In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, Kaya, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week— including Black climbers on Mount Everest, false positive drug tests in state prisons, and the life and death of Black political icons Sidney Poiter and Lani Guinier. DeRay interviews activist Samira Sangare about her work and advocacy with Saratoga Black Lives Matter in New York State.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Kaya, Myles, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week, the news that’s important with regard to race injustice. And then I sit down and talk to Samira Sangare to discuss her community involvement in BLM activism in Saratoga Springs. Here we go. My advice for the week is just be honest. That you ain’t got to do all this backflips and hoops and all this stuff if you’re just honest. Just be honest. And hold your relationships to the people of all kind, hold people as sacred. Just be honest with people. Be honest. That’s the message for this week.
DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
De’Ara Balenger: Family! Happy New Year! Woop woop.
Kaya Henderson: Happy New Year!
De’Ara Balenger: Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @Dearabalenger.
Myles Johnson: I’m Miles E. Johnson. You can find me @pharohrapture on Twitter and Instagram.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson,@hendersonkaya on Twitter
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: So we’re still going into 2022, you know, obviously with traumas and things that have happened in the last few years. And one of those things is still the Ahmaud Arbery case. So we did get a guilty verdict before 2021 came to a close. The sentencing, though, happened just this past week. So both Travis McMichael, who is the man who shot Ahmad, and his father, were both sentenced to life without parole. The third man that was with them is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. So all that I can say is I hope this is, you know, somehow given some comfort to Ahmad Arbery’s family. You know, I think going from this case initially, not even going to be prosecuted—and we talked about this on the pod before, because the D.A. who was involved wasn’t trying to press charges—now, with these folks being sentenced to life without parole, I think is some semblance of progress with this particular case. So the next step is they’re actually, these three men are also, they have to, they’re charged federally with hate crimes. So there’s also going to be a separate proceeding for that that’s going to take place. So that, so that’s coming soon. Stay tuned for that. But yeah, I mean, you know, racial violence isn’t going away. We didn’t ring in the New Year getting rid of that. So, you know, just, you know, following this case closely and see what continues to happen.
Myles Johnson: Any win is, is a win. That’s how I feel about it. And, you know, because it’s still the first month in the New Year, it’s like I got to cling to optimism now. So like I’m happy to, and I love what you just said about hopefully giving like peace to the family. That’s what it’s truly about, because I think sometimes there’s so many circumstances in cases that we forget that these are individual families, individual experiences, a whole whole life story, and these people still have to mourn and grieve, and hopefully this helps that process more.
Kaya Henderson: I think this is one of the tensions of being Black in America. On the one hand, we celebrate the fact that these men are being held accountable, and at the same time, each of us knows that this is one and that they are a whole lot of others who have gone unpunished, who have not been held accountable. And we know that this is not the last time that we’re going to see something like this happen, unfortunately. But I do think that it sends an important signal in a time where there are a lot of people who still believe that they can take the law into their own hands. We also this week saw the one year anniversary of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. And I think this is an important message to send to people that, you know, law is still important in this land, that you don’t get to just run after people and kill them. And I think that we have to be vigilant, right, the price of freedom is that we got to keep fighting. And so I am happy for the Aubrey family, and I hope that this challenges us to keep the pressure on because as you mentioned, De’Ara, that’s the only thing that got us here.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, these are the moments that really call into question the values around abolition or harm reduction and this conversation about incarceration, because we know that this country’s history has meant that white people have done heinous things with literally no accountability on a spectrum, not even like citation accountability, just no accountability and then you get this. And it is, you know, it is a real moment where people are like life without parole probably just doesn’t make sense in general, and these men should not be around other people at all. And you know, there are so few cases where there is any accountability. Ahmaud should certainly be here today. He did nothing wrong in any capacity, like not a modicum of anything wrong he did and yet these white men, supported by other actors in the state, namely the prosecutor, decided to collude to participate in the end in his death. So this was an instance where the system seemed to produce an outcome. I always think, though, about all the cases were like there wasn’t a national uproar, all the cases where there wasn’t a media storm, where people like us weren’t talking about it on the podcast or other people talking about it in their homes. And hopefully we can get to a place where, you know, that’s what justice looks like is where you don’t need a national story for your life to be honored on the front end so there isn’t a thing that we have to look for accountability for on the back end. I so rarely go first. I’m excited to go first. My news is about a false positive drug test in the New York state prison. So I saw this and let me just frame it for, you know, the way, not only is incarceration just bad enough, like that is in and of itself the worst of the worst, is that when people are incarcerated, it’s like the system just comes up with these really interesting and creative ways to further ruin people’s lives. And that is what happened in New York State. So New York state, the inspector general, Lucy Lang, she issued the findings of a multi-year investigation this past week where she was looking into faulty tests and change policies that were leading to spikes, a high number of people coming back saying that they were using drugs while incarcerated. Now let me just say that the only reason this was flagged is that they were a group of activists who realized this is an issue and forced the issue to the Inspector General’s office. But what happened was that the state actually changed vendors for the drug tests. So in October 2018, they moved to a company called Microgenics. But before that, they had used Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics for the testing products. And when they use their old system, when they use the other system, the policy required a second test to confirm a positive result. When they moved to Microgenics, not only was the tests producing false positives, but they also removed the verification of a second, more sensitive method. So this was a urinalysis test, and it was, they use it across all 52 correctional facilities starting in January 2019. And what happened? There was a spike in positives that were a false positives in the end. Microgenics had internal research that showed that there were problems with the urinalysis tests. And it was such that something is small as an acid pill for heartburn or a sugar substitute in coffee can produce a false positive. So all these people were being penalized, they were getting consequences, extra day in solitary, extra day in prison, all these other things because of a false positive. And Microgenics knew. And again, if it were not for the advocacy of groups like Worth Rises, if it were not for organizers pushing, then we would never know. So I brought it here because, you know, part of our work is the tension between alleviating the pain and suffering of people’s lives today, and dealing with the complete overhaul of the system. But it’s these sort of things that actually, that do so much damage to real people’s lives in the moment, in the everyday, and like something as simple as like the drug tests don’t even test real drugs! The drug test picking up all this other stuff. And shout out to, shout out to the activists and organizers for pressing this. And shout out to the inspector general for doing it their own investigation.
