We get a preview of the legislative sessions in Maryland and Virginia. And we hear from D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine about last week's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
On May 25, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Police officer Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Since that fatal day, there have been sustained protests in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. and across the world — highlighting systemic racism not only in law enforcement, but within all institutions of government and society. Police reform is on the agenda across the region and the country, but what about addressing inequality in education, healthcare and housing?
This is a broadcast of the audio from our Kojo In Your Virtual Community event on June 30, 2020. Kojo will not be taking live calls or social media questions during this show.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Alvin Thornton Chair, Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education
- Will Jawando Councilmember, Montgomery County (D, At-Large); @willjawando
- April Goggans Core Organizer, DC Chapter of Black Lives Matter @DMVBlackLives
- Rashawn Ray Associate Professor, Sociology Department, University of Maryland and Fellow in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution; @SociologistRay
KOJO NNAMDISince George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May there have been sustained protests across the country and the world highlighting systemic racism not only in law enforcement, but within all institutions of government and society. Police reform is on the agenda in many jurisdictions, but many say there's a need to address inequality in education, healthcare and other areas. That's the focus of our conversation today.
KOJO NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi. So let's get to it. Joining us now Dr. Alvin Thornton, the Chairman of Prince George's County Board of Education, former Chair of the Political Science Department and Associate Provost at Howard University. Dr. Thornton led the initial education reform initiative in Maryland known as the Thornton Commission. He joins us from his home in Prince George's County, Maryland. Will Jawando is an Attorney, Activist and an At-Large Member of the Montgomery County Council. He joins us from his home in Montgomery County. And April Goggans is an Abolitionist and a Core Organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C., who joins us from her home in Southeast Washington.
KOJO NNAMDIDr. Thornton, I'll start with you. What was your reaction to seeing that Minneapolis police officer put his knee on George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, which ultimately killed him?
ALVIN THORNTONWell, it took me -- a person of my generation -- it took me back 1953 and the white men walking into the home of Emmett Till's grandfather and taking him away from his grandfather and his family and brutally killing him dropping him in a river. So that's where it took me from my generation. I'm a son of Alabama. I lived that experience. So it was a reminder of that, and it caused me great great pain. I am the father of two daughters and a grandson and three grandsons so all of those emotions, Kojo, were backed up in me, and so I'm in great pain because of that.
NNAMDIYou've seen other protests. You've seen other demands for change over the decades. What are you seeing in this current movement that might be different?
THORNTONWell, anytime you get Nick Saban, whether it's for economic or right thinking coming and joining the Black Lives Matter, do something about police. He's the football coach as you know at the national champion Alabama football team. Any time you see that happening, you know, something is happening. Any time you see a young black man, who came from my little home town in Roanoke, Alabama, who is a darker complexation than I am, become the President of the University of Alabama, a student government association and write eloquently about Black Lives Matter and you see his white students circling around him in support, you know something is happening.
THORNTONIt's very different than my generation. And that's the prayer and the hope that it's very diverse. You cannot segment it into black versus white. I know people are demanding something different, and so my heart is warmed in that regard.
NNAMDIWe'll hear that quote from Nick Saban later during the course of this conversation, but now onto you April Goggans. You've been organizing for many years. And you're a Core Organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. You've been on the streets of our city protesting. What are you seeing out there? And what's different about this moment to you?
APRIL GOGGANSYeah. You know, I've seen everything. Just moment of exuberance to really, you know, moments of great brutality and kind of the dark side of such moments, right? I've seen that change that we have a brand new population of young folks that are new to this. So there's some challenges and also just like great excitement about that.
APRIL GOGGANSThere are also -- I would like to say there is specific things that are different this time around. What I see is politicians, businesses, who don't want to be that person, right? So they're almost jumping over themselves trying to make changes before they get called out, because it means like painting murals versus what somebody is doing in the budget becomes really really important. To really look at whether or not the people that we're looking towards that are trying not be those people are actually living out that Black Lives Matter mantra in their actual work.
NNAMDIWill Jawando, you and your fellow Montgomery County councilmembers unanimously passed a bill declaring racism a public health crisis. Why was it important to pass this bill? And what will change because of it?
WILL JAWANDOGood to be with and with the distinguished guests. You know, it's critical for a number of reasons. You know, when Dr. Thornton was speaking about Emmett Till -- and obviously you could go back to my grandparents or his grandparents before that and name many others, who we know and don't know who have been killed by state sanctioned violence whether it be police violence or unequal opportunity that led to poor outcomes. And so when I drafted this resolution, and I'm thankful all my colleagues supported it. And you see this around the country, it really ties together that history of anti-blackness and racism and dehumanization that was required to have the system of child slavery that we had here in this country and then in the world. That is embedded in every system we have.
WILL JAWANDOAnd we die from many ways. We die from police violence, certainly. That's one of the most important and pernicious ways -- state sanctioned ways that we die. But we die in hospitals, because doctors don't think we're sick. Black women are three or four times more likely to die in childbirth regardless of their income. We die on our roadways. In Montgomery County it's similar to other places. Seventy-five percent of the people -- pedestrians killed this year were people of color in my county. And that tracks with other places because we've been redlined and our communities don't have walkways and they're not safe. And transit isn't available. We die in many many ways.
