In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, Kaya and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week — R. Kelly commissary inspires new federal rules for incarcerated people, young students forced to crawl under trains to get to school, a health condition seemingly reserved for Black women, and a hot take on witchcraft vs. the church.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it is me De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week. All the news with regard to race, justice, and equity that you missed, that you should know and welcome to the month of May. We talk about Biden’s reelection campaign, mass layoffs within the news industry, confiscated funds from people who are incarcerated and their commissary accounts and even more. We have a lot of interviews coming up this month. Here we go. [music break]
Kaya Henderson: Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. Family it’s so good to be back with you. Another exciting episode, exciting talk, exciting news. I’m Kaya Henderson at @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. I am @pharaohrapture on Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest.
De’Ara Balenger: [laughter] De’Ara Balenger at @dearabalenger on Instagram.
DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: So family, a lot has happened this week. Um. First of all, our current president, Joe Biden, has declared his candidacy for the 2024 election. What do you think about that?
Myles E. Johnson: I want to be told what to think about that so.
Kaya Henderson: Well, I don’t know what to think about that. I mean, there has been lots of talk about how Mr. Biden is too old to run for um president. He’ll be 82, I think, at the time that he is if he is successful and uh hopefully will finish his term at eighty, 86. Good golly. Math is failing me this morning. Um. And lots of people that all the scuttlebutt is that um that he is not fit mentally or he’s too old or he doesn’t have enough energy. In fact, that was many of the jokes this weekend at the White House Correspondents Dinner. And there are lots of people I think I saw a poll that said more than half of the country said that they would rather see younger people um engaged in the presidential race because I think Donald Trump will be 78 or something like that. So we’ll have two significantly older gentleman [laugh] if if the race were today um as the leading front runners.
Myles E. Johnson: You know Kaya, I um sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who remembers Donald Trump sometimes when during certain conversations because like, if you’re saying, oh, I think Biden is unfit, I’m like, were we not just there together?
Kaya Henderson: Yes well.
Myles E. Johnson: Was that just was that a dream? [laughter] [?], like let me know if everybody does not remember the most unfit. As far as [?], unfit as far as mental health, unfit as far as um just ability at the job, so I’m like–
Kaya Henderson: It’s the trauma response, it’s the trauma response. You suppress the things that were–
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah I–
Kaya Henderson: –traumatic. [laughing]
Myles E. Johnson: –because I’m like, I’m like oh, believe me, we can get through this again. We can get through. Biden is. Biden is a um is not the most unfit that we’ve seen.
DeRay Mckesson: And I think from the left–
Kaya Henderson: That’s what we’re going for Myles. [laughter] The least unfit. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: And it’s like, you know he [?]–
Kaya Henderson: So inspiring.
DeRay Mckesson: Say what you will about Biden. He has lasted and that’s half the game in politics. He has been in the game for a long time. He is old. I’m worried about the age thing, but not just worried about him. I think about Feinstein is still you know, Feinstein staying in the Senate is screwing us up with the court. So there are a lot of really old people in office. And I don’t know how that changes until we change the way that money money moves?
Myles E. Johnson: If he dies, doesn’t doesn’t the vice president become president?
Kaya Henderson: Yes. Yes, sir. Which is why apparently he’s touting her very prominently in his uh campaign video.
Myles E. Johnson: So I so I I I think it’s a win win. [laughter] I think let’s let’s celebrate that. If–
Kaya Henderson: Say what now?
Myles E. Johnson: –Kamala gets into office, it’s a win win if he dies.
Kaya Henderson: What’s the what ahhh!
Myles E. Johnson: We we by a we by a [?] got a Black woman [banter indistinct] in the um in the presidency. Are we going to ad– what’s wrong with that? I’m tired of acting like when people who die, who are over 85. I’m sorry. I’m tired of acting like it’s–
Kaya Henderson: I don’t. I don’t. I I I–
Myles E. Johnson: It’s–
Kaya Henderson: I think people [laughter] I think people who die after 85 have had a pretty good run. God bless them.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah and so I’m–
Kaya Henderson: That’s not the part I’m worried about.
Myles E. Johnson: –[?] president run. Oh.
Kaya Henderson: That’s not the part I’m worried about.
Myles E. Johnson: Oh you afraid that Kamala’s gonna put half the nation in jail? I get that. I get that. [laughing]
Kaya Henderson: I just think if we could not muster up enough oompf to uh have her as a serious presidential candidate, then I don’t want her by default. I want to choose my first Black woman president. How’s that?
Myles E. Johnson: I don’t want I guess I want her b– I want anything that keeps Trump out. [laughing]
Kaya Henderson: I could sign on that. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: Trump train. It’s like Trump’s scary, Desantis is scary. All of them are like. I mean, it’s not even. It’s weird to see Black people be anti Biden because you’re like, do y’all know what we’re going to get? We got Biden and they still are getting rid of the loan forgiveness. The whole Supreme Court on the Republican side’s corrupt. Like it’s really bad if they get the presidency, y’all might as well wrap it up. I mean, it is we barely survived those four years and a lot of people did not survive the four years of Trump. You know what I mean, a lot of people are still trying to recover from those four years.
