Peace and Justice Summit: Mass Incarceration

BRYAN: Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are so kind. Thank you so much. I want to welcome you to Montgomery, I want to welcome you to the Justice Summit. We are so thrilled
that you are here. We're so thrilled that we are going to have two days of amazing
conversations from the most woke people in America. How about that? And I'm
delighted to start this first session with three extraordinary people. He is the Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, an
award-winning writer and journalist for "The New Yorker" and other publications, our moderator for this morning – the extraordinary Jelani Cobb. She is the amazing writer, thinker,
intellect who started a movement that has shaken this country – the
extraordinary author of "The New Jim Crow" – Michelle Alexander. And my friend, my dear, dear friend and
the President Council, Director Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund,
the author of the ground-breaking book, "On the Courthouse Lawn," which was
the genesis of so much of the work that we are doing on lynching – the
extraordinary, brilliant Sherrilyn Ifill. JELANI: Good morning! Alright! How are all of y'all doing? Good, good. So I'm the most fortunate man
in Alabama today. I get to have this conversation with these two brilliant women whose work I've admired for so long. And so I think we'll just kind of jump in and talk about this
moment that we're in and how we got to it. I have not gotten a chance to see the memorial yet, I'm going there from here, but just the work
that Bryan has done and that EJI has done in excavating this part of the past that the
country has no interest in confronting unless they're pushed to do so,
and from the work that both of you do, we know that there are very deep roots,
historical roots in how we got to this moment. So I just want to start with a
kind of general question which is how did we get here? MICHELLE: Well, I'll just start
first by saying how thrilled I am to be here and what an extraordinary moment
this is that we're in, gathered here to celebrate this extraordinary museum all
of the work that has gone into it. This work of remembrance, the insistence on the importance of memory I think is a critical part of birthing a new nation.
Last night, you know, I was able to attend this extraordinary celebration, and over
and over I heard people talking about the importance of truth and
reconciliation. Kim Taylor Thompson and Bryan Stevenson last night both
emphasized that we can't have reconciliation without truth, and that
we've been unwilling to face the truth in this country. And
there have been many activists and scholars, probably most notably
Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has made the point that perhaps reconciliation isn't
possible without reparation, without some attempt to repair the harm of the past.
But, you know, as I was preparing to come here as I was journeying here, I kept
thinking that beyond truth, beyond reconciliation, even beyond reparation,
part of what is happening here is the birth of a new nation, that we're at a
time in our history when confederate statues are coming down, and new statues, new museums are coming up. And that this isn't just the work of making a more perfect union, since our union was never perfect, it isn't about just improving this
nation, that this is the work of birthing a new nation. This is part of that river
that Dr. Vincent Harding talked about this river of rebellion and resistance
and remaking of a nation that has yet to be. And so, you know, I just want to say
this outset how thrilled I am to be here with so many people committed to being
part of that rebirth. And certainly by now I think we understand the price, the
cost of not remembering, of colorblindness, of looking away, of
sweeping history under the rug, of attempting to move on without facing the truth, without telling the truth. And we see now that if we fail to face our
history, if we fail to tell the truth, we will repeat it, like a child who will
just keep sticking their hand in a fire because they do not remember the hurt of
the pain if they have no memory. We as our nation, our collective subconscious, as well as all of those who are intent on
preserving white supremacy and racial hierarchy, will rebirth these systems of
racial and social control over and over again. And as Bryan Stevenson has
eloquently stated, you know, slavery didn't die, it evolved. And part of the
work we have today is putting slavery, the mindset that birthed slavery, the
political and economic forces that gave rise to slavery, allowing that to die, and
grieving those who were lost and participating in the revolutionary birth
of a new nation/ That's something that Dr. King understood at the end of his
life when he said, "We need a revolution of values." He wasn't talking about a
rhetorical revolution, he was talking about an actual revolution, the
restructuring of our political and economic systems so that a new nation
could be born. America must be born again. And I think we are here today. We've got
to this place because for too long our nation hasn't been willing to face its
history, but this museum, all of you present here is more than enough
evidence that I think we're ready to rise to the challenge this moment in
history presents. SHERRILYN: So first of all, this is so deeply moving, so extraordinary to be here to see all of you, to really see what Bryan and
his team have created. I'm so proud of him and feel that this is such an
important moment, especially at this moment in this country, to be doing this
project that Michelle is just talking about. This year is the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment to the Constitution, and we had a conference earlier this week in Philadelphia and we had a whole panel on
reconstruction, and just talking about what happened in reconstruction,
what got papered over, what got turned, the compromises that were made,
the stories that were created to explain what the confederacy was, the kinds of