WILL JAWANDOSo I think if you look at COVID one in four of the deaths in our county are black residents even though they only represent 19 percent of the population. And all those things have ties to institutional and systemic racism. So we wanted to call it out. And then direct ourselves to have a plan action, budget, policy, legislation to address each of those areas, education, healthcare, the environment, higher rates of asthma in the black and Latino community. So we have to go down the list, and we have to brick by brick, step by step dismantle a system that's been built over hundreds of years.
NNAMDIJeremy Bernfeld, we have a question?
JEREMY BERNFELDThis question is from Alia in Burke, Maryland. "How can we keep the positive momentum of action that has resulted from the current protests?"
GOGGANSYeah, I think we constantly have to be looking at what we can do, what's happening, what are the gaps in what we know, right? I think there's a lot of information that circulating about and I think that folks also need to know that while there are groups like Black Lives Matter there are tons of other groups and tons of other opportunities. And that people are empowered to actually create a group, create an event as well, because there's definitely enough room and enough need for everybody to do everything.
NNAMDILet's look at this in the long haul, Alvin Thornton, because we're seeing, as April Goggans said, a lot of businesses and a lot of politicians jumping to quickly pass legislation. But will this moment pass, and if so, what does this moment imply for the long haul?
THORNTONThis is a moment that is not unlike other moments to some of us who are older who lived through where people have protested, young people, and put their lives on the line. And then you have a retrograde reactionary often racist response that blunts that. Certainly I lived through the 1960, late 60s when that happened.
THORNTONSo the first thing we have to do is to make sure that the political establishment is not able to standup in oppositional political machine that will defeat what we're trying to do. That is very very important. That leads obviously to making sure that November 3rd is taken care of in this country, in terms of the president's election, making sure that local elections do not stand that up. People will get frustrated. They're not going to protest forever. And so those of us who are in positions, on boards, on councils and those who are activists leaders have to make sure that we quickly translate it into policy.
THORNTONIn the area of police brutality, obviously, you're talking about dealing with law enforcement officer bill of rights, qualified immunity and unqualified immunity I call it, issues that weed all of the corrupt police officers that are in the system. People have to see that. In my own area, I'm Chairman of the school board. I think that we have to remove zip code status from our children and allow wealth to get to them. Now that's a policy issue. And once you do that you see, we will not have the recreation of the opposition in our children that public education especially in zip-codism creates. So protests to policy and you won't have frustration.
NNAMDIWill Jawando, speaking of the long term, we'll get back to police reform in a moment. But you've said that systemic racism has to be tackled in all areas of government. As of August 1st, all legislation in Montgomery County will be required to include a racial equity impact statement. Can you talk about and what it might mean in areas like say housing and transportation?
JAWANDOSure. It's a really important step. We took a landmark step last year in passing this racial equity bill, which will require as mentioned starting August 1st, every policy we consider, every piece of legislation, every budget item to have a racial equity impact statement. Similar to we get a fiscal note about how much this could cost the county. It's going to have to show us how it could impact our diverse community. Now, while that's important the reason we needed to pass this resolution saying it's an urgent crisis matter is that we have to act.
JAWANDOYou know, we've been presented with information. Dr. Thornton talked about the zip code analysis. We've known some of these things for a long time. And even if you have the information in front of you, you must act on it. And it's going to be difficult to act, because these systems have been built up over time. And so when you're talking about reallocation of resources into certain communities to make sure that -- that have been disinvested in the way of transportation as I mentioned earlier or walkways.
JAWANDOWe talk about education funding. We talk about moving funding from police departments to health and human services and social services. All those things are going to bear out and we're going to have to get the money from somewhere and that's when people say budgets are moral documents and the like. You're going to have to make -- take action on those impact statements. And so that's really what my focus is is making sure that it has teeth.
JAWANDOIn addition to training people, who are running government. You know, a big part of our resolution was that everyone in and around government has to be -- have racial equity training so they understand the true history of the country and how these disparities came to be. So that's another key part of it.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question.
BERNFELDWe got a question from Ahmad. "Is there a way forward that does not include reparations?"
THORNTONNo. I don't think there's a way forward that does not include reparations, but it must be added into reparations. Obviously our country was built upon racialized capitalism. The wealth of my grandparents, great grandparents, Nolan and Rachel, they were not counted. They did not exist as they built the wealth of our nation. The very distribution of our land and the accumulation of wealth and the great land grant universities that built the white middle class privilege, white middle class, etcetera, etcetera, we could go on.
THORNTONSo we have to go back and restore that and address that. And then what we must do -- this is why we mentioned the Thornton Commission and now the Kirwan Commission in Maryland, what that does is those two commissions do exactly what we're talking about. And that is that it says that the state has an obligation to make sure that children are not an extension of who they are, to whom they're born or where they're parents can live -- can afford to live.
