Police Killing Unarmed Black People at Alarming Rate
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s Kali Akuno discusses recent mainstream press coverage of police violence in the U.S.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, @IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball.
Recently, articles in the Washington Post and the Guardian have sought to again address the now-international focus on police violence. To discuss their approach, and perhaps the counter-narrative to that approach, joining us from Jackson, Mississippi is Kali Akuno. Kali Akuno is the coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and currently Kali Akuno is devoting his time to Cooperation Jackson, building a solidarity economy. Some of us also know of him from his long work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and specific to our conversation here, the Every 28 Hours Report.
Kali Akuno, welcome to The Real News Network once again.
KALI AKUNO, ORGANIZER, MALCOLM X GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT: Pleasure to be here.
BALL: So I did want to ask you to respond to the Guardian and the Washington Post and some of their approach to the amount of police killings taking place here in the United States, and ask you to add some depth and context that they did not include. And I wanted to start by asking you if you thought at all that their coverage was itself meant to dismiss the work that you were instrumental in conducting in the Every 28 Hours Report.
AKUNO: Well, great question. Let me start off by saying that they’re filling a gap. And it’s one that needs to be filled. But their approach is very skewed. How they’re going about it, and particularly with this focus on whether a person is armed or unarmed. And I think anybody who paid attention to what happened in North Charleston with the Scott case knows how easy the police fabricate evidence, particularly on black folks, all the time. So you really got to take that with a grain of salt.
The other thing you got to really kind of notice about the [way that] they’re trying to frame it is to put everything in these narrow moral terms, forgetting that in most states throughout the United States that people have the right to bear arms. And a lot of states, particularly in the South, people have a right to bear arms without, with concealed arms. So to really have a focus on whether somebody is armed or unarmed, trying to make a, kind of a narrow moral judgment in a country that’s armed to the teeth and has always been armed to the teeth is really barking up the wrong tree in terms of what their focus and what their analysis is really about.
And what the focus really should be about, I think, is getting to the underlying root of why are so many black men, women, and children being hunted and killed by the police throughout this country? That’s the real question, and I think what, why the Guardian and the Washington Post I think have really tried to pick up on some of the work that Arlene Eisen, myself, and others even before us have done to really make these facts clear. We have to be careful about how it’s framed, so it kind of gets at the root of the problem and not just try to present information to be somewhat like inflammatory or did-you-know type of information. People being killed and being disposed of is not a did-you-know type of scenario. Some action has to be taken based on these facts.
That’s what we did. Our report was to draw people’s attention to something that we knew was not being properly covered. But now there’s kind of too much of an over-emphasis on the numbers, and not enough emphasis on what is the actual remedy, what is the solution.
BALL: Well, the Washington Post article in particular I thought skewed the reality to put a focus on the police justification for the killings [most] cases, and also to highlight the fact that numerically white victims outnumber black and brown victims, except when it comes to unarmed–the issue of being unarmed. In that case it’s overwhelmingly–I think more than two thirds they even acknowledge are black and brown people.
But part of it is, this has also been, I think part of the response is seeming also to be in conjunction with an attempt to justify police violence against black and brown people in particular by talking about and connecting some of this, not necessarily in these two articles, but in other commentary, to the uptick recently in violence in Baltimore City. So for instance, people have noted that since the Freddie Gray protests and uprisings that there have been at least, I believe, 30 to 40 killings of black people by black people in the city, and there has been a question as to why this has occurred. And there has been a lot of response.
So one of the things, one of the pieces I wanted us to have you respond to was a clip from The Nightly Show, where Larry Wilmore sought to address, raise this question. So let’s go to that clip right now, and then I’ll bring you back to have you respond.
LARRY WILMORE: Is there a non-stereotypically racist reason for this increase in crime?
NEWS REPORT: A Baltimore police officer some dozen years on the force says the spike in murders and gun crimes here is the direct result of a coordinated policework slowdown.
WILMORE: Coordinated policework slowdown. Hey, police, we didn’t say stop stopping murders. We said stop committing murders.
BALL: So in that clip, Larry Wilmore and The Nightly Show on Comedy Central made the point that there’s a claim by the right wing and conservatives and others that the police have sort of in response to the protests here in Baltimore backed off, and almost sort of saying, well, if you want to give us a hard time for doing our job we’ll back off, and then now you see what happens when we don’t do our job, or we sort of go into slow motion. And Larry was trying to make the point that we didn’t ask you to stop doing your job. We just wanted you to stop killing black people.
But I wanted to give you a chance to respond to that. This way that, including others on the right, have sought to contextualize this uptick in, as it’s been described, in black-on-black violence in response to the Freddie Gray protests. Or the aftermath, rather, of the Freddie Gray protests.
AKUNO: Well, look. Let’s kind of cut to the chase. Part of the job of the police has always been to kill black people. And to control and corral black people. To contain black people. To make black people subservient. So we should not be [illusioned] about what their role is and what their job is. So I even take some issue with this whole notion around we just want, our demand is simple. You know, just stop killing us. They’ve been killing us since we got here, because we’ve been treated as property, treated as chattel, and now increasingly deemed to be disposable and being treated as such.