Kaya Henderson: I don’t think people don’t I don’t think people don’t want a Democratic president who continues the work that Mr. Biden has started. I am pretty sure about that. I think people are just saying in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be faced with this particular choice. We’d have younger options, fresher options. And I think that that there’s nothing wrong with that, I think it’s um a weird sign for our country to have so much of its power locked up in people who um are at an advanced stage of age. I’m trying so to be so nice about this. [laugh] De’Ara, what you saying, girl? What you saying?
De’Ara Balenger: I think that Biden’s really going to have to figure out a way to keep Black voters engaged. I’m very nervous about it, actually. I feel like there has been like halfway efforts around student debt. I mean, he has done an excellent job with appointing Black women to the to the to the courts. But it’s like that you know, if you is that nec– is that going to be something that people are going to rally around, you know what I’m saying? I think that is such like a very niche accomplishment, um even though it’s a wonderful you know, it’s an extraordinary one. So I think that’s what my nervousness is around. It’s like his top Black surrogate is like Jim Clyburn, which again, Kaya to your point. Papa Clyburn we love you. However. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: Papa.
Kaya Henderson: Did she just say papa? [indistinct banter]
DeRay Mckesson: It is a reminder though that– [banter]
De’Ara Balenger: We gonna have to do a little better.
DeRay Mckesson: The story telling to Black people is just not there in this administration and they think that like getting–
De’Ara Balenger: That that–
DeRay Mckesson: They think that getting–
De’Ara Balenger: That’s it.
DeRay Mckesson: –the shade room.
De’Ara Balenger: Yup.
DeRay Mckesson: And Hollywood unlocked in the White House and some TikTok-ers is the storytelling. And that’s actually just not–
De’Ara Balenger: Exactly.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s not communicating–
De’Ara Balenger: Yup.
DeRay Mckesson: –to aunts and uncles. Do you know what I mean? Like that is talking to some Black people. I’m not sure that that’s talking to aunt and uncles. And those are the people or the senior citizens homes, the people who the Black people who are the most consistent voters have never heard of the Shade Room. I would offer um and I’m I’m team like talk to all the the press like you know have a wide range but I I do think that storytelling in this White House needs to be tighter because they’re doing great stuff like they really are doing legitimately good stuff for people.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah and I’m and I’m not team talk to all like like [laugh] like sometimes I see the the um like where they go and it’s like actually insulting to me. Like when you see like where uh the White House goes to talk to all different other demographics. And then when it’s us, it’s the Shade Room or the Hollywood Unlocked. Again, I might just be having like a fever dream and maybe I just see things totally different then other people. But I’m like, are you going to Page Six to talk to white people? Are you going to like like gossip rags to talk to, you know, talk to these demographics of people. Why why isn’t there like an assertive effort to um touch base with us that’s not through. I don’t know. I hate to say it, but like the lowest brow of our culture, it feels like a little insulting, too. So I guess I agree.
De’Ara Balenger: I think part of the coms in the digital piece is that, you know, and these people. God bless them. They’re working at the White House. You know, it obviously, it’s not a lucrative job, but it’s the same folks that have been having these jobs since the dawn of the Democratic Party. And now some of these people are actually like it is it is my generation, um but it’s not people that have tentacles into culture at all. So it makes sense that somebody’s little brother is telling them, maybe you should try this TikTok-er. It’s not based off of like a cultural strategy where we really want to engage people in a meaningful way.
Myles E. Johnson: But I feel like I’m sorry and I don’t mean to like um like, linger on this, but, you know, there’s only so many times you get to talk to just genius Black people about the White House stuff. But I feel like to me, when I look at the Republican Party, or the conservative or conservatives and stuff like that, [laugh] they’ve got a blueprint. Even when I think about all these media outlets um that are laying off employees and stuff like that, when I think about Breitbart, when I think about um all these different types of ways that uh the Conservative Party has tried to infiltrate media and tried to stay not just Fox News, but tried to do different things, I’m like, well, why can’t you just copy and paste that and make it blue? If like if if if at the minimum, you know why why does it feel so out of touch? Like there’s not somebody else who you have close proximity to aka Republicans that are winning at doing it, you know? So.
DeRay Mckesson: Eh I think the left has tried. I think there are some publications that are popping up, and I think there are some trying. But I do think, you know, you look at I was with one of my friends who works in politics and we were together and he was like, I’m watching Fox News all morning. He’s like, I never watch Fox. He’s like, Fox is just talking to people in their living room, aunts and uncles, and he’s like MSNBC’s talking to they’re like trying to talk to college grads. Like college that’s like their demographic. And it’s like it is a little different. It’s just like a very different, different thing. So we’ll see. Also um, Don Lemon, did we talk about him last time getting fired? But it’ll be let me just tell you. So Don, getting fired the way he got fired. Wild. [laughter] But Gayle King and and–
Myles E. Johnson: Wait I don’t I don’t know how he got fired. I know that he got fired.
