Above image: Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Illustration by Mr. Fish.
Interview with Melina Abdullah.
As BLM protests sweep the globe, the movement’s co-founder talks about its roots and her hopes for the coming years.
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin highlighted the dangers Black children, women and men face daily because of the color of their skin. The grassroots movement has protested against police violence and anti-black racism since then, and advocated for policy changes to address racial injustices. Despite having been active for the better part of a decade now, Black Lives Matter was recently launched into the global spotlight after the police assassination of George Floyd rocked the world.
On this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” Dr. Melina Abdullah, one of the Black Lives Matter co-founders, tells host Robert Scheer how while BLM had worked hard to raise awareness about the slayings of everyone from Sandra Bland to Eric Garner, the activists did not expect the response to Floyd’s death to be so far-reaching.
“We couldn’t have anticipated this moment,” says the BLM leader, “but we’ve been working towards it and preparing for it for the last seven years. Black Lives Matter was born right here in Los Angeles in July 2013.”
Abdullah, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, talks about how Black communities like the one she and her three children live in, have never felt safe around police, but rather look to others within the community for support. The activist has been involved in organizing and policy proposals to restructure spending priorities in L.A. for some years, but she had been largely ignored, or, in one case even threatened at gunpoint by David Lacey, the spouse of L.A. county’s district attorney. Floyd’s murder and the mass protests that his death inspired have, however, radically changed the way establishment politicians approach Abdullah and BLM as a whole.
Black Lives Matter activists were recently invited by the Los Angeles city council to present their “People’s Budget,” which proposes a redistribution of funding away from the city’s police department and into public services that will help and protect black, brown, and poor residents in meaningful ways. The budget was drawn up by BLM’s Los Angeles chapter in conjunction with other groups based on what 25,000 Angelenos stated they wanted their taxpayer money to go to.
And it’s not just politicians that have shifted their position on BLM. Countless companies, many of which were conspicuously absent over the years as the grassroots movement was taking shape, have released messages of solidarity. In perhaps the most patently hypocritical example, the National Football League has backtracked on its position regarding footballers kneeling, a peaceful protest that cost Colin Kaepernick his job. However, as corporations quickly move to declare their support for BLM in what is being described as “performative anti-racism,” the intersection between economic and racial injustice is sometimes buried beneath the press releases.
“At the heart of [current protests] is what Martin Luther King was talking about at the end of his life,” the “Scheer Intelligence” host adds, “that you can’t have a revolution for the situation of Black and brown people in this country if it doesn’t have a strong economic component. And it seems to me that’s what your ‘People’s Budget’ is attempting to address.”
“It’s definitely dealing with questions of poverty and lack of resources,” says the CSU professor regarding the budget, “And it’s also grounded in remedying anti-Blackness. […] We absolutely have to deal with the way in which capitalism exploits us, and the way in which capitalism exploits Black people in particular.”
Black Lives Matter has seized the current moment to push Americans to reimagine what security looks like, but, perhaps more importantly, what an overall healthier, more just society can look like. In order to do that, conversations and activism will have to look beyond party politics and who’s president, argue both Abdullah and Scheer. Adding to the discussion about the economic foundation of racism, the activist goes on to outline the different shapes white supremacy takes in American society.
“So you have the white supremacist terrorist in the body of the current occupant of the White House, right?” says Abdullah. “And people are oftentimes comfortable pointing to Trump and his regime and saying, ‘That’s racism, that’s anti-Blackness, that’s evil, right?’ But what they’re less willing to do oftentimes is to call out what I call liberal white supremacy.”
To illustrate her point, the BLM leader brings up two local Los Angeles figures: Mayor Eric Garcetti and District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Both have pushed and implemented anti-Black policies under the guise of liberalism, and in the case of Lacey, Abdullah points to her and George W. Bush’s secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as examples of embodying the tyranny of “a Black face on white supremacy.”
While there is still plenty of work to be done to achieve lasting social justice, one of the Black Lives Matter co-founder’s main goals seems to be coming to fruition as thousands around the globe take to the streets to support the message.