Kaya Henderson: This was just like failure on so many levels. So there was the policy failure on the Department of Corrections to continue their previous policy of double checking when you got a positive result. There was corporate failure on the part of Microgenics to disclose the internal research—which literally says that sweetener or in an acid pill could give you a positive result. It was a leadership failure on the part of the prison system when they started to see that the new tests, we get lots more positives. Like maybe we should check that out, said nobody, right? That is a simple leadership and management failure. And then there’s the always failure to respond to the community when the community raises concerns, when these people were, you know, blowing up advocacy organizations and whatnot to ask for help combating these test results. Oh! And putting people on solitary confinement because they got a positive drug test. This was, this is staggering. And this is one of these things, that like a couple of simple decisions could have changed people’s lives dramatically for the positive, and they actually went the opposite direction. This is maddening.
De’Ara Balenger: It just goes back to just, you know, a conversation that we continue to have around just the indignity in which the most vulnerable population is treated, incarcerated people. And it reminds me, DeRay, of I heard this story over the break of Ta’Neasha Chappell, who was incarcerated, I think, for shoplifting in Indiana and fell ill while she was in jail and kept trying to get help, kept screaming for help. Hours later, they finally get the paramedics there, and then she later dies at the hospital. But the video—which there is video which is agonizing to watch—you can, she just looks so sick. And so for people to see this woman and to not recognize that she’s not feeling well, that she should, that she deserves treatment, she deserves care, she deserves thoughtfulness, it’s just, it’s just, it’s not human. It’s just so wild. So I think that’s what this brings me to. It’s just that people are just so callous and just so, you know, dismissive around incarcerated people. Oh, the test, false positive. Oh, whatever, OK. To Kaya’s point around all the different, all the different ways they went wrong here, and yet with just kind of disregard.
Myles Johnson: Of course, I concur with what everybody has said. And also, I think if I were to add anything different to what everybody said that I agree with, is that this has to be something that we can add on the reason to decriminalize drug use. I think that, I think about like if that was something that we really centered and something that was really being approached, this technology, the business, all these different circumstances wouldn’t be necessary if we didn’t treat people with drug problems like they were, that it was a, that was a criminal offense when it’s really a mental health crisis. And I think that this is just another symptom of us mishandling people who are, who have drug problems and it’s sad. And also, I, you know, I’m like, How do you pay somebody back for what has happened to them mentally because of the situations you put them in? Like, how do you ever try to rectify that once when you do some certain things that are so like, when you have certain punishments are so damaging and irreversible like how do you pay them back, how do you? I, sometimes I don’t, I do not want to continue to feel like the Black celebrity grim reaper, but like this has been a low swinging chariot that we have been int that like that may be the longest, lowest one in the history. But amazing actor and just Black icon Sidney Poitier has passed away. I was recently, me and my partner were watching his films and I was researching and kind of digging like, what were people saying before, you know, his death? And we found that the Oprah Daily article. And I just love this conversation that Oprah had with Sidney. And then also, there’s a, there’s a part of it that I believe that Oprah and Sydney deal with similar critiques about their position in Black culture and not being Black enough, and it was interesting to see them kind of go back and forth together and converse about certain things. And I just wanted to honor certain things that just moved me that, he said during the interview. So when asked about what was the expectation of his father, he says: to walk through my life as my own man, I see my father, he was a poor man and I watched him do astonishing things. After the tomato business failed on Cat Island, he moved to Nassau with no money. He moved there with arthritis, and I saw him hang on his dignity day by day. And it was hard because there if you had nothing, you got no respect. Yet he never lost his dignity. In his lifetime, my father never earned as much money as I spent in a week. And that’s another thing when I found out about his death, is that, just Diane Carroll, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier—these are people who like, kind of like, ring dignity in your ears and it does feel like less that dignity, Black dignity is gone, but all this responsibility for displaying Black dignity must be, have been inherited by other people because I just refuse to think that there’s not some type of design in how we move on to the ancestral realm. And that quote reminded me of