THORNTONNow that should be a constitutional right just like Thurgood reached into the 14th Amendment and extracted enhanced equality for us. We must now reach in the case of Maryland and the case of the District into constitutional documents and elevate an equality umbrella over our children. Now that's going to be just as violently oppressed -- I mean, opposed as it was in my day. We all know that redistribution of wealth is going to be highly resisted, and we must get ready for that struggle.
NNAMDIApril Goggans, I see you nodding in agreement. You wanted to comment on reparations?
GOGGANSYeah. There isn't a way forward without reparations. And I think as always in every generation the word reparations to what we know we've always been deserved of. I think that we've also got to expand what reparations is, right? Like to fully understand what reparations are for is what's going to guide us into what our reparations need to be. Even in this moment we're talking about a police budget.
GOGGANSWe're talking about defund different police departments, that is to me a form of reparations, because it is taking and redistributing wealth, because like specifically here in D.C. it's going to have immediate impact on people who benefit from police having a bloated budget. Everywhere from developers and gentrification, that the police guard and ensure that, you know, the undesirables are not outside while they are showing those properties. So I believe, you know, absolutely not only are we deserved more and more every day, but you cannot take this moment or any moment since we arrived on these shores and not have there be some accounting of the harm that's been done and how it's been multiplied over generations.
JAWANDOYou know, there was a study done that I was a part of a couple of years ago by the Census Bureau and IRS and Stanford and Harvard that showed that in 99 percent of American communities black boys from the same background as white boys as far as income, level of education, family structure are going to earn dramatically less than their counterparts, and are much more likely to fall. If you start out high as a African American boy, you're much more likely -- half is likely to fall down to the lowest income bracket.
JAWANDOAnd they looked at children born between 1978 and '83, 20 million children. And looked at what their parents are making when they're born and the now 35 to 40 year olds are making now. And it shows that when you control for everything, but race, there's this dramatic disparity. And that's true in 99 percent of America. And it's because -- and it's worse in areas where you have disinvestment like was just discussed. And so there's no way. You must reinvest in communities. And does that mean individual payments?
JAWANDOIn some cases, yes, but it's certainly means investing in institutions that are going to help lift people up. And that's going to be good for our whole economy. I think it's important to say that. We should do it, because it's the right thing to do anyway, but when everyone gets to actualize their human potential that helps America. That helps the world.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have questions on education.
BERNFELDYes. This question is from Debbie in Columbia, Maryland. She asks, "Given that it has been reported that third grade reading scores have been used to plan for prison beds, how can the curriculum be changed especially at the elementary level?" We also have another question from Beth from Massachusetts who asks, "Curriculum is policy. How do we create an antiracist curriculum?"
THORNTONWell, most people talk about the school to prison pipeline. I always say community to school to prison pipeline. That third grader that they're testing, right, has lived several years outside of a school environment in communities, often in disinvested communities, in (word?) apartments, in high rent areas. Now what we must do is get to that child before the child gets to be tested in the third grade. We must organize that child's life before that child gets to the first grade. That child has lived six years somewhere. That's what Kirwan is all about. That's what Thornton was about. That's what we as people of Maryland just passed overwhelmingly in passing the blueprint for Maryland's future.
THORNTONWe're going to get these babies and we're going to adjust their lives before they get to the third grade, because if you don't do that -- we test kids in three, five and eight. All you're doing is testing what you already know. And that is income or zip code based differences. So what you must do is get resources to those children before they get to school, neonatal resources, pre-K education that is sponsored by the state and you create equality there. And once they get to the third grade then you're testing something that is in fact real.
JAWANDOThe curriculum point is so important. I think to one of those questions. You know, in 1896 there was a black man, 28 years old, named Sidney Randolph, who was dragged out of the Rockville court house, which is now the City County Council building I work in and go to every day. He was dragged out. he was accused of raping and murdering a young white girl from Gaithersburg, and was dragged out of the court house from government and lynched in front of it, one of three documented lynchings in Montgomery County, which we are now starting to commemorate.
JAWANDOHis memory, the memory of segregation and the history in our county and our state, the state that Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman ran away from, the state that had just as many soldiers fighting for the confederacy as it did for the Union that history needs to be told. It needs to be understood. And if you're going to have an antiracist curriculum you have to start understanding the racist system that we're in and that's the foundation. Right now in many of our schools we're failing that, and I know there are efforts to correct, but we need to do it urgently.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question on education.
BERNFELDYes. To carry on, from the Owner Kefa Café in Silver Spring, Lena asks, "Is there a conversation to upgrade the curriculum of teaching the real history of Africa before enslavement? More pyramids, science, astronomy and music."
GOGGANSYeah, so I think that's also fundamental, right, but I think in this conversation about curriculum it's still important to understand through which hands, through which companies all of that curriculum goes through. And who's telling the story of Africa, right? Are they telling the story of Africa as a monument, as a monolith or are they getting into precolonial Africa. That extends far beyond where most colleges and academia in general tends to look at where there are more than 75 countries, which colonialism played a role in current day interactions around the fact that people who were stolen from the shores of Africa never were able to go back and tell the story of what happened in America.