“One of my greatest hopes when we first initiated Black Lives Matter,” says Abdullah, “was that we become a mass movement. As we become a mass movement, we have the capacity to again fundamentally transform the world that we live in.”
Listen to the full conversation between Abdullah and Scheer as they discuss the unprecedented uprising and the activists and communities at the heart of Black Lives Matter since its founding. You can also read the transcript of this episode below the credits.
Host: Robert Scheer
Producer: Joshua Scheer
Introduction: Natasha Hakimi Zapata
RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, it’s Dr. Melina Abdullah. I use the doctorate because she got her doctorate at the University of Southern California, where I teach. And we’re very proud of the fact that this tenured professor, and until recently chair of Pan-African Studies at Cal State University in Los Angeles, is a founder and a very visible leader of Black Lives Matter here in Los Angeles.
And I interviewed Melina, oh, I don’t know, half a year ago; she’s spoken in my classes. And I can’t believe the change in the impact of Black Lives Matter, and the status. The last contact I had with Melina, the husband of the district attorney in Los Angeles had pulled a gun on her when she was part of a group at District Attorney Lacey’s house, trying to get accountability of the district attorney to bring cases of police abuse. And the most recent encounter, as a reader, in the Los Angeles Times I saw Melina had met with the City Council, trying to get measures of changing or defunding part of police activity, at least, and changing priorities.
So why don’t you just–what kind of a rollercoaster has this been? And just tell me what has happened to Black Lives Matter, not only in L.A. but in the nation. To the point where now you have the respectability of Amazon. When I signed on to get something this morning, there’s an advertisement that Amazon is in favor of Black Lives Matter, something I know you would have never expected, even–well, a month ago.
MA: No, we would have never expected it, nor did we seek that, right? So I’m hearing from people who are playing video games that are not aligned with Black Lives Matter’s values or guiding principles, that when they turn on the video games that they’re seeing “Black Lives Matter.” So I think a lot of corporations are trying to demonstrate that they’re not racist, but you know, just putting up a Black Lives Matter statement doesn’t make you not anti-Black.
So you know, there’s that–I think that we couldn’t have anticipated this moment. But we’ve been working towards it and preparing for it for the last seven years. Black Lives Matter was born right here in Los Angeles seven years ago, July 2013. And you know, we’ve been doing work, and there have been moments where that work has been recognized and had a lot of momentum. So if we think about the period from 2014 to 2016, you know, we were doing a lot of work and got pretty significant recognition for our work. There was a lot of media attention around what we were doing. And then, you know, cameras kind of turned. And I think that I wrote a piece for you, actually, and Truthdig, on the whiting out of Black Lives Matter. So by 2017, even though we continued to do work, that work was not recognized by media.
And so we just kept plugging away regardless. And I think that that prepared us for this moment where you see, you know, national and global attention being paid to the calls that we’ve been making for the last seven years. That policing in this country is problematic, and designed to produce the outcomes that it does, and we have to fundamentally reimagine public safety. And so of course the murder of George Floyd helped to amplify that call, but we’ve been doing the work well before George Floyd’s body was stolen by police. And so we’re grateful for the way that spirit has moved and enabled us to really amplify the call, so it’s become kind of the clarion call of the moment, of maybe the generation–you know, to defund the police, and to reimagine public safety.
RS: Well, even going further, you’re at the forefront of a movement for America to end its illusion of innocence, inevitable innocence, and confront its history of racism. Confront its ownership of one of the most pervasive patterns of slavery, and then this long period of segregation and basic violation of human rights, which continues up to the present. Because one reason, as I said in the intro, that the husband of the D.A. of Los Angeles pulled a gun on you and other people from your movement who were protesting inaction–that D.A. is herself a Black woman, right? Her husband is a Black man. And yet as part of the sort of Black establishment, they weren’t even willing to recognize that racism had not ended in America, and it had not ended in Los Angeles.