DeRay Mckesson: So he released a statement saying that he got fired with no that they fired him through his ag ent. He works for 17 years, they called his agent and told him he was fired. That’s that was his message. CNN released a statement saying he was lying.
Kaya Henderson: They said they said that they said that they gave him the opportunity to meet with management and he refused. But–
DeRay Mckesson: Yes all I what I really this is a really the lead in to–
Kaya Henderson: –whatever.
DeRay Mckesson: –Gayle King and Charles Barkley. That’s his name, right? They have a new star, a new show on CNN–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: –primetime called King Charles. And that is going to be a flaming disaster. Gayle is very smart. Charles is very not. I feel bad I know she’s getting paid a ton of money, [laughter] but I’m like, Gayle is going to be working overtime to make anything that he says sound coherent. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Yeah.
Myles E. Johnson: There’s a there’s a joke in this. King Charles, the Will Smith slap. That’s the movie that he made them not getting along. There’s like a there’s something–
Kaya Henderson: I thought–
Myles E. Johnson: –in there. I can’t. I can’t I can’t bake it. [laughing] So love Harry Belafonte um actually grew up with his records in my household. Um. I am a big fan of folk and country music, specifically Black people intersecting it. So his um take on This land is your land, this land is our land has always like played in my home. And has always widened me. As well along as like Odetta um and then this also just how he has symbolized the the outstanding good Black man like him, Sidney Poitier. Like these are like the people who I think, who have kind of held that legacy. And then when I and then when I think about it, too, because The Atlantic put out this really cool article on Toni Morrison. Gee whiz. Cicely Tyson. Maya Angelou. Harry Belafonte. Toni Morrison. And now Harry Belafonte. There’s like a class of Black people and uh an era of Black people that are just that are gone. And I think that that sat with me differently. Eartha Kitt comes to mind as well. I think that sat with me that we don’t really have. As I’m thinking I really cannot think of anybody. I don’t we don’t have a lot of remnants from that era of Black people anymore. Um so something was very interesting about Harry Belafonte transitioning where it felt like, Oh, wow, uh he’s gone, which is which, which is its own thing, but also an era of Black people who were these kind of iconoclasts are gone, too. Gone.
De’Ara Balenger: I still think one probably one of the dearest memories I have just from TV growing up is seeing Carmen Jones for the first time.
Myles E. Johnson: Oh, my goodness.
De’Ara Balenger: And how beautiful he and Dorothy Dandridge were. I mean, it’s just like.
Myles E. Johnson: Oh, my gosh.
De’Ara Balenger: Ugh. Just stunning. Just absolutely stunning. So I think that is what I think of like, that’s what’s first come to mind, cause it’s just such a visceral memory around my identity growing up. Um. But I think what has been truly incredible about Harry Belafonte over over his lifetime um is all of the activism that he’s been engaged with um for decades and decades and decades. And so I think it’ll be a great loss um for organizations that have that have, you know centered him, you know, gained strength from from his life’s work. So it is I know he had a wonderful, beautiful life, I assume. But it is I think it’s still a big loss.
Kaya Henderson: I would I echo the um the excitement about Harry Belafonte’s activism. I think that we’ve learned in later years exactly how much he did from financing a lot of the civil rights actual campaigns and actions to taking care of the King family after Dr. King died. And for me, it is a reminder that um you can use your celebrity responsibly or not. And um I’m always you know, uh there was a particular athlete who I uh had a poster of when I was in college, and when I realized he wasn’t using his platform for good, I was like, sorry, dude, you got to go. And so um I am happy to support and uh folks who who use their celebrity to help change the world. Thank you, Mr. Belafonte.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that um I always remember about Mr. Belafonte is that he he was really and this not only in his generation was he an active fighter around civil rights, but in this one he convened civil rights, young, young people. He, like brought us together. He was like, let me figure out, excuse me, how to make space. Gina Belafonte, his daughter, continued that work. Like that’s how I know him. I know her like they brought us together. They continued that work. And there are all these great stories of him really uh putting his life and body on the line to make sure that activists had resources. And and, you know, he was a good friend of Dr. King and had all these great Dr. King stories, too. So uh he lived a good life and also did did real work, like not just lip service around activism, which I appreciate, which I want to be more of a model for this generation than it is because posting on Instagram ain’t ain’t it. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People’s coming.
