Wesley Lowery: “Why ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ Matters.”

Wesley Lowery: “Why ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ Matters.”


Hello, everybody. Thank you for
coming to the first in five events, all collectively
known or called Trump– Point/Counterpoint. This is a course that I am
teaching this semester here at Amherst College that
springs from the sensation that some of us experienced
at the end of last year when the presidential
election was taking place, and it was becoming
clearer and clearer as November 8 was
approaching that there was a fracture or an abyss
between what was happening in the country at large or in
certain portions of the country and in small college campuses,
some of them not so small, where the visions,
the views, the ideas were to a large extent
different than the ones that were taking place on
other parts of the country and in the media. The goal of the
course is to bring in opposing views that
are shaping our country and enable them to
listen to one another in a tolerant, civil,
engaged and respectful way, and as this first event
connected with the course starts, I invite us all to
engage in the very same spirit. A spirit where we understand
that in a large country of 325 or 330 million people there
have to be many different views, and if there
is something that is going to keep
the country together as we move into the future,
it’s the possibility of listening to one another
and not always agreeing but recognizing that the ideas
that come on the other side are as valid and as
worthy as our own ideas, and that our own ideas are going
to be sharper, more polished. They will sit better when
they are not in isolation, they are in
connection with those that are on the other side. The purpose, again, of course
is to bring opposing views. One of the intents in organizing
or in curating the series was to bring those
opposing views sometimes during the very same session
to see them connect with one another, but the
scheduling challenges that that posed were enormous. We are bringing four
very distinguished guests from the
large stage, and I tried as best as I could to
have at least two of them from different
sides of the aisle coincide on the same stage. It wasn’t easy, and so
we have an opportunity to listen to them individually
and for those of us– and I invite you
all to join us– for those of us who can
follow these four events– really five, and I will show
you what that fifth is– to be able to see how those
views connect with one another. The four guests
that we are having, we start with Wesley Lowery,
who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The
Washington Post– I will introduce him
further in a few minutes– and the author of an astonishing
book that the students read in class today,
They Can’t Kill Us All, the story of the
struggle for black lives. It is a book about
the Black Lives Matter and it was published
barely a year ago. This book and others are
available outside for purchase and for Wesley Lowery to sign to
autograph, courtesy of Amherst Books, and I thank Nat very much
for the effort of bringing them here. We have also Bret
Stephens who writes a regular column, weekly
column, for The New York Times on the conservative side,
and we have William Kristol who is the editor-at-large
of The Weekly Standard and a regular on
CNN and other shows. And we have Robin
Wright who writes about Middle East and the women
in the Arab Spring for The New Yorker. And together with
that, we are also going to have an event that
instead of taking place at Stern Auditorium– all
the ones I just mentioned will take place here, and
please note the dates. They are listed in
the posters and they will be listed on the Amherst
College website and on NPR. We are also going to have
an event at Holden Theater, the small theater next to
the Admissions Office devoted to immigration, where we have
invited members of our town that are Dreamers or
connected with DACA to tell us their stories so that Amherst
can feel a little bit more vividly what it means
to be in Amherst, I mean Amherst College
in Amherst town. You are all cordially
invited to that as well. Finally, I want to
thank two entities. One is the sponsorship by two
members of the class of 1970 who recognize that it is
important that we don’t only hear our own political
views but that we expand our political views on campus. Indeed, they are sponsoring
the bringing of distinguished guests and also the NPR
podcast in contrast, where all of the participants
are also being interviewed, and the interviews are going to
be airing on NPR in All Things Considered or Morning
Edition and they are going to be posted on the internet. Finally, I want to
thank the members of IT for coming and taping this. As I said, Wesley Lowery is
one of the most distinguished reporters writing today. He is on staff at
The Washington Post. Before that, he started
at The Los Angeles Times where he worked
for barely a year and then moved not too far
from us to The Boston Globe. He has been at The Washington
Post for four years. He is the author of the
book that I mentioned, They Can’t Kill Us
All about Black Lives Matter and the gist,
the essence of most of what appears in this book
started in reporting that he did for the Post
and then mutated into this wonderful
book that we’re going to be referring to
throughout the conversation today. The protocol will be this way– we are going to
engage in a one-on-one for about maybe 25
minutes, 30 minutes and then we will open
it to the audience to participate as well. There is going to be a
microphone here on my left and though I know that
we are not a large crowd, we are a good crowd. I urge you to come and
deliver whatever question or comment you want to
deliver in the microphone because we are
taping everything, and so it will be on record. Wesley, I want to start
with your arrival. I think maybe four or five years
ago, three or four years ago to Ferguson, Missouri,
where you were called to report on the
death of Mike Brown. Walk us back to that moment. How did it happen? How big do you
think the story was? How similar was it to many other
stories of a police shooting that you had participated in? Sure, well, first of all,
thank you all for– am I on? There we go. First of all, thank you
all for having me here. It’s already been a great
day or so on campus. I really valued and
enjoyed the conversations I’ve been able to have so far
and I’m really looking forward to having this conversation
in this venue with you all as well, and so
thank you for being here, and I’m looking forward to this. The book that I wrote as
well as a lot of the work that I do each day did begin or
has been informed, initially, by my experiences in
Ferguson, Missouri. Now, it was three years ago. August 9th was when
Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. At the time, I was
a political reporter for The Washington Post. I covered politics. I covered Congress. In fact, the day
Michael Brown was killed I was in Michigan with a
congressional candidate working on a profile. You know, nothing
that had anything to do with what I
write about now, but as so happened because
I was traveling already I had a bag packed, and the first
day of Michael Brown’s killed there’s a massive public outcry,
a demand for answers that stretches into the second
day and then a third day, and now, as I’ve arrived back
in D.C. on Monday morning, my bosses are asking, who
can we send to Missouri? We need to send someone
to cover this story. Now, I had been following
this story pretty closely in part kind of as
coincidence that one of the first reporters on
the scene after Michael Brown was killed, a local
St. Louis reporter, was a dear friend of mine
who I’d known for years, and so I was watching the story
play out via her social media account. At the time it was really
her Instagram page. She was posting videos from the
scene, videos and interviews she was doing. And I was watching all
of them and just thinking something’s going on here. There’s been this shooting. The community seems very upset. There’s something here
and so I’d like the photos or I’d retweet stuff when she
tweeted them but I was largely kind of watching from afar,
and then as I got back to D.C. and I was asked to go,
and so I, on August 11th, got on the airplane and
flew to Ferguson, Missouri. Now, in my previous lives
I had covered policing, I had covered police
shootings as well as just normal shootings when I
was working for the Boston Globe as well as for The LA Times. I was comfortable, kind of,
in some of these spaces and I had an interest certainly
in issues of race but also issues of criminal
justice and the legal system. Even when I was
covering politics, these were some of the
things that I would sometimes attempt to cover in addition
to the work I was doing, and so even though I was kind
of tired from this other trip, I had a desire to
go and to see what was going on on the ground. I landed in Ferguson
and as I landed I– or I landed in St.