lies that became part of the national story in that period, and how much we are
still dealing with the consequence of the decisions that were made during that
period. And my engagement with this issue of lynching really compelled me to think
about this question of remembering because I found that I was, in my work as
a young civil rights lawyer at the Legal Defense Fund, constantly bumping into
this history in communities where I was litigating cases. I'd be litigating a
voting rights case, as I was in Oklahoma in 1991, and part of litigating these
cases requires you to present evidence about the history of discrimination in
that community. And that was when I first learned about the Tulsa Race Riots. It
was these stories that African Americans would tell me about some racial pogrom, some lynching, some act of violence that happened in the past that for them
was a defining moment in the history of that community. And when I moved and
started doing work in Maryland, and I started working on a case involving
transportation access I asked about the history of discrimination and I learned
from those conversations about two lynchings that happened in the 1930s
in those communities. Couldn't find any evidence that they happened, but there were these very detailed stories about these events. And I started that project of
trying to excavate that history. And in 2003, I wrote an article called, "Creating
a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Lynching." I had been to South Africa,
I had heard – whatever were the flaws – the honesty of a conversation about race
that I had never heard in this country. And I couldn't understand how to
reconcile the silence that I found in the communities where I was working
around these events that were so defining and the very explicit
conversation about the worst kinds of atrocities that occurred in South Africa. And I felt that this was missing, that we had papered over something that could
not be papered over, and that in fact, the work I was doing in litigating cases in
the contemporary moment had everything to do with those two men who
were killed in 1931 and 1933 in those communities. And so I started writing
about it and it led to the book I wrote, "On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the
Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century," I was essentially saying, what does… all these events that happened the 20th century, what do they have to do
with the 21st century? And what they had to do with it was that they lived on in
these communities, you know. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "The past does not lay
down quietly." It does not lay down quietly. It exists in the relationships
that became frozen. These were terrible terrible incidents that happened in these
communities of absolute betrayal of the justice system in which, you know, people
all over the community were complicit in witnessing these events, in which men
were railroaded and accused of the worst crimes that they did not commit, in which
families were in some instances so afraid that they wouldn't even come and
collect the bodies of their loved ones, in which communities were terrorized by
the presentation of lynching victims. I mean, this was a message crime that
terrorized communities, and that message was received by those communities, and
that message still lived on, even when I was visiting those communities in the
1990s and in the early aughts and still to this day. So until we go back and recognize what happened, talk about what happened, and unsend that
message – you know how on a computer, you try to get a message back, it's really hard. We
need to do that project and, you know, and I'll say in the book that I wrote,
I said, this needs to happen in the black and the white community, because this is,
this is, their role in in lynching actually continues to resonate today as
well, and it resonates in what we see in the criminal justice
system and what we see in the kinds of ways in which stories are told about who
perpetrators are and who victims are and who law enforcement is and when you can
question law enforcement and when you can't. That's, we inherited that. And
they inherited that. And so we need to go back and excavate that. JELANI: I think that one of the things, when I was in graduate school and I was reading and writing about lynching, one of the
things that struck me was the number. that number has grown, you know, Tuskegee
began, when it was still Tuskegee Institute, began keeping track of
lynchings and that number came out to about… do we have some Tuskegee people here? We could do a whole HBCU shout out… [laughter, clapping] No, I'm not going to do that, although if I did do that, I'd be sure to mention Howard where I went… [laughter] But in looking at the work that
Tuskegee did, they came out around 3,000, around 3,000 people… Did Jesse Jackson
just say A&T? [laughter] This conversation has gone way left… But the work that Tuskegee did, they had a number around 3,000 and the number has kind of gone up. When I was in graduate school, it was 3700-
3800. Now people are thinking that it's in the 5,000 range and one of the kind
of stunning aspects of this is that when you look at it, it averaged out to about
two to three lynchings per week over the course of three decades, and that's just
the kind of middle part of the bell curve. There's a smaller distribution at
the beginning and a smaller distribution at the end, so it doesn't end there. And so this is kind of deeply interred in American history and
for the work that we do in the present, if you, and in "The New Jim Crow," and
lecturing, and talking about these issues, and with the LDF, it seems possible to
see the fingerprints of that when we look at things like Stephon Clark or
Philando Castile or the entire litany of Sandra Bland, the entire litany of these
high-profile instances we've seen of black people losing their lives at the
hands of law enforcement in these ways that should not happen. And I wonder if it's it's too much to say that lynching is
foundational to the relationship of African Americans and criminal justice?