[AD BREAK] [music break]
De’Ara Balenger: Yo, my news is out of out of Milwaukee. And, you know, I think it’s so important to continue beating the drum around Black women’s health, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. I saw this article and it’s just, you know, evidently local clinics have been offering treatment for PCOS. And with offering the treatment, women are finding out that they actually have this condition. Um. This condition impacts fertility. It impacts mood. It it it really is something serious. And many women go their whole lives essentially without being diagnosed. It’s much like fibroids, much like end– endometriosis, where PCOS, you can be struggling with it and having pain and discomfort, etc., and just really don’t know why. Um. We’re finding now that women are getting diagnosed with it more and more. There’s a spike in diagnosis now. Nearly one in 20 women nationwide have this chronic illness and there’s no cure. So I think that’s the other interesting thing about this, whether it’s fibroids, endometriosis, um now PCOS, these are illnesses that impact women of color in particular, but there is no cure. There’s no [laugh] treatment plan that works necessarily. Um. But really what it has done is like galvanized, I think, women of color in so many different places and spaces um to be you know, resources to one another in terms of how you can how you can cope, how you can survive these illnesses. So I just wanted to bring it to the pod because, again, I just don’t want us to lose sight um of these of of of illnesses that are that are impacting women of color um predominantly. And also given the conversation around lack of access to abortion, Planned Parenthood being defunded, etc., um it really is going to have a lot of a lot of impact nationwide, but particularly for for communities, women and communities of color.
Myles E. Johnson: What what does this stand for?
De’Ara Balenger: It it’s polycystic ovary syndrome.
Myles E. Johnson: This was a really interesting piece. I think, you know, the bi– the the connection that will always be made is that oh Black women suffering from something more than other people or at more frequent [?] than other people. Hello? Yes. It’s not just there’s not something inherently wrong with the body. These are just um results from environmental and social political realities that end up manifesting in the body because of those things. So I l– so, you know, just like when we talk about high blood pressure, diabetes or um any of these other things that we kind of talk about, that these diseases aren’t just more prevalent in Black women uh by chance, or because of some type of like genetic destiny that somebody can’t avoid. Oftentimes, they’re because of environmental reasons that we that can be avoided and [?]–
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Thanks for bringing this to the pod De’Ara. In the same way that lots of women don’t know they have fibroids or don’t even know what fibroids are. Lots of people don’t know that polycystic ovary syndrome happens when uh a woman’s ovaries function abnormally because of a hormonal imbalance. And they don’t know the signs. They don’t know or a doctor will just say, oh, yeah, you have you have irregular periods because you have PCOS and then there’s no treatment plan, there’s no follow up, and it causes infertility in nearly 30 to 40% of the women who have it. And so if women, especially Black women, are thinking about having kids and, you know, things are not regular with you and your OBGYN doesn’t give you a satisfactory response, go get a second opinion, go get a third opinion. Find out what needs to, you know, find out what’s going on with you so that you don’t end up, you know, further down the line not being able to have kids. If that’s your desire.
DeRay Mckesson: The last time I heard about PCOS was um Keke Palmer right? If you remember when Keke Palmer was pregnant and going through pregnancy, she did a post about, um you know, both how hard it was and how people think that it necessarily means infertility. And The Washington Post had a story around women responding to Keke Palmer, talking about PCOS, saying, you know, this gives this helped shine light on hope and the other side that there can be treatment, that this is something that people can overcome, that, you know, this doesn’t have to be there’s not only one story here and uh this is both a shout out to Keke Palmer, because I think Keke Palmer is such a moment in the culture and just nails it. And this was the last time I heard about PCOS.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. [music break]
Myles E. Johnson: So oh I’m so nervous. I’m scared in the pit of my stomach. I’m just really nervous to talk about this. Ooh. When I bring up the name king Jesus, I just feel uh [pause] a pit a bat to my stomach. So today I am bringing a sermon that has gone pretty viral on the Internet. Um. I just could not avoid it. And I, I wanted it to be my news. But then I didn’t and I want to talk about it. And I kind of went back and forth in my head around speaking about it, but this felt right. You know, my motto is always do the scary thing. So this sermon by Jackie Hill Perry has gone pretty viral and it indicts uh Black spiritual practices, um witchcraft, African spirituality, and it uh and Beyonce and Kehlani [laugh] and basically says how these uh women, these artists and then also these African spiritualities are a gateway to demons and it’s a gateway to uh it basically, the idea that there’s this like modern idea that African that in order to be really Black or be really pro-Black, you need to practice African spirituality. And that’s a white supremacist lie because Black people on the continent of Africa didn’t know Jesus. Um. And that’s that that was essentially her argument, I think in order in order to kind of like raise above the argument. I think what makes me mostly sad about this scenario is that there is so much collapsing that happens in African spiritualities and Caribbean spiritualities. And the Black church that there’s that I’ve actually made, it’s interesting I was talking to De’Ara about this last week. I’ve actually made art projects that actually puts a get put puts side by side, somebody catching the holy ghost, somebody in a voodoo ceremony. Uh. How people move, how people talk in these different ceremonies and show that although they might be happening in different vessels and in different circums– in in different areas, they’re actually extremely similar. They’re actually a lot they’re actually a lot alike and something like this makes me sad because it’s going viral and to me only it only furthers the gap between people who have different spiritual beliefs inside of the Black community. And you might say, so what? What you do with your spirituality is your business and it is not our business. But Black people, no matter if you’re Christian or not are very serious about their God or gods. [laugh] We’re very serious about what their [laugh] about their about their beliefs. So these type of differences are actually kind of fundamental in us getting along and us seeing each other and us uh respecting one one one another and something like this going viral. Because I saw, you know, my, my, my timeline feed is what you would think it is. You know, people with pronouns and astrology signs in their Twitter bios. So like they were all like, this is this they all pretty much agreed that this was like trash. But it made me sad because I do believe there are people who have had their own awakening, a spiritual revelation through Christianity. And I do believe there are ways to um practice, practice something within love. And and I never want to judge somebody’s way to the way to the light. And it just feels like there’s such a harsh divide happening because we can’t collapse those things. I and I don’t know what Beyoncé has done to these people, old church girl. Church [laugh] church girl [laughter] really, really started it, but it really has upset a lot of people. And again, I think. Maybe Black is King didn’t get as much and um get as much attention as Lemonade has. And of course, as Renaissance has. But Black is King really challenged a lot of people and got and drummed up a lot of controversy because it’s depictions of African Orishas and African um um deities. Her singing in the Black Parade that Solange is a child of Yemaya, and she’s a child of Oshun. And I think there’s nothing wrong with understanding different modalities of how people uh navigate the world and the divine world and and yeah. This just made me sad and made me feel like this divide is thickening instead of collapsing. And I think there was so much evidence of it actually collapsing. Um for uh and to me for a long time and this reminded me that, no, there’s still a very strong section of people who are not open minded enough to think that there are other ways that you can, no God or Gods or the Divine, um then the one way that they’ve been, that they’ve been taught.
