In this special Black Lives Matter mini series, we brought back one of our favorite radical intellectuals, activists and the acting Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Dr. Lisa Brock to help us decipher the following questions/comments: 1. What’s currently happening on the ground in Chicago? 2. Discuss current brutal killings Black people like George Floyd, Ahmad Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. 3. Shed light on the current racial climate, police brutality, and the criminal justice system.Take a listen and be a part of this conversation of our #BLM mini series!
(singing). Welcome to the Radical Zone Podcast where we get updates on the current state of the world and how various communities are impacted from activists and organizers who are out there doing the work. The Radical Zone Podcast is housed under the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. I know you’re probably wondering what the Arcus Center is. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, also known as ACSJL, is an initiative of Kalamazoo College whose mission is to develop and sustain leaders in human rights and social justice through education and capacity building. We envision a world where every person’s life is equally valued, the inherent dignity of all people is recognized, the opportunity to develop one’s full potential is available to every person, and systematic discrimination and structural inequities have been eradicated. Listen to and engage in conversation with organizers and activists across the globe about social inequities that impact us all.
Thanks for tuning in to the Radical Zone Podcast, which is housed under the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. It’s me, Rhiki Swinton, and I’m joined here with my cohost, Tirrea Billings.
A lot, a lot, a lot has been happening in these past couple of months, some of which include the brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as well as countless others. So we wanted to take a moment to utilize our platform and discuss the current racial climate in America and globally. We also want to talk about police brutality and the larger criminal justice system as a whole. This episode will serve as the first of our Black Lives Matter, BLM, mini series. So if you really enjoy this conversation, please be on the lookout for the conversations that will continue to happen after this one.
And so for our first conversation of the Black Lives Matter series, we are bringing back Dr. Lisa Brock. Welcome Lisa.
Hey, thank you. Thank you. It’s good to be back.
And as a reminder, Dr. Lisa Brock is the acting executive director and the academic director at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.
First off, Lisa, how are you doing? And secondly, what’s been happening on the ground where you are in Chicago?
Well, a lot of course has been happening. First with the COVID situation, which disproportionately impacted Black and Brown bodies for a variety of reasons, some of which is access to good healthcare in general. So Black and Brown people are often sicker because they don’t have adequate healthcare. We don’t have adequate access to hospitals and a variety of things, and sometimes medications. The cost of medications. And as you know, many people in this country do not have insurance. So COVID hit Black and Brown communities extra hard here in Chicago. And then of course, the second reason was because a lot of Black, Brown and people of color are essential workers in hospitals and clinics, also in nursing homes. They often were forced to go to work, of course, and then they come back home and have the potential to infect their family.
So, that was hard. And then of course the murder of George Floyd unleashed a radical indignation by Black people and everyone who loves Black people to say Black Lives Matter. It’s so interesting because the issue of police murders goes all the way back. Almost every so-called uprising in American history has often been because of a police murder or a vigilante White murder of a Black person. So, it is not unusual that this happened.
Here in Chicago has been very interesting. It has led to street protests all over the city, which is very interesting because most of the time protests have been centered downtown. But we have a lot of flash protest in neighborhoods with neighborhood organizations getting out on whatever might be considered the small main street of your neighborhood to protest. And so, that’s been really heartening as well as daily protests downtown as well.
But the biggest thing, the calls for defunding the police and taking police out of our schools has really taken hold in the city. People were protesting in front of the board president of the Chicago Public School Board, protesting in front of his house demanding that cops be taken out of schools. We found out that the city has a contract with the Chicago Police Department for $33 million a year that our tax dollars pay the police department to police our schools. And that $33 million could go to social workers and psychologists and not police. So that discussion is happening in the city right now and I think it’s a very interesting one and it’s actually being discussed at the highest levels.
Awesome. Rhiki, do you want to talk a little bit about what’s been happening here in Michigan?
Yeah. Back in I think earlier in June, me and Tirrea went to a protest in Kalamazoo, and it was just really inspiring to be there. It was a huge turnout, thousands of people, and it was a very diverse turnout. And I think that’s the first time I was a part of a protest that was that diverse with so many different people there supporting and standing in solidarity with the movement. So that was really uplifting. And then to hear about protests that happened in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and there was even one in Mount Pleasant. And then the one that really surprised me was in Flint when the law enforcement marched in solidarity with them saying that they recognize that this is a problem. So I thought that was kind of cool.
