- Derrick Johnsonpresident and CEO of the NAACP and former state president of the Mississippi NAACP.
In a historic vote, the Mississippi state Legislature passed a bill to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag, making it the last state to do so, after an ongoing nationwide uprising against racism and police brutality and a mounting pressure campaign in Mississippi. Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, says it has been a “long journey” to change the Mississippi flag. “We’ve had to fight both against the symbol of racial oppression, the revisionist history of racial oppression, and now the next step is to fight against the structural racism that’s embedded in the public policy, not only in the state of Mississippi but across the country,” Johnson says. He also addresses how President Trump shared a video on social media of a Trump supporter chanting “white power,” as well as the growing boycott of Facebook for allowing the spread of hateful and false information on its platform.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. In a historic vote Sunday, the Mississippi state Legislature passed a bill to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, making it the last state in the country to do so. The move came amidst a nationwide uprising against racism that inspired protesters nationwide to topple statues of white supremacists and colonizers and a mounting pressure campaign in Mississippi, the state with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA, said it would not hold championship events in the state because of the flag, and Mississippi State star running back Kylin Hill said he would no longer represent Mississippi unless the racist symbol was removed.
An NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi, captured the moment the state flag was removed from the Capitol, where it has flown for 126 years.
ANCHOR 1: The flag is coming down.
ANCHOR 2: And you can hear protesters in the background. There have been protesters at the state Capitol all day —
ANCHOR 1: All day long.
ANCHOR 2: — who support this state flag. And right now, ladies and gentlemen, again, you’re witnessing history in the state of Mississippi.
AMY GOODMAN: A week before state officials in Mississippi voted to remove the flag, the African American mayor of Laurel, Mississippi, Johnny Magee, ordered its removal by executive order. He became emotional as the measure was signed.
MAYOR JOHNNY MAGEE: It should not be flown at any of the public facilities. I don’t apologize for being emotional. I have lived through some things with this flag. And as they told Dr. King to wait, time for waiting is over.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Jackson, Mississippi, to speak with Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. He’s the former Mississippi president of the NAACP.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Derrick Johnson. It’s great to have you with us. Let’s begin right there. You have a long history with that flag as a native of Mississippi. Can you talk about the moment the Legislature voted? And that, of course, moment didn’t start there. It went way back to decades ago, when you were trying to take it down.
DERRICK JOHNSON: You know, I am a part of a continuum. There have been efforts in the state of Mississippi for decades to have the flag removed. I inherited that fight. I inherited the advocacy along the lines of ensuring that African Americans in this state was respected, but, more importantly, to denounce a Confederacy that took up arms against this nation. It is a conflict to say that you are patriotic, that you support the United States, and yet you want to display Confederate memorabilia. It’s a conflict to say that all men and women are created equal under our Constitution, and yet you want to utilize this rag of terror to display a heritage that’s based on hate.
And so, from 1993, taking up the mantle or working through the mantle with Senator Henry Kirksey and Aaron Henry, the former NAACP president — they filed the lawsuit — I was a plaintiff on that lawsuit while I was in undergrad. When the Supreme Court ruled in our favor that the flag was never adopted, the Legislature went back and then put it on a ballot referendum. I managed a campaign in 2001. And so, here we are, 27 years later, and we’ve finally taken down that piece of rag that we call the former state flag for the state of Mississippi.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the significance of this, not just for Mississippi, but for the entire country? Mississippi, of course, always being sort of the heartland of the Confederacy and the state with the most notorious legacy in terms of Jim Crow and racist and violent attacks against African Americans, what it means for the entire country?
DERRICK JOHNSON: So, first of all, that symbol was never the official flag of the Confederacy. It was the symbol used by General Lee’s Northern Virginia Army. It was resurrected as a symbol of segregation and racial oppression, in defiance of civil rights legislation and the federal government picking up steam to [inaudible] to comply with the creed that all men are created equal. It was the symbol displayed, along with the burning of the cross, in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, as a reign of terror to prevent African Americans in this state from fully participating as citizens.
So, this has been a long journey, and we’ve had to fight both against the symbol of racial oppression, the revisionist history of racial oppression, and now the next step is to fight against the structural racism that’s embedded in the public policy, not only in the state of Mississippi but across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Derrick Johnson, I want to ask you about the sports teams and the power of them. I mean, you have coaches, that didn’t fight for this for years, who are walking the halls of the legislatures, demanding that the flag come down, because, of course, the action of the NCAA, the SEC, and the incredible bravery of Kylin Hill, who said he would no longer play under the Mississippi Confederate flag.
DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, it’s not new for the NCAA to take steps. We filed, in the early — I mean, the late ’90s, early 2000s. They stood both with us and the state of South Carolina concerning the Confederate flags in both states. They refused to hold NCAA-sanctioned tournaments in the state of Mississippi or South Carolina, until the flag was addressed. There has been a history of individuals using their platform, particularly African Americans using their platforms, who are athletes, to speak out around social justice issues. So, I encourage and support others to continue to use those platforms.
But in the state of Mississippi, sports is big business. Sports is opportunity for universities to recruit. And in college football, in particular, it generated a tremendous amount of revenue for the state. So, once it was stated that the NCAA and the SEC finally was going to take even stronger stands, it really resonated with individuals who were concerned about the revenue that it would cause harm to.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the issue of white power, that unbelievable tweet that Trump retweeted, the video of a man in The Villages retirement community in Florida shouting “white power” at antiracist protesters.
TRUMP SUPPORTER: White power! White power!
PROTESTER: There you go: “white power.”
AMY GOODMAN: He was in a golf cart. Trump shared the video Sunday morning with the caption, “Thank you to the great people of The Villages.” After enormous outcry, he was forced to delete that tweet, and his people claimed he didn’t see the video. But he did not condemn it, even when it was pointed out to him. Derrick Johnson, the significance of this?
DERRICK JOHNSON: It is a part of the narrative of this administration. It has not only catered to white supremacist groups and individuals who would scream that type of noise; we still have Steve Miller in the White House, a known white supremacist. The atmosphere that we are seeing today, leading up to the George Floyd unfortunate murder in the middle of the street, has really been accelerated because of this White House’ willingness to allow racial hatred to germinate from the White House. We have not seen this level of disregard for human life, this level of just blatant racism, from a sitting president perhaps since Woodrow Wilson. This is something that we should all be aghast by.
But we don’t expect this president to apologize. This is the person who created a false equivalency in Charlottesville. This is the person who’s completely tone deaf to children along the border. This is a president that revels in this notion of supremacy because it gives him comfort level for his ego-driven personality.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — in terms of this spread of hate and racism, the NAACP and other civil rights groups called on advertisers to boycott Facebook during the month of July as part of a campaign called Stop Hate for Profit. There’s been a phenomenal response. About 160 companies, including Unilever and Coca-Cola, Honda and others, have heeded that call, and now we’re seeing Mark Zuckerberg suddenly, as the stock price plummeted for Facebook, suddenly announcing that he’s going to make some changes in his policy. Could you talk about this whole issue of the Facebook and the social media platforms, that are actually fueling division and hate throughout the country?
DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, as we see symbols of racism taken down, like the Mississippi flag and statues of Confederate soldiers who created treasonous act under this notion of white supremacy, we must also advocate against platforms that would allow the hosting of recruitment of white supremacists in the ad purchases of those groups, particularly when you look over the last month, when you had that incident called “boogaloo,” where individuals, white supremacists, met up on Facebook, and they murdered a federal officer.
For the NAACP, we absolutely agree in freedom of speech, but you cannot scream “fire” in a theater. And when you have a platform as large as Facebook, essentially a public utility, and they refuse to protect the citizens and protect our democracy, there is no government regulations. You cannot have a consumer boycott of such a megacompany. The only next step was to ask those corporations, who have now stood up in the midst of the current environment, to take another step. Let’s right-size how this platform is used to protect individuals and to protect our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Mark Zuckerberg on Friday as the stocks for Facebook were tanking.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: A handful of times a year, we make a decision to leave up content that would otherwise violate our policies, because we consider that the public interest value outweighs the risk of that content. And, you know, often here, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest. And in the same way that news outlets will often report what a politician says, we think it’s important that people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms, too. So we will start soon labeling some of the content that we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy. So, now people are going to be able to know when that designation has been made.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who previously refused to take action against posts by President Trump, including one threatening violence against protesters. Can you respond to what he’s saying about starting to label posts that are newsworthy but violate the company’s policies?