DeRay Mckesson: There’s like a whole thing to be said about both the history of the Black church, but also this current moment that is um, you know, I actually had avoided listening to this. I saw it on Twitter, like the video, I saw the video I wasn’t listening to it. And then you put it in the thing for your news I was like, I guess I gotta hear old girl say her thing. And, you know, there’s so much guidance that people need that I’m always like [laugh] how do we get to the, of all of the things? People need a lot of help. They need a lot of messages. And da you’re like of all the things to tell a congregation, this is the guidance? And they’re like, if this is the only lesson you get to give until next Sunday, I just don’t even know how we got to. At one point, she literally says, like, all the witchcraft in your house throw it away. You’re like, Girl, where are you even? Who are you talking about? So there’s like a part of it that I was like, I don’t even know how we got here. Like, what was the thing that got you to do this? The second thing, though, it is um it is so interesting to see the way that people like her um don’t even reckon with the complexity of the way that Christianity has been wielded as a weapon and as a tool of oppression. And that because she was no James Cone let’s be clear like that was that’s not what she was giving from the pulpit. She was no Christianity as a–
Kaya Henderson: You gotta preach.
DeRay Mckesson: –revolutionary tool and an act of redemption.
Kaya Henderson: You gotta preach DeRay.
DeRay Mckesson: She was talking about white Jesus and you’re like well girl. I don’t even know. You haven’t even done the work to understand the other side of Christianity and Blackness. And that’s what disappointed me just as a scholar. It was like, wow, you have this is a shallow teaching, if I even give you that it’s a teaching at all. And the third thing is that I don’t know what accountability looks like for pastors, like not only legal accountability, but, you know, if teachers got in classrooms and said three plus three equals 24. We would say you can’t be a teacher anymore. And I don’t know. I’m interested in like, who is the person that says this is theologically unsound right? Or this is like historically inaccurate and we have a responsibility to at least say out loud that you shouldn’t be able to say things like that. And I, you know, other pastors saw that and know it’s crazy. And and I it makes me think, Myles, and you always do a good job of taking these cultural moments and zooming out. The zoom out I have on this is like um the damage that happens in network when we allow things to just go on that we know are wrong. And the church does that a lot. Like, you know, they know this is theologically unsound, but we won’t get a Cornel West. We won’t get not that it’s his burden, but we won’t get a set of pastors who publicly are like, yeah, that was wrong. And I we lose when when when that doesn’t happen.
