D. Watkins

'I can't believe I pay taxes for this': New op-ed offers critical assessment of the US legal system

You ever look at your paystub and get depressed? Am I only one who sees my paycheck deductions and feels like I'm not gettingmy money's worth for the government services provided?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay taxes. I'd like to think any good citizen would be happy to contribute to a healthy functional society. I just feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. Especially when I know the ridiculously wealthy, the true welfare queens, are not contributing 33% of their incomes in the years they even pay income taxes at all. When I look at my depleted stubs, analyze the deductions and see the job that my city, state and federal governments are doing with those funds, I can't help but think the juice ain't worth the squeeze.

Let's talk about basics — roads and bridges. I have traveled to countries where some roads are left incomplete — as in, you are driving on the highway and then the highway just stops — so I appreciate the infrastructure we do have in America. However, I live in Baltimore City, where the streets are crumbling like a damp cookie. Don't think about drinking a cup of coffee on the way to work because the truck-sized potholes will guarantee multiple stains all over your shirt. Sometimes I feel like I should buy my daughter a helmet because the uneven grooves make her bounce up and down. (Thank God we sprung for the expensive car seat.) One of the main roads to my house literally looks and feels like some sort of sick virtual reality video game. I have to bob and weave between orange traffic cones and city workers and dump trucks and excavators before slowing down to drive over the chunks of earth that have been gutted and try not to collide with the construction that has been going on for over three years. And the only thing that has been broken longer than that road to my house is funding for our public school system.

I have been very vocal about my love for public schools and public school teachers. Many of them are beyond excellent. They work extremely hard and have made giant strides in elevating the lives of our children. But those same excellent, hardworking teachers may still never reach their full potential because school funding depends in part on local property taxes, which means the ones in poor neighborhoods who need the most almost don't have a chance at competing against schools in wealthier neighborhoods full of resources.

And in some of those underfunded, overwhelmed schools, it can be easier for some poor administrators and teachers to slip through the cracks than it would be in institutions with fewer overall stresses on their systems. I once dreamed of sending my daughter to public school so that she can have an experience like mine and be socialized in diverse realities. But my experiences have also forced me to consider private schools. I feel more and more like this is yet another institution I pay into but will never be able to use, like the police.

I have a history of joking with cops when they confront me: "Offer me top rate service, officer, I pay your salary!" But I never call the police myself unless I need to file a police report because it's needed for insurance reimbursement. Other than that, never. For one, they tend to be bad at their jobs. And two, they might shoot me.

Once I called the cops after someone slashed all four of my tires. I was a broke grad student at the time, no drama in my life that would have provoked an act of spiteful vandalism. Honestly, I think the slasher targeted the wrong car. But when I called the cops to have one come down and fill out a report, the joker got mad at me.

"I'm not sure these tires were slashed, buddy," the short unibrowed officer said, circling the car in his tiny work boots, scratching his head with the brim of his hat. "These look like pretty standard flats to me."

"You think I got four flats at the same time? Are you kidding me?"

"Listen here, buddy, my dad owns a garage in Detroit," he said. "So I like to think I know a thing or two about tires."

"Detroit, what? Just write the report." I laughed to suppress my anger, to avoid an argument that could turn ugly, and to get the paperwork I needed to file my insurance claim.

The cop begrudgingly wrote the report.

If a person puts a gun to my head and robs me of my belongings, I will not call the police even though my taxes help pay for their services. I don't expect the police to comfort me, listen to me, or to solve the crime. And even if they were likely to solve the crime, I don't think jail would solve the problems that caused the person to rob me in the first place. And that's another thing we have to pay for, too.

I've been feeling this way about the system and its return on our investments for a while, but the recent Supreme Court decisions just made everything feel more urgent.

Last week, the court reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that a woman's constitutional right to abortion, precedent that has been in place for nearly a half century, no longer exists. This happened after justices responsible for the change had denied any intentions of overturning the landmark decision during their confirmation hearings. Donald Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, along with Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, also just curbed the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to mitigate climate change by setting limits on how they regulate power plants. And we paid their salaries while they did it.

Our hard-earned money pays for their homes, the island vacations they take their families on, the cars they drive, the meals they eat. Associate justices make $274,200 a year; the chief justice brings in $286,700. Which may not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of the federal budget, but let's remember the estimated average salary of the American worker last year was $58,260. And who among them has a job guaranteed for life?

I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling, in this moment, like the judicial branch of the government might have been one of the greatest mistakes of the nation's founders, filed right below allowing slavery to exist in this new country they fought to create. Maybe they imagined those lifetime appointments would always be held by somber experts in jurisprudence who would put the good of the nation first, and not an assembly of ideologically-drunk, politically-motivated clowns. How can checks and& balances exist when the majority on the court's goal appears to be serving the interests of one political party? And we get the bill!

