Justice for Black Lives Must Begin With Us (Part 1)

A conversation with Propaganda about Eric Garner, Mike Brown and justice for all races.

[Editor's Note: This interview is split into two parts, read the second part here]

Eric Garner died for no reason.

That is not intended to be an incendiary statement, or even a political one. It is simply a fact. It is the only conclusion a rational person could possibly reach after viewing the video of Garner's death at the hands of Officer Daniel Pantaleo. You can view it yourself, if you are so inclined, but it is grim viewing. It shows a married father of six named Eric Garner stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island. In short order, a mild confrontation between Garner and a few police officers results in him being put into a chokehold (which was banned by the New York Police Department 21 years ago) that ultimately results in his death. He shouts "I can't breathe!" anywhere from nine to eleven times, depending on who you ask. In any case, he should not have needed to say it even once.

Why the police did not see fit to listen to him is a mystery. What threat this man posed to them is a mystery—though Garner towers over the officers, they outnumber him. He's clearly irritated at being confronted, but he isn't being violent.

Why a grand jury did not bring charges against the officers is the greatest mystery of all.

Propaganda is a rapper from Los Angeles who has been a vocal advocate for racial reconciliation. We asked him for his thoughts on Garner's death, the unavoidable comparisons to the recent ruling on Michael Brown's case and how the Church can be a voice for justice in a country that continues to feel the repercussions of a racist legacy.

What made me interested in talking to you was the tweet you sent out about something your daughter said to you. Can you tell us a little about that story?

My wife is also involved in a lot of advocacy work dealing with issues of equity and justice in education. [My daughter] was born into a family of freedom fighters, so she kind of just put two and two together as we were discussing with her what was going on in the world.

"I remember my own father getting stopped. He’s taking me to basketball practice and, 'What are you doing in this neighborhood? This is a nice neighborhood.' It’s almost like you learn quickly that the police don’t like you."

I had left to go do some shows and my wife called me and put my daughter on the phone. She was just frantic, “I want you to come home because I’m seeing when the police hurt black men, they don’t get in trouble.”

And I froze, you know.

The first thing I could think of was my brother is an officer. So I was able to first say, “You know, your Uncle Leon is a cop, and I know he loves and respects me.” And then secondly, I was able to use it as a moment to tell her, “Just remember to keep Daddy in prayer. When Daddy leaves the house, he’s out trying to change the world. I’m out sharing the Gospel, I’m out trying to make the world a better place for you and for your future siblings and stuff like that. This is why it’s important that Daddy leaves, it’s so stuff like this doesn’t happen anymore.” That’s all I could give her. I really didn’t have much else I could say, you know? I mean, her logic made perfect sense.

I’m a white kid, so I don’t know how all this works, but growing up, did you have to wonder about those questions, too? Like, “Are police going to treat me differently?”

I remember it becoming a reality. I grew up during the war on drugs so we had DARE officers and cops try to come and show us that they’re cool and to “say no to drugs” and all those campaigns. In kindergarten, you’re like, “Yeah, I guess police officers are cool,” until you’re walking home and you’re stopped and asked questions and then just completely confused.

I lived in Los Angeles, so our city was very diverse. I remember walking home with this little white kid and this very fair-skinned African-American kid and us getting stopped walking home from school and I got searched and carded and ticketed, but the other two guys he let go free. I remember going to the liquor store just to buy some candy and, “So what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

I remember my own father getting stopped. He’s taking me to basketball practice and, “What are you doing in this neighborhood? This is a nice neighborhood. What are you doing out here?” It’s almost like you learn quickly that the police don’t like you.

“I’m not even arguing the facts. What I’m saying is there is a nation of people hurting, and who are you to tell them that they don’t feel pain?”

Around that time, my parents became believers. I remember my father stumbling over his own words, really trying to say, “Here’s the thing, son: You just have to respect them. I don’t know what to tell you. Just get home. If that means you ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir,’ do what you have to do. You just have to make it home. Because if you’re a threat, they will beat you. You just can’t be a threat. You have to do everything in your power to show them you’re not a threat.”

You and others who have spoken out about the Eric Garner ruling and Ferguson have gotten a lot of pushback. Where do you think that is coming from, and how do you respond to people who say, “Well, how do we know that justice isn’t being carried out?”

