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“The Throwaways”: New Film Spotlights Impact of Police Killings and Mass Incarceration in Upstate NY

Web ExclusiveSeptember 17, 2014
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Amidst national outrage over police brutality across the country, we look at a new film that documents police shootings and the consequences of mass incarceration in upstate New York. The Throwaways focuses on the idea that certain lives in our society are considered disposable. It follows activist and filmmaker Ira McKinley, a former felon, as he seeks to document and mobilize his community of Albany, the state capital of New York.

One of the voices featured in the film is Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness_, who has said of the film, “_The Throwaways courageously explores the most pressing racial justice issue of our time: the mass incarceration and profiling of poor people of color.” We’re joined by the film’s co-directors, Bhawin Suchak and Ira McKinley, who is also the subject of the film, along with Messiah Rhodes, associate producer of The Throwaways and a former Democracy Now! video fellow.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The past few months have seen protests over police shootings across the country, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Ohio, where John Crawford was shot dead while holding a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, to right here in New York, where Eric Garner died after being placed in an illegal police chokehold in Staten Island. As he shouted, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” he died.

We turn now to a film about the connections between police brutality, mass incarceration and the idea that certain lives in our society are considered disposable. This is a trailer for the new film, The Throwaways.

IRA McKINLEY: They’re not even listening to us, and it’s going to stop. It’s going to stop.

INTERVIEWER: And you gave me your name at the beginning. Can you give it to me one more time and spell it?

IRA McKINLEY: Ira McKinley, I-R-A M-C-K-I-N-L-E-Y.

INTERVIEWER: And how did you identify yourself? Community activist?

IRA McKINLEY: I’m a community activist. They know who I am.

UNIDENTIFIED: I know who he is.

IRA McKINLEY: Yeah, he knows who I am. You can research all that stuff, you know what I’m saying?

INTERVIEWER: All right. Thank you.

IRA McKINLEY: You have a blessed day.

I want to get my community involved. I want to show the people that are being affected the most by these economic crises, these budget cuts, that you can stand up, and you can demand certain things. Everything here is just take, take, take—take away from everything, take away your dignity, take away your self-esteem, take away everything. Even your rights are being taken away—slowly. But I’m standing up.

When I was 14 years old, my father got shot and killed by a police officer. I’ve been beat up twice. This past summer, I almost got tased. So I know these things happen to those of us of color.

I was told not to do this, because—man said, “They’re going to kill you,” all this other stuff. And I was like, “Man, what else do I have? What do I got to lose right now? I mean, I’m homeless. I ain’t got no job. You know, I’m cold. I’m hungry. What do I have to lose by me speaking out?” I said, “They’re killing me already by not speaking out.”

VAN JONES: We don’t have any throwaway cans. We don’t have any throwaway children, either, OK? We don’t have any throwaway bottles and cans and paper. We don’t have any throwaway neighborhoods, either. That’s true environmentalism, because it’s all sacred. God didn’t make any junk.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: That’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right?

IRA McKINLEY: Yes, that’s what it is.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away.

ALBANY RESIDENT 1: This is the hood. This is where black people are supposed to—well, we do what we do, but we’re supposed to die.

ALBANY RESIDENT 2: People’s friends and families is getting shot, killed. [bleep] Everybody in prison. Half the people I grew up with, they in prison right now.

CAROLYN McLAUGHLIN: One at a time, Miss!

SANDRA McKINLEY: They’re killing off our kids! They’re killing our kids, Carolyn!

UNIDENTIFIED: One at a time!

CAROLYN McLAUGHLIN: Speak one at a time!

COURTNEY: Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!

CAROLYN McLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Courtney [phon.].


CAROLYN McLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Courtney.

COURTNEY: Stop! What the hell, y’all?


COURTNEY: I know! I’m angry, too!

UNIDENTIFIED: Everybody knew the end of the story before it even started.

