The False Equivalence of ‘White Lives Matter’

August 23, 2016

NAACP's James Douglas and activist Cedrick Smith respond to a 'White Lives Matter' protest in Houston that included assault rifles and Confederate flags

NAACP's James Douglas and activist Cedrick Smith respond to a 'White Lives Matter' protest in Houston that included assault rifles and Confederate flags



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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown.

About 20 people claiming to be members of the White Lives Matter movement gathered in front of Houston’s Third Ward right in front of the NAACP headquarters, some carrying assault rifles and Confederate flags, to demonstrate against what they say was the NAACP’s failure to speak out against the Black Lives Matter movement.

Today we’re joined by the president of the NAACP Houston branch, Dr. James Douglas. We also are joined by Dr. Cedrick Smith. He is an activist in Houston, and they’re both joining us today. Gentlemen, welcome.

DR. JAMES DOUGLAS: Thank you for having me.

DR. CEDRICK SMITH: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Dr. Douglas, let’s start with you. Just looking at some of the imagery of these armed white activists waving Confederate flags in front of the NAACP headquarters, I mean, it’s simply chilling because we’ve seen shades of this kind of intimidation before. This happened Sunday. Did you happen to know beforehand that there was going to be a White Lives Matter gathering in front of your building?

DOUGLAS: Yes. We knew. I got a call–I was actually in Austin, Texas getting [inaud.] at the University of Texas. And I got a call on Saturday midday from the Houston Police Department telling me that there was going to be a protest in front of the branch on Sunday around 11:00. And my response was, let them. Let them have their right to their First Amendment. I will try and [inaud.] my people and tell them not to show up.

BROWN: But people did show up, Cedrick. And you know, your being an activist in the Houston area, when your phone started to go off, buzzing about, hey, there’s folks outside the NAACP headquarters with assault rifles and Confederate flags, what happened after that?

SMITH: Yeah. There’s kind of a narrative here that, you know, the White Lives Matter people symbolically chose a site, obviously, one, with the NAACP, and two, being that it’s in the Third Ward area, which is kind of the heart of black Houston, if you will.

And what started happening on that particular day when they started doing their protests was that there were some quasi-rumblings that there was some kind of protest that was going to be going on somewhere. We weren’t quite–we weren’t quite sure where that was going to be. And then just like a [inaud.] thing, as an activist you start getting these popups of live feeds on Twitter, and Facebook. And so with that people started going, well, what’s going on over there?

So you started getting this trickling effect of people saying, look, if you’re going to come into the Third Ward with all these Confederate flags and toting guns, then of course we’re going to show up, and you can exercise your right, but we’re going to exercise our right, as well, to tell you that you’re cowards and that you need to get out of here, and we’re not going to make it easy for you, and comfortable for you. That’s in essence what happened.

So as it began to kind of pick up more pace and more people started showing up, of course there was some dialog between the persons who were the protesters, and obviously many of the activists. And the community neighbors that live in that area started showing up, as well, and voicing their opinions.

BROWN: Now, one of the representatives, I imagine, from the White Lives Matter movement spoke to the Houston Chronicle, and he went on to detail about his grievances with the NAACP about their failure to speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement. He went on to insist that the Black Lives Matter movement was inciting its members to shoot at police, to kill white police officers, and there’s a big distinction between the Black Lives Matter movement in the NAACP. Dr. Cedrick Smith, if you could explain that for us, please.

SMITH: Yeah. I mean, look, I can’t speak for the NAACP. I’ve been a member before. But it’s not like there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two movements, if you will. There have been a lot of issues that have gone on here in Houston proper where we’ve thought maybe the NAACP would have taken the lead on it, and Dr. Douglas can speak to that. I mean, there’s a lot of, always–we always hear about a lot of behind-the-scenes meetings and so forth going on.

But as far as visibility is concerned, there have been a lot more groups involved and associated with, quote, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the movement in and of itself, we’re kind of taking the lead on some of the issues with regards to, like, Sandra Bland, in regard to, you know, we just had a recent shooting here with regard to bodycam policy that’s kind of a slap in the face from the city of Houston where we just paid $8 million for body cameras implementation, but the policy is not strident and stringent enough to enforce what the actual body cameras are for, which is for accountability, safety of the citizens, and so forth.

Now, whether or not the killing was justifiable, they can argue that all they want to. But to actually have bodycam footage that comes on after the person was killed in and of itself tells us there’s some huge issues here. And to be quite honest with you, the Black Lives Matter movement in Houston has been quite disappointed with the NAACP here in Houston.

BROWN: Dr. Douglas, I’ll give you your chance to respond to that.

