Police Violence and Militarization Town Hall
In partnership with South Organizing Against Racism (SOAR), The Real News Network presents: Police Violence and Militarization Town Hall
In partnership with South Organizing Against Racism (SOAR), The Real News Network presents: Police Violence and Militarization Town Hall
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Real News town hall. I’m Jessica Desvarieux, your host for the evening, broadcasting live from our studio in Baltimore.
Tonight we are going to tackle the issue of police accountability. After both grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York decided not to prosecute the officers involved in the deaths of two unarmed black men, people are wondering: how can we make the police more accountable? It’s not an issue that you can completely unpack in an hour, but we want to start to imagine. If you had policy in the interests of the majority of people, what would it look like? Some of our guests here today say there are some real short-term goals that the community can advocate for right now, like body cameras. Let’s take a look at how they would actually be used.
DESVARIEUX: This footage was taken on a Florida officer’s body camera. Advocates say the purpose of body cameras is to hold police more accountable and present a clear representation of the facts. According to an ABC Washington Post poll last month, 86 percent of Americans are in favor of body cameras, including President Obama.
OBAMA: I’m going to be proposing some new community policing initiatives that will significantly expand funding and training for local law enforcement, including up to 50,000 additional body-worn cameras for law enforcement agencies.
DESVARIEUX: These 50,000 body cameras would cost $75 million over the next three years. And if Congress approves the president’s proposal, the federal government would cover 50 percent of the costs for states. President Obama’s proposal certainly won’t cover the 700,000 police officers in America, but supporters see body cameras as a start for more police accountability, despite its limitations.
KAMAU K. FRANKLIN, ATTORNEY AND ACTIVIST: We need to know that these things aren’t panaceas. They’re not going to solve the problem completely. But they are tools that we need to have in terms of our day-to-day actions with the police.
DESVARIEUX: But critics say they don’t foresee more police accountability just because there’s video evidence. They point to the death of unarmed man Eric Garner. A passerby captured this video of police officers placing him in an unauthorized chokehold which eventually killed Garner. The officers involved were not indicted.
DESVARIEUX: –all know how that tragic video ends. Eric Garner shortly dies after that, and the grand jury decides not to prosecute the officers involved. So, Kamau, we saw you on the video, Kamau Franklin, activist and attorney, we saw you on the video advocating for body cameras. But some would say in the case of Eric Garner there was video evidence, but we still couldn’t get the grand jury to indict the officers. So really what’s the point?
FRANKLIN: Well, I think the issue of the non-indictment, both in Eric Garner’s case and historically, when we look at Rodney King, has more to do with the prosecutorial system than it has to do with by cameras. You have prosecutors who don’t want to secure grand jury indictments, and that’s what the real issue is on whether or not these people are going to be charged with something or not. So I think the body cams, they’re evidence. So for somebody like me who had practiced law and was a defense attorney and a civil rights attorney, if I had evidence, I would use that evidence in the civil lawsuit. That evidence has been used in federal lawsuits. And those things are important for people. And those things are the things that expose to the larger community what is happening in policing in our communities. So I think they are something that can be used as part of a larger package of solutions. By no means when I talk about body cameras do I talk about them as some sort of panacea. But I think the issue of non-indictments has more to do not with the videotape evidence, but the structure of the prosecutor’s office and their close relationship with the police and their intent to not indict these criminal police officers in the first place.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. I’m going to turn to Jared Ball, ’cause I know you’re not so thrilled about body cameras. Why is that, if they are effective and they can be used as evidence, as Kamau said?
JARED BALL, ASSOC. PROF. COMMUNICATION STUDIES, MORGAN STATE: Well, as I said when Kamau put the piece out, my issue was my struggle with the idea of body cameras, not so much about their effectiveness in reducing police violence. It was the emphasis on them by people in the community who seem to almost exclusively be focused on this as an idea, as some sort of step towards progress. And I’m more interested in seeing a larger, broader, organized movement that will put pressure on any number of these institutions to bring about fundamental change. So I’m more interested in what we are going to do than what we are going to encourage this apparatus called the police to do.
And in part it was also because–it was also in response to seeing what we just saw in the clip from President Obama talking about $75 million being spent on body cameras, when I would much rather see that money go to organizations, some of which were represented here, and be redistributed differently and saying we want to build up a movement from the genuine grassroots that’s focused on things much more beyond this immediate step. So it wasn’t that I was saying that body cameras in and of themselves are a problem. It was that I just–I’m disturbed to the extent at which they are the focus of people being critical of these efforts here. And I know Kamau a little bit outside of this, so I know that it’s not his issue. But what I see happening in other spaces, that was becoming too much of the focus. And that’s where I my concern really was or is.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Alright. So we’re going to do sort of a round-robin, and I’m going to ask you panelists during this program to sort of pick one goal, short-term goal that we should be focusing on if we want to see more police accountability. Body cameras was one. Jared, you mentioned grassroots movements. So what are we talking about? Civilian review boards? What do we–.
BALL: I mean, I would say I’d be more interested–those are fine and certainly a good start, but I would actually–my personal preferences are radically organized and supplemented and sustained cop watch programs that emanate from the community themselves. So, in other words, again, this is not a critique of, certainly, how Kamau was approaching this body camera issue, but to say I would be–I’m much more interested in what we do assertively and aggressively and in an organized fashion. And to me, in my own personal experience, cop watching was–I don’t know. I felt there was a certain level of satisfaction in being out there in the street with a camera, monitoring the police. It was a sort of sense of empowerment for me and my comrades, and I think it was a sense of empowerment from those in the community that saw us doing that. And that’s what I’m more interested in, in having be the focus of our endeavors here. While we try to get body cameras on the police, that’s fine. But, again–but the other part real quick about this 75 million is that these are going to private military defense style contractors who not only make all this the cameras and put them on the police, but then they make this amount of money, most of which they take and use to support anti-humane, anti-people policies. So we’re not only getting an insufficient step as far as I’m concerned in terms of body cameras, but we’re turning around and giving more federal funding to the very institutions we should be looking to dismantle. So this is why I would like to see more of us organize, study, prepare, plan, strategize, do it properly, but get out there in the streets ourselves with cameras and feet on the ground and see what level of pressure that puts on these institutions beyond just saying, let’s hope the government pays–gives these people more money, says that they’re going to train the police, as if that’s really the issue. And that’s not really relevant here, I think. And it’s not that they’re properly trained; they’re just trained to do what they’re doing.