SHERRILYN: No, it's not too much. It goes right to the beginning of the statement
you just made about the number and how the number, you know, has increased as
we've dealt more. The most important connection, first and foremost, is with
this question of truth and what is truth because there was a very deliberate
effort to cover the truth about lynching. It's not as though many of you don't
know by accident. You don't know because when lynchings happened,
there was a silence that fell, and there was a compact within communities,
particularly white communities, that you didn't talk about it. In black
communities, very often it was not talked about anymore because of fear. But in the
white community, it also wasn't talked about because of fear because they
wanted to protect one another, and that extended to actual institutions. I mean,
in the lynchings that I studied, you know, the one in 193, the local newspaper did
not cover the lynching that happened in front of 500 people on a Friday night at
8 o'clock. And what they said, the newspaper came out the next day, and it
said, it issued a statement, and the statement said, "We will not report on the
demonstration that occurred last night for the simple reason that everyone
knows what happened." Right? So the deliberate attempt to cover this up,
and then to pretend kind of that it didn't happen, and it was really those
black institutions like Tuskegee, it was black journalists like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, it was the work that they did to keep these accounts alive that is
the work that EJI has built on and now has recognized how high that number
is. I've always said nearly 5,000 because there's so many unrecorded lynchings. But
the reality is the black community had to fight to keep this history alive and
what that has to do with today is that the reason that we are calling out the
names of the people that you're calling out is because we have these videos.
Most people in this room know that the issue of police violence against unarmed
African Americans is not new. It is not new anywhere in this country. I'm
originally from New York and I can remember being 10 years old and NYPD
killing another ten-year-old, Clifford Glover, when I was 10. So this is not
new but we didn't have the videos and so we were gas lighted in the same way,
right. Did it happen, he reached for his band, he had a gun, he was a thief… all of the stories that used to cover all of this and that they still
try to perpetrate but now you can't un-see Walter Scott running in that park
and being shot in the back. You can't un-see Eric Garner being choked to death
by the NYPD. And so that connection first and foremost, there are
many others, but that connection of just truth, of gaslighting the black community
into believing that something that is part of their experience didn't happen,
is one of the first connections and one of the most powerful ones because it
creates a sense of uncertainty within our own community and then it also
allowed white people to say, "It didn't happen that way," and to own truth. MICHELLE: And that is evident right now in the struggle over data, you know, it's
stunning that there is no national system for collecting data on police
shootings, you know. You ask the Justice Department how many unarmed black men
have been killed in a particular year and they can't give you a clear answer. And many police departments around the country have not collected the kind of
data that would allow people to, you know, even report accurate numbers. The
Guardian, as well as other, you know, media outlets have undertaken efforts to
collect that kind of data but it's a reflection of whose lives matter, whose
lives and deaths are worth counting and keeping track of and years ago
police departments claimed that, you know, racial profiling was a figment of the
collective imagination of black and brown people and refused to collect data
on the race and ethnicity of people who were stopped and searched. So when, you know, someone would say, you know, "I was stopped for no reason other than my race," "My car was pulled over, I
was beat up, I was frisked, I was thrown to…" "…the pavement, and this is happening to me
because I'm black," you know, the police department said, "No, there's no such thing
as racial profiling. All groups are…" "…treated equally." And there was no data, no
way to prove it. And so this struggle for data and memory and the counting and
the recording is just a part of the effort to count every life and to honor
it as though it matters and I hope that as we move forward that not only will we
continue to count those who were lynched but we will demand a much better
accounting of those who are being lynched in the modern age by our police
departments and by our law enforcement today. SHERRILYN: Jelani, can I just… I want to add something about the you know, because you talked about the criminal justice system and the question of
