Protests in America in support of Black lives are rapidly shifting the narrative around policing and state-sanctioned violence. Since our last episode, George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with 2nd degree murder and three other officers have also been charged in his death. Yet the officers who killed Breonna Taylor are still at large.
The targeted lethality of white supremacy coupled with over 110,000 deaths due to COVID-19 (which disproportionately affects Black lives) is overwhelming. Channelling the words of the indomitable James Baldwin, on this episode we considered “The Fire This Time” and asked our guests - Devon Carbado, Alicia Garza, Robin D.G. Kelley, Maria Moore, and Keith Ellison - to help us contextualize this moment of social upheaval and map the path forward.
Our first guest, Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, shared his thinking as he crafts the case against Geogre Floyd’s killers: his singular goal is to build a case that is prosecutorially strong. He refuted racist critiques that his background as a racial advocate should cause him to recuse himself from this case. Ellison highlighted that after more than 300 years of slavery and legalized second class citizenry for Black people in America, there’s only been 55 years of anything else. He said of this moment in history, “I hope this is an inflection point where we begin to meaningfully balance the scales of justice.”
We invited our panelists, Devon Carbado, Alicia Garza, Robin D G Kelley, and Maria Moore to help us mourn, remember, and to rewrite what it means to be a part of history. Alicia Garza, a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, reflected on the changes in the movement over the past 7 years; from being derided and dismissed to now having former President Barack Obama saying “Black Lives Matter.” Garza spoke to the choice we have at this precipice of history: are we going to use this moment to tinker with what is or to transform toward what can be? She admonished that we must invest intentionally to give Black people the infrastructure they need to thrive in this country.
Racial justice has a long history of being framed as the opposite of American interests. Despite recent language framing calls for racial justice as riots, Robin DG Kelley, Professor for African American studies at UCLA, reminded us that race riots in America have traditionally been ones against Black people. He said that racial pogroms and violent attacks against Black people and Black homes across our country have been important to maintaining white supremacy and the American state. Kelley recalled that he is often asked the question about looting in modern protests, but there is little discussion of the looting of thousands of acres of land, tax revenue, fees, fines, and lives in Black communities for centuries. Echoing AG Ellison, he focused on the targeted and racialized actions of police unions in shaping policies that make it harder for Black communities to seek justice.
Maria Moore, the sister of Kayla Moore -- a Black woman who was slain in her own home 7 years ago by police responding to a wellness check call -- shared how her sister’s final words and moments are so achingly similar to those of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Devon Carbado, professor of Law UCLA was emphatic that it’s not a “rule of man” problem we face in America, but a “rule of law” problem. Carbado explains that many of the crimes committed towards Black communities, both historically and currently, have been legal at some point. The fourth amendment to The Constitution, he argued, is the crux of these excessive uses of police force throughout the nation and until we grapple with it we will not be able to fundamentally shift the structure of policing power.
In our roundtable, Garza reminded us that we need to keep eyes on what is happening in Minnesota and ensure that the state feels like our collective eyes are on them. Both she and Carbado insisted that we not acquiesce to short-term solutions or entertain arguments about rogue police; we must push back on all of that and push for radical change in order to succeed. Carbado stressed that only 1% of troubling police cases end up in court and we must target the 99%. Kelley stressed the need to pay attention to how gender shapes police violence and undergirds the right of police to invade Black homes - specifically Black women’s homes.
In closing, Moore pushed us to mobilize and organize and to not be afraid to shut things down until our demands are met.