Yeah. I also was really shocked at how diverse the large protest was earlier in June for Black Lives Matter. That was the biggest protest I’ve been involved in personally. I was honestly surprised to see so many White people and White allies just marching and standing in solidarity with other Black people and people of color.
That was great. I mean, the reality is, the number that I saw a few weeks ago was that in over 3,700 cities and towns in America, in the United States rather, have seen protests. Something like that has never happened before. It just has never happened before. And I think it’s a confluence of things, I think is the organizing on the ground that organizations like Movement for Black Lives, the Rising Majority, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, indigenous movements. All of these movements have been organizing over the last 10 years, and I think we’re seeing the result of it. And I think it’s really cool, but I also think people are very frustrated with the defunding of public schools and housing.
Here in Chicago, I was downtown near Taylor Street in Roosevelt, and there’s an entire homeless camp right along the highway there. It’s hidden in a way that you don’t see it unless you pass by that street. But there are these homeless encampments all over the country and we are in the richest country in the world. We’ve got to be able to harness our resources so that everybody is safe and can prosper. The way in which things are happening now and continue to happen under these administrations is really criminal. To have someone like Bezos have a trillion dollars and then to have homeless people along the highway is obscene, it’s really obscene.
I kind of have this impromptu question, Lisa, but I really just want to know your thoughts on it. I think what you said about how protest and uprising have been happening thousands of cities across the country is really cool. How do we maintain that momentum? How do we keep it going, not necessarily via protest, but how do we make sure that this conversation is continually happening until we reach the change that we want to get to?
Well, I think in the United States we’re going to, I think this level of intense protest will die down until the daily protest. They may last a year, I don’t know, but they will die down as most in the past have. But I think the conversations that we begin around defunding the police and refunding our communities is a conversation that we keep having, we keep pushing for, and we don’t let that die down. I think that the momentum of the moment is a catalyst to get these things going, but we have to do the on the ground work to maintain them. I know that in some cities already they have defunded the police and are beginning to rethink what they do.
But I think we just keep pushing because one of the things that I’ve seen is that with each of these movements, they get bigger and bigger. And I think that’s the work that all of us do, those of us in the struggle for social justice and in the struggle for transformation of our society. I think that kind of work needs to be continued. And the people that are with us now will hopefully continue their political education and come out again the next time and be with us when people aren’t in the street to help us figure out ways in which we can fund and support and resource our communities and look at our communities as assets and not problems.
So I think the momentum will continue. I don’t know where this one will lead, but clearly we’ve got more, we’re in better shape than we were six years ago. It’s just really interesting to realize that Black Lives Matter is rolling off the tongues of White people now in a way that six or seven years ago that just didn’t happen. So it shows you the kind of work of consciousness building that we do, and we have to continue to do that and do it when we’re not necessarily on the news. It may seem a surprise to many people who are not a part of these movements, but it’s not necessarily a surprise to those who stay in the movement over the long haul.
I kind of want to switch gears a little bit and talk about policy and voting versus protesting, because there seems to be a divide on the best way to move forward. We know that focusing on policy change and law reform is super beneficial because they really institutionalize the ideals and ideas that we want to see in our society, but protests are also beneficial because it brings to light the struggle of people and our experiences and our issues and it really exposes the injustices that are happening, especially to Black people and say Black people that are constantly being murdered by the police. So, in your opinion, what is your take on the best avenue as far as like which should people be focusing on more, or should they be focusing equally on both? I just want to know your take.
Well, that’s an interesting question because I think we have to do both. We have to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time. We have to be able to do both, especially in this country. I think that voting is one leverage we have and that we should utilize it to the best of our ability and to the best that it can offer us. So I think by removing Trump in November, that we will have a better chance to continue to organize. I’ve often said that during fascism it’s difficult to organize because you’re just trying to save your life. So we don’t end the lives of others. And so we don’t want to have another four years of this administration, which clearly represents a minority increasingly in this country.
I think the fact that so many White people were out for Black Lives Matter in this period is illustrative of how many people want to be a part of a more just multi-racial society and are willing to listen to Black people and to undocumented people about their lives and what they can do to be accomplices for us in that struggle. So I think we’re here now but I think we need to vote as well. So, voting matters because if we have another four years of Trump, things are just going to get worse. If we have four years of Biden, maybe they won’t get so worse and maybe we all have a little room to move.
I know on the international arena too voting really matters because the Republicans have always gone after countries like Cuba in their self-determination. As a nation, the majority of Cubans supported the revolution, the majority of Venezuelans supported the revolution, but our country thinks they don’t have a right to those revolutions. And so they do everything internationally to undermine them, as well as this administration has been committing international fraud in doing international illegal acts throughout the world in terms of seizing ships and a variety of things. But there’s no court. There’s no court to which the United States has signed to be a part of. So there’s no court that anyone can go to.
So the brutal power of this administration, we need to vote to get rid of that. I do not believe when people say, well, it doesn’t matter. It might not matter in some ways, but it does matter a lot in other ways and it’s just one lever. It’s just one lever. So I think people should vote and I also think through voting we might be able to bring about some policy change, but I also think protests helps us bring about policy change. I mean, just think about it. We were unable to really have this issue addressed before the protest happened, but now the Congress and even this president has had to come out and say something about the police in a way that the nation has never really quite done that in this kind of up-front passing bill kind of way.
And we know that the Civil Rights Movement, all of those bills that were passed, the Civil Rights Act that was passed in the early 1960s came out of a protest. They did not come out of somebody sitting around a room. So I think protests actually assist in putting pressure on power to change. How far power will change is a whole nother question. Very often we don’t get what we protest for, but we push the ball down the road a little bit and it allows us to be at another place when we start the next time. So I think voting matters and I also think protests matter. They’re both levers to push for social change and that they both should be used.
And then to kind of add to that question, another divide that we’ve been noticing is the divide in organizing between marches versus riots as far as like which route to take as far as types of protests. And so some people are leaning towards the non-violent approach, so the Martin Luther King approach, and others are taking more of a “rioting approach,” kind of like the Detroit riots of 1967. Are there benefits of each method and which method do you think is the best for what we’re experiencing right now?
Well, actually there’s been some surprisingly little so-called looting this time as compared to previous uprisings. And so, one of the things I would like to say is the term riot is highly problematic to me. I like the term uprising. What we are seeing is an uprising, and uprisings are often, they’re messy because people are angry. They come out in the street. They’re angry. They want the world to know they’re angry. So there’s bound to be some of that. But the other question is even the term looting, when you have an entire country, the elite in a country that loops and steals our wages, that’s looting.
The average American, if we had kept up with the cost of living, should be making $40 an hour if we had kept up with the cost of living from the 1970s. People in this country are fighting for $15 and we should be getting $40. Who’s getting the rest of that money? Those who employ us and those who invest in the companies that employ us. I call that looting. It’s called wage theft. We should be getting more money for our labor and what we do. And this has happened throughout the country. Our students who are forced to take out these loans, those banks are looting our young people.
So I want to change the language for this in that way because it’s so interesting, the country wants us to be polite and nice and politically respectable when in fact they are not. They just hide it behind closed doors so we don’t see it. We feel it. That’s why we’re angry, but we don’t always see how it works.
The other thing is, what is a Black person’s life worth? Is it worth a pair of sneakers? Is it worth some pampers from Walgreens, which is what people have been taking. I think it’s worth it. I think they’re worth more than that. And the idea that somehow property matters more than Black people is infuriating. I will never ever think that, and for those Americans that think that they need to think about what they value. Now, we’re in a capitalist society. We’re in a very capitalist society. And so property often is valued more than human life, especially Black life. So I think we need to rethink about this notion of looting and who loots and how they loot and all of that. So that’s one thing.
The second thing, you mentioned Dr. King. One of the things about the Civil Rights Movement and the peaceful and non-violent protest of the traditional Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s, that was a strategy that they felt they had to do in the South because if not, there was a fear that there would be mass genocide of African-Americans. It wasn’t necessarily a philosophical position. Now, maybe Dr. King, for him, some of it was philosophical. But I also know for Dr. King, it was strategic, and strategic means that what can we do to bring about change with the least amount of violence against Black people?
And so that’s what they did. It was not because they actually believed that Black people don’t have a right to be angry and to take up arms. It was strategic. And I think a lot of people forget that. I mean, one of the things we have to keep in mind is that Dr. King, from what I have read, Dr. King had a pistol because he can’t let a Klan member just come in and kill him. You can’t go that far. You can’t go that far.
And I’ve also, Charlie Cobb Jr. has a really wonderful book called That Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. He was a major organizer in Mississippi with Fannie Lou Hamer. He talks about the nonviolent protest that they would do in Mississippi, like for what, and keep in mind that this happened after the law had changed. So people forget this. The Supreme Court passed a law that said schools should be desegregated in the ’50s. And then in the early 1960s, they passed the Civil Rights Act which said that Blacks should be able to vote in the South. But in all those Southern towns in the South, they weren’t letting Blacks vote. So people had to go there and force the issue because they had the law behind them now at this time, even though they had been pushing before that.
And so what Charlie Cobb says is so interesting. He says that when he and Fannie Lou Hamer and them would go to register to vote, they would take an old rickety school bus and go into a local town, a school bus full of Black people, go into the local town and demand at the courthouse that they be allowed to register to vote. And you would have a local sheriff there who would say, “No, you can’t vote,” and he’d have a gun. And they’d threaten the sheriff and the police would threaten them and they’d get back on their bus and go home, and then they come back the next day. So they kept that pressure up, but they also said that sometime they were chased by violent Klan members.
They had a whole area around in Mississippi of Black farmers who were armed and these Black farmers knew what they were doing and who they were, and they were in support with them. So when they were in danger, they would go to one of these farms where the Black farmers were armed. The White supremacists are cowards and they did not want a real fight. They just want to kill people but not fighting back. They don’t want a real gunfight. So when they would go to the Black farmers who were armed, those White Klan members knew those Black farmers too and they knew they were armed. And so then they would go away. It’s important to keep all of this in mind. I think in many ways the Civil Rights Movement has been sanitized as a part of our national narrative, but it was very complex the relationship between nonviolence as a strategy and understanding that you could be killed and you did not want to be killed, and so you had to protect yourself.
So those are my two points there. I just think that the focus on looting is the wrong focus. I’ll say a third thing. We’ve learned in this particular protest that a lot of what was happening is White supremacists dressed up as a protestor, they’ve been caught, and going in and like knocking the glass of an auto zone or a shop, and then encouraging Black people to come and take stuff out. It’s very interesting. And then the right wing could see those pictures. So it’s very complicated now who’s actually doing this so-called looting on the ground and who is instigating it. I know in Minneapolis, the first folks that smashed an auto zone were provocateurs from outside of Minneapolis who were connected to White supremacist organizations. All of this has to be taken into account.
Kind of staying on this topic of protesting and the way we view it and the way that we see it, we all know that media plays a very pivotal role in that. So my next question is actually for Tirrea. For those who don’t know, Tirrea is our communications manager of the Arcus Center, as well as a filmmaker and as well as owner of her own media company, Reflect Media. So Tirrea, when considering your expertise in media, what are your thoughts about the media’s portrayal of the recent uprisings and how is that portrayal affecting or impacting the Black Lives Matter movement?
Historically dominant and mainstream media is often composed of major mass communication industries often dominated by White Americans, basically since the development of the press, and still continues today to systemically work to over-represent Black people negatively; as thugs, as criminals, et cetera. And mainstream media, like I said, still continues to uphold and reinforce these really oppressive characterizations and stereotypes about Black people to really uphold and to even justify White authority. So even though Black people today really strive to create our own channels of communication, to kind of alter and even dismantle these dominant definitions that are often portrayed from mainstream media as it relates to the Black identity, it’s still an ongoing battle to do so.
And research shows that mainstream media portrayals of racial groups, racial policy issues, racial crises still reinforce both stereotypical and conservative views of race by really kind of highlighting those facts that really fit the hegemonic frames that really work to just demonize Black folks. And so it’s really, and you see that today with the Black Lives Matter movement and how the media, for example, there is far more peaceful protesting and there’s more organizing on the ground happening, but the media constantly portrays the looting and the rioting that’s done by such a small population of the people that’s actually doing the work.