Louis and rented a car and drove into Ferguson
and the first place I went was to the press conference. The family of Michael Brown–
this is now the third day– was having its first public
discussion and press conference about their son’s death,
and so as I watched– I got to a small
church in St. Louis and I watched as they filed
in wearing the first t-shirts with their son’s face on them. I watched as Benjamin Crump
arrived, a civil rights attorney who I had known
from the Trayvon Martin case previously who had now
signed up with this family, and he arrived, and I
remember sitting watching this with other members of
the media, many of whom I knew from other stories. Trymaine Lee from MSNBC
was there and Goldie Taylor and we’re sitting together
watching this first press conference, and it was
striking even in that moment that this was a story
that felt very familiar. I felt like I had been in
this press conference before. Here was a grieving
family saying they needed justice for their son. Here was a civil
rights attorney, a literal civil
rights attorney who I had known from previous cases,
here saying the same things. Talking about how this
is not an isolated case. This is linked to so
many of these others, naming a different list of
names than perhaps the ones we think of now. Eric Gardner’s name
was on that list, but Trayvon Martin and Jordan
Davis and Kendrick Johnson. It was a list that
was a few years older and missing some of the names
we now might include on that, and I watched as Michael Brown’s
grandmother burst into tears and had to be
carried out, right? It was this feeling that I
had been in this room before but that perhaps something
might be different here, or an open question
about whether or not something would be different. I left that press conference
and I drove across town. The NAACP was holding a
massive forum that night to address the kind of
unrest and the protests and to try to provide some
answers to the community about what had happened,
and when I travel, I can be a little
logistically spastic. I’m bad with times
and directions and that doesn’t work
the best all the time for someone whose job it is
to travel all over the place and go to things that
start at specific times. However, so I arrive at this
church for this NAACP forum and what I see is that there are
100, maybe 150 people standing in the parking lot. So I immediately assume
that I’ve screwed this up one way or the other. Either this hasn’t
even started yet, the doors aren’t open, which
would be a good problem, or it’s already over
and everyone’s leaving and now they’re on
their way out, right? And so I’m thinking,
well, all right. Let me park the car real quick. I’ll run up, I’ll
talk to some people. Figure out what was
said in this meeting. I can sort this out. And so I get out
of the car and I start working my way towards
the door and, as I get there, I realize that it’s not that
the meeting is already ended nor is it that the meeting
hasn’t started yet. As I get to the door,
someone tells me, oh, no, no. We’re already at capacity. There are 600 people inside. This 150 has decided they’re
going to stand here outside and they’re going to
wait for the meeting to be over so that people
can come out and tell them what was said inside. Now, this is August at
4:00 PM in the afternoon and you have 150 people standing
out in the asphalt parking lot of a church. Now I’d covered
communities previously and I had covered this type
of community meeting before. I’d been in those rooms
often times with the five other regulars who were there
and no one else, and yet here were hundreds of people, not
only packing a church even at the idea that there might
be some information shared, but an additional 100 who were
willing to wait outside and see what happened. It was the first
indication to me that this was going
to be different. The story was going
to be different. Now, on the way to St. Louis
I had asked on social media– look, I’m going to Ferguson. Who should I be talking to? This was a story that had
played out on social media. There were young
activists, really, young residents at
the time who had been talking about this story. So I kind of put a shout
out and I said, look, who should I be speaking to? Who on the ground have you all
been following for updates? And this one woman,
Johnetta Elzie, came up time and time again. Everyone says you
gotta follow her. You gotta talk to her. You gotta– and so we had agreed
we would meet up at this NAACP forum. We would find each other
and we would meet up here. So I found her outside
and I said, look, take me into the city, into Ferguson. Let’s go see where the shooting
happened, where the unrest has been the last few nights. Give me a tour. So she gets in the car and
we drive back into Ferguson and I get out of the car. She’s got a good friend
who lives right near where everything was happening so she
went inside to get some water to hand out to people,
and I get out of the car and I start doing
some interviews, and what was so fascinating
to me was very quickly how so many folks were
telling me stories that I almost couldn’t believe. You know, hey, what’s
the relationship with the police like here? And it was stories of
people spending nights in jail for traffic tickets. It was stories of people
calling 911 for help and ending up arrested. I remember writing all these
things down and wondering, am I going to be
able substantiate each of these allegations? Or how am I going to use them? What am I going to do? And as I’m interviewing, a man
sitting on a sidewalk outside of his home– at some point a tear gas
canister lands near us and he grabs me and
moves me out of the way and that began an
all-night event where there was
demonstrators who were yelling at the
police and the police who were firing tear gas and
rubber bullets back at us. That was the first night
I spent in Ferguson. On that night, I thought
I’d be there probably about three days. I thought I’d drop in, I’d
write a story, and then maybe work on some big
thing for the weekend. And I ended up spending more
or less three months living in Ferguson,
Missouri and now I’ve spent three years covering
the topics both the protest movement, as well as the debate
around policing policy that was born out of Ferguson, Missouri. But I still do think
about, very often, that first night
because it did set the tone for what these
last few years have been, and it was clear in
those first early moments that this was different. There’s a moment early
on in your book, Wes, where you describe sitting at
a McDonald’s and the McDonald’s has become the place where
all these journalists and reporters are
gathering, it is the place where you guys
can recharge your phones, and it is a kind
of a newsroom now. And the police comes
in and the police says you guys have to
evacuate this place. The police is
becoming impatient. You and a colleague say,
yes, we’re going to do it or at first you ask and then you
say yes, we’re going to do it. The police thinks you
are doing it too slow and eventually you yourself are
arrested with your colleague. There’s another moment in
the book where you talk– and this book where you have
deliberately, it seems to me, not extricated yourself from
the story, you have made clear that you are the story, too– where you talk about growing up
the child of a mixed marriage. A white parent and an
African-American parent. So I wonder if you can explore,
reflect together with us how that biracial aspect
of your own identity puts you in any
position where you’re going to feel more connected
with one side, more connected with the other, and you
all of a sudden become part of the story. I think that– so, a few things. So the first is that,
yes, so two days into my time in Ferguson,
myself and a colleague, Ryan Reilly of the
Huffington Post, became the first of what
would be dozens of journalists to be detained or arrested
during the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere. Because we were the
first, it was something that stoked a lot of outrage. Fellow journalist
watched us be arrested. There were real questions about
under those circumstances why we were being detained
at all, and there was an outrage from the press
corps and from many people. The President of the United
States at the time, Barack Obama, addressed it the
next day and Eric Holder gave a speech about it. This idea that we shouldn’t
be arresting journalists attempting to report on
policing and attempting to report on protests. Meanwhile, you had many
protesters and demonstrators who were being arrested as
well and that became, actually, a subplot of a lot
of my reporting was trying to hold
to account the police for the other arrests
that had occurred. In many cases, for completely– should be completely protected
first amendment expression. What was interesting
is that that arrest did thrust myself and
Ryan into this story, into a way that was
uncomfortable for both of us, right? We were now being