DESVARIEUX: I gotcha. So let’s move over to the side of the room. Eddie Conway, who’s now a producer for The Real News Network, and you spent some time–you were part of the Black Panther Party, and as well as a political prisoner for 44 years. So, Eddie, I want to ask you: what do you think is a short-term goal that the community should be focused on?
EDDIE CONWAY, FMR. BLACK PANTHER, BALTIMORE CHAPTER: Well, I think the thing that will create an immediate change is to require residency of anybody that works for the city or a municipality to live within that jurisdiction. That would put the police officers in their community. They’re not going to abuse and beat and hurt people in their community if they’ve got to go home every night and if they’ve got to look at their neighbors. They’re going to treat those people in their community differently. And that is the first line of enforcing humanity among them.
DESVARIEUX: And there are models like this, we should say, in other cities–in Pittsburgh, Boston, Newark, even. They have a mandatory police residency policy. But, of course, police unions aren’t too fond of them.
So let’s continue. Sydney, what would you like to see?
SYDNEY [SPL?]: Me personally, I understand that the cams on cops are happening. They are coming. What I would like to see is the protocols and the consequences and who will be controlling that footage and who will have access to it. And on top of that, just a complete revamping of police protocols and procedures. There need to be stricter mental evaluations. There needs to be more strict background check, to check into their biases, into their personal beliefs and their religious beliefs, because–and I agree with him they do need to live in the actual communities, because if you are not in tune with the people that you are policing, you are not protecting and serving them, especially if you have individual biases against the neighborhoods.
DESVARIEUX: Is there any way you could actually enforce that? I mean, legally. I’m assuming that there would be some roadblocks to do be able to do a background check on people’s biases. Or is that–.
FRANKLIN: No no, they should be doing, I think, in a lot of places background checks now. The question is whether or not the folks doing the background checks are doing them successfully or folks are being weeded out. Obviously, in our community that’s not what’s happening. In fact, rookie cops, people who don’t have a lot of training, people were just of the military are coming into our communities and policing our communities, and they have no experience, background, knowledge, know-how, and the only training that they have is to treat the black community as if it’s a target, as if we are a criminal element that needs to be controlled and locked up and worried about. And so when you have that kind of training mixed with a lack of satisfactory background checks on who these folks are who are coming to the community, you have the mix that we have today, and you have that structure of power that Jared was talking about.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And I just should tell everybody this is going to be inorganic conversation. So if you hear something, panelists, too, please feel free to respond to each other.
Tef Poe, since you’re to my right, you are a rapper, but very much a community organizer, activist, and from the St. Louis, Missouri, area. So, Tef, what would you like to see?
TEF POE, RAPPER, ACTIVIST: I personally believe we need to abolish the police in the black community. I think it’s completely illogical for us to rely on a system, [beg] the system, continually ask the system to correct a rogue group of people that has proven statistically that they can murder us and walk away. We’re the only group of people that would sit here and say, you know what? How do we work with these folks? How do we fix this? You fix it by getting them out of their community.
I come from a community, /palAn/, which the entire police force is black. The entire police force is black. The police officers live within the community. But one of the police officers–I can’t even say his name on camera, ’cause if I go home, I’m going to run into him. He’s more crooked than the white police officers. And he comes out and laughs at us on the block, “Ha, ha, ha!” He’ll come to your funeral and laugh at you in the casket. So I don’t have any desire to work with police whatsoever, personally.
DESVARIEUX: That sounds like a long-term goal. But in the short term, what are some, like, concrete things we should focus on?
TEF POE: Short term, we need to build community, community hubs. I’ve seen it work at home. There’s areas in my city where the police don’t come. On my Street in North St. Louis, we don’t call the cops.
DESVARIEUX: But how do you do that when you say they don’t come?
TEF POE: Neighbors talk to each other, black people reconnecting with black people. There’s not always a situation where you need to call the cops on a person. That person that saw Tamir Rice in the park didn’t have to call the police. They could have got out the of car and talked to one of them themselves. We got to get out of this role. That’s what white people do. They see black folks and call the cops. Black people can talk to black people.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Okay. I’m going to turn to Paul, who is not a black person. But, Paul, what do you see as a short-term goal that we should be thinking about?
PAUL JAY, CEO, TRNN: Well, I think you’ve got to divide this into kind of three things: what can the community do right now without demanding or waiting for anybody else’s answers? That’s one set of things. And the community needs to do that right away and have the initiative in its hands. So, like, demands to bring in the Department of Justice to do an investigation, for example. Okay, maybe it gives rise to something good, and maybe it doesn’t, but it’s another measure that takes the initiative out of the community’s hands. So, fine. But as much as they wanted to make WebCams, body cams the issue, they also want to make the DOJ the issue. And I think you start with what can the community do. And there’s a whole series of things you can talk about.
There are demands that need to be made. And even if–but I think the demands need to be raised, in a way, without creating illusions that we have much expectations they’re ever going to be met. And they shouldn’t be demands made in a way, oh, geez, what can we get out of this screwed up political system? What miniscule thing might to get? I think the demand should be: what’s an actual effective policy to solve the problem? And if you guys who have power now can’t implement effective policy, well, then, we the people need to. And we have–that’s really the third thing.
I think we have to be thinking about governing. In the final analysis, even if you get the cops out of your community, first of all, it’s not going to deal with chronic poverty or unemployment or all the major social problems. They are–and many people have described them as an occupying army. But when you deal with them as an occupying army, well, the occupying army in Iraq, when it was the United States, it wasn’t really about the soldiers; it’s about the people that sent the soldiers to occupy Iraq. So you’ve got to deal with who has power and who’s issue issuing these orders. So all three conversations need to go on.
