Days of Revolt: The New Black Militants
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges sits down with two activists from Ferguson’s Hands Up United, Rika Tyler and T-Dubb-O, to discuss the oppression of Black people in and around Ferguson, and the importance of international solidarity in the fight for racial justice.
CHRIS HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt.
The indiscriminate killing by police, vigilantes, security guards, of up to 3.1 people a day, mostly unarmed people of color, which has been undiminished by street protests, including groups like Black Lives Matter, as well as the empty rhetoric of the political class, including most of the black political elites, has given rise to a new black militancy that finds its roots in the Black Panthers, and groups such as the Black Liberation Army. These militants rising up off the streets of cities like Ferguson, Missouri understand that the problem is not simply white supremacy and chronic poverty, police repression, and the many facets of institutional racism, but finally the destructive power of corporate capitalism.
This militant has given up on electoral politics, the courts, legislative reforms, loathes the corporate press, and rejects established black leaders, including Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and many others. This militant believes it is only in the streets and in acts of sustained civil disobedience that change is finally possible. Given the refusal of the corporate state to address the mounting suffering of the poor and working poor, draconian state repression, including the indiscriminate use of lethal force against unarmed people of color, I think the new black militant is right.
With me in the studio are two activists: T-Dubb-O, hip-hop artist from St. Louis, and Rika Tyler, from Ferguson, Missouri. With three others formed Hands Up United in the wake of the police murder of Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014 in Ferguson. Thank you very much, T-Dubb-O and Rika, for coming to New York. [Crosstalk]
T-DUBB-O: Thanks for having us.
RIKA TYLER: Thank you for having us.
HEDGES: Let’s begin maybe with you, Rika, about the precursors to this violence. The hold by white power in predominantly African-American communities, the use of extortion to in the name of austerity extract greater and greater sums from the poor. Lay the, set the scene for, you know, the unrest that culminated with the killing of Michael Brown.
TYLER: Well, in St. Louis, a lot of people don’t know that Ferguson is in North County area of Ferguson, Missouri, Ferguson was isolated August 9, 2014. A lot of people also don’t know that Michael Brown wasn’t the first person who was unarmed that got killed by a Ferguson police officer. Jason Moore, in 2009, he got killed with a Ferguson police officer as well. There wasn’t an uprising. But the new rise of black radicals and the new resilience in our generation, we came outside and we stayed outside.
So when Darren Wilson decided to–.
HEDGES: This was the officer who murdered Michael.
TYLER: Yes. Darren Wilson’s the officer who decided to murder Michael Brown, and his body laid out in the street for four and a half hours. That was the community. That was the, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was the drop that spilled the cup.
HEDGES: And what had been happening? Talk a little bit about the–I mean, one of the things that you had pointed out when we spoke a while ago was that 30-40 percent of the budgets of these counties depend on tickets, fines, you know, imprisonment. You know, this kind of neoliberal version of extortion of the poor.
TYLER: Yeah. So before Michael Brown was killed, like, everyone knew as a black person you couldn’t ride in certain areas. Like, we’d be like, oh, we’re in Ferguson. Buckle up, drive slow, do the speed limit. Because like you said, the officers make their revenue off of the black community. So–.
HEDGES: Right, they’re hunting.
TYLER: They’re, like, looking for things. If you don’t stop at a stop sign long enough, if you look like you’re riding four deep, and you’re black in a car, like, they’re automatically going to pull you over. Most people can’t afford license plates or insurance or anything. So–.
HEDGES: If you don’t mow your lawn.
TYLER: If you don’t mow your lawn, like, you get all these tickets.
HEDGES: If you stand for five–the five second rule. Maybe you can tell us this charming–.
TYLER: So if you get all these tickets and you go to court, you’re just automatically in the system. And like, you never can get out of the system. For instance, I had a ticket in University City, which is also another municipality in St. Louis. I paid the court fees and I paid the amount of the ticket. Well, there was like a $15 extra thing online, so I had a warrant out for my arrest. I was nine months pregnant, and I got pulled over by the police. They said, oh, you have a warrant out for your arrest. I showed them all the records that I paid. I had to go sit in jail for a [bench warrant] ticket, and everything.