commentated about by people, people who thought we
did this on purpose, or people who thought
we were milking it, or people who thought
we had sold out. We became these political
footballs in this way in a story that was about
something much larger and much bigger than us. I remember that night as, you
know, we were in this jail cell for like 25 minutes
and then they realized that what they did was
dumb and they let us go, but we’re filling out
all this paperwork and we’re in the
police department, and I remember one of our chief
frustrations for both of us was that we both had big
plans for the stories we were going to
write that night and we needed to be doing
all these interviews, and here we are in this
stupid police station dealing with a stupid thing. We’re on this massive huge
story that really matters and we’ve been so
removed from our ability to do our jobs
because of this, but I do think that this was a
moment, and when you look at, actually, the social media
tracking of the Ferguson story, August, 13th– I’m sorry. August, yes August
13th, the day we were arrested as well
as Antonio French, who was an Alderman for St. Louis,
was arrested that night. There was massive tear gassing
that night and on social media that was one of the days that
Ferguson had its largest impact and it reached far
beyond St. Louis because there was this
feeling in this moment that, while protests had been
happening for several days and people had been talking
about this for several days, that, for a lot of
Americans, especially a lot of white Americans, there
was this belief that things can’t possibly be that bad. The people on the ground
are just making it up. These police can’t be
so crazy or ridiculous, and then there was
this moment where there was this feeling of,
OK, if the police are treating these pretty boy reporters
from D.C. this way, maybe all these poor black
people are telling the truth. And it is a sad
commentary, I think, that it required that for
people to grapple with that, but it did in fact,
bring attention. One of reasons I grapple
with this in the book or even include
it in the book is because I wanted to be upfront
about who I am and about what my experiences were
covering this story, right? That I had, unquestionably,
been sucked into this story, personally in a way, and that
part of my untangling of what happened over the last few
years is unquestionably going to be colored
by that experience. So I’d rather give a
reader the information about what happened up front
than deny that from them and act as if that
wasn’t a component of it. I think that this speaks to
a broader conversation we’re having in journalism and in
the media at large about, what is the role of
subjectivity as well as what is the role of
identity in what we cover? I think for a long time
we’ve told ourselves that, in an ideal world, a
journalist is a voice of God. They are removed. They are completely objective
and they are completely– and yet, what we have
underestimated or misestimated is how, especially because
of the monochromatic nature of our newsrooms, how
we’re baking levels of bias into our coverage as is, right? That we all do see the
world in many ways based on our own lived experiences,
based on who we know and on our own sympathies,
and that the goal should be fair coverage, but we can’t
achieve that fair coverage in a world in which we
are unwilling to accept that we have to self-correct
ourselves, right? It is valuable to
me to know that I am a young black man
going into a situation and knowing what my
biases or my experiences might be so that I can challenge
myself and interrogate myself as to make sure I am
being completely fair. A world in which I go,
“Of course I’m fair, I’m an objective
journalist” creates a world in which
I’m not actually grappling with myself
about, OK, did I handle that fairly or not? And in which many other
journalists or reporters are not doing that. I think that, being the product
of an interracial marriage and family, I think that
there’s a few things. You know, I operate in
this world as a black man. I’ve seen that way. I receive the cons of that and
experience our nation that way, but also I’ve spent a
lot of time interacting in intimate spaces
with white people. And so because of that,
I do think it at times can allow me to see those
people in good faith even if I believe the
things they are saying are prejudiced or
potentially oppressive. I want to, I will go
back to the actual scene that you described
and the connection with the police in
that particular moment and then, of course, in the
book you go to Baltimore and you go to Cleveland and
you go to North Carolina. The question that I
have first, though, is how diverse is the newsroom,
particularly in the metro area in the area that deals
with policing in The Washington Post? Well, The Washington Post is one
of the most diverse newsrooms in the nation, but certainly
not diverse enough. Myself and many colleagues
do a lot of work internally to pressure
The Washington Post as an institution to be more
reflective of the nation in which we live
because I believe that if a news outlet cares
about accuracy of coverage, then diversity is not just
some type of liberal ideal but rather it is an
imperative, right? That, to cover a messy,
complicated world, you have to have a messy,
complicated staff who can seize and tell and
understand those stories. And does that happen
not only at the level of the reporters
and the journalists, but also the editors
and of the higher-ups? I think it needs to. I think it does not enough. It needs to but its not? I don’t think it does enough. I certainly don’t
think it does enough. I think that this entire
industry has a systemic issue with diversity of management
and diversity in decision making and because of that,
I think it results in a lot of the clumsy
coverage we often see of issues that
relates to otherwise under-represented or
misrepresented people groups. It’s that we know the things
that we know best, which are our own lived experiences. We understand the nuances
of our own experiences, of our own church where we went
or our own neighborhood where we grew up, but we
might not understand at all the nuances and the
intricacies of someone else’s, right? And so a newsroom that
becomes composed or comprised of one set of people will
create very nuanced coverage of one set of
people and coverage that is lacking in that
nuance and understanding of every other set of people. And so I think it’s extremely
important, especially in decision-making
roles, in the assignment editors and the
managing editors, to have people
who have a breadth and diversity of
experience and also have a breadth in diversity
of friends and families and colleagues. So I think that
that diversity is imperative to achieving
coverage that accurately reflects the worldview. Along those lines– and you
and I have talked a little bit about this on the
NPR interview- it is often perceived mistakenly
that the entire movement of Black Lives Matter and the
entire reporting that you have done and others have done
has been a white police department’s vis-a-vis
a black population, but it is far more
complicated than that. It is often that those police
departments are, in themselves, diverse and those holding
the triggers can be Latinos or can be blacks. Any further reflection
on that part? I think we have to complicate
our public decision about race. I think that very often
we make a mistake when we frame these
conversations specifically about the white
police officer who killed the black man because
the reality is unarmed black men are killed by
black police officers and unarmed black men are
killed by Hispanic police officers and Asian-American
police officers. That, as race intersects with
the criminal justice system, it is by and large about
structural and systemic inequalities, not about
individual prejudices of individual officers, right? And I think that it
becomes a distraction when we have this conversation
that is completely framed in the idea
of, well, of course this is about race
because it was a white officer
and a black person because what that allows people
to do is they get to say, well, then Freddie Gray’s death wasn’t
about race at all because most of those officers
were black, right? Well, no because
it doesn’t matter what the color of the officer is
if the policy they’re enforcing or the tactic they are using is
one that perpetuates or worsens an inequality, right? And I think that we have to
advance a conversation that is no longer or cannot only be
about this idea of defining or quantifying personal
prejudice as opposed to a conversation that is
about defining and dismantling structural prejudice and
structural inequality, right? And I think that that is
much more complicated. It’s much easier to say,
why doesn’t the Ferguson police have any black people? And then they hire
three of them. It’s much more difficult
to say, should this city be getting 60% of its