that. Another one that really moved me was him talking about Stevie Wonder, where I’m like, This should definitely be in like the Smithsonian or something. Like, Sidney Poitier talking about Stevie Wonder feels like a big deal: Take a person like Stevie Wonder, who was blind from a young age, where did his gifts come from? His mother. They come from, they came from her. And it’s conceivable that five, 10 or 20 generations ago there was someone with an extraordinary gift in Stevie’s family but the external circumstances of that person’s life were such that they had never gave rise to that gift blossoming. Oprah’s response: because it takes a combination of forces to bring out gifts. Sidney says, Exactly, one day it happens, a kid like Stevie is walking through a living room and there’s a piano, and he hears the note and it becomes the light. So the journey is not one generation, each of us is an accumulated effort unfolding. Then he goes on to say, We should not limit it to two generations. I have to accept that my contribution to the man that I have become with a small one, that gift made to my mother which manifested in me, could have been lying in dormancy across generations because let me tell you, my dear, there’s something about you that didn’t just happen when your father’s sperm hit your mother’s egg. The sperm and egg carry a history that includes generations you don’t know. And there’s something really comforting about hearing Sydney talk about generations and ancestors and not just considering Black life as one, you know, physical Black life, but also the kind of cell in the continuum of Black history and Black culture. And there was something really comforting about knowing that he had that perspective while living and makes his transition even that much more celebratory and more something to like honor than something to mourn. Because you know that he had that perspective that he wouldn’t want you to be mourning and be sad. He will want you to think about, OK, what is my work to do now that this cell has went into this next phase? Where am I being called to go this phase? And I, you know, we’re losing some hard hitters. And I think that we can go into grief collectively over our cultural icons, but I think even more courageous thing to do is kind of stand up in the dignity and what we’re inheriting because of the work that these people have done in our own individual ways, big and small.
Kaya Henderson: One of the things that struck me, really struck me about this article was him talking about his growing up experiences and how he when he was living in the Bahamas on Cat Island until he was 15, he was free. There were, the expectations were high. He was able to do whatever he wanted to do, and he didn’t really understand blackness as a construct because there were only two white people on Cat Island, the doctor and shopkeeper’s daughter. And they were just people and everybody was just people. And he got the shock of his life then when he came to Miami to live with his, his older brother. And he said something that literally it just, I mean, it struck my heart, he says. I’m a 15-year old kid and who I am is really terrific. The me that I’ve been for 15 years, I like that me. That’s a free me. I can’t adjust to being a restricted me. And to have a 15-year old who first believes themselves to be terrific is a revolution in and of itself. To have a 15-year old who likes themselves that way, who recognizes the freedom and who makes the decision at 15 that they’re not going to compromise that freedom. And then we see that decision playing out over the course of his career, from the, from the roles that he chose to the way that he carried himself with the press. This is my life’s work, this is where I want to make sure that every single one of our 15-year olds sees themselves as really terrific, understands that they come from a legacy that includes Sidney Poitier and the generations before him. And that they can be free in America in a way that Sidney was. And I think the collective mourning, I was like, Well, I was a little surprised at first. You know, Sidney was 94. He had a good run. And I’m like, Why are people like, 94 is a good run, right? But I think what the grief is is that, as you said, Myles, this was dignity personified for us. This was barrier breaking. This was, you know, if we can see it, we can be it. And this was the best of character, I think, the best, one of the best examples of character. And so I feel sad, but I am appreciative of the opportunity upon this great man’s death to reflect on the lessons that we can glean from the example that he set.
Myles Johnson: Miss Kaya, I love that, I love that everything that you said. That was one of my favorite parts, and I love that he came to those conclusions via silence. And it was almost like in my head, I was like, Oh, that was his natural state was to love himself. And he was gifted 15 years of silence and quietude and to be able to like, really honor and have a relationship with that natural state of appreciation for himself. That that 15 years made him so rock solid, that he was able to go on in win the Academy Awards and do the great work that he’s been able to do it, etc., etc.. But I just love the idea where it’s like, no, like, we naturally love ourselves and if we let that grow, we can, we can cling to it and be incomparable.
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll say I loved—this isn’t what I’ll talk about the most—but I did love all the back and forth between him and Denzel and the way they loved each other and the way that in a beautiful moment where Sidney is like he is, he is like the culmination of all the things I worked for. Like, That’s just so beautiful. But what I wanted to say is that I am really disillusioned by celebrity today, and sort of just like, OK, we know you can sing and dance and we know you can throw balls in the air and catch them and you can throw them in metal circles and, but what are you doing for the people ? And it is all of the people in their homes and in, you know, in their communities with not a lot of resources that make you famous. It is their love, it is our love, it is our care that make any of your work possible or relevant and yet your responsibility to us, to them feels really nil. And then there’s somebody like Sidney Poitier. So the story that I’ll recount is in the freedom summer of 1964. You know it obviously because of the Freedom Rides and the three civil rights activists who were who were killed, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney during that moment. But you might not know is that they were running into real financial troubles and they needed more money to keep that summer going and they needed about $50,000. James Forman, who was helping to run SNCC at the time, calls Belafonte. Belafonte and Poitier get together, and they develop a plan to deliver the $70,000 that they raised to the Freedom, to the Freedom Summer, folks. How do they do it, though? They have to get on a plane. They have to get into town. And when they land, it is the KKK is ready. There’s a there’s a car that immediately rams their car. They are driving and it’s Belafonte, Poitier and two SNCC folks in. They are driving. And then a group of SNCC cars come and put a protective covering like a convoy almost around their car. But they still don’t know if somebody’s going to come out to shoot him or if more cars are going to come. The highway patrol was up and ready to arrest all of them for speeding so that the money would not get. They couldn’t wire the money because that would obviously trigger a process, white banks wouldn’t take the money. And then they had to sleep in somebody’s house in town and people were watching guard in the house they were in. And Poitier has this beautiful line when he walks into the room where they make it, they deliver the money, they walk into the room with all the SNCC folks because the money finally got there. They can continue Freedom Summer. And Poitier says, I’m 37-years old. I’ve been a lonely man all my life because I have not found love, but this room is overflowing in it. And you’re just like, you know, like the way Black people, especially Black people who struggle love each other is just so different. That is my story, too from St. Louis. But they did it. And then they got snuck out of Greenwood, you know, a day or two later. But they were willing to put it all on the line, two of the most famous Black people to live in that moment got them. So they didn’t call somebody. They didn’t hire somebody to deliver the money, they didn’t pay somebody—they got their bodies on the line and were like, If y’all to mess with somebody, it’ll be us and we will make sure this is a crisis for—I mean, if there is not a role for celeb—that’s it. They did it, And where are those people in this moment. I don’t know.
Kaya Henderson: You better preach, you better preach.
DeRay Mckesson: Poitier: the rubber meets the road there.
Kaya Henderson: Because in the spirit of Sidney Poitier, in the “if you see it, you can be it” and Oprah’s, the whole premise of the article is Oprah seeing Sidney on TV getting an Academy Award and knowing in that moment that she could be that. And in the spirit of we are more than just Negroes, if there’s a clip running around of Poitier risk, taking questions at a press conference and asking him all of these questions about things happening that have to do with blackness. And at some point, he says, I want to ask you a question: why are you asking, why are you specializing in sensationalism and negativity? And when I am, I am a man. I am an American, I am an artist, I am a whatever. And you choose to only ask me questions essentially about my blackness, is what he’s saying. And in that spirit, I bring to you an article from The Washington Post about the first all-Black team of climbers heading to Mount Everest. And I bring this to the pod because I want our kids, like little Oprah sitting on a linoleum tile, to see something different so they can be something different. And I want our listeners to know that we are more than just the pathologies that beset our communities. We are mountain climbers! We are summiteers, y’all! Come on with me in this New Year! We are mountain climbers. And so this May, a team of nine highly qualified says the article—highly qualified, I like that—a team of nine highly-qualified black climbers will be the first all-Black team to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which is the tallest peak in the world. The team is led by Philip Henderson—who is not my cousin, although he probably is somewhere along the line. And the group is called Full Circle Everest Expedition. They don’t just want to summit Everest, but they want to bring diversity and change to the outdoors and the mountaineering industries. These climbers hope that they can change the narrative by creating stories that show that this can be done. And I love the diversity of the team. So the team members include outdoor educators, the owner of a climbing gym, a high school teacher—shout out to the teachers doing all the things—North Face-sponsored sports ambassador, a sociology professor, and a marine instrumentation and computer specialist. Now just the different—come on, exactly, not Black people these are, these are Black people, I’m just reminding you—like just the diversity of of their occupations is interesting. They also range in age from 25 to 58. And as the aunty that I’m often reminded that I am, old people can, or older people—middle aged, middle aged, seasoned people—can climb Mount Everest. Go ahead, y’all. There are people with Ph.D.’s in environmental and science fields. There are people who have already summited Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Denali in Alaska. And all of this is just giving me all the feels. It’s expensive. The cost is about $100,000 per person to make the climb, and they are supported by a bunch of different mountaineering brands, but they are still seeking donations. And so if you, if you have it upon your heart and want to support Black mountaineering, check out Full Circle Everest Expedition. This is historical, y’all, because the first people to summit Everest are widely believed to be Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. They were the first folks to do it 70 years ago. And since then only about 10,000 other people have done it, but only a handful of them have been Black, and only one Black American. Most of the climbers who climb Everest are white male climbers, many from the British Empire that ruled over India and the Himalayas. But Full Circle Everest Expedition is about to change all of that. So let us cheer and celebrate these nine intrepid Black highly-qualified climbers who are—
De’Ara Balenger: Loves Hollywood. Highly-qualified.
Myles Johnson: [unclear] Twitter bio: highly qualified.
Kaya Henderson: Who are showing our young people that they can be something different, who are busting up the colonized outdoors industry, and bringing Black excellence to the party. Yeah.
Myles Johnson: Super beautiful. And even when I was thinking about because I know that, you know, we kind of romanticize like the young Oprah looking at, you know, the olders, the older Sydney getting the Academy Award and stuff, and then but what rang true to me when you were talking is that we’re always—so—I’m about to be 31 in March, and right now I’m transitioning into art, film music, all these different scary things that are not media and writing and these type of stories give me hope, you know? And I think that the part of the human life is always getting over one mountain and reaching the summit and going to another one and looking up, and these stories, even though they’re very literal, it’s about a literal expedition, to me, I get why you look at Muhammad Ali and you get that feeling of champion. The reason why we love Serena Williams, even if we do not give a flying, you know, what about tennis, we just love seeing somebody win is because we’re usually in our own life being called to those our own individual expeditions to to find new and higher summits. And that’s why this story inspired me, because I will not be touching no mountain. That won’t be happening, and I’m OK with that. I’m at peace with that decision that that won’t be happening for me, but I love seeing somebody else have that goal and do it.
DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I’ll say is, you know, we were probably the original climbers. We’re just people rediscovering Black climbers in this moment. But I think about all these sports stuffs. I love the access. I love, I hope these people knock out of the water. I hope that they are the beginning of the second wave of people having the tools and resources because, you know, part of it is not the skill of climbing, all of us grew up around a whole lot of people whose climbing stuff they had no business climbing and we’re doing it in the most incredible ways when they were three years old, right? So we know some climbers.
Myles Johnson: How to get to the mall.
DeRay Mckesson: Right, right. You’re like, Why are they going on the roof? You’re like, Get off the roof. Come on. But the thing is, this is the point, it’s like you need the tools and resources. And Kaya highlighted this. It is not, the skill of climbing is really just not enough at a certain point. It’s do you have the the clothes and whatever goes on your feet or the food that is for, like that can sustain you out there because you can’t have no rice and beans out there like that, like you get at the house, you know? Like you do, you have the resources and tools, and the resources and tools, not just the skill. And I think that actually is so much of the sports conversation and the access conversation. People make it a skill conversation. Black people will always have the skills, and we had the resources and tools is really what we have not had that is limited people.
De’Ara Balenger: I agree with everything that’s been said, wholeheartedly obviously. What I’m doing now, though, is getting some merch because these folks have the cutest merch. So I going to order me a little sweatshirt. And be walking around when people ask me about Full Circle Expedition, I’ll be able to tell them. Check them out, yeah. All right, on my news today is about Lani Guinier. So I happened to actually rewatch the Pauli Murray documentary earlier this week. And thinking about Pauli Murray, thinking about Lani Guinier. And just like the pioneering scholarship of these humans, it just makes me so proud. Now it does also make me sad that not more people know about these extraordinary humans. Pauli Murray, if you don’t know, you can watch a documentary on Polli. Pauli’s also written books and, you know, so many legal essays, et cetera, et cetera. But she’s been instrumental in in civil rights in terms of gender discrimination and also, her scholarship has also impacted gaining rights for the LGBTQ community as well. But I’ve talked about Lani Guinier before, and Lani Guinier, Patricia J. Williams, Kimberly Crenshaw, and really any of, you know, all the Black women, Black folks standing on the shoulders of folks like Constance Baker Motley, who you don’t know about Constance Baker Motley, you need to google her too. You know, I got to know all of these names, really when I was studying Black studies and then when I went on to law school when I thought I was going to be critical race scholar, but you know, they have always been my North Star, and it’s been so critical for us to understand that the culture and the society that we have now even is with as much work to do as we have to do, they have helped to shape it. Like, instrumentally. And so to know Lani Guinier is to know about her scholarship on voting rights. And, you know, and obviously she’s, Lani Guinier is this accomplished person. She’s the first Black tenured woman at Harvard Law School. She was at the Legal Defense Fund for years and fought a bunch of court battles where she won the rights for folks of color. So that’s long, long and what Kaya, What did we just say? She’s, she’s highly qualified, she’s highly qualified. But I really wanted to just hone in on her work on voting rights because Lani was so ahead of her time. And so Lani Guinier really championed what’s called cumulative voting. And so we actually have cumulative voting now in New York City. Our last mayoral election, we had cumulative voting. And cumulative voting means that, let’s say if you were, you know, if you, if there were four congress-people that were running in a particular district, you would get four votes and you could either use all those four votes on one person or you can distribute your votes equally. However you wanted to do with those four votes you could do with those four votes. Now this is kind of groundbreaking, a different way to think about our election system, because right now, districts are drawn up to either have a whole bunch of folks of color in them and so they can only have, they can vote for that candidate and, you know, maybe that candidate is the candidate of color, but the districts that are on either side of them, they have no say. And obviously, like all of those resources are impacting all of those people. So I just, I think with Lani Guinier, I think it’s just, it’s so consequential because this is someone who actually wanted to reimagine our election system and make sense because our election system and our democracy obviously was originated in the 18th century. So why would we be using a system that one, is so old, but also wasn’t meant to be for a multiracial society, right? And so I think it’s just so interesting when you really start to think about OK, instead of us just trying to like prod and push and dent in the current system we have now, what if we actually just thought about the society we had now and the needs of those citizens and created a structure, created a system that basically held that held the rights of those of those citizens and really allowed them to use their voice in elections. So I’ll get off my soapbox, but if you can, really look into her work because it’s just incredible and we’re in this moment now when voting rights is such a critical issue and we’re still waiting for the Senate to pass the John Lewis Act and the Voter Freedom Act, you know—or Freedom to Vote Act, rather—it’s just, I don’t, you know, it’s almost sort of full circle moment here as well with Lani Guinier and her passing and her life’s work. So I just wanted to bring her up because she’s meant so much to me in both the development of who I am as a Black woman, but also as an attorney. And so, yeah, I just wanted to to hold her up and say her name and hold space for her. And the last thing I’ll say about her is President Clinton did some F’ed up stuff to her. He basically nominated her and then withdrew her nomination on some B.S.. You can look into that too, because it was ridiculous. But you know, that’s all I got to say about that.