the justice apparatus itself because if you think about
the choreography of lynching, a black person is accused of doing something, and it wasn't always that black men were accused of raping white women,
even Ida B. Wells-Barnett in her accounting recognized that that was not
the principal reason that even people were accused of committing a
crime. So you have that – they're accused of something. Then you have the actual
killing, right. It's a mob, it's two or three people, or it's thousands,
sometimes the person the African American person is dragged from
jail, sometimes they're taken from their home, whatever is the means, and they
are killed. And that killing has some public dimension which is kind of what
makes it a lynching, right. You're not trying to hide it. It's a message crime. So you're hanging the body, you're burning the body, you're dragging the
body through the streets, you're leaving the body on the black side of town, you
want to send the message. Now what happens? What should happen is there
should be an apparatus of investigation and prosecution of those who committed
this terrible crime, right, and we know that that doesn't happen. We know that we
don't have any accounting of anyone who was convicted of actual
murder for lynching someone. Some people were convicted of riot and other things.
So that means that there's a breakdown in the justice system and so you have to
be looking at the role of those local prosecutors who should have been
conducting investigations and those local police who did not, you know, there
are cases of prosecutors who, first of all, there's complicity in the community,
you know. There's a famous quote of one man who said, you know, "We would never
testify and say what we saw because we're all neighbors and neighbors
neighbors," you know, so there's the closed ranks of the community that won't tell,
there's the failure of the police to actually conduct real investigations, but
there's a story to be told about the role that local prosecutors played in
refusing to seriously try and prosecute the lynchers even though everybody knew
who they were. There were very few masked lynchings, right. That is, the people who
committed these crimes, they were not scared. They did not have on masks,
everyone knew who they were and yet somehow you didn't have these
prosecutions happen. I know of at least one case in which the state Attorney
General took over and actually provided the local prosecutor with affidavits with the identities of all the lynchers and the local prosecutors still
refused to bring that prosecution. So this question of prosecutors, which we've
all been talking about quite a bit, and this question of accountability for
killing, particularly in the context of law enforcement, is another piece that is
inherited and another piece that I think links us to this period, that in every
moment of the justice system, there has to be either action or failure to act.
And as much as we're making the demands for truth and data, we also have to be
making the demands that the actors in the criminal justice system act as they
are supposed to act as they, are charged to act in a way that vindicates the
lives of those people who are killed unlawfully. [applause] JELANI: I'm glad you raised the issue of
accountability because that's where I wanted to go next in terms of the
present administration and the present DOJ and the present concerns around
issues of criminal justice. The introductory statement of the sessions
DOJ was to get rid of the consent decrees that had been used to bring
rogue police departments more closely into line with what the actual standards
were supposed to be. And in some instances police departments themselves wanted to
have this oversight that would help them develop better practices, or come
closer to best practices. And the DOJ said that "We are no longer interested." And
that they even raised the question of whether there even is systemic wrongdoing
in any police department in the United States. And so I wondered from your
perspectives, you know, what does the current lay of the land, in terms of
criminal justice and efforts at criminal justice reform, look like? What are some of the things that we should be concerned about that are
happening under the Sessions' DOJ? SHERRILYN: I'll keep this brief because I do not
want to give him that much air today. Jeff Sessions came into this office,
shockingly came into this office, son of Alabama with a very clear idea about law
enforcement and a very clear idea about what he wanted to accomplish. There is no
fact about the reality of the criminal justice system that will change his mind
including about policing. I met with him only once and in that meeting I was
really fighting for this whole consent decree process. We had a pending consent
decree in Baltimore, there's one in Ferguson, we wanted this pattern and
practice investigations to continue and and it was clear that he was not for it,