IRA McKINLEY: These are whole city blocks—decimated, you know? To me, it’s by plan. Yes, I’m saying it. This is a planned thing for gentrification, to get these people out of here. And if you want—make me a liar. Make me a liar. Make me—show me that what I’m saying is not true, by helping us put together some community buildings and getting some jobs for our own community. If you could do that, then I’m a liar.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s activist and filmmaker Ira McKinley, the subject and co-director of the new film, The Throwaways. Ira and the film’s co-director, Bhawin Suchak, join us in the studio, along with Messiah Rhodes, associate producer of The Throwaways, also a former Democracy Now! video fellow.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Can you talk, Ira, about why you made this film?

IRA McKINLEY: Well, I made this film from my years of after coming out of prison in 2002. I was actually in prison at Arthur Kill in Staten Island, and I was there when the World Trade Center went down. But coming out and years and years of just trying to get back into society. I thought my debt was paid to society after I came out of prison. But just knowing that, like Michelle Alexander talks about, that, you know, you have to—you’re always subjected to being, you know, a convict. And just going through my life, you know, being—felt like that nobody really got me and to being thrown away in different situations.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to where you talk about this in your film, The Throwaways.

IRA McKINLEY: Before I went to prison, I was addicted to—you know, I was addicted to crack. And, you know, I had to be real about it. And I got addicted to the lifestyle more. I really did. I got addicted to the lifestyle more, and the women, the drugs, all that, you know? So, it got to the point where it got really bad for me, the addiction, that I started robbing bodegas around here. And I got sent to prison for robbing a bodega. It was just a lifestyle of getting that quick fix, and it all is just a vicious cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: In this next clip from The Throwaways, Ira McKinley talks about the struggles he faced after he was released from prison.

IRA McKINLEY: I’m not going to say I always been like this, but, boy, I tell you, for the last 10 years of my life, since I’ve been out of prison, it’s been a reality for me to see how hard the struggle is, you know, that new Jim Crow system, you know, a way of keeping me down, you know. Once you get that felony, you’re marked. You can’t get food stamps. I went through that. They turned me down for food—how do you turn a homeless person down for food stamps? You know what I’m saying? This is the kind of scams that’s being run on the people that are poor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from the film The Throwaways. Ira McKinley is with us, who is both the subject of it and the co-director. Explain how food stamps works for people who have been in prison.

IRA McKINLEY: You go in, and you try to apply. They have control. It depends on which county you’re in. They have control if they want to give it to you or not. And if they don’t give it to you, there’s a process which you can appeal it. And basically, if they tell you know and you appeal it, you’re not going to get it anyways. And so, you know, it’s a demeaning process, in the whole thing of coming out, you know, going through the process of trying to get the food stamps to get some food. And, I mean, what can I really say? Because they turned me down, and for like years I didn’t have any food stamps. So I had to go to soup kitchens and learn—in different places to eat.

AMY GOODMAN: Bhawin Suchak, you co-directed the film with Ira McKinley. How did you get involved with The Throwaways?

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Yeah, so, you know, my involvement started when Ira literally walked up to me in the street. I run a program called Youth FX, which I teach young people filmmaking.

AMY GOODMAN: Called Youth?

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Youth FX. And I was standing outside the site that we do our summer program, and Ira literally just walked up to me and said, “You’re Bhawin, right?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You make films.” I said, “Yeah.” And he says, “You’re going to help me make this film called The Throwaways” And, you know, as you see in the film, Ira is a very outspoken person, and he really goes after what he believes in and what he feels. So, he kind of just, you know, pursued me and said, “You know, this is something that I want to make.” And actually, after a few weeks of helping Ira to film of the stories he was documenting, and learning Ira’s story himself, you know, being an ex-felon and trying to struggle to sort of have a voice and find himself, you know, as a social justice activist, and how much—you know, how many challenges he was facing, I said, “You know what, Ira? I think your story is really the story we should be focusing on.” And, you know, Ira, it was hard for him to get on board, because he didn’t want to be in front of the camera, but, you know, after a little bit of coaxing and after visiting Michelle Alexander, who also said, “Ira, you have a powerful story that needs to be told,” we actually started turning the camera more on Ira, and he became the focus of the film.

