Then and Now (with Justin Simard) | Crooked Media
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July 11, 2023
Pod Save The People
Then and Now (with Justin Simard)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara and Myles  cover the underreported news of the week — Minneapolis crime decreases with a shortage of police officers, the small group of conservative doctors behind restrictive trans & abortion policies, celebrity baby daddy drama makes CNN, and the editor of Elle Decor crafting his soft life. DeRay interviews Michigan State law professor Justin Simard to chat about the advent of the Citing Slavery Project.



Half the Police Force Quit. Crime Dropped.


How the Editor in Chief of Elle Decor Spends His Sundays


Imagine Trash-Talking Keke Palmer


Documents show how conservative doctors influenced abortion, trans rights







DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People, it’s me Kaya, De’Ara, and Myles talking about all the news you don’t know with regard to race, justice and equity. And then I sit down and talk to law professor Justin Simard to talk about the Citing Slavery project. Fascinating website, fascinating thing. Didn’t even know it was a thing. Got out [?]. Crazy. It’s an online database of slave cases and the modern cases that continue to cite those same cases as precedent. I learned a lot this week. You will too. Here we go. [music break]


De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. Happy to be back after the break. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger


Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture and Spill and Threads at @pharaohrapture. 


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya and on Spill at @KayaHenderson 


DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay on Twitter as @deray. I am on Spill as @deray and on Threads as @IamDeray. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh I lied y’all. I’m on Spill as @Rapture. 


Kaya Henderson: Come on, Rapture. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, I hope it blows up. Because that’s a good name. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: I want the platform to succeed because my name is good. 


Myles E. Johnson: Listen, lipstick blush. Any of those one names you could never think about getting on Instagram and Twitter. This is the time to get them on Spill. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: I mean, ignore me and don’t do that because I’m about to do that. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Well. Exciting, exciting announcemetn/celebration. Kaya and DeRay are birthday people. This is their month. [cheers] They are Cancers. 


Kaya Henderson: Cancer season baby it’s popping. 


De’Ara Balenger: I just looked up a little bit about Cancers. Of course I’ll leave the rest to Myles, but I’m reading that Cancers attract friends and lovers through their loyalty, commitment and emotional depth. I would say that is very accurate about the two of you. 


Kaya Henderson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: Happy happy birthday. Any birthday wisdom to share? [silent pause] 


Kaya Henderson: You got some wisdom DeRay? 


De’Ara Balenger: Nothing. Okay, move. Look. Moving on. Uh. [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: No Kaya got something. Kaya got something. Give us a word. What’s the word Kaya? 


Kaya Henderson: Uh. What is a word? I don’t know. Enjoy life. That’s what I’m out here doing shucks uh. I don’t have much. Love yourself. Love your friends. Love your people I don’t know um yeah. Something.


Myles E. Johnson: What I will say about DeRay and Kaya in honor of their birthdays, something that is unique to them, but still include both of them. Is that it is very hard to be in places like D.C. and New York and meet people who feel like that instant family, is people are you can just feel the opportunism on people or feel the this is this is my I just watched Sorry to bother you again yesterday but this is my white voice, my white persona, or this is who I need to be. I’m mean DeRay and Kaya like I met DeRay and I was like, can we just pretend that we were cousins our whole life? Because I want to make an excuse for the closeness that I feel, but the time does not reflect it. And same with Auntie Kaya. Obviously I call call her Auntie Kaya on air and she’s a whole professional and I still feel we’re not calling her Auntie Kaya. They’re just instant uh just genuine people. That just that warmth that day before Christmas feeling just they just carry it. 


Kaya Henderson: Aw. 


Myles E. Johnson: In their spirits. 


De’Ara Balenger: Aw that’s so sweet.


Kaya Henderson: Thank you nephew. 


DeRay Mckesson: And my word will be um will be about courage. Like I, you know, courage is to see the hard thing and say, I can do the hard thing. And I will tell you, you know, it’s so funny, my sister’s going to kill me for saying this certainly here, but she called me the other day because Kaya you must have texted her. 


Kaya Henderson: I did. 


DeRay Mckesson: And she was all about it, right? And I was saying to her, you know, Kaya was my hero a long time ago when I was a teacher, I remember Kaya being appointed as the superintendent of DCPS I remember uh a Kaia who was in Baltimore. And TeRay said to me something that I thought was so sweet. She would never tell you this because she was, you know, flummoxed at you texting her because I was like, I didn’t I didn’t say anything to Kaya about you like, I didn’t I’m not the reason she texted you. Um. And she was like, you know, seeing Kaya become superintendent was the first time I ever thought I could be a principal. She was like, that was she was young, she was Black, and she was like, I saw her do it and was like, Oh, I can actually do this. And I say that here because um courage is like the thing I’m taking into 38. And courage is the thing that Kaya showed me before 38. 


Kaya Henderson: Whoa. Y’all are getting, my eyes are sweating. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yes. 


Kaya Henderson: And I cannot. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, always happy to share these moments. I wish we were in person. We’re due for a in person day where we can go to the theater again and Myles can hate it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Ooh sis. 


De’Ara Balenger: Um so. 


Myles E. Johnson: Soundtrack by Sexyy Red this time. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh my God. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Oh my God. 


Myles E. Johnson: A musical score we can count on. [laughing] [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: I cannot. 


De’Ara Balenger: Speaking of culture-ish. And speaking of what the youngs are doing on the online these days, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with apps like Spill. I had the opportunity actually to spend some time with one of the co-founders of Spill and Alphonzo, and just really just a vibe, just in terms of being Black entrepreneurs. Like, I’m so proud of these folks. I mean, it is so hard to be an entrepreneur. It is also doubly hard to be a Black entrepreneur, and particularly one that has to raise a ton of money um to scale and to do something of this magnitude. So I have played with it a little bit as much as I can being somebody who barely knows how to use the Internet. And I think it’s really cute and I’m into it. But, you know, really, for you, for y’all Twitter users here on the pod, really curious to hear your thoughts about it and how it’s working for you. And if people are really transitioning over from Twitter, I’m reading a ton. Like, it’s so funny when Twitter is quoted now, I feel like in some pieces it’s like Black, Black Twitter’s dying, but here’s what’s going on with Twitter. So it’s been interesting to see that that transition. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, it’s really interesting, I guess to see I guess when it comes to Spill, the thing that I think would have to happen in order for it to like be extremely competitive is it has to own an event. You know, and I remember you know being on Twitter and I’m not a I’m not a I’m not a. My whole life I’ve never been like a television series watcher. Like, I’m either it’s it’s cancelled 20 years ago and I’m like, oh, my God did you know there was a show called Gilligan’s Island? And it was really funny. [laughter] [sound of cups clinking in background] And they be like, fool, yeah, that was years ago. Like, I’m like that when it comes to stuff. [glass clinks again] But I remember um and probably because I’m like that, this is why it stands out in my brain. I remember feeling so left out when everybody was tweeting about Scandal, like it was just nothing else to do but tweet about Scandal. And in my head I’m thinking, Oh, if Spill can recreate that, then it it will be competitive because it really can’t just be competitive over Twitter’s horrible because sure Twitter is horrible but as you’ll hear later on in my news, oh, my goodness, when some mess happen because the world is a little horrible, too. And Twitter and the world are good match for each other. [laugh] So so you have to really compete with that. It can’t just be Twitter is so horrible, come to Spill it has to be there’s something unique about a Spill experience that makes it the destination place when something happens and I and I and I’m thinking that it will be around entertainment, specifically Black entertainment. So I’m excited for that moment to happen. And if you know anybody there or over there who wants to plug me into making sure it goes successfully, you know. 


De’Ara Balenger: I sure do, my friend Kenya, shout out to Kenya. She is heading up um community engagement over there. 


Myles E. Johnson: You know, just– 


De’Ara Balenger: Um. 


Myles E. Johnson: –just just just plug me in [?]. 


De’Ara Balenger: So everybody. Yes, especially you. But now everybody knows where to find her. So maybe I shouldn’t say her name. 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh I didn’t know you’re, I didn’t know you were friends with her? 


De’Ara Balenger: Ah. Yes. I adore Kenya. Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh, I love that. It’s a small world. Um. And the only thing I’d say is that um it was so cool to see all the Black people go over to Spill, like everybody was just, like, on Spill. And it was really interesting. The organizing power of Black people to see um, to see what happened to the Shade Room. So the Shade Room made a Spill account. And people were like, No, they were just like, No, like– 


De’Ara Balenger: Really? 


DeRay Mckesson: Don’t want that activity. So. So the Shade Room eventually deleted its Spill account. 


De’Ara Balenger: Wow. 


