In This Episode
DeRay, Brittany, Sam and Clint talk about Jussie Smollet and Howard Schultz, plus colonialism and climate change, a mother’s fatal fall on NYC subway steps, a growing number of urban prosecutors refusing to pursue marijuana convictions, and how opioid overdoses increase when prisoners are forced off prescribed relapse medication. African American Studies Chair at UCLA, Dr. Marcus Hunter, joins DeRay to talk about everything from inclusion to reparations. #BHM
- The Independent: American colonisation killed so many people it triggered climate change, study suggests
- New York Times: A Mother’s Fatal Fall on Subway Stairs Rouses New Yorkers to Demand Accessibility
- New York Times: A Growing Chorus of Big City Prosecutors Say No to Marijuana Convictions
- The Marshall Project: When Going to Jail Means Giving Up The Meds That Saved Your Life
- Dr. Marcus Hunter Twitter
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DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, we’re joined by Dr. Marcus Anthony Hunter who is associate professor and chair of African American studies at UCLA.
Marcus Hunter: For me, it’s really making it so that you have work that demonstrates that black people are on purpose, that black people’s history matters, that black people are history and that that conversation can be had without trying to explain that for white people.
DeRay: And then we have the news with me, Brittany, Clint, and Sam as usually. You might hear some background noise in this episode. The four of us record wherever we are in the world and this one, there’s a little bit of background noise.
DeRay: Before we get started, this is a brief message that in the past couple weeks, I feel like the internet has just been ablaze everyday with some new thing and everything moves so quick. People have the right to be opinionated, to ask questions, to express doubt, to express support, all of those things are real.
DeRay: But we at least gotta fight about the same set of facts and when we all start to lose is when people get swayed by these misinformation and disinformation campaigns. We actually are fighting but not fighting about the same set of facts. It’s what the Russians did, it’s certainly what the police do often.
DeRay: Make sure that you’re not contributing to a conversation that you’re fighting about something and just not on the same page about the basic facts. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey y’all, it’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett @misspackyetti on all social media.
Sam: And this is Sam Sinyangwe @samsway on Twitter.
Clint: And this is Clint Smith, @clintsmiththethird.
DeRay: And this is DeRay @deray D-E-R-A-Y on Twitter.
Brittany: DeRay, I know that you were at Jussie Smollett’s concert this weekend. It was really, really good to see him back on stage looking as brave and determined as ever. What’d he say? He was like, “I fought back.” Let’s be very, very clear that no matter what’s being reported about the attack that absolutely happened, that I fought back.
Brittany: I thought that was a really powerful statement. It was good to see him up and at it.
DeRay: I think it was good in the sense to that what the attackers wanted to do is get him off his game, make sure that he wasn’t performing at the same level to slow his roll, and I think it was important that he was like, “I won’t let these people take me away from the things that I love.”
DeRay: He sounded great. [inaudible 00:03:18] was there. His whole family was there. They made a statement before he game out and he also talked a little bit. We should, I hope that the media comes out soon with how much the Chicago Police Department has leaked false information about this to sow doubt in the public. It has been really astounding to watch from a distance.
Sam: And this wouldn’t be the first time that the Chicago Police Department would have done something like this. We saw what they did with Laquan McDonald. It is this tough situation as we’ve talked about in the past where who do you call for help when you actually need help?
Sam: Especially in cities where you have the Chicago Police Department is the agency that responds and how do you trust that agency in cases like this?
Clint: I think it’s a reminder that what it means to be an artist and activist, especially a black and queer person who is speaking truth to power, is not something that exists without risk and it is not something that we can or should take for granted.
Clint: Every time he speaks out, it is a very intentional and very real act of courage. I think when these moments of violence happen, it’s so jarring for people because we almost expect that, in 2019, people will be able to speak about issues of justice without suffering any repercussions to their personal or professional selves.
Clint: It has me thinking a lot about safety, courage, and not taking for granted people who don’t otherwise have to use their platform in the way that Jussie does.
Brittany: One of the things I think is actually really powerful coming out of this situation is that when Jussie made his first statement, first of all, he gave it to Essence magazine which I really appreciated him going directly to a black outlet.
Brittany: But one of the things he said was, “Not only am I okay and are they not going to win, we have to remember that LGBTQ people are under threat every single day and these kinds of attacks happen to LGBTQ+ folks who are not famous and you never hear the news about them. Their names never trend and we have to recognize that we have to fight for and with them too.”
Brittany: I really appreciated that perspective that he gave us, even as the person who would face this assault. There was a transgender woman of color named Pinky who had faced an assault the next day and I saw lots of trans activists on my timeline reminding us to keep that same energy that we have for Jussie in facing down what happened to her as well.
Brittany: I appreciated that perspective that he gave us. I know that Jussie is someone that we’ll continue to hear from a lot more and I am grateful for that. I will tell you who I want to talk less though is Howard Schultz.
Brittany: I want Howard “billionaires are the real victims” Schultz to have several seats. I feel like this is going in all the wrong directions. Yes, we should have more than a two party system. Yes, we should be hearing from lots of voices. But billionaires are not really the unheard in our society.
Brittany: They’re not marginalized or silenced in ways that other people are when they talk about third parties and trying to make sure their voices are heard. In my opinion, he has been so distracting from so many other things that really matter in this race.
Sam: And it’s a reminder that, as we’re seeing more progressive proposals to actually begin redistributing some of the immense, unearned wealth that has accumulated at the very top of society and redistributing that into education and healthcare and providing free college, the rich are mad. They are reacting and I think this is one of many reactions.