MA: Right, and we have to remember that just because someone is descriptively Black does not make them tied to the Black community. And so we have lots of folks who are in elected office–and I think Jackie Lacey is absolutely one of them, right–who maybe are there for their own personal ambitions, rather than centering the lives of Black people. And so it’s really important for us to think about what’s happening to the masses of Black people, rather than simply listening to the rhetoric that comes from the so-called leaders.
RS: Yeah, and so now you’re at the point where you have to–it’s a good point, because we may be changing America in a fundamental way. Or we may see yet another movement co-opted and turned into something very different. And that’s always the struggle; it was the struggle with Martin Luther King, who the FBI tried to destroy as some kind of dangerous radical. And now we celebrate Martin Luther King as sort of an inoffensive, you know, person of cheer. And I’m just wondering, as an activist, really one of the most–and I’m not taking away from that it’s a collective activity, you had a lot of people, you’ve always gone to great pains to say that you’re one of these people. But the fact of the matter is, you’ve been thrust into history in a very visible way. And what are the pressures? What do you see happening? Do you think this–you’re a professor also, and a major scholar. Is this a transformative moment, or will it blow away?
MA: I think it’s a transformative moment as long as we don’t squander it. And it looks like we’re not squandering it. It looks like we are taking advantage of it. So when you look at the kinds of transformation kind of taking hold, with people really not just saying “defund the police,” but actually defunding the police–it’s more than I could have ever anticipated. So, so many school districts nationwide saying police don’t belong in our schools. So you see school districts from Oakland Unified working to disband their in-house police department, to school districts like Minneapolis, right, severing ties with police who were contracted to their schools. You see university systems like University of Minnesota also cutting ties with police. You see places like Los Angeles housing services saying they want to cut ties with police.
And then just on Monday, or on Tuesday here in Los Angeles, the motion put forward by Council President Emeritus Herb Wesson and current Council President Nury Martinez, to say that police should not be the ones to respond to nonviolent calls. And putting forward really what I think could be, if implemented well, one of the most transformative pieces of policy in recent history, where they’re talking about really thinking about what public–it is a reimagining. What does public safety look like? If someone is suffering with a mental health issue, we should have a team of mental health workers to respond, rather than police with guns.
And so I see the transformative work happening. I see people being willing to put themselves and their bodies on the line. So if you think about what’s happening in Atlanta, where Rayshard Brooks was murdered for sleeping in his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru, and people saying no, we’re not going to take it. We’re going to–we’re not going back in the house, we’re not going to accept the police accounts that, well, maybe he was drunk driving. Drunk driving should not be a death sentence. And I think that people are now saying, no matter what people are alleged to have been doing, that that shouldn’t mean the theft of their lives. And so I see this as absolutely a transformative moment.
RS: You know, it’s interesting. You talk about reimagining; what you’re really reimagining, also, of course, is what do we mean by security? And whose security? And you’re a mother of three children. You have a real life, these kids have to get out there and be safe. You are a woman living in real life, going to work. And you favor safety. So why don’t we talk about reimagining? Because the goal–you know, it’s always said, the police respond. They responded to your demand saying yeah, that’s all very well and good, but we have all this crime and everything out there. Well, you have a strategy for dealing with crime. You’re not ignoring it, right?
MA: No. As we’re saying defund the police, we’re also coupling that with reimagining public safety. And I can’t claim to speak for every single Black person, but all the Black folks I know–and I know a lot of Black folks, right? As well as myself and my children and my neighbors. And you know, we don’t feel safer when we see police. It doesn’t make us feel good. It makes us feel traumatized, right. So I think about what it means when my children are walking home from school and police are at their bus stop. I just saw a video, actually, on Instagram last night, and it was a little boy playing basketball in his front driveway. And you see him just hide behind his, I guess it was his parents’ SUV. Like, he takes cover, he–you see him hide behind it. And as he does that, you see a police vehicle roll by. After the police vehicle rolls by, he goes back to playing basketball. For too many of us, for almost all of us, that encapsulates how we feel.
And so we believe in public safety, strongly, but police don’t bring public safety to Black folks. And I think that’s probably true for many other folks. I think Latinx folks, I think poor folks, I think indigenous folks for sure don’t view public safety as coming from a gun and a badge worn by a police officer. And so I think that when we talk about public safety, when you talk to communities like mine about what public safety is, we see first the need to meet universal needs. That safety means having good jobs. Safety means having the means to buy the things that you need. Safety means allowing people to step into their fullest selves, and even things like arts programs as part of public safety.
Public safety also means having strong communities, building strong communities. One of the examples that I’ve been giving recently is when I first moved to Los Angeles, I moved to an area called Leimert Park, which is like the Black cultural hub of Los Angeles. And you know, I was then a young single woman in my 20s. And I remember watching the older folks go out on the porch every morning. It was weird to me. Like, every morning, almost like clockwork at 7am, all the older folks would go sit on the porch, usually with their mugs of coffee or whatever, and they’d chat back and forth. And finally after about a month of this–when I realized this was not like just a one-time thing, this was an everyday thing–I asked my neighbor, Miss Gordon. I said, Miss Gordon, why do you all come out on the porch like that? Because they’d also, like, go back in like clockwork at eight o’clock, right? And she said, oh, we’re watching the babies go to school. The middle school was right down the block from me, Audubon Middle School.
And for me, that was public safety for us. That was public safety, that the grandmas and grandpas watched the babies go to school. And we didn’t have the kids fighting on the way to school. You know, we didn’t have an issue of people preying on the kids on the way to school. Every now and then you’d have kids cussing too much on the walk to school [Laughs] and the grandmas and grandpas would say, hey! And pull them onto their porch and tell them not to do that, right? But that was public safety. Now what that’s been replaced with in most neighborhoods, including around Audubon, is LAPD cars lining the streets of the schools. That’s not safety. That is traumatization. And so that’s kind of what we’re talking about, as we talk about defunding the police and reimagining public safety.
RS: Well, let’s talk about that a bit more, because you now have the attention of these hard-headed politicians, who all these years talked a good game, but they didn’t do anything about it. But I noticed you challenged Herb Wesson, who is one of the major political figures and the current head of the City Council. And do they really get it–and they said they get it. But they also mentioned in the more prosperous west side of L.A., there’s resistance to defunding the police. The police, they feel, work on their side, particularly if they’re white. What is your pragmatic answer to that? And I want to point out, these battles are happening largely in blue cities, in the sense of the Democratic Party, where people who basically consider themselves progressives–I don’t know if District Attorney Lacey would describe herself that way, but they can talk a good game. And practically, how do you meet the argument of providing security in a reimagined way?
MA: Well, when you talk about more affluent communities, it’s important to remember that communities on the west side and in parts of the valley and more affluent areas of Los Angeles are not policed the same way South Central Los Angeles and East L.A. are policed. So what they’re really talking about is the suppression and repression and criminalization of Black folks, while they get to live in communities that don’t have the same police presence. So, you know, I think that it’s important to remember that they don’t want to live in communities that are over-policed, and neither do we.
RS: So practically, though, when you talk about the reimagining, what happens? OK, you take the funds–first of all, you’ve got a budget. Why don’t we talk about that, because it could be a model for other cities. And you’ve worked the numbers. And how do you see the reallocation of resources under this reimagining?
MA: Sure. So if people go to PeoplesBudgetLA.com, what you’ll see on that site is that we–this actually happened before this mass uprising, right, just weeks before this mass uprising. What we had done is decide that the mayor’s budget, which increased funding to LAPD at a time that he was slashing funding to all other city departments and seeking to furlough 16,000 city workers, most of whom are Black and brown–he’s since walked that back because of the pressure. What we saw was really kind of an outrage. Because ahead of the release of his budget, Black people from all over the county had engaged in developing a set of demands, which we called the Black L.A. Demands. It was virtually, you know, unanimous among Black leaders that these are the demands that we want. More than 50 Black leaders from all across the spectrum from L.A. County developed these demands after we learned the rates at which Black people were dying of the coronavirus, and the rates of economic fallout on Black folks in particular.