But I think this issue of what can the community do right now in the context of a bigger picture is critical, because sometimes you have this big-picture conversation and you never get down to what should the community do immediately to defend itself.
DESVARIEUX: So give me something. What should [incompr.] do immediately? Just proposition.
JAY: Well, I mean, I’m in the news business, so I love the idea of everybody having cameras, Because the problem now when you have cameras, unless it’s terribly egregious, you don’t have much chance of getting it on television. It won’t have the same power. But if we can take over local television, and when these cameras are used, tens of thousands of people see it. That starts to be a cloud. I consider the demand for civilian not review boards, civilian management board, a short-term demand, like the one they have in Toronto, if the citizens can’t hire and fire the police chief, it’s never going to have teeth. So that needs to be a demand–citizen control of cops with the power to hire and fire, and probably elected. It’s not as immediate as, for example, violence intervention that’s going on on, like, Rose Street in Baltimore, or the kind of issues Tef is talking about in the community. But I don’t think they should be seen as so far off that you don’t start to address it, as well as even thinking about how do you take over the politics, the actual governing of the city.
DESVARIEUX: So this review board, the people who are managing it, are they elected officials?
JAY: I would say they need to be elected. Yeah.
DESVARIEUX: But then what if you have a Koch brother type of person that comes in and buys these elections?
JAY: There is no formula that’s perfect here without a–. No, no. But I mean this. Without a mass movement and without a struggle, you can say any nice little formula. It will be meaningless. You could have–Toronto has one of the best on-paper looking people police management boards in North America, but there’s not a mass movement there and the cops have a lot of power. And so it’s never going to be just some nice little piece of legislation. It’s going to be tens of thousands of people in the streets, and a fight for decent legislation, and a fight for taking over actually governing. But the fundamental thing is if tens of thousands of people aren’t engaged, then none of this is going to mean anything. It would just look good.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. So, Nelini Stamp, you are a community organizer. How do we get these tens of thousands of people out there? And what should be a short-term goal that we should focus on?
NELINA STAMP, CODIRECTOR, RISE UP: So I think that tens of thousands of people just don’t come overnight, and there are times where people come out because of an event or something that happens that affects the people in their own community. But I think that really is the community members talking to each other and building organizations or some type of institution, whether it’s a community center, whether it’s an organization, whether it’s a service program that has politics attached to it. Right? We need more of those community programs. We need–and we need to take care of each other, right?
One of the solutions, in terms of community, ’cause I also agree on the lines of what Paul was saying that you need different avenues–on the solution of community, I was born and raised in New York but living in Atlanta now. And there were phone trees that were set up during–when people were getting out kicked out of housing during the tenants’ rights movement, and there were phone trees. Like, how can we set up phone trees for the community so you don’t have to call the police automatically but you can just start to call people, like, you have a whole mapped out phone tree of who’s who, who’s a good mediator in the community? Who is the person that’s going to make people laugh, right? Who’s going to be–you know, because the community members know. You know who your drug dealers are in the community, you know the people who ain’t doing stuff right, you know who’s doing–who’s the stand up, got nothing. And so you know that. We know that in our own communities. And there are ways and models, like, community-determined, that police have taken on, but it’s been a struggle because of the historical notions of the police.
I think that starting with–and particularly starting with what people care about is going to get them to turn out. So not everybody, every single person, is going to say, okay, the police are my ultimate problem. Maybe you were incarcerated before. That is–’cause I see it all as a part of one big system, right? And so I think that we need to start–people need to start talking to each other, because with our phones, the internet, with all this stuff–and it’s lovely. I’m on Twitter a lot. But we need to start talking to each other and having human conversations and meeting people where they’re at. Okay, this is what you’re interested in? Alright, I’ll plug you into something that’s going on here, right? And that’s how you build a mass movement.
And in addition to getting people on the streets, we need to change culture. Culture is a lot of what’s happening. Culture says that black people are criminals. Culture says that maybe me, a woman, is, like, a little bit more safer, right? Culture is a very big part of this, and we need to start to change culture, through our media, through what we see on television, through art, through music. You know. And I think that that’s a really big, important part. And that’s on us. That’s on us to take on and to start to whatever is comfortable for everyone, start to change culture, ’cause you need to do that and also be on the streets at the same time.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Really sound proposals there.
Youssef, what about you? You’re a community organizer as well. What do you see as some short-term goals?
YUSEF BUNCHY SHAKUR, AUTHOR, COMMUNITY ORGANIZE: I mean, fundamentally, we can’t separate the police from the state. The police are a tool of the state of oppressing black people. And so we have to begin to organize our communities of heightening consciousness and putting on the table we have to defend our communities, we have to defend ourselves from these racist police. Our lives matter. And saying our lives matter, we have to exercise that. But within the context of our communities, we have to abolish black inferiority, which has helped sustaining the criminal element, as well as the oppression that we see. So as we push that forward, the police, we see them for who they are, the occupying army. You know, people in our community don’t necessarily view people in our community in a safe way. They’ve been conditioned not to respect each other as they respect the police, who is the real perpetrator in their community. So, fundamentally, we have to begin to organize within the framework of taking our lives in our own hands. You know, we have a models. We have the Deacons of Defense.
DESVARIEUX: Sorry. Can you explain that, the Deacons of Defense?
SHAKUR: Deacons of Defense predated the Black Panther Party and began to organize against the Klan in the South, protect black leaders, protect black communities against racist acts. So we have the history of what that looks like, and we just have to–Jared’s talked about having the discipline, have the ideology, having the politics, moving towards creating a black liberation state within our community.
DESVARIEUX: And when you say protection, what do you mean by that?
SHAKUR: I mean protecting ourselves on every level, any individual who presents a negative force against the black community.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And are we talking about picking up arms? What are we talking about here?
DESVARIEUX: Oh. Okay. Okay. Just wanted to know.
I’m going to turn to Mary.
