Bree Newsome Responds to Protests Erupting Over Police Killings of Terence Crutcher & Keith Lamont Scott in Tulsa & Charlotte
Protests escalated in Charlotte, North Carolina, overnight when hundreds took to the street and blocked Interstate 85 to express outrage over the police shooting of 43-year-old African American Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Video footage shows people blocking the highway, where fires were lit. This comes as police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have released a video showing a white police officer shooting and killing 40-year-old African American Terence Crutcher while his hands were in the air. We are joined by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Bree Newsome, artist and activist from Charlotte who scaled the 30-foot flagpole on the South Carolina state Capitol and unhooked the Confederate flag last year; and Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. He has launched a new petition called "Terence Crutcher died for being Black. Indict Officer Betty Shelby."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at police killings of two African-American men—one in Tulsa and one in Charlotte, in North Carolina, which was rocked by protests overnight after hundreds took to the street and blocked Interstate 85 to protest the police shooting of 43-year-old African American Lamont Scott. Video shows protesters blocking the highway, where fires were lit. Police in riot gear responded by throwing tear gas at the crowds. Police say about a dozen officers were hurt during the conflict. Protesters were also hurt.
AMY GOODMAN: Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed around 4:00 p.m. Tuesday after police arrived to serve an arrest warrant for another person at Scott’s housing complex. The accounts of the shooting diverge sharply. While the police claim they first tased and then shot Scott because he was armed and "posed an imminent deadly threat," Scott’s family says he was not armed—except with a book. They say he had been sitting in his car waiting to pick up his son after school. This is Scott’s daughter speaking in a Facebook live video recorded at the scene of the shooting.
LYRIC SCOTT: What are they over there doing? Shot my [bleep] daddy for being black. You little [bleep]. Shot my daddy for being black. And look, and they’re just standing there, because they—right? He’s [bleep] disabled! How the [bleep] he going to shoot y’all? He didn’t got no [bleep] gun.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: This comes as police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have released a video showing a white police officer shooting and killing unarmed 40-year-old African American Terence Crutcher while his hands were in the air. Officer Betty Shelby shot Crutcher around 8:00 p.m. on Friday after his car broke down. Some of the video released Monday came from police helicopter footage, in which one can hear the man in the helicopter saying about Crutcher, quote, "That looks like a bad dude, too." This is a clip from the police footage. POLICE OFFICER 1: This guy is still walking and following commands.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Time for Taser, I think.
POLICE OFFICER 1: That’s—got a feeling that’s about to happen.
POLICE OFFICER 2: That looks like a bad dude, too. Could be on something.
POLICE OFFICER 3: Which way are they facing?
POLICE OFFICER 1: Police 1, they’re facing westbound. I think he may have just been tasered.
POLICE OFFICER 4: Shots fired! POLICE OFFICER 3: Adam 3-21, we have shots fired. We have one suspect down. We need EMSA here.
POLICE OFFICER 2: They need to—they need to get this eastbound closed down, if they could, because they’re not going to be able to let anybody—
POLICE OFFICER 1: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Other footage from a police dash cam vehicle shows Crutcher walking slowly away from officers with his hands in the air, then putting his hands on the side of his own car as he’s surrounded by officers. The video captures a voice coming over the police radio saying, "He’s just been tasered," and then a woman’s voice yelling "Shots fired!" as the video shows Crutcher’s arms falling to the pavement. The Justice Department says it’s investigating the shooting of Terence Crutcher as a possible civil rights violation. On Tuesday, hundreds gathered outside the Tulsa Police Department to demand the firing of Officer Betty Shelby. For more, we’re joined here in New York by Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. On the phone with us, Bree Newsome, artist and activist. Last year, armed only with a helmet and climbing gear, she scaled the 30-foot flagpole on the South Carolina state Capitol grounds and unhooked the Confederate flag. As police officers shouted at her to come down, Bree shimmied to the top of the flagpole, took the flag in her hand and said, quote, "You come against me with hatred. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today." She is joining us—she is from Charlotte, North Carolina. And via Democracy Now! video stream in Washington, D.C., Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, who’s launched a new petition called "Terence Crutcher died for being Black. Indict Officer Betty Shelby." So, we welcome you all to Democracy Now! Bree, I want to begin with you. These riots that broke—you could call them uprisings, riots of fear and anger, protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, that took place after the killing, the police killing, can you talk about what you understand—you’re not there now, but what you understood took place?
BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, absolutely. I think what took place in Charlotte, North Carolina—and I am in contact with folks who are on the ground there, who were there—is what we have witnessed several times in the past two years, what we’ve witnessed in America since the '60s, at least, and this is an incident of police brutality, that in many ways is the camel breaking—I'm sorry, the straw breaking the camel’s back kind of moment. Like many cities around the nation, in Charlotte we have a real issue of wealth inequality. We’ve had several incidents of police brutality. One of the most notable cases was the case of Jonathan Ferrell. This was a young man who was gunned down by police. He was also unarmed. He had crashed his car and was looking for help, knocked on a door; the police showed up and killed him. There was an acquittal in that case. So, like so many other cases, this moment that happened last night, this was not an isolated incident. This is a tipping point, a kind of boiling-over moment, for the city and for the nation, in a lot of ways. Folks are not just reacting to what happened in Charlotte, but also to what happened in Tulsa and what happened in Baton Rouge.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Vince Warren, the issue of—especially in Tulsa, a couple of things are quite different about this. One, we got the identity of the officer right away, and also the video surfaced pretty quickly, as opposed to in other instances there’s been battles over even getting the videos that the police have available to the public.
VINCENT WARREN: Yeah, a couple of things on that. That was significant, and I think it’s really important. Let’s be clear that the police departments don’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts; they do it because of political pressure. So it’s exactly these types of protests that we’re seeing today, it’s the independent journalists that are fighting for these things, make it politically hard for police departments not to put those things forward. I’d also want to point out that the Tulsa situation highlights a central problem with policing, of black communities, in particular, which is that they’re trained to see noncompliance as escalation. So they ask you to do something; if you don’t do it, then the police departments increase the use of force. Then, of course, they have to try to justify that use of force afterwards. The good thing about having these video situations is that all of us can see for ourselves what really happened. So, I’m at this point now, with the 193rd killing of a black man this year, where I am not inclined—
AMY GOODMAN: The number again?
VINCENT WARREN: One hundred ninety-three, according to The Guardian count. You know, different people have different counts. It’s amazing to me that nobody in America can tell me specifically how many black people have been killed by police officers. But after 193, I am quite prepared not to believe the police department narratives about anything that happened, and these investigations and eyewitness reports become much more important.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, what do you understand about what took place in Tulsa? I mean, the protests that have been taking place there, coming out—on Monday, the video being released by the police, this helicopter footage, which is truly remarkable, showing Terence Crutcher with his hands in the air, walking very slowly—his car had broken down—to his car and then putting his hands on the car. The windows were up on this car.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah. What we—what we understand is just how much black people are not seen with humanity. You know, Vincent was absolutely right: This video was not released out of the goodness of the hearts of the local police department in Tulsa; it was released because they knew they had to start figuring out how to get ahead of this story, because the video is simply that bad. And in situations like this, over and over again, we watch as police departments concoct stories. And now we’re seeing, you know, stories about drugs, stories with—they would have not known that, you know, he had drugs in the car, if he in fact did—all these reasons that try to legitimize the fact that the police were unable to sort of de-escalate and solve the situation, unable to figure out a story that makes it OK that a gun was pulled out and a man was shot dead. And police officers stood around for a while as this man laid on the ground, and did not even try to get him medical help. This speaks to the ongoing way that, from the start, black people are never given the benefit of the doubt, are not seen as human, are seen as enemy combatants and, even in their death, are seen as deserving—not deserving medical support and deserving of the situations. This officer needs to be fired, because we continue to come to these conversations, where people want communities to come together, they want unity, they want conversations, and we don’t get sort of the results that actually send a message to police officers that they’ll be held accountable. But we also need to have a larger conversation, because this is not about one bad apple or two bad apples. This is about systemic problems in police departments around the country, incentive structures that make it OK and incentivize the killing of black people over and over and over again, and no one is held accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: I think—I think this is a very telling comment from a protester, extremely angry last night, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
NICHELLE DUNLAP: A terrorist, New Jersey, New York, he was taken alive. They say they wanted to question him. So, because of you wanting to question him, does his life mean more than our black men across the nation?
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have a SOT from CNN, Vince Warren, where she says, "You’re telling me that you do not kill a man who is being referred to as a terrorist in New York, you can take him alive, because you want him for questioning, but an African-American man, you shoot dead."
VINCENT WARREN: Absolutely. That is the—that is the precise question that I think Rashad and Bree and I are talking about, that black lives are so dehumanized, that it is OK structurally—it is OK within the context of the police department, it’s OK in the context of the criminal justice system—to kill black people. And, you know, the reason why I think the Color of Change petition is so important is that a police officer is the only job in America where you can kill somebody and then you get desk duty. Desk duty almost becomes the default mechanism. If you asked anybody what’s going to happen with these cases, people don’t believe that this police officer—either of these police officers are going to face serious charges or they’re going to get indicted or they’re going to get convicted or they’re going to get sentenced. People don’t believe it. We’ve lost complete faith in the system, because the system is designed to do the exact opposite of what black people need.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Rashad Robinson, what about the issue of now the Justice Department jumping in right away, saying they’re going to do an investigation? We’ve seen this happen, time after time, after many of these shootings. And what inevitably happens is, the Justice Department almost always decides there’s no criminal offense that, even on the civil rights violations, they can prosecute.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, this is part of the structural problem, change that we need. The Justice Department actually doesn’t have a real budget for these type of investigations. And this is part of the problem. And currently, the standard is so high for the Justice Department to bring charges, that over and over in these situations they may actually find problems that—and situations in which police departments or individual police acted inappropriately, and they can’t bring charges, because they can’t meet this standard that is sort of so high and so hard to get over that, in fact, it really makes these situations OK over and over again. And so, part of the long-term systemic work that we have to do—and we’ve been working on that, some of those campaigns are on ColorOfChange.org, as well—is, one, that we have to start tying the federal dollars that go into local law departments, local police departments, to their performance, and stop giving huge sums of money to police departments that don’t meet basic standards and don’t value black lives. If our federal government can defund local schools for not meeting standards, but still give huge block grants to local police departments that do not value our lives, then we are not dealing with the incentive structures and not sort of shifting the power dynamic and forcing real change. And if we don’t deal with the fact that the standards are so high that we can never hold anyone accountable, then we will be in this situation five, 10, 15 years from now. We will have people calling for unity, asking black people to stand down and be peaceful and not be upset, to tell people to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, when black people never get the benefit of the doubt.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted—
RASHAD ROBINSON: We need systemic change.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Bree Newsome—I mean, to remind people, when you climbed that flagpole on the grounds of the Columbia State House in South Carolina and said, "This flag comes down today," the Confederate flag, it was in response to the killing of the Beautiful Nine, the nine people at the Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and their pastor, Clementa Pinckney, by a white supremacist who wrapped himself in the Confederate flag. In this case, Bree, you have Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, killed by an African-American officer, Brentley Vinson, and in the case of Tulsa, you have a white woman police officer, Betty Shelby, who killed Terence Crutcher. Your response?
BREE NEWSOME: Yes. I think sometimes there’s this type of focus on what is the race of the police officer. That’s not the issue. Everyone can participate in white supremacy and in the white supremacist system. And we have to recognize that the policing system in America is rooted in slavery and slave patrols. I would argue that slavery never ended, because in the 13th Amendment it is codified that slavery is legal in cases of criminal punishment. And when we look at history, we look at—we see that as soon as emancipation happened, there was the institution of the Black Codes. And I believe that is the root of mass incarceration and police brutality as it exists today. I also want to remind everyone that what happened in Charleston last year was also within the context of police brutality, as well. You know, Clementa Pinckney had just succeeded in getting body camera legislation passed in North Charleston in response to the Walter Scott case. So, there is a—I mean, police brutality has always been woven throughout the story of civil rights and the struggle for equality in America. It’s always been there. This issue is as old as policing in America. AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Walter Scott was the man who was stopped for a tail light being out, a traffic stop, and a police officer blew him away as he ran through a park. It was only caught because a bystander flipped open his cellphone and started to film. We’re going to leave it there, but, of course, we’re going to continue to cover all of this. Bree Newsome, thanks so much for joining us, artist and activist from Charlotte, North Carolina. Vince Warren is the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And Rashad Robinson is executive director of Color of Change, has launched a petition that is titled "Terence Crutcher died for being Black. Indict Officer Betty Shelby." This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at the massive global refugee crisis. Stay with us.