But like I said, media works to criminalize us and portray us negatively to kind of fit what they are framing us to be instead of really kind of exposing and telling the truth and the other side. And so I feel like that’s where media should be, and especially alternative media and activist forums and grassroots media should be doing to kind of highlight that alternative view that we’re not seeing in the mainstream.
Yeah. And I’d just like to say, I think there’s like Democracy Now or The Marshall Project and some writers like Charles Blow with the New York Times. I mean, we are seeing some different voices, which is really good. But you’re right. For majority of Americans, if they’re just watching mainstream news at night, they are definitely not getting a holistic picture, and that’s historic.
So in her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander pointed out that the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid, which I think is absolutely insane. So Lisa, as someone who has been very involved in both the anti-apartheid movement and the movements towards racial equity in America, does that statement surprise you at all?
No, it doesn’t. It’s interesting though. It is interesting that she pointed that out. I think we have to realize that the apartheid system, first of all, they learned a lot from us. A lot of people don’t realize that they studied Indian reservations to be able to put Africans in their own reservation system in South Africa, first called reserves and then called homelands. So they created this map literally where 87% of the Black population was only going to be in 13% of the land and they gave the rest of the land to White farmers and the White elite under apartheid. So they studied our reservation system to figure out how to do that. And then they studied Jim Crow to look at how segregation would happen in cities and other places. So they did learn from us that way.
But I think the difference in South Africa is that during the apartheid system, they did not have a prison industrial complex like we have in the United States. They imprisoned people who were fighting against apartheid and they did not have a sophisticated system of using prison labor in the same way that we have here. In the United States, we have developed a system literally since reconstruction, towards the end of reconstruction in the 1870s when the 13th Amendment became clear to former slave owners and other Whites in the South that they could actually continue to super exploit Black labor.
I don’t know if people realize, but the 13th Amendment is a very short amendment and to paraphrase it says something like forced labor in these United States is no longer legal except as punishment for a crime. So once the former slave owners realized that if they could criminalize the Black body and Black people, then they could continue to exploit their labor. So there was a huge system in the South that did that where small towns would pick up Blacks, fine them something they couldn’t pay like $500 and because of that, then they had to work it off. And then they would send them to mines and to farms where they would be forced to work for free, and those farms and those mines would pay the towns. So the towns were actually making money off of Black people. And this was a system throughout the South from the 1870s and 80s, all the way up until the 1940s.
And then in the 1960s and 70s, the prison industrial complex began to happen with more Blacks in the cities and the idea that policing of Blacks was incentivized because you wanted more Black people in prison because if they’re in prison, then they now are being hired by furniture companies and contractors from car manufacturers to furniture makers to make products for these companies and to get paid very little, 10 cents, 13 cents an hour. So the prison industrial complex is now feeding itself in many ways. So I think that’s the reason why it’s so different is that we have a system that actually is a profit-driven system that is based on the criminalization of Black people. In South Africa, just being Black and being in the wrong place made you a criminal, but they did not put you to work in the same kind of way.
So I want to switch gears just a little bit. Lisa, you wrote an article called The Whole Damn System. And if anybody’s interested in reading that, you can find it on our Praxis Center at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership website through Kalamazoo College. But in it, you talked about master narratives and meta-narrative. So master narratives being big stories that justify society and its power relations and meta-narratives kind of being those smaller stories that support the grand tale. So from your perspective, what are some false narratives regarding law enforcement and the police that we should know about or that we’ve been socialized to believe, and what are some historical truths that we should be aware of?
Well, I think in that article I pointed out that grand narrative of the United States is that the United States is a country that was founded on freedom and a melting pot and all of that, when in fact it was founded on that for some and it was founded on the denial of freedom of others and also on genocide of others; of native Americans, of indigenous people. So the grand narrative erases the underbelly of American history and the racist nature of it and the theft of Black labor and Indian land that’s a big part of that. So that’s one big problem with the myth that has come about about the United States.