Again, I'll proudly pay my fair share of taxes because I believe in accountability and doing my part. But when will these broken systems be held accountable like the rest of us already are?

How are we supposed to celebrate July 4 after Juneteenth?

America, you can have the Fourth of July back.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed legislation designating June 19, or Juneteenth — a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States — a federal holiday. I received the news via text from a friend: "JUNETEENTH IS OFFICIALLY A HOLIDAY!!!!", followed by a series of emojis. I went to Twitter to see what people were saying about it and got kind of freaked out by the Super Bowl-winning level of excitement I found.

Don't get me wrong — I think it's a great gesture. But people were acting like the president released a reparations plan, as if the direct deposits were about to hit our accounts. I could understand the excitement if the federal government had done something meaningful like ended the war on drugs and freed the people incarcerated in federal prison for marijuana distribution while legal cannabis clinics open up all over the county. They just made a new federal holiday. Relax.

That said, the energy and meaning behind Juneteenth is special enough for me to stop celebrating July 4 — the day, the idea, the theme, the outfit choice — for good, starting this year. I'm going to call my editor and ask for some extra task I'm normally not responsible for, like filing papers in the office even though we're still working virtually, or standing on the beltway near my house swinging a huge red sign telling people to go read Salon.

Giving up the holiday won't be hard. I've never really embraced July 4 for a number of reasons, including but not limited to the following:

1. I am Black. Black people fought in the Revolutionary War for Caucasian freedom, but didn't receive their own. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men were born equal with the right to liberty while he enslaved hundreds of people of African descent. George Washington began his command of the Continental Army forbidding the recruitment of Black soldiers, an order he later had to rescind. Some enslaved soldiers who fought ended up being returned to lives of bondage after the war, and the U.S. Congress banned African Americans from military service in 1792. The irony of the founding fathers fighting for their independence while robbing others of their most basic rights shouldn't be lost on anyone.

2. The national anthem is awful. The lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" come from a terrible piece of poetry, "Defence of Fort M'Henry," that should have been forgotten instead of set to song. It was written by Francis Scott Key, a racist slave-owning hypocrite who took a shot at the enslaved men who fled to fight with the British in the War of 1812 in exchange for their freedom with the line, "No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave". Every year I ask the question, "Who wouldn't want freedom, and how could he not understand them opting out for a better life?" And even aside from the meaning, the poem itself doesn't hold up. He'd never win a slam with that elementary rhyme. I'd like to see him sit through a critique in even the kindest MFA workshop. He'd leave the table crying.

3. I stand with Colin Kaepernick. Watching a football game or lighting a firecracker on the Fourth is disrespectful to Colin Kaepernick. That man sacrificed his extremely lucrative NFL career in the name of justice for Black people, and I will never forget that. Last year, he denounced July 4 as a celebration of white supremacy. He's not wrong. I think he might proudly celebrate Independence Day if Black people in America didn't still have to worry about poor housing, poor schools, discrimination across the board, and — oh yeah — getting our heads blown off by police officers who too often get away with it, or serve only minimal jail time.

4. And also, the uniforms are trash. The American flag makes a terrible fashion statement. I don't wear red, white and blue star-spangled short sets, or T-shirts or socks or hats or gloves or skull caps or sneakers or the flagged-out plastic drapes that my old neighbor used to protect his Geo Metro from the sun and inclement weather.

So here I am: too jaded to fully embrace Juneteenth but too literate to hold a warm place for Independence Day in my cold, cold heart.

I think about our conflicting celebrations of independence around this time every year. I've been attending Juneteenth events, functions and parties for the last five years or so, but I've been to Independence Day cookouts my whole life. I always eat the food on July 4 — plates of grilled lamb, barbecue chicken, deviled eggs, all the salads, carbs on carbs on carbs. But I'm not eating for me; no, I have principles and discipline. I will, however, eat for the ancestors.

I never contribute financially or materially as that would feel too much like honoring the cause. I have to be strong. So when I get invited, whether by family and friends or strangers from the internet, I let them know that I will be arriving with nothing but an appetite for destruction, just like the Founding Fathers.

While I honestly do connect more with Juneteenth, I would be lying if I said the initial hype around its new federally recognized status this year didn't make it feel a bit like a special little Independence Day for the Blacks. Hearing Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden sing "Lift Every Voice" off-beat does not liberate anyone.