Kaya Henderson: Myles, I think you said something about narrowing and reductionist, and that is what this sort of um brings to mind for me, this idea of um of a narrowing of perspective. There’s only one way to access the divine. And I don’t know how you can believe in a God who has created so many different people, so many different cultures, so many different ideas, such variety and diversity in the world, and then be like, oh, but there’s only one way to get to him, right? And so that I think, is a fundamental it is a reflection, as DeRay said, of supremacy and power only my religion is the right religion. And as Black people I, you know, my my greatest hope for us is that we all get free and we not going to get free this way. And so, Sister Jackie, I’m praying for you just like you praying for the rest of us. I hope you get free. My news this week is really out of a kind of it’s a small thing, kind of, but you just can’t believe that it’s happening. It comes out of Hammond, Indiana, and a bunch of places across the country. Hammond is just the place that they happened to examine for this example. But it’s about trains and how trains are blocking intersections. Five, six, seven intersections multiple miles long for hours on end. And so students are risking their lives to get to school. They’re climbing over trains, they’re squeezing between and crawling under train cars with their Frozen and their Space Jam backpacks. There’s actually video um if you click on the link and you see these little babies climbing in between trains, the trains can actually move at any time. Um. People can get uh hurt or killed. And um this thing has been happening for decades. Ambulances and fire trucks can’t get to people in an emergency. Um. And this has been happening, as I said, for decades. But it’s getting worse. Why is it getting worse? It’s getting worse because there is a new moneymaking strategy on the railways, and that is to make the trains longer and longer and longer and longer than they’ve ever been in the history of railroads, because longer trains move cargo faster than ever and require fewer work– workers, which makes the railroads more and more money. Um. Pedestrians who have who are trying to cut through have been disfigured, they’ve been dismembered and they’ve been killed. In fact, one Pennsylvania teen lost her leg hopping between rail cars as she rushed home to get ready for the prom. It is insane, right? Um. This is Hammond, Indiana is a city of 77,000 people. It is mostly Black and Latino. 86% of the kids in the school district are on free and reduced um meals status, which means that school is usually the place that they get their most regular meals. And these babies are climbing under trains and hoping that the trains don’t move um because that’s the only way for them to get to school. The villain in this story is Norfolk Southern Train Company, um and the school superintendent, I call them the villain because they seem to be um nonplussed about the fact that this is happening. Now they say that they are working on it and they’re going to see if they can get their trains to give louder warnings before they start moving. But they also have a ton of justifications as to why the trains need to be that long and why they need to stay there for hours and why they can’t do anything different. The superintendent of schools asked for the train schedules just so that they could figure out when it would be safe for kids to cross. The company disregarded the requests. Um. The mayor has asked for cooperation with the train company Norfolk Southern, and uh he was told that the rails were here first. Um it seems the town built up around the railroad tracks. Um. He says Norfolk Southern doesn’t respect him and they don’t care about the city of Hammond. Um. And there’s a lot of things that the train company could do, um but they seem they don’t seem to be urgent about it at all. Um. State officials who watched these videos were shocked to see these babies climbing across the tracks and through the trains. And there have been a lot of different um uh interventions, attempted attempts to give tickets to the train operators when they stay for longer than a certain amount of time. But then um the company sues and that gets kicked out because the only people who can regulate the railways are the federal government. Um. The U.S. Department of Transportation with Secretary Pete Buttigieg says that they are going to help alleviate the blocked crossings um through a new grants program. The federal government has put in $3 billion dollars into the program over five years to incentivize people to um deal with this block crossings issue. But seems to me that um you shouldn’t have to incentivize people to not put children and first responders in harm’s way. Um. You know, since 2019, in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Georgia, Nebraska, Virginia, Washington, Arizona and other states, lawmakers have proposed legislation to shorten the length of trains just to like 1.4 or 1.6 miles. Um. But every proposal has died before coming law. Um. And the railroad companies say that it’s the unions who just want to create jobs and and all of this stuff. But the truth of the matter is these people are making more money than you can shake a stick at. Derailing trains, we’ve seen lots of derailments because the trains are so long. Um. Releasing toxic chemicals into into communities and whatnot. But when we’re at the point where we are endangering children from getting to school, I mean, one teacher said that um many of her students, the majority of her students are actually late to school multiple days a week. Teachers have to cover other teachers classes because people get trained. It’s a verb, meaning you get stuck and can’t cross because the train is in the way um for hours on end. I just feel like, what kind of country do we live in where we can’t create some kind of enforcement or mechanism for kids to get to school um without climbing through and under train cars? This was really it was shocking to me. And I do suggest that you um pull up the thing and watch the videos of these little kids literally climbing in between trains that could move at any moment and kill them. It was staggering. And that’s why I brought it to the pod.
De’Ara Balenger: Kaya. It was also a Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, it’s the same company. This is wild.
Kaya Henderson: Surprised?
De’Ara Balenger: Wild.
Myles E. Johnson: I always think about how if you cannot um you know, like in situations like this, if we can’t figure this out, what can we figure out? [laugh] Like that that’s what comes it’s like there there there’s really nothing substantive for me to add to the issue I feel it’s very obvious. It’s very black and white. It’s very it’s very like you said, it’s very villain, hero um or villain victim like victim. But when I do think about situations like this, I’m like, well, if we can’t figure this out, with the kids going wanting to go to school in the like you you you if this was written in a in a comic book, we would say that it was just too oversimplistic. It was too easy. So the fact that we can’t figure out this behavior or or or and and and and fight for children to go to the school safely. Um. Somebody lost their limbs? Kids are missing hours of school. If we can’t figure this out, then it really does make you question [laugh] the destiny of you know, the kind of ongoing battle of America Corporation versus the people. You know, it kind of it really makes you question when when these type of situations um aren’t just immediately remedied.
De’Ara Balenger: And I think what it does take is something really, really tragic happening, which is sad. And I think that’s the case now with the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, is that now this company is under federal scrutiny. But it took–
Myles E. Johnson: But did I hear wrong?
De’Ara Balenger: –a derail– Go ahead.
Myles E. Johnson: Okay I was gonna say did I hear wrong? Didn’t Kaya say a child lost their limbs going to the prom?