And so we issued 55 demands which spoke to the immediate needs of Black people, but also the long-term needs. And in those long-term needs was embedded this idea of providing front-end resources. So we need housing, right? People can’t get healthy if they’re living on the streets. And so we need permanent, safe, quality housing for people. We need access to healthy food. And so that’s another item that was lifted up. We need some education that comes from our own community around how to take care of our health, right? Those are the kinds of things that were in the Black L.A. Demands. They were sent to Mayor Garcetti and the City Council, as well as the superintendent of schools and the school board, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, the head of the Legislative Black Caucus. And the mayor chose to ignore those demands, and just weeks later issued his budget proposal, which again increased funding for police to 54%, right.
So what we did–and again, this is before George Floyd was murdered–we said, well, this is hugely problematic. That in the midst of a health pandemic, with an economic fallout, that the mayor thinks the answer is police, right? Even as crime plummets in the city of Los Angeles–we were down 30 to 40% at that time. And so we said, let’s engage in a people’s budget. And so we at first were angry and started putting stuff out on Twitter and social media, and then other groups begin to amplify what it is we’re saying. And so finally, we are reached out to–and just to be clear, you know this, but I don’t know if everyone knows this, that Black Lives Matter is not a traditional nonprofit organization. Meaning that we don’t have a staff, nobody takes a check, we don’t have an infrastructure. We don’t have, like, a paid comms team or a paid research team. We’re all just regular folks who stepped into this work because we believe we should. And so as we’re putting things out, and I hit up one of our comrades and said hey, can you do a meme and make it say this? And what it said was, “Fund services, not police,” and then it has this whole thing on it–which, you know, comms professionals didn’t like, because it said there was too much text on a meme. But it worked for us, and other people started sharing it.
So we’re reached out to by an organization called The Justice Collaborative. And they asked, do you want help with this? And we said, absolutely. And so we reach back out to all of the organizations that are amplifying our tweets, that are resharing our posts, and we ask if they want to work with us on this. The Justice Collaborative asked us what we need, and we said a website. So they set up our website, but it also kind of deepened our commitment to this work. So we reached out to the folks who are volunteering with Black Lives Matter, who serve on our volunteer research team, and said we should get a survey going.
And so first we did a town hall meeting. We did that with Dr. Julianne Malveaux, who’s probably the most widely renowned Black economist, and we had her talk about budgets as statements of priorities. And then that same week we did what we call a participatory budgeting session, which is written about and employed in a couple of different cities in the nation, but has been written about for decades in political science literature. And we did an online participatory budgeting session, but we also launched this survey. And so this survey actually has responses from 25,000 Angelenos. So what we’re imagining is not just our own imaginings, but what these 25,000 Angelenos say they want to spend on. What they’re saying they want to spend on first is universal human needs, things like housing and health care and jobs. That’s their first priority. Their second priority is what we call the built environment, which means things like parks and libraries and, you know, having strong environmental protections. That’s the second priority. And then the third priority is transformative and restorative justice. So models of justice that are not rooted in policing, that remember that the people that communities respect the most are their own community members. And so thinking about things like justice circles and intervention workers.
The very last thing that people want to spend on is traditional approaches to public safety, traditional policing approaches. And so before George Floyd was murdered, the survey responses said that respondents wanted to spend just 5.72% of their resources on a combination of police, the city attorney, and traffic enforcement. After George Floyd’s murder, that number dropped to 1.64%. And where you saw the increase, of course, is in meeting the universal needs of people. So that’s how we imagine public safety. We imagine making sure that we meet the needs of people on the front end, and then there is much, much less to worry about on the back end.