HEDGES: For in essence $15.
TYLER: $15. This happens every day in St. Louis Missouri, sadly.
HEDGES: Well, it happens throughout the country, [inaud.].
TYLER: And throughout the country as well. But also, just being in St. Louis, it woke us up to a different thing. Like, a guy, I remember he told us that he couldn’t afford to cut his grass every often. So like, he’ll get a ticket for, like, $250, $450, for not cutting his grass. And he had to decide whether he was going to pay his light bill or feed his family, for the ticket. So he had to go sit in jail for three weeks, for not cutting his grass on time. And this is the type of stuff that we deal with daily around the world, as people of color, so.
HEDGES: Well, they invent–I mean, for instance, you were telling me if you’re in a demonstration and you stand, if you’re stationary for more than five seconds, you can be charged.
TYLER: Yeah. That was ruled by the DOJ apparently, though. But they did that for eight months, consecutively. Like, if we were standing too long in one spot, we could be charged with the five second rule. And they had all these, like, codes that they would bring out and read to us. And all of that was ruled over. It was basically, like, false, and just extortion of black people.
So people were paying off these tickets like, oh, I didn’t know this rule. But they have it in this book. But it wasn’t true at all, so.
HEDGES: And as we see county budgets cut, they have to carry out this form of extortion in order to pay, as I said before, as much as 30-40 percent of their budget.
HEDGES: So it’s, it’s a repression that is economically, is an economic imperative for county and city governments. T-Dubb-O, maybe you can speak a little bit about, you know, as, before we saw this uprising in Ferguson, the interaction between the police–and Ferguson, of course, almost all of the police force is white in a city–what is it, 67 percent African-American?
HEDGES: Right. And maybe you can speak a little bit about that, especially as, as a black man.
T-DUBB-O: As Rika said, you don’t drive through Ferguson before August. And if you did you made sure you follow the correct [guides], the correct routes. You took all the precautionary measures. Seatbelt on, you’re driving five miles under the speed limit. You don’t have more than one extra person in the car.
But Ferguson is, unfortunately, is not even the worst municipality in St. Louis, Missouri. We had, last year it was 92 others, they’re starting to form under something called the Unified County District, some nonsense that they created. So some municipalities are being sucked into a larger corrupt monster, but we still have 90 other municipalities. Anytime you leave the St. Louis city, it’s different rules. So while you’re in the city you have the chance of being pulled over and [freecased]. Taken to jail and questioned for a crime that you didn’t commit, depending on which area that you’re in. Assaulted, drugs planted on you, guns planted on you. When you cross over into the county portion of St. Louis, then you have to worry about just being pulled over for traffic warrants or speeding tickets, or thrown in jail for these petty charges, typically which–which is basically extorting the black community. Putting you into their system.
And once they put you into their system–let’s say I get pulled over in St. Ann, which is one of the higher counties that does have about 40 percent of their budget dependent on traffic fees, I get a ticket, I can’t afford to pay it. I get pulled over in Hazelwood, which is 10 minutes away. They’re going to hold me in jail for up to 48 hours, meaning I could lose my job. I have to pay them for being held in jail, and then they’re going to transport me to St. Ann. So it’s all just a corrupt system, and they’ve been attacking and oppressing the black community as far back as I can remember.
HEDGES: And talk a little bit about indiscriminate police force.
T-DUBB-O: That’s St. Louis as a whole, basically. For example, Dylann Roof, who was taken out of the church after killing 9 black people, was taken to Burger King to get a sandwich. The guy who just shot up the Planned Parenthood, taken out in handcuffs. [Name inaud.], within 22 seconds, he was shot 12 times. Michael Brown, stop and frisk.
HEDGES: These people were unarmed.
T-DUBB-O: Unarmed. Vander Myers, unarmed. Had a sandwich. Chased into a [gangway] by an off-duty police officer trying to perform a stop and frisk. Anytime they see anybody black it’s automatically assumed that you’re a criminal. But in Ferguson if you look at the percentages, white people were, tend to found with drug paraphernalia way more than their black counterparts. But they were arrested at a much lower percentage, pulled over at a much lower percentage, given the traffic fine at a much lower percentage. Anytime they see a black person operating the vehicle, it’s automatically assumed that we have guns and dope.