Sam: We’ve seen sort of Bloomberg as well, another billionaire, sort of hint that he might run. But there’s a lot of people with a lot of money who I think are feeling some type of way about actually building an equitable society in which they no longer have a ridiculous amount of money and everybody else doesn’t have much at all.
Sam: It’s good in a sense that it means that there are serious proposals out there that could actually change some of the power dynamics that have privileged billionaires and that they are reacting to that, but it’s bad to see how much air time any one billionaire, Howard Schultz of all people who nobody really knew about.
Sam: People knew about Starbucks but didn’t know Howard Schultz by name. But just to see how much attention this one guy can get just by being a billionaire and announcing that he’s running for president, had no policy proposals, and nothing good to say except for criticizing Democrats.
Clint: What I will say Howard Schultz is exploring the possibility of a third party candidacy has unearthed is an opportunity for people to really explore if it is a morally just thing for us to have people with billions and billions of dollars while 21% of the children in this country go hungry every night.
Clint: One billion dollars is like a thousand million dollars. That’s not a real number, but imagine a thousand stacks of one million dollars laid out. That’s a billion dollars. A billion dollars, no one has a need for. I have so many feelings about Howard Schultz.
Clint: But the other thing that I’ll say is that he had this line that he kept using of, “I grew up in the projects and I earned everything I have.”
DeRay: Yes, yes.
Clint: “And people are criticizing me. Isn’t this the American dream?” I have a very real issue with a white billionaire using the connotations of what we contemporarily understand to be the projects, sort of de-contextualizing what the projects were at that moment in time where he was living and projecting it to almost try to equate himself with people who grew up in the projects right now to justify his wealth.
Clint: I found that to be so disgusting, so horrific, and just another example of how this person seems he’s intellectually unqualified because he hasn’t put anything forward that’s gonna actually make the country better, and also is morally devoid of any sense of empathy or moral fortitude.
DeRay: It is also interesting. I think about, and I don’t know how you guys feel about this, but I really do think that the internet, for all of its deficiencies, has gotten smarter over the past couple of years.
DeRay: The conversations people had about Schultz very quickly were just very strong. People were like, “Yep, don’t want this guy. This doesn’t make sense.” In a way that you could see people be like, we just want more details. I do think whoever runs for president, whoever becomes the nominee will have to have a response to what do we do with the extreme wealth in this country. That that will actually be a thing that we decide who we support on or not. This guy has gotta go.
Brittany: I think that folks who are avid internet users in certain spaces have absolutely not only just gotten smarter but gotten used to these kinds of more critical conversations. I think I’m worried about all of the spaces and places that do not engage regularly.
Brittany: Not because I think that they are any less smart than the folks who do, but they will have less exposure to a more egalitarian conversation and more exposure to the kind of media that a billionaire, frankly, can buy. That he can get on every channel and talk about whatever he wants to talk about. If that ever stops working, he can just buy the ads that he wants.
Sam: It is a fundamentally different conversation we’re having now than we were having, for example, under the Obama administration about wealth inequality. The content of the proposals are just far stronger.
Sam: During the Obama administration, it was this argument over getting the rich to pay their fair share and that was framed as we need to raise the marginal, the top tax bracket by a couple percentage points. It was still in the 20s range, but we needed to raise it from something like 25 to 28%.
Sam: The whole fight was over that. Then the Republicans wanted to cut the estate tax even lower from what it is. Now we’re in a conversation about top marginal tax rates of 70% or talking about the estate tax rate under Bernie Sanders’ proposal of 77%.
Sam: Elizabeth Warren’s proposal which over time would impose a massive, massive tax on wealth. That’s just a different conversation and one that I’m happy that we’re actually having ’cause it’s one that can actually deliver results in terms of addressing inequality in a way that the proposals that were on the board before this simply would only make a tiny difference.
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Sam: My news today is about a new study on climate change from British scientists. This study actually blew my mind. They found that a period of time in the early 1600s called The Little Ice Age, which was a time that in the historical record was characterized by unnaturally cold temperatures, the rivers in London were frozen, folks were experiencing what they called a dramatic difference in temperature.
Sam: What these scientists were able to show was that that climate change was actually produced by the genocide of indigenous populations in the Americas. Following the introduction of Europeans to the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s, that wiped out 90% of the indigenous population.
Sam: As a consequence, huge areas of land roughly the size of the country of France were left untilled. There was all this farm land that had been produced and cultivated by indigenous populations and following the genocide, there simply weren’t enough people around to upkeep that land.
Sam: As a consequence, vegetation and plant life took over that land and essentially produced a climate where a lot more carbon dioxide was being taken out of the atmosphere by all of this new plant life. As you know, plants eat Co2 essentially. They absorb Co2 as part of of photosynthesis.
Sam: This is sort of the reverse of what we’re seeing in conversation about climate change today where there’s too much carbon dioxide. This was there was not enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which led to a similar effect of impacting the climate across the globe.
Sam: This is a finding that genocide produced climate change in the 1500s and 1600s. Another implication of all of the bad things that we have heard and read about having to do with colonization. This is sort of another impact compounded from all of that.
Brittany: I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I was like wow. If you would’ve told me a week ago that colonization not only triggered all of those things but triggered, in part, great climate change that this country existed, I would’ve said that’s a bit of a stretch.
Brittany: But this is how much evil and greed actually shifts the face of the planet. There are gonna be lots of people who will never see this study, who when they do will never believe that it is real, but we cannot overemphasize how much people living beyond their fair share and succeeding in taking and stealing what does not belong to them and grabbing far more than they actually need legitimately affects everybody.