revenue from traffic tickets and preying on its
poor black people? That’s a much more
difficult problem to solve than hiring two
people, but that is the root of the inequitable outcome. That is how race intersects
with policing in that city. So I just think we have
to be willing to have a higher-level conversation. That, yes, the existence of a
black actor in unit situation does not, in fact,
absolve that situation of any racial undertone
or explicit racial factor. I have heard you
speak about the fact that we call upon the
policemen to perform all sorts of duties
that, in truth, go far beyond their training. One of them, for instance, is
dealing with mental illness. I wonder if you can
reflect in front of this audience on the fact
that the police might also not be trained or might be
pulled in directions that the American social
environment creates and in other societies doesn’t
have, and that as a result we are also putting certain
pressure, not to absolve anybody, certain pressure on
the police because of the fact that, with a gun, they are
going to be able to resolve a problem much faster
than with treatment that will have to entail
months in medicine and other approaches? I think we have to think about
and be willing to complicate what our idea of the
role of police in society is because I think
that in order to build the world in which the police
play the role that I think most people want
them to play, we have to have an honest
reckoning about what the role the police have historically
played in society and what they do
contemporarily, right? And we need to
restructure that system to achieve the current
desired effect as opposed to just hoping that a
previously-structured system will figure out how to pivot
and do something else, right? If the policing system
was not constructed with the intention of
providing equitable outcomes and protecting and
serving all people, then why would we expect
that all of a sudden it can? It’s a structural issue. Now that said, I think that
there’s a real question about, how do we resource our police? We spend millions and
billions of dollars on policing in the
criminal justice system, but is that money being spent
in the ways that provide us the outcomes that we want? Now, one of the major projects
I worked on at the Post was born out of our
Ferguson coverage. It was the project that we
ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for and this was
born because I would do these stories where
I would interview all these people in Ferguson. I would walk around. I’d talk to residents. I’d talk to the activists. I’d talk to people in their
homes and I’d say, you know, what do you think
the problem is here? What do you think
needs to change? And I would hear over
and over and over again that this is a crisis. Black men are being executed
in the streets every day. This has to stop. And then me being a good little
reporter I’d call the police and then I’d say,
so, hey, everyone says you execute unarmed
black people all the time in the streets. What do you say? Do you have a comment? They go, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We never kill any
unarmed black people. This is totally made up. Don’t you know that most
police officers never even draw their weapons and we definitely
don’t kill unarmed black people and if we do they deserved
it anyway so we don’t know are talking about. And so I’d write
my story, right? Activists say, but
the police insist that police shootings are rare. And I remember calling in
some of these quotes one day and one of my
editors, fortunately the place works
with good editors, says, well, which one
of these things is true? Either the police are
executing unarmed black people in the streets everyday or
police shootings are rare and they never happen. They can’t both be– which thing is true? It’s a number, right? And so we set out
on this mission to figure out, at the time, how
many unarmed black people were being killed by the police. We just wanted to know. So we called the Ferguson
police and they don’t, we don’t have any answers for you. We don’t know what
you’re talking about. We called the St. Louis Police. No, we don’t know. All right, so we called the
Missouri Secretary of State. Now, how many
unarmed black people got killed by the police
in Missouri last year? Well, they don’t
keep those stats. So we’re The Washington Post,
so we’re like all right. We’re gonna call Eric Holder
and we’re gonna march into DOJ and we’re gonna
be like, look, you gotta tell us about all the
unarmed black people who have been killed by the police. The DOJ was like,
look, we have a number, but it’s extra inaccurate. Please don’t use it. If you use it, please quote us
saying that it’s inaccurate. This number’s wrong. It’s voluntary. And so we have this
moment of realization where we said, look, this is a
country that counts everything. We know how many people saw
Girls Trip in the theater downtown last
weekend and we know how many of them got popcorn. We know how many
barrels of corn there are in Iowa right now,
how many cows there are in Minnesota, right? But we didn’t know
how many people were being killed by the police? Just didn’t know? To us that didn’t make sense. Now this wasn’t about
how many of these shootings are justified or
unjustified or good shootings or bad. We just literally wanted
to know the number to rectify this question, and
so we began researching this and what we found was that
this recordkeeping was so drastically and
remarkably inconsistent that once a year the
federal government would call all 19,000 police
departments and go hey, have you killed anybody? And then a few thousand of
them would return the call and they would
provide information about some of the
people they’d killed, but maybe not all of them. Maybe we forgot about that
one that looked a little bad. And so what we ended up
having was federal data that was largely useless. We had no idea how many people
were being killed and were not. So here we had
people passionately saying this is happening all the
time based on their own lived experiences and people
passionately saying those people are making it
up, but without any receipts as to tell us which was true. So my colleagues and I
began this database project. What we found was
that we couldn’t do this via public records
because most of these police departments didn’t even actually
have to tell us if they killed people, but what we
noticed was that if someone was killed by the
police, specifically if they’re shot and
killed by the police, if a gun is involved because
we have such a focus on gun violence in the United States
of America, that at least one time one reporter
would write about in. In the biggest media
markets in the world and in the smallest media
markets in the world. In Idaho, if there is an
officer-involved shooting, that one television reporter
would stand at the crime scene tape one day at
noon and say, I’m here at the scene of an
officer-involved shooting. So what my colleagues
and I did was we set up this elaborate
Google system where every day we searched all these
different keywords and we built a spreadsheet of
every single fatal shooting we could find that
year in real time. We checked every day. We began building a database to
figure out how many people were being killed. How often was it happening? Now, in those federal
numbers, the DOJ said there had never been more
than 463 people in a given year shot and killed by
American police officers. By four months into the
year, we were at 500 in 2015. We ultimately– or five
months in– we ultimately ended up with 990
fatal police shootings. So more than double the
number of police shootings the federal government had
ever recorded in a given year. What we saw, then, was the
themes starting to emerge. That, while the police
would insist everyone they killed was
armed and terrible, that certainly was not true. There was a significant
portion of these shootings that were unarmed people. While that was true, the
majority of people being killed had a gun. That raises a whole different
question about guns in society and how that operates. While we found that the majority
in a raw number of people being killed by the police
were white people, what we know is that the majority
in raw number of people United States of America are white, and
that when you started adjusting for populations you
see a drastic inequity and disparity in
the way black people are being killed by the police. That, while black Americans
make up 12% to 13% of America, they represent a full 24% of
those killed by the police shot and killed by the police– and 40% of the
unarmed people being killed by police, which
divorces any straw man argument about violent crime
rates or any of that stuff. What we also saw, this was the
actual question you asked me, was that one quarter to one half
of the people who were killed were in the midst of some
type of mental health crisis. That mental health
is a major factor in driving the levels of