And even when me and Rika got pulled out of the vehicle after being harassed by the police for protesting, the first thing they asked me when they came to my, my door, driver door, with guns to our heads, where’s the dope and guns.
HEDGES: Let’s talk a little bit about the rising political consciousness among your generation. One of the things that I noted was when both Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson arrived in Ferguson they were booed out of the city, in essence. Maybe, Rika, you can talk a little bit about the traditional black elite, that division now between your generation and them.
TYLER: So I’m just going to say, I don’t know what Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton did back in their time, but I don’t know who they are. They’ve never helped–.
HEDGES: Well, Al Sharpton–Al Sharpton was an FBI informant.
T-DUBB-O: Of course.
TYLER: They never helped–they never helped out my generation. I never heard anything about them until they came down. And they’re like, middle-class liberal people who look for progressive movements for fame, fortune, and like, their own benefit. [Profit from it.]
HEDGES: Credibility. Credibility.
TYLER: So they came down because they saw, oh, the boy was in the street, let’s go down. And soon as they came down, Jesse Jackson grabbed a mic from one of the young folks in Ferguson, and he was trying to lead the chant, and like, lead a march. And people were just like, they were appalled. Like, the community blew up. Someone’s baby was in the middle of the street for four and a half hours and you’re trying to come down here and tell us how to do what we do. And that’s the reason Ferguson popped off like it was. We didn’t have a, quote-unquote, what organizing looks like, or whatever. People was conscious just by coming outside, seeing the body. Just by coming outside, seeing the police piss on the grave. Just by coming outside to see our city on fire and all these police with batons and M-16s and all of that against us. It was a police state for so long that that was the last straw when people came outside.
We had babies from two years old and people in their 80s out there all together as one because we were against the–it was us against the police. So when Jesse Jackson and them came down we didn’t want their support. Because, I mean, they can’t relate to us. You can get back on your airplane and go back to where you go to the next place. But we’re still down here fighting this war.
HEDGES: And I know you went to the White House, T-Dubb-O. [Maybe] you can tell us a little bit about that.
SPEAKER: [Can you lean back just a little?]
T-DUBB-O: I mean, it was, during that time period we met a lot of politicians. And Barack Obama was just another politician we met. I lost all respect for him in that meeting, the little respect that I did have.
HEDGES: Tell me what happened in the meeting. Did he ask you whether you voted for him?
T-DUBB-O: Yeah, he asked. I told him no. I’ve never been the type to just support somebody strictly because of their skin color. If you’re not [right] for my people, then I don’t care if you’re black, green, orange, yellow. It doesn’t matter to me. But the most, probably the thing I remember the most about that meeting is he showed me his rug.
HEDGES: His rug?
T-DUBB-O: Yeah, every president get their own custom rug. And he verified his blackness because his rug had Martin Luther King quotes on it.
HEDGES: This was in the Oval Office.
T-DUBB-O: Yeah. I didn’t get the chance to drink the White House champagne. I heard it’s amazing. But he pretty much just brought up the same points that a lot of CNN anchors, MSNBC, anchors that we went tit for tat with brought up, well, what about black-on-black crime? What about white-on-white crime? If you decide to commit a crime in your community and you live with predominantly black people or predominantly white people, nine out of ten times it’s going to be another person that looks like you. He brought up the fact about voting. Well, we changed the demographic of the Ferguson city council to half black, and they just shot another young boy what, two months ago.
So everything that they hit us with and say, well, this needs to be done, this needs to be done, well, look at Ferguson. We’ve done it, and they’re still killing people. At 3.1 people a day, people of color are being killed and murdered and oppressed. People can’t afford to pay their rent. We have politicians that we’ve put in office that are voting against raising the minimum wage. So you don’t want people to be able to survive. You’re funding a capitalist agenda, and it’s being funded off black pain.