AMY GOODMAN: You had had video training. You trained as a journalist in Western Mass, right?

IRA McKINLEY: Yes, through community television. When I was homeless, sleeping in a tent, I wanted to document my journey. So I put—actually, what happened, I put together a homeless artist showcase one year. Because of me being homeless, I wanted to show the goodness of homeless people. And I wanted to document that. But I lost control of the project, so they said, “Well, if you want to do it, you need to learn how to do it yourself.” So I went to Northampton Community Television, and I learned how to film and edit there.

AMY GOODMAN: I was particularly affected by the description of the capital of New York. Many people outside New York might think it’s New York City, but it isn’t. It’s upstate, Albany, New York, where most of the film takes place. In this clip in The Throwaways, we hear from residents about what it’s like to live in New York’s capital.

ALBANY RESIDENT 3: It’s terrible how this is supposed to be the capital, and it seems like the city is very misguided, to the point where there’s different areas that’s all fixed up, and you’re like, “Oh, this is the capital,” and then you can go around the corner, and then these buildings look like this. And then, it’s a very—from what I understand, it’s a very big population of homelessness. It just doesn’t seem like it’s a community-based capital of New York.

ALBANY RESIDENT 4: The landlords are slum landlords. They live out of town. They don’t fix nothing. Nobody lives across the street. Nobody lives down the block. Nobody lives down the block. We have to call National Grid. The lights don’t work. It’s dark outside. You know what I mean? Come on, it’s crazy. They got all this money out here they spend on wars, right? They spend trillions and trillions of dollars on foreign aid for other countries, right? And then over here, where we live at, in our own backyard, it’s terrible.

IRA McKINLEY: These are whole city blocks—decimated, you know? To me, it’s by plan. Yes, I’m saying it. This is a planned thing for gentrification, to get these people out of here. And if you want—make me a liar. Make me a liar. Make me—show me that what I’m saying is not true, by helping us put together some community buildings and getting some jobs for our own community. If you could do that, then I’m a liar.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that last voice is Ira McKinley, the subject of this film. But I want to go to another voice, a young resident of Albany, New York.

ALBANY RESIDENT 2: A lot of [bleep] that, you know what I mean, the city do, I don’t understand it. This is deserted now. You know what I mean?

IRA McKINLEY: Yeah, yeah.

ALBANY RESIDENT 2: This is deserted. Everybody’s in prison, you know what I mean? People’s friends and families is getting shot, killed. This one strip alone, used to be a hundred people out, 200 people, up and down the street. You’re lucky if you see five people out here right now. There’s probably about two houses that people live in on this whole block right here. It’s ridiculous. It’s got more abandoned houses than anything out here.

AMY GOODMAN: These are voices describing the capital of New York state, Albany. But it could be many cities in this country. Messiah Rhodes, you’re the associate producer of The Throwaways. You worked very hard on this, also covered Occupy and were recently in Ferguson. Talk about the connections.

MESSIAH RHODES: Well, the first connection is, I guess, the militarization, like the war on drugs. You know, pretty much my mother, Ira, like pretty much everyone around me have been affected by the war on drugs, incarcerated, faced police raids, you know, and that’s the connection I see, when I went down to Ferguson. Also, I went up to Newburgh, New York, which is almost a carbon copy of Albany. It’s desolate, desolate, desolate. You know, so that’s the connection that I’ve seen. So…

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting, in Newburgh, in some of the interviews you did, people talked about a food desert.

MESSIAH RHODES: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.