DERRICK JOHNSON: It’s a small step, but much more could be done. Their algorithms needs to be changed so they’re not pushing racial hate content on people’s Facebook pages. There needs to be what’s called a separation of church and state, that their content is not housed in their policy shop, because their policy shop is catering to this administration. There’s so much more that more can be done. You know, in 2016, a foreign nation paid, with foreign currency, ads promoting Black Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter had no concept that this foreign nation, paying with foreign currency, was doing it. They did nothing to prevent it.
There is so much more that this platform can do to safeguard the public interest, while at the exact same time allowing for free speech. This platform is able to get away with stuff that this network and broadcast media cannot do. And we’re simply saying, “Put the safeguards in place. You have the technology. You know what to do. Just do it. Protect the citizens of this country. Protect our democracy.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, in that vein, I wanted to ask you — I’m an old-fashioned journalist. The companies that I’ve worked for, whether it was the Daily News or Democracy Now!, if we published something that was libelous or defamed people, we would be held legally responsible. These platforms insist that they are platforms and not publishers. Do you think that there has to be changes to the law to hold them responsible for their dissemination of what is essentially hate, lies and libel?
DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, absolutely. They’re trying to be both a platform to allow for content, and they also want to be — cover news. You can’t be both. And there needs to be guardrails. You cannot scream “fire” in a theater, therefore you should not allow for your platform to be used as a gathering point for white supremacist groups to meet up and then go cause harm to individuals, to murder federal law enforcement agents. It is unconscionable that this is such a hard thing to comprehend.
You cannot allow your platforms to be manipulated for a foreign government to misinform the American public around elections and election processes. Just think about what happened with Jack Dorsey and Twitter when they took the bold step to begin to identify misinformation related to the elections and they flagged it. It was Facebook who criticized them for that. And now he’s doing an about-face.
We have to have real clear rules of engagement for this platform to protect American citizens, particularly African Americans and individuals in the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism and racism is rampant on the platform. And what’s happening there is you get the murder at Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina, you get the shootings in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. We must do more to protect the citizens of this country. And this platform is posing a true danger to far too many individuals across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Derrick Johnson, very quickly, the Georgia hate crimes law that was just passed, Governor Kemp signed it into law Friday. It’s going into effect immediately. Talk about — I mean, it means there’s just a handful of states in the country left that don’t have a hate crimes law — a major victory for the NAACP and people throughout Georgia. Can you talk about it?
DERRICK JOHNSON: I think it’s a tremendous victory. There’s more to be done. We have a young, dynamic state leader there. Twenty-six-year-old James Woodall is doing a great job. We also have the issue of the independence of district attorneys we have to address. Ahmaud Arbery is a good example. It was clear on the video that he was murdered, but that district attorney refused to bring charges forward. So, as we celebrate the legislative victory, we have an election in November to elect accountable district attorneys to hold law enforcement agencies accountable when they cause harm illegally against the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
AMY GOODMAN: But you criticized HB 838. Can you explain what was also passed?
DERRICK JOHNSON: So, give me more, because as so many — it’s 50 states with HB 38. So, are you talking about Georgia, or are you talking about the House bill in D.C.? Are you —
AMY GOODMAN: No, in Georgia, that provides police protection. Many said it was more dangerous than HB 426, the hate crimes bill, was good. “To see the Legislature prioritize HB 838 instead of repealing citizen’s arrest is heartbreaking and does not do justice to my son,” said Ahmed Arbery’s mother.
DERRICK JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, this notion of citizen’s arrest, we have to be careful, because you have so many people who’ve decided they’re going to take the law in their own hand unjustifiably. When you have an individual who’s simply walking down the streets eating Skittles, Trayvon Martin, or an individual who’s jogging in their neighborhood, Ahmaud Arbery, or an individual who’s birdwatching in Central Park and have an Amy Cooper decide to commit a racial hate crime, the whole notion of denying someone’s existence to enjoy peacefully their surroundings in their community and allow citizens to step up and try to enforce a law that hasn’t even been broken, we have to be careful with that. And I’m always worried about this concept of citizen’s arrest, when you have unjustifiable scenarios, as we’ve seen over several years — not just in Ahmaud Arbery, but over several years. You know, you maintain a culture where you continue to put people’s lives in danger.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, speaking to us from Jackson, Mississippi — Mississippi that’s just voted to take down and remove the state flag, the last in the country to include the Confederate emblem.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to an encampment outside New York City Hall, where people are demanding a billion-dollar cut from the police department’s $6 billion budget. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby, who released the song in response to Black Lives Matter protests across the country and the world.