So until Obama actually says what needs to be said–I know the pen only has so much power. He can’t just say, sign something, and all our problems go away. But he can put some executive orders in today, and he needs to do it.
HEDGES: Let’s talk a little bit about that new black radicalism, which I believe has been expressed through not only your own music, but the music of other hip-hop artists, rap artists, in places like St. Louis, really going back to the roots of rap and hip-hop. And that’s what I find most hopeful, is that there’s an understanding that this problem is far bigger than racism and white supremacy. And maybe you could start to speak a little bit about that, T-Dubb-O, and then I’ll get Rika to respond.
T-DUBB-O: Well, I mean, I listen to real hip-hop, so.
HEDGES: Well, let’s talk a little bit about this new black radicalism which is being expressed, I think, in your music, in the music of other rap and hip-hop artists in St. Louis, and recognizes that the issue is not just white supremacy, racism, institutional racism, even police violence, but it is much, much bigger than that. And maybe you can address that, T-Dubb-O, first.
T-DUBB-O: Well, my music is a form of escape for me. It’s an outlet, so to speak. So every, everything in my music is an experience. Things I’ve seen, things that I’ve gone through. So I mean, I’ve never met a good police officer so I’ve had nothing but negative experiences from police officers my entire life. I’ve witnessed the school to prison pipeline firsthand. I’ve witnessed the drug war firsthand. So all of these experiences come across in my music.
A lot of–everything is gentrified nowadays, including hip-hop. So we have a lot of artists out there that’s, its strictly about the money. They don’t have a message. Understand our music doesn’t have to be sad and depressing, but at some point in time you have to speak on our plight, speak on our struggle, speak for the communities that you represent. Everybody brags about being from the hood, being a goon, being a gangster, but does nothing for it. They don’t come out in the street, they don’t support the people, they don’t have any charities set up. They won’t even speak on the struggle that these people are going through, because, I mean, [massa] got them by the neck.
That’s different with the people that I run with. We speak from experiences. And we speak for the people. And I’ma continue to do that.
HEDGES: Can you talk a little bit about–and I’ll ask you, Rika, about this, this kind of understanding that it is, you know, the system of corporate capitalism. And I know both of you have traveled, I think to Brazil, and you’ve been a Palestinian activist, that there’s an understanding that this is part of a global struggle of oppressed peoples against a system of neoliberalism, and, and that makes your fight very different than the fight of an Al Sharpton, or the fight of others. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that.
T-DUBB-O: The first support that we got in Ferguson came from Gaza. We got tweets, everybody got tweets, they were sending us pictures on how to make homemade and makeshift gas masks out of two-liter bottles.
HEDGES: And we should explain that in Ferguson they immediately, the militarized police appeared on the streets not only in kevlar, vests, and long-barreled weapons, sniper rifles–.
T-DUBB-O: Sniper rifles.
HEDGES: We’re talking about unarmed protesters. And tanks.
T-DUBB-O: Yeah. Yeah, the MRAPs. I mean, which, I mean, because of the drug war they, I’ve seen them in my neighborhood for years when they kick in doors. That’s what they use, battering rams.
But our first support came from Gaza and Palestinians, showing us how to get through, how to deal with the tear gas. It didn’t come from the black clergy. It didn’t come from the Al Sharptons or Jesse Jacksons. It didn’t come from the local clergy. We were politicized in a way, meeting some of these people and some of our travels together, to learn how these struggles connected. At first we didn’t understand. The last year taught us a lot, being able to travel to these places, learn about the drug war and how to fix Mexico, Brazil–.
HEDGES: Where have you been in Mexico? Where have you been in Mexico, or Brazil, or–.
T-DUBB-O: Guerrero. So I mean, we just learned how to connect those struggles, how they all connect. And when–our freedom can’t come to fruition until they’re free. And their, their freedom can’t come into fruition until we’re free. So we have to connect those struggles.
HEDGES: So Rika, talk a little bit about–so you were in Mexico, you were in Brazil. And T-Dubb-O said that, you know, this last year since the killing of Michael Brown has been a kind of political maturation for both of you and for other activists, and maybe you can speak a little bit about that process and your understanding.