Clint: I never considered what it mean to have not enough Co2 which is almost kind of counterintuitive to the way that we have been trained to understand what global warming is and what climate change is.
Clint: But once you sort of recalibrate your brain to the science of it, intuitively, it makes a lot of sense. We always talk about the contemporary manifestations of environmental justice and the relationship between different facets of environmental degradation and how that impacts certain communities and this is four, five centuries old example of that.
DeRay: The only thing I’ll add is that it was interesting because in the study, they call this The Great Dying. I thought that was a fascinating way to describe what genocide does to more than people but to the entire ecosystem. It’s interesting how in this moment, people talk about climate change and climate science as sort of a hoax or people are just up in arms. This was such a good historical touchpoint about the impact and what it means.
Brittany: A particularly tragic story came to be last week when a 22 year old woman named Malaysia Goodson actually fell to her death on the subway stairs in New York City. She fell down the stairs while she was trying to carry her one year old daughter Riley inside of her stroller.
Brittany: She stumbled down the stairs and now we know that Malaysia had a preexisting condition and the combination of that condition and the fall is what led to her death. But it brought up a particularly dangerous point about the lack of accessibility in public transportation.
Brittany: This is something that disability activists have been talking about for awhile and when this story came out, I also saw a great deal of mothers say this had been their experience. That they have had to carry strollers up and down the stairs by themselves, that there have not been adequate ways for them to be able to access public transportation in New York City and beyond with that additional burden.
Brittany: What we know to be true about New York City is that there are 472 subway stations across the region but only a quarter of them have elevators and often, the elevators that exist are out of order. This actually reflects data from around the country.
Brittany: Very nearly two million people with disabilities, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 560,000 of them never leave home because of transportation difficulties. Over half a million people. Adults with disabilities are actually twice as likely as those without disabilities to have inadequate transportation.
Brittany: This tragedy has opened up a conversation that lots of people have been trying to have for a long time. This is not the fault of policy. The Americans with Disabilities Act does exist and has existed for awhile. This is an issue of compliance, that many of our cities and municipalities are actually not keeping up with what the law states and we’ve had that law for over 20 years, so there’s really no excuse for the fact that this is still a problem.
Clint: Yeah, it’s interesting because on the internet, the New York subway has almost become this funny meme. People make jokes about it and the train never comes and the elevator doesn’t work. Humor is fine, humor is how people navigate difficult situations often times.
Clint: But I appreciate you bringing this up because this is a very real issue impacting people and, in this case, in the most extreme and fatal of ways. According to the NYU Rudin Center, in 2015, there were 14,092 outages that occurred on subway elevators in New York City for an average of 53 outages per elevator that year.
Clint: I think about when my wife was pregnant and how she used the elevator rather than taking the stairs. I think about when I’m with my child and we’re in the stroller, with all the snow we had in D.C. Thankfully, we were in stations where elevator was working and that had elevator accessibility.
Clint: But I think if I had to try to carry a stroller up or down stairs that were full of ice and I think about people who have multiple kids who have to carry a stroller and also hold a child’s hand. It just creates a lot of dangerous scenarios that simply don’t have to exist.
Clint: If Howard Schultz really wanted to help, he would let his taxpayer money pay for some infrastructure change that would allow it so that we didn’t have 53 outages per elevator per year in New York City and elsewhere.
Brittany: Clint, you preaching today. Say that.
Clint: From the pulpit of Howard.
DeRay: Uh oh.
Sam: Uh oh. Yeah, I mean, living in New York City, I can attest to how ridiculous the subway system is and I am privileged in many ways. For folks with disabilities, folks who are carrying strollers, it is infinitely more difficult and it just doesn’t have to be this way.
Sam: You travel to other cities, you travel to other countries, I’m thinking about when I went to Hong Kong and seeing the infrastructure there. The subway system in New York and in so many cities across the country, the infrastructure is simply just generations behind where other countries are right now.
Sam: There’s no excuse for that. It’s just a failure to actually invest in upgrading the infrastructure, installing modern elevators, building a system that is worthy of the people that it serves.
Sam: I learned in reading this article that there is actually a plan to upgrade the subway system to improve its accessibility. Plans called Fast Forward and it calls for increasing the rate of elevator installations to more than 50 stations in the next five year capital plan from 19 currently. So, from 19 to 50 stations having elevator installations.
Sam: That would add enough elevators to the subway system by 2025 that no rider would be more than 2 stops from an accessible station. The problem is that that plan costs $40 billion over ten years and has not been funded. Again, has not been funded so simply we’re not making the investments that need to be made to actually make the system accessible and to address all of the other problems in the system that, Clint, you mentioned people have complained about for many, many years now.
DeRay: It’s interesting. We talk a lot about systems and structures and I always wanna harp on that the administration of the system is the other part of government that we just don’t think about. The bureaucracy really matters. What does it mean that there is a set of elevators and a set of apparatus that aren’t maintained in a way that allow people to use them?
DeRay: We think about some of the other stats, it’s like only 24% of the subway’s 472 stations are accessible via an elevator and half of the city’s subways serve neighborhoods that qualify as ADA transit deserts meaning that they lack a single station that someone using wheels could easily use which means about 640,000 New Yorkers who are dependent on these stations, they’re essentially inaccessible and that is really wild when you think about it.
