Black Lives Matter Activists in South Carolina Demand Reform After Police Killing of Walter Scott

StoryApril 14, 2015
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Cries of "Black Lives Matter" continue to ring out across the country after new police killings of unarmed African Americans. Over the weekend in South Carolina, the funeral was held in North Charleston for Walter Scott, the black man who fled a traffic stop and was fatally shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager. Video of the incident taken by a bystander forced the police to retract its initial defense of Slager and see him charged with murder and fired from the force. This comes as Oklahoma prosecutors have charged a sheriff’s reserve deputy with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Tulsa. Robert Bates — who is white — says he mistakenly used his handgun instead of his stun gun, killing the victim, Eric Harris. We are joined from South Carolina by Muhiyidin d’Baha, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charleston.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Muhiyidin d’Baha, what’s the situation like in North Charleston following the funeral for Walter Scott this weekend?

MUHIYIDIN D’BAHA: The situation down here is getting tense. It’s a disorientation on parts of the people, and then a reluctance on the part of the government to be responsive to the demands of the people—Black Lives Matter Charleston, in particular, and our request for a citizens’ review board. We would also like to push that for subpoena power. At the same time, we’re trying to shift up the perspective, as we are the children of the day of technology, and we have the perspective to actually change policing culture by using our phones right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Muhiyidin d’Baha, about what’s happening right now, what your demands are? Did you have an informal meeting with the mayor this week?

MUHIYIDIN D’BAHA: And so, that meeting is supposed to be coming up in the next two or three days. We’re supposed to be presenting our demands at the City Council on Thursday. Our list of demands, in particular—

AMY GOODMAN: Just one second. The video stream is frozen. We’re talking to Muhiyidin d’Baha, who is an organizer of Black Lives Matter—


AMY GOODMAN: —in Charleston. Continue, Muhiyidin.

MUHIYIDIN D’BAHA: OK, yeah. And so, we would like to appoint a special prosecutor any time that there’s a deadly case like this with police force. We’d like the immediate removal of the North Charleston police chief. We want to get amnesty on all nonviolent offenses and bench warrants, criminal bench warrants. But most importantly, we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And the only way to do that is to actually have a civilians’ review board, something that has teeth, to start pulling officers out of our community right now that are abusing and harassing.

The perspective has shifted, the invisible perspective that we have always embodied because we weren’t able to access the speculation machine that is the media. We don’t need to rely upon that now. We have our own cameras. And so, we can actually now create the narrative that is the true narrative, the truth of what’s going on with harassment and traffic stops, that are profiling, and abuse and hyperaggression. But this isn’t enough, and we’re seeing this all around the nation. It’s not enough to have a video of it. If Brother Santana announced his presence, maybe that would have changed it, not just a video. And so we’re asking everybody who is being a vigilante right now—we’re starting to surveil the police in a project, We Are Watching You campaign, where we take our videos and we follow police around. We just say, "We are watching you." We announce our presence. That is probably the most transformative, revolutionary thing that we can do right now. We’re pushing policy. We’re pushing the mayor. We’re pushing City Council. But we’re pushing the grassroots, and we’re pushing the people to protect each other with these cameras.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we have just about a minute, but I wanted to ask you, in terms—you mentioned the harassment and the traffic stops. How extensive in your experience is this problem of ordinary, day-to-day traffic stops and stops by police in terms of laying the base for these kinds of incidents?

MUHIYIDIN D’BAHA: Most definitely. Well, the implicit bias that the police have against people of color is indicative. You can see it in any records, any FOIA request you pull out where you look at traffic stops, you look at the mass incarceration. It’s a quality-of-life issue, where individuals that are growing up with this skin tone have this fear of interaction with the police. I think that is more telling than any data and any more numbers, the stories. And so, we have multiple stories, millions of stories around the nation, of harassment. We’re living under a terrorist state, a police terrorist state, and we need some way to fight back and protect ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Muhiyidin, the state did a look at the last five years in South Carolina of police shootings. Two hundred nine people have been shot. That’s about a person every 10 days shot by police in South Carolina. What are you doing about this?

MUHIYIDIN D’BAHA: Most definitely. So we’re going to have a 46-county tour around South Carolina. Right now we’re getting our gall together, we’re getting our organization together. We have a lot of help coming in from out of town. We have people from Ferguson coming through, people from New York coming through, really helping us. Again, Project We Are Watching You is the campaign that’s going to really allow us to shift police culture. And so, we’re taking our cameras, following police around, saying, "We are watching you," announcing our presence. That is the most transformative dynamic that we can instill right now into what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Muhiyidin d’Baha, we thank you very much for being with us, organizer with Black Lives Matter in Charleston, South Carolina. And thanks so much to Jay Stanley with the American Civil Liberties Union, "Know Your Rights" and his companion article that he’s written, "You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop."

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New York Mayor Apologizes for Police Killing of Mentally Ill Woman, But Will Accountability Follow?

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