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Friday, January 28, 2022

Defunding the police, a multiracial coalition to fight white supremacy

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Moulitsas and Eleveld opened the show by asking Floyd, who covered the Derek Chauvin trial extensively, about how she felt throughout the proceedings. Floyd felt nervous about the coverage when the trial was about to start; elaborating, she said, “It’s rare to see cops come out and speak against other cops, so when I saw that begin to unfold, time and time again, witness after witness, that’s when I began to get hopeful.”

Writing about George Floyd’s death, from the day he was murdered to the day of the verdict against Chauvin, was extremely difficult at times and especially emotional as a Black woman, as she explained:

Watching some of those videos was difficult. I had to mute the sound from time to time, because you’re seeing—I mean, you’re seeing someone die, you’re seeing someone scared for their life over and over again, from different angles, different clips of footage, different types of footage. That is traumatizing. If I need to mute the sound, I’ll mute the sound, but trying not to as much as possible because, you know, you want to see what’s happening—and you want to be able to report on what’s happening.

While watching the footage is often difficult, Floyd noted that fighting the impulse to look away is important, especially for white or non-Black people who were shocked by Floyd’s murder and didn’t necessarily understand the extent of police brutality and racial profiling as a present-day problem. As she said, “I would encourage those people to not look away and to force yourself to get through that hard video … it’s important to see with your eyes and to feel with your heart.”

Moulitsas noted how pervasive police brutality is and how police officers are almost never held accountable—how it felt hard to hold out hope at times: “[It was] a case this clear-cut, this obvious, and even then we weren’t sure if justice would be served.”

Floyd noted the relentless nature of news coverage of police brutality against Black communities, as “it is literally a new story every day, and sometimes multiple stories a day.” Writing about these murders day in and day out, she expressed, is often emotionally taxing and highlights just how frequently violence is perpetrated against Black bodies by police officers.

Mitchell joined the show at this point to contribute his perspective on police violence and how he has been working to help grow a coalition to protect and fight for BIPOC and working class communities. He first shared his story of how he came to be an advocate and a part of the progressive movement. While Mitchell was attending Howard University as a college student, one of his classmates was killed by the police, and that spurred him to become an organizer against police violence and the police state. He also witnessed the rise of Black Lives Matter after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and was inspired by the activists doing work on the ground there.

Years later, Mitchell felt “duty-bound” to organize to stop Donald Trump, and that brought him to a leadership role with the Working Families Party in 2018. While his work continues after Trump, he continues to build a multiracial coalition to rebuke racist structures and violence. In doing so, Mitchell hopes to directly challenge the destructive forces of whiteness:

A lot of times people think of white supremacy and white nationalism as a hate movement, and that’s half right. It’s definitely catalyzed by hate, but that hate is a source of solidarity—the solidarity of whiteness, which I would argue has been a leading, driving force in American politics from the very beginning. And if we want to challenge that and create a more democratic society, one where Black people feel safe … if we want to make that true … then we need to build a multiracial solidarity that is stronger than the solidarity of whiteness.

A lot of the conversation that has grown from the push for police accountability, including the movement to defund police, has resulted in rancor and discord among liberals and conservatives alike. But Mitchell cautions falling into the trap of thinking ideas must be popular to be correct or to advance. He discussed how the popularity of social movements are by no means any indicator of the validity of the ideas and whether or not they deserve to be implemented:

Many times, social movements are statistically ‘unpopular’ … the interventions of social movements must not necessarily be popular in the ways that other ideas have to be popular. Also, by definition, new ideas are not popular; they have to grow in popularity. The Movement for Black Lives is doing its job by creating that tension.

Mitchell also shared his thoughts on Democrats’ conflict with the Movement for Black Lives, saying, “Democrats used the movement as a catch-all for all their [losses during the 2020 elections], which was disappointing. Instead of blaming the movement … for being extraordinarily successful by all means for what a social movement should be, Democrats should take it district by district and learn … what allowed them to win or lose.”

He believes that defunding the police can be a realistic goal. In the last two decades, he noted, marriage equality went from not possible to inevitable—and if we think about the work we do on the local level, we can apply the same lessons to defunding the police. It will make it possible to take the conversation from “maybe one day” to “it’s inevitable,” starting with holding local politicians accountable.

Floyd weighed in here with her thoughts on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which she believes will increase accountability and set federal standards that local police departments must follow. How do we get these changes to local police department culture? It’s crucial to have federal legislation that gets at it, Floyd believes: “[We need to say], ‘these are the rules you must play by’ … and [set] a minimum precedence for how you should behave.”

Mitchell agreed: “The federal government has carrots. Those carrots can be used as a form of accountability.” President Joe Biden has the opportunity now to build on the work the Obama administration did to increase police accountability, Mitchell said, explaining that “electing Joe Biden was the door, not the destination”—he must also use his bully pulpit to get these things done. Mitchell emphasized that Biden’s success will hinge heavily on support from the grassroots.

With such a long, racist history deeply embedded into American culture, policing and police culture obviously will not change overnight. But sometimes, working to create change means creating a new rather system rather than trying to reform one that has been rotten from the very beginning. As Eleveld said, “Bringing awareness to a situation isn’t enough to change the situation … you have to completely rip apart what has been a historical norm in what has been policing and racial profiling for centuries.”

Here is the full episode:

The Brief is also available on the following podcast streaming platforms:


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