Why U.S. Needs Black Lives Matter Movement Today NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, about the protests around the U.S. sparked by George Floyd's death.
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Why U.S. Needs Black Lives Matter Movement Today

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Why U.S. Needs Black Lives Matter Movement Today

Why U.S. Needs Black Lives Matter Movement Today

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When George Floyd died in Minneapolis this week, the footage of his head on the street, under a police officer's knee, reignited the national conversation about police violence against African Americans, and it sent people to the streets raging in protest throughout the country. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has been writing about this. She's a professor of African American studies at Princeton. We spoke this morning, and I asked her to reflect on this very long week, the anger overnight in Minneapolis and beyond and how to make sense of where the country is today.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: You know, when the governor, I think, of Minnesota said something to the effect, overnight, that we have to rebuild the relationship between the police and the communities that they function in, that is such a repeated and mistaken idea. In fact, there's not a single period in American history since African American people have been freed that the police have not been a source of abuse and violence.

There is no golden age of policing in the United States that we can point to. I think that where there have been the kind of verbal commitments to reform have come because of incessant protests led by young African Americans. But the quality of the reform has been quite cheap. At the time that there were promises of reforms being made, it was in the twilight of the Obama administration as an effort to try to ensure that African Americans would turn out in the 2016 election, and that did not happen at the rate at which it did when Obama was running.

And so the, quote-unquote, "reform" efforts then became the project of Donald Trump, who, of course, had no interest in reforming the police, and, you know, in fact, overnight - I think at 12:53 a.m. - tweeted out that the police or the military should be poised to shoot to kill protesters.

KELLY: The tweet from the president you're referring to, the 12:53 a.m. tweet, just to quote that direct line - he wrote, "any difficulty and we will assume control, but when the looting starts, the shooting starts." I will note that Twitter has flagged that as violating Twitter rules about glorifying violence. And I can hear the anger in your voice.

TAYLOR: And of course, this is a president who praised neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers in Charlottesville for being good people, and so the hypocrisy is also part of what drives the frustration.

KELLY: So what would your answer be to people who might say, look - Americans have the right to protest in the streets, but Americans do not have the right to ransack a police station and set the streets of a city on fire?

TAYLOR: I think that riots, rebellions, uprisings are not demonstrations. This is a visceral expression of rage and frustration. And what we have to do is understand why it's happening and do something about the conditions that led to its eruption because it's too late to say, oh, is this a good thing or is this bad thing? People are on the streets, and they're angry, and they have a right to be angry. And so the response is, what are we going to do about the conditions that create this level of rage?

But it is noteworthy that when you look at the crowds of people, that there are lots of young white people who are on these demonstrations. And I think that not only does it speak to a level of solidarity that young white people have with poor and working-class black people, but I think it says something about their own lack of security in their future and, really, what is happening in this country because of the ways that the pandemic has exposed deep, deep and ingrained inequities.

KELLY: What is giving you hope as you look back over a truly awful week?

TAYLOR: Resistance. I think that for the last several weeks, it has been appalling to watch our government stand still, not out of paralysis but out of almost callousness, at the vast amount of suffering that is going on in this country. The idea that the richest country in the history of the world cannot get people face masks, cannot ensure that people will not be thrown out of their houses, cannot ensure that people will be fed is an abomination.

And so for me, the events over the last week have shown that people are - even in the midst of this pandemic and social distancing and self-isolation, are going to fight for a different kind of reality. And the struggle on the streets has to be turned into organizing, has to be turned into a set of achievable demands, but it begins with resisting the status quo and letting it be known that we're not all just going to lay down and die and accept this kind of meager existence that is being hoisted upon us. So that, to me, has been the revelation over the last several days.

KELLY: That is professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor from Princeton University. Thank you very much.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

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