De’Ara Balenger: I think I think I think more than that. I think like and I don’t even I don’t even know what that [?] what would that construct around that–
Myles E. Johnson: Right.
De’Ara Balenger: –tragedy would be?
Myles E. Johnson: Right.
De’Ara Balenger: But I think just like in East Palestine, it is like toxic chemicals pouring into a community at a rate–
Myles E. Johnson: Right.
De’Ara Balenger: –that is just you know, you can’t you can’t deny that. And I think that is what’s going to that’s what it’s going to take, which is, you know, Myles, just to your to your point like that is the sad part. Like, it really it has to be so tragic, um so glaring that then someone’s like, oh, well, maybe we should do something about this, or maybe we should hold this company accountable. Because even before I’m reading, prior to the derailment in East Palestine, this company had over 200, nearly 300 whistle blower complaints to OSHA. So it’s not [laugh] it is it just just in this case, it is we this company knows what this community is going through, what these children are having to do, that children have been, that they’ve suffered life altering injuries. And their response is, we were here first. Child, please.
DeRay Mckesson: It is. It goes without saying that if this was white kids, they would never be forced to crawl under the the um the railroad, like the fact that this is poor Black kids in a neighborhood that looks like that, like people are like they should be happy they get to go to school. Like, I can totally.
De’Ara Balenger: But DeRay, I think. I don’t actually think that. I think where these like where these these communities are poor, white and Black communities and they don’t care. So I think I don’t I don’t I don’t even know if they would care that they were white necessarily, because it’s more about communities just not having resources or not having a voice than it is than it is anything. East Palestine is a completely white town that voted for Donald Trump.
DeRay Mckesson: [?] Yeah, I do think just crawling–
De’Ara Balenger: You know what I’m saying?
DeRay Mckesson: –like, I maybe it’s just because all the images that that the news put up was all Black kids that it just like, just feels like it nails it into me. But, you know, shout out to journalism because if not for journalists, this like, imagine how long this had been going on before somebody wrote about it. And you think about all the newsrooms that are closing. You think about all the stories like this that have never they haven’t gotten any shine that people haven’t been talking about. But this is like real people’s lives. They have been living it. And if there’s a case, this to me was such a case for journalism, like it took somebody being like, hey, we’re going to like, devote space to this. We’re going to make sure we tell this story. I’ll just echo what everybody else said. I couldn’t imagine like life is already hard. The idea that you have to make sure your child crosses the train tracks correctly in the morning just feels so wild, given everything else you got to do to make sure your kid goes to school well, um already like that makes me that makes me nervous as a teacher. That makes me sad as an uncle. I’m like, there’s already enough to do. There is a good story or like, it’s a bad story, but shout out to journalists for bringing it to light. Um. So when it’s about jail. It’s about jail and prison. So when you get incarcerated and you owe money so either your court fees or you have restitution as a part of your sentence, you stole a lot of money, you got to pay it back. There was an article about R. Kelly quote, “sitting on a ton of money,” like not necessarily paying restitution right now. And it made lawmakers in Washington upset in both parties. So they are proposing a rule that says that you have to pay 75% of the money that you get um in that all that family and friends send to you. A 75% of it automatically goes to paying your debts. Now, in theory, that sounds sort of [?] like that I can see people who are like, you know what? This is accountability. You shouldn’t have done anything to go in jail, blah, blah, blah blah blah. The challenge is that you make almost no money for working in prisons. I mean, like literally no money. So there’s a guy who wrote about about this and he was saying the highest paying prison job he had was $3.90 a day, and 50% of it went towards restitution. So it would have taken him almost 18,000 days before he would have ever been able to call a family member, because he just wouldn’t have had, wouldn’t have been able to get um enough money. He also wrote about another guy he was in prison with who had a $900,000 court restitution, and he was forced to divorce his wife. Like the restitution process, it’s like one of the things that’s interesting about how we talk about prison and jail in public is that it’s very for all of the imagery and popular in the popular conversation, it’s a pretty flat image. It’s like, do a crime, go to prison. And maybe there’s some contours around how people build community in prison, bad guards. But there’s actually like a whole economy of the way we exploit people once they’re imprisoned that we actually just have not represented well in the public conversation, certainly not in the media. And this is one of them that like, yes, people might owe money because they stole money or the court fees. I’m always like, just wipe out the court fees. But if they got to pay people back, but it’s like we pay people so little who are incarcerated and to take 50% of it as wild, to take 75% of it is wild. And what you’re doing is forcing people back into situations where they will make, they will make choices that people don’t want them to make, or you will completely destroy any relationship there with their family because they won’t be able to afford phone calls or emails or anything like that. And that is actually bad for public safety, too. So this was I brought this here because it’s a reminder how um random stories do matter. It was the story about R. Kelly that like shifted this um conversation at the federal level. And the Bureau of Prisons can do this without legislation, which is also scary. And the woman who runs the Bureau of Prisons is actually, you know, for prison people, she’s a relatively fine person like she I met her. She’s not she’s not one of the, you know, evil people. But still, this uh made me made me sad. And it’s like, Lord knows, there’s a lot to think about.