I didn’t forget you. Your organization has done a lot of organizing as well. So what do you see as some short-term goals to make police more accountable?
MARY PAT HECTOR, NAT’L YOUTH DIR., NAT’L ACTION NETWORK YOUTH MOVE: Well, I like what Mr. Eddie and Mr. Jarred–I believe that’s his name–yes, Mr. Jared said and Mr. Eddie said, that police officers should live in that community that they’re policing. That plays a very big role. And then you talked about how we should start policing our own communities. And, actually, I was thinking about something that’s already in Baltimore. You know, I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so you look at different things that have already been done. In the Jewish community, in upper Park Heights, I believe, where that is, they do not necessarily–they police their community and they take care of everything within that Jewish community. And if anything bad really happens where they need to call the cops, then they correspond with the Baltimore Police Department. But the people in that community, they are Jewish police officers from the Jewish–the Israeli Army, I believe. So I think that that’s something that we should look at. I think that the police officers should reflect their community.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Okay. Yeah, Kamau, go for it.
FRANKLIN: Can I just–I just want to jump in and say one thing about–and I respect everyone’s opinion. I probably agree with people a lot around long-term things. But I think some of the things that we talk about are things that are going to take an incredibly long time to take place. And we’ve been struggling around some of these things for decades already. And people from Eddie Conway’s generation, Black Panther Party, have already attempted to implement some of this stuff already. So there’s ideas out there. There’s things that we’ve done before. And one of the reasons why I’m sticking or talking a lot about short-term solutions is because I don’t believe that we’re going to get the cops off our backs right away. Right? This is an institution we have to deal with and that we have to be in a position of power to bring concessions from.
So for me, when I talk about–I’m particularly stuck on short-term solutions, and not just about body cams, but about special prosecutors, improving civilian complaint review boards. It’s not that I–again, I don’t see any of those things as panaceas.
But I think that we, as communities organizers and activists, we have to show victories for our community. I think there’s a lot of things that we can say about what we want to happen in our communities that, again, I truly believe in terms in terms of things about self-determination and ownership and taking the police away. But I also think in a short term we have to prove to our community that we are a value and that we can win victories to get the police off of our backs. And I think that comes with some short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions.
And so, again, I’m not saying I disagree with what folks are saying, but I think we really have to be careful about not planning for the short-term, because then we get out into the streets and march and make demands, and demands are almost secondary to the fact that we’re out in the street. And I think you win concessions from those who you oppose by letting them know directly what it is that you want from them, letting them know that they have to negotiate with you, and letting them know that you’re going to be here to hold them accountable to those things–again, as you work on other solutions in the longer term to push them out the way and to push in something new.
DESVARIEUX: Can I just say something? I’ve been hearing all these proposals, and I heard a lot of mhms and some claps. I feel like there’s a consensus here that people are on board with a lot of these proposal. But what is preventing the community from really backing these proposals? I mean, we covered these protests, these die-ins. There aren’t that many folks in the street in terms of the number of people who are affected by these policies don’t reflect the number of people who are out there in the streets. What is, really, I would say, what’s preventing people from being more concerned about these issues? I’m just going to throw it out there.
SHAKUR: The impliers of people are not concerned is a false analysis. People are concerned, or we’re concerned, of what their concerns are. And that’s the larger conversation that we have to look at, and particularly–and I come from Detroit. You know, you’ve got the water issue, school, etc., etc., along with just the daily survival of just trying to feed, take care of children within that context. So you’re talking about within the larger context of the black experience, the black struggle of being oppressed.
And so what we do is we separated mass incarceration, police, etc., etc. But those things are a reflection of black oppression. You know, you can get rid of police brutality and mass incarceration, but if you don’t get rid of black oppression, you ain’t solving nothing. So the grand scheme, which I agree with Kamau, but it has to be rooted within grassroots leadership. It has to be rooted within a strategy of moving people forward, of advocating in the interests of that community.
Right now we have to many petty bourgeois popular folks who are exploiting the issues. So when you talk about that small minority of folks, that’s who the folks you’re looking at who have no true interests, who are on the payroll of other folks who are not speaking to our community, who are tipping the issues, or who are profiting off black oppression.
STAMP: And I think that we have–. Sorry. We have a culture in this country now of separating issues, as you Yusef was saying a little bit, where we say–. For instance, like, I mean, we’ve been talking about the black community. I’m black and Latina. I can’t escape both of those identities. And undocumented people get militarized every day. [They’re upset (?)] that they cannot even be and live in this country, right? And undocumented people come in all colors, shapes, and sizes as well. And I think that there are–we separate that, right? We’re separating the undocumented struggle as a struggle that’s not against police violence. But it is, because I had to stay up. And I remember when we were in Mississippi celebrating freedom summer, 50th anniversary, I stood up for hours just to make sure that everybody got through all the checkpoints, ’cause they were driving from California to Mississippi and they had to go through Arizona, they had to go through New Mexico, they had to go through all of these states where they pass five checkpoints. Five checkpoints. And there was one–the oldest person in the car was 24 years old. The youngest was 17. And they were scared to death just to drive, right, to drive from California to Mississippi to go to a conference. Right? You know? And so I think that–and so I think a lot of the–when we say, oh, there are people not out there, we’re sectioning ourselves off, because that issue is about militarization, right? That issue is about–well, it’s also about the war on drugs and the border issues, right? Like, but that has to do with a military state that we have both here and abroad. What happens to the Muslim community, right? We say, oh, that’s just, like, the experience that the Muslim community–the NYPD even calls it, like, a special section. And we separate that, right?
And I think that we have to start seeing, yes–I mean, and I’m about black liberation, Latino liberation, ’cause that’s just my identities that I hold. But we also have to start bringing these issues more together and calling it what it is, calling it militarization, right, calling that we need another war on poverty that actually works for all of us, right? And I think that we have to start connecting these issues in a real way, because there are people out there. When I–the one time I went to Ferguson, there were people from Fight for 15 fast food workers who were out there on the streets, ’cause, yes, they’re a fast food worker during the day, but they’re a black man the entire rest of their lives, and they’re going to get militarized. Right? So I think that it’s important for us to actually see what [incompr.]
