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Jun 6, 2020

The uprising

Co-produced with PRX Logo

As Americans in all 50 states take to the streets, protesters in Minneapolis, Miami, San Francisco and other cities tell us why they’re speaking out. Then host Al Letson speaks to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is prosecuting the case against Derek Chauvin and the other officers involved in the death of George Floyd.   

Next, Letson talks to Riley Lockett, a college sophomore who has been protesting with his family in Oakland, California. 

“I think society is just laying itself plain,” said Lockett, who is African American. “It’s telling my people that they do not care about us.” Lockett is a contributor to YR Media, a national news network based in Oakland. 

Rosa Blakley of Detroit, 77, remembers another time people took to the streets to protest police brutality: the long, hot summer of 1967.

And Letson reflects on the history of policing in America with Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of “The Condemnation of Blackness.” 

Credits

Produced by: Najib Aminy, Michael Montgomery, Priska Neely, Michael I Schiller and Julia Simon

Edited by: Brett Myers, Kevin Sullivan, Taki Telonidis and Matt Thompson

Production manager: Mwende Hinojosa

Production assistance: Amy Mostafa

Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Mixing: Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda and Claire Mullen

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Other: Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel.

Special thanks: Rebecca Martin at YR Media and Jonathan Blakley at KQED. We also want to thank KQED, Minnesota Public Radio, WABE, WLRN News and WHYY, as well as Vincent Barone, for providing us with sound from the front lines of the protests.

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images. 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Female:

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Al Letson:

From Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson and we've seen this before. A black man dies in police custody and it's all caught on video. Like Eric Garner in New York, George Floyd's last words in Minneapolis have become a rallying cry for protesters.

Activist:

I can't breathe!

Activists:

I can't breathe!

Activist:

I can't breathe!

Activists:

I can't breathe!

Activist:

I can't breathe!

Activists:

I can't breathe! I can't breathe!

Activist:

I can't breathe!

Activists:

I can't breathe!

Al Letson:

Floyd's death has sparked outrage that's consumed the entire country with protests in 350 cities in all 50 states. We want to start our show today by listening to people on the frontlines of those protests.

Female:

What we saw was a black man who was lynched. Right? They didn't use rope. He used his knee. Mr. Floyd should have not died. He should still be alive today.

Male:

That's right!

Activist:

Say his name!

Activists:

George Floyd!

Activist:

Say his name!

Activists:

George Floyd!

Activist:

Say his name!

Activists:

George Floyd!

Male:

It'll be sanctioned if nothing is done. It'll be sanctioned if it's business as usual. It'll be sanctioned if the history that we have in this country and in this community of ignoring black bodies and the death of black bodies at the hands of officers acting under the color of law is ignored.

Activist:

All hands on deck!

Activists:

All hands on deck!

Female:

I want to accomplish is ... I want black men, black women, black people to live in freedom the way that everyone else deserves.

Activist:

Get your knee off my neck!

Activists:

Get your knee off my neck!

Activist:

I am sick and tired of coming to this protest over and over again. And for my white brothers and sisters, silence this violence. I say this over again, silence is violence!

Activists:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

Activist:

I cannot tell you how hard it is to grieve and fight at the same time! Who does that? I don't want to be out here but I got to be out here! And if I have to, I will suffer the consequences due to Covid-19 but God is going to cover us because this is a time for change! And it's time to change now! No justice!

Activists:

No peace!

Activist:

No justice!

Activists:

No peace!

Activist:

No justice, no peace!

Activists:

No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

Al Letson:

The morning after George Floyd's death, Keith Ellison saw the now infamous video.

Keith Ellison:

They just slowly, methodically ... I mean everybody saw the tape. I will allow people to interpret it their own way but it did occur to me that this is going to be a big event.

Al Letson:

Ellison is the attorney general of Minnesota. He's also the lead prosecutor in the case against Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis officers. Ellison was a six-term congressman, a civil rights attorney and an activist. For three decades, a lot of his work has focused on police violence. But he says he's never seen anything like this.

