Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega, and you're listening to The Takeaway. For many people watching yesterday's attack on the Capitol, the lack of law enforcement was stunning. Especially for Black and brown Americans who are routinely met with brute force, militarized police tanks, and tear gas during protest for civil rights and social justice. Many people of color I know shared the trauma of watching enraged white men and women storm the Capitol with nary an officer in sight. The insurrectionists entered offices with the ease and braggadocio that can only come when you know there will be few, if any, consequences.
In a cruel twist of fate, after the insurrectionists dispersed, it was the largely Black and brown janitorial staff who were left to literally clean up the mess. This, all happening in a building that was built on the backs of slaves. Here to discuss this and a lot more is the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Jr., a professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, and Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change. Rashad and Reverend Franklin, thanks for joining me.
Rashad Robinson: Thanks for having me.
Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Jr: Thank you.
Tanzina: Rashad, your reaction to yesterday's events.
Rashad: Well, my reaction to yesterdays events is a reminder that this is not a mistake. It's not an accident. This is a result and a consequence of decisions, of the lack of accountability, of all of the ways in which white nationalists and white supremacy has been able to control police departments and police forces. If people are feeling uncomfortable with that language, I want people to recognize that in 2015, an FBI report actually called this out, and called out the infiltration in local law enforcement and national law enforcement of these affinity groups to white supremacy.
The fact that this has not been dealt with, the nature in which everyone felt so comfortable with these riders going into the sacred halls of democracy, recognizes that this will not be an easy problem to solve, and that this problem that so many of us are watching is a result of choices that were made.
Tanzina: Reverend Franklin, your reaction to what unfolded at the Capitol yesterday.
Rev. Franklin: George Orwell, the writer, once said that, "We have now sunk to such depths that the first duty of intelligent men and women is to restate the obvious." I think this is a moment of reckoning for all of America, a time to restate what is obvious. What are our first principles, our most deeply-held values? Tanzina, I loved the way you began this program as you talked about the sense of arrogance, entitlement, braggadocio, of those who marched in yesterday. Fortunately, the entire world watched that spectacle, and I think many were offended by it.
My friend, and extraordinary colleague here, Rashad, has just pointed out the hypocrisy, the reluctance of a police response. I was actually encouraged by commentators, especially non-African-American, non people of color, throughout the recent hours, who have pointed if these protesters had been people of color, especially Black and brown Americans, there would have been an immediate overwhelming police response. We didn't see that.
The good news is that the poison of hypocrisy and duplicity is now exposed as if we needed another such lesson. We can move to, and I hope this is certainly what I'd like to talk some about, where do we go from here? That was the final title of Dr. King's last book. Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?
Tanzina: Rashad, one of the images that stands out to me that I think people were putting up on social media yesterday, to really make the stark comparison between what we saw at the Capitol with white insurrectionists and what we've seen with Black protesters, really starting, I would say, in my own experience from Ferguson, Missouri, is there is a photo of a Black woman dressed in a green flowy dress, and she's standing peacefully in front of a line of militarized officers.
This was not from yesterday. This was from a while back, but that photo, Rashad, and I know you know the photo I'm talking about, really stands in stark contrast to what we saw yesterday. How do we compare law enforcement response then and now?
Rashad: Well, if law enforcement is about or says it's about protection in some ways, it's a reminder of who they are here to protect, and who they are here to control. When I was on the ground in Ferguson and watched all of the ways in which police officers not only met people in that community as if they were enemy combatants in the places that they lived, but also watched all the ways in which they incited violence. That they engaged communities in ways to take a situation and escalate it, instead of de-escalation.
We have had a whole lot of conversations since this summer about policing, about de-escalation, about training, about all of these reforms at the edges that don't actually get to the heart of police force, that is not actually here for safety, but is here for control. When activists are talking about defunding, the downsizing of police, it's a deep recognition that more money, more training, more resources on top of an infrastructure that is not designed to actually deliver safety and justice to all of us won't solve the problem.