DESVARIEUX: Okay. We just have time for one more comment. Eddie, go for it.
EDDIE CONWAY, Yeah, because one of the things is that I believe it’s a myth that things, people are not engaged and involved. The whole time I was in the prison system, I used to watch the news almost every day, and I would have to watch BBC, I would have to watch Al Jazeera, I would have to watch RT, I would have to watch Chinese television to find out what was going on in America. When I watched the national news in America–. Seriously. There was all kinds of stuff being reported around the world about what’s going on in my community. And you never hear it when you turn on the national media, because the national media is under the control of six multinational corporations. And we’re not getting The Real News. This is not a plug for The Real News. We need alternative news sources.
DESVARIEUX: Well, we do have a plug for The Real News coming up, actually, so we’re just going to pause the conversation here, Eddie, and we’ll pick it up in the second part. But we just have to take a quick break. We have our senior editor, Paul Jay, who’s going to tell you about our plans in 2015. Take a listen.
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DESVARIEUX: Welcome back to the Real News town hall. We’re picking up our conversation on how to make the police were accountable. One way is to create independent investigations after a fatal police shooting. But it turns out that there is only one state in the entire country that mandates outside agencies investigate fatal police shootings. Our Real News producer, Jaisal Noor, tells a story of how one father got this law on the books.
NOOR: On November 9, 2004, 21-year-old Michael Bell was shot dead by police in front of his own house in Wisconsin. Just two days later, police concluded their investigation and cleared themselves of all wrongdoing. That didn’t sit well with his father, Michael Bell Sr., who eventually won a $1.75 million wrongful death lawsuit. He used that money to help fund a campaign to mandate outside agencies investigate fatal police shootings.
MICHAEL BELL, RET’D LT. COL., U.S. AIR FORCE: I’ve always said this, that I had a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, and he was killed, and there were eyewitnesses all around. And if his dad can’t get justice for this, how are other families, the Asian family, the Hispanic family, the African-American family? We found out that in 129 years in Wisconsin, since 1885, since police and fire commissioners reform, that there has never–those ruling bodies have never found a police shooting unjustified. And we were appalled. That’s an impossible record of perfection. And so, therefore I said the system is damaged, and if we can’t get this done, nobody’ll get it done.
NOOR: But Bell did get it done, and in April 2014, a decade later, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill mandating that all police-involved shootings be investigated by outside agencies. Wisconsin became the first and only state in America to have such a law.
But some question whether having such a law is enough. Some, like retired veteran police officer Neill Franklin, argued that it’s also necessary to have special prosecutors to oversee police abuse investigations.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIR., LEAP: We have police officers who have always been working with the state’s attorney’s office. It has to be a good relationship, because you work together on these cases of prosecuting criminals day after day after day after day. So you have to eliminate that relationship so that you can get an impartial process in place and set up for those police officers that violate the law.
NOOR: While Franklin argues that a special prosecutor should be an appointed position, in order to avoid powerful police unions, flexing their muscles at election time, others say having an elected special prosecutor could be a way to galvanize movements demanding police accountability. But regardless of how these outside investigations are determined, Bell says it’s clear that more police accountability is necessary nationwide.
BELL: We know that last year, 23 percent of our nation’s honeybee population died. But we don’t know how many times a police officer killed a person in the United States, whether justified or not. And that’s wrong, and that’s intentional.
NOOR: For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
NOOR: So, as you just heard, basically, Wisconsin is the only state that has it on the books that it mandates that all police, fatal police shootings, are undergoing independent investigation. Kamau, you’re sort of our resident attorney here. Why is it that there are–that Wisconsin is the only state that has it? That really surprised me.
KAMAU: Well, this is not legal answer, but I think the whiteness has something to do with it in this particular case. So I think what you’re looking at is that you have power structures, right, that look to protect each other. You have a mayor’s office, you have a prosecutor’s office, you have a police department that work hand-in-hand in what they do, and something else that we’re probably going to explore a little bit later. But the police make money, off of their arrests of–particularly of young black people, right? And other folks too, but particularly of young black people. They make money off of that. The court systems make money off of that. The jail and the prison systems make money off of that. It’s a big business, whether it’s privatized or public. So you have built-in incentives that lead to these institutions to protect each other and to protect themselves. You have police unions, which are powerful–as all other unions, are becoming less powerful in the United States, the police union continues to grow in its strength, in it’s command over making public opinions switch and change and move, right? Because you have corporate media, as people talked about before, which responds to them and their actions. So it’s–there’s political solutions.
It’s not really a legal answer, in a sense, but the reason why these independent investigations are not allowed or don’t happen in other places is because you have these powerful institutions which say no. And as folks talked about, until the community is organized enough, until there’s a critical mass of people who are making these kind of demands, particularly in places which are not of one particular color, which are not all white, right, these changes are not going to happen. And so these become important benchmarks for us, again, as folks who are interested and concerned, to love our communities, as to how we do we push things forward, how do we move these departments, some of these institutions, and win concessions and get them off our backs.
DESVARIEUX: How can you get them off their backs? As you said, the police union is just so strong. How do you conquer that beast? I mean, do people have proposals? How do you actually get them to reform their bill of rights, the police bill of rights?
STAMP: Contract negotiation happens on a local level. So we need to put pressure on the folks who were negotiating contracts with police unions, which are mayors. They are city council folks who are there, active.
I mean, if you look at the situation in New York right now, the police officers union has effectively done a slowdown, right? They’re slowing down–which actually is–. [applause] Yes. And it’s actually the opposite of the “broken windows” policy. And so what would be great if New York could do is they have the contract coming up–it’s coming up, I believe, in April, to renew their contract–is to have some things, ’cause you can’t fire a police officer right away. You have to go through this whole entire process. I don’t know what it is for New York, but you also can’t–you know, there are certain things that a mayor, right, the person who is elected by the people and who appoints the police commissioner cannot do small things to make sure that police officers are held accountable. So they go back, they have a desk job, they’re getting still paid, and the police–and you can change this in the union negotiation contracts. But we need to put outside pressure on that, in the streets, on these elected officials to start to up their game. I mean, I’m all for collective bargaining, but–.