So this notion or this tactic concerning the police kind of taking some days off, that’s not necessarily new. I mean, and it’s not necessarily kind of an aberration to a certain extent. If it’s happening. I don’t know if it’s happening, quite frankly. But what we do know is that in New York, in was it December and part of January, there was in effect a police stoppage of work there for about two months. And what was demonstrated was that in a lot of respects the people didn’t need the police. There was no major uptick or upswing of crime in New York City.
And what I would argue for in Baltimore is that what you have is probably more people paying attention to a grisly truth of the conditions that black working class people are suffering through on a day-to-day basis, and how they’re competing with each other for meager resources to survive. And part of that is competition for various corner markets, street markets, underground markets. And some of that winds up resulting in homicide, unfortunately. That’s part of what the cycle of that particular method of accumulation in underground economy leads to, unfortunately.
So them just saying we’re going to back off and this is now what you get, that’s bogus, because folks are out there struggling and grinding to survive day-to-day, and their material conditions worsen in our communities in places like Baltimore and Chicago and Detroit, in Los Angeles, et cetera. You’re seeing more and more people have to struggle just to make ends meet by whatever means necessary that’s available to them.
So we’ve got to put that all in the greater context, and put this whole notion of inter-communal violence, I think, in its proper context. We don’t want any black life lost, but we have to understand what people have to go through in order to survive. What type of competition they’re forced to, both on the local level and international level, and not try to make it some abstract moral question of what people are having to face through to make ends meet.
BALL: So Kali, just real quick, would that also be then your response to black journalists and activists like Courtland Milloy and Charlie Cobb who also recently in the Washington Post, both spoke in one way or another to the issue being more about black-on-black violence than this focus on the police violence against our communities. Would that also be your response to them?
AKUNO: Yeah. I mean, we need to take [that head on]. You know, let’s deal with what are the baseline conditions? You know, what’s at the bottom line? What’s at the root of black people being in the condition that we are in, and that we have to suffer through? And let’s deal with those questions. So they try to evade that more often than not, don’t talk about the political economy, they don’t talk about the global [restruction] of capitalism. They don’t talk about how black workers have largely been turned into surplus, or largely been disposable. That there’s no jobs or the jobs offer no protection, or they’re temporary or that they’re contingent upon flows with international capital fluxes or the whims of employers who just want to have temporary workers. That people can’t make ends meet. They don’t want to get to the deeper structural issues at the heart of it.
So we can’t play into this game of, you know, it’s just morally wrong for folks to fight each other. If that was the case, I’d like to see them making the same arguments for what the United States does in terms of resolving all of, some of its major problems through violence all over the world, and have its parallels on the national level with the local and domestic level. And let’s come up with the similar answers, because they’re always clear to talk about violence is being perpetuated in Libya or elsewhere, and to cite that as an example of why they intervene in terms of protecting their interests. And that it in those cases it’s okay to use violence, or what’s happening in Yemen, it’s okay to use violence to solve those problems there. But me and you are told here in the United States that we have to deal with the issue of our oppression, the issue of our exclusion from the society and from the market through democratic means of voting, or just being patient.
So we got to get real about what’s at the heart of our oppression, and what it’s really going to take for us to improve our own condition. Because that’s ultimately what it’s going to come to.
BALL: Well, that’s the goal here at The Real News Network, to get real. You know, we would invite–as we wrap up here, we do want to invite and remind people that the work that Kali Akuno and Arlene Eisen were instrumental in producing, the Every 28 Hours, the Operation Ghetto Storm report, can be found online at MXGM.org. We would invite people to check that out for more context. And especially in light of the announcement today that Tamir Rice’s killer, the police officer that killed Tamir Rice is not going to be charged according to the sheriff’s department, that the investigation’s been bumped up to the prosecutor. So we want to make sure that that important context that you and Arlene produced is addressed and dealt with.
AKUNO: If I can–.
BALL: Yeah. Go ahead, go ahead.
AKUNO: If I can add one thing though, just to close out. Because we definitely want people to read that work, to read Let Your Motto Be Resistance and to read We Charge Genocide. Those are three companion works that went together. And one was focusing on a curriculum to teach people about how to deal with both this analysis and what it implies, and what kind of organizing needs to take place.
But the critical thing I want to note and want everybody to walk away with, we didn’t produce that just to tell numbers. We produced that to give people kind of a grounding and analysis of us coming up with some collective solutions on how we’re going to deal with this genocidal assault that’s being put towards the black community. So read it with that eye, and try to take the information with that eye. Because us just counting is not going to get us where we need to go. Because we clearly see, as what happened in Cleveland today, you can count all you want. You can have video all you want. And the system is still going to treat us as if we’re animals to be killed out in the street. So we’ve got to do a different type of organizing to defend ourselves and our life, and to liberate ourselves from these conditions.
That’s the, kind of the main thing I think people–we want people to walk away from when they read Operation Ghetto Storm, and these other works. Focus in on the analysis and the solutions, not just on the numbers.
BALL: Kali Akuno, thank you very much for joining us here at The Real News Network.
AKUNO: Thank you.
BALL: And thank you for joining us as well, and stay tuned for a lot more coming up here at The Real News Network. For everybody involved, I’m Jared Ball. Peace if you’re willing to fight for it, everybody.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.