GOGGANSAnd how, that interacts with the way that we see each other, the way that we interact with the government, the way that we interact with the things that we teach our students. I was one of those students that because of, you know, who I am or where I was -- as one of the only black kids in the school, what was in the curriculum books was also then used as the measuring stick for what other kids knew about me or thought about me. And I think that that's something that I haven't seen yet.
GOGGANSAlso the mother of a child that went through DCPS school really see -- get to the crux of both the sociology and the educational development of curriculum that really speaks to things that are not just about reading and writing. That we are influencing how the impact of things like mutual aid, how we assist each other, how we lean, you know, lean on each other, how we are interconnected in the ways that we learn and love and live.
NNAMDIApril Goggans, where do you see systemic racism playing a role in government policies?
GOGGANSYeah. So just so happens that I do government policy, and I think what we see, yeah, it's a disconnect. No matter how we enter that space to start talking about policy. And I do early education policy. No matter how we enter that we are entering where we start, right? And then we are influenced by what is the national discourse, who is in the administration, who is the head of that office. And so what you see is different iteration of the same systemic instructional racism that has created this country, right, that built this country.
GOGGANSAnd I think the challenge then is how do we as folks who are I'll just say a little more committed to ensuring that justice is done versus our paycheck next week and whatever sacrifices come with that. It means also hitting that kind of systemic racism, when we see it with the same force as we do as our feet on the pavement when we're marching, right? And I think also we can't lean on policy as being more than one of the tools that we use for change. It's never been a thing that got black people free.
NNAMDICouncilmember Jawando, in a December report, the office of legislative oversight found that attempts to close the achievement gap in Montgomery County public schools have been largely ineffective. You're on the Council's Education Committee, how is the county trying to level the playing field for students? And where does systemic racism come in?
JAWANDOIt's in everything that we do. We can talk about curriculum. If you look at school discipline, for example, Black students in our county four times more likely to be arrested in school than a white student, much more likely to be expelled and suspended. Countless stories I've heard from black students and others that have said -- when they show up for their AP class the teacher says, well, the other class is down the hall. You know, so these expectations of -- you know, George Bush had a good quote. I don't know if he knew exactly everything of what he meant. But he said, "The soft bigotry of low expectations is actually a very hard bigotry," and speaks to our students.
JAWANDOAnd so we've had these pernicious gaps and opportunity gaps connected to funding, connected to early childhood education, connected to afterschool programs. You know, I lost one of my good friends to gun violence when I was a teenager. He wasn't in an after-school program and got caught up in the wrong things. And the schools that we went to that didn't have programs then still don't have them now. And it's 30 years later. And those are policy decisions.
JAWANDOThose are decisions that people made to fund something else and to not -- have that wrap around service and support. So we have to move urgently to address those things. We have models. They're out there. It's just we have to have the will, the political will, the social will and the staying power to the earlier point to demand these things. And that's why Kirwan and Thornton are so important, because we're not going to get that type of change unless we address it urgently.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have questions about the intersection of race and the pandemic.
BERNFELDThis one is from Anne Marie from Richmond. "We know that our most vulnerable students including students of color do best at school. We also know that black communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID. How do we best serve and support our black students and families when considering options for fall?"
THORNTONWell, I was on a call today with the State Superintendent of Schools and I said the best solution in Maryland to COVID is to fully pass Kirwan and fully fund it, because if you look at Kirwan -- about to get into the details. It addresses all the things that have been exposed by the COVID pandemic. That is, you know, the need for community schools with fully resourced community schools that support children in terms of nutrition, parent involvement, school psychologists, counselors, etcetera, of well-educated and compensated teachers addressing concentrated poverty, which is the zip code thing. So, you know, it's there.
THORNTONThat's why I'm so displeased about anything that would result in an underfunding or cutting of money through public education. This is exactly the response that you should have to the pandemic in the areas that we're talking about. If you don't do that, for example, if you don't extend the CARES Act to make sure there's stabilization in funding for public education that addresses the thing that I'm talking about, concentrated poverty, community schools, those things, right? Then we're not responding to the pandemic.
JAWANDOOne of the things -- 10 seconds on that. It's such a critical question, because we have some of our students, and we know this, that have not had formal instruction when we get to the fall that won't have had any or very limited formal instruction for 9 to 10 months, and they might have been already behind before.
JAWANDOAnd we do need to prioritize, you know, budgets and policy are about making tough decisions. While we must fund Kirwan, and I hope the governor will and the state legislature will fully do that; we need to make sure our students with disabilities, our highly impacted students, our students who are speaking English as a second language, they need to be made provisions so that they can get in the school and have direct contact if we're doing a hybrid model. We're still figuring that out as are most the districts, but I think that's certainly something where we need to look at as far as prioritization.
NNAMDIJeremy, you had a second question about race and the pandemic?
BERNFELDYeah, this question comes from Anne. She asked: How do we fund the programs that we're talking, about given the impact on budgets of the COVID pandemic?
NNAMDIGo ahead, Alvin Thornton.