JAY: I’d like to get in on this issue, the importance of investigation. And I think you can break it down again. There’s the community, and then what you can demand institutionally. I’ve done several films on wrongful convictions, and the thing that comes out clearest about the difference in class, and who goes to jail, and who gets convicted and who doesn’t, to large extent depends if you’re wealthy you get your own investigators. You know, you can get a team of five or six people, and they will generate evidence that, if nothing else, will counter, if necessary confuse the jury. But when you’re dealing with the only evidence that has been collected by the police and the police decided who was guilty within about 40 minutes of the crime taking place, and all the evidence they gather is to convict the person ’cause all they really want to do is get the scorecard that they convicted someone–so the issue of investigation is an important demand.
But we don’t need to wait for that. We should start talking about ways the community can investigate. And we’re trying to build a TV network here. There’s other forms of independent media can be created. In tandem with independent media, the community should start investigating crimes, have ways–and I’m talking about, first of all, police crimes–come forward. And we were talking at the last town hall sort of like a people’s tribunal where people can come and give testimony. It won’t have the force of law yet, but we can’t have the force of changing public opinion. And as much as there are many people engaged in these issues, it’s certainly not the majority of the city. The majority of the city’s concerned about these issues, but not engaged in doing something. So I think we ought to keep doing this, like, make demands institutionally, and what can we do now, not wait for those demands.
BALL: But, see, this is part of the problem that I’m having–as I admit, I’m largely a bystander watching all of this unfold–that from what body are these demands going to come. The issue has already been raised that we have people representing, claiming to represent our interests who really don’t. And this is a major problem because of our own lack of organization. We have people speaking for us. Even the young people who were brought to the White House, I’m thrilled that they went and had that experience, but on whose behalf were they speaking, and what plans had been provided in advance of that in terms of what demands would be raised or what wouldn’t be raised or if we should even take the meeting in the first place? Because what comes out of that is, again, as I said a moment ago, the $75 million–and Obama talking the $200-plus million–would be right back, go right back into these police agencies to do the same thing that they’re doing now, with greater funding, and again putting money in the pockets of the private contractors that build all this equipment, the surveillance equipment.
Just to piggyback on this point that was just made very quickly, this slowdown in arrests, I mean, I think–I just want–they even use the word unnecessary arrests. So they’ve acknowledged, right–. Okay? Right. Right. And at the same time, none of these communities have completely fallen apart in the absence of all these unnecessary arrests. So we’re already being shown how unnecessary all this policing is to Tef’s point in the first place.
Just, at least for this moment, I was just reminded of when he first came into leadership of the NAACP, Ben Jealous had at one point promised to develop a community media program where people would be furnished either with cameras or encouraged to use their cell phones to provide, to videotape what was happening in their community and send it to him or his organization that would be collected. That program never took off. And at that point I’d actually had some hope in that organization becoming more relevant than I think it is at this point.
But these are the kinds of things that I think we need to take up and say, if we can develop an organized body to say, at least on this issue, we will encourage people furnish all of these videos that get developed anyway, and then we will, as an organization, develop our collective response, what demands are we going to develop, who’s going to be asked to go speak on behalf of that organization, and so on and so forth, so that we can reduce the amount of people speaking on our behalf that don’t really have our interests at heart, and then we can encourage greater community involvement at the grassroots level and stop waiting for everything to come handed down to us, which is, I think, one of the major problems that we’re facing.
DESVARIEUX: Mary Pat Hector. Please.
HECTOR: Yeah, really quickly, and I completely and totally agree. And what I’ve seen is this division, like, people just don’t want to work with each other. And I think that once we get our differences out, I believe that we’re allowing communities to drive the whip and create rifts between us, when at the end of the day we’re all on the same team. I think right now what we really need to do here–.
BALL: Yeah, I can’t agree with that, and your organization in particular. I’m not on that team. Like, Sharpton doesn’t represent my interests. And, in fact, he is paid to not represent us and to represent the interests of the state in blackface.
DESVARIEUX: Can you back that up with evidence? Can you back that up with evidence?
BALL: Well, he has–I mean, he’s said from the beginning that this was going to be his role under Obama’s–you know, once Obama got elected, he was described as a surrogate by the Washington Post for Obama’s policies, with his job specifically being to go to the black community to convince black people to accept Obama’s policies, despite the fact that they don’t help the black community. And then, if we just look at–and then I think, by the way, we should not just–not just to pick on your organization, but I think all existing organizations should be looked at critically for what has not happened under their stewardship over the last 30, 40, 50 years, as people have looked to claim political inheritance or the heir to all these great leaders and organizations. Look at what’s happened. So we’re clearly not–whatever people are doing, including myself and the people in this room, it’s not being successful. We have to do some thing else. But I do think that–I didn’t think I was going to make it the whole time without calling out that contradiction. But I think that has to be considered.
DESVARIEUX: Let Mary–.
HECTOR: And people say that all the time. And I believe the difference is no one elects a leader or the face of an organization. I mean, families contact our offices.
BALL: That’s actually not true.
HECTOR: And a lot of people think–
BALL: That’s exactly not true.
HECTOR: –a lot of people believe that we go to these cases after the Tawana Brawley incident that Reverend Sharpton had, we were no longer allowed to chase cases. The Michael Brown family actually called my office in Atlanta. I’m 17 years old. We volunteer at the National Action Network’s office all the time. Those families contact our office. They call our offices [not (?)]. I don’t know what people call an officer and says, well, we need your help, but we want you to keep it a secret. Our job isn’t to keep it a secret; our job is to bring attention to it. That’s our job as the National Action Network.
