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2005-05-05

Louisville Landscape: Politics, Race and Police Brutality

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We take a look at local Louisville politics and the political landscape of Kentucky with professor Ricky Jones, a political science specialist in the department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. [includes rush transcript]

  • Ricky Jones, he is Associate Professor, Chair, and Political Science specialist in the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. His research and social and community advocacy has centered on issues of identity, politics, education, culture, and consciousness. Jones is also a columnist for Louisville’s alternative weekly, the Louisville Eccentric Observer and his column, the Message to the People, can be read monthly at www.leoweekly.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now in our studio by Ricky Lee Jones, Associate Professor, Chair and political science specialist in the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. His research in social and community advocacy has centered on issues of identity politics, education, culture, and consciousness. A columnist also for Louisville’s alternative weekly, The Louisville Eccentric Observer. His column, "The Message to the People," can be read monthly at LEOWeekly.com. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

RICKY JONES: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you give us the lay of the land here, the political landscape of Louisville?

RICKY JONES: I think what’s happened in Louisville is really reflective of what’s happening across the country. We have an incredible ideological convergence among Democrats and Republicans here. It’s very difficult to tell the difference; and there’s also been a constriction of space and voice for people who disagree with what’s going on in the political mainstream. So, I think it’s a troubling progression, but it’s manifested itself in so many different ways.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s causing the constriction?

RICKY JONES: Just a whole host of things, I think. One, you don’t really have candidates who look different to people. So, across lines of race and class and gender, you’re getting a whole lot of people who are just uninvolved in the political process. And also money, I think; you know, there’s a lot of money being infused in the process. So people who may approach the political process from a different perspective are being frozen out.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is the money coming from?

RICKY JONES: Same place it’s coming from on the national level, I guess. You know, corporations, N.G.O.s, and the like, and sometimes you just don’t really know; and you’re definitely not going to get answers from the media or the politicians.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the racial composition of Louisville, of Kentucky?

RICKY JONES: Louisville actually is the city that has the largest number of African Americans. Right now, they make up — Before merger of city and county they make up about 33% of the local population, with merger of city and county about 16% in a city that’s a little bit over a million people.

AMY GOODMAN: What about issues of police brutality? I was just reading the paper here yesterday. There was an editorial about the use of Taser guns in Lexington, and another person in this country has died as a result of this, and the police department there is looking at whether to continue their use of Tasers.

RICKY JONES: Well, that’s been a troubling issue in this city for a number of years. We’ve had case after case of black males in particular having encounters with police that have ended in death, and not a single police officer has been found guilty and sometimes not even indicted on these things. So that’s something that is really of concern, the latest case being the case of Michael Newby, who was shot.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the case of Michael Newby?

RICKY JONES: Michael Newby was, I think, a 19-year-old youth who, according to police, allegedly was engaged in drug dealing; and an undercover officer had an encounter with Newby. Drug deal gone bad. And the officer says that Newby attempted to take his weapon and he was threatened and had to shoot him. Well, as the evidence unfolded, Newby was shot in the back several times. So it doesn’t seem that he really could threaten the officer while he was fleeing. Well, the police chief fired the officer, but, he — they failed to find him guilty. So he, in turn, sued the police department; and, you know, there’s a settlement reached so, once again, he wasn’t imprisoned.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of clout does the African American leadership have here?

RICKY JONES: Almost none, you know, almost none. I think this is a community — Louisville sits in a strange place: in Kentucky, and Kentucky sits in a strange place, too. It’s not really the South. It’s not really the Midwest; but, ideologically, we really have a Bible-Belt ideology. Religious leadership is disproportionately powerful in Kentucky in the African American community, in particular, and it’s also very, very politically conservative. Many of the larger ministers are in bed with local Republican leadership; and there’s absolutely nothing said coming from our religious community when these things happen. Political leadership is pretty much anesthetized, not very public and very, very weak. So you don’t really have any serious strong, African American leadership in the city.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the birthplace of perhaps the most famous man in the world, Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali.

RICKY JONES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: They’re building now a big peace center, the Muhammad Ali Peace Center. What impact does that have?

RICKY JONES: None on local politics. None at all. In fact, you know, the University of Louisville has a lot to do with the Ali Center; and, initially, the focus was totally — almost totally on world peacemaking and devoted very little attention to local events. But the new director at Ali, Reverend Alvin Herring, I think is going to shift that focus a little bit, but we’ll see how that pans out. But, no, that hasn’t had a large impact locally.

AMY GOODMAN: We are now in the midst of the Kentucky Derby here.

RICKY JONES: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This massive event that has taken over the whole area. Who benefits?

RICKY JONES: I mean, you got to — I guess you have to ask: Who benefits how? There is no political benefit for anyone. I have —- I’m not from Louisville; so I’ve been amazed that there’s so much hoopla around a two-minute race. I mean, this thing literally goes on for about two to three weeks, and when it ends, they start to plan for the next one. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: Where are you originally from?

RICKY JONES: I’m from Atlanta. The African American community certainly doesn’t benefit. And beyond that, you know, I think the Derby Festival is another example of America entertaining itself to death. It’s a very good diversion, high on symbolism, not very high on substance.

AMY GOODMAN: And the University of Louisville, what about academics here? Where — and how does politics fit in?

RICKY JONES: Well, when I talk about politics, I don’t talk about just electoral politics, but what Lasswell said, you know: 'The process that decides who gets what, when, where, and how.' And so, the University of Louisville is certainly involved in some of these issues, not to the degree that I would like them to be involved in it; but I’m a bit biased, I mean, I think I sit to the left of most people in the city. But U of L has gotten better. Like any university, I think most universities are about five to ten years ahead of the communities in which they sit, and U of L is no different. I think they’re doing some things well, but could do some things a whole lot better. But, you know, getting involved in politics, proper? It’s not something that the University does. I mean, the University is a business, too; and so those economic interests certainly impact the ideologies and the rhetoric of the University, and sometimes that certainly runs counter to any type of progressive movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel any kind of crackdown on campus or any kind of pressure on you to conform in any ways with your teaching, your writing?

RICKY JONES: No. No. Not on me. Not at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I didn’t say whether you respond to it, but whether you feel the pressure?

RICKY JONES: You know, I think anybody who goes against the main is going to feel a little bit of pressure. But — And it’s certainly happened at U of L. Yeah, it’s there. I think it’s all over the country, not just in academia. It’s all over the place. I think the greatest example has been Ward Connelly, you know in — Not Ward Connelly, Ward Churchill (I should never confuse those two people!) — but Ward Churchill in Colorado. And some of those things are starting to happen here at U of L. I think the right is in a position of power right now, and they’re using it while they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Jones, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Ricky Jones, Associate Professor, Chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville.

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