THORNTONI penned a piece earlier, just a little comment, and I really want to make this comment. Sometimes you can only address, you know, what you need to do going forward if you look back and understand what you did. We cut -- which means insulating our children from wealth -- when we cut our federal budget massively and transferred wealth to the wealthiest of us in December of 2018, we cut the foundation under our economy. When we massively overfunded our defense budget beyond what the Defense Department asked for and beyond what the Congress asked for, we're transferring wealth from the least to those who don't need it.
THORNTONAnd when we irresponsibly managed the pandemic, which destabilized our economy, and then now we are -- in Maryland, anyway, we're saying we're going to massively cut funding for education. Now, this is painful for me, you see, those three things. Now, what we must do is understand that, and then we must say, look, nothing we can do about what just happened, but we will never make that mistake again. Because what we're talking about now is a resource allocation sharing the wealth with children. Well, you have to have wealth available to be shared and not artificially constrained.
NNAMDIApril Goggans, the D.C. Council passed police reform measures last month. What were they, and did they go far enough, in your view?
GOGGANSNot at all. I think -- again, I'm going to use my favorite word. It's performative. They did things they've been talking about doing for a long time. They did things that were -- they were close to a little bit at a time. But, again, it's reform. Again, I think that nobody on the council has actually shown that they want to champion this kind of change. I don't think that they are ready to -- for the scrutiny that may come with taking a real, real hard look at what they've been doing and what they've been a part of and seeing how far they actually can go.
GOGGANSI think there's a lot of scapegoating about, you know, how much bandwidth and how much they are able to change money around. But I think they came up with a whole lot of emergency changes when COVID hit. And so what we know is that what we thought was impossible is now possible. So, we won't be going back saying after COVID, things are going to be the same. They can never be the same which means that D.C. Council cannot be allowed to be the same, right, that we've got to speak out.
GOGGANSI mean, this is what you were elected for. You're not going to get patted on the back for doing the bare minimum. Those are things we were asking for five years ago. Things have changed, and they need to continue to either meet or exceed our changes, because we're not going anywhere, and that the things that we're demanding are about black lives. They're about black lives when it comes to gun violence.
GOGGANSIt's about black lives when it actually comes to housing that you can open up thousands of hotel rooms for folks, but you can't find housing for unhoused folks in a city that makes a significant amount of its money off of parking tickets to the same people that are going to jail at the highest incarceration rate in the world, that are being policed by the largest number of police per capita in the country.
GOGGANSAnd so, yeah, it's not enough. And I'll leave that with saying, Mary Cheh, after 16,000 people gave testimony about defunding MPD, said that they cannot just look at a whole bunch of letters from the community to determine what they do with the budget.
NNAMDIWell, we've got a clip of you, April Goggans, courtesy of (unintelligible) from June 23rd talking about the previous night's protest in D.C. Here's the clip.
GOGGANSI have never seen people so savagely beaten that I literally walked across the street to laugh and cry for a good 10 minutes. I've never cried at a protest. I just -- and a lot of them are black women who -- they were just moving a crowd back. Like, there was no direction, there was no warning. It was insane. It was literally like a warzone. And just, like, looking at especially Capitol Police's face. There was no, like, change or connection like humanity at all.
NNAMDIApril Goggans, what police force or forces were you dealing with? There are many, as you know, operating in the District. And what would you say about the tactics being used on protesters?
GOGGANSYeah, with 32 police departments, independent police departments operating in the District of Columbia. What I witnessed that night -- and I've seen a lot of things, both in the movement and just in personal life. What I saw that night was the absolute repression of dissent by any means necessary. I saw people -- there were no directions. You literally saw lines of police where they were just beating people in the head with batons.
GOGGANSI saw somebody get their nose broke by one of the shields. It was just absolute brutality with people -- both of them were really young, and folks that had never done this before. And let me preface that by saying, this is happening on Black Lives Matter Plaza. We have put the videos up every single day for the last week. And this is happening on Black Lives Matter Plaza.
GOGGANSSo what you see is a disconnect between what's happening on the ground and what we're seeing -- what people are seeing on the news is maybe one-tenth of what's happening on the ground. And the force, they're using things that have just recently been outlawed by the council. The amount of pepper spray munitions that are being used in these protests not only are illegal. They're just -- they're brutal. Like they are there for a war. They bring out bigger machines to shoot more pepper spray. They bring out more flashbang.
GOGGANSAnd just like they did in the inauguration, are denying that they've done that. So we're having to collect that information, which is also why Black Lives Matter D.C. is suing Trump for what happened on the 2nd, that at some point somebody had to be responsible.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have a question on police reform?
BERNFELDJennifer from Alexandria says: broader criminal justice reform is desperately needed in this country. I've been mostly hearing about defund the police, but is that enough, or should greater reforms be sought?
NNAMDIWill Jawando, obviously, police reform is front and center when it comes to systemic racism. You're one of the lead sponsors on a police reform bill in Montgomery County. What is it calling for, and are you optimistic that it will pass?