DeRay: It’s sad too that it takes a tragedy like this for a conversation about accessibility to become a national conversation. Again, I do think about how there aren’t enough stories about the bureaucracy and what it means to maintain the infrastructure that we build in cities across the country.
DeRay: Same thing with highways are crumbling. In Baltimore, recently in the past 10 years, we’ve had a couple streets sink. The street has just sunk in neighborhoods which is really wild. To me, when I was growing up, that was only something that happened in California.
DeRay: This is what happens when we don’t pay attention to the infrastructure and like Sam said, it costs a lot of money but have the money and have to make sure that we prioritize it as opposed to just focusing on short term gains.
Clint: For my news, I’m talking about Baltimore. Baltimore has the highest murder rate among the nation’s biggest cities and it also has one of the most broken and complicated relationships between its police and the citizens who live in those communities.
Clint: Additionally, the city’s enforcement of the marijuana laws has fallen pretty exclusively on African Americans and as a result of this confluence of factors, recently, the city’s top prosecutor, Marilyn Moseby, announced that she would no longer pretty much bother with marijuana cases.
Clint: She’s arguing that it would improve police community relations and allow law enforcement to devote more time to serious violent crime, the kind that’s often going unsolved. There tend to be two arguments around this issue.
Clint: One is that people say marijuana isn’t linked to violent crime and that it’s a waste of valuable resources and it’s often racially discriminatory. The second thing is that folks say that letting go of marijuana cases actually makes communities safer because it creates the potential for seeds of trust to germinate in neighborhoods where the chief complaint is that officers are more concerned with stopping and frisking and getting these low level drug offenders than they are with solving actual violent crimes.
Clint: What happens is that communities feel like they are both over policed for minor infractions and under protected from violence. It should be noted that just because you stop arresting people for weed doesn’t mean that people are gonna automatically start trusting you or that police misconduct or discrimination will go away.
Clint: Baltimore has been plagued with police scandals over the past few years, really over decades. Most notably, the case of the Baltimore police gun trace task force whose members robbed residents and planted evidence. There was the body cam videos that appeared to show officers staging the discovery of evidence. The list goes on and on and on.
Clint: This is all to say that this is a positive move, a move many think Mosby should’ve made before, a move that more big city prosecutors are beginning to engage in and implement in their cities. It should also be noted that the Baltimore Police Department is not digging what Mosby has proposed and the police chief has said that they have no plans to implement any sort of change with the way that they approach marijuana arrests.
Clint: But it is a good thing that she is attempting to make sure that less folks are being arrested for marijuana possession but in the larger conversation around mass incarceration, we should also remember that in order to solve mass incarceration, you can’t just focus on non-violent drug offenders. You have to focus on the larger picture of violence and how it manifests itself.
Sam: Yep, and even with that being said, the police still arrest more people for marijuana possession than all violent crime combined. Oftentimes we talk about mass incarceration, we’re talking about the prison population and it’s true that there are, particularly at the state level, a larger proportion of people who are incarcerated for so called violent offenses than for marijuana possession.
Sam: But in terms of arrests, what the police are actually arresting people for, whether or not they end up in prison for it, marijuana still makes up a huge proportion of what people are arrested for. It’s good to see that not only in Baltimore, but in a number of jurisdictions now.
Sam: We’ve seen in St. Louis County under Wesley Bell, we’ve seen state attorney Kim Fox in Chicago, Cook County. Many different prosecutors now are moving in the direction of decriminalizing marijuana or refusing to charge people not only for possession but under Marilyn Mosby, she’s actually proposing to go further than that and not charge people for distribution or intent to distribute based on the quantity alone.
Sam: Somebody would have to have like plastic bags or scales in order to be charged with intent to distribute which, again, I think even that, there could be progress made on but it’s good to see prosecutors stepping up. I’m hopeful that the police will eventually stop arresting people for marijuana if it’s not being charged.
Sam: I’d love to dig into some of the data around in jurisdictions, cities and counties where prosecutors are not prosecuting people for marijuana, are we seeing fewer arrests for that? And under what circumstances are police actually less likely to arrest people even if it is not gonna be charged in the end?
Brittany: I think there are two really good lessons for all of us to be reflecting on with this kind of news. Number one is that if we decide to set a trend, we can. To both Sam and Clint’s point, we have seen more and more prosecutors come around to the idea of not charging for non-violent drug offenses, marijuana and others.
Brittany: That is because of the work that the people have done. That is because of work that organizers, folks in communities, and that folks on social media have done to actually make this conversation trend in all the right ways.
Brittany: I think the other lesson that is relevant here is a lesson about discretion and the power of the vote. It is great to get someone of color or someone from a marginalized community who does not represent the traditional folks who sit in elected positions.
Brittany: It is even better when those folks bring the perspective of the communities that they serve and that they are from. It is even better when that perspective leads them to take the kind of brave action, discretionary action that Marilyn Moseby and Kim Fox and others are taking right now.
Brittany: But what’s gonna be most important about that is that that kind of discretion actually becomes habitual and instead of these choices being the exception to the rule, they become the rule. We have to make sure that prosecutors are not simply saying, “My job is to punish people” and they follow the rules as they’ve been laid out in tradition for the last few decades.
Brittany: But that they actually think critically about the power they have with the discretion they can show about what to charge and what not to charge. We have to get to the point where we are electing the kind of people who are brave enough to use their discretion at the community’s benefit, so much so that frankly, it should be an unpopular idea in Baltimore and other cities for the police to continue to maintain the same level of marijuana arrests.