police violence and that if, as a society, we dealt
with our mental health system, that it would lead to a world
in which fewer people were being killed. If one quarter to one half
of the people being killed by the police were diabetics, we
would give every police officer insulin. We would solve the
problem immediately and yet, one quarter to one
half of the people being killed by the police are in the midst
of a mental health crisis and yet, many of
our police officers still lack the crisis
intervention training that is considered
the best practice for handling these circumstances
and these situations. We have to talk about,
not just the outcomes, but about the
failures, structurally, within the policing
system for us to equip the people who we
are asking to come into some of these circumstances. And I think that that was a
remarkably important element of the coverage that we did. I don’t want to read it but,
after your visit to class today and your very thoughtful and
provocative interventions, there was a student
who sent me an email– I was mentioning
this over dinner– who was very impressed
with how eloquent you are and how intent you are, also,
in humanizing those 20% or 25% or 40% that represent those
that have, but that you fail– he uses stronger language–
you fail to humanize the police officers, whatever background
they might have– ethnic, racial, religious, political– and seeing that type
of dilemma they are in. The argument of the
student is, and this is in the spirit of the
Point/Counterpoint, a series that we are presenting
here, that there are a series of conundrums
that those police officers are suddenly faced in or pushed into
that pose questions of ethics and questions of immediate
response and questions that they are not
always prepared to, and that simply seeing the
police shootings as police shootings and turning
them into numbers fails to understand the
courage and the complexity that they have. No it doesn’t. I’m sympathetic to some
of that argument, right? I am sympathetic to this idea
that is unquestionably true that we ask the police
to do difficult jobs and we often under-resource
them and under-equip them to do the jobs that they are in. That we ask individuals
to do things within a system that is
broken, a system that in fact guarantees these types
of inequitable outcomes, and we are placing individuals
who are pawns in this thing. But because this is about a
system that does not work, the individual motivations
of the individual officers in the shootings does
not actually matter. It doesn’t. Policing policy is divorced
from the individual actor. The role of police
in our society, broadly, is divorced from
the individual officer. Well, why do we care
who the reporter is and not who the policeman is? You can buy the policeman’s
book if you want. We’re talking about my book. I wouldn’t begrudge an officer
who would like to write a book and, to be clear, my
book’s not about me. Frankly, it’s about
the young men and women who took to the
streets in protest of what they saw as an epidemic
of police violence, right? And about the act
of covering them, about building
relationships and trying to earn trust in those spaces,
about the feedback they were giving me about
our coverage, right? So therefore, that is
the story I have to tell. That is the story that is unique
and revelatory about the moment that we are in. A narrative about the
difficulty of policing, I mean, turn on any
channel on TV right now and you can see that. I think that the
role of the media and the role of a
journalist is not to further amplify
voices that are already too loud in our society, but
rather to seek out people who have been attempting
to tell their own stories and who our society
has refused to hear, and in fact has said
that we’re lying. These officers said that these
shootings were not happening. They said they weren’t killing
anyone and it was a lie. It wasn’t true. They said there were
no racial disparities. It wasn’t true. Going further Wes, you
and I have talked today in a couple of moments about all
this happening, all this taking place under Obama. I think it’s a very
important issue, the first black
president, and we’ve also been talking about the first
white president according to the attempt by Trump
to practically erase most of what Obama has
accomplished or tried to establish. How do you– you’ve given
me a couple of answers here and please do the same
and expand as you wish– why did all this happen
in the way it happened? Not that police brutality
didn’t happen before, but it was amplified
in a particular way during the Obama, particularly
during the second term of Obama. Why? I think you have a
confluence of factors. I mean, I think first, you
have a political disenchantment among especially a lot
of young black Americans that came from the false
promise of the Obama presidency. I think that the writer and my
friend Jelani Cobb said once, and I quote him all
the time on this, that we need to have
a black president to understand the limitations
of a black presidency. That there is this idea
that candidate Obama was rhetorically transformational
and that his election was in fact, historically
transformational. However, that the limitation
to that transformation was to actually transform
the society in which we live, right? That President Obama
was elected and all of the inequities that existed
the day before he was elected existed the day
after he was elected. And so that the lived experience
for the black American did not drastically change
and to the extent to which it did not change at all,
there was still the idea that black skin
could be a threat or a risk for an American, you
know, for a black American. Beyond that, what we saw was the
presence of a black president prompted a deeper understanding
of the extent to which so many of the rest of our
colleagues in the United States of America had a
lot of deplorable things they wanted to say about
a powerful black person. If we think about what the
political dialogue of the Obama years was, it was very
thinly-veiled racism in most of its attacks on the
President of the United States of America. We can no longer pretend
as if that was not the world we lived in because
we are watching people say crazy racist things about
the president all the time and so I think that there
was a real grapple there. I think that beyond
that, though– so here you have a mobilized
core of young black America who has voted for the first
time in either ’08 or 2012, who is engaged and hopeful and
loyal to a president who is then seeing with their own eyes
and seeing in their Facebook feeds and then eventually their
Twitter feeds Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis and
Jordan Edwards– Jordan Davis. Seeing case after case
and it’s this reminder of this clear and present
danger to black America. That simply saying,
well, but the president is black was not
enough to address what felt like an eminent
and ongoing threat. I think this also can’t be
divorced from the technology of the moment. Black Americans have
been saying forever that the police have been
harassing them and killing them and assaulting
them, and no one was believing those
black Americans. Well, now you can watch Walter
Scott be shot in the back. Now you can watch
Sandra Bland and how she’s rudely treated
in this interaction and you can see how that
interaction goes sideways, right? It wasn’t that this
conversation was not existing. It was not existing by and
large because white people had no reason to have the
conversation previously. Now they’re going
about their day liking baby pictures on
Facebook and, oh my god, did you see that guy got shot
in the back by the police? That’s crazy. I didn’t know that
stuff happened. There’s a whole
other population that always knew that was
happening and had always been saying it was happening. All right, one last
question and then we open it to the audience. At what point did you see– you walked us back to Ferguson
and you see the immensity of what was taking place there. At what point did you see the
Black Lives Matter movement shape as an ideology,
as a movement. I wonder how you’re
going to define it. And second part of my
question is, to what extent, now that Trump is
in the White House, is this something still present,
viable, ongoing, or have we entered a totally
different chapter and our looking at that has passed. Are the activists
still activists? Do they still have a
voice the activists have matured and moved
maybe to the mainstream or maybe to other subjects. Black Lives Matter then
Black Lives Matter now. Well, I think in my
experience, the moment, this feeling of protests
in different places becoming a united
movement was as you have the confluence of the
anger in the streets meeting and finding an articulate
expression of those politics. And I think that begins to
happen in late 2014 and 2015. You have, at the
time, a drum beat of what felt like injustices
or what many would argue were injustices. Officers not being
charged in Ferguson. The officer not being charged
in Eric Gardner’s death. The video release of
Tamir Rice’s death, right? All is November, December
2014 and you see this moment where there is this
feeling, and now that we are looking for these
incidents of police violence, we begin seeing them over
and over and over again. That became the point at
which this was clearly something that was bigger
than one city and one set of protests, but
rather was something that had legs that were
stretching across the country. Now, this moment, I
think, is fascinating because I think that for
much of the time preelection, there was a debate, a tactical
debate and a rhetorical debate, within the activism space
about how you interact with electoral politics. There were folks who
believed that you meet with the candidates and
you pressure those candidates and perhaps you even
endorse a candidate. Perhaps you work within
the Democratic Party or any other party, and
there were other folks who believed unquestionably that
that was not something you do. That you agitate
from the outside. That you provide pressure and
there were prominent people who made statements along the
lines of that Hillary Clinton would be just as bad for
black people as Donald Trump. I believe that most people
in a movement space, those who I’ve talked to,
who I’ve interviewed, have largely
abandoned that stance in light of the election. Not that they have
abandoned their criticisms of the Democratic Party or
their criticisms of the system or structure as is or of Hillary
Clinton or Bernie Sanders specifically, but that
there is no longer a feeling of inevitability. You have to remember
that, while I think that the existence
of a black president created the conditions for
a black protest movement, it also created those
conditions within a context of a president who would be
sympathetic to that protest. A Department of
Justice who would investigate police departments. That is gone. And I think that,
for many people, there has been a realization
not just that the investigations will stop happening,
but that they will go back and undo
the investigations that happened previously. Right. That even things that were
considered wins in the past can be imperiled If certain
powers enter office. I’m really fascinated, as we
approach the midterm elections, to see what extent many
of the young activists, many of these
organizations engage in electoral politics in
a way that they certainly did not in 2016. They were involved in the
discussion of the issues, but I’m going to be
very interested to see to what extent they now
argue to their memberships and to their supporters that
it is imperative to engage in this process when just a
year or two ago they might have argued that it did not matter. Fantastic. We’re going to open
it to the audience. There is going to be a
microphone on this side and the reason why we want
you to speak to the microphone is because we’re taping. Is there anybody who wants to
start with the first question? I, meanwhile, if I
don’t see anybody, if anybody wants to start
making your way to the mic it would be really appreciated. It’s also that this will be
a larger conversation when we have others. I want to ask you an aside while
we wait for somebody to come. You are at The Washington Post– Mhm. –and The Washington Post is now
owned by Amazon, by Jeff Bezos, and I wonder– you and I were talking
about this over breakfast in the morning. I think people are going to
be very interested on this as well. How much has changed
in the newsroom? What’s the future of the
Post and other printed media when a messianic figure with
all the money in the world can come in and say we
can hire as many people as you want and they
can be reporters and they can be well paid. Are there limits to what you, as
reporters, can say about Amazon or about corporate America? Have we lost some
freedom because we have won other freedoms? Anything on that area. So I never worked at the Post
prior to Jeff Bezos’ purchase. I arrived not long
after the purchase during a wave of
hiring that happened because of his purchase, but
when I arrived at the Post, there was still a lot of
trepidation about what this would mean. There was a real loyalty
to the Graham family, who had owned us previously. There was this
question about, what’s this Silicon Valley tech
guy going to do to us and what’s this
going to look like, and does he know
how newspapers work, and what will his agenda be? And I heard that a lot
from my colleagues, who I was, at the time, meeting
and just becoming close to. And I think that those concerns
have largely been unfounded. I think that what our owner,
Bezos, has done, I think, is provide us with a runway
to do work that’s important. Saying what level of resource
does The Washington Post need to be the best
newspaper in the country? And let’s provide that resource
because if we create the best product in the
country, then people will pay for the best
product in the country. From where I sit, I see
nothing but expansion. Nothing but an attitude
of why not do this thing? Why not launch this project? Why not go to this place? Why not tell these stories? I see in the hiring
of my colleagues, a team of energetic,
ambitious people who are filling our ranks
with stories, with ideas, with ambition. I think there’s
always going to be a concern about the corporate
interests of a media company versus its editorial mission. I don’t exist in a space where
I would be the one covering Amazon anyway, but I don’t
know of any example in the time that Jeff Bezos has owned
us of us having any issue, or, really, I don’t know
of any example of him having any input whatsoever
in any editorial decision or process. Now, I think that’s the ideal. Now, it’s difficult because,
can the media ecosystem exist in a space in which
the only way for you to receive quality coverage
is for a billionaire to buy a media outlet? That doesn’t seem
sustainable to scale, right? There aren’t enough
philanthropic, non-meddling billionaires
out there, right? But, I think thus
far the experiment has worked pretty well. And how about in terms
of the packaging of news and delivering of news? One thing that the
Amazon loves is for us to have the book
before we order it, almost, or whatever other item it is,
and to feel that the customer is always being satisfied. Do you feel that in the
way any news, and news that are connected with
the ground where you are, in the digital
aspects, for instance, will push the newsroom in
a particular direction? That things have to
be delivered faster, that they have to be
manufactured in a way that will satisfy the customer more. I think that a mistake that
a lot of media companies and certainly newspapers
made initially was we resisted the internet,
much less mobile phones, much less tablets. That we understood
how to package things in one way and that’s
how we wanted to do this, and that we created journalism
for one type of package, and then we bastardized it by
just copying and pasting it onto everything else. For a long time, we would design
something for the newspaper and then just put
that on the internet without any consideration
of the user experience going through that, if that
was the ideal way to consume that content on that medium. Then, when we figured
out that we couldn’t just ignore the internet
anymore, we did that same thing
with mobile, where we would have a miserable mobile
website where it’s like, please don’t ever click a
link on your phone because you’re stuck on the
real website in a screen. And I think that one of
the things that has been, at least from what I
have seen internally, has been a focus on
our user experience. That if you are
reading The Washington Post on your mobile
phone, is this experience optimized for consuming our
journalism on this platform in this medium? If you are consuming
our content on a tablet, has it been optimized
for this space? I think that we have to
respect our readers enough to provide them our important
journalism in ways that is seamless to consume
it because what we know is that people don’t
have to consume our work. We are asking them to enter
a voluntary relationship. As a reporter, do you read the
comments that a story of yours might generate on the feed? Sometimes. And does it affect
the way you’re going to shape your next story. Rarely. There are times where– you know, look, if someone
makes a good point, they make a good point,
and usually, especially in the world we
live in now, if they note that there are some
fact that is important that has been excluded,
I’ll go at that fact, right? I think we live in
a world where we are accessible to
our readers and so we need to listen to them. If it’s important to
know this person’s age and I have literally forgotten
to put it in the story– You’ll put it in. –I’m gonna put it in the story. Any questions? Anybody who wants to? Yes, please. Hi, you mentioned
that it doesn’t matter what the