I think it’s very hurtful. Believers, wherever you fall on opinions in a story or in an issue, we’re called to compassion.

That’s been my mantra to people. I’m saying, “Yo, you should be fighting to understand. Whatever you feel or don’t feel about a situation, just fight to understand and know our call is to mourn with those who are mourning.”

The pushback I’m getting is people responding to particular facts and how to deal with facts. I can only respond to them, "I’m not even arguing the facts. What I’m saying is, there is a nation of people hurting, and who are you to tell them that they don’t feel pain?” Through the whole thing, as far as Christians are concerned, I’m looking at you and I’m going, “You of all people should put your arm around a hurting person. You don’t need to know why they hurt.”

The greatest example is the woman they caught in adultery. Of course she’s wrong. The facts show she’s wrong. Christ didn’t need to hash that out with her.

[From] what I’ve seen, believers have responded wrongly because I don’t think they truly live an integrated life. [They] don’t know enough people of color. Once you humanize something, you become much more slow to speak. But I think a lot of times that comes from living in a very homogeneous type of life to where your views and your understanding is never challenged because you’re not living among it.

A lot of people are saying, “I’m sympathetic to the cause, but why do they have to riot? Why are they burning down buildings? Why can’t they just be peaceful about it?” How do you speak into that situation?

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"People do a lot of irrational things when they feel they’re not being heard."

I think Dr. King nailed it back in the ’60s in saying, “I don’t condone this type of violence, but I understand it.” He called it “the language of the unheard.”

Let’s say in a parenting situation, if you find yourself yelling all the time, yelling at the child, what the child learns is, “You only mean it, I only really have to obey you, when you yell. Because any other time when you’re speaking peacefully, I know I can still get away with things.” So you condition that child to say, “I’m only going to listen to you when you yell.”

In this type of scenario, there was 130 peaceful protests. They’re called die-ins, where people were going into businesses and retail places and laying down, singing protest songs. There was organized summits. But when you turn on the TV, what you see, when people finally talk about it, is when a building is burned.

What I’m saying is, not that I condone it, but I understand it, because you only listen when something is burning. It wasn’t an issue until we lit this house on fire. But when I was trying to tell you very peacefully, very honestly, and then showing you examples, and then filming the person being harassed by the police. I don’t mean harassed—killed. You see this with your own eyes. You’re seeing this. The video’s not enough? The testimony is not enough? I don’t know what else it takes for you to listen to me. And people do a lot of irrational things when they feel they’re not being heard.

This interview is split into two parts click here to read Propaganda's thoughts on how the Church and Christians can help work toward reconciliation.

Top Comments

LaDawn Fletcher

1

LaDawn Fletcher commented…

Craig, I think you are misunderstanding how race is a factor. It isn't "I hate black people, I think I'll kill one today in the line of duty." It is much more subtle and therefore more dangerous. It is believing that blacks are more predisposed to crime and violence (so if a black woman or man knocks on your door needing help for a car accident you shoot because you presume robbery). If you are a LEO and believe that, you interpret normal reactions and interactions with a level of force not commensurate with what is needed.

It's believing that a person has strength or skills they may not have (read how Darren Wilson describes Brown-they are the same height).

Because some people perceive blacks as dangerous, every day activities draw increased scrutiny which can lead to more interactions with LEO who may our may not harbor similar beliefs. Most of the time it doesn't lead to altercations, but it is an inconvenience that wears you down (Google the black guy walking in Michigan police interaction).

Craig

3

Craig commented…

I was drawn to this article as a result of originally seeing Propaganda's tweets on the subject and noting a decided change in tone. I have to admit I have been puzzled by the automatic jump to assuming all these incidents being discussed are racial in nature. Yes they involved white police and black men breaking the law, but at the root it was police responding to crimes. Granted Garner's crime was likely a misdemeanor and choke holds are definitely not proper procedure. But was it racial? The media has not shown unedited video of the incident, but the grand jury was shown such video. And what they saw was the officer's responding to directives by their sergeant, a black female. What made Officer Wilson's self defense racial? Autopsy evidence, forensic evidence, even eye witness testimony backed up the bulk of Officer Wilson's account. While I have not gone through police training, as a corrections officer I have had some similar training. I can tell you someone raising their hands AND approaching me is not a sign that they are properly responding to directives being given them. It is actually a form of mocking defiance and impending attack. There have always been, and will always be court cases we don't agree with. Does it mean they are a miscarriage of justice? No, it means justice is forced to put certain blinders on in order to focus on the central issue. Under Missouri state law the Grand Jury found there was insufficient evidence to charge Officer Wilson with the charges filed by the prosecution. The same occurred in the Garner case. Perhaps the wrong police official was examined in the Garner case. Perhaps the supervising Sargent should have been examined by the Grand Jury. But would media, that thrives on scandal, even mention an unfortunate death of a black man through improper police supervision by a black woman? That story might not sell.