Kaya Henderson: I will jump in and pick up on that thread because when, because when that thing went down, I had just graduated from college. We were so excited to see a Black woman nominated by what we then thought was our first Black president. And we watched this really terrible character assassination go down. And we watched perhaps one of the, what I would consider one of the like greatest acts of political cowardice and abandonment of our community with Bill Clinton not standing by her or standing up for her. And that said a lot to me. I think that was the, that abandonment of her, of her nomination made me very, at a formative age—I was 23 or so at the time—made me realize that everybody who stands with us ain’t standing for us. And you know, she was, and the article, the Times obituary calls her: an unorthodox thinker about whether America’s legal institutions needed to change to, to further, change further to realize democracy. And the truth of the matter is she was thinking way ahead of her time. All the questions that we are currently dealing with around voting rights, around gerrymandering, around, you know, voter marginalization, these are the things that she was talking about in the ’80s and the ’90s, and she was trying to figure out systemic solutions to them. And those things were radical and she was penalized for it. She wasn’t even penalized for it because she was wrong or because it was super crazy, in fact, the Republicans who opposed her said very clearly that this campaign against her was a matter of political opportunity. Bill Clinton hadn’t expended any political capital yet around voting and voting rights. The Republicans were pissed off about Supreme Court justice nominations Bork and Thomas, and they needed some get back. And who do you use to get to get back, is the Black woman legal scholar. And so she, you know, I think what is terrible is that, you know, a lot of the things that, a lot of the strategies that we are now employing, as you mentioned De’Ara are remedies to the problems that she raised and solutions that she championed. And she was penalized and punished for that because folks didn’t stand with her. It is heartbreaking to me to think that at 73, she died of Alzheimer’s disease because that brain was, you know, a genius and a visionary and before her time. And so I thank you for bringing this to the pod.
Myles Johnson: Yeah. Short and sweet, I just think it’s like fascinating that the person who was oppressed by like the, like racist political technology was also the same person tasked with revolutionizing it and changing it for forever. And that’s just astonishing. I’m always really just impressed by like the task that are on Black people’s lives to be given something and then also be not just surviving or [unclear] through it, but then also creating the technology and the ideas in to order to transform it. And it’s inspiring. And thank you all for bringing it to the podcast. It lifted me and expanded what I knew.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, Lani Guinier has this quote that I love is so true. I want to get like plastered on everybody’s everything: poor Black people are the throwaway people, and we pathologize them in order to justify our disregard. Lani, you said it. Now without poor Black people, this whole shebang ain’t shebanging no more. And people participate in the, people participate in blaming poor Black people for the problems that we face and all these things as a way to rationalize our disinvestment and our lack of urgency and our lack of responsibility, and a lot of celebrities here—that like, it’s a, you know, I worked hard, you should work hard. Like we do all of these things to pathologize Black people because poor Black people are the throw away people, but if not for poor Black people, this thing ain’t thinging. This thing aint thinging! And shout out to Lani Guinier for using her position and privilege and power, not only to fight for that, but to name it. Like, because there are so many people who in the not naming it, that’s a way that they justify their disregard. Like, that’s another way that it happens is by acting like they just don’t understand. They don’t know. They don’t see it. And it’s like, You know what? That ain’t it. But shout out to Lani Guinier, a hero and a titan. And you know, the beautiful thing about her legacy is that she inspired so many people like the De’Ara’s. So many people, I think so many people who saw themselves in a field that had been only aspirational before, and she made it real.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to xome.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: And here we go, my conversation with Samira Sangare. She’s the community organizer and Black Lives Matter activist in Saratoga Springs, a city in New York State. Her work centers youth empowerment, community health and wellness, equity and inclusion, and a host of other things. And how it’s happening is that they’re a group of activists who are being targeted by the Saratoga Springs Police Department because of their peaceful protests and because of their advocacy, and I wanted to talk to Samira to learn more about it. She and I spoke about the hardship that she and her family have faced in the journey for justice for Darryl Mount and so many others. Hear our conversation and see how this work impacts activists across the country day in and day out. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Samira, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Samira Sangare: Thanks so much for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: Now I know you because you are an activist who is still working in community, fighting against police violence and, in some ways, you have been targeted by the state. But can you start by telling us what was your path to activism? How did you, how did you start to identify as an activist or an organizer, or is that how you identify at all? What was your journey to this space?