MESSIAH RHODES: Some people called it a food apartheid, in the sense that it’s like it’s kind of planned, you know. In Newburgh, there’s only one meat market for a population of about 5,000 people. There’s only one homeless shelter, with beds—about 20 beds. So, pretty much people have to like go outside of the community to get food. And because of that, the nutrition is bad. You know, the job prospects are bad. And that’s the same thing that’s happening in Albany. That’s the same thing that was going on in Ferguson. So…

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Ferguson is about the killing of a young black man, a teenager, 18-year-old Mike Brown. At a key moment in the film The Throwaways, there’s a police shooting of Nah-Cream Moore. This is a clip from the film of a young man speaking at a makeshift memorial at the scene of the shooting.

ALBANY RESIDENT 5: So, I just wanted to let people know that Nah-Cream was a good, loving kid, man. He was funny as hell. He also knew about what goes on in these streets. So he was a victim of whatever goes on in the streets. I mean, the whole main thing is I want justice—justice for me, justice for him, justice for everybody who it could happen to.

AMY GOODMAN: A climactic moment in The Throwaways takes place when Albany residents attend a police news conference the day after the police shooting of Nah-Cream Moore. Police Chief Steven Krokoff tells a room packed with community members that police were conducting a traffic stop when a struggle ensued, and Nah-Cream Moore went to lift a loaded handgun, leaving police no choice but to shoot him. A woman questions the chief’s account.

ALBANY RESIDENT 6: You said that the two officers were—

UNIDENTIFIED: Hey, can we hear, please?

ALBANY RESIDENT 6: You said that the two officers were riding behind the vehicle that Nah-Cream was in. And you said at some point they determined that they were looking for that person. They recognized him from behind? While he was still in the car?

POLICE CHIEF STEVEN KROKOFF: I did not—I don’t know yet exactly what led up to the traffic stop.

ALBANY RESIDENT 6: Well, could you repeat what you said?

ALBANY RESIDENT 7: You have trained officers on whatever you had to do. He didn’t let off no gun. He didn’t shoot at your officer. So you should have been trained to get the gun away from him.

ALBANY RESIDENT 8: That was a kid! He was a kid!

ALBANY RESIDENT 7: You lied! You lied!

ALBANY RESIDENT 8: You ought to be trained for the kids! That was a kid, shot and killed!

POLICE CHIEF STEVEN KROKOFF: We understand, and we are—we feel it. We want—we are part of this community also. We are not against you. We are with you. And we will continue to work with you.

ALBANY RESIDENT 9: The community is here! We’re here! The community is here!

POLICE CHIEF STEVEN KROKOFF: I promise you. There are so many people in this room—

ALBANY RESIDENT 10: I have something to say to my community, because this right here now, all of y’all n****s put them guns down! It’s about us now! Put the guns down, and let’s come together! Let’s come together!

CAROLYN McLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Can I just ask—I know everybody was given the opportunity to come here, because we wanted you to hear from the chief himself. Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait a minute! But everybody is speaking at one time! But everybody is speaking at one time! Why don’t you give him a chance to answer each question?

SANDRA McKINLEY: They’re killing off our kids! They’re killing our kids, Carolyn!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s activist Sandra McKinley, Ira’s sister, interrupting Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, from the film The Throwaways. Messiah, we just recently saw a City Council meeting in Ferguson, you know, after weeks of protests and arrests, tear gas and armored personnel carriers in the streets of Ferguson. Then, the funeral, there was a period of no more protests, and then the protests erupted again, because of the distrust, the anger.

MESSIAH RHODES: Yeah, I mean, when I went down there, Amy, like the first people I talked to was the kids, like, you know, pretty much like—now there’s a group called the Lost Voices, but, like, pretty much verbatim they said, like, you know, “You failed us in the '60s. You failed us in the ’70s. You failed us in the ’90s. You know, and now it's our turn.” And these are like kids who have already been in and out of jail like three, four times already. So they’re not afraid, and they know what’s at stake. So, and that’s what I’ve seen. And you’re actually seeing it now, like you saw the highway blocks. We saw what happened in the council meeting. So they’re not afraid, you know, and they’re willing to fight, because, you know, what happened to Mike Brown, like they had his body laying there for four hours. That could have been anybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Laying on the street, much of the time not covered, outside of the apartment buildings where he was living with his grandmother and so many others lived. At one point in The Throwaways, Ira McKinley actually films his own encounter with police. This clip starts with Ira speaking.