Keith Ellison:

I know of no occasion in my life where we were in a pandemic with a act of excessive force followed by massive protests, followed by looting and arson, campaigning, all in the context of a president who wouldn't try to calm the nation but actually was antagonistic toward mayors, governors, and everybody else who's actually trying to solve the problem on the ground.

Al Letson:

When I see these uprisings happening across the country, the feeling that I get is that a lot of the people that are marching in the street have the exact same feeling of we're just tired. We're tired of having this conversation. We had it when Eric Garner died. We had it when Philando Castile died. And at this point, we're just so over it. And that anger is just exploding. What do you say to those people who are just tired and over it?

Keith Ellison:

If you try to ask somebody for patience, who's been extremely patient, they might have some choice words for you, right? I just say to those folks, we've never seen meaningful social change without people getting in the street raising their voices. I say, be safe, remember Covid. I say be peaceful but by all means, exercise your first amendment right because if we don't have that, it's extremely difficult to get policy makers to implement changes that could bring a better set of circumstances for us. That's what I say to them and I don't ask for patience.

Imagine this 400 years of people being denied in so many cases where there was no accountability. I mean it just compounds that level of disappointment and expectation of unjust outcome.

Al Letson:

So now you've been handed the case. Everything you do is going to be under not just a microscope in your state but worldwide. What's your approach going to be?

Keith Ellison:

Well, our approach is going to be not to worry about public pressure because if you worry about that, then your eyes are not focused on justice. We're going to make a very strong case that the jury should convict but we've got to be very, very methodical because these cases are not easy. And Al, it's interesting, from time to time, video comes out on these matters and people are outraged at what they see and yet the cases do not result in the kind of outcomes that one would expect.

Al Letson:

Why is it so hard to convict a police officer when we have videotape showing exactly what happened?

Keith Ellison:

Right. But just for your listeners, let's just run the numbers. Rodney King, the first Simi Valley jury, not guilty. Philando Castile, not guilty. So to your question, why? I think a multiple reason. One is that jurors have a tendency to resolve doubts out in favor of the police. The truth is under the law, an officer has no more credibility as a witness than any other witness but given our culture and our training and our upbringing, they are accorded with a certain degree of credibility. And so there's a factor.

Al Letson:

I spoke with Ellison just before he announced he was upgrading the charges against officer Chauvin from third to second degree murder. And was charging the three other officers with aiding and abetting murder. He hinted at where the case was headed.

Keith Ellison:

The public expects that people entrusted with role of guardian will be guardian, and that means intervening when someone is in distress, even if it is at the hands of another person entrusted with guardianship. That is a community expectation. It's not unrealistic. It's policy in many police departments throughout the country including Minneapolis. The idea of duty to assist, duty to intervene, these are real things and they're reasonable expectations for somebody entrusted with the role of guardian in our society.

Al Letson:

So since 2012, 2,600 complaints have been made against police that resulted in just 12 disciplinary actions, just 12.

Keith Ellison:

I mean here's one thing that I've known, you know and many of your listeners know, there's a lot of great officers out there who joined the force to help people and yet, what is the benefit of doing the right thing? And what is the cost of doing the right thing? For example, if you have an officer who says, "I saw my officer do something that is unethical, wrong, immoral. I told him to stop it. He told me where I could stick it and now, I got to deal with this guy and all his friends on my job every day. Nobody else is able to even protect me."

I mean the bottom line is this is the problem. This is a cultural issue. And we've got to be able to create an environment where we keep the good people good, which means that we have accountability for people who do wrong.

Al Letson:

Are police seen as too powerful?

Keith Ellison:

In Minneapolis, I'd say yes. I'm not an authority on all of them but personally, I think that when it comes to pay, pension, working conditions, that there should be strong police unions, strong unions, period. But when it comes to misconduct and discipline, when it comes to mistreatment of persons in custody, I think that that should go to the chief and that the officer should have due process in the hands of the city council or mayor.

