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In Attempt to “Intimidate Protesters,” 87 Face Felony Charges for Kentucky Sit-In for Breonna Taylor

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Image Credit: Matt Stone/Courier Journal/Reuters

In Louisville, Kentucky, civil rights groups are calling on prosecutors to drop felony charges against 87 people who held a peaceful sit-in protest Tuesday outside the home of Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The demonstrators were demanding the arrest and prosecution of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a Black Louisville resident who was shot inside her own home in March. Among those arrested: the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills and Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour. If convicted on felony charges, they could face up to five years in prison. “What they’re attempting to do is intimidate protesters,” says Marc Lamont Hill. “They’re attempting to send a message that nobody should be out here investigating something that clearly needs investigation.”

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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, with Nermeen Shaikh. Scores of protesters gathered Tuesday for a peaceful sit-in outside the home of the Kentucky attorney general, Daniel Cameron, urging him to charge the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. She’s the 26-year-old Black woman, an EMT, who was treating COVID patients, an aspiring nurse, who was shot to death by police inside her own apartment in March.

Several celebrities, including NFL player Kenny Stills of the Houston Texans, and activists Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour were arrested, along with more than 80 other protesters. They all face several charges, including a felony for intimidating a participant in the legal process. Hayes Gardner, a reporter for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, tweeted Sarsour saying, quote, “We are being charged with a felony as an intimidation tactic by the LMPD in hopes that they believe we will never do this ever again because of that charge. As you know, we are not intimidated, in fact, very emboldened right now.”

For more, we continue our conversation with Marc Lamont Hill, professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University, author of a number of books, including Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.

So, talk about what’s happened in Louisville, Marc, this killing of Breonna Taylor, this remarkable young woman who was treating people with COVID-19, an EMT, hoping to be a nurse. Police storm her apartment. She’s there with her boyfriend. They shoot into it blindly, one of the officers shooting into the window of her bedroom, where there were curtains. She was shot to death with eight bullets in her. Talk about what happened this week.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. And again, I think you’re right, and I know you know this very well, Amy, and Breonna Taylor was an extraordinary, remarkable woman. But even had she been unremarkable, even if she had made many mistakes and even if she hadn’t been a hero, she still deserves not to die at the hands of the state.

And what we saw this week was the public responding very powerfully to — or, rather, excuse me, the people responding very powerfully to the state’s failure to produce any semblance of justice in her case. When I saw 87 people were arrested — you know, we’ve all protested; we’ve all been arrested. And usually we get a slap on the wrist. Usually we get misdemeanors for civil disobedience. But when you see someone getting a Class D felony for intimidating a person involved in a legal process, as Linda Sarsour said, what they’re attempting to do is intimidate protesters. They’re attempting to send a message that no one should be out here investigating something that clearly needs investigation.

You know, you have someone who dies in March, and until the public scrutiny is on there, we get no movement, even though there’s so many questions about this case, from why they were there to why he was wantonly shooting a gun, to why the police report had no information about even her being killed or even harmed, to why the state attorney is acting so slowly and with so little commitment to justice. And so, you see people protesting and risking their lives, risking their careers, and it’s a beautiful statement. But we can’t stand here as a public and allow them to intimidate these protesters.

And finally, Amy, I just want to thank you for keeping Breonna Taylor’s case in the public eye, because, for so long, this was not a story. And too often the deaths of Black women, girls and fems go unnoticed. And so it’s really important that people like you and others keep these stories in the public mind.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marc, could you also talk about the attorney general, the Kentucky attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, and the first Republican to hold the office in more than 17 years? He’s been backed by President Trump.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. You know, the great anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston said, you know, sometimes your skinfolk ain’t your kinfolk. You know, I don’t look to Black people in positions of power to necessarily produce justice for Black people. I’m interested in what their politics are. I’m interested in what their commitments are. And so, when I see a Black appointee reinforcing the very same racist practices and policies that his white predecessors have, I find no joy or no pleasure in that. And the fact that this is a Trump appointee speaks not only to how unlikely we are to get justice from this position, but how important it is in November for us to do everything we can to remove Trump from office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marc, I want to go to another case, the decision by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to indict Amy Cooper. You’ve questioned this decision. Amy Cooper is the woman who called the police and falsely claimed that a Black man in Central Park was threatening her. You tweeted in response, quote, “We can’t criminalize our way out of social problems. … [T]hese retributive approaches will not largely impact the powerful. Who will be most likely criminalized if we intensify prosecutions for filing false police reports? Not the Amy Coopers of the world,” you tweeted. Could you elaborate on why you think this is so problematic?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Well, ultimately — well, fundamentally, I’m an abolitionist. I believe in the abolition of prisons. I believe in the abolition of police. I stand in a long tradition of people who believe this — the Angela Davises, the Ruth Gilmores, the Mariame Kabas of the world, who sort of intellectually and politically led the way toward a vision of a world without prisons. And so, at every opportunity, I look for restorative approaches. I look to not use punishment and caging human beings as a primary response to social problems, whether it’s drug addiction, whether it’s being unhoused, whether it’s poverty. You know, I try to find ways that are outside the prison and outside the logic of the prison.