TYLER: Yeah. So we were fortunate to travel around. The MST school is in Brazil, and it’s like an occupation, and it’s like a politicized education course.
HEDGES: It’s like a six-week course.
TYLER: Six-week course. So two of our members of Hands Up United, Tara and Tory, were able to go for the six weeks and learn how they do their struggle, everything about it, and then bring it back to us. And same–like, when we went to Guerrero and marched, and we went to Ayotzinapa and Chopinzinho. We marched, like, 25 miles with like, thousands of people.
HEDGES: Well, and you got to the center of the city, and maybe you want to talk about what happened.
TYLER: So we, we actually went–I want to say it was February–.
T-DUBB-O: February 5, [inaud.].
TYLER: That’s their anniversary of their constitution. And right now Mexico City is trying to make a new constitution for Mexico. But we got to march on that day, and we went to the congress building, the big, like, corporate buildings. And they made shit happen. Like, it wasn’t just a normal, like, no justice, no peace. It was like, rocks throwing. Every glass in the building broke out. And like, the police, like, they were all militarized police but they were scared. They were, like, behind a gate. It was like I was looking at animals in a zoo cage, because that’s how, like, closely they were together.
And they pushed back. Like, they were throwing stuff. We were tagging everything, spraypainting. I kept spraypainting “de Ferguson a Guerrero”, like, from Ferguson to Guerrero, so they could know who was out there with them. And that gained us respect from them. And they were shocked that we were just out there with them, because honestly, we were supposed to stay in Mexico City. But we got up at like 4:00 in the morning, it was like, no, we want to know where the action’s at.
So–and we actually got to go to Ayotzinapa. We met two of the survivors, and–.
HEDGES: This is from, you’re talking about the shooting of the students?
T-DUBB-O: 43 missing students.
TYLER: Yes, 43 missing students. And we got to meet them and just tell them, like, it was a bond, completely, because we, we are one. And even, I remember marching, she couldn’t–it was a girl, [apaula], that was her name. She couldn’t talk that much English, but she could tell me the police are killing us here, the police are killing you guys in the USA. We have to come together. And that was, like, the main thing I took from that.
When we went to London, it was the same thing. London, they’re getting terrorized. People were like, pray for Paris. Pray for Paris. But honestly, people have been–black people in Paris have been getting killed.
HEDGES: Right, North Africans. Right.
TYLER: Just like amount that we’ve been getting killed. And Brazil right now, we just—last night it was 5 people, 5 boys that, they were just chilling. And 50 shots. Brazil is going up in flames right now because people are tired. All of this is happening around the world. And like you said, it’s a global impact. And I think that’s what makes us way different than any organization I’ve ever met, is because we have the international solidarity. Like, I can text my friend Maddie over in Guerrero, like, what’s going over there? She can keep us updated. She can tell us everything, we can tell her everything, and vice versa. And Palestine, we have friends that go over to Palestine and like, write us on Instagram, and like, just, thank you.
HEDGES: Let me ask, T-Dubb-O, just to close, where do you think we’re headed? What, where are we going?
T-DUBB-O: I don’t see the powers that be backing up. And we’re not going to back up. On the negative side, civil war. The positive side, they actually do what they were put in office to do. Make some significant changes, allow people to be able to take care of themselves, take care of their families. Dream. Stop murdering people.
HEDGES: That’s not, that’s not happened, with the TPP and everything else. I mean, they’re clearly moving in one direction.
T-DUBB-O: Well, we’re moving in another.
HEDGES: And what’s, what’s that going to mean?
T-DUBB-O: I mean, we’re getting more radical and radical–radical and radical. We’re teaching youth, we’re waking people up, and as you say, we’re combining these struggles. International solidarity. We understand that this is a worldwide system. So–.
HEDGES: What we’re talking about is a revolution.
T-DUBB-O: A revolution.
HEDGES: That’s right. Well, you guys are young enough to lead it. I’ll be walking behind you. Thank you very much.
T-DUBB-O: Thanks for having us.
HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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