JAWANDOYes, thank you. And I appreciate the question. The short answer is, yes, we need to do at least three things. And I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last week. The bill that I've introduced with a couple of my colleagues is a use of -- is addressing the urgent need around use of force. It raises the standard of when death force can be used only as a last resort, from reasonableness to necessary, bans chokeholds and striking individuals who are handcuffed.
JAWANDOIt also creates a duty to intervene and protects officers who do intervene when they witness an officer committing a crime or using excessive force, and it'll ban no-knock warrants, the ones that killed Breonna Taylor and have injured so many others. That's a first step. That is kind of the baseline of what we need to do urgently and get that passed. But we also need to address and re-imagine public safety altogether.
JAWANDOYou know, I've embraced the defund movement. I say defund equals reimagine to me, because if you reimagine, you have to reallocate resources. You can't do it in any other way. And so everything from who we hire, what their psychological tests are at the beginning and ongoing. We don't want people with a warrior mentality that was just described by April. We want people to reflect the diversity and live in the community. We want to make sure that the incentive structure is changed from the federal government to the local level.
JAWANDOWe prioritize and incentivize stops, tickets and arrests. And you're given more money and more accolades when you do that. We don't track how many people that you've helped. How many situations have you deescalated? What many community events have you attended? And then we need to have transparency and accountability. We need to make sure -- we need to know when officers have had issues, and we need to change all those three things at the same time, and much more.
JAWANDOAnd that will include reallocation. We need to get rid of our school resource officer program, which is $3 million. We have one of the worst nurse-to-student ratios in the region. And we need counselors, not cops, in our school, and that's an example. We need to get rid of military equipment. So, there's a long list that will require budgetary reallocation. But if you took $288 million from our police budget, we have a $6 billion budget, we still need to have more money to do more things. That wouldn't do it alone, but it would be a good start, as we start to re-imagine public safety.
NNAMDIDr. Thornton, there are people who have questions who don't know much about either the Kerwin Commission or the Thornton Commission that preceded it. Could you briefly explain exactly what they are?
THORNTONThe Thornton Commission was passed in 2002, really, as a response to the testing of our children throughout the '90s without providing them adequate resources. That was a violation of Article 8 of the Maryland Constitution, to provide an equal and adequate education for our children. And the commission was created with (unintelligible) to make sure that that statutory imperfection was corrected. And there was a significant direction of it, and then, like now, an economic crisis, housing crisis, underfund and a political decision is made to shortchange it.
THORNTONThe Kerwin Commission seeks to update Thornton, and it seeks to address the issues that we're really talking about. And that is providing community schools, concentrate on poverty. You know, in the black community in Maryland, 65 percent of the children live in concentrated poverty areas. They live in -- the average age of schools in my county is 60 years. These are the issues we're talking about.
THORNTONAnd there's a system that institutionalizes that. That's the institutional racism, the context in which it exists. I believe, as the son of Maryland said, Thurgood Marshall said, that that is a violation of a constitutional citizenship right of children. They should be statutorily mandated at the state, not county, because for me, there's no such thing as Montgomery County and Prince George's County when it comes to our children, their children and mine.
THORNTONAnd I think that there needs to be a statutory umbrella to make sure that happens. Glad you agree with that, Will. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, you brought this up earlier, Alvin Thornton. In the 1960s race was impacted by sports with outspoken athletes like Muhammad Ali, Kareem, Abdul Jabbar, Black Power salute by black athletes at the 1960 Olympics in Mexico City. Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the National Anthem in 2016. Lebron James has been outspoken. And, recently, Alabama football head coach Nick Sabin and his players released this.
NICK SABIN AND FOOTBALL PLAYERSIn this moment in history, we can't be silent. We must speak up for our brothers and sisters, for our sons and daughters. We speak for justice, for fairness, for equality, for greater understanding. We stand together against racism, against brutality, against violence, for a better world. We believe the solutions to our challenges are within us. We choose to listen. We choose to hear and understand other's perspectives. Let's listen. Let's unite, because our lives can't matter until black lives matter, until black lives matter, until black lives matter, until black lives matter. Because our lives can't matter until black lives matter.
NNAMDIAlvin Thornton, you know Alabama. How significant is that to you?
THORNTONWell, you know, what that is, Kojo, and I'm a son of Alabama. I'm a son of the Jim Crow South. I'm a son of the apartheid system that I grew up in in Alabama. Now, those are the young people. That's the coach. Probably, that's great growth on his part. And he obviously is considering the economics of it all already, because sports, it's is obviously an important factor.
THORNTONBut these are the young people speaking to their parents and their uncles, because their parents and uncles were in that stadium when Donald Trump went down there to 80,000 cheering fans with the Confederate flag being raised. But those, what you heard there, is the young people with their coach saying, it's a new day. We're not going to put up with this. That's what you see in the streets now. Most of the people marching about Black Lives Matter are white people, young white people. And this is a new day.
THORNTONAnd that's what that -- the coach leading -- it was coach Kay at Duke University right across -- I'm still waiting Albany University's coach to speak up. The young black player in Mississippi -- Mississippi's -- University of Mississippi said, look, I will not play under this flag. And Mississippi says, what? We're going to take that Confederate flag out. It's a new day. And I'm glad I've lived long enough to see it.