DOUGLAS: I think they have been disappointed, and it’s because they [understand] what our role is in a lot of these movements. We are not a–not to say we won’t ever take to the street, but he’s right. We make a lot of change. We’re involved in a lot of change. And part of it is because we do–we have the ability to sit down with people in leadership positions and make change. And so we have to go to the [inaud.] inside, and make the changes from there, from the inside.

We do have some relationship to, at least, some of the members of the Black Lives movement, and we’ve always, I’ve said to young people in our organization, is that the civil rights movement has been and will always be a mode to organizational movement. But the movement is like a football team. Every player on the football team has a different set of responsibilities, and they don’t all do the same thing. All we have to do and all we try to do at the NAACP is make sure we all work toward the same interest. So I don’t criticize any other organization for what they do, as long as what they do moves us forward.

BROWN: Dr. Douglas, have you encountered prior to Sunday people, be they within the black community or outside of the black community, have you encountered people transposing the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement, basically perhaps viewing them as one and the same? Because this individual who spoke to the Houston Chronicle claiming to represent the White Lives Matter movement really wanted to hold the NAACP accountable for a lot of the stuff that he thinks is anti-white lives. Have you encountered this before?

DOUGLAS: [Inaud.] think the comment that he made were incidents that Black Lives Matter had absolutely nothing to do with. He talked about the killings in Dallas. Black Lives Matter dind’t havev anything to do with that. So most of his information was based on [inaud.], it was not based on fact. We support Black Lives Matter. We have always and will always.

BROWN: And Cedrick, you know, in your experience so far as part of the activist community in Houston, have you encountered any threats from any white supremacist organizations? And were any threats exchanged at any of your people who were part of the counterprotest on Sunday?

SMITH: There weren’t any particular threats at the counterprotest, per se. There was a bunch of jawing and so forth. I think they were there to just to kind of, to get their message out, if you will.

Yeah, there’s definitely a false equivalence that the White Lives Matter people are trying to associate Black Lives Matter with. And they’re trying to say that we’re a terrorist organization, which we’re not. They’re trying to say that the Black Lives Matter movement is involved in some kind of anti-police movement, and it’s not really that. It’s anti-police brutality. When you look at the disparities that are ad nauseum in the incarceration rates of black and brown skin, the stoppages of black and brown skin in numbers that are three times as much as that for whites, when you look at the data, the data is completely in alignment with a group of people who are marginalized, a group of people who are constantly being harassed by a law enforcement agency that does not treat the with the same respect as those who are considered to be a part of the majority class, if you will. The white class, if you will. The white people, if you will.

So that being said, if you look into all those factors, the argument that the White Lives Matter individuals have has no bearing, has no basis and no merit in regard to the validity of what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for, period. So I have to agree with Dr. Douglas in that regard, to I think the White Lives Matter people are kind of using the symbols, if you will, of going straight for the NAACP, which they know is a huge symbolic organization, a huge organization that’s been very influential in the civil rights movement of African-American people.

But other than that, there’s no equivalence there. It’s not even the same. We know that terrorist organizations like the KKK for which white supremacists are entrenched in, those are the very terrorist organizations that have a history, a recorded history and a continued history of violence. So to have that equivalence with the movement and the Black Lives Matter movement, if you will, is totally a false equivalence.

DOUGLAS: Look, [inaud.] in meetings with the chief of police and the [inaud.] County sheriff is to get them to understand that Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, [inaud.], none of the black organizations are anti-law enforcement. We’re anti-[rogue] law enforcement. And we’re upset with law enforcement, because when they have rogue officers, they never come out and condemn those rogue officers. When they have, let’s assume now, we had a famous case in Houston about [inaud.], the 15-year [inaud.] and was called on them, again beaten by eight or ten different police officers.

Now, the chief at that time did, acted properly, and fired all of those police officers. But when they came up for trial, they were all acquitted. But the thing that made matters so bad was police officers showed up in uniform to support them during the course of their trial. And my position is, you tell me–and I said this to the chief and the sheriff–you tell me behind closed doors that you don’t support rogue officers, but you allow your officers to show up and show public support for them. So they never will call out bad officers, bad police officials or bad sheriff deputies, when they do wrong.

So the leadership in law enforcement is going to have to step up and do its job if it wants the support of the black community.

SMITH: But that’s one of the main problems. See, the problem is, with that logic, is that we always–you always narrow it down to a few bad apples, if you will. There’s a few bad apples here. There’s a few bad apples in this. There’s a few bad apples, a few bad teachers, and there’s a few bad this.