DeRay Mckesson: Because– 


Kaya Henderson: [?]. 


DeRay Mckesson: –the Spill people were just like, don’t want it here. And it was such a you know, the organizer me was like obsessed with it in the sense that like, people often think that they don’t know how to organize and da da da. But like, that is what that was. It was people saying, oh, this don’t make sense? And it was like people rallying, being like no no no no, we not doing this right here. And it really, you know, worked it was like one of those things where um. They just were like, No. And it was a no so.


Myles E. Johnson: Do you think that there’s going to be like a kind of like. I don’t there’s no way to say this without sounding like gross and classist, but like a kind of digital Black stratification, because I saw like the Shade Room moment and then even like, the rules around. Of course, I’m so happy that somebody’s rallying around like, as as a queer trans person, like, as around queerness and transness and protection and stuff like that. But it seems [laugh] it seems though that like that, like was a heavy divide and the and the people wanting Spill where it’s like, oh, is Spill go like Twitter’s everybody right now. Well as far as culturally there’s trans there’s the artsy like I can go down my timeline and be like, oh there’s so many different types of Black people but it feels like Spill are doing things that are making it so, ooh, this is so sticky to say, but like making it so, oh, if you’re into this type of entertainment, you don’t belong here, which is something that Twitter didn’t do so like do you think that it’s probable that it will be a type of Black person social media and not Black social media, but maybe like– 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I think that I think that what’s true is that for so long it didn’t even make sense for people to try and compete against Twitter because Twitter ws just it. Like it just didn’t make sense. And then Elon just screwed it up so badly. You’re like, well, Twitter is still home home but you’re like I want to go to another building. And I think that Threads is like another building, and I think that Spill is another building. And I think this is the first time because I use Threads too. And Threads is interesting, it definitely is like the happy go lucky place where as Twitter is all of it. Twitter is like everything. And Spill is like where the Black people are. So I don’t you know, I’m hoping that Twitter goes bankrupt, or something only because it’ll force Elon to, you know, like get us a sane owner. And I do you know, part of me feels like I think the Twitter board sold Twitter thinking that like, whatever, whatever. And then the competitor will come along and rise up completely underestimating that like they didn’t make Twitter, Twitter. We made Twitter, Twitter. Like, it wasn’t the tech did not do the thing. The tech was cool and the tech was interesting. But the community actually made the app matter. 


Kaya Henderson: That’s right. 


DeRay Mckesson: And it’s not not as easy as like, oh, I’ll just make another one. I think that’s what everybody’s seeing because blue sky is like not a thing, you know, like everything is really hard to to replicate. And and like you said with um with Scandal, it’s like Black people do it, you know like, Black people did that. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, we’re such and we were in such like a I mean, I’m speaking to like somebody who doesn’t need to hear this, but we were in such a specific cultural space where I feel like the culture and the community needed something like Twitter. And it was almost like just happening to invent the walkie talkie at like the best time ever. It was like, oh my goodness. So, you’re totally right. It wasn’t just you invented a walkie talkie. It was the fact that like all these different things, entertainment and politics and culture were like, happening. And Twitter had the walkie talkie and it was just as much luck on their part as it was intention on the community’s part. That makes a lot of sense.


DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming. 




Myles E. Johnson: So um we’re going to pivot into even deeper terrains of um cultural and journalistic happenings. That’s right. We’re going to talk about Keke Palmer and her baby daddy [laughing] acting out all every day. So. I’m I’m going to assume that y’all are not like my friendship group and that maybe you all just don’t know this whole story from head to toe, because I feel a little redundant saying this story because I’m like, y’all probably know it, but I’m going to assume that y’all have lives and responsibilities and y’all are not keeping up with Keke Palmer and her possessive baby daddy. So Usher, who when I think about it, Usher has been a problem his whole career [laughter] because Usher kind of came out a little sideways, even with, like, um you remind me of a girl I once, yeah. If you really look at the the the Usher hits confessions, he seldom has gotten the hits that don’t involve breaking up a home. Or that’s just his that’s the facts. Burn, all of these things kind of circle around infidelity and mistrust. 


De’Ara Balenger: I mean. 


Kaya Henderson: So. 


De’Ara Balenger: He’s not talking like how the kids are talking these days. I mean, the song y’all just made us listen to. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well I don’t–


De’Ara Balenger: I mean come on now.


Myles E. Johnson: Well I don’t I don’t know if the presence of metaphor and poeticism means the lack of moral [?]. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: Ratchedness. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, [?]. Yes. [laughter] So just because you’re able to say let it “burn,” quote unquote. Doesn’t mean that she weren’t up to some BS. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh man. 


Myles E. Johnson: Um. So.


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. I love it Myles. Give it to him.


Myles E. Johnson: [laughter] So. You know, I’m I’m I’m I’m–


De’Ara Balenger: Oh man.


Myles E. Johnson: –everybody gets a opportunity. So. Okay, so Keke Palmer, America’s Black America’s sweetheart, this unprecedented place in the Black American heart for millennials and Gen Z, because like we’ve seen her grow up and she’s one of the few that we seen grow up and who we still want to admit– 


Kaya Henderson: Mess with. 


Myles E. Johnson: That that we know her and she doesn’t do Black TV interviews. So she she’s in this real she hasn’t totally left us abandoned us for this kind of like only white kind of gentrified POC Hollywood world. But she still hasn’t went like, the Vlad I’m saying weird things to Charlamagne World, and I think that that that tip toe has just made her so lovable in so many of our imaginations. So anywho, she goes to a concert with her friends, um an Usher concert in Las Vegas, and she’s having a good time. She’s in, albeit sheer, she’s in a turtleneck dress. You know, from from but– 


Kaya Henderson: Oh wait. 


Myles E. Johnson: You know, and she, you can see through it– 


Kaya Henderson: Is that– 


Myles E. Johnson: But it’s– 


Kaya Henderson: It’s–


Myles E. Johnson: It’s a turtle neck dress with a one–


Kaya Henderson: It’s a leotard. It is a leotard.


Myles E. Johnson: It’s a leotard but I’m–


Kaya Henderson: –with a sheer overlay. 


Myles E. Johnson: But it’s a turtleneck and longsleeves. 


Kaya Henderson: Who, nobody is looking at your neck when your booty is hanging out. 


Myles E. Johnson: [laugh] Oh, okay. The respectability politics have entered the chat. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: That’s my job. That’s my job. 


Myles E. Johnson: I know. I love it. I love it. So anywho I love it. So anywho, Usher is serenading Keke Palmer, it’s a part of his bit. He does it every single show. And usually picks somebody who is um well-known because it’s like you got to see two celebrities at one time and oh my goodness, I was there when whatever happened. So this all happens and then Keke Palmer’s baby daddy. That is his legal first and last name, Keke Palmer’s baby daddy is upset. He goes on Twitter and he says, but you a mother though. It’s the outfit. And starts talking about that, people it’s so out of sync with who Keke Palmer is and by proximity who we think her baby daddy is that we’re almost like, Oh, this must be like a joke that maybe didn’t land well, that’s what I thought. Like he was just like being like, Oh you a mother, you out here like kind of being, like, sassy but funny. But then he goes back and tweets again and then kind of comes from this politically Kanye West, Steve Harvey place. And you’re like, Oh, he’s serious, he’s saying that um this is what’s wrong with this generation. You can’t have want a woman to do this and not be called a hater and stuff like that. And just in case you thought that he, again, might not really be communicating himself well, he then posts a Kanye West video that is just um a clip of it like a 20 second clip of him, Kanye West singing a verse about how strange Hollywood is and stuff. And you kind of know, Oh, wow. This is who you are. We done put another Black person, Black man on this kind of conservative train and gave them a platform. And we didn’t know it, it was by proxy that you are Keke Palmer’s baby daddy. So anywho, the internet hates this. I’m just using the internet as a community hates this. I’ve never. I don’t know. Y’all have to correct me. I can’t really think of a time where I’ve seen somebody get lit up like this. Lit up is a is Ebonics for just [laughter] lots of comments, lots of vitriol thrown and [laugh] and so, so, so so two things that I have um it made it on CNN, it made it on New York. New York magazine’s the Cut. Um. It made it on Fox. So and also, that’s how famous Keke Palmer is. And I didn’t really notice it until then because I always see her in cute little places and oh, she does do the Vogue and the Them and stuff like that, but it’s usually for promotional stuff. But when she was in a controversy, I was like, it must suck that everybody from Fox Soul and Shade Room and that world to CNN and and and and and New York Magazine and that world and all that other stuff, everybody’s interested in the goofy stuff that your partner, your boyfriend, your baby daddy just said, that is horrible. It’s not even just a little shame, repulse and you leave and Hollywood unlocked post and you leave. Everybody sharing this. Is talking about it. It’s 72 hours. It’s wild. So the Internet has, in their mind, broken up with Keke’s baby daddy. That is not something that she has said that she’s done or is something that I think she has done. But I do think it’s an interesting conversation around the generational divide around um, I think men feeling out more and more out of control when we have a new generation of women who are just seeing themselves differently, um seeing who they are differently, seeing how they need to operate in relationships differently. And that tension that’s happening, it’s unfortunate that that was worked out on Twitter, but I still think that it was valuable and I and we rather it be her baby daddy than any of our baby daddies working that out. I’d rather use him getting annihilated as proof to show to my boyfriend of what you shouldn’t do than it be my actual boyfriend getting annihilated because he said something crazy in public, so I hate that it had to be him. But it could have been worse for all of us. What do you all think? I want the respectable opinions on this. I want the, you know, sex positive opinions on this. I just want you all to toe the cancel line.