And then a meta-narrative I think are the police, that the police are out there to do good and to take care of people when in reality, the history of the police has not been that at all. The history of the police really comes from two strains. One is in the South. The policing of Black enslaved people was the primary role of those who formed what might be called the early kinds of policing systems in the South. They were called slave patrols and they roamed the South and made sure that the enslaved people stayed in their place. If you got out of your place or you attempted to run away, a slave patrol could be sent out to get you, and they could also hurt you and torture you and/or kill you if you resisted.
So the police in terms of as a meta-narrative is that the police are good, but the police have never been good for Black people, never ever for Black people in general. Our history, the roots of it is based on enslavement in White supremacy, and also to keep the Black body in check, right? If you think about running away was a major crime. Just keep this in mind. To run away, to take control of your own body and say, “I want to be free,” was illegal, and a slave patrol could actually shoot you in the back if you did not stop when they said stop because your body, it had been criminalized running away. And the same thing happens now where you see Black people who don’t stop, who are running away, get shot in the back. There’s a long history of that.
So that’s one pillar of policing in our country. The other pillar emerged in the industrializing North where we had a lot of immigrants, working class immigrants coming from Ireland and Italy and Europe, and unions were rising in the 19th century were disrupting capital, disrupting minds, disrupting new industries in the North. You had police in the North whose job it was to protect elite property and put down the working classes. So that’s the other pillar of police. So when we see police now protecting property over lives, there’s a long history of that and a big fear of the fact that the property of the elite will be taken, seized, appropriated, and/or destroyed.
To the question you asked before, we have an excess of policing in Black communities, and we don’t have policing of rich communities. And so I’ve often said, crime happens where there’s police. If the police don’t see it and don’t arrest somebody, then there’s no crime. But there could be crime happening. There could be illegal acts happening in rich communities all the time such as drugs or pharmaceutical companies, but they’re not policed. Only Black bodies are policed for the most part. That is the majority of the work of urban police is to be in Black communities and Brown communities and to watch what they’re doing and to attempt to get them ensnared in the prison industrial complex.
And so the whole history of policing is a problem. I think people talking about defunding the police today is a way to open the door to that conversation, like what do the police do well? What do they do well? They protect property well, I guess, but they don’t stop violence. Police go into a Black community after some violence has happened, and sometimes they add to that by shooting the victim instead of the perpetuator. So police have not stopped violence in our communities. So the question of what do they do well I think is a really interesting one. And in our schools, they intimidate young people. They watch young people. They help create the pipeline from school to prison. They target young people, they see them. So yeah, the whole history of policing should be under review right now and is under review right now.
I want to make a comment to something that you said a little bit earlier, I think it was so spot on, when you were talking about how running away used to be against the law. So if a slave ran away, that slave patroller or whoever it was, they were upholding the law if they shot and killed them, anything like that. Like I think what goes along with police are also laws and a lot of people will say laws are put in place to protect us and if you just follow them, you have nothing to worry about. But I think people miss the fact that laws are subjective and sometimes they’re created to uphold White supremacy culture. They’re not created with all people in mind, they’re created with certain people in mind. Me and you talked about this in the Arcus Center, so I kind of want to just get your thoughts on the subjectivity of the laws a little bit more, if you want to expand on that.
Well yeah. I mean, the law is subjective and this whole notion of who’s the we and the us who gets protected and supported with these laws is the question. I mean, slavery was legal. The prison industrial complex paying imprisoned people 13 cents on the dollar is legal. I mean, 13 cents an hour is legal. Right now the laws that are putting people in detention centers at our borders, our Southern borders, just keep that in mind, is legal and racist. A lot of laws are racist that we have today, and we have to fight to change these laws in order for people to not be subject to them. But just because something is law does not make it good.
Laws can and have been and are based, I think, on the power structure in our society. So who gets protected when a law is passed, who gets supported when a law is passed, these are the kinds of questions that we always need to ask because the law is not necessarily good or bad for everybody. Sometimes it’s good for one group and not good for another group. And sometimes it’s beneficial for all, but we need to look at what the law does and who it supports. And for the most part, it supports wealthy White men in our society.