When it comes to law enforcement, unfortunately, it is a culture. It is a culture that the data is indisputable in showing that as a culture it marginalizes and demonizes black and brown skin in a way that it doesn’t do white skin, period. So we can say a–we can keep going to the narrative of a few bad apples, and no one ever calls them out. We’ve been talking about that ad nauseum for the last, you know, 50 years, if you want to say. And you know, Jesse Williams said, you know, at some point there has to be some policy change. There has to be something that has impact. There has to be some possible restructuring.

I don’t know what that looks like. But there has to be a different way in which we do policing. And I think we need to start opening up those narratives, if you will. And so–.

DOUGLAS: All right. [inaud.]

SMITH: We always keep going back to a few bad apples, and I’m here to say that I don’t think it’s just a few bad apples. I think it is the culture and the militarization of the police force, and the culture of anti-blackness, if you will. I don’t know how you train that out.

Now, we’ve talked about–I had a conversation with a police officer one time. He was a young 25-year-old kid. I brought up the subject of implicit bias to him at one of the forums. He looked at me with a face like a young little bird. Like, he had no idea what I was talking about. And I’m thinking to myself, he has a revolver on the side of his body and is able to take someone’s life out, and has no idea of the impact of implicit bias, that can have on the microdecisions that he has to make in very dangerous macrosituations that are involving black and brown skin.

And when I saw that I said to myself, this is unbelievable, that you have a young kid that’s–basically a kid, 25 years old or whatever the [case] he is–and has no idea what implicit bias or bias is. I mean–so to me, I don’t even know if–you know, we talk about implicit bias training, we talk about we need to have more deescalation training, and so forth. I don’t know where anti-blackness training comes in. because that’s what’s–.

BROWN: well, wait a minute. Not to cut you off, Cedrick. We do have to kind of wrap this up. But I will say–I mean, speaking to you both, first of all it’s clear that the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement collectively has never advocated for violence against whites or against police. So that’s, that’s perfectly obvious to most people who are paying attention.

However, as demonstrated with the White Lives Matter activists, there are people here who are willfully misunderstanding the purpose of the movement. And you gentlemen are remarkably calm, because if a bunch of angry white supremacists showed up in front of my place of business or my home armed with Confederate flags, I mean, that’s provocation in a huge way. That imagery sends out tremendous red flags to me. So I need to applaud everybody that came out and managed to keep the situation nonviolent and keep it peaceful.

[Crosstalk]

SMITH: I’ll tell you how it was nonviolent. You had a police force out there on the horses, and you had, you actually had the White Lives Matter people barricaded.

Now, I’ve never been to a Black Lives Matter movement where I felt I was being protected, if you will, by the cops. Here, believe me, they were, like, barricaded in. they had layers upon layers of protection. And what was really interesting was I happened to see one of the young officers come up, and he had his baton out. Like, twirling it. Like you know, it’s just kind of powerful. And I’m saying to myself, who are you going to have a baton out twirling it? Who are you having a baton out for? We just start showing up and you start pulling out your baton? Because black folks start showing up, and they’re the ones with the AK-47s on that side? Are you kidding me?

And again, this is evidence of the lowest of low of whiteness that has the privilege of being protected by the very police force that marginalizes and demeans the very people that are of black and brown skin. So that’s the reason why.

BROWN: Okay. Dr. Douglas, I’ll give you the last word before we dip out.

DOUGLAS: Well, I think the movement was, this [inaud.] one of the things that I take away from that is, I think a lot of people missed it, is the leadership of the white lives movement was wearing a Trump ’16 t-shirt. And I’m going to just say that that says it all to me. That a lot of this rhetoric is coming from this presidential campaign.

SMITH: And they’re trying to be opportunist. They’re seeing it as an opportunity to recruit. And so with that rhetoric that Trump spews, or the ideology that he spews is out there, they’re using this as an opportunity to trump up, if you will, this energy [crosstalk] getting more people to come to their organization. That’s what they’re doing it for. It’s a total false equivalence, with all this we’re responsible for killing folk. That’s not what we’re doing out here. [We’re fighting] for civil rights.

BROWN: I know that. And most people, I think, who are thinking, cerebral individuals understand what Black Lives Matter’s purpose is, and also have long admired what the NAACP has done historically for the advancement of colored people. But gentlemen, we are out of time. We’ve been speaking with the president of the NAACP’s Houston branch, Dr. James Douglas. We’ve also been joined with Dr. Cedrick Smith. He is an activist, part of a larger coalition in Houston that is seeking justice for black people. Gentlemen, we appreciate your patience and your time today. Thank you so much.

DOUGLAS: Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

BROWN: And you’ve been watching the Real News Network.

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