De’Ara Balenger: Well I’ll, I’ll just say that I adore Keke Palmer and I always have since Akeelah and the Bee. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


De’Ara Balenger: I feel just as you were speaking, I was listening, but also googling a little bit about who this man is. 


Kaya Henderson: Ruh oh. 


De’Ara Balenger: But after doing so, I feel like I’ve just wasted my time like– 


Kaya Henderson: Oh. 


De’Ara Balenger: That I will never get back. [clears throat] So the first thing is, I notice about this young man because I, you know, I follow Keke Palmer and so and she’s like one of the celebrities that like because I don’t like to follow people that I don’t know. And so but she is one of those people who I just love and adore, and she’s hilarious. So I’ve seen the man on her Instagram here or there, and it all I was like, he looks just like the dude from Insecure. Guess what? That is his brother. So Dro from Insecure–


Kaya Henderson: Oh–


De’Ara Balenger: The one that was in–


Kaya Henderson: Yeah yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: The poly– 


Kaya Henderson: Open. 


De’Ara Balenger: –relationship. 


Kaya Henderson: The open– 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. 


Kaya Henderson: –marriage. Uh huh. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. And so I was like, okay, interesting. But literally, like when you Google this man, that’s he is the brother of so not only is he the baby daddy of, he’s also the brother of. Poor thing. Then I continued reading. You got to scroll, keep scrolling down to figure out anything about what this man does. He’s a fitness instructor somewhere. Inspire fitness studio. [pause] [laugh] He played coll– he played football in college. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well, you know, once they go back to college, it’s like it’s not [laughter] [?] quiet in this room. Listen. Listen. 


De’Ara Balenger: He’s a baby daddy. And there is nothing first of all, I feel like there this is going to be so mean and I’m so sorry, but it’s like I want to give the same amount of attention I give like Ivanka Trump when she, like, says something. Not Ivanka. Who’s the one, Melania? You know what I’m saying? I just feel like I just feel like you’re like you’re like you’re the kind of a plus one which is I’m sorry like that. I I’m I’m Pao’s plus one like I am and I am proud to be. I can’t wait till she gets a big contract one day and I don’t have to work at all. So I just–


Myles E. Johnson: That’s my dream. 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s my dream so I just feel like– 


Myles E. Johnson: Rockstar girlfriend is my actual status. I would do so good. 


De’Ara Balenger: Listen. Listen.


Myles E. Johnson: As a rockstar girlfriend. Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: So I’m just like, Darius, just be a good stay at home dad, work on your fitness, get Optus Internet, keep your home a happy place. Don’t lose that girl you gonna be sad. 


Myles E. Johnson: And De’Ara, what I was thinking about it too is sure he hasn’t done a whole bunch and I think that, that I think that the rise of the Black average or or the re-imagining of laziness I think he’s [?]. [laughter] [?]. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes Myles! 


Myles E. Johnson: But I’m really thinking that this like when I think about the NAP ministry, when I’m thinking about rest, when I think about us thinking about uh reparations. I do think– 


De’Ara Balenger: Come on. 


Myles E. Johnson: –that us kind of like building up and tearing down what we think is a productive life is is so essential. And I feel like that would be the perfect gateway of him making a platform for himself him being like, I’m a stay at home father. This is what I’m doing. This is how I’m choosing to live my life. And I think me being in my kid’s life for 18 years present is actually the best thing that I can do for my kids. And that means more to me than what being on whatever capitalist BS that y’all are on that makes me feel like a– 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: –valid Black man. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: I would, and I would have been like so I’m stepping off this auction block and into my kids playroom and whatever, and I’m gonna make YouTube videos and make my own platform. Don’t do me, I would have him. You know. [coughs from host] I would have him. A little pop tart endorsements– 


De’Ara Balenger: Come on. 


Myles E. Johnson: –with him and the child. Come on. 


De’Ara Balenger: Listen. 


Myles E. Johnson: What do you feel Auntie Kaya? 


Kaya Henderson: So you know, a couple of things. First of all, I just turned 53 and so I’ll I– 


Myles E. Johnson: That’s the new 35. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes yes that. Um. So I think a couple of things. Like first of all I was like, why is this on the internet? Like, don’t you all live together? Can’t you have this conversation like when she came home– 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, the conversation, yes. 


Kaya Henderson: –from the concert? 


Kaya Henderson: When she came home from the concert, why aren’t you like babe? What does is that what you wore or whatever, whatever. Why is this for public consumption? I don’t understand that at all. Um. And then I thought, well, actually we are talking about Darius what’s his name in ways that we never did before. And we’re talking about Keke Palmer more than we talked about it before. And so maybe this is all part of the shtick, right? Maybe this is an opportunity. I’m sure she’s got a new something coming out or he must have a new protein shake coming out or whatever whatever. [laughter] Right. Like something there’s some reason why this is a particular thing in the moment. And so, you know, part of me is like, whatever, um another part of me. So, you know, the aunties and I had a little boat trip for the 4th of July, and one of the topics of conversation was um all of the starlets wearing sheer and nude things. I don’t know if you saw Taraji Henson with and um and Gabrielle Union were at some awards thing and you could see Gabrielle’s whole booty. And Taraji had on a sheer thing with just some sort of tape over her nipples. Then there was Janelle Monáe last week at Essence Festival. Look, I was in the audience chile. I was like, Oh, [fumbles mic] sorry, whole titty. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay not you clutch your pearls. 


Kaya Henderson: A whole titty just boom, here it is. Right? And so. [laughter] Listen. So the aunties were sort of saying, where are we right now in this particular moment? Is this who we want to be? And here’s what I really feel. If you want to show your stuff, that’s your business, right? That’s not for me. That’s not my thing. And so I won’t do it. And I’m not really interested in consuming Gabrielle Union’s booty or Taraji P. Henson’s little titties or whatever I like. I could really care less. And if that’s what people want to do out here in these streets, let them do it. I’m not I’m not particularly as respectable about this as I am about a lot of other things. But I also feel like, okay, I’m not like the dude has his right to an opinion and if he don’t want his baby mama out in the street with her goodies showing, he’s got a right to say that. I think they need to just keep that thing at home. 


Myles E. Johnson: But don’t we also have like a right to a ring? If we gonna have those conversations. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. What. No, we’re not having this conversation, we’re not having this conversation. [laughter] 


Myles E. Johnson: Because I just feel like– 


Kaya Henderson: But it, it–. 


Myles E. Johnson: –that was my whole thing. I was like, Yeah, you can ask me. You can definitely– 


Kaya Henderson: If Ke– yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: –make those kind of boundaries with a ring in my life. 