DeRay: I live in Baltimore, it is wild to think about how much the performance of progress has been happening but the progress hasn’t actually been happening. When we think about this, it is good that Mosby made this change. I’m excited and hopeful.
DeRay: To give some context though, there were about 363 arrests for marijuana out of 21,900 arrests last year. The scale, it’s a small amount. I think the most interesting thing that she did that I think will probably have the biggest impact especially immediately is that she’s asking for nearly 5,000 convictions to be vacated. I think that actually will be a huge deal to have these things gone off people’s records.
DeRay: And Sam, what’s interesting about what you said is that actually, her office will still prosecute distribution. They are still looking for baggies, ledgers, and scales as things that they’ll prosecute.
DeRay: There’s this thing where she’s not gonna prosecute possession but she has not said that she’s not gonna prosecute distribution and the police have said that they will continue to make arrests like they’ve always been making arrests. There is sort of this weird political game that’s happening back and forth between the offices.
DeRay: Remember that in 2014, Marilyn actually decriminalized possession up to 10 grams. There was actually some movement at the state house, but like you said Brittany, this is about discretion. It is about getting people to use the power they have while we get the system to change writ large.
DeRay: I’m hopeful about that. I don’t know how we move a city like Baltimore if every single apparatus in the city isn’t moving. We don’t see that happening in Baltimore, so it’s important that she’s making this move. We haven’t seen the police department do anything mildly progressive and we certainly haven’t seen anything come out of city hall yet. Hopeful.
Sam: Certainly while it’s progress to see fewer arrests for marijuana in places like Baltimore, I’m reminded that in many states now, it is entirely legal to both possess and distribute marijuana and folks who are almost entirely white are making billions and billions of dollars doing that.
Sam: The conversation about how police interact with black communities is characteristically a different conversation than the experience that folks in white communities in so many places around the country are having with not only not being interacted at all with the police for doing any of these things but making a whole bunch of money on it.
DeRay: My news is based on an article that was posted on the Marshall Project called “When Going to Jail Means Giving Up the Meds that Saved Your Life” and it’s about someone who was addicted to drugs and when he got sentenced to time in jail, he no longer had access to his medication.
DeRay: That’s because in many jails and prisons across the country, medication like methadone or [inaudible 00:32:47], they are even when legitimately prescribed are banned in prisons and jails because the jails say that they pose a safety and security issue. That was interesting to me.
DeRay: The whole article is about how he is suing, how other people are actually suing under the ADA saying that a denial to the medications is actually denying the fact that addiction is a disability which some of the cases, they’ve been successful. That is sort of the frame for this.
DeRay: What I didn’t know and what I thought was really fascinating is the data says that in the two weeks after release, prisoners are 12 more likely to die and 129 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.
DeRay: This idea of forced abstinence which is essentially making people go cold turkey because they are incarcerated leads to lower tolerance and an increased urge to use. If the goal is to get people off of drugs, this is actually one of the exact opposite things that you do to people.
DeRay: Remember, when people are in jail, they often haven’t been convinced of anything so this is like this guy was gonna have a 60 day sentence or he was essentially being held for a little bit.
DeRay: But you think about the people who are in jail for a year or 20 days or 10 days even, waiting for their trial and they’ve not been convicted of anything and don’t have access to any of their medication or anything to keep them alive or anything frankly to help them recover from addiction and get off of the substance.
DeRay: I thought this was another part of the system that I hadn’t thought about what it means to have access to your medications when you are incarcerated at the jail level. You haven’t been sentenced yet but at this initial level.
Sam: This just blew my mind because what you’ve just described, DeRay, is the system of mass incarceration directly contributing to the opioid crisis. It’s a situation where folks are in jail, in many cases because of things like possession of drugs, because of things that are linked to having an addiction.
Sam: Once they’re in jail and released, then they’re 129 times more likely in the two weeks after release to die from an overdose because of that forced abstinence that they experienced behind bars.
Sam: When we talk about solutions to the opioid crisis and many people talk about law enforcement being an important part of that solution and that we should have sentences still on opioid possession, whether it is heroin and fentanyl and all of these other things but that’s not at all a solution when, at the end of the day, it’s actually contributing to worsening the very crisis that you sought to address.
Sam: This is just another reminder that solutions that are carceral are not solutions at all and often make the problem worse.
Brittany: This is an opportunity to reframe the conversation. We talk all the time about addiction as if it is worthy of some kind of moral judgment instead of recognizing that it is both a mental and physical health ailment and I appreciate that folks with the power to potentially help legislate through litigation and the court system are being creative and thoughtful with how they help reframe the conversation.
Brittany: He also talks about it being cruel and unusual punishment and again, if we move away from a moral judgment of people with addictions, we can understand this argument as well. In this episode, we’ve talked about disability in two different ways and I think it’s really important for us to expand our own thinking about what disability is and how we can support the people who are living with disabilities.
Brittany: I have been on a personal mission to try to learn and listen much more about disability and I found myself at a conference that I went to simply to do that and was told by two of my now very good friends who are disability activists, Rebecca and Melissa, I am a part of that community as somebody who struggles with depression and anxiety.
Brittany: I had never even considered it that way and I had to make sure that I didn’t give myself over to a feeling of shame, but a feeling of empowerment. A feeling of recognizing that I can acknowledge what this is and I can identify a community that I am a part of and that I can be active in supporting this community that I didn’t even realize I was a part of in seeing the kinds of rights that we all deserve.