Al Letson:

I have a feeling that for you specifically, this is going to be a really hard uphill battle because I mean if we go back in 2007, Lieutenant Bob Kroll president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis called you a terrorist.

Keith Ellison:

Yeah.

Al Letson:

And this is the same man accused of wearing a white power badge on his jacket.

Keith Ellison:

Yeah.

Al Letson:

I'm just curious how you're going to be able to work with people who label you a terrorist to move the whole conversation into a better place?

Keith Ellison:

Well, for your listeners, if I could give a little context, he was teaching a police officer training class. There was nobody in the room except police officers and he said, "The people of Minneapolis are really dumb. We're at war with the terrorists but they just elected one of them." And then one officer says, "Wait a minute, are you talking about Congressman Ellison?" And he said, "Well, we did just elected him."

And so she showed more courage and she would not let it go and she pressed that complaint. He ended up having to apologize or whatever, but then later he told me he didn't really say it. But I'm like, "Whatever man."

Al Letson:

And this is all based on your religion. This is based on the fact that you're Muslim, right?

Keith Ellison:

That is true. That is the reason. But look there are serious issues that we have got to deal with. And it has to do with the personnel and it has to do with a number of things, including the president of our federation. We need somebody who is trying to protect our community, not somebody who's on some other agenda. He says he's going to wear his uniform to the Trump rally, that she said, "No, you can't do that." And so he shows up with some blue t-shirt that says, "Cops for Trump" and then gave a big speech at that rally, which was not at all you bringing our community together. I'll tell you that much.

And so this is the kind of person that we're dealing with here. And I don't know what we do about it, other than call it out and hope that the police union members select somebody who's really looking out. Yes, of course, for them because that's what unions do but also for the people who they are responsible for protecting and serving. I mean it's like a nursing union being against the patients, right? I mean this is a crazy situation.

Al Letson:

Let's talk about President Trump. On a call with governors he has told them that they have to go tougher. He's threatened to deploy military troops if a city or state and I quote, "cannot defend the life and property of their residents." Given your own experiences, how would you respond to this kind of move?

Keith Ellison:

I would just say that President Trump has been not helpful. When he used the term, dominate, you have to dominate, I was like, "Well, the problem is that officers try to dominate. That is why we're in this mess right now." I can only conclude he doesn't know or doesn't care or some combination of the two about how to restore order. I mean the fact is the things that he says are actually putting officers, many of whom are pretty young in harm's way. We need to learn how to serve community, how to work with community, how to build a trusting relationship, not dominate.

Al Letson:

So what's been your personal experience with the police? Have you ever felt singled out because you're black?

Keith Ellison:

Yes. Oh, yeah. More than once but at an early age, I grew up in the city of Detroit. I just remember ... My father was the first one who told me, "Put your hands on the wheel, don't talk back. Keep your ID with you at all times. Don't do anything they say don't do." And then he said to me, "Because they'll kill you and it won't be much of anything any of us can do about it." It kind of scared me quite a lot but I was fine. I mean I just figured that was the way it was. He told my brothers the same thing and that was the way we grew up.

But then I had other experiences, which sort of informed me but I had good experience with the police too. It was a mixture but there was some unfortunate incidents, which I'll never forget. When I was a little kid moving towards my teenage years, I remember my perception of the police did change.

Al Letson:

Across the country, the level of anxiety for black people is just off the charts. You were a little kid when the protest happened in Detroit in 1967 and '68. They sent in the army and the National Guard. Dozens of people were killed. Does the response from the police and the government remind you of what happened when you were a kid?

Keith Ellison:

You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me that there's a little kid four or five years old right now, just freaked out and scared to death and doesn't know anything about what ... doesn't know why this is happening. They just know mom is scared, dad is scared. And when a little kid sees their parents scared, they are really scared because that's their person who protects them.