Kaya Henderson: [laugh] But I mean, here’s the thing. He they put a whole baby on it. So in some respects that might be more committed. It might not be. I don’t know. Um. I have learned that love is hard to find. You’ve got to find it with whoever you find it with, and y’all get to make the rules for yourselves. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say the that I’ll echo what you said is that I was it, you know, I’m always interested in what is this story about power that people’s actions are telling. And it was a particular story about power to to make that statement on Twitter. It’s like as it goes viral, as people are watching, you want people to know that you have power in this moment or that you think you have power. Like that is what it feels like you’re doing and that the power is actually definitive. It is not a it is not a I get to participate. It’s not a this is how I feel. It is like you are wrong for doing this thing that I don’t like. And it’s not even that I told you that in the living room or in the bed or at the kitchen, but I told everybody to signal to them that I have power in this space. And like that is actually what I think is dangerous about this. And I, you know, mind you, he posted a whole photo dad bod in his boxers on the bed, and it was just another day like he that wasn’t too much. That wasn’t you showing your whole body. That wasn’t but Keke is clothed and yes, in sheer but it’s Keke Palmer. Keke is our cousin. You know what I mean like Keke is everybody’s cousin. Keke doesn’t even pretend to be like a video girl. Keke is your cousin who is fun and cute and and like, you know, pushes the boundaries, says the thing that people can’t say, like that is who Keke is. So I don’t think anybody saw Keke and said, whew, this is really risque. I think everybody was like, it’s Keke Palmer dancing with Usher? You know? But again, I think the message about power that he was trying to convey is actually what I think is was so wrong in this moment. And I think that he could have it could have been a joke. But then he doubles down and you’re like, oh, you believe this? And the Internet, in one fell swoop, I hadn’t, you know, being the main character on Twitter is a hard thing. And I have been him before and it is not exciting, nothing like this though thank God. And immediately I [?] was like, okay, they’re saying it. Not in 2023, boo this is not what you do um. And I love Keke. You know, Keke is Keke and I love her response. She releases a t shirt that says, I’m a mother. I love it. I think that’s brilliant. You know, like she leans into it and then she just, like, promotes her new stuff. And I don’t know if you saw the interview that they did. Um. They did an interview together, like a couple of weeks ago, and it was like, if I ever cheat, he, it was a weird interview. And he’s like, if I ever cheat on you, will you go on will you talk about it on talk shows because this had just happened to somebody else. And she was like, I will literally act like it didn’t happen on like, she’s like, I’m not doing my personal life in public, like, I’m not doing it. And then she got tested with that in this moment, and she did it the way Keke does it. And she still is everybody’s cousin. I think he he wildly underestimated what it’s like to do something to everybody’s cousin. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. Um. And he does have um since he has um scrubbed his IG of all things Keke Palmer um and all pictures– 


De’Ara Balenger: Really? 


Myles E. Johnson: –and they unfollowed each other. So it seems, you know, you can’t the thing about it is, [?] when you really enter the because it’s the wild, wild west, you know, and when you say things on Twitter because because it’s it’s it’s it’s. Black Twitter sure, everything that positive people have to say about it. We said so many positive things about it. But it’s also that lunchroom in high school. It’s also playing the dozens. It’s also the back of the bus where you really don’t want to sit where all the kids like you know what I mean? Like, that’s also the environment there. And if you just go there, insecurities out, you’re going to get annihilated. And then when you, you know, combine that with media attention in a slow media day or a week. Yeah. You could change your whole public reputation. And in one or two tweets and and and forever in some people’s minds, be this this incident, which is why it’s so fiery. And just to just closing out with your point, um Auntie Kaya, I do think the conclusion I did come this year seeing Janelle Monáe and I’m a huge Janelle Monáe fan. I’ve got to interview her and meet her and I think that she’s amazing and um I’m a fan of Gabrielle I’m a I’m a fan of Gabrielle Union and everybody and everybody try to do stuff. What I will say is Bell Hooks. It’s so many other leading, leading Black feminists who were who were thinking and talking through things in the early nineties with hip hop. They were really onto something where they kind of suggested that the mind really is the first thing to free when we’re talking about sexual freedom and body freedom, because if you don’t really free your mind first and really do that critical work of freeing your mind, you will just recreate the images that patriarchy has given you to create. That’s what I find so interesting. I’m not a prude. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: Totally. 


Myles E. Johnson: I’ll see a ass, I’ll see a booty. I’ll see a, I’m not any of those things like it does not offend me or shock me or anything. But I find it peculiar that, like women like Gabrielle Union or a woman like Janelle Monáe. With all this newfound sexual positive freedom of body positive freedom, they have all this freedom. And what do they do? They’re like, what am I going to do with all this freedom in my hand? I’m going to rebuild the same bars and prison that patriarchy put me in the first place so I can see things that if Janelle Monáe is doing on mute and be like, well, that’s the script that you were given hun. [laughing] So I’m like, I’m like you not even a you not even a naked gyrating uh android to make it a little viral. I’m like, you are and your beautiful brownness, beautiful whatever with your boobs out, and that’s fine. But it’s it’s it’s it’s just interesting that that’s where body and sexual liberation and in pop culture has led us is to basically just the same place but just with women or queer folk saying well I, it’s my choice but I’m like, is it your choice? If your choices are all informed by something you weren’t doing the critical work of, you know, thinking about what’s informing those choices that you’re making. But, you know– 


De’Ara Balenger: Word up. 


Myles E. Johnson: We live to be naked another day.


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 




De’Ara Balenger: So. So my news today is just first of all, the first image that popped up for this New York Times piece, I just was like Myles, when you talk about just, I don’t know, rest and leisure and just Black people just doing, you know, regular things like going to brunch, for example. Um. I just saw this and I thought this was so I don’t know. It just spoke to me. I, things have been weighing on me lately I’m I feel so tired I feel really anxious about going into this election season. Um. All the all the all the trauma of the past years. I feel like is like hitting me like a pile of bricks. And so I just needed something a little light for me today. Um. But it’s still amazing and I didn’t even know this. So I twilight as someone who is very much an interior designer, I love decor. I love design. I love beautiful objects. I love artists, um I love furniture design. And so what I did not know is that for some time now, the editor in chief of Elle Decor is Asad, and I hope I say his name correctly, Asad Syrkett. Um. He lives in Brooklyn. He has been in the design and publishing space for quite some time. And I read this magazine all the time and had been thinking, wow, this magazine is looking ever so diverse lately. Um. And now I know why. Now I know why. The other thing that I love about this, this photo in the piece, the first one is it has my friend Jesse in it, who’s also just beautiful and in design and just so brilliant. So I don’t know. These these brothers spoke to me this morning because I just really, really um needed it. Um. But he’s he listen, you can get in this is it’s really an interview with him and it’s like, what does he do on a Sunday? Have a little brunch, go to Pilates, meet other beautiful Black people and do beautiful Black things in Brooklyn. So the depth of this is just, to me, just the everydayness. Um. Of just of just just living and living with some sort of [laugh] peace, some sort of peace of mind and some appreciation for beauty, but just kind of the beauty inside but also the beauty in doing the ordinary. So I wanted to share this piece with y’all. And I also just wanted to, to, to promote Asad a little bit um so that we can be even more supportive to this brother as he is um an editor in chief at Hearst magazine. Um. They’re not many editor in chiefs these days um that that are Black. Um. Shout out to Nikki Ogunnaike who is going to be editor in chief of Marie Claire. Um. So that announcement came out a couple of weeks ago. So I’m excited about that and adore Nikki, who is a fellow Capricorn. So, you know, she’s going to do her thing. So, you know, y’all just some light, lightness um for us, for us today. So I hope you enjoy it and I hope you can be supportive of this brother. 


Myles E. Johnson: Love the love the article. You know, I’m like very double consciousness when I see stuff like this. And I sometimes I wish I wasn’t because one one part of the consciousness is more fun than the other, but I just can’t help it, born this way. Um. So love the article, loved everything about it. And then I was kind of like, paused by this paragraph. Reforming, [laugh] not like pause like just don’t panic. Reforming for it. So my um some my [?] Catherine and I go to the four pilates. Our main space at Fulton at 9am, I dance some at the Columbia and a little after college, too. I’m not necessarily your typical Pilates um demo demo, though I do think that that’s changing. When I first started going to Four the other, participants were usually all white, slightly older Brooklyn ladies. I got are you a dancer a lot. It felt innocuous though they are, and definitely some curiosity about me in that space. There’s just an element when you’re the only person in the room who looks like you. And it was really hard. And I haven’t like worked it all out like I love this story just as him. But it was also because of The New York Times, because who he was. It was hard to also not see it as like gentrification propaganda and like this this really interesting story of this per– of this exceptional person who has this exceptional career, whose doing this exceptional thing, who is kind of uh assimilated into the place, the the to the communities and the places in Brooklyn that are also helping change what Brooklyn looks like and who can survive in Brooklyn, who is accepted in Brooklyn. Because I think that the white women aren’t going to where the Black women are hanging out and exercising or to get their nails done. You know what I mean? And I think that says something where you choose to, where sometimes you choose, where you choose to go. And I and I think it has less to do with what he decides individually to do with their, would do with your life and where you are fe– there’s places that I love and there are mostly white people go there, but I love the vibe and I love the food or I love the service. But it was just interesting, I think, to have that baked into in certain other things that I saw baked into a New York Times article. Because once media hits it, it becomes propaganda. And once it becomes propaganda, I have to kind of see how outside of my own sentimentality of [?] another Black person in Brooklyn living their life well, and how that just makes me feel good. What is it also kind of communicating and signaling to other people who are reading this? And what do those kind of choices that we make, that I make that make me participate in the gentrification of people in my own community too. Because I’ve thought about that heavily as well, how my presence um is, you know, a type of, a type of class violence. I hate to say it, but it’s true. 