Kaya Henderson: This this just seems so crazy to me. Like, there are so many other ways to deal with this issue. First of all, like, you are mad because R. Kelly and Larry Nassar, both very wealthy people, have too much money on their commissary. Maybe you just say you can only have X amount of dollars in your commissary, right? You can’t be balling out in the commissary. And and or maybe you make people who are wealthy pay restitution immediately because there is a way to do that. Like but the vast majority of people who will be affected by this are not sitting on a ton of money in their commissary. Right. And so it just seems like it doesn’t seem like I think, you know, we’ve seen we’ve talked about on the pod charging people for emails, taking books off the list every single way that we can think of to strip and dehumanize and make this experience um even more inhumane than possible. It seems like there’s there is no rock bottom to this. And this just I mean, even when when the when the victims advocates say this is too much, seems like we could be able to come up with a couple better solutions than this.
Myles E. Johnson: I think you alluded to this DeRay when you were talking that, you know, R. Kelly is such a um is such a is such a circumstance, [laugh] such a circumstance. So to use him to do other things that affect everybody seems wrong. And a lot of crimes are crimes of poverty and and produced by poverty and produced by these circumstances. So anything that we’re doing in order to uh make sure somebody stays impoverished and exploited is only going to make it so they don’t choose the right, right decisions when they get out of prison or while they’re in prison. Um. And it keeps this prison industrial complex going. So that’s what that’s what’s really making me um sad and think that sure like like um Kaya said, let’s figure out something for R. Kelly. But now it’s it trickling down to everybody else, that’s that that’s not why everybody else is in prison. And oftentimes when you read and and research why a lot of people are in prison, engaging in this prison system is because of poverty and circumstances. And this is only helping people stay exploited and impoverished.
De’Ara Balenger: You know, one of the things just you know, from the short time that I lasted as a prosecutor, it was one of the things. With plea deals too. You could say, okay, you got to pay $500 to the Boys and Girls Club, or you have to pay $500 to this or that nonprofit. But I remember telling my colleagues, like, y’all ask y’all, y’all writing in somebody’s plea deal that they have to pay money to something. Like that kind of condition is just going, it that person is going to end up being incarcerated again because there’s like [laugh] like so I think part of it is just like there’s a a dehumanization that happens. The once you are charged, once you are convicted, once you are sentenced. It’s it’s like you you lose your humanity. And more than that, people don’t look at you as you as as as if you are human. And so I think a lot of this is just such a disconnection around, you know. Well, let’s have them pay this this many million dollars in restitution, knowing that it just is never going to happen. The system doesn’t precipitate it. The the the the person that committed the crime is never I mean, are those are special cases, right? I think those aside. If you are incarcerated and you have a really long sentence and you are not able to make money while you are incarcerated, how are you going to pay back that restitution ever? So it’s just it doesn’t make sense. Just like as a system, it doesn’t make sense. And there are so many levers in that system that are going to be and that are going to be pulled against you. And this is why we have probably how many? Two and a half million people in prison right now.
Myles E. Johnson: And that’s why I challenge what, like a little bit of what you just said De’Ara, because it does make sense as a system, if the system is to make sure prisons stay profitable and exploiting people, then then it makes perfect sense. But if it’s about people healing and transforming society and blah, blah, blah, then it doesn’t make any sense.
DeRay Mckesson: And the way that it traps you is just so it’s it preys on basic logic that un un unchallenged makes a lot of sense to people. People hear you stole money, you need to pay it back. That logic is so basic. That that’s how the policies like remain. And you’re like, No, no, no, no, no the but, [laugh] but the pay it back, the way we’re operationalize that is so wild that they will never, ever meet those conditions, as De’Ara said so.
Myles E. Johnson: And most people are terrified of it. Most people are terrified of it. Like auntie auntie Kaya. She can’t even look she can’t even look in people’s eyes when we bring up the prison system. So most people here makes a little bit of sense and they just keep mo– mo– like moving. [laughing]
Kaya Henderson: That is the absolute truth. [laughter]
Myles E. Johnson: They are scared to even engage with it because it’s scary. You know, and you over here thinking about the time that you might have put some gum in your pocket and it just you just start getting the shivery weavies. [laughter] So I think that’s a part of it, too. As long as you can make it sound [?] as publicly as possible, then there’s no there’s it takes a certain type of bravery to dig into it. Specifically as Black people, specifically as Black people. It’s scary.
De’Ara Balenger: And it’s also the fact that it–
Kaya Henderson: It’s always an economic attack, right? Like it is always an economic attack, charging for phone calls, charging for emails, taking people’s commissary money, all of the things. And this is how you know that it’s not about rehabilitation, it’s not about restitution in that way. It is always about keeping people as economically um down as they possibly can, because that’s what that was the whole genesis of the prison industrial complex. Right? People had to find ways to restore their free labor. And here’s where we are.
Myles E. Johnson: Boom.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, it is. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton, executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson.