director of research and public policy.
Thank you so much for joining us, Dayvon.
DAYVON LOVE, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: So, Dayvon, obviously the events of Ferguson have gripped the nation’s mind, and of course the media’s mind as well. We just played a little clip of a protest that happened on Wednesday here in Baltimore. It’s certainly on the minds of people in Baltimore. Talk about why the events over the last week and a half have gripped the national–the media’s and the nation’s attention and heart so closely.
LOVE: Well, the issue of police brutality, the issue of black people being victimized by law enforcement using excessive force and resulting in loss of life, this is something that black folks have dealt with over decades. What has happened, I think, with the incident of Trayvon Martin and the way that the protests–or it require a protest to even get George Zimmerman charged: the media saw and recognized there was an opportunity to really grip people’s attention. And so I think you see now more media attention on an issue that communities all over the world, really, and all across the United States face in terms of being victimized by law enforcement. And I think it’s important in terms of the question of why this is something that resonates with people, because I think what people are starting to feel like is that for once an issue that is a structural issue that plagues our community is something that people are now having open conversations about.
NOOR: And the protesters themselves in Ferguson are saying this is not just about the killing of Michael Brown, the problems are much deeper, and what they’re really calling for is justice. But is that possible in our current system?
LOVE: You know, I mean, that’s a really good question. I mean, one of the things that frustrates me, one of many things that frustrates me is that I think sometimes people don’t understand that we live in society structured on racism and white supremacy. So we can’t expect civil society to do for black folks the things that we would expect it to do for other people. And so I think it’s important for us to organize ourselves, organize independent institutions, organizations, so that we can have the power that we need so that there can be political ramifications for the loss of life that is inflicted on our people. And we see tragedies that have happened to black folks over the course of our history in this country. To me, we have to get to a place where we don’t expect justice from the system, but that we sit from a position of power, so that when things happen that aren’t in our favor, we have the political wherewithal to do something in response to it.
NOOR: And so this lack of political power, the lack of economic power that African-Americans are subjected to across this country, especially in places like Ferguson in Baltimore, they really go hand-in-hand. It’s a dual system of control. What are people doing now, today, to kind of break this?
LOVE: Well, [incompr.] just a question of the mainstream media and what they cover, ’cause I think this point is really important. There’s typically a general narrative that nobody’s doing anything. And I think that’s a narrative that is tremendously dangerous, because there are people who are doing work on these issues who don’t get the credit that they deserve, who aren’t on the media, because they focus on doing the work.
And so I think what we have to do is focus on the fact that there are grassroots organizations on the ground that are doing the work, and that we need to try to be more intentional about figuring out who those folks are and the kind of work they’re doing. So, for instance, here in Baltimore organizations like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, the local NAACP chapter, and other organizations coalesced to pass Christopher’s Law in 2014, which is a law that was in the name of a young man, Christopher Brown, who was killed by Baltimore County police. And he was a young man, 17 years old. And so the whole purpose of the piece of legislation is to require law enforcement be trained on issues dealing with police brutality, among other things. And so those are the kinds of things, the stories that people need to tell, because this was an effort that wasn’t led by a foundation or a nonprofit organization or government agency; it was the mother of the young man who was slain, her family, grassroots organizations that came together with Delegate Joe Carter, who was instrumental as putting the bill, making it a priority in the session, and it was something that was instrumental in giving us tools now to be able to effectively fight issues of police brutality. But it’s only when we begin to understand the importance of affirming the work that people are doing that we can see those possibilities, those political possibilities become a reality. I want people to recognize the work that folks are really doing.
NOOR: And, Dayvon, you just talked about the political aspect of the struggle, and we know that places like Ferguson, they’re majority African-American, but they don’t have the political representation. And I know one of the local city representatives, Antonio French, who’s been one of the voices of the protest, or so it seems like from Baltimore, he’s made a big point of doing a voter registration drive and getting as many African Americans to vote so they can potentially in the future get that political representation and make some changes to the political system there. But everything we’re talking about goes hand-in-hand with the economic side as well. African American face a much higher rate of poverty than they do in places like Ferguson than whites do. We know the school system in places like Ferguson is in shambles. We know the outcomes of African Americans in places like Baltimore and Ferguson is not equal to their white counterparts. So talk about the economic angle. How is this continued system–it didn’t happen overnight. This is a long-term problem, and it’s been created by the system, really. How is that cycle going to be broken?
LOVE: Well, I mean, I think a part–first it’s just really centering the issue on the question of economic empowerment, ’cause I think one of the problems is that I think a lot of people detach notions of social justice from economic justice in ways that I think undermine your ability to actually get the social justice that you’re looking for, because I think the fulcrum for justice is having that economic power. And a part of it is beginning to understand the racialized elements of the economy, the way that public policy shapes the economic landscape in a way that gives certain incentives, gives certain advantages to white folks in the economic condition of our society.
So, I mean, we think of [incompr.] few examples. You think about public investments. When white flight happened after desegregation, you had white folks moving to the suburbs. You had the federal government subsidizing the creation of many of the municipalities that are now suburbs. You have them subsidizing the highways, which cost billions of dollars. And so it’s important that we understand that it’s about public investment. And the public investments that are made are often made at the expense of investing in the communities that most need that kind of investment, that need to build institutions, because if we have access to resources, then we can build up the institutions that we need in order to address many of the problems that we see in our school system. We’ll be able to develop the civic institutions to be able to marshal up the political power.
And so I think the economic question’s important. I think it’s incumbent on black people in this country to start to understand the importance of building economic institutions, not just kind of a general notion of buying black, which is, I think, important, but also the importance of building apparatuses, networks that allow the flowing of capital to be more in the direction of people in the communities that are most being served or that are most in need of those resources, as opposed to those resources flowing outward. So I think that’s a crucial thing.
And the reason I think that’s important for looking at the issue of Ferguson is because you’re dealing with a lot of folks that don’t have access to that kind of economic power. And so what you find is you find, for instance, a white-mediated media having to tell the story about what’s happening in Ferguson. And without that economic backing, we can’t produce our own means of telling our own story, which is important in order to really effectively advance the issue there.
NOOR: And, finally, it’s really been the ongoing protest, the resilience of the protesters there that have been tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, on a daily basis, and the fact they haven’t backed down that has made what’s happening in Ferguson possible. But we live in a society that is deeply cynical as far as it comes to protest, making any real political difference. Does what’s happening in Ferguson change the game? Or do you think the equation of protests and what they can achieve is the same as it has been in this country?
LOVE: I mean, I think protests can be tremendously powerful if they’re organized behind a specific agenda and specific goals. I think in Ferguson it’s very simple. You know, you had a young man who was killed by law enforcement. There was no charge, no indictment. And so the purpose of those protests, many of them that I’ve at least been able to tell from the media that I’ve seen, is for the officer to be charged, right? And so, to me that’s a reasonable goal. You bring attention to it in order to gin up the political pressure that you need to make that happen. That makes a lot of sense.
I think part of the problem, I think, sometimes, particularly with folks around the country that want to help is that we do rallies or protests or actions without trying to figure out a specific way that those things contribute to the effort in Ferguson or figuring out the way that those protests contribute to specific efforts here. For instance, one of the things that I noticed watching the news: there was some ministers who were being interviewed–I forget which network–and they gave really good instructions. They said for those who want to help and support, you want to come down to Ferguson, contact a local organization before you come, so that you know, so you’re not just coming here, doing things that want to do, but you’re connecting with what folks are doing here.
And I think, similarly, when we think about protests like here in Baltimore. It’s important that we connect the protests to specific things that we want to build, specific, whether it’s legislation, whether it’s building specific institutions. Whatever it is, it’s important for the rallies and protests to be oriented around that, because the broad notion of justice is something that has an emotional effect on people. And I understand that people need to have those cathartic moments where the express themselves–you’re angry, you’re confused, you’re upset. But I think it’s important, if we’re interested in actually addressing the problem, that we connect the protests, that we connect the visibility, the reclaiming of space, that we connect that to specific political outcomes, to specific economic outcomes or social outcomes, so that it’s not just a moment, but it can be something that’s sustained.
NOOR: Dayvon Love, thank you so much for joining us.
LOVE: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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