Clint: This is also an opportunity to complicate the way that we can think about recidivism. The way we think about recidivism is that people will go into prison for a so called violent crime and then they’re released. If they recidivate, people sort of intuitively assume that you’ve gone back in for a crime that’s equivalent to what you may have done before.
Clint: But so many people are going back into prison and recidivating because of drug offenses, because of things that are not causing harm to anyone except themselves which is more of a public health issue than anything else. Obviously, people losing their lives to an overdose is an extreme case but the fact that people leave prison and have not been given the tools or the resources with which to navigate or sort of distance themselves from their addiction means that they’re far more likely to potentially end up dead but even if they don’t end up dead, a lot more likely to end up back in prison.
Clint: I think that’s a huge disservice to the idea that prisons are supposed to operate as rehabilitative spaces even though we know that they largely do not and are places of violence in which people become more violent than they were when they went inside. But, that’s important to consider as we think about this as well.
DeRay: That’s the news! Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned, there’s more to come. I’m all about making sure I’ll be around as long as possible so I’m always excited when a simple thing I can do for my health comes across my desk or phone, whatever.
DeRay: This month, it’s Color, an easy test that tells you what your genetics can say about your future health and they give you the option to not save your data which is really important to me.
Brittany: Very, very important but I’m excited about this. You know we’ve covered genetics on this show before and genetic testing. Color can help you gain certain insights on certain health conditions that may run in your genetics. It’s important for us women especially to know whether or not you should start mammograms earlier or if working out is enough for your heart health. I don’t even work out enough as it is.
Brittany: But it’s a simple saliva test that real doctors will review. Color sends the kit to you in the mail, you can do your spit test wherever. Your couch, your bed, I don’t know. Then you ship it off to their lab with their prepaid label. Easy peasy. And remember, they give you the option not to save your data.
DeRay: They even go above and beyond just flagging health concerns. You’ll get free one-on-one time with Color’s seriously educated genetic counselors, real people you can talk to about your results, and they help you make a plan to approach your health proactively with your doctor, too.
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DeRay: This National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we’re tackling HIV stigma head on by coming together for love. What is HIV stigma and why does it matter? It’s negative attitudes and misinformation about people living with HIV. It matters because stigma can keep people from getting tested and accessing care.
DeRay: Showing our family, friends, and community that we love them empowers people to get tested and to seek treatment. It’s how we can do our part to end HIV. For more information, visit bit.ly/togetherforlove.
DeRay: And now, my conversation with Dr. Marcus Anthony Hunter, the chair of African American studies at UCLA. Marcus, no, Dr. Hunter. You are Dr. Hunter, aren’t you?
Marcus Hunter: I am. Also known as Dr. Blackness, also known as Analog Boy in a Digital World. Shout out to Erykah Badu, Analog Girl in a Digital World.
DeRay: Where are you from from?
Marcus Hunter: I’m from Philly.
DeRay: And you are now at UCLA.
Marcus Hunter: Yes.
DeRay: You lead the African American studies department.
Marcus Hunter: Yes.
DeRay: Talk about your fascinating with cities. Why is that such an important research topic for you?
Marcus Hunter: One, I was moved by a UN note a couple of years back where they projected that by 2050, upwards of 80 plus percent of the world’s population would be urbanized. It made me think a lot about how black people get in formation, at least in my understanding of American history.
Marcus Hunter: I started to think everybody is following a trend that black people just naturally do as a way to thrive and survive, meaning you create diverse communities that are critically dense in a relatively built part of the environment. It was like oh, we don’t tend to call those places cities but it’s a very black thing, a city.
DeRay: In your work, what do you want people to walk away with?
Marcus Hunter: One of the things I think is super important is that we have black scholarship that is by black people for black people because I think the audience of the work matters and a lot of times, when you go through a whole bunch of school and you get a Ph.D, you kind of don’t realize that you’ve forgotten about your home audience because you’re so focused on passing something or proving something or demonstrating something that then you produce the stuff about black people that is sometimes unintelligible for the black people you really did it for.
Marcus Hunter: For me, it’s really making it so that you have work that demonstrates that black people are on purpose, that black people’s history matters, that black people are history and history makers, that black people are making places and that that conversation can be had without trying to explain that for white people.
DeRay: We first connected because you have the first recorded use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on the internet.
Marcus Hunter: Yes, I was gonna say go ahead, I am the inventor of #BlackLivesMatter, circa August 2012. You are indeed right. You were gracious enough to reach out to actually inquire about it.
DeRay: It’s interesting. What is particularly interesting about it is not only the mythology that’s been around the non creation but also, you’re somebody who studies the politics of blackness and it seems like, in this moment, there’s such a conscious effort to not recreate the same sort of issues around erasure that manifested in the Civil Rights movement.
DeRay: You being erased from the creation feels like we’re sort of just doing the same thing. I wanted to talk to you about why you created it. What was the impetus behind how you used it on Twitter in 2012? And then how do you process, as a person who actually studies this, not even like a layperson like me, what is happening with the way you’ve been erased from the record?
Marcus Hunter: I would say the first thing that’s significant for me and my initial usage of it is to identify and think about blackness as a political experience so that when I originally shared, it was attached to two scholars work.
Marcus Hunter: Aldon Morris, the great sociologist at Northwestern, who was reflecting on the Civil Rights movement and writing about Rosa Parks and the trials that still await black people and then there was a scholar, Jean Beeman at Purdue, a great sociologist as well who had written an article about what it is like to be a first generation North African origin person in France.