In many ways, there has been a lot of conversation attacking defund or attacking the invest and divest in police departments. I want the listeners to think about, would more money actually solve the problem of police officers opening up the gates and taking selfies with protesters who walked into the halls of Congress. I want to let people know that I remember, over 20 years ago now, in turning on Capitol Hill. I remember being a college student waking up and trying to get to the Hill and forgetting my ID badge, and not being able to get in.
I'm 5'3", I look very different. Those guards knew who I was every single day coming in and out for my internship that summer, but they still didn't let me in because I didn't have my identification. I've also had the experience now as a leader of a racial justice organization to go in and meet with members of Congress to testify before members of the Senate. At each and every turn, there is a high level of security as I walk in in a suit and a tie. This is not about respectability. This is not about things that Black protesters and Black people can do. This is a deep recognition about who the police are here to serve and who they are here to control.
Unless we deal with the roots of all of that, we will continue to have two systems of justice because that is how the system has been designed.
Tanzina: Reverend Franklin, to Rashad's point, I've interviewed as a journalist, in my capacity as a journalist, I've been inside the White House for interviews. I've been inside Congress. I've been inside courthouses. All of those things require an enormous amount of security, with advanced notice that we're going to be there. Reverend, one of the things that has really stood out to me in my conversations with friends, and fellow journalists of color, and Black journalists is that they keep saying, and we all keep saying, if that would have been us, we would have been shot on the spot. Us, being not journalists. Us just being not white. I'm curious to your thoughts on that.
Rev. Franklin: I teach ethics and moral leadership at Emory University now, but my former job, I was president of Morehouse College. That's the school that produced Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Raphael Warnock. It was a focus on developing and cultivating moral leadership that was at the heart of the liberal arts curriculum there. I think part of what I am struck by is the absence of moral leadership, certainly in the White House, but throughout society. This is a real time for asking what do we expect of leaders, including leaders of police forces?
I fully support the point that you can put more money into existing systems, and they won't make a difference. That's why the language of defunding police in part is a scold. It's a slapping of the wrist. It's a way to not reward existing incompetence, and asking is there a better way? I spoke one of my former Morehouse College students who works in the Atlanta Police Department yesterday. He said, "We have to change the culture of police forces. It's not simply the existing systems." Yes, training matters, but we need better quality officers, and we need a tone set at the top.
To hear President Trump stand before the people's house, the White House, and urge people to go down, walk the mile and a half to the Capitol, and to shut them down, to stop the ordinary procedures of peaceful transition of power, was such an outrage.
Ultimately, as I think about Rashad's point, we're going to have to talk about the kinds of leaders that preside over government, over our businesses and corporations, over universities, over faith communities, in media operations, and let's expect more from them and let's hold them accountable, as particularly, we need to hold accountable those senators and members of Congress who continued to support this act of insurrection, even after yesterday's deadly events.
Tanzina: Rev. Franklin, we ended the last segment by you talking about moral leadership, and I would even dare say, moral courage. I wonder if the events of this past administration, and really the past couple of decades under Republican leadership, but really President Trump's administration, has made that prospect even less likely, that whatever morality may have remained, is it really feasible to consider that we could have moral leadership right now, and even if we did, are folks going to pay attention?
Rev. Franklin: It's a critical question. I think that we are now in a time of trying to reconstruct and restore civil society and the meaning of America. In the 19th century, the French observer, Alexis de Tocqueville made an interesting observation, quite timely for our time, as we've lived through four years of a president calling for people to make America great again, de Tocqueville wrote in the 1840s, "The greatness of America lies not in her being more enlightened than any other nation, but in her ability to repair her faults."