There are indelible memories being imprinted on the minds of children right now. And I just think we really need to think about that as we decide how we're going to allocate our time in the next five months, five years, 50 years and if we going to say this is the issue we must solve. And we're not going to quit. We're not going to wait until the next horrific tragic episode. We're going to keep on working regardless. So that's what it reminds me of.

Al Letson:

Keith Ellison is the Attorney General of Minnesota. He's now heading the investigation into the death of George Floyd. Attorney General, thank you so much for talking to me.

Keith Ellison:

My pleasure, and thank you so much.

Al Letson:

We reached out to Minneapolis Police Union President, Lieutenant Bob Kroll for comment. He didn't get back to us. Our story was produced by Michael Montgomery. What happened to George Floyd is bringing a new generation of protesters out onto the streets.

Riley Lockett:

I need to go out because I keep on seeing my community being terrorized by the police state.

Al Letson:

And later in the show, we look at the history of police brutality in America. You're listening to Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

Riley Lockett:

More than anything, I feel enraged.

Al Letson:

Riley Lockett is a black college sophomore from Oakland California.

Riley Lockett:

I feel like people are finally waking up to the injustices in society. And that we've sort of pulled back the curtain on police brutality. I feel like anyone who says, "It's just a few bad apples right now," either is ignorant of the situation willfully or otherwise, or is just lying.

Al Letson:

Riley contributes to YR Media, a national network of diverse young journalists and artists. For the first time in his life, he's going out to protest.

Riley Lockett:

My mother is very uncomfortable with me going out and protesting. And she's made it clear that she's very worried about my safety.

Al Letson:

So why keep going out?

Riley Lockett:

I keep going out because it's like a gravitational force. I can't just sit at home and watch this happen. I need to go out because I keep on seeing my community being terrorized by the police state. And I just can't stand by and be on the wrong side of history.

Al Letson:

How does all of this make you feel?

Riley Lockett:

I think society is just laying itself plain. It's telling my people that they do not care about us when we have video evidence showing that they are abusing us in broad daylight from every possible angle. That's the establishment telling me and telling everyone who sees this that it doesn't matter. Like the police officer has had 18 different call-ins about his abusive behavior in the community and he was still out working.

Al Letson:

Some media outlets seem to be focusing on property damage and violence from the protesters. What do you think about that?

Riley Lockett:

Me personally, I do not lose that much sleep over property damage, especially when it's in multinational corporations like Target or the Chase Bank or Walmart. I'm sure those places are insured but black lives are not. And it's very telling to me that the police take a stand against property damage rather than damage of black lives because that goes back to the origin of police and America, where they were organized and formed to stop slaves from running away and gaining their freedom.

Police from the very beginning have been about protecting property, rather than lives. Back then the property was us. It was black people. And now the property is stores and street corners. And still the police aren't protecting black lives because that's never been their intention from the beginning. And it also shows a double standard in the way the news is covering the riots and the violence.

This country was formed on violent revolution. The Boston Tea Party was blatant destruction of property. They destroyed countless dollars in tea because they believed that the law was unjust. And it's frustrating. It's beyond frustrating. It is enraging to see people speak out against property damage more than they are speaking out against the damage of the black community.

Al Letson:

So how old are you, Riley?

Riley Lockett:

I'm 19.

Al Letson:

19. I was about your age when maybe the first videotaping of police brutality ever hit the national airwaves and that was Rodney King. I was a senior in high school and still today, we are seeing the exact same thing happen. And I'm just thinking about your generation, how you grew up with the names like Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, all of these guys died while you were in high school and middle school and kind of coming up. What kind of effect does that have on you as a teenager?

Riley Lockett:

I don't want to self-diagnose but ever since I joined Twitter and Reddit, and started looking at the world through my phone and online, I've become more and more stressed of the gumbo and more perpetually angry. And I've just become tired. It seems like every day or every week, there's a new name and there's a new video and there's a new corpse of my people.