But I am a sucker for the happiness of my people. Seeing them lace themselves into full-on dashiki levels of attire they haven't worn since Chadwick Boseman's "Black Panther" premiere, being proud of our African heritage in the name of freedom, all of that is a win for me. And so I will not get upset at people who still choose to celebrate the July 4, because having the ability to champion what you want to champion and celebrate what you want to celebrate is what these holidays are supposed to be about.

So if you do decide to have a big Independence Day cookout — white people, that's what you call a barbecue — I will gladly come, eat, and even take two or three plates to go. For the ancestors, of course.

'40 Years a Prisoner' confronts the police we're supposed to trust 'telling bold-faced lies'

Eight-year-old me couldn't imagine not seeing my dad's smiling face on Christmas morning, or drawing my mom a cartoon-filled card covered in thank yous for Mother's Day, or the thousands of other memories small kids get to share with their parents. These types of memories make up the foundation of our traditions and are the things that we pass down to our kids. Mike Africa Jr., who was born in prison, was robbed of the chance of creating those in-person memories with his parents. The Philadelphia police department forced him to figure out life on his own.

Africa Jr.'s journey is brilliantly related in the new HBO documentary film, "40 Years a Prisoner," directed by Tommy Oliver and available now on HBO Max. Featuring an all-star ensemble of producers including The Roots, Common and John Legend, "40 Years A Prisoner" is a compelling film about the horrors of America's criminal justice system. The story begins in 1978 when Philadelphia police raided MOVE, a back to nature organization based on love, among other peaceful principles. Africa's parents, two MOVE members, were arrested during that raid on trumped up charges and convicted before he was born. In the film, Oliver documents Africa Jr.'s life pursuit of freeing his parents, along with other MOVE members, and a decades-long battle with the Philadelphia police department. I recently got a chance to talk with Africa Jr. and Oliver about the film on an episode of "Salon Talks."

Watch or read our conversation below to hear more about the never-before-seen archival materials that Oliver dug up about MOVE, what life is like for Africa Jr.'s parents now, and how the original MOVE members are responding to seeing their 40-year story on-screen.

Mike Africa Jr. on getting his parents out of prison, 40 years after Philly's MOVE raid


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The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tommy, in the film you document Mike's parents' long journey toward freedom with Mike at the center of it. A lot of people have heard of MOVE, but don't really know about some of the core principles and values. Can you give our readers and our viewers a brief history?

Mike Africa Jr.: The MOVE organization's belief is life, and our mission is to encourage people to protect life. There are companies that barter life for money, enslave animals like the zoo, and we protested against it. And that's really what started it because the industries that make the money off of enslaving life, they make money for themselves and they don't want anybody interrupting those establishments. They came at MOVE the way they came at us to try to stop us from speaking the truth about them.

It's crazy. And Tommy, you are a Philly native and a lot of this stuff was happening when you were growing up. When MOVE was in the news was it something people your age was connecting to?

Tommy Oliver: No, it wasn't. There were people who talked about MOVE, but they never really talked about it in a way that made a whole lot of sense or with a lot of clarity. And so there was always this group MOVE. I didn't really know what that meant or who that meant. And there was some bomb or something that happened and there was some incident and that was about it. I really didn't understand who they were or what happened until I got older and started doing my own research.

How'd you get involved?

Oliver: I am a research junkie, so I just started going through as much as I could. I read maybe seven books, probably 60-plus articles. And then I went to the Temple Urban Archive and I went through 72 boxes of stuff there, but I realized there were still things that were missing from what was there. I had a buddy who was working for the mayor, Maxwell Brown, introduce me to MOVE. He then introduced me to Ramona Africa. Ramona and I were set to meet and she brought along Mike, and I was like, "Who's this dude?" I wanted to meet Mona. But Mike and I, we hit it off very well in the beginning.

There were a couple of things that really stuck out to me at that point, which was almost four years ago at a cafe in West Philly. I remember it vividly. There was the idea that he was born in prison, which I had no idea about. That was just a strange thing. The fact that his parents and the rest of the MOVE nine, well, seven at that point – because two of them had passed away – were still in prison. And on top of that, he was fighting to get them out. Those were all very big things. He was somebody who had went through a ton of stuff yet, despite all of it, there was not a shred of bitterness about him. He had such a positivity that was clear even in that first meeting. I knew there was something to it.

The more that we talked and the more I understood the things that they were fighting against some 40 years ago — police brutality, wrongful incarceration, systemic racism, abuse of power — the same stuff we're fighting against today. It just became something that I had to be a part of. In general, MOVE had been pretty resistant to any type of media or journalist or anyone because they had been mistreated and misrepresented by the media for so long. But for one reason or another, he allowed me in in a very real open and honest way.