IRA McKINLEY: I was told not to do this, because—man said, “They’re going to kill you,” all this other stuff. And I was like, “Man, what else do I have? What do I got to lose right now? I mean, I’m homeless. I ain’t got no job. You know, I’m cold. I’m hungry. What do I have to lose by me speaking out?” I said, “They’re killing me already by not speaking out.”

POLICE OFFICER: Back up a few more feet.

IRA McKINLEY: No, I’m not going to back up, bro.

POLICE OFFICER: Back up a few more feet.

IRA McKINLEY: Oh, that’s right. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.


IRA McKINLEY: Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.

POLICE OFFICER: Back up. [inaudible] right now.

IRA McKINLEY: Don’t touch me. I have a right to film you. I have a right to come over here. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. I have a right to film you.

EYEWITNESS: You asked him to back up.

POLICE OFFICER: Step back, or you’ll get arrested.

IRA McKINLEY: I backed up.

EYEWITNESS: He’s doing what you asked him to do, but you’re still walking up on him. Just give him a break.

POLICE OFFICER: So “back up” means to stay right here, not walk up on me.

IRA McKINLEY: Stay right here? And do what?

EYEWITNESS: He did back up. He did what you asked him.

IRA McKINLEY: And do what? Yo, take the film. Take the film. Take the film. Take the film, because I’m about to get arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, that’s what happened, Ira McKinley? When was this? And did you get arrested right then?

IRA McKINLEY: This happened—and all this stuff led up, because we were—we’d seen Trayvon. This happened like right after Trayvon. And that right there, in that incident, they had stopped these young men. And we were in a community center right across the street. And I’m looking at it, and I’m like, “Well, why do they got all these cops here for these men?” So I brought my camera out, because I wanted to film what was going on. And so, I went across the street to get a better angle, and that’s when they approached me. You know, I guess the felt—you know, when you start filming the cops, they get nervous, so—and that’s what you’ve seen. You know, I just wanted to make sure that they handled that situation with those young men correctly, so I wanted to capture it on film.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you had already been to jail. Were you afraid of being arrested.

IRA McKINLEY: No. No, I’ve been—Amy, I get stopped and arrested like—since this, since we’ve been there, I’ve been stopped and arrested, charged with things, about 10 times. I have a case in Albany, New York, right now that I have to go through. But I’m not scared to get arrested, because that’s part of it, you know what I’m saying, to stand up to it, you know what I’m saying, and to have your voice.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s about filming. I wanted to go to an earlier time in this next clip in The Throwaways where you talk about a much earlier encounter with the police, during a time before cellphone cameras.

IRA McKINLEY: On New Year’s Day, in January of 1989, I was charged with disorderly conduct, secondary assault. I was actually beaten up by the police. We didn’t have any video cameras like we do today. This happened two years before Rodney King, the video of him being beaten up by the police. That was my first-ever arrest that night; I had never been arrested before in my life. By the time I went to trial, I had been arrested 10 more times.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ira McKinley in The Throwaways. Ira McKinley, with us here, the issue of police shootings goes way back in your family.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your father. What happened?

IRA McKINLEY: My father came from—first, I want to say he was a migrant worker, and he brought us up into Ithaca from the South and to give us a better education, during the civil rights movement. In 1979, he went back down to Florida and got into an altercation with a police officer, and he got shot and killed, when I was like 14 years old at the time. But—

AMY GOODMAN: So you lost your father at 14.

