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Our System Is Corroded: Carol Anderson on Rampant Police Violence and Assault on Voting Rights

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On Thursday, disturbing new details were revealed in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was chased, ambushed and shot dead by a group of white men in Georgia in what many have called a modern-day lynching. In a nearly seven-hour hearing, a state judge concluded all three men — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan — would stand trial for Arbery’s murder, after special agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified Travis McMichael said “f—ing n—” after shooting and killing Arbery. We speak with professor Carol Anderson, author of “White Rage,” about Arbery’s slaying, the nationwide protests, anti-lynching legislation being debated in the Senate and the upcoming election.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. On Thursday, disturbing new details were revealed in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man chased, ambushed, shot dead by a group of white men in Georgia in what many have called a modern-day lynching. In a nearly seven-hour hearing, a state judge concluded all three men — Travis McMichael; his father, former police officer Gregory McMichael; and William “Roddie” Bryan — would stand trial for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, after special agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified Travis McMichael used a racial slur after shooting and killing Arbery.

RICHARD DIAL: Mr. Bryan said that after the shooting took place, before police arrival, while Mr. Arbery was on the ground, that he heard Travis McMichael make the statement: “[bleep bleep].”

AMY GOODMAN: Those last two words were the F-word and the N-word. Travis McMichael had a sticker of a Confederate flag on his truck’s toolbox. The investigator, Richard Dial, also testified the three white men hit Arbery with a truck as he attempted to escape them. Special prosecutor Jesse Evans said Arbery was “chased, hunted down and ultimately executed.” Arbery’s family is calling for all three men arrested to face federal hate crime charges, as well.

For more, we’re going to Georgia, to Atlanta, where we’re joined by Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. She has a new piece in The Guardian. It’s headlined “In 1919, the state failed to protect black Americans. A century later, it’s still failing.”

In a minute, we’ll speak about the ongoing protests in defense of Black lives, but let’s begin, Professor Anderson, with Ahmaud Arbery and this unusual hearing, not like an arraignment hearing, but went on for hours. Can you respond to the testimony, the new information, and this whole issue of lynching in America — not a hundred years ago, but today?

CAROL ANDERSON: Thank you so much, Amy.

What we saw on that tape was so contradictory to the statements that the McMichaels had originally made. And what it showed was them blocking him. It showed them hunting him down. It showed them executing him. And the fact that that tape was in the hands of law enforcement almost immediately, but nothing was done until protest, intense protest, erupted that thing out of the bowels of that law enforcement clique in Georgia so that justice could begin to move down the pike, it begins to tell you about how unseemly, how corrupt, how corroded the system is, so that it takes protest to deal with issues of basic justice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re in Georgia. Georgia is one of the few states in the country that doesn’t have hate crimes laws. The family is calling for these men to be brought up on hate crime charges. Can you explain what this is about?

CAROL ANDERSON: One of the things is that for Georgia — is that, you know, Georgia is one of the key lynching states. One of the most graphic lynchings happened here in Georgia, the one that Senator Cory Booker was talking about, which was Mary Turner, who had protested because her husband was lynched. And they were angry at this woman who was eight months pregnant, who dared defy them. And they hung her upside down. They stripped her naked. They burned her. And then they cut the baby out of her stomach and stomped on the baby’s head. That is Georgia.

And so, hate crimes becomes one of those very slippery ways that the state does not have to come to grips with the damage that it has done and that it continues to do. And I would just say, on the whole issue of lynching, the fact that you had, during George Floyd’s memorial service, Rand Paul blocking an anti-lynching law named after Emmett Till also speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to issue a warning to our audience, because, Professor Anderson, I want to ask you about the story that contains just horrifying footage. Arrest warrants have been issued for six Atlanta police officers after they tased two Black college students, dragging them from their car for allegedly violating the city’s curfew Saturday night. One officer was filmed smashing the window of the car. Another slashed the car’s tires. Two of the officers have already been fired. The victims were a 20-year-old Spelman College student, Taniyah Pilgrim, and 22-year-old Morehouse College student Messiah Young, who suffered a fractured wrist, needed 24 stitches, had a tase in his body for something like five hours after they shot him. This is Pilgrim and Young speaking Tuesday.