RS: You know, it’s interesting. This is the first time that I recall the Black establishment–in the form of famous athletes and movie stars and politicians and so forth, and professionals of one kind or another–really getting involved. Not all, but some very prominent people. And recognizing that in terms of policing–I remember our former dean at USC, a man I like very much, Dean Wilson, he would talk about his own sons. He’s a third generation Harvard family, yet they get stopped, and so forth. And so that can find a common denominator. But when you talk about the class issues of poverty and joblessness, and lousy schools that affect Black people more, obviously, and brown people in Los Angeles, very much so. But a sliver of the establishment of those communities escapes that. They can use private schools, they can get the credentialing for good jobs, and so forth.
And what happened in this case, which has not been discussed, is the policing has an economic impact. It goes after poor people. After all, this whole case was about somebody who’s accused of a counterfeit $20 bill. You know, first of all, I mean, who would risk jail to do that? Who would even know how to do that? And obviously if any more affluent person had done that, people would say, oh, somebody else must have passed you this bill. But at the heart of it is what Martin Luther King was talking about at the end of his life, that you can’t have a revolution for the situation of Black and brown people in this country if it doesn’t have a strong economic component. And it seems to me that’s what your budget is attempting to address.
MA: Right. It’s definitely dealing with questions of poverty and lack of resources, right? And it’s also grounded in remedying anti-Blackness. So we understand the relationship of the two, and we also don’t want to conflate the two. I think that’s one of the challenges, the ongoing challenges that we have, right. We absolutely have to deal with the way in which capitalism exploits us, and the particular way in which capitalism exploits Black people in particular.
RS: Yeah, but I just want to–the contradiction here, and you know, I’d like to get to it–is we’re living in a time where the obvious enemy is Donald Trump and Republican plutocrats and so forth. But a lot of these demonstrations throughout the country are in communities that think they have enlightened leadership when it comes to race, right? I mean, that is the–I want to get back to that opening scene. Before the current popularity of Black Lives Matter in the eyes of more establishment figures, you know, you’re in a situation where a district attorney, a Black woman, breaking two barriers that once existed, nonetheless refused to hold the police accountable. And that’s why you were there, right? That’s why Black Lives Matter was there. And that’s an issue that’s not going to go away. You know, ah–
MA: Right. I mean, it’s important to remember that there are multiple forms of white supremacy. So you have the white supremacist terrorist in the body of the current occupant of the White House, right? And people are oftentimes comfortable pointing to Trump and his regime and saying, that’s racism, that’s anti-Blackness, that’s evil, right? But what they’re less willing to do oftentimes is to call out what I call liberal white supremacy. So if you think about what happens in cities like Los Angeles, you have a mayor like an Eric Garcetti who will talk about his time in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, and talk about the fact that he had a Black college roommate, and smile at Black folks, and even have a few that he might have over for dinner from time to time. But those things don’t really absolve him from the ways in which he’s enacted policies and practices that are fundamentally anti-Black.
When we talk about Jackie Lacey, who is the district attorney of Los Angeles County, who happens to be Black–and I’m using that term “happens to be”; she’s one of those happens-to-be-Black folks, right? We’re reminded of the words of Zora Neale Hurston, that “all skin folk ain’t kinfolk,” right? And that anti-Blackness and racism and white supremacy can come in the form of somebody who inhabits a Black body. So we talk about it as a Black face on white supremacy. We see it all the time. Just, you know, recall the last Bush administration, right? Think about people like Condoleezza Rice, and what she represented. And so it’s important to remember that all skin folk ain’t kinfolk, what policies are being carried out through these Black faces on white supremacy.
And so the idea that 609 people could be killed in Los Angeles County by police since Lacey took office, and she is not prosecuting those officers–that’s absolutely her upholding white supremacy. And we need to lift up why we think that’s happening. People make a choice. Are they in it for their own political ambitions and individual enrichment? Or are they going to do what–Lani Guinier reminds us that there’s also something called authentic representation, which is beyond descriptive representation: do you authentically represent the community that you claim to be a part of?