For me, Amy Cooper was an opportunity to do that, not — given the specifics of that case. I understand very much, in this moment, that without any other mechanism for justice, I don’t shame or criticize or even challenge people who call for the killer cops to be arrested or incarcerated. That’s not an abolitionist vision for me, but I do understand that without any other tools or resources, we’re left with very little other — anything else to hold onto with regard to the possibilities of justice. I want us to have a more robust and ambitious freedom dream than that in the long term. And in the short term, when we have opportunities to not use the prison for drug addiction, again, for dealing with a dispute between people, to deal with someone asleep in a Wendy’s parking lot, like Rayshard Brooks, I say let’s do it. But in cases like Breonna Taylor or others, I understand that we have fewer mechanisms, and we have to do something to hold the state accountable in the short term, while we look for a broader and more ambitious, again, freedom dream in the long term.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc, we’re going to end where we began, and that’s with COVID, the reports and studies showing that African Americans and Latinx people are nearly three times as likely to be infected and twice as likely to die from the virus compared to their white neighbors. We just heard that the Republican white governor of Oklahoma, Governor Stitt, has tested positive for COVID. He was maskless at Trump’s Tulsa rally, held almost on Juneteenth, had to push it to the next because of outcry. But what Trump hasn’t been tweeting about as he tweets against the left protesting in this country is that Herman Cain, a major supporter, who came to support Trump at the Tulsa rally, also has tested positive, has been hospitalized for weeks. He is the 70-year-old former African American presidential candidate, cancer survivor.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the connection between President Trump trying to, quote, “move on” and not deal with the pandemic, as over 137,000 people have died in this country, disproportionately African American and Latinx people?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. We live in a country that renders the poor disposable, anyone who we can’t extract value from disposable, Black and Brown people disposable, trans folk disposable. And as soon as it became very clear that the people catching the most hell at the epidemiological level, the people who were dying the most from COVID, were people who were Black and Brown and poor, there was a very quick move to, quote-unquote, “open the country back up.” There was a very quick move to not worry about the health consequences for those who were left behind. And that’s something that Trump has been very clear about, and we saw that throughout the country. And the same with the elderly. You had the lieutenant governor of Texas a few months ago talking about, you know, that grandparents should being willing to sacrifice their lives for the country.

And so, now, when Trump is walking around without a mask, when Trump is — for the last few months, when Trump is essentially saying that we should just open things up and everything will just be fine, he’s essentially saying that some people are death-eligible, and other people are not. And that is very, very — it’s a very, very dangerous thing. Herman Cain is someone with some sense of power and resource and access, and yet he is still vulnerable. The elderly are vulnerable. People who are immunocompromised are vulnerable. And people who don’t have the luxury of social distancing, the luxury of working from home, are vulnerable. And until we have a very serious conversation about investing in the vulnerable, through housing, through healthcare, through education, we’re going to continue to have this problem. And as long as we have an administration that’s willing to open up schools, to open up the economy and to continue to let people die in the streets as long as they’re not white and privileged, we’re going to continue to have the moral crisis that is America right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc Lamont Hill, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University, author of several books, including Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. We wish you all the very best as you cope with COVID. We’ll be thinking about you — and not just thinking, taking action. We, too, will be wearing our masks.

And this news just in: The U.S. just carried out its second execution this week, killing Wesley Ira Purkey by lethal injection, even though his lawyers argued he had dementia. The last federal execution before this week was 17 years ago.

Up next, we speak with public health historian John Barry, who says the pandemic could get much, much worse if we don’t take bolder action now. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Elsa Nilsson, playing her alto flute as part of the Lattice Concert Series at home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

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