IRA McKINLEY: Yes, I lost—yes, at 14. But if you were to—the thing I want to connect it to was the Miami riots. So the next year, there was a bunch of police shootings, in 1980, and he was one of the statistics of why they rioted in Miami in 1980.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to the bigger picture, which you do very well in this film, in The Throwaways, to Michelle Alexander, a frequent guest on Democracy Now!, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Actually, in this clip, she’s speaking to you, Ira McKinley, this from The Throwaways.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: The system of mass incarceration itself stems from an effort to divide people along racial lines, poor people along racial lines, keeping them divided and distracted. It is in many ways a backlash against the poor people’s movement and the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King launched. You know, as I describe in my book, the get-tough movement in the war on drugs was part of a deliberate strategy adopted by the Republican Party in an effort to appeal to poor and working-class white voters who were anxious about, threatened by many of the gains that were made by African Americans in the civil rights movement. And pollsters and political strategists found that get-tough rhetoric on issues of crime and welfare could appeal to poor and working-class whites and pit poor and working-class whites against poor folks of color. And that’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right?

IRA McKINLEY: Yes, that’s what it is.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, speaking to the subject of The Throwaways, Ira McKinley, co-directed by Bhawin Suchak. Bhawin, talk more about putting this in this global context, and particularly how this relates to Ferguson.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that’s interesting when we show the film is that we screen it, and some people say, “Well, you’re talking about mass incarceration and then talking about police brutality. There’s too much going on. What’s the connection?” And I think that, you know, it’s interesting for people who are living in poor communities, predominantly African-American communities, that connection is very visible, because you see it every day. And I think, you know, Ferguson is just a perfect example of the sort of—you know, the storm of circumstances that collided, because Mike Brown was a tipping point for that community, because this is a community that’s 70 percent African-American that has no representation in their city government and has been consistently and systematically, you know, abused by policies, by traffic stops and things like that, that result in—the increase in fines result in people having bench warrants, having police knock down their doors and take them to jail, continuously. I mean, three arrest warrants per household in 2011 was some of the statistics. And so, you see that—

AMY GOODMAN: One of the highest in the country.


AMY GOODMAN: Their statistics are off the chart.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: It’s completely, you know, the same as comparing the sort of racist policies of the drug war, that have decimated black communities across this country for decades, you know. And I think that when you see that coupled with the cops coming out and treating people through racial profiling and stop-and-frisk, and then just coming after people and abusing their rights, and then taking it that last step to shoot people and choke Eric Garner—on video. You know, John Crawford, it’s been revealed that—you know, the video has not been released, but that he was simply just standing there in the Wal-Mart, in an open-carry state, but as a black man, he was immediately viewed as a threat. And I think that’s the concept of a—

AMY GOODMAN: He was holding one of their products.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: One of their products, right.

AMY GOODMAN: The plastic gun in the store—

BHAWIN SUCHAK: A plastic BB gun, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: —in an aisle.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Right. And now the so-called witness is recanting his story—

AMY GOODMAN: And they killed him.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: —saying he never pointed at anybody, that that was completely fabricated. But again, it’s like—you know, it’s the same thing we’re talking about with the film, is that, you know, black people, specifically black men, are viewed as throwaways. They are not—their humanity is not as valued as other people in the society. And I think that is at the core of the film, The Throwaways. And that’s where, to me, mass incarceration and police brutality intersect.

AMY GOODMAN: Messiah, you and I covered the protests around Eric Garner’s death, right after we were in Ferguson. That was on Staten Island. And there—and this goes to your and Ira’s work and, as well, Bhawin’s work with filmmaking and the power of the camera, because when we were at the site of the death of Eric Garner, 43-year-old father of six who was taken down in a police chokehold in front of a beauty spa, we saw Ramsey Orta, the young man who had filmed that encounter with police, filmed the death of Eric Garner with his cellphone. And right after the coroner announced that this was a homicide, first Ramsey Orta, then his wife Chrissie, who we also saw, were arrested—the people who did the filming. Can you talk about your own experience with being a videographer, a journalist, covering these issues?