Al Letson:

Riley Lockett is a contributor to YR Media, a national news network based in Oakland, California. Riley, thanks for talking to me today.

Riley Lockett:

Thank you for this opportunity.

Al Letson:

That story was produced by Julia Simon. Right now older generations are remembering another time when people took their anger to the streets.

Rosa Blakley:

It was a frightening time. It was something that I thought I would never have to go through again in my life. But when I look and I see Washington DC, when I see Minnesota, when I see California, when you see all of this, the memory, it just comes up. And it does something to you.

Al Letson:

Miss Rosa Blakley, a lifelong Detroit resident.

Rosa Blakley:

I'm 77 years old. When I was younger, I did not tell my age but as you get older, you're so happy to be older and living. You don't mind telling the truth.

Al Letson:

When she was in her early 20s, Rosa says her neighborhood was bustling with lots of black-owned businesses. Her parents owned a drugstore that was like a second home for many residents.

Rosa Blakley:

Down the street from the drugstore was a five-and-dime, then there was Mom's Kitchen, hair salons, shoe stores. It was just something you would see in the movies but it actually existed then.

Al Letson:

But underneath that, outrage was brewing in the black community. People were held back from getting jobs, buying homes and were brutalized by the police.

Rosa Blakley:

It was nothing for them to stop a black man. And if they felt like beating him, they would just because. This was tearing at the man's manhood. And there was nothing he could do. If they felt like taking you and putting you in a squad car and hitting you for the heck of it, they could do it and it was done. And it was heavy discrimination during that time. You could [inaudible] over it. You went on with you job and performed the best you could. You take all this and you put it in a pot and you turn to heal. Everything was fine until it wasn't, if that makes any sense. You have one day, very sane being all right and then boom. You have walked into a nightmare.

Al Letson:

That nightmare began in 1967, known as the long hot summer. Detroit was one of the hottest spots.

Rosa Blakley:

The riot started on 12th Street. Now, it started, my understanding, was the blind pigs. Blind pigs is like an after-hours joint. You would go on there and you drink and I guess danced and what-have-you but it was against the law because it was after hours. Anyway, this particular Blind Pig was raided and they had the paddy wagon out.

Al Letson:

Police arrested 82 people at the bar. That was the last straw. Someone threw a brick at a cop car, and then at a shop.

Rosa Blakley:

And the word gets out and then it began to spread. It had gotten totally out of hand. And then the city was on fire.

Male:

[inaudible]

Rosa Blakley:

And then the shooting began. And it's just a matter of looting. At that time, I was working at the grocery store, cashier, head bookkeeper. It was Ridley's grocery store. That next morning which was Monday, I get a call from the head cashier, "Come over to my house and we're all going to go together to the store." because all the other supermarkets had been burnt up, all the supermarkets they were gone or looted. There was nothing there. The only reason Ridley's was still there is because National Guard was called out and they had surrounded the building.

George W. Romne...:

As governor of the state of Michigan, I do hereby officially request the immediate deployment of federal troops into Michigan to assist state and local authorities in reestablishing law and order in the city of Detroit. I'm joined by-

Rosa Blakley:

And my parents' drugstore, the only reason that they were not burnt out is that the neighbor right across the street from the store, he got his shotgun and stood at the door so that nobody would try to go in. And a lot of them I remember the store owners saying that, "I gave credit to a lot of these people that were looting. Why did they do that?" They couldn't understand. Why do people destroy their own neighborhoods?

I don't know but they're lashing out. For once, they can just do whatever they want and they can destroy because they're tired and there's no thinking. Maybe that's a part of the why, the injustice.

A riot is like a small snowball and it continues to roll and roll and roll and roll. And it gets larger and larger and larger. And there is no stopping it once it continues to go.

When the National Guard, they brought the tanks in, and you just hear them before you saw them. Eight mile, you really felt you were in a war because when you see things, you see them in pictures where there's a war going on. And this was your city. It's almost hard to describe your seeing it but a part of you does not want to believe that this is happening.

The shooting, the sniping, I had people tell me that they had to sleep on the floor because they were afraid that a stray bullet would kill somebody in the home. You would hear these horror stories. In my mind, the days kind of rolled out into one. You'd wake up and you really didn't want to look at the television. It seems like it just stopped. Roughly about a week, the initial damage and it moved on as it played out.

You're glad you don't hear the sirens anymore. It just dissipates. It has gone its course as this will go its course because the violence, the blind rage, it just finally burns out and [inaudible] leaves a lot of scars.

Al Letson:

Over the course of a week, more than 2,000 stores were burned and looted. Hundreds of people lost their homes, hundreds were injured and 43 people died.

Rosa Blakley:

When I see the destruction now as a flashback, although there's a difference. In '67, it was total chaos but to demonstrate as they are doing now peacefully, that did not exist and then I thought and I said, "Even though you had all that chaos that we see watching the news, you still had the peaceful protesters and they were there for peace and for justice. What every American is entitled to, justice."

I experienced the riots. My children experienced with me at the same time. I do hope and pray that my youngest grandchild, who's five years old, smart as she can be. All grandmothers say that but she really is smart. She doesn't understand really what's happening now, but I do hope that in her lifetime, she does not have to go through any of this.

Al Letson:

That's Rosa Blakley of Detroit. Her story was produced by Priska Neely. The police violence Rosa witnessed back then and what people are seeing right now has its roots in the foundation of America. That's next on Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. And if you're a young black man in America, one of the leading causes of death is at the hands of police. That's according to a 2019 study led by a professor from Rutgers. The gravity of that fact is just overwhelming.

And so when we see protests happening all around us, they aren't just a reaction to the death of George Floyd. They reflect an anger that's been simmering for hundreds of years. Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad has studied that history. He's a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of the Condemnation of Blackness. He says the current staggering number of black Americans killed by police can be traced back through history to the evils of slavery. And how police have regulated the lives of black people from the very beginning.

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

From the evidence of history, and this is no exaggeration, from its origins, policing origins in this country across every colony in the colonial period through the 20th century, police officers have done the bidding of a powerful interest in our country. The most powerful people who by dent of political power, property ownership, the whiteness of their skin, their religion have been able to deploy the police to maintain the status quo against the interest of those who might challenge it.

And of course, that history runs through slavery through slave patrols, which were by definition intended to keep black people from rebelling, to keep them from challenging the system of their oppression. It was true throughout the Jim Crow period in the south when there was no semblance of justice, when black people could not even testify in their own defense. They couldn't join juries and they were subject to vigilante violence that was sanctioned by the state.

And then of course, the great migration period, which lasted six decades and brought six million black folks from the south to the north, follow the similar pattern with less vigilante violence and more bureaucratic or professional state violence controlling the interest of white homeowners and of white workers, who didn't want black people on the same equal footing. When black folks challenged that as strike breakers or trying to join strikes were often subject to violence that was abetted by policing.

Al Letson:

With that long history of policing in America and specifically policing black people in America, what would have been the most effective protest against police brutality historically?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

That's a good question. I can't think of a single example of a successful protest against police brutality. I can say that the difference between the uprisings beginning in Harlem in 1935, which was really the first time that African American community members directed their outrage at systemic oppression towards the police and towards largely white-owned businesses. That pattern begins in the 1930s and continues through to the present.

To some degree, that early rebellion brought some attention, particularly in New York City because of Harlem where it happened but it didn't go very far. And by the 1960s with the dozens and dozens of uprisings, beginning in Watts carrying through to Dr. King's assassination, those up writings, the Kerner commission really brought the kind of evidence that should have made a national case for a fundamental reversal in the kinds of policing practices, that had long been subject to civil rights protests by African Americans. But in many ways, it didn't.

The Kerner Commission report was published in 1968. Nixon was soon elected and we got the world on crime, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, the crime bill of the 1990s. I'm struggling to claim any "success."

Al Letson:

A little bit of a historical question, can you give us a brief history of modern policing?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

When we think of modern police officers, uniformed, wearing a badge, eventually wearing a gun but starting out with batons, that begins really in the 1830s, 1840s and '50s in industrial cities. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City. Citizens even in that time in the mid to late 1800s consider police officers just another gang, like the illegitimate gangs that were running around in cities because there was tremendous corruption and brutality. And often it was directed white on white or immigrant against native. And so that's the early story of policing.

Policing in the south starts with slave patrols, which for more than 200 years going back to the first slave codes, which banned the congregation of three or more black people out of fear of insurrection or arson. And slave patrols were the most visible bureaucracy of law enforcement in the south.

After slavery, the KKK thoroughly dominated and infiltrated a lot of law enforcement in the south. By the time we get to the great migration period, the mid to early 20th century, we see a consolidation around policing as a kind of step up, a form of economic mobility for white ethnics. I'm now Italian-American. I can become a police officer. My kid can become a police officer. My grandkid can become a police officer.

Policing by the mid 20th century became a real pathway for white ethnics to get a piece of the American dream. And in many ways, at the expense of African Americans who not only joined the force much later and in far fewer numbers, but for much of the 20th century, black people believe it or not, when they were hired on the force could not police white communities.

So any Italian or Irish American by mid 20th century could police any part of the city and most certainly black places but the same was not true for black police officers.

Al Letson:

In your book, you say there is an arc of history that connects lynching's past to policing's present. Can you explain that arc?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

Sure. Well, lynchings I mean to this day, they were probably 4,400 documented lynchings between the 1880s and 1950s. That number and scale of people subjected to racist terror and death, why should we think of that any differently than police officers who get to shoot and kill unarmed people in the back, in their cars, in their beds, in their parks butt-naked in the middle of the street? Clearly, with no evidence of any lethal threat inherent in that, and those people are not treated to criminal sanction and punished for it. I mean why should we think any differently?

So when I look at that lynching role, I can't help but look at the numbers of cities where we have documented the long list of cases of police brutality because while we're mostly talking about the killing of people, there are thousands of people who have been beat up, spit on, dogs sicced on them, set up and framed, used as revenue streams to pay municipal budgets not just in Ferguson but in many other places. And so we have the evidence but nobody's doing much about it.

Al Letson:

To me, it feels like what we are witnessing right now seems to be the most significant protests since the late '60s. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

I would, absolutely. I think that the closest thing we can compare the scale of protest happening in dozens of cities right now is going back to the late 1960s, particularly 1968. At the height of the anti-war movement protests against Vietnam, as well as really the movement from the southern civil rights classic phase of MLK and non-violence, to a more robust and vigorous critique of institutional racism in the North, where it wasn't just about more voting.

Al Letson:

What do you see as the differences between then and now?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

I think the most striking difference is that the demographic of white participants is much broader. It's not just about long-haired hippies and counterculture lists or what was called the new left back then. These folks are in many ways, the gentrifiers of the kinds of communities that were changing, that George Floyd lived in, in the Bryant Central neighborhood of Minneapolis.

I actually have a cousin who lives in that community three blocks from where George Floyd as he says was publicly lynched. And one of the things that he's saying is that he has witnessed firsthand that these gentrifiers are out in the streets. They are joining protests. They're offering to help clean up after the protest move from neighborhood to neighborhood. So I think that gives us a little bit of access to what we're seeing play out in city after city.

Al Letson:

I mean just a couple years ago, we saw national protests and people being upset about what was going on in Ferguson. Then you move forward and you see what's happening with Philando Castile and people definitely came out and let their voices be heard. But this is just so much more massive. What's the difference?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

As a practical matter, people don't have other things to do. So people are literally underemployed, unemployed, stuck at home, the weather has turned in every place. And so you actually have ... People have capacity in ways that a lot of people who might have been morally outraged on Friday, Saturday and Sunday might even joined a protest, would get up and go to work on Monday and to some degree, business as usual. And so who's left?

Who's left are young people, who's left are community organizers, who's left are people who feel like they have to give it everything they've got even if they might lose a job. So that's different.

Al Letson:

Do you feel pessimistic about what you see? Do you feel optimistic? How does that all work?

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

So I like to think of being a realist and in that sense, I'm neither pessimistic nor optimistic. I want us to face the facts before us fearlessly, and then decide to do something about it. I want to say that there are solutions that activists, community organizers are asking for in this moment. And it ain't just about a proper adjudication and punishment for the killers of George Floyd. It is actually ranging from defunding police agencies or cutting back on their budgets or abolition of one form or another. Some of this are in terms of language, ways of forcing our attention to the impossible goal of police fixing themselves.

That's often what abolition really is about. These agencies and the core of these organizations are incapable of fixing themselves. On the practical side of the ledger, it is also true that community based public health responses to violence and harm in the community are proven effective strategies.

And so every listener here can look up more for themselves, the fact that there are right now violence interrupters in other community-based organizations that go into communities and help communities resolve conflicts without perpetuating violence. And the police are not necessary. They're not required.

So we have solutions. You're going to have to let go of your vision that police are the only answer to when bad things happen. That's the lesson of the progressive error when they looked inside of white immigrant communities. They said, "This is not a problem that requires more policing." I don't want anybody to not hear this conversation and think we don't know what to do. I mean it's unbelievable, so people have to choose to do it.

Al Letson:

Dr. Muhammad, thank you so much for speaking to me.

Dr. Khalil Muha...:

Thank you for having me.

Al Letson:

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad is a professor of history and race and public policy at Harvard. He's the author of The Condemnation of Blackness.

And finally as the host of Reveal, sometimes I get a glimpse at this big picture through the various stories we've told and how they connect. I don't think about it often because the investigations we do are hard and that can lead to dark places. But in times like these, I think as a journalist, it's my job to step back and look at how all the pieces come together.

If we take the reporting that Reveal has done in the last few weeks, from armed protesters demanding states reopen amid a pandemic, to people of color having less access to high-speed internet, to maternal death rates. Those stories in different places with different subjects and different people, all come down to one thing. Race.

We don't talk about it until something like the death of George Floyd happens, then everything that's been held inside erupts. And many Americans don't understand how we got here. But the protests are not just about police violence, they're also about the statistics that we live with day in and day out. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women.

The average white family is now financially worth 10 times more than the average black family. And Covid-19 is killing black people in the US at three times the rate of white people. And we just accept these facts as a part of life.

It's not just George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery's deaths. It's a burning anger at the way we live. Today, we are witnessing the consequences of the cracked foundation of this country. And either we dive in and do the hard work of fixing it now or we will surely be here again.

Najib Aminy, Michael Montgomery, Priska Neely, Michael Schiller and Julia Simon produced our show today. It was edited by Brett Myers, Kevin Sullivan, Taki Telonidis and Matt Thompson. Thanks to Rebecca Martin and YR Media and Jonathan Blakley at KQED.

We also want to thank KQED, Minnesota Public Radio WAVE, WLRN News, WHYY, as well as Vincent Barone for providing us with sound from the frontlines of the protests. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa.

Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J-Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando my man yo Arruda. Got help this week from Claire C-note Mullen and Amy Mostafa. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning. The music at the top of today's show was by Malik Abdul Rahmaan.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Johnathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Siemens Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember the only way we get through this, is together.

Female:

From PRX.