9 Comments

Craig

3

Craig commented…

I was drawn to this article as a result of originally seeing Propaganda's tweets on the subject and noting a decided change in tone. I have to admit I have been puzzled by the automatic jump to assuming all these incidents being discussed are racial in nature. Yes they involved white police and black men breaking the law, but at the root it was police responding to crimes. Granted Garner's crime was likely a misdemeanor and choke holds are definitely not proper procedure. But was it racial? The media has not shown unedited video of the incident, but the grand jury was shown such video. And what they saw was the officer's responding to directives by their sergeant, a black female. What made Officer Wilson's self defense racial? Autopsy evidence, forensic evidence, even eye witness testimony backed up the bulk of Officer Wilson's account. While I have not gone through police training, as a corrections officer I have had some similar training. I can tell you someone raising their hands AND approaching me is not a sign that they are properly responding to directives being given them. It is actually a form of mocking defiance and impending attack. There have always been, and will always be court cases we don't agree with. Does it mean they are a miscarriage of justice? No, it means justice is forced to put certain blinders on in order to focus on the central issue. Under Missouri state law the Grand Jury found there was insufficient evidence to charge Officer Wilson with the charges filed by the prosecution. The same occurred in the Garner case. Perhaps the wrong police official was examined in the Garner case. Perhaps the supervising Sargent should have been examined by the Grand Jury. But would media, that thrives on scandal, even mention an unfortunate death of a black man through improper police supervision by a black woman? That story might not sell.

LaDawn Fletcher

1

LaDawn Fletcher commented…

Craig, I think you are misunderstanding how race is a factor. It isn't "I hate black people, I think I'll kill one today in the line of duty." It is much more subtle and therefore more dangerous. It is believing that blacks are more predisposed to crime and violence (so if a black woman or man knocks on your door needing help for a car accident you shoot because you presume robbery). If you are a LEO and believe that, you interpret normal reactions and interactions with a level of force not commensurate with what is needed.

It's believing that a person has strength or skills they may not have (read how Darren Wilson describes Brown-they are the same height).

Because some people perceive blacks as dangerous, every day activities draw increased scrutiny which can lead to more interactions with LEO who may our may not harbor similar beliefs. Most of the time it doesn't lead to altercations, but it is an inconvenience that wears you down (Google the black guy walking in Michigan police interaction).

Barry Davis

3

Barry Davis replied to LaDawn Fletcher's comment

Maybe they believe that because it is true. While most black people are honest, hard-working people, there is no doubt there is a much higher level of black on white crime than the other way around, and black on black crime is even hire. This has nothing to do with how someone feels, it is simply a fact.

srgwriter

20

srgwriter replied to Barry Davis's comment

But Barry, if we let a statistic such as this cloud our judgment and create a stereotype, then it is possible that race becomes an issue, and justice cannot be objectively reached.

Craig

3

Craig replied to LaDawn Fletcher's comment

LaDawn thanks for replying to my comment. I appreciate you clarifying how people are making this about race. It sounds like it is all based on assumptions in both directions. Assuming someone is dangerous because of preconceived notions and on the flip side assuming someone is racist because of preconceived notions. (I admit to having to look up the term LEO. And as a way of disclosure I should say I have been a Juvenile Corrections Officer for the last 13+ years after about 17 years in youth ministry.) I have heard those stories of people shooting first and asking questions later, like your example of a black woman or man knocking on the door for help. Perhaps I have been shielded from this way of thinking by living away from metropolitan areas in California. I can tell you that standard training where I work teaches us to respond with the lowest level of force possible should an incident arise, and then increase force only as needed. At the same time I can assure you that the violence being perpetrated by the minors I deal with has increased dramatically in the time I have worked in the system. But the pockets of racism I have seen in my work transcends pigmentation. I have had black minors say to my face "I hate ALL white people." I have heard Hispanics hate everyone that isn't in their family or their gang...even other Hispanics. I have even heard the idiotic rhetoric coming out of the mouths of white power kids. I work currently in a boot-camp connected with a juvenile hall where we are able to run programs and help with their messed up ways of thinking. And I have seen racial attitudes reduced by having to eat, sleep and exist in a bunk next to someone completely different...or maybe not so different after all.