even though the police chief of Baltimore was saying, "We want this
consent decree." Even though law enforcement themself
was saying, "This actually helps us, it gives us more resources," and so forth. So
he just was not going to have it. And if you'll notice, you know, the the
conversation at the federal level about criminal justice reform has completely
shifted with this new administration. In the prior administration, there
actually was a bipartisan effort to pass a criminal justice reform bill, both
Republicans and Democrats were on board, in many ways I didn't think that it went
far enough, but it was an attempt to begin to do something around sentencing
and particularly black and brown people who were subjected to overly harsh
sentences in drug cases in the federal system. And it was supposed to make some
changes to that The whole conversation about criminal justice reform has now
been turned into a conversation about prison reform and about creating reentry
programs. And while I believe strongly in the importance of reentry programs, it is
the height of cynicism to be Jeff Sessions who has removed all of the
smart on crime efforts that Attorney General Holder first imposed so that you
wouldn't overcharge defendants and so forth and so he's shoveling people into
the criminal justice system as fast as he can and then we're supposed
to be excited about a program, a reentry program on the way out. None of us would
want that for our kids. None of us want a program on the way out after our kids
have been in jail for fifteen and twenty years. [applause] So I would just say,
just beware when you, if you right now leave and you Google, you're
going to see that there's a prison reform bill that they are talking about and
you'll also see that every civil rights organization opposes the bill. This is
the cynically morphed thing that they created so that there's
no real federal criminal justice reform but now there's just this prison reform. And of course the federal system is just a fraction of the criminal justice
system which is really operated at the state level. And so we're continuing to
do really intense local work, but this is really important to see this
hijacked and to see members of Congress pretend as though creating reentry
programs is the same as not taking away people's lives on the front end… it's
just very indicative of the moment that we're in.
MICHELLE: I agree a hundred percent with that. I think the only thing I would add is kind
of where you left off which is that this system of mass incarceration is not
primarily a system of federal incarceration. And I hope that we seize
this moment as an opportunity to get very serious about building this
movement state by state, county by county, city by city, you know, not expecting to
be a problem that can be fixed at the top with reform trickling all the way
down, and you know, I think back to the time when the Civil Rights movement, the
black freedom struggle was building and at that time you had
several membership-based grassroots organizations that were focused like a
laser on ending Jim Crow segregation. You had the Congress on Racial Equality
which had 50 some chapters around the country. You had SNCC. You had the NAACP. You had the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference… these were membership-based
organizations that were perceived as radical organizations. These were not
mainstream organizations that had a seat at the table and were regularly invited
to the White House and expert briefings and conferences. These were considered
fringe radical organizations where you could risk your life even having your
name on the membership roll, and yet you have thousands of people, members of
these organizations, engaged in direct action, community organizing, movement
building in most of the states in this country. And I think there's a temptation
to want to believe that the crisis that we're facing today will require
something less, that there are technocratic solutions, that if we get
the right experts in the room, you know, we can tinker with this machine and get
it right, but I firmly believe that just as ending lynching and ending the old Jim Crow required a radical grassroots
movement that, you know, in which people across lines of race and ethnicity and
class joined together to shake the foundations of a system, that is the kind
of movement and commitment and risk-taking and boldness and daring that
is required of us now. [applause] And I think it's connected to this Trump moment, you know, I've said a number of times that you know, I have some difficulty with us
framing ourselves as being part of a resistance, because as I see it Trump and
company are the resistance. There is a bold new America begging to be born,
struggling to be born as part of that river of, you know, current courageous
activism from the days of abolition on down, a new America struggling to be born.