MESSIAH RHODES: Yeah, I’ve had, I think, two sound recorders broken by police. I mean, I haven’t been arrested. I just have—I was visited by counterterrorism FBI in 2008. And I was just doing an outline for a documentary, and I got visited by them. They’re asking questions like “Who were you talking to? Who are you?” So I faced that kind of repression. I faced random cops asking me questions at a march. So I face that kind of stuff, you know? And as a filmmaker, and also just someone who has like a cellphone with a camera, you know, we shouldn’t be afraid to film the police.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how you came to become a videographer, how you came to use filmmaking as a way of documenting communities.

MESSIAH RHODES: I mean, I guess growing up in Far Rockaway and growing up in a place that—now people know about Far Rockaway because of Hurricane Sandy and stuff, but before, no one knew what was going on in this town. And I just felt these stories, these amazing people, these strong people here, who are surviving such repression, such poverty, their voices need to be heard. And I started working doing stuff a little before Occupy. You know, there was like an occupation in Albany. There was Bloombergville, the two-week-and-a-half thing against Bloomberg. You know, he’s out of here now, so that’s good.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you learn to use a video camera?

MESSIAH RHODES: Oh, on my own. I mean, I started doing grip and electric work on film sets, and eventually I saved up money to get my own equipment. So, and then I just went out there.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Ira got to this community media center in Western Mass. What was the center for you?

MESSIAH RHODES: The center for me was DCTV, so that’s where I went to get my—first saw the equipment.

AMY GOODMAN: A community media center in New York, where Democracy Now! also used to broadcast from.

MESSIAH RHODES: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So it’s these open centers where anyone can come in and learn how to use a camera that have—

IRA McKINLEY: You don’t have to go to a film school. You can—you know, like community television. I think—was this a community television before? Yes, and see how it grew? And the same thing with us. And what, you know, Bhawin, with his Youth FX, and he learned how to do it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, that’s FX, like the letter F, X.



AMY GOODMAN: Explain why it’s called Youth FX.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Well, I mean, the FX is sort of like an acronym. It’s like “film experience.” But really what it is, it’s about immersing youth from underresourced communities and giving them—providing them the tools and the training to become filmmakers, to become, you know, people who are going to document things that are going on in their community, because for these communities, a lot of young people, it’s like they’re not—they’re not seeing themselves on television. They’re not seeing themselves represented in films and in television shows. And when they do, often it’s very stereotyped, you know. So what we do is we sort of—you know, we’re trying to give them the power to learn how to use the cameras, learn how to edit. They actually do narrative short films and documentaries. And some of the stuff has been all over the country. And, you know, for a lot of them, it’s like they’re sick and tired of seeing all the negativity, and they want to show something positive. So that’s really what we’re trying to do with the program, is empower them in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s a new weapon.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: It is a new weapon, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Van Jones, the environmental advocate, President Obama’s former green jobs czar, filmed in The Throwaways.

VAN JONES: The true environmental movement, there’s no distinction between social justice and ecology. The true environmental movement says we don’t have any throwaway cans. We don’t have any throwaway children, either, OK? We don’t have any throwaway bottles and cans and paper. We don’t have any throwaway neighborhoods, either. That’s true environmentalism, because it’s all sacred. God didn’t make any junk. OK? That’s true environmentalism. So, this generation is going to have to tear down the distinction between human rights and ecology. If it’s consistent, you can’t be for people and be against the planet; you can’t be for the planet and be against the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Van Jones. Ira McKinley, you named the film The Throwaways.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how it links to the environmental movement.

IRA McKINLEY: Well, like we’re saying, we have—we’re living in a food desert. In a lot of ghettos, that’s what’s happening. And there’s a way for us to get the nutritional value that we need—by growing our own food. And see, that, to me, is the solution to a lot of these issues that we’re having. That’s a trade that—you know, that’s what I’m saying with migrant workers. That’s something my family was doing from way, way back. And we—in this new age of technology, we lost that. But we need to learn to use those vacant lots and all these other, you know, rooftop gardens, and, you know, just to have food that we could grow our own food.