RS: Well, that’s the critical issue. And we’re, you know, it’s a good point on which to sort of conclude. Because you know, movements get co-opted, and they get divided. I mean, particularly movements from below, and the streets, and so forth. You have, right now you have overt racists coming in to try to start fights in these demonstrations. You have agent provocateurs. We know that ran right through the Civil Rights Movement, the peace movement, what have you, significant numbers of government agents and others infiltrating these movements.
And so why don’t we look at what has happened the last few months, with really the most incredible series of demonstrations that we’ve had in our modern history, over this police killing. That it went nationwide–small areas, big areas in California from rural Grass Valley or Nevada City to Los Angeles, and it doesn’t stop. So it hit a nerve. And anytime something has popularity, there’s a lot of pressure to co-opt it, distort it, divide it, give it false leadership. So what is your appraisal of where Black Lives Matter is now as a movement, and what are the pressures it faces?
MA: I think that we are experiencing a tremendous resurgence, right? That people all over the country are recognizing–and the world–are recognizing that, you know, they have to plug in. We have all got to be engaged in the transformative work that’s taking place. A lot of them are recognizing the work of Black Lives Matter. We’ve earned, I think, trust of people. That they recognize that we’ve been diligently at this work for the last seven years, and so many of them are joining Black Lives Matter. I think there’s others who will not join Black Lives Matter. And that’s OK. We just need everybody to do the work of Black liberation.
We’re very encouraged by the level of solidarity, as well, that comes from non-Black folks. In Los Angeles we encourage everybody to team up with White People for Black Lives, who’s been our partner in this work for the last six years. But we’re looking forward to continuing as Black Lives Matter becomes a mass movement, and that’s one of the things that was–it was one of my greatest hopes when we first initiated Black Lives Matter: that we become a mass movement. As we become a mass movement, we have the capacity to again fundamentally transform the world that we live in. And so that’s what we’re hoping to see. That’s what I think is being moved forward in this moment.
RS: And what about–this is a tough question to ask, but what about your relation to the elective process? There’s going to be a lot of pressure now to, you know, look to this election and the illusion–yes, I mean, the choices are real, but that somehow that’s the solution. And one thing, you know, I interviewed–you wrote for Truthdig, now this’ll appear on ScheerPost, where we have Chris Hedges writing, as well as KCRW. And Chris Hedges wrote a strong column this week pointing out that Joe Biden is not the answer in this regard, because Joe Biden was one of the main authors of the imprisonment as an alternative to poverty program. Of the terrible change in sentencing that landed so many millions of people, most of them people of color, in the prison system. And I just, you know, wonder, how does a grassroots movement survive during an electoral season where it’s all get out the vote? Where do you come down?
MA: Well, I personally believe in voting. I don’t think that Joe Biden is the answer to Donald Trump. But I think that it’s important that we vote. Even if you don’t like either of the presidential candidates, we need to vote Jackie Lacey out of office. So I think that’s hugely important. However, I also think that what folks attempt to do is say “all you need to do is vote.” And we know that no people have ever voted themselves out of oppression. So we need to make sure that we vote, but what is the real work that you’re going to do? So I believe in voting plus. Voting plus organizing, right? Voting plus activism, voting plus providing resources for your community. I think that’s the real work. So if Joe Biden isn’t the answer to Donald Trump, and I don’t think he is, I think the people are the answer to Donald Trump, right? How do the people mobilize ourselves, and make the system move in the way that we need it to move.
RS: So finally, let’s end it by doing–we don’t take advertising [Laughs], but how do people get more information? You mentioned a few websites. And you know, I know when you come in and speak in my classes, you organize the students to get active. Give me your organizing pitch now.