And if you look at intersectionality, the ones that it supports the least are the ones who are most vulnerable and of color and trans. The fact that trans Black people can be killed and nothing historically is done to the people that kill them is a whole issue we need to talk about as well. So the law, the stand-your-ground law, the law that was used by Zimmerman in the case in which he killed Trayvon Martin, that’s a highly problematic, highly subjective and racist law in Southern states. So yeah, you’re right Rhiki. I mean, the law… But see, that’s a meta-narrative. We were talking about meta-narratives, right? We have a meta-narrative of the police that supports the grand narrative. We have a meta-narrative of the law that supports the grand narrative. You see? So they’re used to maintain the power structure that we have.
Speaking of the government’s laws and operations, we’ve heard that the government sponsored Counterintelligence Program, also known as COINTELPRO, is back. Lisa, can you explain a bit of what that was and how it might be reappearing in this moment?
Well, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program as a formal program began in the ’50s during the cold war to monitor so-called communists in the US. But it continued to operate under the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, in the ’60s and ’70s to monitor Black and indigenous and Brown activists in the country, and anti-war activists as well. And by monitor, I mean, they would put hidden microphones or cameras in people’s homes or hotel rooms. But they also did something else. They didn’t just surveil. They also would instigate problems to undermine and destroy movements. And they did this in a couple of ways.
One is they would arrest the leaders of movements for crimes that they did not commit. They knew they didn’t commit them, but they would arrest them for these crimes. Basically what that does then is it takes the leadership out of an organization and pushes them into having to defend themselves and raise the money and get lawyers for court hearings and court trials to keep them out of jail so they’re no longer as active on the ground. So that was one thing they did.
The second thing they did is they would cause trouble in organizations. They would put plants in organizations. So you would have an FBI agent who would join the Black Panther Party, for instance. And while in the Black Panther Party, he would cause a lot of disruption. He might say that somebody’s wife was sleeping with somebody else. He would write nasty letters about people. So just instigate disruption in an organization so that they end up fighting amongst themselves. So this was all a part of the Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO, and it had a huge impact on movements in the country.
Sometimes organizations got instigated into shooting each other, they would be divided. That happened out in California with the Black Panther Party. Or you had an agent here in Chicago with the Chicago Black Panther Party who actually worked with the local police to lay… He was in the leadership. He had rose to leadership in the Chicago Black Panther Party and he had been used to get the house plan of where Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two of the leaders of the well-known speakers for the Black Panther Party here. He gave the local police chief the layout of the house, and the police went in there one day and shot both of them in their beds and killed them because they had the map of the house.
This man came forward afterwards and was very sad. He regretted what he had done, but he had been threatened. He was black. He had been arrested for a crime and he was told if he did this for them, he wouldn’t go to jail. This is the way they often would get somebody to infiltrate. And so he did it and he regretted it after. And that guy actually ended up killing himself some years later. But that was COINTELPRO. We still have political prisoners in jail in the United States who were set up for crimes they didn’t commit right now in this country. Leonard Peltier is an indigenous leader of the American Indian Movement. He was set up by the FBI and he’s been in jail for 50 years, 40 years, something like that. It’s just outrageous. Even the Pope came out, the previous Pope, and asked for him to be released.
So yeah, there are still legacies from that past that we are still with, but in the 1970s, it was exposed and a vote was taken and the program was gotten rid of. But the program was allowed again in the PATRIOT Act that was passed after 9/11. And we have evidence now that it’s back but in a different way. It appears as if White supremacist organizations are figuring out ways to undermine movements by what I said earlier about instigating looting, trying to start race wars, putting out things like Black Lives Matter wants to kill all White people. So they’re using this disinformation campaign, they’re coming into protest and engaging in provocative activities. So we are beginning to see that kind of thing happen again.
We’re not quite sure if it’s coming from government offices or government entities as in the past. So we won’t know until we know what it means. We do have evidence too that the police, local police, and this goes way back, we’ll work with the gang members in the Black and Brown communities to instigate trouble as well. And they do that by telling gang members, “I won’t arrest you if you do this.” And so, we have to always be wary of when things happen within communities and who’s really behind it.