You point out that it is also "believing that a person has strength or skills they may not have". I do know that there are a mountain of case studies showing that some people have proven to have what seems to be super-human strength and stamina when when a situation is escalated. You may have read some of the stories where FBI made a kill shot in a situation and instead of instantly dying the suspect went on to kill a couple of agents and wound others before dropping dead. As for Darren Wilson's description of Brown I notice that people point out that both men were the same height. Very few people point out that Michael Brown had an 80 weight advantage over Wilson. And since Wilson was seated in a vehicle at first there was a decided height advantage, at least a perceived height advantage. And if you have seen the image of Brown roughing up the convenience store owner I'm sure that the victim's description of Brown painted him out as Goliath. As a corrections officer I can tell you that the minors who are booked for strong arm robberies (such is the case Officer Wilson was responding to) and stabbings always keep me more on guard around them. In my way of reasoning on the job a shooting is less personal and more cowardly. To do a stabbing is very personal, very cold. In the same way so is a strong arm robbery. To physically intimidate a victim without a weapon tells me there is no self control or conscious in the suspect, at least at the time of the incident. And color has nothing to do with it. In fact I can't think of a strong arm robber or suspect who has done a stabbing I have dealt with who was black. I can tell you that in having to physically restrain minors during an altercation an 80 pound weight difference is huge. It can be tough enough physically detaining a person who is the same height and weight as you are, and inches and/or pounds and it increases the difficulty. If Brown and Wilson had been boxers they would never end up fighting each other because they likely wont fall in the same weight class.
I know that LEOs (like how I incorporated that?) have been known to stop law abiding citizens for what appears to be no other reason than harassment or racial or other stereotypes. Sometimes the citizen never is given a reason once things prove to be on the up and up, and this is something I think LEOs should take a moment to explain. For example my wife was pulled over and questioned in depth about her car. She was cited for being on her cell phone without a hands free device. I realized by how she described the officer's manner and questions the stop had nothing to do with the cell phone. They were looking for a stolen car that matched the description of hers. Why else would the year, make, color of car and ownership of the vehicle matter? I can tell you that most of the street officers I have dealt with in my corrections position have been very decent and community minded. But one of the statements an officer told me once revealed why some of those inconvenient interactions turn into arrests and possible altercations. The officer had brought in a young man who had gotten drunk at home and was in the family's front yard. The father was trying to deal with the boy and the mother had called the police. The officer arrived and talked with the father and son. The officer wasn't even going to cite the boy as long as he went inside and sobered up in the home. The father was grateful and the son, in his drunken state, decided to try and punch the officer in the face. So the kid was brought in on multiple charges. As the officer told me the kid "failed the attitude test". I know it is an inconvenience to be stopped by police. It's happened to me a bunch of times, but I remind myself those men and women are out there to protect and serve. They don't know day to day if they will be going home to see their families each night. Until the 80s most police officers never drew their weapons during their entire career except on the firing range. Then as more and more police were gunned down from seemingly routine traffic stops (recently in the Sacramento/Auburn area two officers were killed and a third hospitalized as a result of such a stop) or responding to a domestic dispute (these are often the most dangerous for LEOs to respond to) training changed and it became more standard to draw a weapon as a precautionary measure. And that has become policy in many departments regardless of the race of the suspect. I don't know the current stats but in 2012 about three times more white people were killed by police than blacks. It's really a heart issue more than anything else.
And yes, there are certain LEOs out there who should never have been hired in the first place (we've had COs who shouldn't have been hired as well and we get them out as quickly as we discover problems). Just remember that law enforcement hires from the same pool of humanity as every other career area. There are bad doctors, bad teachers, bad lawyers, bad clergy, bad blue collar workers, etc.. The potential of cameras on LEOs is very promising. I know a recent incident in Oakland, CA was completely turned around by an officer wearing a camera. Perhaps you saw the story, although it got buried pretty quickly once the video was released. An off duty black firefighter had taken his sons to an A's baseball game. He had parked in front of his fire station since it was within walking distance. When he returned to his vehicle he noticed that the roll up door at the station was open and the engine and crew were gone. Realizing they had missed closing the door he went into the dark station to make sure things were okay and close the door. Meanwhile a citizen called the police stating someone was in the station while the crew was out. An officer responded and afterwards the fire fighter went on television with his lawyer claiming he and his sons were mistreated by a racist cop. when the video was produced unedited by the police department it proved the officer was professional, followed protocol, and was polite where the fire fighter said he was rude. The only thing both versions had in common was the fire fighter's sons were a bit frightened and had started to whimper. It is interesting that it was the LEO who reassures the boys that everything will be all right. Interestingly there hasn't been, at least to my knowledge, another peep out of the fire fighter in the media.
There are far too many stereotypes in society, and I'm afraid there will always be. In fact it could get worse. Often we don't help matters when we promote those stereotypes knowingly or not. Violent and destructive protests only magnify the impression of certain pockets of society being dangerous. We don't need more people throwing fuel on the fire.