MA: Sure, so we want everybody to go to BLMLA.org. That’s our website. Or go to our social media: on Twitter we’re @BLMLA, on Instagram we’re @BLMLosAngeles, and then we do have a Facebook page, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. We have lots coming up. Every Wednesday we protest in front of Jackie Lacey’s office; we moved the time up to an earlier time, so at three o’clock at 211 West Temple, we’ll be there every Wednesday. And you know, we’ll be there standing alongside the families of those who’ve been killed. On Father’s Day eve, on Saturday, we’ll be marching and rallying in the name of Kenneth Ross, Jr., who was murdered. [The] Gardena police officer who killed him had already shot three other people in separate incidents, so this is his fourth shooting. And we are demanding justice for Kenneth Ross, or in Kenneth Ross’s name, and for all of the fathers who’ve been stolen from their families. So that is Saturday at 4pm at Rowley Park in Gardena.
And we just want people to plug in and get involved. If you can’t get out the house, and we recognize that there’s still a pandemic, there’s lots of engagement that you can do online. We need you to make sure that you call in to City Council and make sure that motion passes to move nonviolent calls to non-police responses. We need to make sure that you are engaged around the police commission and force them to not just be a rubber stamp for the police department. So there’s a lot that folks can be engaged in, and we just need people to step up and do it.
RS: And finally, because this is a national, and hopefully international, program–we go out through KCRW in Santa Monica, but we go out also through NPR–how should people nationally and worldwide appraise Black Lives Matter as a movement, as a program, wherever they live? And what do you think is going to happen with this organization that you have been with really since the founding–since the founding, and I think you gave L.A. credit as the founding sister. I think that’s a great compliment, founding city. And what would be your summary of where Black Lives Matter is going as a movement?
MA: Sure–well, I’m always going to uplift what Los Angeles is doing. But I also want to uplift what’s happening in places like Louisville, who are struggling for justice in the name of Breonna Taylor, who was murdered when police came into the wrong house with a no-knock warrant and killed her in her sleep, and then blamed her partner for that murder, right, or criminalized her partner for that murder. So Black Lives Matter Louisville is doing tremendous work. Black Lives Matter Atlanta is organizing around Rayshard Brooks and his murder at the Wendy’s drive-thru just a few days ago. I think about places like Black Lives Matter D.C., which not only counters police violence but also recognizes that we have to nurture Black community, and every Sunday they have Black Joy Sundays. So, nurturing love and nurturing community in Black spaces. I think about Black Lives Matter Indianapolis, which in Indianapolis they suffered three murders at the hands of police within eight hours, and their ability to respond and make demands in the names of all of those who’ve been stolen. And then of course, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which operates as the Black Visions Collective, has done phenomenal work in getting police out of schools, but also getting City Council to commit to disbanding Minneapolis police. And so we have dozens and dozens of chapters throughout the country, and we encourage people to plug in to Black Lives Matter.
RS: Well, that’s a good point on which to end it. I want to thank you, Melina Abdullah, professor and–you’re not still the head of Pan-African Studies, but you’re–
MA: I’m still a professor, though, right. [Laughter]
RS: Yeah, and it’s a vibrant program. But I also want to congratulate you for not coming in when the movement is obviously gaining much greater public acceptance and respectability, but I’ve seen you out there for years now carrying this message, sometimes being vilified, a lot of the times being applauded. But when it’s been really rough. And I think the key to success of any movement, and certainly that was the story for decades of the Civil Rights movement: you’ve got to stick with it when you’re scorned, and not just when it’s popular. And really, you know, I just want to say I think that you are one of, really, our great leaders. Because I think you deserve a lot of trust; I know you’re going to play that down and you’re just one of many, but you’re a heck of a role model as far as I’m concerned, for everybody, whatever their skin color.
So let me end on that. And that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. Thanks to Christopher Ho at our station that carries the show, KCRW FM in Santa Monica, for posting it. Natasha Hakimi Zapata writes the introduction, Lucy Berbeo does the transcript, and Joshua Scheer is the overall producer of Scheer Intelligence. And I want to make a shout-out to a woman named Jean Stein. The JWK Foundation supplies support for this program in memory of Jean Stein, and Jean Stein was a great writer, journalist, who was very actively involved in the early Civil Rights Movement. So that’s a good note on which to end, remembering that there were people of every skin color who were early to this fight. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.