Last weekend or two weekends ago there was violence in a lot of Black and Latinx communities in a lot of cities in the country. And it’s interesting that they all happened in the same weekend because I think that that was orchestrated. I think gang members were encouraged to commit violent acts over that weekend because it has the potential of changing the narrative, which is a historic gaslighting narrative where we say Black Lives Matter, and then the answer is we’ll stop Black on Black crime. So it feeds into that. So they’re active in terms of various forces and we just don’t know exactly how and who now. But they’re definitely active, I believe. The police are active and White supremacist organizations are active now.
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about some different approaches as far as how maybe we can reach a solution. And so from research we’ve been doing, we found that there are two main approach that people are kind of looking at. And so the first one is the police reform approach, which believes that the system has cracks and that rehabilitation and proper training can fill those cracks to create a better system. And then there’s the police abolition approach, which believes that the entire system was created with racist intentions. From its inception, the system as a whole is the problem and needs to be dismantled and rebuild a new. And so, Lisa, what are your thoughts on both and is there one that you prefer over the other, especially during this time?
Let me tell you something. Somebody said the other day they can’t remember when they haven’t heard about police reform. I mean, after every murder, every time something like this happens, every time somebody gets caught, and keep in mind, we see only a fraction of what actually happens to Black people at the hands of police. And every generation, we talk about reform, reform. Reform obviously doesn’t work. We still have people. Even after George Floyd, Black people are still being killed today. Somebody is probably being killed right now somewhere in this country. So the issue is I am not for police reform.
I heard a journalist the other day and his name slips me now, but he works with The Marshall Project, and he said police are basically avatars of how America feels about Black people. They are carrying out the wishes of our society, which is why so few of them ever get tried. 98% of the police don’t get tried for murders of Black people. And in that 2%, very few go to jail. So the reality is when you look at those statistics, police must be doing what they are supposed to do. We think they shouldn’t do it, but obviously the power structure of the people that hire them think that that’s okay.
So I really do not think that the police can be reformed as they exist now. I think that we have to start over and look at what our community needs. We don’t need armed people in our communities on a regular basis. When I grew up, actually we did not have police with… police didn’t wear a vest when I was coming up. Now they wear a vest all the time. Now they’re always armed. But I grew up in a small town too, but it’s escalated too. So it hasn’t gotten better, with police reform it’s actually gotten worse.
And I also think with neoliberal policies, neoliberal capitalism basically is a capitalism that believes in no government funding for anything. And basically the tax dollars that we pay are not going to go back into our communities but are going into policing as our communities get literally defunded, de-resourced. And the police are there to keep us in check as poverty increases and homelessness increases.
So, no, I do not believe the police as they exist can be reformed. We’ve been here before. We were here 100 years ago and we’re here now with the same argument, it cannot happen. There’s not enough training to change police hearts and minds because they’re doing the bidding of our country. And so I think what we have to do, I’m not saying that there are not sometimes where an armed person is needed, but that should be a very, maybe 5% of what the police do today and they should only respond in certain instances.
I had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day and she talked about a racist cop who saved a Black person from a burning house, right? And she said, “You see, even a racist cop can do good.” And I said, “That’s what they should be doing.” But how many times does that happen in a policeman’s career? Three, four, five times at the most. What do they do the rest of the time? That’s the problem, that’s the problem. And so the way the police have evolved and been culturally developed and politically developed in this country cannot be reformed. It has to be completely changed. And so that’s where I’ll end on that.
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Before we wrap up the conversation, I just want to shout out a few organizations. If you’re looking to get more involved in the movement, you can check out Movement for Black Lives. There’s another one called The Rising Majority as well as United We Dream, and LeftRoots. But there are so many other additional resources and organizations to look at if you’re looking to get involved and learn more. Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today on this super important topic, and we really appreciate your input.
Thank you Rhiki and Tirrea, Tirrea and Rhiki.
To those listening, please remember that nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. That’s a quote from Martin Luther King.
All right. You also remember the conversation is not over. This is just the first episode of a very important mini series that we’re so happy to do, so be on the lookout for the conversations that will continue to happen after this. And if you wish to hear more, just tune in next time on The Radical Zone.
Thank you for tuning in. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook @ACSJLKzoo, Twitter @ACSJL, and Instagram @arcuscenter. For questions, comments, and ideas for future topics, please leave responses on our social media platforms.