It's funny that you touched on bitterness because there are so many reasons for you to be frustrated, Mike. Instead, you give urgency and knowledge and power, but never bitterness. How are you able to tap into that and still be so driven around this case?

Africa, Jr.: A deep sense of clarity, right? I've had several meetings with the man that dropped the bomb on our house. He was the mayor of Philadelphia at the time. It was a really scary and hard thing to do. Wilson Goode was the boogeyman for me. When my cousins and my sister would come to my house and we would be talking about things, we'd try to scare each other. One of the ways that we'd try to scare each other is by saying, "Wilson Goode's going to get you."

If we don't recognize the mistakes that we made and move forward and grow from it, then we're going to be stuck in the same vicious cycle that we're in right now. It's really disheartening to see the police still say things like we "should have been killed." Eleven of my family members were killed by the police, and I'm not calling for the death of those police officers. I'm not even calling for their imprisonment. All I want is for us to be able to move forward and progress because that's the only way that we can actually make any kind of real change that could lead to any kind of peace.

What was the experience like to sitting down with the man responsible for the bombing?

Africa Jr.: It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I left the meeting vomiting. There's so many emotions that went through my body. Members of my family that had spent 40 years in prison, their kids were in the house that the bomb was dropped on. I'm getting nervous just thinking about it right now. There's this extreme feeling of dishonoring them. There was this horrible feeling of nervousness and fear, but I did it because those people were still in prison and this man was saying that he was willing to help them get out. I would do anything for my family, and going through what I went through with meeting the mayor and speaking to him over a dozen times, that is something that I would do a hundred times if it meant getting my people out of prison so they don't die in prison.

With all of the meetings that we've had, the results were positive. All of the MOVE non-members came home. Even though two of the members died in prison before that, one of the big benefits to me was that Delbert Africa, who people remember for being beat by four cops on August 8th, he was kicked so hard he was lifted up off the ground by the police and he was beaten. He was the Rodney King before Rodney King. He got out of prison and he died just six months later. But I really feel confident that the work that I did and the meetings that I had that were so hard to do was a big part of him coming home. Even though he only saw freedom for six months, at least he saw freedom.

We're living in a time and a space right now where people are finally starting to acknowledge that there's a whole lot of racist cops with the power to offset people's lives for generations. What we're not talking about enough is the system that promotes and honors and nurtures and cherishes that racism.

Oliver: People talk about the idea of the system and the police department being problematic and corrupt and a justice system that can convict nine people for the murder of one officer. They forget that these are instances of the system doing exactly and specifically what it was designed to do. Those aren't accidents. Those aren't outliers. Those are within the bounds of how our system is and was designed to function.

You have to remember where police departments came from. They grew out of slave catching. None of these things are mistakes or accidents. It requires a real understanding of that in order to fix the problem and not just a bunch of surface-level things to make us feel good or sleep better at night.

That's what we've done for the longest time. It's been a lot of "Hey, let me do this thing because things are bubbling up and we have to make a statement." One of the things that really bothers me is the idea that people have been talking about how alarmingly relevant this film is, how topical this film is. That breaks my f**king heart. We're talking about stuff that happened 40 years ago. 40 years ago and, case in point, the film screened at the Philadelphia Film Festival and it was a drive-in screening on a Monday. That same Monday, that very same day, was the day that Walter Wallace Jr. was killed in Philly across the street. Literally the same street as somebody in the film, a MOVE member, she lives on that block around the corner from what happened to MOVE.

We have a lot of work to do. I love Philly. I really do. And in many ways, this film is a love letter to Philly, but Philly needs to do better. Not that long after George Floyd was murdered, there was a video that I saw of Philadelphia police who were arresting a Black man and he yelled out, "I can't breathe." And the police officers screamed back, "That sh*t don't work here." And kept on with their knee on his neck.

I understand why you would get frustrated by people talking about why the film is timely, but this film has been timely since our existence in this country. People ask me all the time, "What has changed?" And I'm like, "The names of the victims." That's the only thing that changes.

Oliver: Exactly.

Mike, I want you to speak to this. We always hear about a few bad apples within departments and that most officers are here to protect us and make sure we're safe. But that's just not the case. It's not a few bad apples. I personally feel like it's a system that constantly grows all bad apples. Every time something like Walter Wallace happens, like Ahmaud Arbery happens, like Breonna Taylor happens, like George Floyd happens, I come back to this point.

Africa Jr.: The thing about the police department is that their emblem is a shield. What is a shield for? A shield is not something that a person who is offering a service carries. It's something that is in defense of something. It's like they're defending themselves against the public because they're protecting something that the public should destroy. The police don't exist to protect the people from each other. The police exist to protect industry from the people because the system that exists is destroying life. It's destroying us. It puts money between us and the things we need.

There's a system that exists that if you don't have money, you can't eat. If you don't have credentials from the system, you cannot get money. Why do we live in this society, in a system that would rather have people have billions of dollars and some people have no dollars? That's not because those people just work harder to get those things. Those things were stolen and protected by the police so that those people maintain it. But when the people rebel, they call us terrorists and violent. They call a person that breaks a glass window a rioter and a looter, but the man that kneels on George Floyd's neck is at home and being held like he's some kind of hero.

In Philadelphia, one of my friends, Ant Smith, was arrested because they said he was aiding and abetting a person that threw a Molotov cocktail at a police car and burned it up. The person that burned up the police car, allegedly, is facing 10 to 80 years in prison. She's been in jail since this whole year started. And he, according to them, aided and abetted her, he's facing 10 to 30 years in jail. But the people that actually did the murders throughout the country, they're all home. Kyle Rittenhouse is home. This is a system that is so bad, three Black people every day are killed by the police.

When people start talking about defunding the police and the police start coming back like they're so appalled by the fact that people are saying these things, they should understand that people are not saying these things because they just don't like police. They're saying these things because they are negatively affected by the actions of the police. People would not be saying those things if the police were doing the service that they claim to do. Calling for the abolishment of the police, is much more so about building community unity and providing the necessary resources so that the violent crime and the things that the police claim they're there for don't even exist. If f they're honest, they know that they would not want to be treated the way that they treat Black people.

Oliver: If you think about the film and you think about what happened to Delbert Africa, there are a couple of points to really dig into. One, what happened to Delbert was clear as day. It was recorded on film. There were witnesses. There were photographs. It was clear as day. It took a year to charge those officers who beat him and those officers all got off. Not only did they get off, it was a jury trial and the judge decided to unilaterally take the case away from them and issue a direct verdict of not guilty. Then those three officers went on air and said that they would do the exact same thing again.

I don't know how to reconcile that. It's such a hard thing because these are people that we are inclined to trust, people who are supposed to protect and serve. We want to believe them. We want to trust them. In addition to that, you think about what happened with the police commissioner. The commissioner, right after all of that happened, he went on air, and this is where most people got their information about MOVE. He goes up there and he says that he had a knife in one hand and a clip in the other. And that's one of the reasons why I showed you in the film when he said that versus what actually happened.

All you have to go off of is what the police commissioner said, who's up there with the mayor and the DA and these people who we are, again, inclined to trust. These are elected officials. These are community officials. These are people who are these giants and they are sitting there telling bold-faced lies. In a place like Philly this happened year in and year out for a long time. When you have a system that does those sorts of things, it makes it really hard to trust them. It makes it really hard to think that when I call these people, things will get better.

Watching the archival footage in the film and the reporting you captured, it made me feel like I was living through these experiences or going through these experiences with the Africa family. What type of emotions came out of both of you guys when you actually saw the finished product?

Africa, Jr.: There was a lot of emotions. On the one hand, I was so happy that Tommy put it together the way he did because I trusted him but there was still a level of reservation because we had been done so wrong in the media in the past. No matter how kind or polite people seemed, there was always some kind of negative spin on it that just made it feel like you can never trust anybody in any type of media. There was a part of me that was relieved because I've worked with Tommy and I didn't want to take a film to my family that I felt they wouldn't approve of. So that was a big part of it.

There was another part that was just so emotional for me — seeing my family the way they were in 1978 and the way they are now. They were young. There's a scene where he has the kids in the yard and those kids were in the house, May 13th. They were among the kids that were killed. So to see them and remember them, it was really touching and emotional. It felt like a piece of my life that was taken from me had been given back to me. When I watched it again with my parents and other MOVE members, I didn't even really spend a lot of time watching the film, I spent more time watching them relive those days. I knew that they were going to feel what I felt when I saw it. It's a breath of fresh air.

How have your parents been adjusting since they got home?

Africa, Jr.: There's a roller coaster of emotions with them. Keep in mind, 40 years had passed. We went through cassette tapes, CDs, mini disks. They had never seen a VCR tape. Home Depot didn't exist when they went to prison. We didn't have cell phones. There's so many things that they're learning at such a fast pace because 40 years ago, when they wanted something, they had to put it together, assemble it and wait. Now if they want anything, it's almost like it's instant. When we first came home, my mom and I were in the restaurant and she was looking for the knobs on the sink to turn the water on and the water spit out the faucet and she was amazed. It felt like the Jetsons or something to her. When I gave her a phone and Siri said, "Hello, Debbie, what do you need?" She threw her phone on the floor.

You might assume that when they come home their life is complete and this is all they wanted and now they're just happy and they're probably going to be happy forever. But there's also a deep sense of depression that comes with being released from prison. When they first went to prison my parents had all of their brothers and sisters, both their parents and a lot of friends. And even though they know that their parents passed away while they were in prison and that many of their brothers and sisters are gone. The last time they were actually home, they were with those people. When they come home, they still expect to see them and when that doesn't happen, the gravity of how much time has passed and how much they've lost since they've been away, begins to set in. There's a level of deep depression that comes. Fortunately, they came home to my house, and we were able to work through all of those things and get them to smooth sailing. Right now they're really, really happy. They're really good right now.

Oliver: The first time I'd been on a plane was in September, which was seven months after not being on a plane, and it was to go to Philly because I didn't want MOVE to be blindsided. The film was about to premiere in Toronto and I wanted to make sure that they saw the film before it was released to the world. It was a 450-seat theater in downtown Philly, and there were 15 of us in there, 15 MOVE members or so. I'm not a particularly emotional person at all but I remember when it started watching Mike, in particular, talk about his journey it got to me because he's talking about why he was fighting and continuing to fight to get them out and having been there for what followed that for years of the struggle, the heartache, the disappointment. I knew how much he wanted his family home and I knew that he was just a kid who wanted his parents home and the rest of his family home. And that was it. That's all it was. That really got to me.

The film is going to be a call to action for a lot of people. It's going to ignite something inside of them. In your opinions, what should the conversation be centered around and what type of actions should directly follow those conversations?

Africa Jr.: We need to do everything. There's no one thing that is going to change things. We need to do everything possible. It doesn't matter if it's a political thing, if it's a street thing, any type of activity that we can get to make some changes is what people need to do. There's no right or wrong way to work to make a change, outside of just straight up violence, hurting somebody. This is not a MOVE fight. This is not a Tommy or Mike fight. This is a something that affects us all. Anything that people can do, they should do.

Oliver: I think people often get confused and they think that protesting is the work. Protesting is not the work, protesting is the sizzle. The real work happens away from those things. And that's not to diminish the importance of protesting because it matters, but we need real change. We need legislation change. We need different people in office. We need a ton of things that happen away from when people are out protesting because protesting will sometimes make you feel good for a bit and it's, "Hey, I did my part." Well, no, that's a part of it. That is a part of pushing the collective consciousness toward something that we need to be concerned with, but that's not enough. If we're going to have a place where our kids inherit a world that is better than the world that we are currently living in today, there's a lot that we have to do. There's a lot that we have to continue to push.

"40 Years a Prisoner" is streaming on HBO Max.

Here's what happens when police raid your home without knocking first

It was 1995, and we were scheduled to leave the east side of Baltimore for Kings Dominion the next morning. I had big plans: to ride all the rides, eat funnel cake, crack jokes on the three-hour bus ride with my classmates to the theme park, and sleep on the ride home. And to debut my new Nikes on this school trip — the Air Max 95s — with the top strings undone, like my boy JT from West Baltimore showed me. "I don't know why, but the girls love when I don't tie my shoes alla way up!" he'd say. "Wear them string loose, D!"

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Comedian Eric Andre: 'This country's got a s**tty history'

During a time when our nation is exploding in protest and uprising in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, comedian Eric Andre is offering a simple remedy to America's problems with policing: legalize everything. The message comes in the form of his wild and crazy Netflix stand-up special, "Eric Andre: Legalize Everything," which is centered on, as Andre told me on "Salon Talks" this week, "getting punished for the things that bring us pleasure." Turns out, there is a ton of truth in his hilarious commentaries.

If the failed War on Drugs was ended and narcotics were legal, then Breonna Taylor would have never been gunned down in a BS, botched drug bust that should have never happened. Add that to fact that millions of African Americans have been on the wrong side of the drug war since President Richard Nixon launched it the 1970s and worked at getting the public to associate "the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin," according to his domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman. Nixon's plan to criminalize both heavily and disrupt those communities has worked like a charm and has created a new American tradition for Black men: the tradition of prison.

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Here's what happens when the protests stop

When the cameras leave and the idea of black people "mattering" falls back to the bottom of everyone's priority list­­, the real work starts.

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Reporter April Ryan breaks down the real reason Trump is obsessed with re-opening America

What do celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson, Suze Orman, Valerie Jarret and Iyanla Vanzant have in common? Well, they're stuck at home like the rest of us, and they've all been featured on April Ryan's new Instagram Live show, "Covid Conversations." Many know Ryan from her work as a CNN political analyst and her role as a White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. While she's stuck at home and unable to go to the White House, she started her own show Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on her Instagram. No lights and no stage — just Ryan at her desk with her phone.

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'The Plot Against America' creator David Simon: The 2020 election is going to be a sh*tshow

Imagine venturing off to a foreign country with hopes and dreams of prosperity, economic opportunity and a new way of life — only to get a small glimpse of what that dream feels like before having it all snatched away. Philip Roth brilliantly told this story through the eyes of Jewish-American immigrants in his acclaimed novel, "The Plot Against America," and now David Simon and HBO are bringing his book to the screen in a six-part miniseries. Simon, the Emmy Award winner and creator behind "The Wire," "The Deuce," and "The Corner," sat down with me on "Salon Talks" to discuss the making of the show and the message behind it.

Over the past five years, I've leaned on Simon for advice as a mentor and friend –– and now I have the opportunity to write for one of his television shows currently in development.

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'Just Mercy': Freeing an innocent man shouldn't be this hard

Destin Daniel Cretton's film "Just Mercy" gives a rare glimpse into how messed up our criminal justice system really is.Michael B. Jordan, "Black Panther" and "Creed" star, plays Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard lawyer from Delaware who relocates to Monroeville, Alabama to form the Equal Justice Initiative, a government-funded firm that provides Death Row inmates with fair legal representation.

Stevenson brilliantly documents this journey in his bestselling book of the same name, which many fans, including myself, feel should have been adapted to film a long time ago. But that is Stevenson; s you get to know him in the film or book, you'll notice that he's fully committed to the work and makes almost no reference to his personal life. You begin to feel that his work is his life: It's extremely demanding, couldn't be more urgent, and leaves little time for many of the extras that most of us deem relevant. Like a doctor, Stevenson's work saves lives.

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Trump releases a tremendous, totally real favorite books list

The former and currently most missed president in American history, Barack Obama recently shared his picks for his favorite books of 2019 on social media.

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Actor Kal Penn explains why Democrats keep losing

Is there any point of apologizing in this era of cancel culture? Redemption is dead, right? Cancel culture thrives on deleting people from our current ecosystem of perfect human beings, who are all preset with the same rules. These types of beliefs and standards work great online, but the internet doesn’t mirror real life. People have flaws. They make mistakes. Sometimes they make the same mistake 10 times before they learn their lesson, and that’s okay because we are human.

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The Biden 'wokeness' paradox: Can black voters support him and also hold him accountable?

On Sunday, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential primary frontrunner Joe Biden delivered a speech to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The 1963 act of terror took years — in the case of two of the KKK members who were convicted in 2001 and 2002, decades — to prosecute. It also marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement, making this event a significant stop on the campaign trail for Biden, who, as the New York Times points out today, needs to demonstrate whether he "can translate his longstanding connection to black voters into votes next year."

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Felicity Huffman will likely get a lenient sentence in a cheating scandal. But a black mom who sent her kid to the wrong school got 5 years.

Most people with basic common sense understand the race problem that exists in this country. They know that many black people don’t get a fair shake. But frequently I encounter honestly confused white people at book events who have little to no proximity to black people, other than authors swinging through their town to promote their race books — the single black dude who luckily made it out because of some rare opportunity, which leads them to believe everyone can, even those without the same opportunities — and who simply think that racism ended with slavery, and that systemic or structural racism doesn’t exist. So here’s a clear example for those who don’t get it.

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The View's Meghan McCain needs a lesson in empathy

Season 23 of "The View" opened with a rhetorical bang this week when conservative co-host Meghan McCain, a zealous supporter of Second Amendment rights, said she could not live in a world without firearms.

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Reagan was a crook and a racist. My community always knew that

Ronald Reagan has always been known as a crook and a racist in my community.

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Those of us who live in Elijah Cummings' Baltimore district couldn't care less about Trump people

It's crazy when you wake up in the morning and the President of the United States is throwing shots at your neighborhood, but this is the world we live in.

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Central Park Five prosecutor faces backlash after Netflix show exposes her key role in constructing the false narrative

I bet Linda Fairstein, the former New York City sex-crimes prosecutor, was enjoying her life up through last week. As she would; Fairstein built an accomplished legal career, earning the respect of her peers and rubbing elbows with the top of the New York elite, such as film mogul and accused serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. She's even published a collection of bestselling mystery novels.

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The problem with 'therapy is for white people' mentality

My friend Justin hung himself back when we were 22.

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Reparations for slavery in the United States are long overdue

The topic of slavery reparations is finally trending again, nearly five years after Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay in The Atlantic making the case. Even 2020 presidential candidates are talking about it — or displaying creative ways to avoid the issue. But before we talk about why reparations are necessary, let’s knock out some light housekeeping.

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Beyond Operation Varsity Blues: Our education system is broken—and exploitable—from the bottom up

We know that Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been charged as a result of a huge investigation that involves fraud, bribery, cheating and rigging the higher education admission process so that their children can attend elite universities like USC, Stanford, and Yale without actually doing the work required to be admitted. We also know that they are catching most of the negative attention for two reasons: they are famous, and they are women. The list of parents in on this grift includes over 50 names, many of whom are powerful men who have the luxury of getting lost in the media’s excitement over the famous actresses­­. And as newsworthy and horrific as this whole scandal is, it also makes me think of my friend Reggie’s mom.

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Our education system is broken: Pay-to-play loopholes are standard for wealthy kids — and it starts early with public school inequality

We know that Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been charged as a result of a huge investigation that involves fraud, bribery, cheating and rigging the higher education admission process so that their children can attend elite universities like USC, Stanford, and Yale without actually doing the work required to be admitted. We also know that they are catching most of the negative attention for two reasons: they are famous, and they are women. The list of parents in on this grift includes over 50 names, many of whom are powerful men who have the luxury of getting lost in the media’s excitement over the famous actresses­­. And as newsworthy and horrific as this whole scandal is, it also makes me think of my friend Reggie’s mom.

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The black people's guide to 2020: University of Baltimore professor explains why he may not vote for the 'two well-qualified black candidates' running for the Democratic nomination

Back in 2008 America successfully elected its first black president, and we could possibly get another in 2020. (OK, I'm not holding my breath or anything.) There are two well-qualified and well-respected African-American candidates running at the time I write this: Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. Becoming a black U.S. senator in America is almost impossible -- there have been only 10 in our nation's history, and four of those were appointed rather than elected. So Booker and Harris both have a decent shot at dethroning Trump if they don’t take the black vote for granted.

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'Girls Who Code' founder Reshma Saujani explains how to push back against patriarchy in Tech

My fearless niece is the perfect combination of intelligent, curious and bold bunched into a pocket-sized three-year-old girl. When she visits me, I’m bombarded with questions, and then rationalizations for every answer I give, so that it can make sense within her little world.

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Don't just watch 'Surviving R. Kelly': The Lifetime series alone won't be the end of the story

This week Lifetime premiered its six-part docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” dream hampton's detailed look at the musician's history of epic narcissism and disturbing allegations of a long-standing pattern of sexual abuse and domestic violence from multiple accusers, including those who were teenagers when they say the abuse happened.

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Was Jazmine Barnes a victim of domestic terrorism? Will white America own it?

Last Sunday morning, around 7 a.m., 30-year-old LaPorsha Washington sat in her car with a family group in a Walmart parking lot in Cloverleaf, Texas, a suburb of Houston. As she made her way to the exit, a white man, roughly 40 years old with a salt-and-pepper beard and wearing a red hoodie, drew a firearm and emptied rounds into her car. Washington took off, tires screeching as she left the lot — trying to protect her family by evading the gunman. As she drove, not realizing that one of the shooter's bullets had pierced her arm, a teenage daughter, wounded by shattered glass cried that her little sister was not moving. Washington stopped the car. Her daughter, Jazmine Barnes, 7, shot once in the head, was unconscious in the backseat.

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How Trump's fervor for slashing spending will hurt his most loyal supporters

President Trump is planning on cutting The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which will take food out of the mouths of his most loyal supporters — white men.

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Here are 9 things Trump wants for Christmas

Dear Santa,

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A black 'good guy with a gun' was killed by police while subduing an active shooter - and the NRA's silence is deafening

On Sunday night, around 4 a.m., a Chicagoland police officer shot and killed Jemel Roberson, a black man, after reports of a shooting came from a bar in a Cook County suburb. Roberson, 26, was not the assailant — he was the armed security guard who had secured the alleged shooter and saved lives. He was shot for saving a person's life while being black. I wonder why President Trump and the NRA have been silent on this one?

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Trump’s Pro-White, Pro-Fear Rhetoric Will Keep Radicalizing Angry White Men

Donald Trump is spearheading a white male movement to take back America — even though white men still own America — and people are dying as a result.

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Dear Sarah Sanders: You Got What You Deserved - But There’s Still Time to Change

Last Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, her husband and some acquaintances were booted from the Red Hen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. This was the decision of one of the restaurant's owners, Stephanie Wilkinson, who said, "I'm not a huge fan of confrontation.”

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