NNAMDIDr. Alvin Thornton, April Goggans, Will Jawando, thank you all for joining us. Joining us now is Dr. Rashawn Ray, a professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Ray is also a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and he's one of the editors of Contexts Magazine: Sociology for the Public. Dr. Ray joins us from his home in Prince George's County. Thank you very much for joining us, Rashawn Ray.
RASHAWN RAYKojo, as always, thank you for having me on.
NNAMDIYou have a four-point agenda for police reform. What are the four points?
RAYI would say that it's a little bit more than four, but I would say the main four, the first one centers on accountability. So, one thing that we know is that police officers aren't necessarily held accountable to the community. We also know that, eventually, George Floyd's family will get a large civil payout for his wrongful death, and that money is going to come from general funds. In fact, his family's tax money is going to pay them back for the dehumanization and murder of their loved one. What I'm advancing is to shift civilian payouts for police misconduct away from tax money and put it onto police department insurance, similar to what we do in health care.
RAYI think the second thing is that we need good apple protections, and we also need to ensure that bad apples cannot work in law enforcement again. What do I mean by that? The officer who killed Tamir Rice in under two seconds while Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old in Cleveland, Ohio was playing with a toy gun in a park. That officer had previously worked for another department and had been deemed mentally unfit. We then know that after he murdered Tamir Rice, he then went on to work for another department. That should simply not happen.
RAYAnd even the executive order that we recently had in legislation coming from the Senate and the House will deal with that. But then we, also, need to focus on officers themselves. The research I've done over the past decade with thousands of police officers around the United States, and even studying policing in other countries, highlights the stress that officers have every single day, the fact that they are overworked, they are underpaid, oftentimes. And so I think there are some solutions there.
RAYThe first big thing we need to have happen is that officers live where they work. That's what community policing really looks like. It's not simply just about officers playing football and basketball in the street with kids. It's about experiencing the community. And, oftentimes, officers are experiencing predominately white and affluent communities, and not experiencing predominantly black or Latino communities.
RAYAnd then, finally, officers' mental health suffers. Eighty percent of them suffer from chronic stress. About 20 percent of them have substance abuse problems. About 20 percent also have suicidal thoughts. They need to receive mental health counseling, and that should happen about every quarter.
NNAMDIYou said police officers are underpaid. Many activists and political leaders are calling to defund the police. And I must say that different people mean different things by that. But you think that police are underpaid and should be paid more. Why?
RAYWell, I think part of thinking through it, and I fully support defunding police because, of course, what defunding the police means is if you look in cities around the country -- Minneapolis, Baltimore, Chicago and the like -- about a third of the general fund, meaning a third of the city's budget, goes to public safety, goes to policing. That's way too much. And why is it too much? It's too much because when we actually look at the clearance rate of violent crime -- homicide, robbery, rapes -- we actually see that about 40 to 60 percent of these crimes go unsolved.
RAYAnd so part of thinking about reallocating money, reinvesting is to actually give mental health experts, to actually give addiction specialists the abilities to do their job and not necessarily have law enforcement do that. We also know that investing in education work infrastructure makes a big dent in reducing crime.
RAYAnd so part of defunding and part of reallocating can also mean re-imagining the resources that even law enforcement gets themselves. So, providing a housing subsidy does a lot as it relates to income. Part of the problem is that police officers and teachers, most of them cannot afford to live in major metropolitan areas in the United States like Washington, D.C. A fundamental problem there is that the hundreds of officers who I've interviewed about this topic, they're working 60, 80, 100, 120 hours a week trying to put foot on the table. You can't function that way. You may give someone a gun, and, of course, we know the sort of outcomes that happen.
NNAMDIA police reform bill passed the House but failed in the Senate, but there are some areas of agreement between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. What are they?
RAYYou know, it's interesting when it comes to the political stalemate right now in Washington. They agree on a multitude of things. I'll just quickly say what they don't agree on, and then get to the long list of what they do agree on. They don't agree on qualified immunity, which I think dealing with civilian payouts could deal with that. Democrats also don't agree with the way the Republicans are trying to incentivize good behavior.
RAYBut they agree on a host of things. They agree that we need to deal with chokeholds. They agree that we need to deal with no-knock warrants. They agree that we need a database of officers who have been terminated for misconduct and, not only just terminated, but who are under investigation for misconduct and may resign, which I've seen happen a lot. That officers who are under investigation will resign and go work for another department. That database will help with that. We also know that they both agree on having a database of officer-involved killings.
RAYAnd so there are a host of things that they actually agree on that I think will become a package. But I get the stalemate. I mean, dealing with qualified immunity is a big deal. And then also not incentivizing people for doing what they're supposed to do is also, I think, not a good idea. Because police officers need to be above reproach. The analogy always used, Kojo, is like a lot of us fly in planes. Well, maybe not during COVID, but definitely when this ends, and before.