BALL: But this is sort of our point, because I think so many of us who have, I think, more advanced politics are not properly organized, those calls do go to him. And because Sharpton’s on MSNBC every day and his name is put out on a regular basis by the mainstream, and that he has been imposed on us as a leader by the state over the last 30, 40 years, people think that that’s who they have to go to. So I’m not saying–what I am pointing to is that this is in part due to our own lack of organization and our own inability to sustain the genuine kinds of formations that would make Sharpton moot. But because those organizations were targeted, destroyed, inhibited by the very state that now promotes him, we have this continuing problem. So this is why people would think that they need to call him, as opposed to somebody else that doesn’t–at this point, I think, some organization that isn’t fully formed or doesn’t properly exist or wouldn’t have the MSNBC reach to promote their work on a daily basis.
DESVARIEUX: We could definitely have a whole show about Al Sharpton. But I really want to hear from our audience at this point. So if you could, please raise your hand, our lovely intern here will be able to give you a microphone. (I know it’s Sharia. I know her name. Thank you.) Someone’s talking in my ear. I’m–like, I’m aware. But Sharia, can you just grab people, if you have your hands up? And she will get you a microphone.
[incompr.] Armstrong. I could barely just stay in my seat. But I really wanted to touch bases on what this young man–I mean, what this young gentleman is talking about, Mr. Jared and Mr. Conway. There’s two things that we have not, that he touched on, and that’s money and education, right? If we don’t start to educate our community–and we need to stop spending our money with people who don’t support us. If they don’t support us, then we need to stop spending our money with all the people that’s in our community that I don’t see sitting in this room, because money is power, and if we take that money and we start spending it with each other in helping those organizations, that can get into the front so that everybody’s not always calling the Al Sharptons and the people who look like they’re supposed to be [incompr.] We can keep having this conversation and this dialect until you and I are both no longer here and our children are going to be sitting here having this same conversation. Education and money. And we need to start supporting each other, and that way we’ll have a lot more control.
DESVARIEUX: Thank you.
I see hands up. And whoever has microphones their section, could you please just get them to folks?
ABDUL SALAAM, BALTIMORE RESIDENT, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: I wanted to speak to the fact that we are waking up as a community and as an organization around the nation. We are waking up. And you can see that. And that’s a fundamental piece of taking it to the next level is to raise new warriors, new soldiers that are standing on the shoulders and have an agenda, which is most importantly an agenda, a strategic agenda, and know what we’re chasing, know what we’re going after, so we have measurable goals to obtain.
DESVARIEUX: Did you like those goals you heard about today? Were you in agreement with them?
SALAAM: Absolutely. That is definitely a starting point of accountability that we can measure and transparency that we can see.
DESVARIEUX: Great. Great.
That woman in the back of the purple.
NERA MOHAMMED (SPL?): Thank you. My name Nera Mohammed (spl?). As a future educator and someone who has worked in Baltimore City public school system, I believe that our youth is our future. And one of things that I noticed from my experience is that our youth are not taught about their ancestors. If you ask a child, do you know who Henrietta Lacks is, they’re going to tell you no. So I think that by educating our children and not letting Jay-Z and Beyoncé and Rihanna be the face of black people to them, that will spark a change in our community, because our children are trying to emulate what they see on TV and what they hear in music, which–and it goes in hand with the police violence that we see, because you want to be like Bobby Shmurda, who is now possibly spending 25 years in jail because of the type of music that he promotes. We need to teach our children that those are not the only people that you have to look up to. You have positive people to look up to. So our educational system, to me, is failing our children because we’re not properly educating them.
DAPHNE AUSTIN, FOUNDER, M.O.M.S.: Hi. Good evening. My name Daphne Austin. I’m the founder of moms, mothers, and murdered sons and daughters.
I finished high school, maybe a little bit in college. I don’t consider myself to be a great philosophy thing, but I’m speaking as a mom whose son was murdered in the state of Maryland. And we’re getting it wrong because we need to be running perpendicular with police brutality. The three or four hundred moms that I deal with every day, their children are not being killed by Baltimore City police; they’re being been killed by each other. And that shared blood we pay no attention to. But the atmosphere is crying out when these young men [and them are dying out there (?)].
I believe God is allowing this to happen because we’ve done nothing. We have done nothing. We go to those funerals and we cry, and we come out, and we hear–we have cameras that we will report police brutality on. You know, some of those people have cameras and murders that they see, and they don’t turn themselves in.
We have to take our communities back and our children, ’cause police brutality is big to me, but it’s not more important to me as I’m paying my son’s funeral bill every month. And I have no–we get no justice whatsoever. And nobody–I’ve been in the streets six years, and Miss Armstrong has been one of /mɑmɑ/. Nobody stands with us.
DESVARIEUX: Nobody stands with–. Why? Why do you think that is? What’s–.
AUSTIN: It’s because people say they’re so afraid, stop the snitching. There’s no such thing as snitching. The snitching is only between you and the person that saw you do it. The community can–I don’t say snitching. The community can say what they see. You have to start saying what you see. And when people around the world, in the state of Maryland see us taking our streets back and our community, you’ve got somebody bad in your community, then we need to be weeding those people out. I’m not going to blame everything on poverty, and I know that’s an issue, but we’re talking about some short-term things right now. We have got to start importing what we see. Thank you.
Do you want to respond, any of the panelists?
SHAKUR: Yeah, I want to respond. I mean, first and foremost, I mean–.
DESVARIEUX: Just there are a bunch of folks. Okay.
SHAKUR: I mean, my son’s mother was murdered when I was in prison. He was two. And many other people in his room have probably–you know, victims–have been victim of violence. But we have to talk about it in the context of in America, that we’re all victims of that. And so to separate poverty, lack of education, and say, we’re not organizing against that, that’s not true.
UNIDENTIFIED: You’re talking about short term.