Marcus Hunter: What stood out to me about that was that they were all politically black. It was like blackness is this global experience. I thought to myself, they are demonstrating something that’s really important in the scholarship and that is that black lives matter and that black life or what it means to be black is also a political experience and not just one based on melanin.
Marcus Hunter: I think related to the record, I kind of think of myself as some combination of Claudette Colvin and Bayer Ruston. Claudette Colvin was actually one of the first women to sit on the bus before Rosa Parks but because she was a single black mother and of a particular hue, she wasn’t respectable enough.
Marcus Hunter: Her actual experience and moment of resistance becomes an actual strategy, though she gets displaced from that authorship. Then, with Bayer Ruston who many people are beginning to know about, he was a black, gay man who wrote many of the things that amplified the Civil Rights movement, was a major advisor to Martin Luther King Jr, but for whatever reason, he’s missing from our stories as well.
Marcus Hunter: I often think about it as … As much as we think about black lives matter or blackness as comprehensive and inclusive, when people tend to operationalize it, it often means that if you are a black, gay man, you don’t fit. It is very easy to put you in a trunk of the black freedom struggle.
Marcus Hunter: Everybody else gets a seat in the car but we should get used to riding in the trunk and I think that my experience around it is just a reminder that we still have a whole lot of work to do because I’m not necessarily in the same disadvantaged space as, say, a Claudette Colvin.
Marcus Hunter: I was a Yale professor at the time. People think of that as high visibility and I think that says a lot about who we collect and who we honor, who we represent, and who gets included. The fact that you are the first person and we’re just having this conversation six years later says everything about the work that still remains internally for black people as a political struggle.
DeRay: I always think about our age group as living through the protests but then there’s people like you who are living through it and teaching it to people younger. I’m always curious about what is that like. I’d love to know, what has it been like or how have you seen the arc of teaching about the protest and movement stuff in real time and not just in theory?
Marcus Hunter: Yeah, I think this goes back to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter point as well because I am not here to cast any bad judgment or bad light on the folks who are noted as the folks who created it.
Marcus Hunter: But what does happen in a classroom is that many of the students think about activism as completely anti-academic. For me, it’s been one of these very interesting things to say that part of why I think correcting some of the story is important to reillustrate to many black students, white students, students of all walks of life that there is activism to be done from a place called the academy.
Marcus Hunter: I think what happens in my experience is that when Black Lives Matter comes up, on one side, you see it as people going this is about the streets. People are really out there doing the work and school is irrelevant. Y’all are the people who are not doing the work.
Marcus Hunter: Part of what I’ve seen is that then the academy tries to absorb it as a way to speak back to students saying no, we noticed too. When we leave these jobs, we live in the world. I kept thinking, but I invented it. It always already started off as an intellectual, academic site. It always has its origin points there in the same way that intersectionality is tethered to Kimberly Crenshaw and the academy and the same way that double consciousness is tethered to WEB DuBois in the academy.
Marcus Hunter: I would say the same thing. Part of what I wind up doing in my teaching is trying to illustrate those connections because I do think that we do danger when we think that … When students are made to believe that social activism has no intellectual genealogy or intellectual heft behind it, they just think that it’s a bunch of people making noise they either agree with or they don’t. But they don’t see it as a part of a long history toward freedom.
DeRay: People sort of talk about neoliberalism a lot and I’m not always sure people have defined it who use it, especially on the internet. As somebody who studies these issues, how would you help us access the idea of neoliberalism and its challenges?
Marcus Hunter: I think about it a lot as making everything into a market and everything becomes a part of a market with the idea of the free market underneath which is what makes it even more pervasive and dangerous. It’s that people think that the market is democratized so everybody has a shot and there’s some meritocratic outcome where if you are winners because you deserved it and you earned it, when instead there are all of these sort of capitalist models behind it.
Marcus Hunter: I would say for most people, it’s just understanding that everything becomes a marketplace. How neoliberalism works is that everything is a site to make money and we shouldn’t block that and making money will help create competitive conditions.
Marcus Hunter: Those competitive conditions will help then win out the winners and help bear out the losers. That is a very dangerous mindset.
DeRay: I got into this work obviously over the killing of Mike Brown and have spent so much time trying to think about the police and state violence. I’d love to know, what are your thoughts? Whether it’s at the city level which is what you study most recently or if it’s at the macro level. If you had a magic wand, what do you think the things that we should be fighting or or paying attention to would be?
Marcus Hunter: I think one of the major things is a more radical sense of reparations. One of the original things that really returned to, before you get to the sort of neoliberal model, you have to have slavery as an industry and an infrastructure. Until we actually come to Jesus about what we owe slaves and former enslaved peoples and generations that come from them, I think that everything from there is a minefield.
Marcus Hunter: That you have to go back because I think that slavery requires for you to think about not only the stripping away of freedoms and resources and access but that you have to give it back in order to have that person be a fully enfranchised citizen and you have to do it at no cost to the person.
Marcus Hunter: Right now, everything costs everything. For example, going back to my class, when I teach it to them, one thing I say to them is in a world where everything costs something, the price to change your mind is still free and still radical. It’s also just to say that I think a big part of it is about mindset changes.
Marcus Hunter: That, one, if we’re telling all of the children that they need to go to college, we also oughta be telling the colleges that they oughta make it affordable for all of the children. We’re not saying that you can’t make enough money to pay people or to do your business but at some level, where you’re continually looking at schools where the coach of the football team makes more than the president of the school, what a world we live in.
Marcus Hunter: Where the athletes are both students and athletes, if they get injured, they don’t even know if they’re gonna get their education. That is a dangerous place to be in. That is the reality that many people are in in the neoliberal academy.
DeRay: Do you study reparations?
Marcus Hunter: Yes. I’ve become a student of reparations. My first book “Black City Makers”, I discovered that there were a whole bunch of local black banks that collapsed in the 1920s in Philadelphia before the great stock market crash in 1929.
Marcus Hunter: But as I was doing the story to figure out who the banking entrepreneurs were and who these black guys were, I discovered the Freedman’s Bank which was one of the only policies that Abraham Lincoln signs as a policy measure in addition to the Freedman’s Bureau Act to redress enslavement.
Marcus Hunter: He had the mindset that if you had a national bank for black people, that would go a long way in bringing black people into the fold as fully realized citizens. When I started to do that, I found the records which by the way are being kept by the Mormon church which I think is such an interesting, strange bedfellow over that particular data.
Marcus Hunter: But when I discovered that bank-
DeRay: How did the Mormon church get them?
Marcus Hunter: I think because they were the ones who were interested in the actual data because the data they even have on it is limited in many ways. It’s just to say it was a black bank and whole bunch of black people had money in it, so much so that by current estimates, it’s over a billion dollars that this bank had that was all black money.
Marcus Hunter: It collapses after the Congress changes the charter to give out credit and loans because the credit and loans only go to white customers. You have white people leveraging new debt based on black people’s actual assets and the bank closes just after they make Frederick Douglass the president.
Marcus Hunter: I thought to myself, why don’t I know this history? Why don’t I know anything about this? I’ve been stuck in the sort of black reconstruction period as Dubois teaches us and been thinking about that as a way to really root in conversations of reparations.
Marcus Hunter: Outside of the … One of my professors is Manny Marabal who was a long time historian of reparations but just to say that I’m really thinking about it in a way that is deeply tethered to the failures of black reconstruction and the failures to really think about things other than either all black people get is a bank and Liberia and nobody’s ever heard of the bank anymore and no black person to you right now in America necessarily wants to live in Liberia. That says everything about what our reparations conversations need to be about.
DeRay: How do you make sure that the academy doesn’t reproduce the same sort of elitism that we say needs to be dismantled in larger society? What does that look like as somebody who continues to be in that space and continues to fight for justice at scale?
Marcus Hunter: I think that it’s about making sure that you share whatever it is that you know with as many people as possible. One of the first ways, just as an individual scholar, is giving community talks, being in a community, going … I remember when I did my first book, I was at the public libraries talking about it.
Marcus Hunter: Also making sure that you don’t have to have a college ID to have access to the professor or the professor’s information or the research that they have. I think the other thing is really about encouraging people to think about resistance work and freedom work as also needing always to have an intellectual foundation.
Marcus Hunter: We don’t just need all of the people. We need all of the people who have elevated consciousness about the conditions in a situation so that when a table is finally formed and everybody’s able to sit and talk about freedom, we know it’s gonna be more inclusive than it’s been in the past.
Marcus Hunter: I think a lot of student activism has produced things like women and gender studies, LGBT studies, African American studies, all of these kinds of ethnic or minority studies departments are a reflection of student activism and the power that students have to change intellectual production and what classes get taught on college campuses. I think that’s also another thing.
DeRay: What do you say to people who have protested, who have worked, who have chanted, who have been to meetings, and things haven’t changed as quickly or at all in the way they wanted them to? What do you say to those people?
Marcus Hunter: I would say that because the future is unknowable, you just have to know that you’re making a good contribution. I think that you can’t get caught up in the immediate outcome. I would say to all of the people who are feeling exhausted by the work, your exhaustion is not a delusion. You are exhausted. It is very hard.
Marcus Hunter: But I also would say that if you’re convincing yourself that it is not doing anything, then that’s the Jedi mind trick of it all that it’s working on you because that’s what … People who are in the status quo as is will have us believe that our stuff does nothing but you forget about the little boys and girls who watch you put up your sign.
Marcus Hunter: If you think about being a little kid, I remember watching my grandmother putting together a sign. Up with the hope, down the dope. You don’t think about it in real time as a contribution. I don’t think she was like, I’m writing this sign in front of my grandson so I can teach him something in this very explicit, intentional way.
Marcus Hunter: But I think we also don’t think about ourselves as representations, as role models for other people, that even if you feel like your work is not doing anything, somebody is really looking up to you and is seeing this is the work that I need to do. If only for that reason, I think you continue with it.
DeRay: What’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stayed with you?
Marcus Hunter: I remember the political scientist and mentor for me, Kathy Cohen, said to me once when I was reading stuff that I didn’t like by people and she would say, “Approach it from a place that most people are trying to do good work.”
Marcus Hunter: Even if the work is wrong, even if the work isn’t right, even if the work is right, all of these different things that could be wrong with it but that the spirit of generosity you should have when you’re listening to people who you don’t agree with.
Marcus Hunter: When you’re disagreeing with somebody, that you do it from a place of love and a place of openness because ultimately, that’s how you want people to receive you because you’re going to say things that people don’t agree with. You’re going to say things that people think is inaccurate and you want them to receive it that way.
Marcus Hunter: For me, that has always stayed with me to understand that most people are trying to do good work, especially when they’re doing resistant work, when they’re doing critical work, that they’re trying to do good work and to approach things that way.
DeRay: Thank you so much. We consider you a friend of the pod and hope to have you back soon.
Marcus Hunter: I look forward to it. Thank you so much, DeRay.
DeRay: 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 you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. We’ll see you next week.
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