RAYAnd it will be interesting when we get on a plane if the person who is welcoming us onto the plane say, well, you know, we got a bad apple today. We might crash this plane today. I mean, nobody would fly. And so police officers have to be above reproach in the same way. Simply saying that we have bad apples is not enough. Bad apples should not storm into Breonna Taylor's house and kill her. Bad apples should not have their knee on George Floyd -- on the back of George's Floyd's neck. We need to ensure that these things don't happen, because we pay their salaries, and we have to make sure that they are as close to perfect as possible.
NNAMDIYou great up in a small town outside Nashville, Tennessee, where your great uncle was the first black police chief. Is that partially what got you interested in police officers and their role in their communities?
RAYYou know, it's interesting. I would like to give all the credit to my family in that regard. I mean, I have several police officers in my family. My grandfather, who I always talk about, served in two wars, Purple Heart, Bronze Star. My mom got admitted to West Point in the late '70s as a black woman, which is still remarkable to me. She got out of the military to raise me. Praise God she did.
RAYBut thinking through that, I actually got into this. About a decade ago, I was working at U.C. Berkeley as a Robert Wood Johnson health policy scholar. And I was doing work on physical activity and obesity related to the Affordable Care Act. And I started noticing that black men were less likely to be physically active in predominantly white neighborhoods.
RAYThat led me to realize that black men are criminalized, and oftentimes, our blackness becomes weaponized. So, even when we don't have a weapon, it's perceived that we're threatening. And that highlights the statistic that black people are 3.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by policeman when not attacking or have a weapon. And that particular finding led me down the road of trying to figure out really what was wrong with police community relations. And over the past decade, I've been continuing to do work on policing, because I view it as one of the fundamental barriers to true racial equality in the United States.
NNAMDIYou recently advised Maryland lawmakers and participated in a virtual town hall organized by Prince George's County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker. What was the focus of that town hall?
RAYYeah, so I talked to a series of policymakers at the state level about a new police misconduct committee that they have put together. And there were a series of people there. I mean, Delegate Nicole Williams was one of the main people, and there were several others. And the conversation that we were having was I was simply providing information that my research suggests can actually help us move forward, some of the things that we've been talking about. They were very receptive.
RAYOf course, in the state of Maryland, Maryland has the Police Officer's Bill of Rights, which creates barriers from making real advancements on police reform. And I think that's the reason why we really have to think about shifting civilian payouts away from tax money to a police department insurances. Because when I did all the research, I found that that was the way to circumvent qualified immunity, in a lot of ways, is going on. And so I've been talking to a lot of policymakers in Maryland and Pennsylvania at the federal level, as well, about ways to move forward on police reform.
NNAMDINationally, black people account for 13 percent of the population, yet we've accounted for 24 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Why have more people of color been infected and have died from COVID-19 than whites?
RAYYou know, this is one of the biggest travesties of this global pandemic. In America, when America catches a cold, black people get the flu. Well, in 2020, when America catches COVID-19, black people die. And it has a lot to do with the structural conditions of our lives. Black people are more likely to live in densely populated areas. Black people are also more likely to be in under-resourced neighborhoods, neighborhoods that have less access to health care, meaning hospitals are farther away. They don't have specialty areas. If they have a pharmacy in their neighborhood, the pharmacy isn't well-stocked.
RAYWe also know that black people are more likely to be frontline workers. They're more likely to work in grocery stores. We're more likely to work in the service industry. We're likely to be transit drivers. You put all these factors together, coupled with a recent study that I think is the big whammy, which is that black people have been six times more likely than whites to be turned away from COVID testing and treatment. You put all these factors together, and it shouldn't be a surprise with a virus that doesn't necessarily discriminate, but is coming into a society that is far from equitable.
NNAMDIBefore we let you go, you're a personal friend and advisor to Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, who you just mentioned, and who was part of our panel earlier. Tell us something that we don't know about your friend Will. Preferably something that he doesn't want us to know. (laugh)
RAY(laugh) He's going to get me back for this. I mean, look, I think that Councilman Jawando is very transparent, and what you see is what you get. And I think what we see is not just a leader for Montgomery County or for our state, but for our nation. And he's one of the people who needs to move forward. And I think one big thing that I'll say about him is the same way that he is in front of the camera when people are having conversations with him is the same way he is off camera. And the same way that he might ask me about a proposal that he has is the same way that he would talk to one of his constituents.
RAYAnd so I just feel fortunate to be able to have conversations with him about it, because I'm just one of several people that he actually asks. And I know that he's a strong family man. I think one thing that we definitely have in common, both of us are members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, the first historically black fraternity in the United States. I would say maybe that's one thing people don't know. And I continue to be excited about the work that we're doing and the work that he's doing in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIRashawn Ray is a professor of sociology and the executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Ray is also a fellow at the Brookings Institution and he's one of the editors of Contexts Magazine: Sociology for the Public. Rashawn Ray, thank you so much for joining us.
RAYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe've heard a lot tonight. Thank you all for showing up and for participating. We hope you'll continue to exchange with us on this topic. Our next virtual town hall will be July 21st, so please watch for details on that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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