SHAKUR: But short-term folks have been organizing against that [incompr.] what COINTELPRO, this government. And when I say COINTELPRO, who I’m familiar, the counterintelligence program that went in, snatched up Eddie Conway, snatched up Bunchy Carter, you know, focused the leadership out of our community and poured in drugs, poured in alcohol, poured in guns. That was a recipe for destruction, that was a recipe for genocide for generations within our community. Again, and not to take away your pain, which is definitely legit–when I look at my 22-year-old son, I can’t replace that his mother’s not there. But I had an opportunity in prison, the guy who killed his mother, to stab him. I chose not to. That’s not going to bring my son’s mother back. So we [have to find (?)] of understanding the context of how we’re being playing against each other. Again, police brutality is part of the larger picture of genocide of our communities. We can’t separate those things, but we have to develop the consciousness to understand where does it fit within that.
AUSTIN: Saying all this stuff, we’ve been [incompr.] six or seven years. What I’m saying is, let’s put some stuff into action. You can talk all the time. Unless these young people see some tangible evidence and see something really going on, we’re not going to change anything. That’s all I’m saying.
DESVARIEUX: This is why we’re have this discussion, ’cause we’re talking about short-term goals, like, measurable goals.
Someone in this section.
SYDNEY: So what I wanted to say about that subject has a lot to do with the gentleman right here. It is–I understand that there is an issue within the black community, but like you say, you have to look at the bigger picture and understand why that issue does exist. It’s institutionalized racism. And it goes through our educational system. It deals with the people that are supposed to protect and to serve. How do you think those drugs are getting into our neighborhoods? We’re not bringing them there. We don’t have the power to do so. And those young people do not have the power to get those guns into those neighborhoods and to flood those neighborhoods. It all goes back to the government. And me personally, I feel like the best way to eliminate a race is to take away its power to reproduce. So with those guns and those drugs being flooded into those neighborhoods and black people being pitted against black people and other people of color facing the same issues, we therefore are taken out of the mix. Like, our children are not getting to see our parents. They don’t have a stable household. And the streets are raising them. And it’s not because they want it to be that way. You have to attack the system and realize that there are so many issues, and we are just seeing bits and pieces of it. The entire system is a problem.
And I think the bigger picture is the fact that so many of us are trusting, and we want to love America, we want it to do what it’s supposed to do, we want to believe in the Constitution. But we forget that it was the Constitution that was never meant to protect us. It was never meant for us. So you cannot depend on a system to protect you when it was never meant for you.
So with that being said, you have to change everything if you want to see an overall result. And it does start small. You have to have boots on the ground. You have to start doing community service projects with the children, because nobody believes you if you just come into their community and say, hey, I’m here, I’m going to do this and this and this for you, no, you have to talk to them to see what their problems are, what they need from you. And then you work with that community to see how you can help. But you just don’t come in and say, this is what I’m doing for you. It has to–we as a people have to come to that sense of community like everyone has been saying. We have to take care of our own and get back to that it takes a village to raise a child mentality.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Sydney, a lot of good things that you said right there.
One of those things that stood out to me was when you mentioned how the streets are raising our children because the parents might not be able to be home, ’cause they might be working two shifts, things of that nature. So what about economic sort-term solutions? Is that something we have to consider? Because that’s a big part of this problem is poverty, the fact that people don’t have enough means to even have a quality of life to be with their families and raise their children properly.
SYDNEY: Right. And I think that comes back to a lot of the organizations, as well as the educational system, because what our organization, especially [JNY (?)], is trying to do is a lot of literacy programs, workshops, and things like that to teach children and their families that they don’t have access about economic development, how to open a bank account, what it means to manage a checkbook, you know, just how to save, so that you don’t live beyond your means. It’s small things like that that help build up a race, that help build up a nation. And you have to teach your children. You can’t keep that job to your oppressors. You can’t give it to people who do not believe in you and your ideals and your race and your culture. You cannot leave that responsibility to them. You have to self-educate.
DESVARIEUX: That was a very good point. I want to get to other members of the audience. Please.
BONNIE LANE, ORGANIZER AND MAYORAL CANDIDATE, BALTIMORE: This mic. Oh, it is working.
Hi. I’m Bonnie Lane. I’m an activist, organizer, mayoral candidate here in Baltimore. I did spend a week in Ferguson, and I did attend Michael Brown’s funeral. And I love the fact that Paul Jay hosted this forum, ’cause I think the comments that came out are really good, especially the ones regarding how things are in the community and the war on drugs, etc. And we have to remember that the black communities were set up, they were redlined. People were intentionally put in these communities to be where they are, and it’s all part of a system that has gone on for centuries. It needs to end. And I love this man’s comments on Al Sharpton, especially having witnessed him at the funeral. He said things in a church that I thought you were never allowed to say in a church. And I actually have to change my platform on a few things, ’cause I have some things on there, but I definitely got a lot of input today. Thank you.
LANE: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: Thank you.
The gentleman back here?
JEROME AL-SHAKUR (SPL?): My name’s Jerome al-Shakur. I’ve got a lot to touch on. I’m going to touch on your comment about economics. I think we have to then once again point at the government, because how do we get into this impoverished situation where that we’re in in America, like lynch mobs? People destroyed the black community, like 1920, when they dropped bombs on Tulsa, Oklahoma, East St. Louis, and 1917, when they literally destroyed the wealth that was there. And so it’s like, we’re dealing with that now. You know what I’m saying? It’s not something that we did. So once again, we’ve got to point at the government. And then, to add on to what you were saying, it’s like, I feel like we’re directing our anger at the wrong places. You are right, and we direct that at each other. But we need people to start telling us who the real enemy is. Like, you can’t say, it’s us and this and this and that. It’s really the government. And, like, I can understand the older generation not wanting to deal with that, because they instill fear in y’all. And that’s just the reality of the situation. Malcolm and Martin were literally murdered in front of you all. People like Conway was literally in prison, the people that you saw in your communities who were doing things. And instead of heading that on, you know what I’m saying, we kind of shied away from that because of slavery and them taking our manhood away from us, literally, mentally. Like, it’s a lot that plays into that. And then, to add to your point about the Al Sharptons and stuff, I’m all with that, you know what I mean? Like, I a hundred percent agree with you.
But on top of that, it’s not just him. You know what I mean? Like, the enemy has got really good at what he does. I’m with black soldiers, and w