Samira Sangare: So first of all, I am a non-binary fem, so my pronouns are she-they, and I started off coming into this movement with my brother. You know, the George Floyd murder was a big turning point. So my brother and I started in Clifton Park where we live, which is in Saratoga County, and we went to our high school Shenendehowa and we focused on LGBTQIA-plus students and BIPOC students who have gone through abuse and have gone through racism, gaslighting, and we took it to the streets, and after that, we went to school board meetings. And you know, I, my brother and I went to many protests in the capital region, in New York. There’s a huge protest in Albany where there is about, you know, 7,000 people. There’s a protest in Troy, where there’s about 15,000 people. Following that, my brother and I joined the group called All Of Us, where I met a lot of amazing people. And later on, we formed our group called Saratoga Black Lives Matter, where some of the people in that group branched off. And you know, we just fight for, you know, justice and what’s right, and for people that look like us basically.
DeRay Mckesson: And what are those fights, like what are, what are the issues that are in your community? And remind everybody where you are again, like what city, what town, what state, so they can place it.
Samira Sangare: So, yeah, we’re in upstate New York. I live in Clifton Park, which is in Saratoga County and, you know, this is the capital region. And, you know, Saratoga Black Lives Matter is one of the main people who are doing a lot of these things. Our biggest thing is getting justice for Darryl Mount. Darryl Mount was a 21-year old Black boy who was chased into an alley in Saratoga Springs in 2013. And you know, there is no, there’s no video. There’s no, there’s no recording of the encounter. And Saratoga police department said that he fell from scaffolding. Darryl had injuries to his face on one side, like it was a beating, like it was blunt force trauma. He had no broken bones. And he was actually handcuffed on the scene while he was unconscious. The chief of police at the time lied, and said that there was no investigation. And you know, so our first thing for Darryl Mount is having the D.A. cited for not doing an investigation and having a SSPD cited for not having a, for not having an investigation, having the jury cited for having no investigation. We want the officers to be fired and to never be police again. And that is what justice looks like for that family right now, for the Mount family. We also fight for equity and inclusion in Saratoga County and Saratoga because it is mostly white people, and, you know, but there are also Black and BIPOC individuals that live here that don’t feel welcome. You know, another demand is demilitarizing the Saratoga County Sheriffs. They have millions and millions of dollars that’s donated by the federal government, and they bring MRAP vehicles to our protests, especially the vigil that we have for Darryl Mount every year. And there was actually an incident where the sheriffs came out on July 30th, 2020 during a Back the Blue rally, there’s a counter-protest with BLM, and the sheriff shot pepper bullets at BLM protesters and arrested 15-, 16- and 17-year old children. So there’s still been no justice for that. You know, we also want all the charges to be dropped from July 14th from when we were arrested, as well as September 7th. And, you know, we just simply want accountability and transparency from SSPD, especially with a civilian review board with subpoena power, which is something that we’ve been fighting for in Saratoga Springs.
DeRay Mckesson: So let’s back up. What’s going on with the Darryl Mount case? Like what is, when was it, and what has been the fallout?
Samira Sangare: So, Darryl, this all happened in 2013, and the family has been in litigation for the past eight years. Like I said before, the chief at the time lied and said that there is no investigation, and that he misled the media when he said that there was an investigation, and lied. I mean, this whole time, Darryl’s family has just been looking for answers, you know, and that’s all that we’re trying to do. It’s sad that not a lot of people know who Darryl is and, you know, we kind of say that Darryl is our George Floyd. You know, he is someone that could still be here right now. And you know, a lot of the things that what happened—during the encounter, you could listen to the tape, you can watch some of the tapes leading up to the chase. You know, he was accused of smashing his girlfriend’s head into the wall at a bar when they were going out. They were going out to have fun. You know what I mean? This was later denounced by his girlfriend at the time. And you know, a lot of times people, people talk about Darryl and they say, you know, why did he run or he deserved what he got. But you know, our whole thing is, even if he ran, that doesn’t mean he deserved to die. And at the end of the day, you know, even if even, if nothing did happen, there still is not accountability and transparency because we don’t, we don’t know. You know? The SSPD is clearly hiding a lot of things and at the same time, these these officers that were there when this happened to Darryl are still working on the force and there’s still the same ones that come to our city council meetings, there’s still the same ones that come to our protests, there’s still the same ones that SSPD chooses to have interaction with us. So, you know, that’s a big thing. But the big, that’s a big problem and that we have, you know, with a SSPD and accountability and transparency.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I believe I read it correctly that you all are being targeted by the police department. Can you explain that to us?