There’s things that I’m hooked up with, like Ted—Ron Finley, Ron Finley, the guerrilla gardener; Will Allen out of Milwaukee. There’s Leah and—Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff, Soul Fire Farms. And we need to go and teach people how to grow food again. As you understand, Obama cut the food stamp bill by a considerable amount. And that is—that’s something that’s going to relate to how we’re going to be able to eat. So, the thing is, is like we need to get back to our planet and back to the environment, by planting seeds again. And I want to—you know, so there’s a big movement going on right now. And the movement is—it’s also collaborating together with the New Jim Crow out of Riverside Church and other organizations—like I said, Ron Finley, the Growing Power in Chicago, and Erika Allen and Will Allen, and just growing food.

AMY GOODMAN: Does this make you hopeful?

IRA McKINLEY: Yes, it does. It really does make me hopeful, because right now I’m learning to grow, too. I’m in the process of—at a person’s house in Corning, New York, and we’re growing food, Arthur and Renata Brenner, and learning how—you know, how chickens in the environment, and how composting, and just how these things work. And, you know—and to grow seeds and to see it grow from a seed to a plant and to, you know, a fruit, that’s something that’s beautiful.

AMY GOODMAN: Bhawin, how are you hoping to—what are you hoping to accomplish with The Throwaways, and where are you showing it?

BHAWIN SUCHAK: Yeah, so, you know, I mean, I think the thing with The Throwaways, at this point, we’re finishing. We’re trying to—you know, we’re screening it in as many places—

AMY GOODMAN: It just screened at the Harlem Film Festival.

BHAWIN SUCHAK: We were just at the Harlem International Film Festival this past weekend. Two weeks ago, we were at Long Beach Indie Film Festival, where we won best documentary feature there. And hopefully we’ll be doing a week in L.A. screening it there. We’re going to be in Colgate University and then in Toronto on Wednesday. Actually, it’s a special screening for high school students who are from communities that are represented in the film.

But ultimately, for me, it’s like, you know, as a filmmaker and someone that’s documenting these stories and these communities, I think it’s important to put a human face to these issues and to humanize, you know, the stories, because ultimately, you know, when we don’t have a connection with people and with certain communities, we don’t care about them, and they become invisible and throwaways to people, you know? And I think I’m hopeful because what I see in this film is not just, you know, the tragedy of Nah-Cream Moore and the sadness and despair of a community, but I see a community that’s fighting back, you know, and that has some hope and is not going to sit there and not—they’re going to have their voice. And I think we see that happening in Ferguson right now with the young people raising their voices up, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Messiah, you’ve made a number of films, from editing Wounds of Waziristan about drone attacks in Pakistan. You were in Ferguson, doing this film in Albany, at Occupy and all around dealing with brutality. Do you hold out hope?

MESSIAH RHODES: Yeah. Yeah, I hold hope. I mean, at the screening last night, there was—Ira brought up about Palestine, and we had one Palestinian that was there. Like, you know, it felt so good that we were able to connect anti-blackness to what’s going on in Gaza and Palestine. And I feel like internationalism is what we’re trying to regain, what was going on in the '70s and stuff, like to regain that kind of solidarity with people all over the world who deal with white supremacy and deal with this type of oppression. And also, a shout-out to co-producer Adele. She's working on a piece now about nails and the nail industry and the Vietnam War and stuff like that. And yeah, because like drone strikes, you know, militarization of police, that’s all the same thing. I mean, they’re all using the same hardware. It’s stop-and-frisk, and it’s stop-and-bomb.

IRA McKINLEY: I really would like to thank Michelle Alexander, because we cold-called her, and she picked up the phone, and I told her about what I was doing, and she jumped right on it. And it’s people like her and Dr. Wilmer Leon and the people that, you know, seen this from the beginning that gave us and empowered us to keep—to continue and make this film.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ira McKinley and Bhawin Suchak, thank you so much for being with us, the co-directors of the film, The Throwaways. And Messiah Rhodes, associate producer of this film. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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