policeman’s situation is, that the system maybe
forces the policeman to behave in certain ways
for discrimination to occur. How does the system do
that, would you say? Well, so, for example, if it
is the policy of the New York Police Department to engage in a
form of broken windows policing in which they want
to be hyper-strict about public intoxication,
loitering, illegal cigarette sales, right? And they want to do
that specifically in certain neighborhoods
that they believe to be high-crime, well,
that that is a system that is structured to interact more
often with poorer and blacker or browner populations
of people, right? Because it’s not about going
where the crime is, right? You could say we’re NYPD. We’re going to be
tough on crime which means we’re going to have every
officer standing on Wall Street all day every day, right? And we’re going to
solve all those crimes. No, you’re deciding
as a policy the crime you care about is this
one and that policy is going to force a disparate
amount of interactions with certain types
of people, which then will lead to a disparate
amount of whether it be use of force or whether be– and so, just like,
as a journalist, there are all types of
subjective decisions that are made before I even
get to the point of writing a story, that this is a story
being the first decision, for the police, long
before the officer ever gets out of their car or in
their car in the morning, any number of
decisions have already been made structurally that will
determine the outcomes, right? A world in which– and this applies to anything. Your traffic stop policies. Your loitering policies. How strictly or leniently
you are enforcing all types of
municipal ordinances will determine who is being
arrested and who is not, and also where you are
enforcing those things. Look, if you decide you’re
going to enforce loitering laws or jaywalking laws
in Times Square, you’d end up with
quite a cross-section of people getting arrested. I would guess that
that’s not an enforcement priority of the
NYPD, but there might be some other
neighborhoods where people are getting their balls
busted a little bit for things that, had they lived
somewhere else, would not be. Very often, I think
we make the mistake of, when we see an
incident, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, or Michael Brown, we
want to decide if race played a role in this by litigating
the personal prejudices of the officer or
not of the officer, but that I don’t believe is
where race enters this equation or enters this
conversation, right? Race enters in the aggregate. It’s what is the likelihood
of this interaction happening because of the policies
that we have put into place, and then, divorced
from the individual, societally, what are the
prejudices that we might be carrying into this interaction? If we societally
have been conditioned by our popular
culture or our media and our history to
see black men as more violent and threatening,
well, then that means in the aggregate
our police officers are more likely to do that and
therefore, when police officers are in power to kill people
who they see as violent, it will lead to a disparity
in who is being killed and who is not. What we did an analysis
of on our fatal shootings where we tried to do this thing
called threat level, where we tried to figure out, of
all the people being killed, what threat were
they actually posing to the officer at the moment
which they were killed? Because one of the
counter-arguments people will say as they jump through all
these reasons why race cannot have anything to do
with any of this, right? And first, it’s because
it’s violent crime. Actually, most people
killed by the police are not engaging
in a violent crime. It has nothing to do– it’s not particularly relevant. Beyond that, the
racial disparities are the largest
among unarmed victims and so, no, there was
not a presence of a gun. There was a presence
of the knife. This was not a bank
robber or a murderer. This is a guy who maybe
just stole some gum. How come in that
situation you’re killing way more black
people than what people? And it opens this door
to a conversation. As we’ve had academics come
back and analyze our data, they’ve had such trouble
finding any answer beyond implicit bias. That placed in these
situations, do we as a society view one set of people
as more dangerous or violent than another? Again, that has nothing
to do with whether or not the officer is white or black. It has nothing to do
with whether or not they have a Klan robe
in their basement or are leading the Black Lives
Matter march next weekend, right? It’s about the biases we all
carry as a society and then also about, again, kind of
the structures and the systems in which those people operate. Just yesterday there
was, in St. Louis, there was a story that as the
police officers were arresting some protesters,
they were chanting, the police was chanting,
these are our streets, or something to that effect. I saw that coverage
that initially was reported by Dave Carson as
a photographer of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch who
I know really well. I do think that a lot of the
demonstrations and the protests we’ve seen have been about
a fundamental grapple between something as
simple as whose streets are these streets. Who do they belong to? Are these streets that
are owned and operated by the government and the power
to regulate and to control through, at times, violence,
populations of people, or are these streets
that are owned by these people, the taxpayers,
by the folks who live here? To what extent
does the population have the right and the power
to stand up to its government and say, we don’t like
what you are doing. Do something different. But it seems to me, Wes,
that, going back to something you’ve said before, here we
have police officers that are becoming individuals
and are becoming activists and are taking a stand and
are chanting in a way that– I mean, I’m from Mexico and
the police force in Mexico is very corrupt and very
violent, and every so often when I was living in
Mexico I would wonder, what if I stopped and asked this
policeman if he thought that he was doing something
good for the country by responding to
the [INAUDIBLE].. So here you have a
group of policemen who were actually chanting. Does it trouble you? I’m torn on whether
or not to trouble me it would have to surprise
me, which it does not. I think that it
clearly represents and is indicative of the extent
to which we have polarized the politics of
policing, and we have told a population of people
that they are besieged and there is a war on them. That the world is so
hyper-dangerous for them that it has divorced
them from this ideal about this being a job that is
about protecting and serving people, and this is
obviously not true, and again, this is something
that’s true in the aggregate but is not true in individual
circumstances, which is why I don’t think individual
circumstances matter. I can find you a cop
from St. Louis who believes he needs to be
protecting and serving. A great profile of him
would speak nothing to the chanting that
happened last night. In fact, it would
serve as a distraction from this belief clearly being
expressed by his colleagues. Again, it doesn’t
surprise me that we’ve seen open hostility
from law enforcement to calls for reform, as well
as to these demonstrations and protests. Seeing nobody else here, yes. [INAUDIBLE] And there’s another
one here, right here. Oh, I didn’t mean to cut ahead. Please, go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. OK, you had said
that you couldn’t find accurate statistics
from government sources. There must be
police reports filed that are just not reported
or statistics aren’t taken from those police reports. Is that– Well, in some cases. I mean, there are 19,000 police
departments in the United States of America. There are some whole states
where the police don’t have to give you any
records if you’re not a state resident, right? So, call the Memphis police. They do not have to tell you
how many people they’ve killed if you don’t live in Tennessee. There are large and broad
public records exceptions for active investigations. When the police kill
someone, very often that takes years for them to
conclude their investigation, which means there’s no access
to any information about what happened in these cases. But just not accessible, yeah. Correct. Beyond that, these are
reports written by the people who killed the other
people and so there’s also a question of veracity. In protecting– Well, it is a report by the
police about a police action, right? And so there is some
question of that, but again, the
federal government has no power to
compel any police department to provide any
information about anything they do. This is the way our
federalist system works. The police do not
have to tell you. They might have to
tell the people who live where they live, maybe,