Brett

194

Brett commented…

This is such a great and insightful piece, thank you for sharing. I just do not understand how people don't see it. Been trying to use my blog as a platform for conversations like these - maybe the more stories we hear it will eventually sink in: https://brettfish.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/the-wisdom-of-others-in-talki...

Keep up the good work
love brett fish

srgwriter

20

srgwriter commented…

The Eric Garner video was disturbing and I without a doubt feel that the force used was beyond what was necessary. I do mourn with those who have lost, especially in such a terrible way. And from comments I have heard and seen I realize that there is more racism still existing than I had previously thought, and that disturbs me as well. But I still don't know that these events were racially motivated in any way. Would it have been different if the same circumstances occurred but the subject opposite was white? I can't say for sure. Can we say for sure that the cops were lying? I can't understand what it's like to be treated differently because my color, I'm too mixed blooded for it to show. But what about understanding the police officers, whose job it is to arrest those involved in a crime, and the risk they have to their lives while struggling with a large strong man. Sure, Gardner's crime was not endangering anyone, but the police are not told to ignore those crimes, and Gardner said he was not going peaceably. These events are all tragic, but I think it is also tragic to jump to the conclusion that these specific officers were acting out of racism. I personally would love for the world to see skin color the same as hair color and eye color, just another physical characteristic. But what I am seeing is a reaction to perceived racism, which none of us know for sure that is true, that is only creating more division among people of different skin color.

Craig

3

Craig replied to srgwriter's comment

The Eric Garner video is disturbing on a couple of counts. First that the officer was using a choke hold. Such a hold has not been standard in decades, in fact I believe most departments have eliminated it from acceptable holds. (In corrections work we are taught various holds, take downs, etc. If you deviate from the standard you have to clearly articulate why it was necessary to deviate in your report. Some actions have actually been outlawed such as hogtying was decades ago.) I don't know if choke holds are acceptable in New York, but it seemed unnecessary. I think the media has done a disservice in not showing the full, unedited, uncropped video. I understand the grand jury had video showing that the officer's actions were directed and approved by a supervising Sargent on the scene. Since a black Sargent was supervising the apprehension of a black suspect I would assume there was nothing racial about the incident itself. I think it is also disturbing that all this was over selling some cigarettes. From what I have heard much of the attention of the police force has been directed toward these illegal street vendors by decree of the mayor. This same mayor was quick to distance himself from the incident, point a finger of blame and then attempt to make himself look saint like. My guess is that selling cigarettes illegally at the level Eric Garner was is probably a misdemeanor. Most law enforcement agencies are allowed leeway in the way misdemeanors are handled. I would think most other cities would probably write a citation, confiscate the cigarettes and have the person leave the area. Little fuss, little muss. The person shows up in court and they either go back to selling or give it up. News stories indicate that the mayor has been sending out these officers to apply a heavy hand to those violating his pet laws. It is disturbing that something so minor would blow up so big. While Eric Garner did not comply with directives he also did not become aggressive towards the officers. But I have to agree with you there doesn't appear to be a racial action in the incident, rather it is a racial reaction to what happened. Had a white Sargent been directing an officer to continue the choke hold, race would at least be something to consider.

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