TANIYAH PILGRIM: I hope every police officer who thinks it’s OK to drag someone, beat someone, do all this stuff because they’re cops — I hope they’re all going to be held accountable, as well.

MESSIAH YOUNG: I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off of the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else from this point on. So, I think, moving forward, we just need to — like Ms. Pilgrim said, we just need to make sure that all officers are held accountable and that there really is change moving forward within the culture of policing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, two kids, one at Morehouse, one at Spelman. You teach at Emory, Professor Anderson. The horror of this moment as you see the electricity just convulse Messiah. Two of the police officers were fired. All six, arrest warrants were issued for them. Can you respond to this?

CAROL ANDERSON: It absolutely had to happen that they are held accountable. When you see that film, one of the things that you see is that the car right in front of Messiah has a white woman who is waving out the window and smiling, but the police converge on these wonderful, beautiful students and slash their tires, smash out their windows. And for what? For what? That’s the thing that is actually convulsing across the nation, because you’re asking, “For what?” None of this looks like protect and serve. None of it.

The trauma in that interview, you saw where that — there was one moment where he’s just saying that he almost has to disassociate himself from it because it was so traumatic, so violent. We do this to our people. What is that? I’m sorry. Just, it — I was in tears when I saw that interview. I was horrified when I saw the original footage, and then in tears when I saw the interview.

AMY GOODMAN: And at the same time, you have Senator Rand Paul blocking anti-lynching legislation, right? He has proposed an amendment on Thursday that would weaken a bill making lynching a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison. A day before, Senator Paul single-handedly stopped the legislation by denying its passage on unanimous consent. The bill is co-sponsored by the Senate’s three African Americans: Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrats Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: But I am so raw today, of all days that we’re doing this. … I do not need my colleague, the senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country. I’ve stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched African American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Carol Anderson, talk about the significance of this legislation, passed almost unanimously in the House, and Rand Paul has stopped it in the Senate.

CAROL ANDERSON: And when, you know, you think about it, anti-lynching legislation, the NAACP had tried since the 1920s to get federal anti-lynching legislation passed. And this is at that moment where you are seeing one horrific lynching after the next. And there’s a key moment in the mid-1930s where it’s after the lynching of Claude Neal, the spectacle lynching. And that’s where the lynching is actually advertised, and that is when they sell tickets. And Claude Neal is taken through a gauntlet of torture and tortured for hours, and his body parts cut off, and he’s forced to eat his own genitalia. And the NAACP is pressing hard for a federal anti-lynching bill. And two senators from the South — Jimmy Byrnes and Tom Connally — blocked it. They mocked it. They laughed. They did almost a routine on the Senate floor, making lynching a joke.

And so, when I see Rand Paul talking about, “Well, we don’t need to have this being, you know, so extensive, so we need to make sure that just when somebody is slapped, that that’s not called a lynching,” that does violence to the thousands upon thousands of African Americans who have been lynched. That does enormous disrespect to the lives and to the families of those who have had to live under this terror without any kind of justice being brought.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to the words that are often used in the corporate media — the “riots,” the “looting” that’s going on? You’ve talked often about the state violence, that is not so easily addressed.

CAROL ANDERSON: And so we see this kind of false equivalence. I mean, it is The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Buildings Matter, Too”? The language of looting is a way to try to distract and diffuse from the kind of bureaucratic violence that has rained down on Black communities, bureaucratic violence in terms of militarizing the police, bureaucratic violence in terms of underfunding public schools, bureaucratic violence in terms of environmental toxins being poured into poor and Black communities. That kind of bureaucratic violence just gets elided over.

And so, one of the things when I wrote White Rage, I talked about how we focus so much on the flames that we miss the kindling. And the kindling is that bureaucratic violence that systematically destroys Black communities, that systematically erodes their citizenship. That is what we need to be paying attention to, or we’re always going to see the flames.

And so, that looting tries to make that equivalence. It’s a false equivalence, that language of looting, that language of, “Well, you’re distracting from the peaceful protest.” But when African Americans peacefully protested, like Colin Kaepernick, he was just vilified for somehow disrespecting the flag? When the real disrespect of the flag is the systematic destruction of Black people.

AMY GOODMAN: In your Guardian piece, Professor Anderson, you write, “[O]ur current attorney general, Bill Barr, does not appear to see injustice. Instead, he sounds much like his ancient predecessor, A Mitchell Palmer.” Explain.