depending on where you are. So in aggregate that
doesn’t work, right? Because there are enough places
where they just won’t tell you. The police hold a monopoly
on the information about what the police do. So, much of my work has been
not about theorizing, but rather about collecting and compiling
data and then running analysis of that data. So what I was going to ask,
as the second part of that– they no longer have
a monopoly, in a way, if you’re collecting an
alternative database. So what do the police
departments and our government need to do with that
information that they have now to improve policing so
that incidents like this can be reduced? Because, in what
I’ve seen, there has been a lot of
denial of a problem within police responses. I think that the creation
of data compositors allows us to do a level
of analysis that can more definitively state what
problems are and, therefore, can apply policy solutions. That said, again,
especially because of the decentralized way in
which we police this nation, you have to convince 19,000
police chiefs and sheriffs that your liberal
media analysis thing, that these numbers
and these professors and these people who think they
know things about the world are right, and they know
more than you, the Sheriff, about how you should police
in the place you live. In the ’70s, the New
York Police Department banned their officers from
shooting at moving vehicles. This was happening all the time. They were getting in these
chases with suspects. They would open fire at the car. They’d accidentally shoot the
kids who were hopscotching or they’d shoot up the
apartment building. They would shoot each other
because they were both shooting at a car that was moving and
then the car wasn’t there anymore and they shot each
other, and so they said, hey, this is really dumb. If someone’s driving
away, we should not just unload a clip at that car. We should just follow
them in our car and the New York
Police Department saw a radical decrease in the
number of people they killed. They invented a best practice. Don’t shoot at moving vehicles. Most police departments
in the United States of America today,
decades later, have no policy banning their
officers from shooting at moving vehicles. We see dozens of fatal shootings
every single year of officers shooting into moving vehicles,
and many of those cases are among some of the most
sympathetic cases of people who clearly should not have
been killed in this situation. Because of the decentralized
nature of policing, we have to learn the
same lessons 19,000 times and often those
lessons have to be learned by people
who actively do not want to learn those lessons. I think that becomes
a difficulty of this. I mean, I do think
that creating this data and running these
analysis of data helps, but it’s not as if we are
surfacing some solutions that policing has not
known about for years. Don’t shoot at moving vehicles. Train your officers
to deal with people in the midst of mental
health crisises. Change the way you
train for dealing with people who might be armed
with a knife or an edged weapon as opposed to a gun. These are things that
the policing think tanks, that policing researchers
have identified for decades. It’s that you have to convince
an entire industry to retrain itself and that industry
thinks you all hate cops and doesn’t want to do it. One last question. I’m curious, do you
think it would ever be possible to convict a
police officer of murder and what could it possibly
take by way of evidence that we haven’t already
seen is not sufficient. It is very– I mean, statistically
it’s almost impossible. I mean, we know that. It certainly has happened. Very rarely for an
on-duty shooting. There are plenty of
officers who have just been convicted of murdering
their wives or their whomever. The system as
currently constructed is not meant for the
charging and conviction of police officers. In the social contract we
have entered with our police officers, we grant
them the latitude to kill people if
they get scared and we have structured our case
law and our court precedents around that. It is legal for the
police to kill you if they can convince a judge
or a jury they were scared. No other questions, there’s no
other consideration, largely. I think that there would
have to be possibly the creation of an additional
or a different charge that might apply to officers. I think there could
be a world in which– I think short of that, I don’t
know that there’s a world where we ever see the frequency of
conviction, which I think also raises a question of whether
or not, under our system as constructed, the conviction
of police officers is even something that
is a reasonable goal, or if justice looks
like something else. Again, that being about the
reality of the structure, not about what is
right and wrong and what should happen
or should not happen. And beyond that, we
live in a society where we are all largely
sympathetic to the police. We don’t want to be
police ourselves. We believe they
have difficult jobs. We understand their place
in difficult situations and there are cases
of juries saying, we definitely think
this person should not have killed that
person, but we’re not sending a cop to jail. That we have a cultural
and societal impediment to the conviction
of police officers in addition to a
structural impediment that largely prevents it from
even being able to happen. So I’m not
particularly confident that there’s a
specific change that would begin facilitating that. I actually don’t know that this
is a system that’s constructed to ever be able to do that. We’ve reached the end and
before we say goodbye, I want to thank
you for the really riveting, extraordinary,
incredibly informative and the presentation
responses that you’ve given us throughout the day. Certainly to me, with the
students in the NPR interview, and now I want to
remind everybody that Wes’ book is outside
available for purchase and for signing, and
I want to ask you one more question to give
you a chance to wrap things up in whatever way you
want, and it’s actually not in the form of a question. It’s in the form
of a word and it’s a rather short but
explosive word. Trump. I think that it’s a
remarkable time for all of us and one of the things I’ll say
as a journalist, as a reporter, as someone who writes
and tries to explain the world in which we live, few
things create clarity as much as crisis, and I think
that in this moment, it is as important as ever
that we are probing and asking questions. That we are taking account
of things that are happening. I think, in fact, in moments
of relative hopelessness or in moments where there is a
lack of expectation of justice, it’s more important than ever to
quantify perceived injustices. During the last
administration, there was a belief among, I
think, a lot of reporters who write about
what I write about, that we could change the
reality in which we lived in. That I find the right
case, this department will embrace this reform
or if we tell this story the right way, it will
prompt an investigation that will lead to a reform. There’s no pretense
whatsoever that that’s what’s going to happen
now, but I actually think that makes this
job more important, as opposed to less important. It’s easy to do a
job when you think that you can change everything. It’s much more difficult to
do a job when you actually think no one’s going to read
it, no one’s going to care. But I think also
to the tradition, specifically of
black journalists and black journalism,
I think about Ida B. Wells and her coverage of
lynchings in the United States of America, and I
have trouble believing that, on a single morning, Ida
B. Wells woke up and thought, today I’m going to
chronicle this lynching and then the white
people are going to go, it’s crazy that
we did this thing. We should never do that again. Did you read the article? That was really fucked
up that thing we did. She knew that she was
writing things down so that decades and
generations later, we would know what happened– Right. –and that we could now be
armed with this information as to properly, historically
hold people to account, as well as to say this is
something we never want to allow to happen again. I think this is a space that
a lot of us operate in in this moment, where we need to
chronicle the unweaving of what is happening to parts
of our democracy, but we also have to continue
writing down the stories of black people
and brown people, not only if we think we can
change things but I think especially if we
think we cannot. And so that’s something
that I try to think about as I decide what work I’m doing
and how I’m doing that work is that is this a story that
would otherwise go untold because people think, well,
we can’t change anything, and if that is the
case, then that’s a story we definitely
should tell. Thank you very much. Thank you. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

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