Samira Sangare: Yeah. So obviously around the country, we’ve seen BLM has been looked at as a terrorists or bad people. On September 7th, BLM activists were arrested on warrants for misdemeanors and violations two months after a protest. This was after a peaceful protest. A week before the assistant chief said that he would use his 130-years of family power to end our narrative. And our narrative being that we want justice for Darryl, we want equity and inclusion, and we want accountability and transparency. Two of the charges that one of our leaders are facing, which is Lexis Figuereo, who is a very loud and outspoken Black man in our group, he’s facing two charges of obstruction of governmental administration for speaking at a City Council meeting and grabbing his tripod. And these like situations, you could see a lot, a lot, a lot of police, a heavy police presence. In the videos we have, they’re swarming him, they’re swarming his sister, who is another leader in our group, Chandler, to tell them to stop talking while a roomful of other white people are talking. There’s another instance at a City Council meeting two weeks—or a month ago, almost—where, you know, white individuals came to a City Council meeting for public comment and they broke the rules and were allowed to do a second public comment. And you know, Lexis Figuereo is still facing two charges of obstruction of governmental property for breaking those exact rules. And not just it should be noted that those charges were, those obstruction charges were written the day that our, those obstruction charges were written the day that Lex was arrested. You know, Saratoga Springs Police Department still has Lexis phone off a warrant for disorderly conduct after, and it’s been two months. You know, it’s clear that these are like fear-mongering tactics. And you know these charges could have been issued to us, not by warrants, but by summons. I’ve never heard of a judge that has signed a warrant for disorderly conduct or unlawful imprisonment—which is one of the charges that my younger brother is facing and many other people for supposedly blocking a car during a protest. I mean, I can tell you, we’ve all been to a protest in Rochester and this nation’s capital, all over the place, Louisville, and none of us have ever gotten a disorderly conduct charge or anything while, you know, protesting for our rights. And it’s clear because we have instances where there was a Republican who was trying to run for city council in Saratoga Springs, she’s being investigated for election fraud and she was allowed to turn herself in. And she is a white individual. So we can see the bias, we can see, we can see where you know this plays in.
DeRay Mckesson: What can people do to help out? Is there anything that you know, listeners, they hear you? They’re like, OK. Darrell Mitchell, OK. Protest is being targeted. And what can people do to support him?
Samira Sangare: Well, first they can call the Saratoga DA and tell them to drop the charges on BLM activists and BLM protesters. They can follow us @saratogablm on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for updates. They can also contact the A.G. and continue to tell her to investigate. Actually no—scratch that because the A.G. has already confirmed that she is investigating into Saratoga Springs, the Civil Rights Department filed violations of civil rights against the Saratoga Police Department. So, you know, that’s a big step for us as well.
DeRay Mckesson: Cool. And what’s the best way to stay up to date with what you’re doing?
Samira Sangare: Yeah, like I said, you can follow us @saratogablm of the alarm on Instagram. You can also follow myself @samirasangare on Instagram and Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Are there any other parts of the story that we missed with what’s going on in Saratoga Springs?
Samira Sangare: I think I just wanted to add that we have a Saratoga Free Fringe that is fully-stocked and a pantry that people can take what they need with no questions. Oh, one thing is that, I mean, obviously, Saratoga Springs sees that their elected officials are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing because we had a whole election here in November, obviously, and the Democrats took four seats for the city council. And you know, these people are already people that we’ve had conversations with, they’re people that have actually talked to us like humans. You know? We’re we’re obviously still going to be a thorn in their side and, you know, promoting our demand and our ideas and demanding a seat at the table, but you know, these are people that have already talked about Darryl Mount and getting, and actually saying that we will have an investigation. The Public Safety Commissioner has already said that he’s going to be putting in a policy about not having, not having police go out on warrants for things that aren’t misdemeanors—or that are that aren’t felonies. You know, basically saying that you can’t just go out for on a warrant for disorderly conduct or like type of violation or misdemeanor. Because it should be reminded that, you know, that’s not safe for people like us. It’s very scary because of the fact that, you know, when I found out that Lex got picked up by the sheriffs, when I got, when I found out that Lex got picked up on a warrant while he was driving on his way to his criminology class for criminal justice, we all went to the station and, you know, the sheriff—not SSPD—the sheriffs told us that we had to come inside. They didn’t tell us we were under arrest. They didn’t tell us why. These are things that are not only scary, but I mean they’re fear tactics.
DeRay Mckesson: There are two questions, actually. So the first is what the piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Samira Sangare: A piece of advice? I would say using my, don’t forget to use your voice, don’t forget to speak up. That’s something that definitely drove me to this movement. You know, there are times where you think that you shouldn’t say something or you shouldn’t speak up or you shouldn’t step up, and those are the times in the past that I wish I stepped up than most. People don’t realize how important your voice is. Even as scary as it can be, your voice is the most powerful thing that that you have, and it’s the most powerful weapon that you can have.
DeRay Mckesson: Yep. So what do you say to the people who have done it all? They are, like, we emailed, voted, protested, stood in the middle of the street, we testified, we did all the things, we read the books, we went to the talks—and the world has not yet changed to be the world that they wanted it to be. What do you say to those people, the people losing hope?
Samira Sangare: I say not only keep going, but invest in your youth. That’s also a big thing that we have been, we have been looking at as well. You know, we have a mentorship program that we also are going to be putting into the schools because, you know, our youth is what drives us. Our youth is what gives us new ideas. Our youth is what challenges us. You know, I can speak for my group when I say that we always wish we had someone like us when we were younger. You know, a lot of our group is very young, but we always look to the people that are younger than us, the people that have found their voices before we even did, because that is courage. That’s bravery. And that is what actually gives me chills, and what’s gives me chills right now—my hands are standing up because literally just speaking about, speaking about the children, speaking about the youth and, you know, just putting our power into them and uplifting them, while uplifting life at the same time.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, thank you so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People. We consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Samira Sangare: Yay! Oh my God! I did it.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrie and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me, and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.