Running for city council for the 7th district as part of Ujima People’s Progress Party – Maryland’s first Black workers-led electoral party – Nnamdi Scott discusses Baltimore police aerial surveillance, bold new creative leadership, and mass mobilization.
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore for the Real News. I’m across the street from the CVS that was the scene of the uprising as a result of the death of Freddie Gray. I’m standing here with the 7th district candidate for city council, Nnamdi Scott, and I want to talk to him about this new situation that has developed with the police department using private surveillance airplanes to surveil us. Could you tell me what you think about that? NNAMDI SCOTT: Yea obviously this is a problem. We are in a city where we’ve already had the Department of Justice come in, investigate the police department and found that there’s a lot of discrimination. There’s a lot of problems with the way policing happens with black citizens in this city. We also talking about building trust. This does not build trust. This shows us that we have a police state evolving. That things are being done in private. This should be a public discussion right? This is a public official policy that we should be aware of instead of a secret privately funded operation that’s used to monitor all the people in the city of Baltimore. CONWAY: Well tell me this, is this legal? Have there been any other cases that you’re aware of that the police department have taken private funds to police the citizens that they are supposed to be serving and protecting? SCOTT: Well let’s say this, this is the first time we’ve heard of it. I’m not convinced–I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more private funding policing operations throughout this country. But no it’s not something that’s been made aware of before and when it was exposed we’re now seeing this two step that the state is trying to do to cover up its trails and say well it’s not some kind of spy operation. But if it’s not known then what is it? We have to call it what it is and we have to oppose this kind of policy of policing people. CONWAY: Well if you should be fortunate enough to win the election and become part of the city council, do you have and your party have any kind of policies in which they will address this? SCOTT: Yea so the Ujima People’s Progress Party which I’m a member of trying to become Maryland’s first black led worker’s party, is dealing with the question of community control of police. To be able to have the ability to hire, fire, set policies, to bring charges against officers if they violate civil rights. This is something that we would really want to be involved with. This violates again that trust that the police say they want to build with us. But it also opens this very scary door between private citizens and their relationship to the police. People have said, what if the private citizens decide to buy more elaborate equipment. Tanks, sonar, lasers, anything because they have the money to do so. They go around the board of estimates which is the public process that should’ve happened and now they’re able to get to the police weaponry that they don’t need on a normal day to day basis. This could escalate the kind of damage that our community sees in other places, in other countries that weapons are used against citizens for devastating effects. I’m not saying that this is obviously that but the fact is that you would put in a spy plane to watch a 30 square mile radius, not tell people about it and then try to cover it up and tell people it’s not what we think. It’s exactly what we think. It’s the police out of control with no accountability to the actual people who run it which are the citizens of Baltimore. COWNAY: Well you know one of the things is and this is something that–I lived in the city my whole life and every four years’ politicians come up and every four years if they don’t win the election they disappear and we don’t see them anymore for the next four years. So I guess I’m saying in your case in your party whether you win or lose, what do you intend to do about this new surveillance program that you’ve heard about? SCOTT: Well the answer that we put forward is unique. It’s that you have to organize. No one city councilman is going to change this. The opinion of a city councilman even if he was to oppose it would not change this. People have to be educated. They have to be mobilized and organized around how to fight this. They need to know what their real rights are and that it’s been violated. So beyond the elections, whether I win or lose, we’re talking about organizing people, being right in this neighborhood, being throughout the city and being able to help people sum up what they’re seeing, bring confidence together. But also going directly to the City Hall, going directly to the police department headquarters and helping people to be able to express their disapproval of this then put forward policies that fix it. You got to fight for it. These are not things that–these are not just good ideas. These are things we’re going to have to organize people around to force politicians to do the right thing. CONWAY: So if I’m hearing you correctly you’re willing and committed to organizing mass protests, mass demonstrations, and to support whatever policies that might be put into the city council in terms of laws or resolutions. Are you saying you’re willing to do that? SCOTT: Exactly we’re willing to do that. We’re going to have to do that independent of any city council leadership to be quite honest. I think it’s going to have to be grass root oriented to make it happen and for it to be of any real substance because again we can’t leave it to City Hall. We’re already hearing that the mayor may or not have known. Or if she does know, when did she know? These are not the kinds of things that citizens can leave in the hands that politicians have proven year after year that they’re not going to serve people’s interests. We have to be grassroots organized and we have to get out in the streets. And we’re going to have to take it there to make these policy changes. CONWAY: Okay so I hear you saying that. What is happening with your party now? I mean are you out, of course I personally have seen you in the community and signing up people but what are you doing? What is your party doing now different than any other politician? The person you’re running against now is somebody named Pinkett. SCOTT: Yea Leon Pinkett. CONWAY: What is your party doing any different than the democratic party do? SCOTT: Right now we’re working in a coalition around the living wage question for the $15 an hour which the democrats have spoken. They won’t do it. City Hall won’t do it. It’s an all democratic city council that decided they will not have a $15 living wage. So we’re out part of a coalition educating people to do that. We’re involved with issues around police brutality as they come up. We don’t have the full capacity at this stage to actually wage what we would really like to see which is a struggle around changing the citizen review board into a real citizen review board. Not something that’s controlled by the mayor and the state. We also are involved in activities in neighborhoods. Things around the gardening and programs of that nature. CONWAY: What neighborhoods say for instance. Give me an example. SCOTT: Handling Park is a perfect example. That’s the community that I live in. We’re involved with that. Down the street form here we’re involved with programs launching. Trying to figure out how to get the land. How to clean up. CONWAY: Down the street meaning down Pennsylvania avenue? SCOTT: Down North avenue. So these things are popping up. The big thing we’re trying to do is connect these folks right because listen. We’re not saying we’re going to fix your problem. That’s not how social change happens. People themselves have to be engaged. They have to understand that if you want something to change you’re going to have to change it in your neighborhood. I’m not a social worker, that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to help people be empowered so if they want something to happen in their community then they have to have the resources of people coming in to help but at the end of the day it’s going to have to be what you want it to be right? So what we’ve done is, instead of trying to create a big budget and a big project where we’re coming and doing things for people, we’re involved with our community associations as individuals in the party and saying hey there’s a call from this community that need help. Sometimes it’s very minor. Sometimes it’s a little bit bigger. You know block clean ups. Things like that. These are just things to show that as a party we care. But the truth is that if it’s going to stay clean, the people in that neighborhood are going to have to be organized about how to keep it clean and not expect someone to come from outside to solve your problem.