And it's beautiful to see it blooming in so many ways with LGBTQ rights, with the
Dreamers, with the Movement for Black Lives, for Standing Rock, and Occupy… you see this extraordinary energy in the United States struggling to birth this new
America. And Trump is the resistance. They see this new America being born, and they
say, "No, let's go back, let's stop that energy." And so let's use this moment with
Trump in office and with the federal government more or less on lockdown to
focus our energies in our own communities, in our schools, our towns, our counties, our cities, our states, and build this movement from the ground up so that
no matter who is in office, they will have no choice but to deal with the
movement that has been born. [applause] JELANI: Another part of this
conversation that I want to talk about as well which is that in the
discussions of lynching, we typically… very many people I guess, most
people don't even know, for reasons of commission and omission, that this is
the ancestral legacy of the United States, but to the extent that we do
discuss it, we often think of it in terms of black men explicitly and singularly. And there is this tradition of violence directed at black women as well. Well-known among people who discuss these sorts of things and
research these things, the lynching of Mary Turner, you know, a pregnant black woman who is lynched in Georgia in a horrific way. And the whole litany of acts of violence that are visited upon black women as
well. And in the contemporary conversation around criminal justice
reform, we have to kind of remind people to go back to that conversation as well. And so I wondered if we could talk just a little bit about the ways of that legacy
of lynching and violence directed and women of color, specifically black women,
and the connection of where women of color, particularly black women, are in
the criminal justice system right now? SHERRILYN: Well, this week is an important moment to
be talking about this, you know, I think many of us have seen the video of what
happened to Ms. Clemons in the Waffle House and how she was treated by police
officers and I was telling my team that when I saw their indifference to her
nakedness on the top, you know, her breasts… it reminded me of
Fannie Lou Hamer and her account of being beaten and how she tried to keep
her dress down. This assault on the dignity of black women should not be
dismissed either, you know. When we talk about lynching, we're talking my people
who were killed, but assault and assaults on dignity
were a key part of the way that black women were and are engaged around white
supremacy. I do want to say a word about this and the connection with
lynching because, you know, there's Mary Turner and there are others, very often
women who were lynched in this historical kind of lynching period, were the relatives of men who got into some altercation and so the mother
who tries to save her son or her husband or tries to spirit her relative out of
town, the sister is often, you know, the woman who is lynched alongside
men and her family. But I just want to say that even if the person is not
lynched very often, there was sexual assault against black women by lynchers
that sometimes was the reason for the so-called dispute, right, with the black
man and whoever, and those just go unrecorded. Those are not recorded, right,
even as we're doing the recordings of lynching, we're not recording those
assaults and sexual assaults on black women. And so you should assume, you know, that for a large portion of those statistical lynchings that we look at
that there is a story about an assault on black women somewhere in there. I also
want to make sure that I once again call the name of Ida B. Wells-Barnett who
was a journalist, was a journalist We talk about courage, the courage of this
woman to do investigations of lynching. I mean she would travel to the place and
interview people and write about these lynchings and to keep a running list. She
herself had to flee… she was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, but then lived
in Memphis. She had three very close friends who
were grocers, they owned a grocery store, and the grocery store was too
successful and the local whites became jealous of them and lynched these three
men who were her close friends. And she had to flee Memphis, which is how she
left Memphis, Tennessee. That kind of terror that women live with, right, when
their families were lynched, many lynching accounts I've read of
women who, and I think I referenced this earlier, who were afraid to come and
collect the body of their loved one who was lynched because of the
threats that were coming to their family, who wanted, trying desperately to find a
way to get out of town, trying to find a way to protect their sons if the
father was lynched, fearing that the lynchers would come for the son. The
terrorism of this surrounded the family, and in particular, women had to
confront that aftermath. Remember when we're talking about terror, we're
not just talking about the event, we're talking about the message sent by the
event, and who has to then live with that message and who lives in that fear and
this was often black women. And when we look at this issue today, when we look at
what happened to Sandra Bland, when we look at that video that we saw
in the Waffle House, I'll take this all the way back to Eleanor Bumpurs in New
York, the grandmother who was killed, there is a… it is part of a connected narrative about who black
women are in our society, and about an attempt to assign a particular kind
of story to black women and those encounters, the reason that they are so
deeply painful to watch, is that there is an acting out of a
historic narrative about who black women are and how you are, how white supremacy