DeRay Mckesson: I think, you know De’Ara this was really interesting. And I think in the fashion and um design and beauty space, you know, we’ve always been the people who shaped the ideas but haven’t always been in positions of leadership. So I’m interested to see what this looks like. And Myles, I’m really pushed by your notion. It is this, you know, as people talk about obviously the blowback to Black excellence and whatever, but what does it mean when you when people get to spaces like this and then suddenly the community changes right? Like the the way you interact in community is just different, whether it’s because of class or whatever um in which true is that you probably would not have gotten where you are without the community of Black people like that is probably true. So I am interested in that tension. And that quote um was [hesitant ah sound] I was worried that he did not seem as mindful about what that quote said about power as he should have as a Editor-In-Chief. So that is the softest way I can say that, but um but I’m still rooting for him and excited to see, you know, what comes next and what he turns this into. I didn’t even know interior designers make boo koo bucks until my friend was one and I was like, Oh, they are charging people up the– 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh my gosh. 


DeRay Mckesson: –behind. To even think about a room. Forget a house, a room, [?]. 


Myles E. Johnson: A consultation. Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yes. I was like, Oh, this is a whole thing. Because nobody I ever knew could afford an interior designer. So this wasn’t this was some stuff you watched on HDTV. This was not a real life thing in my world. Um. But yes. So thanks for bringing it. 


Kaya Henderson: Um I you know, DeRay, to your earlier comment about representation, my first thought was look at all of the young Black men who will and women who will now see that this is an opportunity for themselves. Right? Um. I think it was. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed I think the two things that I enjoyed are, one, clearly he has a hard job and he works hard and all of that. But the the highlighting of the balance, um even though I do emails for an hour on Sunday because I don’t want to get crushed when I go into the thing on Monday, but otherwise I don’t want it to mess up my Sunday evening wind down. Right. I think the more that we can get those kinds of rest messages and balance messages, I think we set people up for success. But then, you know, like De’Ara said, who knew that the the editor in chief of Elle Decor was a young Black man? Like, I want everybody to know that and I want little kids to have in there, what do you want to be when you grow up tool kit, you know, interior designer or editor in chief of Elle Decor. I I love it. I love us. Um. My news is about how a very small you know, um what’s the Marianne Williamson quote? This is uh something like or not Marianne Williamson. Sorry, the Margaret Mead quote that says something to the effect of never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. 


Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. This is the dark side of that, um where a very small group of um I will call them medical. Uh. They’re not all doctors, but self-identified people in the medical community um have literally shaped our nation’s health agenda around, especially around issues like abortion and um and gay and trans rights and policies. Um. This is a group called the American College of Pediatrics, which sounds really official, right? It sounds like the thing it sounds like the Association for Pediatricians, um but it is actually a small group of conservative doctors who and I just I’m going to read this first paragraph like verbatim, because there’s no other way to say it. A small group of conservative doctors has sought to shape the nation’s most contentious policies on abortion and transgender rights by promoting views rejected by the medical establishment, a scientific fact, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post that describe the group’s internal strategies. So what had happened was there was a cyber breach where these people left, they were not paying attention to their security um and people were able to get into their internal files, strategy meetings, minute meetings, minutes and notes from meetings and budgets and all kinds of things. And a group of folks have read that and realized that this small group of people has actually been um activist in their pursuit of changing policies um that um that, in fact, medicine decries. Um. So the real legitimate um organization is called the American Academy of Pediatrics. They are the representative body for pediatricians. There are 67,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. And they, you know, inform policy through evidence based science, through random controlled trials, through peer reviewed research, those kinds of things. The American College of Pediatrics has 700 people, 700 compared to 67,000. Some of them are doctors, some of them are not. But they support things like banning gender affirming care for transgender youth, even though all of the science points to that being positive. Um. They have lobbied to limit access to mifepristone, which is an abortion drug, um when all of the science actually supports the wide use of that. Um. They promote conversion therapy for young people who um identify as homosexual. That is a completely discredited practice in medicine. They are actually against same sex parents, even though all of the research shows that kids with same sex parents fare equally or better than kids with opposite sex parents. And so these people have been out here on a shoestring budget with a handful of members in the right rooms talking to the right people and have passed laws in more than 20 states. They’re responsible for a lot of the um right wing health care policy that you see happening across states. Um. They even sent letters to 14,000 school superintendents to tell them um about the dangers of identifying young people as homosexuals. Um. They have written to the archdiocese to um to Catholic archdioceses to get them to um to uh to rail against health systems that have gender affirming care. These people are out here in these health care streets with some junk science, but a small and well-organized um strategy. And they are impacting the nation’s health care. And um this in the file, this in the things we didn’t know about um category for me, I had no idea. In fact, these people broke off from the American Academy of Pediatrics over the issue of same sex parents and started their own little splinter group that is out here. The Southern Poverty Law Center um has has labeled them a terrorist group. A hate group um and like we we can’t fight things that we don’t know about. And so I think, you know, if 700 other people got together, we might be able to counteract this um this situation. But I brought it because I had no idea that some small group of conservative doctors were out here pushing junk science, literally things that the medical establishment has discredited and they’re winning. And we need to do something about that. 


DeRay Mckesson: Kaya for me, this was really interesting because it was another reminder, just like with the book ban stuff, is that it’s a small group of people, you know, like it is not a million doctors across the country are organized. This is a tiny handful of people who are allowed and have the money and resources to not do their day jobs and go sit in a room all day and lobby. And it you know, one of the most dangerous things on the left um is that people don’t realize how few people it takes to like, you know, we think that it always has to be a million people and da da. So people just don’t reach out. People don’t call people don’t email people don’t and it’s like, you know, we got to figure that out on our side uh because that is what’s killing us, you know, it because this is a small group of people. It’s not a this is not a critical mass. 


Myles E. Johnson: So it’s so wild to hear about so when I read the article, my first mind went like all the way back to when I was 22 and 23. I like came, not like I came out I published a children’s book and my first kind of like adventure into I don’t know. I guess like seeing children, queerness, LGBT stuff was through children’s literature, which [laugh] if I knew better than um I would have. Yeah, that was just over. [pause] I am still amazed at how deeply organized and conservative um certain people are and what they will go to to ensure that the um that A.) That their child is not queer, but then also that any understanding or normalization around uh queerness in a child’s life is annihilated. And my children oh excute me my children’s book was based around a Black boy who loves pink and it was like that kind of statement. And I remember getting so I like like so much hate. [laugh] Like, one of the reasons why, like, I pivoted cause I was like, this is ridiculous. So I think the answer is obviously organizing back and obviously saying something back. But I think the underestimate and maybe because I also did this in Georgia when I released that children’s book, but I think we underestimate how the length that people will go to ensure that their that their childrens are in these kind of like cultural these cultural bubbles or that the that America stays in a cultural bubble and stays a certain type of way that they deem appropriate. And aligned with um biblical beliefs and stuff so. 


DeRay Mckesson: It also is like, who has the money, you know, the money and time to to just organize. You know, what I mean? It is you really got to be in the room and I’ll tell you, obviously this is my day to day work, but it really is one of those things that, like you have to talk to, like you got to talk to the legislator and like, da da da da da, and like it takes so much time to do like just sheer pound the pavement. I think, oh, we’re doing this campaign about Rikers and receivership just means that the federal judge is going to appoint a person to oversee Rikers. That’s all it means but when people hear federal receivership. They think that the federal government’s going to take it over. And you’d be surprised at every level of New York City government we talk to, people have been like, no, the president will not run Rikers. And they’re like, really? And we’re like, you all in the city council. You’re a citywide elected official. You’re uh in the state Senate and you think that federal receiver mind you have a whole staff of people who are supposed to know this. And they really do think that the federal government, like the president, is going to take over Rik– and you’re like, what? So being in the room matters so much and the right just has funded the people to be in the room. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think what’s also scary about this whole thing and I’ve seen it play out in some of Pao’s reporting. I’ve seen it play out actually in like with some of my family members, is that the issue around children and sexuality and gender is becoming such a hot button topic within Black and Latino communities, meaning that the lack of support on the issue is actually driving a lot of them to be more conservative, driving a lot of them to the right. In ways that, again, it’s like it’s it’s scary and just kind of I don’t know, it’s almost like not even of this world, like the the speed it’s gaining this movement, the speed the movement is the impact and uh the scale of this movement that’s happening in in communities of color as we– 


DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara. What did you say is moving people to the right? 


De’Ara Balenger: Basically like the this trans issue. So like parents, like– 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh. 


De’Ara Balenger: For example– 


DeRay Mckesson: Interesting. 


De’Ara Balenger: Parents are making their kids trans. 


DeRay Mckesson: Got it. 


De’Ara Balenger: Like, that’s the thing that now Black and Latino people believe, right, that these parents are sick. And so it’s happening. 


DeRay Mckesson: Got it, got it, got it. 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s through. It’s happening through religion, obviously, but it’s also happening through these doctors. It’s happening through institutions. And so they’re hearing it everywhere, right, um and in schools. And so now there is a belief that this is true and that because of it, people’s values are more aligned to the right. I think there’s the work of this generally pushing back against this. But I think there’s also like the deep work within our communities and obviously homophobia, transphobia, etc. exist and are real um and are deep in communities of color. And so I think. You know, we might need to start there. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom um. So my news is about the police, and normally I don’t have hopeful news. I feel like I hold it down for the like, just remember y’all that, you know, y’all bring the good, but all [?] ain’t sweet, um but this news is great. So there is a town in uh Minneapolis called Golden Valley. Golden Valley, I mean, in Minnesota. Not Minneapolis, sorry about that. Uh. Golden Valley is a suburb. It’s about 22– 22,000 people, median household income tops 100,000. Very little crime and 15% of the town is devoted to parks and green spaces. Now there’s a Black community where the median household is 55,000 dollars per year. Still better than a lot of places in the United States. Uh. And there’s a little bit more crime. And in that neighborhood, Willard-Hay, it’s 26% white and 40% black. Uh and Golden Valley is 85% white and 5% black. After George Floyd was killed, there was a push by the mayor who had been there since 2012. So this man been in it for a long time, Shep Harris, to really do something around equity. So there was a call around equity. They did some racial combinant work, structural stuff, and then they also hired they had to fix the police department because as you can imagine, in places even where there aren’t a lot of Black people, racial disparities exist in almost everything we can measure. It was true here in Golden Valley. So they hired uh the first high ranking Black woman. Her name was Alice White, and then they hired Virgil Green, the town’s first Black police chief. And let me tell you, because I did some work looking this up now there was another police chief, Scott Nadeau who was in the he was a finalist to be the police chief in Golden Valley. And he was he retired as the police chief in Columbia Heights and the director of public safety in Maplewood. He retired in 2021, but he became the interim chief in Golden Valley. He was one of the final two people, uh final two finalists for the job. And he did not get the job he lost out to uh Chief Green who is Black. Now, here’s where the drama begins. Nadeau is suing the city for discrimination. The white police officer who did not get hired is suing the city for discrimination, saying that he was just hired, quote, “he was,” quote, “replaced by a Black male for the express purpose of increasing racial diversity.” The mayor and the city’s response is, you were one of two finalists and we just didn’t choose you. And he is pissed that he did not get it. He is like he was the man for the job. Da da da da da da da. What happened is, is that after Nadeau didn’t get it and they hired Green, almost half of the police department in this town quit. They have recordings of at least one officer organizing against Green and saying racist comments. She got fired, when she gets fired, more people quit. And guess what happened? Crime went down. Half the department quit and crime went down because it is a reminder that A.) A lot of violent crime isn’t happening anywhere in the country, actually, certainly not in Golden Valley. But the police rarely respond to those things anyway. And if you if you were even arguing for a police department to exist, if they just did violent crime, that would be a small number. Now, the police chief um and the mayor, the mayor sort of said, you know what, we can deal with this because we’re a small town and we’ll staff up again. But, you know, no rush because we didn’t have a lot of crime in the first place. But what uh Radley Balko in his New York Times op ed about it reminds us is I don’t know if you remember when the police were pissed at de Blasio and de Blasio gets a lot of people, you know, hate on de Blasio, you might not like the man. Is a man, lowest number of arrests in the history of New York City. Lowest number of people ever incarcerated at Rikers in the history of the city. And he was the first mayor to bring Pre-K to the largest city in the United States. People said it cannot be done. Adams is rolling it back, but he did pre-K for all three year olds and it was a feat to do. There were not enough buildings there weren’t enough teach– like he pulled it off and like, say what you will about him. You know who didn’t do that? Bloomberg for all the things that Bloomberg said he was going to do for people that he couldn’t, he couldn’t pull that off. And de Blasio did, anyway I say that to say that de Blasio did a little minor thing criticizing the police who rightly deserved it, and they turned their back on him. They did a work stoppage, a slowdown, as they call it. And what happened? Crime decreased. So I say this to say that the police and the police union in Golden Valley is telling people actively not to apply to work there while the Black police chief is there. Like the police union is trying to sabotage the department. And this is what the police do, is that they try to like, make the place so unsafe so that you are just like forced to do what they want. And all it takes is somebody to stand up to them. And I love that this mayor is like, you know what, we not doing this. And, you know, the thing is, he’s not running for reelection. So like, we got to figure out what’s to happen when he goes. But the police never have great arguments it’s just that people are just really afraid to stand up to them. And I respect this police chief for staying and I respect this mayor for being like y’all this don’t make sense. And a white man suing for racial discrimination is absurd. So I just thought I’d bring this here. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I love this story. It made me warmer and on the inside. What it also highlighted, or I guess like more so reminded me of, is that police culture is a culture. Like, and that’s how sometimes when I hear Black people. Or really anybody talking about like being a police officer and stuff. And I think it’s easier to imagine because like the Army is more like obvious with it, like certain things where it’s like, Oh no, there’s an army culture there’s a army man. There’s ways that we see them believe and stuff like that and, you know, patriotism. And there’s just like a culture around certain jobs. And for whatever reason, people think policing is not one of those jobs. And it’s just something you do and you just become culturally and politically neutral and then you just go do your job and you go back home. But I’m like, no, like. It’s to me well-known that the police culture is racist. [laugh] And, you know, most people know the history between, you know, overseers and slave overseers and the police. And that’s the culture of it. And to me, what I’m hearing is a whole bunch of people who are having their culture disturbed, fighting to get their culture back, to get their power back, to get this, to get their center back and to um and to fight for this. So it’s not that oh, we’re we got a few bad apples out of the police. You know, out of out of the out of the police culture. And now it’s good again. It’s really a whole bunch of people on on quiet and waiting for things to kind of go back to normal, you know, in a specific space. And that’s what this reminded me of specifically is just how I don’t know when even when I hear like Black police officers, [?], I was surprised how they treated me or I was surprised this. And I’m like, well, you didn’t know the culture of the police? Like, I can see why you thought you could do the job. But don’t you just know that the culture of the police is kind of you know, rotten? That I thought that was that was, I thought everybody knew that. And so it’s always surprising when people don’t. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think. Wait, this is blowing my mind. DeRay. Actually, so. Y’all know. I grew up in D.C., but I’m very much from Minnesota. So the thing about Willard-Hay, the neighborhood is, first of all, nobody calls it that. It’s over north. So we’re talking about north side Minneapolis. So the north side is where probably the most Black people live in in in Minneapolis. It’s where I grew up. My granny, granny and grandpa live there. Now, the thing about this neighborhood is that Black people have been here since the early 1900s, and the median income DeRay is, yeah, it’s only $55,000. But these houses are beautiful hundred year old brick houses. They’re beautiful. It’s a beautiful neighborhood. And back in the day, there were, you know, Black people were running their own businesses. My grandfather was one of the first Black electricians in Minneapolis. And so this was always a thriving neighborhood. Now, what happened and Myles, to your point around the culture of police, is that for decades, Black people in Minneapolis have been surveilled, terrorized, pitted against one another. That I’m also this is DeRay this is making me think like the presence of the police is actually precipitating the culture and the ecosystem for crime, for for violence. Right? And it’s been now decades of that. Like I have had family members that have been killed by the police, that have been beat up by the police. One of my uncles lost his eye after being beat up by the police. And it’s so it’s been so normal in Minneapolis. For so long that it’s just. The feeling and the liberation that I think the next generation of young Black of Black people would feel without having a severe, militaristic police presence. Like, I can’t even imagine what that world would look like for those folks. But this is but thank you for bringing this. This is like rocking my world, because as I think about it, it’s like. It’s not us that created that created that ecosystem. It is a reaction to what has been put upon us. So it’s just this is wild, this is a good one. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Thank you for bringing this. Um. I was struck by two things. One is like, you got to look at the data, and I’m sure that when all the police people started quitting and people were like, Oh my God, what are we going to do? Especially Black people. Because in fact, we want safe and secure communities. Um. But it is so fascinating to see in multiple cases and places that when, you know, when the police quit or when there was a work stoppage or whatever, whatever actually crime went down. If we don’t interrogate that and investigate that, then shame on us. Um. I think the other thing that was that this thing reminded me is what it didn’t sort of say is what the Black leadership did when they got into the police department. And what I’ve learned in my, you know, 30 plus year career is the people closest to the problem problem usually have the solutions. They haven’t had the access or the agency or the power or the resources to enact the solutions that they know are right, but um they usually know what to do. And so my guess is that, you know, Alice and Virgil or whoever they are, probably came up with some strategies that they were not doing before that helped to reduce crime. And it wasn’t simply the absence of the police. And then, Myles, to your point about culture, I mean, whew child? I mean, if like if we don’t the culture of the police force, you know. Blue above all else. All of the things right like that is, that’s the problem. That is the problem. The problem is not having police. The problem is not having police with guns. The problem is not like, the problem is the culture of the people who are supposed to serve and protect. And um and so I think that it is I think that this is just um it makes my heart leap to show that when all these racist police people left, things were actually just fine. Put that on a t-shirt. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. And the culture is mirroring evang– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: –Evangelical white right wing culture. 


Kaya Henderson: Mhm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Just like I’m sure certain parts of the culture just growing up in Georgia, when you go to a certain football player or football games and stuff like that, you start seeing like, oh, there’s like a like a undercurrent patriotism, evangelical glue that like you can taste in all these different cultures that you can’t, they are the foundation of so many of them that you can’t ignore, you know? 


Kaya Henderson: And that it is intentional. Culture doesn’t– 


Myles E. Johnson: Exactly. 


Kaya Henderson: –just happen. 


Myles E. Johnson: Exactly. 


Kaya Henderson: It is taught, it is cultivated, it is reinforced, it is celebrated, it is all of the things. And as intentional– 


Myles E. Johnson: Exactly. 


Kaya Henderson: –as people are about that, we have to be intentional about undoing that. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Sace the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. 




DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome Michigan State University professor of law Justin Simard to chat about the advent of the Citing Slavery Project. is a comprehensive online database and map of slave cases and the modern cases that cite them as precedent. The project aims to push the legal profession to grapple with its link to slavery, an overdue reckoning that Simard hopes will start with lawyers and judges acknowledging their use of the traveling precedents. I learned so much. Here we go. 


DeRay Mckesson: Justin, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People. 


Justin Simard: So happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, I first came across you because on the podcast there was uh an article about cases involving slavery still being cited and we talked about it on the podcast and it was in our group chat. And then we were like, does anybody know him? Can we, can we find him? [laugh] And then we did uh that’s how we got to you. But before we start talking about that article and the and the crux of your work, I would love to know more about you. How did you get started in this work? Did you always care about laws pertaining to slavery? Did you stumble upon this like, what’s your story? 


Justin Simard: Yeah. So, um you know what, I my background is a historian, I teach in a law school but my background is as a historian. And I kind of came across these modern citations uh to slave cases accidentally. So I was basically researching for a chapter in my dissertation where I was trying to show how even in the 1850s and 1860s, northern judges were still citing Southern judges. Um. And as I was doing this research, I came across one of these cases I was looking at and found out it was cited you know not just by a northern judge in the 1850s, but by a judge in I think it was like 2012 was the first one I came across. And I was really shocked by it. And I thought, okay, well, even if I just find a couple of these, I should write about this because it’s just so surprising. And then I kept digging and digging and found um more than 300 that are, you know, relatively recent. And then as I’ve gotten uh more in-depth into it I found even more. 


DeRay Mckesson: The article that we first saw actually was the Guardian article about Virginia Judge uses 19th century slavery law to rule frozen embryos are property. 


Justin Simard: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: Can you tell us about that case? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, sure. So it’s interesting because this case um got picked up and lots of people uh were interested in it and pay attention to it. But what the judge was doing in that case is actually not that unusual. Um. So that case involved a dispute between um basically was a divorced couple who had gone through artificial like in vitro stuff and had embryos left over after that. And I guess the dispute was over could um the wife in this case wanted to keep the embryos so that she could have another child. And the question was, could the husband prevent her from doing that? Um. And in order to interpret uh whether that’s possible, what the um judge did is he looked back at this old statute that was sort of that was a precursor to the modern statute about dividing property in a divorce and to determine whether the property, not only real estate, could be divided, but also what we would call personal property. So anything movable property and he said, well, in that case, um people were dividing enslaved property. So this is a you know common thing that happened in the 19th century. Um. You know, either through divorce or inheritance or something like that. You know, the white people would split up the enslaved people they owned. Um. And uh so he used that precedent to um you know argue that in this case, yes, he could um split up the um embryos and give some to the wife who wanted to have the other child. And I think part of the reason uh this gained attention was because there is there is this you know very it seems very close analogy uh embryos are closer to humans than, you know, regular property. And then to have that analogy to enslaved people was took struck most people as perverse, I guess. 


DeRay Mckesson: And then the um in the citing slavery introduction, you talk about uh State v Samuel, what was the, was this the first case that you stumbled across? What was the first case that you stumbled across that you were like, Oh, this is a thing that I need to look into? 


Justin Simard: You know, I honestly I should go back and look, I honestly don’t know what the first case I stumbled across was although it was authored by this judge in Georgia, Eugenius Aristides Nisbet, who was the guy I was studying, focusing on in this chapter. Um. But most of these cases are just um sort of run of the mill cases. And when we think of you know cases involving enslaved people, we think of the really big famous ones, right? We think of Dred Scott. We think of um, you know, cases uh involving Fugitive Slave Act, that sort of stuf–thing. But actually, these cases were really routine because the legal system was so effective at treating enslaved people like property. What that meant was that the buying and selling of people just happened all the time. And just as now we get into disputes about buying and selling of cars or whatever else. In the 19th century, it was just a commonplace thing. You know, the judges didn’t think twice about deciding these cases, and that’s part of the reason why they’ve continued to be cited, because the judge didn’t say this is a case about slavery. The judge instead said this is a case about a contract or this is a case about inheritance or this is a case about property. And so because they classified it in those categories, modern judges have continued to do that. 


DeRay Mckesson: And can you talk to us about the Citing Slavery database and what what led to it? How did you make it? Was there a big team? Small team, what’s next? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, sure. So everyone should check it out, And our goal um is to collect every published case involving an enslaved person either as a litigant. Um. So freedom suits that sort of thing or where the person is the property that’s in dispute. And so the database started I guess back in 2020, I uh sort of after I stumbled upon these cases and I wrote an article, I realized that this was something that not just academics need to learn about, but the general public and and practicing lawyers. And so uh initially it just included those first uh 300 or so cases I found that modern cases that cited slave cases and the cases that they cited too. But I recruited a team of students at this point, more than 20 students have uh devoted some of something like 2500 hours to the project. And what they’ve done um is gone through meticulously uh online legal databases and found every case involving an enslaved person. And once they find that case, they provide uh sort of categorize it or provide a brief summary of the case, um and then we can pull in the information of that case using another database, the Case Law Access project. And that allows us to tell um allows us to tell us like how many people cited that. The other important part of this besides the students, um my sister, who’s a soft– happens to be a software engineer, which is very convenient. Uh. She built the whole site uh from scratch uh and I think it has maps and everything. So you can see where these cases are cited and we’re really proud of the work we’ve done. And the students have just really seen this, they really recognize this work as important um not only because they see it as sort of recognizing the humanity of all the people involved in these cases, but also they see it as a tool to reform the legal system, to make it you know um more responsive to um the context that often gets left out of in judicial decision making. 


