The second thing that’s tickling me in terms of similarities is what people forget because of years that have passed. Dr. King was killed in 1968. He was what, 39? He was in his 30s. Everybody in the movement was young back then, just like everybody in the movement today is young. … There are a lot of similarities I see in terms of where the church is, where the church was, where the church is not today. Some of our activists in the Black Lives Matter movement are put out with the black church because it’s so silent, or so laid back, or so uninvolved. So was the black church in the Civil Rights Movement. The black church became mobilized by King after he was dead.
Q: Is it a problem that Black Lives Matter doesn’t have a figurehead?
A: No. I don’t think it’s a problem. I love it.
Q: And why do you love it?
A: Because you can’t pin somebody down and make them the target of all your criticisms, of all your conversations, your analyses. Young leaders are all over the place, some lesbian, some gay, some straight, some in church, some who wouldn’t put a foot in church if you paid them. … It’s a people’s movement. It’s a movement of the people. It’s a people’s movement, and that’s why I love it. It’s people-led. Not person-led, not personality-led, but people.
This country won’t repent because this country doesn’t want to repay. And by repay I don’t mean ‘he’s going to get a check for 50 thousand, he’s going to get a check for 50 thousand.’ No, I mean let’s put money into the school systems to address the inequities in resources from grammar school to high school in oppressed inner cities. That’s a part of reparations. Putting in programs where kids who are born in economic depressed neighborhoods will have an opportunity to go to school, go to college, get jobs. … And we can start with the Native Americans. You’re talking about what we did to the Native Americans? We broke every treaty we ever had. Start with the Native Americans, then move to African Americans. In terms of atoning for what we did, yeah, lots of things that can be done.
Q: While most of the protests from the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Baltimore and across the country have been peaceful, there have been some incidents of violence and retaliation. What would you say to someone who has been moved to violence as a result of hopelessness and frustration?
A: Probably the same thing I just heard Allan Boesak … say. Dr. Boesak was cautioning those of us who live in middle-class, middle-income, cushy, university, pastor kind of positions, about judging people who live in grinding poverty and judging their behavior. And he talked from the perspective of what the kids in Soweto did in ’63; what happened to Sharpeville. People who are up under it have a different perspective than those of us from the outside looking in. President Jimmy Carter was saying to Palestinians, ‘You must choose nonviolence in your struggle for Palestinian rights.’ That’s a nonsequitur. A 25-year-old Palestinian kid said, ‘We appreciate your stance on Palestinian rights. … Don’t presume to tell us who are watching our mothers killed in terms of how we react to our own freedom.’ Before we judge, remembering that we are the most violent nation on the planet, let’s start there. Every week there’s a kill meeting on Tuesday deciding who we’re going to drop a drone on. And telling you to be nonviolent? While we are the purveyors of violence? Dr. King called the U.S. the No. 1 purveyor of violence on the planet. That we should not sit in judgment of people who are pushed against the wall, as to how they react to being pushed against the wall.
Q: What’s the biggest truth that Ferguson and surrounding incidents have revealed to the rest of America who might not have been aware of some of the things going on?
That this country was founded on racism, supported by racism, sustained by racism, and it’s still alive and well in 2015, even with an African-descendant president in the White House.