The ability to repair our faults is at the heart of what it means to be a good and a great nation. I think that what we need now are moral leaders in every sector of life who are capable and courageous, as you underscore, to begin some difficult dialogues, some fearless dialogues, as one of my friends puts it. To have an honest conversation about America, about American history, and about, again, for Dr. King's book title, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
Moral leaders are people who invite us to become a better version of ourselves. That kind of work will certainly be done in Congress now. Very proud that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff from Georgia will join the conversation in Washington, President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris will help to form and sponsor that conversation. I'm actually encouraged about the future, but ultimately, who are the leaders to whom those Proud Boys and insurrectionists respond?
Here's where I think holding President Trump accountable, making him pay a price for his irresponsibility, is an act of moral decency by the society. I'm going to watch that very carefully, what happens there. There should be no pardoning or looking the other way. Behavior has consequences. I think that's the call now. Step up, speak truth to power, break the silence on issues of racism, and oppression, and hypocrisy, and let's have an honest conversation about how we move forward together.
Tanzina: Rashad, I'm curious about your thoughts on the fact that these insurrectionists, some are even calling them domestic terrorists, have been enabled and encouraged by a lot of our politicians, and not just the president, but a lot of his supporters. There are people who would even argue that the media itself hasn't gotten this tone right, hasn't really understood what was happening until yesterday, really. I even tweeted, "Look, guys, this isn't unbelievable. This is a logical culmination of events, if you've been paying attention to the past couple of years." How would you assess the media's role in covering Trump supporters, Rashad, Trump versus say Black Lives Matter?
Rashad: This is actually such an important point, and to build off of Rev. Dr. Franklin's point, is when we have those conversations in, and we have that accountability at the individual level of a Trump, that then has to lead us to new structures, new rules, new levels of accountability for those that build infrastructure that profit off of this, that amplify it, that incentivize and radicalize those that would do this type of damage and benefit from it.
When you say media, I think it's very important that as we sit in this age, we think about all of the different ways in which we get information and we move information. Yes, there's the mainstream media, and the far-right media, and all the ways in which those channels, those vehicles have created a level of disinformation and misinformation about what's happened, a framing that can be about both sides, or a framing that takes an incident like what happened on the Capitol yesterday, and frame it in ways that are not accurate at all.
Then we also have to look at the social media platforms, the Facebooks and Twitters and Googles. As a person who has spent years pushing, and fighting, and challenging these corporations to do better, as the leaders of those institutions were buying islands and profiting off of hate, allowing for closed groups, allowing for all sorts of content to live on their platform because it was making them money, I've sat across the table with the leaders of those largest companies, worked to make demands, and what I recognize most importantly is that they do not and should not get to be the arbiters of what type of information and content should get to travel.
They have created violence algorithms on these platforms, and then they are profiting off of them. Unless we have rules that hold these institutions accountable, there's actually nothing we can do because the incentives around money, profit, and growth will always outweigh for them, safety, integrity, and security. As this new administration takes hold, they're going to have a lot of work to do to make sure that technology, that has so much potential to bring us further into the future in the ways in which we can reach one another, be in engagement, that technology is dragging us into a past, disrupting rules and norms that we have created in society, bypassing civil rights laws that we have won and fought for.
In so many ways, there does have to be a whole level of conversation, there has to be a whole level of accountability at the individual level, but we also need the new rules of accountability. Because what has happened at this Capitol did not happen by mistake, once again, and it did not happen just because of Donald Trump. There are a whole set of folks, whether they be right-wing Republicans, mainstream and right-wing media, whether they be social media platforms that have enabled it. They've enabled it because it has benefited them and has given them either money, power, or respect.
Until we create the new rules of tomorrow that actually hold accountable, create consequences, and take away that money, power, and respect, we will have those that will put us all in danger because it helps them in some sort of personal way.
Tanzina: Rashad Robinson is the president of Color of Change, and the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Jr. is a professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Rev. Franklin, Rashad, thanks for joining me.
Rashad: Thank you.
Rev. Franklin: Thanks for having us.
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