DeRay Mckesson: Shout out to your sister. I love that. Now, when people go to the site, can they can they be a volunteer too? How does that work or is that only your students? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, so so far it’s just our students. But actually we’re exploring the possibility of allowing other people to do some sort of crowdsourcing thing. So right now uh we, we, we look at every individual case that involved an enslaved person, but then we pull in that data from another source to um see the case that cite that case. And right now they go in as unverified. And one of the things we’re thinking about doing is making it so that other people can verify and say, yes, this case does in fact, cite a case involving enslaved people. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, what do you say to some people who are like, you know, this is a product of the time, it was normal practice back then. The law is the law. People were considered property, property rights are establ–, like you know, property is the foundation of the American project, blah, blah, blah blah blah. So they would say that it is not abnormal to cite the cases of the enslaved people, even if it is uncomfortable. What would you say to those people? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, and this is not just a, you know a– this is not just an imaginary critique. It’s actually some professors have actually made this exact critique about our project, and they say, you know, because the legal system treated people like ordinary property, that these cases just state ordinary rules of law, basically the reason not to cite these cases fall into two major categories legal and dignitary. Um. So the legal ones are the ones we put in for the lawyers. So these cases often involve situations where it’s not clear whether um the enslaved person is being treated as property or being treated as a person. So example an example of that is in the 19th century, um enslaved people were often hired out by their enslavers. So basically someone would own somebody and then say, I’m going to make uh you pay me money and they’ll do work for you. Which I mean is you know obviously an incredibly exploitative relationship, created all sorts of problems for the enslaved people, separation from family, etc.. But when a modern judge is looking at that case, she has to decide, is this case about uh employment law as it could be, or is it about lending property? And depending on which way you look at it, it can have different outcomes. So that’s one reason legally they’re not uh that we should be skeptical of them. The second is oftentimes judges are deciding these cases um to protect slavery. They’re not trying to find the best legal rule. They’re trying to do whatever they can to preserve this institution that they perceive as being under attack from abolitionists. Um. Then the dignitary harms are probably, you know, I think are very obvious to normal people. The lawyers  uh sometimes uh struggle with this is that by continuing to cite these cases, you’re continuing the dehumanization of slavery, because the only way it makes sense to cite a case where an enslaved person is treated as property is if you continue in some way to treat them as property today. And that um, you know, is is is really dehumanizing. Um. And so I think these cases, um at a minimum, judges need to acknowledge that they involve enslaved people and to really think through whether, um you know, not just treat them as ordinary law. They need to really think through whether or not these cases stand for what they think they stand for. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now is the fix, simply not citing them? Do you make it illegal to cite them? Do you pass a sweeping law that says that these cases are not real for the purposes of legal land? Like, what’s the what’s the fix fix? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a challenging one because there are something like 11,000 of these cases. And so and they were decided a long time ago. Right. So since that time, not only have they been directly cited, they’ve been cited by cases that then are cited by other cases. And so my calculations estimate that 18% of all American cases are within two steps of a slave case. So either cite a slave case or cite a case that cites a slave case. So even if we were to say, eliminate all direct citations of slave cases. We’re still going to have the remnants of these cases in our law. So I don’t know what the solution is exactly. I mean, I think certainly judges should not cite these cases without acknowledging that they involved enslaved people and thinking about whether that affects their legal holdings. That seems to be a very, you know, baseline. But I think if we really want to address um the presence of slavery in our legal system, it’s going to take more than changing citation practice it’s going to take us really rethinking and reexamining, um really rethinking and reexamining some fundamental rules that have been established in these cases. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, when anybody launches something, it no longer is yours alone, right? You do this cool thing, put it out in the world and suddenly everybody else has a relationship to it too. I’d love to know what has been the coolest response to the, you put it out and people have probably done things with this that you either could not do, didn’t think of, dreamed of. What has that been like? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, it is um it has been wonderful to see people. Um. You know, when it when it when you’re working on this my team, you know, we’re very devoted to this and really believe in the mission and really believe this is something that people need to care about. But it’s another thing when you put it out and people actually do care about it. Um. So I’ll I’ll name a couple of cool things. One, we convinced the Blue Book, which is the citation manual for lawyers. So it’s kind of like  you know Chicago manual style, something like that to require when um people are citing a case involving enslaved people to acknowledge that. So basically they have all these it’s a very technical manual, but it basically it says if you cite a case involving an enslaved person, you have to put in a parenthetical afterwards, this involves an enslaved person, right? So that’s really important to us because that’s will help acknowledge the presence of this in the law. Now, on the other end of things, um I’ve been contacted by descendants, um and this is one of the audiences we hope will eventually um use this project. Of people both who are descendants of the enslavers in these cases, trying to grapple with like their families connection to this horrible thing, and people who are descendants of the enslaved people in these cases, both sets of these people are very interested in grappling with this institution of slavery, something that I think we as a country haven’t done the greatest job with. And so it’s very exciting to me to see just members of the general public be interested enough to follow through on this. 


DeRay Mckesson: So collecting them was the first and biggest thing. And not that there needs to be a next step because as somebody who puts things out in the world, [laugh] the first step almost kills you. You know, it’s like a it is so much harder than people ever understand. And like, I I love this story of you and your sister working together and like that warms me. You know, I’m like, I love a good sibling. Like they did it. Um. What’s your dream for what comes next with this? 


Justin Simard: Yeah, um it’s a it’s a great question. It does. You know, when we started this, I had did did not realize how quickly we’d make it through these cases. And it’s been really wonderful working with the students. So I think by the end of the summer, we should have all 11,000 cases collected. 


DeRay Mckesson: Shut up. 


Justin Simard: Um. Which is really exciting, right? 


DeRay Mckesson: How close are you? Or is that a secret?


Justin Simard: Um. We have about 9500 right now. Now–


DeRay Mckesson: Oh, I mean you’re like there. 


Justin Simard: Even after we finish that, they’re still, you know, we’re getting the sort of easy to find ones. There’s other ones where the property in the in the case isn’t named and we’ll have to do more work with that. But I think our next um sort of well the next big thing is to analyze it right? So once we have all the cases collected, then we can say how many cases cite them, how influential were they and really begin to explore that. So that’s one thing. The other project uh we have another couple of projects that I’m really excited about. One um led by one of my students is focusing on not just judges siting these cases, but lawyers citing them in briefs. Um. And, you know, so it turns out that every time a judge cites one, there’s just as many citations by lawyers. So that’s a whole um another project. Another thing we’re working on, which I’m very excited about and actually was just working on this morning, is to analyze the case books so the textbooks that law professors teach out of. So what we’re going to do is pull all the citations out of these case books and then use our database to plug in those cases and say, are these cases related to slavery? And then once we find that information out, we can, you know, go to these casebook authors and say, you need to address this or you need to figure out how you’re going to acknowledge that slavery um you know played a fundamental role in these these cases that you’re teaching out of. Right. And we’re hoping that that will help shape, you know, legal education going forward. And the last thing I’ll say, and I’m also very excited about is we started an education outreach program. So we did a little pilot last fall with Ferndale High School, which is a high school right outside Detroit, um where we taught them about precedent and then had them come and learn about law school and learn about our project. And we’re going to sort of expand that this year to Cass Tech, which is a high school in Detroit and just really excited about that because you know you asked earlier about what the solution to these um and this this is. And I think part of it is to make the legal profession more diverse, to get more people. If the legal profession were more diverse, it wouldn’t have taken until 2020 for someone to realize that this was an ongoing phenomenon and talk about it. Right. And so that’s part of our goal, is encourage people to think about becoming lawyers um and that you know that’s you know, that the long term dream, right, is to make a diverse profession that reas– that recognizes that race, gender and class actually do shape the law. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Uh. If you stumble upon a set of these that involve the police or criminal justice, we’d love to partner with you on those. So please loop back. 


Justin Simard: Yeah, definitely. You know, there is. These are in every area of law, and we found some in criminal law. Now, what’s interesting about some of them is that sometimes um the cases are actually establishing principles that we might like. Like that ques– that um confessions shouldn’t be coerced. And so it’s very weird. Like, what do you do with a case that establishes a rule that might be okay, but that came out of this horrible context? And that’s something you know, that’s another thing we need to figure out. Um. We haven’t fully, though, once we have the full set of cases, we can sort them by the criminal law cases and really get down to figure out like how much have these shaped, you know, the the criminal law system. And I think there will be there will be a lot to find um once we once we dig in. 


DeRay Mckesson: Well we consider you a friend of the pod Justin and everybody go to Stay in touch with what he’s doing. There are a lot of people in this moment who are like exhausted. Right? They did all, they protested, they read your briefs, they visited the website. They listened to the podcast. They went to the talk, they watched the movie. And the world looks very much like it did when they started. What do you say to people whose hope is challenged in moments like this? 


Justin Simard: I mean, it’s tough. I mean, I think it is hard um because one thing we historians recognize is that progress doesn’t always happen in one direction. There’s always setbacks. But one thing that I um talk to my students about, which I think is really helpful because I teach a class on law of slavery, which just every day is just a gutting lesson. Right? And one of the things I focus on is you know we focus on the limitations of gradual emancipation. We focus on the limitations of uh reconstruction, all of those things. One thing I ask them to look at is look at the people who were actually involved at the time. Look at the people who um, you know, were enslaved, but became free. And even though they recognize the limitations of all these things, they recognize how weak so many of these solutions are. They’re still really excited. And I think we have to give ourself that time to be excited about the progress that we do make. And I think that’s, you know, if if someone like uh Frederick Douglass can make it through the world that he did, you know, where to buy his own freedom in order to see his family or have other people buy his freedom so that he can see his family. You know, I think I think we can follow that model to some extent and say we can work toward this stuff, you know? [music break] 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]