BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. In the wake of the murders of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, the Black Lives Matter movement has been on the receiving end of blame. Here’s a recent sampling, Donald Trump, in the midst of day one of the RNC, speaking with Bill O'Reilly on Fox.
DONALD TRUMP: When you’re calling death to police and to kill the police, essentially, which is what they said, that's a real big problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Rush Limbaugh.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: They’re a terrorist group. They’re, they’re quickly becoming a terrorist group committing hate crimes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In fact, earlier this week, the White House rejected a petition signed by more than 141,000 people, urging the White House to formally recognize Black Lives Matter as a terrorist group. Patrisse Cullors is a cofounder and a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement. Patrisse, welcome back to the show.
PATRISSE CULLORS: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Trump and Limbaugh's indictment is predictable, but what do you make of Milwaukee's black County Sheriff David Clarke who helped kick off the RNC this way.
DAVID CLARKE: I would like to make something very clear. Blue lives matter in America!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He delivered that the day after he said this on CNN, after the deaths of the Baton Rouge police officers.
DAVID CLARKE: This anti-cop sentiment from this hateful ideology called Black Lives Matter has fueled this rage against the American police officers.
PATRISSE CULLORS: Our movement has never called for the execution of law enforcement, never. Yet, many want to place the blame at our feet. There is a historical legacy of undermining black communities who stand up and fight for our right to really be a part of this American democracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So tell me what Black Lives Matter does advocate.
PATRISSE CULLORS: We have a vision where ultimately law enforcement agencies will be the least prioritized for community safety. And, in fact, we think community safety really looks like people's ability to have employment, our community's ability to have access to healthy food, shelter. What we’ve seen in the last two decades is monies being poured into law enforcement agencies, and those agencies have continued to violate the civil and human rights of black people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Statements that condemn Black Lives Matter often are followed by, why aren’t you focusing more on black-on- black crime. Here is Rudy Giuliani on CBS earlier this month.
RUDY GIULIANI: A black will die 1 percent or less at the hands of the police and 99 percent at the hands of a civilian, most often another black, which happens every 14 hours in Chicago. And we never hear from Black Lives Matter.
PATRISSE CULLORS: This conversation of black-on-black crime is a distraction from the larger conversation around how the state has allowed for our communities to be completely decimated. Let’s take here in Los Angeles - 52 percent of the city budget goes towards law enforcement. Yet, our communities in LA have the highest unemployment rates, the highest homeless population. We are suffering from mental health issues, from drug addiction, and yet, we see resources being pulled and pulled from our communities. And so, when critics start to uplift this fallacy of black-on-black crime, it's them unwilling to take a hard look at how they've contributed to the devastation in our communities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've been explicitly advocating for police reform, including proposals, if I have it right, like defunding the police?
PATRISSE CULLORS: Correct.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, that’s interpreted by critics as anti-police. And from there, they move to the charge that you’re pro-violence against police. Obviously, that’s a huge –
- and dangerous leap.
PATRISSE CULLORS: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is Black Lives Matter, in a sense, anti-police?
PATRISSE CULLORS: We are against the system of policing that has disenfranchised black lives. If you go into any poor community, you will see a community that is heavily policed. You will see many black people who are largely unemployed and trying to figure out how they're going to survive and feed their children. And, in that poor community, you will see black people not being able to get to school because their schools are actually funneling them to prisons.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Essentially, there are police in the schools. They get kids for minor infractions. And so, it becomes a kind of corridor into the criminal justice system.
PATRISSE CULLORS: Precisely. Our call for defunding law enforcement is the common sense conversation to us: Where is money going, locally, statewide and nationally? It's going towards the law enforcement apparatus – policing, jailing, incarceration, and in between.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you think cutting the budget’s the way to begin the process of shifting money in a different direction?
PATRISSE CULLORS: Yes, looking at where we then put more money. What we fail to remember is that the kind of law enforcement and policing and incarceration we see today did not exist 40, 50 years ago. This is policing on steroids. What we are asking for is our communities to have a fighting chance. We don't even have that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A Washington Post-ABC News poll recently found that a majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse. But there are also scholars of the ‘60s who say that the progress we've made is clear and that, in fact, the outcry against events like the shootings of unarmed black men, is a sign of that progress. Right, in your view?
PATRISSE CULLORS: Well, Americans are often scared to be honest about social ills. And so, when we start to speak honestly about them, as the protests continue, as the highways continue to shut down, instead of seeing these moments as moments to expose the realities of this country, I think people feel fearful. And so, I think why scholars are saying, actually, this is a - an amazing moment is because they're looking back at history, how these types of moments actually change the course of countries and peoples. The fact that four years ago black people being killed by law enforcement was not an important conversation to have just shows you how far we've come.
We are front-line news. It’s terrible that it's black death that's front-line news but the exposure has allowed for a new vision for what black life can actually look like. This is our moment to try to get it right, so that in 30 years my child can say, I'm living in a better world because of the work of Black Lives Matter.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One last thing, and I know you've heard this question before. It’s about the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” It’s a response to the unspoken understanding that in many instances black lives don't matter, at least as much as white lives. And yet, it's a phrase that’s been consistently, and sometimes willfully, misconstrued. Do you ever wish you’d come up with Black Lives Also Matter, instead?
PATRISSE CULLORS: No. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] But, I mean, so many people didn't get it.
PATRISSE CULLORS: And that’s because we don't have honest conversations about race. I think what happened when President Obama was elected, people really believed that we had overcome. We don't have a strong understanding of institutional racism in this country. And so, Black Lives Matter, the strength in that really presents a new set of conversations for the country to grapple with, and we’re seeing it. I, I think that’s special. I think this is a special time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that you'd ruin it if you stuck in “Also.” [LAUGHS]
PATRISSE CULLORS: [LAUGHS] At this point, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: At this point, absolutely!
Patrisse, thank you so much for your time.
PATRISSE CULLORS: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Patrisse Cullors is the cofounder of Black Lives Matter.