CAROL ANDERSON: So, A. Mitchell Palmer was the attorney general during 1919, the Red Summer of 1919. And there you had an eruption of anti-Black violence as Black veterans are coming back from World War I. Their work in the military as soldiers so disrupted what was the hierarchy of power, because it was like, “Wait a minute, they think they’re citizens now?” So, you saw this violence erupt, where Black people were hunted down and killed.

One of the most horrific cases was in Elaine, Arkansas. And that is where Blacks were mobilizing to unionize because their wages were being stolen. You had this massive group of sheriffs and vigilantes and the U.S. Army coming in and just massacring Black people. A. Mitchell Palmer didn’t see that. What he saw instead of people fighting for their constitutional rights, he said, “These are these left-wing radicals. These are communists.” And it launches what would become known as the Red Scare, this hunt for communists in every kind of movement for equality.

What you see with Bill Barr, by raising up this fictive antifa organization that is out to destroy all that is good and right in America, where they can’t even identify what the antifa organization is — and “antifa” stands for anti-fascist, fighting the fascists. But what we do have is the violence of the right wing, the violence where you have armed men storming into the Michigan state Capitol and threatening to kill the governor and yelling at law enforcement. But somehow that’s not the kind of violence that Bill Barr is concerned with. So you get this mobilizing of federal forces to knock out progressive forces that are fighting for equality, by using the threat of some outside agitator, some terrorist group — for A. Mitchell Palmer, communists; for Bill Barr, antifa. Whatever.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Barr supposedly was the one who called for the police forces outside the White House to clear Lafayette Park for the president to walk forward with his chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of defense for a photo op. And, of course, President Trump, once again yesterday, tweeted about the protesters being terrorists.

Before we end, I wanted to ask you about something people might not have noticed amidst the mass uprising this week. There were primaries around the country, people finding it extremely difficult to vote. Your latest book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. This is an issue you care immensely about, especially communities of color so hard hit by these twin pandemics of police brutality and the pandemic, and the fact that the pandemic continues, people being afraid to go out to vote, that they have to choose voting over their own health, and the assault by the president on mail-in voting, though he does it himself. Talk about democracy, voting, what’s going to happen in November — if President Trump allows this election to happen at all.

CAROL ANDERSON: And so, what we’re seeing is laying the groundwork for trying to erode these elections, the same way you had voter suppression undermining the election in 2016. In 2016, because of voter suppression, because the U.S. Supreme Court had gutted the protections of the Voting Rights Act, you had a drop of 7% in Black voter turnout. And remember that Trump won that election only by the Electoral College votes of 77,000 votes among three states. Voter suppression is lethal. It is deadly. And they’re trying to replicate it again.

So we’re seeing things, for instance, like in Texas, where the Supreme Court and the attorney general in Texas have said that the pandemic, a fear of COVID-19, is not a justifiable excuse to get an absentee ballot; where you have, in Kentucky, where because of the pandemic, they shut down the Department of Motor Vehicles, and then the Republican Legislature said, “Oh, but in order to use an absentee ballot, you have to have a copy of your ID, your driver’s license.” So, if you don’t have a driver’s license and you can’t get a driver’s license, how do you use your driver’s license, that you can’t get, in order to vote absentee? It’s in Alabama, where the U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the side of Alabama to say that you must have a witness statement, in the middle of a pandemic, in order to use an absentee ballot.

So, what we’re seeing here, in addition to what the U.S. Supreme Court did to those in Wisconsin in the middle of a pandemic, is to use the threat that is COVID-19 as a way to suppress voter turnout. But what is happening is that you have seen people who understand that the way that this regime has attacked their very being means that they’re willing to crawl through glass, they’re willing to stand in front of a COVID-19 firing squad and risk their lives, in order to vote. Now, we have to ask ourselves —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds, Professor Anderson.

CAROL ANDERSON: What kind of society is that, that makes people choose between their right to vote and their health? That’s where we are right now in the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Anderson, I want to thank you so much for being with us, professor at Emory University, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide; her most recent book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. And we’ll link to your piece in The Guardian.

When we come back, we speak with an African American filmmaker. Police pepper-sprayed him directly in the face as he was filming. We’ll look at the militarization of police. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, “Keep on Pushing” by The Impressions.

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