must dominate black women, must dominate their voices, must dominate their bodies,
must dominate their freedom, must suggest that they do not carry within them the
kind of compassion and love and tenderness that has been the narrative
associated with white women, I mean it is all being acted out in these moments. And
if we're not careful, if we don't say her name, if we don't talk about
this issue, we're part of that as well, and we can be complicit
in carrying forward that story as though the struggle of black women does
not rise to the level of the struggle of black men, and as though
black women – even when we get into the, you know, black women are so
tough, where the tell, you know, we tell all these wonderful stories about
ourselves, which are true… doesn't change the tenderness,
doesn't change the vulnerability, doesn't change the ways in which we are victims
also. And so we have to be willing to give up a little bit of the fierceness,
you know, trope to acknowledge that we are whole people and it comes with all
of those pieces and the story of white supremacy has assigned a particular
narrative to black women that it is our job to interrupt and up-end, in this
rebirth that you're talking about, we have the ability to do that and we
should do that. MICHELLE: This story that Bryan told last night and I'm forgetting her name, the woman who was 109 years old on
stage last night who had to flee white racial terrorism over and over again,
fleeing one town after another, it reminds me of all of the work that women
continue to do, today in the age of mass criminalization, to try to keep their
families safe, you know, it was striking to me, looking at the numbers of people
who were lynched in the South, the overwhelming majority are men and
therefore it's easy to kind of say, "Well, it wasn't that big of a problem for
women." Well not only were women lynched but they were the ones who had to deal
with the fallout of the lynching and struggle to survive and to keep their
families safe. And today the overwhelming majority of people who are locked up are
men which has made it easy for scholars like me to focus primarily on the
experience of black men, but the reality is that black women are equally
impacted by the crisis of mass criminalization, they're just impacted
differently. [applause] And I am deeply inspired by, you
know, formerly incarcerated women who have been doing heroic work organizing,
people like Susan Burton and others, kind of organizing to ensure that women
returning home from prison are provided the support that they need in order to
make the rough transition, but there's also, you know, women like Gina Clayton
who has launched Essie Justice Group which is a phenomenal organization dedicated
to supporting women who, you know, are dealing with the trauma, the fear, the
economic anxiety associated with supporting and loving people who are
behind bars. And the experience of women in the age of lynching, in the age of
mass criminalization, is one that, you know, I believe has received far less
attention than it deserves, including from people like me. So I hope that we're
at a moment now, thanks to the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and many others, of
understanding that we can no longer go forward talking about these issues in
anything but a deeply intersectional way. [applause] JELANI: We're just about at the end of our time, but I think y'all get William Barber next, y'all cannot possibly be upset. [laughter] I think it's safe to say that there were never any individuals lynched, that
there were individuals killed, but there were always entire communities that were
the victims of the lynching. And our understanding of the ripple effects of
those actions that come all the way down to the present is integral to our
understanding of the problems we have right now, and where we go from here.
Lynching and mob violence in this country, the roots of it go deeper than the country's roots itself. It goes back
prior to 1776, prior to the revolts against the British crown, and the
organized regime of rape and violence that was slavery gave itself over to be…
outsourced that violence to community members in order to reinforce the
subordination of black people in that year where Tuskegee notes,
I think it's 1882, where they say the first year that the number of black
people lynched outnumber the number of white people and then it proceeds to
skyrocket from there,. And the implications of that steady drip of
terrorism over those decades, and the historian Rayford Logan referred to this, to those years, as the nadir, the lowest point that came after slavery.
There's lynching, there's the institutionalization of segregation,
there's the creation of the sharecropping system, there are all these
mechanisms – the revocation of the right to vote, the mechanisms that were
intended to produce a new form of slavery in place of the one that had
been defeated in the Civil War. And I've always
had a question about that idea of referring to it as a nadir because when
I look at those years, I think of them as the Ida B. Wells years, I think of them
as the years in which the NAACP and the National Urban League were
established, I think about those as the years in which W.E.B. Du Bois did some of
his most important work, I think of those as the years where the black
fraternities and sororities came into existence with their social justice
mission to uplift black communities, and I think that that is why it's important
to understand EJ I and the context of that, that is in the midst of our worst
times and our biggest challenges that our greatest champions and our greatest
heroes have done their most important work. And so, thank you! [applause]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *