We’ve seen this so many times before, but it never ceases to shock: The brutal disparity between law enforcement’s response to far-right insurgents and its response to Black, Indigenous, and social justice protests reveals which side the “establishment” sees as the enemy. This week on “The Marc Steiner Show,” we discuss these disparities with a panel of guests who have seen and reported on them firsthand—from Standing Rock, to racial justice protests this summer, to the J20 protests at Donald Trump’s inauguration. After the grim spectacle that took place at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, we ask: Why do police roll out the red carpet for far-right insurgents and reserve tear gas and rubber bullets for Black, Indigenous, and social justice protesters?
Our panel today includes Aaron Cantú, an investigative journalist whose writing has been featured in outlets like The Nation, Rolling Stone, and The Intercept, and who was himself a defendant in the J20 trials; Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and vice president of the ACLU of Wisconsin Board of Directors; and Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, who is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today.
Tune in for new episodes of The Marc Steiner Show every Friday on TRNN.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show right here on The Real News Network. And I am Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again, and look forward to you being with us and talking about this together. We’ve all seen the scenes from last week’s attempted right-wing fascistic takeover of the US Capitol, of Trump’s complicity in those actions, his words at those rallies. And we’ve seen the troubling reports of how police handled that insurgency.
The men who seem totally unprepared to handle this mob. Some police were injured by rioters. One was killed, and others appeared to have taken an incredibly sympathetic approach towards the mostly white demonstrators who stormed the Capitol. Now, let’s think about how Trump called out the federal troops on June the 2nd to respond to the most peaceful racial justice protests in DC. Look at his tweets then, look at his tweets now on January the 6th, when this mob approached DC. Let’s not stop there.
Look at the planned violent response from private security firms and police departments to the nonviolent protest at Standing Rock. The way they had to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing their own land, Indigenous lands. And look at how police have routinely responded to BLM protests across the country. Protests that have been predominantly peaceful. Thinking about the J20 events that were four years ago when DC police beat, kettled, and arrested hundreds of protesters, legal observers, journalists at Trump’s swearing in, and then got charged with horrendous crimes. Think about all the planning and overwhelming use of force by police that went into all of that. And a lot of the other social protest movements and protests around the country.
Now think back to the footage you saw of the insurgents storming the Capitol and the police response. Now imagine if those people storming the Capitol were Black, or Indigenous, or others protesting from the left or communities of color, what do you think would have happened? Even [inaudible 00:01:57] surrounding the Capitol in protest? What do you think the police would’ve done? In a way we almost want to have to ask the question, and we know what might’ve happened. We can see from our own history, from our own experience, and we frankly know the answer, what that question, what does it ring? So what does this tell us about our nation? Racism and the threat to lifting protest pose around the system? Just as importantly, is there any reason to expect or hope that the future might take a different turn onto Biden-Harris?
Will anything change? Will eyes be opened or responses be different? Will we be heard? Will they pass anti-terrorism laws that could diminish all of our rights? What can we expect? We’re joined today by Aaron Cantú, an investigative journalist who’s based in LA whose work has been featured in the Intercept, the Rolling Stone, the Nation, among others. And Aaron was one of those defendants in the infamous J20 trials when hundreds of protesters and legal observers and journalists were arrested at Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration, that was swept up by DC police.
I’m glad he can join us and make us that perspective. We’re also joined by Angela Lang. Angela Lang is the executive director of the Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, known as BLOC. And Angela is also the vice president of the ACLU of Wisconsin Board of Directors. And previously was an organizer and a state council director for the Service Employees International Union, and was a guest on the show some months back to talk about Wisconsin. And Dalton Walker. He’s a citizen of the Red Lake Anishinaabe nation, and is a national correspondent for the Indian Country Today. He’s based in Phoenix, Arizona, and his latest article is focused on the police response to Standing Rock and how that compares to what happened on the Capitol and other things that are related.
And let me welcome you all to the Marc Steiner Show on the Real News Network. Good to have the three of you with us. So, let me just begin just to think about what we saw on the Capitol, and what all three of you have worked on and experienced in terms of police responses. Aaron, I think, let me start with you. I mean you wrote this piece of the Washington Post recently, an op-ed that talked about your experiences in the J20 arrests. Just take us back to that moment. I mean, they were so supremely ready with police of all kinds at the demonstration when Trump was inaugurated, and you were miles away, you weren’t even allowed to get close. Just take us back to that moment and how it compares to what we just saw.
Aaron Cantú: Sure. So I have a piece out in the Washington Post, an opinion piece and it is comparing really the preparedness of the police, law enforcement, local and federal, in DC at Trump’s inauguration versus the January 6th storming of the Capitol. And I think if you’re aware of what happened at the inauguration in which more than 200 people, probably around 230, 240 people, were mass arrested by DC police, subsequently charged with felony rioting, and subsequently were then indicted for six other felonies, all the exact same charges, including conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, property destruction, all for being essentially in the mass arrest. And you contrast that with what happened on Jan. 6, there was, I mean, I guess, sort of the best case scenario is that there was a communications breakdown among the Capitol police, DC police, Pentagon officials who could sign off on deploying the National Guard as reinforcements.
You observed what happened. People who were supportive of President Trump stormed the Capitol. Some charges have been filed since then. But they’ve all been after the fact and after the United States has been humiliated on the global stage for essentially failing to protect one of its most sacred institutions. So, my piece was really just sort of contrasting those two scenarios. In contrast to what happened on Jan. 6, we were about two miles from the Capitol, a little less than a mile from the White House. There were about a few hundred protesters. Police pepper sprayed and launched [finger bowl] grenades, and just the repression was really obvious. And it was kind of the pinpoint of a longer surveillance operation that had been ongoing against organizers of the Inauguration Day protests in 2017 versus now, where you have either law enforcement reporting that they had no intelligence of a possible Capitol breach, or they didn’t act on intelligence.
Meanwhile, you had tons of that sort of organizing and discussion of storming the Capitol out in the open on social media right-wing websites, right-wing social media like Parler and Gab. So, I think it just says a lot about institutional biases, I think, in terms of what law enforcement chooses to prioritize.
Marc Steiner: Before we move on, we’ll move on very quickly here, but it’s important to point out that you and many others were indicted. You could have faced years in prison if that had gone through.
Aaron Cantú: Yeah. I mean, it was—On paper, it was something like seven or eight decades in prison. I mean, a few people chose to plead out, and their penalties were far less severe. They plead out to misdemeanors that didn’t include any jail or prison time, but I mean, it also goes to show sort of the course of nature of the US legal system, which is to stack charges and frighten people into taking plea deals. Prosecutors are then able to secure convictions. That’s good for their careers. What was different about our situation was that there were so many of us. I mean, there’s a few things that were different, but there were over 100 of us who were facing similar charges, the vast majority who had not committed the acts alleged in our indictment.
We collectively found it to be a political show trial. I think, know, it had all the makings of a political show trial. And so there was a sense of solidarity to not plead out and to take the cases to trial and to expose the case for the sham that it was. Which is actually what happened, but it was still a very difficult year and a half. But we’ll see how the prosecutors choose to pursue charges against these folks who breached the Capitol. But I’m seeing some discrepancies already.
Marc Steiner: And we will, I mean that, we’ll talk about that in a minute. And, Angela, as I said, welcome, it’s great to have you back with us. And I’m just thinking, to all the protests we’ve had in this country around police brutality and the systemic racism inside the police department and from George Floyd on. Time magazine wrote this article where they said 94% of the BLM protests were totally peaceful. And yet the Guardian reported in a different article that there would have been at least 1,000 reports of serious police abuse against demonstrators, and there are dozens and dozens of men and women who are facing serious time because of those demonstrations.
That, to me, was one of those glaring examples of the difference between how you treat that, how law enforcement treats people. So talk about that from your perspective.
Angela Lang: Yeah. And thanks for having me on. I think that was the most infuriating part about watching the events of Jan. 6 take place is knowing that a lot of us, myself included, I’ve been more harassed walking down the street by police officers than a lot of the people that were storming the Capitol. I remember several years ago, I was a teenager walking home from a concert and being harassed, my boyfriend and I being harassed, because we fit the description. And that’s more than what I saw from some of those folks that storm the Capitol.
I want to be clear that it’s important to not compare the Black Lives Matter movement or other movements to the same group of people that storm the Capitol. We are not the same people, but it is such a stark contrast that when people are protesting and advocating for dignity, for clean drinking water, for saying, “Our lives simply matter,” it is met with so much resistance, more so than what we saw on Jan. 6. You mentioned the outgoing president’s tweet, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. I remember seeing that tweet and talking to our team, and we made the call after we saw that tweet the next day to take a mental health day, because what that meant for our team… It felt very different, that there was such a strong target on our backs from the outgoing president.
What that means, to say that you want dignity, to say that your life matters, to say that you should have access to clean drinking water and a healthy life is met with that level of resistance, the exact opposite of what we saw from these white supremacists on Jan. 6. I’ve seen videos, there’s new videos that have come out that show police officers saying, “Hey, can I get you to come down from the dais? Can I get you to leave the Senate wing?” Being very calm. And I remember just walking down the street being met with more harassment than some of these people. And so I think it really goes to show the privilege of what it means to advocate and to be a resident and a citizen in this country.
Not even everyone has the citizenship of this country, but just knowing how the most marginalized folks are treated. And again, I’ve written—I think a lot of us have written pieces about our thoughts from Jan. 6, and to know that our lives simply, just saying that our lives simply matter, just to be in the streets and say our lives matter, not more than any other person, but Black lives simply matter, was met with such resistance, while we saw some of these people on Jan. 6 being treated very humanely as they stormed our nation’s Capitol and were committing treason.
I think we’re kind of understating what exactly happened on Jan. 6, collectively. I know more details are coming out and it’s more and more disturbing, but to know that people literally being in the streets and with our allies saying that “Our lives matter” was met with tear gas and rubber bullets and people being snatched up and essentially kidnapped. We didn’t see those same things on Jan. 6 when it was a domestic terrorist attack in our country, and we didn’t see the same level that we’ve seen over the last year with the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. So, it’s such a stark contrast.
Again, I say this contrast of saying, let’s not equate the two groups of people, but knowing what both groups were really met with and the level of resistance, I think is incredibly telling to how ingrained white supremacy is to every fabric and fiber of this country.
Marc Steiner: You said so much there to parse out, and I really want to get back to it, especially this, the kidnappings that took place when people left. We covered that with some intensity in New York City and other places around the country. And then we just take ourselves back a few years, Dalton, I’m glad you’re with us, to Standing Rock and the amount of force that took place at Standing Rock on land that is Indigenous land. It’s not as if someone was going downtown, it’s people’s land they’re talking about. So talk a bit about that in perspective. You wrote this great piece in Indian Country Today that kind of has this comparative look at what happened at Standing Rock and what happened on Capitol Hill.
Dalton Walker: Yeah. What we strive to do at Indian Country Today is what you would consider localizing to our readers. And in our case, we try to indigenize a story for our readers. and on Jan. 6, when this was all going on and all that chaos, and people are running around and everybody was in that … It was a riot. And what was blaring for me for many of our readers and for my colleagues was why was the lack of police? Where was the enforcement? Because we’re so used to seeing this stuff on TV, where POC people constantly face mass amounts of law enforcement initially right off the bat. In this case, we didn’t seem to see that.
There was so much on social media happening, so much being reported. And this looked like they were just running around, really no enforcement. And of course, when that happens, you kind of try to figure out, “Okay, where can I go next for the article and how can I get our readers more interested?” And of course the first thought is what happened to the Indigenous people in Standing Rock back in 2016 and how this vividly seeing photos and videos from when that happened and to contrast what happened in Washington, DC, this got people up about it and talking about it and wondering, why is this so different for us?
You had critics out there saying at least some of the scene at the Capitol was a stark contrast to what the water protectors and the treated offenders have faced over the years and like I mentioned, especially at Standing Rock where you have a lot of people who were hit with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets for peacefully gathering. They weren’t trying to overrun anything. They were just there, and you have this hit them so hard. And you have people dealing with trauma from that still who are wondering, “What’s the difference? Why are we attacked when other people aren’t attacked?” So we take a look at that. You get that feedback and you get people with receipts. You tend to know native people have plenty of receipts, so people can post the photos, the injuries right away of what happened to them for something that wasn’t even quite as big at the time compared to this. It was a huge deal, but it just hit everybody at the same time, that this is not right.
Marc Steiner: I think about all of this you’ve said and what we’ve experienced, and the question … A bunch of things are running through my head as you all were talking. When I think of the demonstrations back in the 60s, and especially in the civil rights movement in the South, people thought all of this is just about Southern racist police, but it’s so much deeper than that. And right now, one of the things that some people in Congress are talking about is trying to bring into law a new anti-terrorism act. And there’s been a lot of writing and a lot of journals about this, because this act might affect what just happened in Capitol Hill, but it also affects everything that any of us have been involved in, in terms of demonstrations across this country.
So the question is, when you think about that response, and you also think about what has been exposed in these demonstrations from DC, four years ago, to Standing Rock, to all the BLM protests around the country that have been taking place, that I said have been primarily peaceful. As you said, a moment ago, Dalton, what happened at Standing Rock, people were not out there fighting, people were standing up peacefully, camping out, protesting a pipeline on their land, in the middle of freezing winter, being doused with water by the police. So the question is, how do we think that changes the anti-terrorism laws over here that some people want to institute? And there’s millions and millions of people who are standing up for a different kind of America. Where do we go from here, and how do you organize a different response? Let me start with Angela, and please you all just hear something, please raise your hand and just jump on in, but Angela go ahead.
Angela Lang: Yeah. I’m glad that you brought this up because I think this is going to be something that’s going to be the next phase in how we police. And we’ve seen over the last year, how there’s been so many cries to re-imagine what policing is, the calls to defund or at the very minimum divest resources and put them into our communities are conversations that some of us have been having for years now. I think what’s important to note and some of what I’ve been reading and seeing, and what experts are saying is that there isn’t a need for more of these anti-terrorism laws. And quite frankly, I’d be really concerned what that means, because generally when you add more of those policing laws, it will disproportionately impact communities of color and will likely not impact the domestic white terrorists that we have seen. The rise of white nationalism, a lot of us have been saying it for years and decades. And conveniently, a lot of us were collectively gas lit that it wasn’t that much of a real threat.
It’s my understanding that there were things in place that should be looked at. And really, I think being able to add more laws or policies, I think is a very superficial band-aid type of fix. What I’ve been saying is that the call is coming from inside the house. There are people working on the inside that have been infiltrated, that have been radicalized, that have ties to the police department, that have ties to the military. We saw a lot of ex-military people be a part of the insurrection on the sixth. And so I think by adding more of these policies is really not tackling the issue of how white supremacy has been so pervasive into our institutions, like policing. It’s not so much as getting rid of the bad apples at this point or not all police are bad, it’s talking about the institutions and the culture and the climate that has been allowed for these things to fester.
The fact that people have to check National Guard members in DC ahead of inauguration to make sure that they don’t have ties, I think is really telling and it goes to show that adding more laws and policies is not the solution, is doing a full audit and not a self audit. We’ve seen police departments want to do self audits. I don’t trust a department to audit themselves, if they’re the ones committing the harm, but doing a full, people have talked about similar to a 9/11 type of commission, but a full audit of all of our institutions and see where they have been infiltrated. Because that is what we’ve been seeing and it took honestly Jan. 6 for that to really happen and for us to have this acknowledgement that white supremacists, they recruit from the police departments. And we know those ties and I think Jan. 6 really solidified that point that there needs to be a complete overhaul of how this was even allowed to fester and what is actually in the current institutions as they stand right now.
Marc Steiner: So I’m going to jump off from what you just said here, Angela, and think about, if you look at the history of this country, whether we take it back to the original Wounded Knee in the 1890s, where the massacre took place, or the Colfax murders, or the Wilmington North Carolina in 1898, or any of the things we can talk about. And all of the things that have happened, Amadou Diallo just popped in my head in New York City, and everything has happened to us as a people, with police and with the armed forces in this country. And you mentioned a moment ago that it’s coming out of how clearly there are white supremacist elements, very powerful elements. These are the police and the armed forces.
We had a show here just a couple of weeks back with Danny Sjursen, who is a Afghanistan and Iraq war vet, who talked about how the majority of the combat veterans he served with in those battles were white people from the South and the mountain states who held very right-wing views. So given all that and given what we confront and what this new administration that is going to launch in the coming weeks. So, how do you even begin to address that? How do you begin to attack that problem at its root? So we actually can change something in this country. Can it be changed? I’ll just close with this thought. I mean, I was thinking about, I have a nephew and a grandson who were cops. One thing I said to them both, when they entered the various police forces was, “Don’t let the police change you, you better change the police.” Which is no easy trick. So let’s talk, all of you. I mean, and Aaron you can jump in first, please just jump into this.
How do you think we begin to address that in the light of this new administration now in power in Washington, DC? And what we have to do to ensure that everything is radically different, which is no easy task. Aaron, go ahead.
Aaron Cantú: Well, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Marc Steiner: I know.
Aaron Cantú: My immediate response is that it’s not going to be very different. I mean, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I think the fact that there is far right ideologies, which have always… The military and law enforcement, the whole judicial branch. I mean, I think, to some extent have always been places where that ideology can fester and grow. I mean, I think that, that… At the current moment is a sort of global phenomenon. It’s not just the US in which law enforcement security forces have a problem with right wing ideologues and neo-Nazis and others in their ranks. It’s a problem in Germany, throughout Europe.
So this is something that is a… It’s something global right now. And so, for such such a large problem, I don’t know what the solution is. I do know that you can excavate the past. You can look at the foundations of this country and you can see that the contradictions embedded at the base are becoming very hard to avoid. Greg Grandin’s book “The Myth and the Frontier” does an excellent job, looking at the history of sort of the frontier in American society and what it represented for settlers in the United States. And for the country, it was kind of a way to deflect internal problems. They would go out and seize land from native people and enact genocide and violence against nonwhite people became a way for white settlers in America to sort of deflect the internal contradictions and problems that they had.
Of course, it’s not a frontier for settlers to enact that kind of violence and to deflect from their own problems anymore. So, a lot of this is beginning to turn inward. It’s a great book. But I wanted to also just mention something on the question of a new domestic terrorism law, or the fact that the breach of the capital on the 6th has been characterized as an act of domestic terrorism. And some legislators and Biden are considering passing laws that would specifically target “that kind of domestic terrorism.” That’s an awful idea. And I think we all, at this point, more than 20 years after 9/11 can see why.
But I’ll just cite one example. I was covering the federal prosecutions of individuals associated with civil unrest last year who were … I mean, they were protesters in support of black lives. Some of them chose to commit alleged acts such as burning police vehicles or other acts of property destruction, often pretty symbolic. And there was one individual whose case I was following. He was a 21-year-old black man in the South, in Georgia. He has been held in pre-trial detention since June. He is alleged to have been part of a group that set fire to a police vehicle, but he himself is not accused of any specific actions. But because of his criminal record, which itself is a result of the institutional racism of Georgia and the way that police target young black men, all of that was stacked against him at his pre-trial hearing in federal court. And so he now has been in jail since June for allegedly being part of this group that burned a police vehicle.
In his pretrial detention hearing we found out that the police accused him of being part of a domestic terror operation. The prosecutor for the US government, which of course at that time was under the Trump administration, accused this 21-year-old young man of engaging in domestic terrorism. To me, it was just a very obvious example of mission creep. These sort of concerns about terrorism from the post 9/11 era have now sort of come home to roost and now are being used against people who are standing up for Black lives, who are out in the street protesting simply to say, “Our lives matter.” This particular young man I’m referring to, he was actually a protest for several nights in a row with his family, with his young children. According to him, he got a ride home with some guys and they stopped and burned the vehicle, the police car.
We don’t know what actually happened, but the fact is that he’s not actually accused of any specific acts of destruction and yet he has been in jail since June. He caught COVID, he contracted COVID-19 while in jail and he suffered and recovered and then he finally went to his pre-trial hearing. And then you have the prosecutor telling the judge that this young man is being accused of domestic terror. So there’s no limit to the way that this kind of discourse can be wielded against people. We know who it’s going to be wielded against. It’s going to be Black people. It’s going to be native people. It’s going to be people who have long been marginalized since the foundation of this country and it’s a very, very bad idea.
I think that’s something that—I think we have an opportunity now to raise their voices and raise this concern before any sort of new domestic terror law is passed, and then wielded against Black Lives Matter protests just in the future. I think it’s very important that we all stand against that right now before that becomes reality.
Marc Steiner: So, I mean, Dalton, please jump in here. I mean, one of the things I was thinking about it was that there was an interesting article recently that talked about a company called TigerSwan. And TigerSwan is a private security company, that has a lot of work in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places and talks about fighting terrorism and comparing the pipeline activists to jihadists, but they were working hand in glove to prepare against the Indigenous demonstrations at Standing Rock with local police from five different-
Dalton Walker: One thing you-
Marc Steiner: So go ahead, Dalton.
Dalton Walker: One thing you got to remember, so we have the Biden administration and we have the Congress that might make some real change coming in the next two years. But once Standing Rock happened, it was under Obama’s watch for the most part. Because thinking Biden’s going to come in and clean things up is probably not the best mindset you have when you think about who is the federal leadership. And it also falls in on the states too often overlooked, our state governments. I believe in the Dakotas, after Standing Rock, they were pushing for anti-protesting legislation and other things to not allow these gatherings to happen and a lot of these states tend to be Republican-led and there’s some type of clash among tribes that live in that state too. So you have to also look at it as a state level, along with the federal level as well too.
A great example is that state relationship is out in South Dakota. Since COVID hit some of the tribes up there put a border patrol on the land because they didn’t want people running in and out, driving in and out, that didn’t live there, potentially passing on the virus. The state governor, she didn’t like that. She threatened legal action because those roads technically were state and federal roads that went through tribal land. So you look at it, there’s always something happening where someone’s trying to peel back sovereignty for Native people at a state and federal level. And with Biden and what he’s plans to do, we learned recently that he might peel back the Keystone XL pipeline, which like the Dakota Access Pipeline has been protested for years.
That’s huge if he does. What would happen to the Dakota Access, what will happen with all these pipelines is cause for concern as well. Right now in Minnesota, we have hundreds of people camped out along this Enbridge pipeline that’s being built right now into freezing temperatures and they don’t want this to happen because potentially this could damage water, damage the environment. And so it’ll be interesting to see what happens, what Biden really does that impact states.
Marc Steiner: So I think what you just said as well, Dalton and what Angela was saying earlier, and all of you said that kind of begs the question here, but what are the next steps in what we’re facing here? I mean, an anti-terrorism law can be used against Black Lives Matter, can be used against people on the rest of the Indian communities, can be used against lots of people in this country, to stop them from fighting for justice, the same time it tries to stop kind of the right wing madness. But then, within that, you have, as you said, if you look at the Obama administration, you have to question, what can we expect from Biden-Harris when it comes to doing things in the right way. But what does that mean for all the progressors now inside the Democratic Party?
What does it mean for people outside the Democratic Party who are building coalitions and doing work around the country and how people coalesce to ensure that, A, that the police are held in check with people instructing them for years. But to me it’s never been as glaring and open as it is now. How do you keep in check the right wing racist forces that are huge, perhaps even a plurality of white America, but a huge number of people. And then you have Biden-Harris might inch along, but not really push for real change. So, it seems to me that this is … That people who, even though consciousness is rising and people’s eyes are opening, what we’ve seen in the comparison to how police dealt with the Capitol, how they dealt with those other things, is it a moment where the people have to really start thinking about what are the next steps? What do people like you do who are key to organizing and changing public opinion?
Angela Lang: Yeah, I think first off, just knowing that it’s going to be real hard to put the genie back in the bottle at this point. I think we all, some of us have been seeing the writing on the wall for years. And like I said, I’ve been collectively gas lit that the rise of white nationalism and white militias weren’t as much of a threat that they are, that we know that they are. I think the events from Jan. 6 really go to show that, and I think it starts by, one, acknowledging that we didn’t get here overnight. And sometimes I get really frustrated when people say, “Oh, this isn’t who we are as a country,” or, “How did we get here?”
It’s like, you read any well-written full history book, not the ones that are censored, but you read a history book and you know this is exactly who we are and that this has just been dormant, I think, for a while. And that, things like QAnon are becoming more mainstream, but these are thoughts and beliefs and values, unfortunately, that have been around for generations. And it’s going to take a while to undo that.
I think what’s really important is making sure that we are centering the work of organizers of those on the ground. I’ve said it before. I would love to see the Biden administration have regular meetings with those that are the most marginalized in the movements, whether it’s Indigenous folks, Black folks, Latinx folks, we need to make sure that we are having a seat at the table and that those views and perspectives are being centered. It’s one thing to have a seat at the table, it’s another to have a plate to eat off of, and we need to make sure that we are the ones actually centering what those solutions are.
A lot of us have said, this is the mantra in our movement, that those closest to the pain or those closest to the solutions were the ones that have the answers. And if people want to actually be serious about criminal justice reform or protecting our lands and our water, we need to make sure that we are centering the most directly impacted and uplifting that, not playing politics, not what can get passed through Congress. What is going to earn people political points. These are people’s lives and we need to make sure that we’re centering that and I think as frustrating as it is, acknowledging that it’s going to take a long time. This is going to be a decade’s long struggle. As it has been, we’re in an inflection point in our country.
There are people that are saying, elders that are saying, this is a lot different or even worse than what they saw in the civil rights era and in the 60s. So I think having this acknowledgement that we’re in for a fight and from what I see, I try not to go down this dark path of the internet, but both sides think that they’re right. There are people, there are QAnon supporters, that think that they are right, and you cannot tell them differently, and that they have the moral authority. I think it’s going to start by being able to be very honest and having an assessment of all of the impacts of white supremacy, how they’re manifesting, and then being able to figure out how do you unravel all of that? How do you dismantle all of that when it’s so ingrained and intertwined in other institutions, the fact that we have to declare racism a public health issue and people still kind of scratch their heads as to why, goes to show that there isn’t even a basic understanding about how white supremacy and racism actually shows up in all of our institutions.
So it’s going to take a very long time. I think what’s important is again, being able to divest and to defund the police department or schools have been defunded for years. But, police departments constantly are getting the majority of budgets in some places. In Milwaukee, nearly 50% of the total budget in the city goes to the police department, while our health department is funded at two to three percent. So we need to look at everything from city budgets all the way up and really doing this analysis. And it’s hard. The important key is making sure that you have the right people in place, that you’re listening too. Because we all have our own biases, but if we are ignoring those and just trying to do an evaluation of ourselves as a country, it’s going to be very, very hard because in some way we’ve all been compromised by white supremacy.
Marc Steiner: There’s no question about that. And I was thinking about what you just said, and gentlemen, I want you to jump in on this as well. I mean, I was thinking what she said about, what elders say about the civil rights movement. And I guess, as being one of those, having lived the civil rights movement and lived through the racist mobs in the South and more that you faced, the success of that movement in some ways led us to the reaction we have today, people pushing back saying, and really understanding how pervasive it is and how deep it is. So you’re right, is this a long-term struggle? This is not something that gets resolved overnight, but it takes a lot of solidarity and a lot of organizing to make that happen, to have the resistance happen.
So let’s kind of talk a bit about how we see that taking place. I mean, we’re going to see what happens as this … Over the next couple weeks, we’re going to see all this stuff falling out about what happened in Capitol Hill. And you know there’s been a lot of folks writing about how these demonstrators in Capitol Hill are just like the BLM, just alike, there’s no difference between the two, they’re all the same. And that’s going to be popping out. So there’s going to be a huge shuttle built around this, I think, in the coming weeks and months. I just, I’m curious how you see … Let’s talk a bit about that and how that plays out, given what Angela was just saying. You want to jump in, Dalton, for a minute?
Dalton Walker: When you mentioned the aspect of what’s going to happen in the Biden administration regarding policy, I guess, even laws and budgets spending and fall back from the Capitol chaos and whatever happens with Trump regarding the Senate. There’s a lot happening. From my perspective, it’s more like, okay, so these important policies that are coming up, these potential laws, how can we explain that best to our readers and how it affects them and what type of things are out there that are happening to them, that this is going to be a part of their lives. That’s kind of our job, at least from my perspective, regarding this next four years and how important it is. And you brought up earlier, like, a seat at the table. And one thing to mention too, with the Biden administration, where the indigenous population might actually have a physical person in his cabinet with the nominee of Deb Haaland representative right now, and for Native people, that’s huge.
That’s a long time coming and the position she’s expected to hold is the interior, which plays right into what Indian country, what native people are about and how that affects. So just that voice, she’s a Democrat. Many Native people tend to lean Democrat. So there’s definitely something there, what’s going to happen regarding any policy, our decision-making, especially with the environment and when it comes to, what this land is for. So that’s what I was trying to explain. How these are the stories that are coming in. It’s my job and my colleague, coworkers job to make sure we don’t miss these stories. We have to let the world know that this is happening.
Marc Steiner: Now, let’s see what Deb Haaland does. I mean, she’s been pretty vocal about what she plans to do, and she’s going to have a lot of opposition. Interesting to see that in the mix of the cabinet, she’s in there. You want to jump in with some thoughts, Aaron?
Aaron Cantú: I think first, just to make a distinction at the inauguration, I didn’t see myself as part of the organizers who were, what I think in retrospect was necessary work, protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump. I wasn’t an organizer. I wasn’t part of that effort. I was there covering it. That doesn’t mean I was not supportive of it. But I think, in terms of these different movements being conflated, I think, in terms of the law and in terms of the application of prosecutorial and executive power, these are very blunt instruments. They are going to be used by really whoever the authority is, in a particular US district or prosecuting district.
If they have a tool that they think is applicable to a particular situation, they’re going to use it. Again, I bring up the example of individuals who participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year. Many who faced federal charges were charged with violations of interstate commerce. And [inaudible 00:44:37] who I’ve spoken with said it was highly unusual for demonstrators to be charged with these laws. They were a way for prosecutors to kind of federalize certain offenses. One example is another young Black woman, I believe in Alabama, who is accused of bashing a police vehicle with a bat or something. And the way that federal prosecutors were able to bring it to the federal jurisdiction was to say that I believe that the police car that she bashed was, essentially is that some sort of nexus of interstate commerce, therefore this is a federal crime. But I mean, most property, disruption and vandalism and things like that, generally, those are reserved for state powers to prosecute.
It’s not generally in the purview of federal authorities, but these were prosecutors who wanted to prosecute these cases in federal court. And so they found a way to do it. There’s another example that’s been cited in a lot of media reports of a person who I believe had a bottle of Patron in his backpack. Which prosecutors, I think I’m getting it right, allege was maybe going to be part of a Molotov cocktail or something.
Marc Steiner: In a bottle of tequila. A tequila backpack that was going to be a Molotov cocktail. Right.
Aaron Cantú: Right. Yeah, exactly. Right. Exactly.
Marc Steiner: Yeah. Right.
Aaron Cantú: And so because the bottle of tequila was manufactured in Mexico-
Marc Steiner: I didn’t mean to stop you. I was just clarifying what Patron was for our listeners, viewers who might not think tequila, but yes.
Aaron Cantú: Right. Sorry about that. Yes, a bottle of tequila. So, because it was manufactured in Mexico-
Marc Steiner: Go ahead, finish up what you’re saying.
Aaron Cantú: It was a product of interstate commerce, and therefore prosecutors could go after this guy federally. So all of that is just to say that whatever laws are on the books, whatever, prosecutors are going to use them however they want. And we know the institutional biases of this country. They’re against Black people, they’re against Native people fighting for sovereignty. So there might be a law on the books, but its application is never going to be equal. And we know this.
Marc Steiner: Let’s conclude with this thought here, though. And so, how we approach this next four years, how we approach the work you all do, which is very different, you do different kinds of work. But are you optimistic about what could be built given that, that, A, you saw the horrendous nature, which has happened in Washington, DC, on the Capitol, and you also know the power of that right-wing movement, that is heavily armed, and it’s very real and very deep. You also, as I mentioned earlier, we have a nation in a world whose consciousness is opening about questions of race and class, like we’ve never seen before in generations, ever before, perhaps, in the history of this country.
I guess I like to think about the potential optimism of what we face. I mean, how you look at that in an optimistic way, as opposed to as to what … It’s a long-term struggle, Angela, like you said, but clearly you don’t give up hope and you don’t stop it. This is, to me, the beginning of something new, and we’re confronting something very serious. So, how do you keep that alive?
Angela Lang: Yeah. I don’t know if I would categorize my feelings as optimistic. I feel like I’m a lot more cynical [inaudible 00:48:16] optimistic. I do think that there are some openings and opportunities. We’re in a place where we’re having, like you said, more conversations around race and class. We can say the word ‘white supremacy’ and people know what it means. I remember when I first started calling things white supremacists people thought I was only talking about the KKK, or let’s stay away from that harsh language, and now words matter and we’re having these conversations. So I’m encouraged. I do think that there’s some opportunities and some openings to continue to have those conversations and to make those inroads. But we also know that we’re just living in really challenging and terrifying times. The more videos and the more details that come out about Jan. 6, the more disturbed that I get.
We’re not the only ones organizing, and we have to acknowledge that there are some very strong and sometimes powerful forces against us. But I do feel that we are having more and more conversations. We are doing kind of that slow build and those educational conversations, every day. I’m really encouraged by new people starting to get involved and to find their voice and their agency to make change. And so I’m encouraged. I will stop short of saying I’m optimistic, but I think that there’s some openings and some opportunities that we can really make some headway. I have to acknowledge there’s a quote that says, we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. I always have to think about that future generations will be my wildest dreams, and that I’m here to just lay the foundation and do the best that I can and really wrestle with the fact that I may not see the change that I want in my lifetime, but I need to do everything that I can for the future generation too.
Marc Steiner: Very well put, Angela Lang, very well put. That’s it, much better than my pushing me optimism, thinking about reality. That’s very well put. Do you want to give us a concluding thought as well, Dalton, before we roll?
Dalton Walker: I think the next four years will be flooded with news, obviously. But I think a lot of people, especially Native people, are just kind of wait and see. There seemed to be a sense of relief that when president Trump wasn’t reelected, but at the same time there’s still a lot of supporters of Trump in any country. So now it’s like, okay, people are going to try to heal and recover from what happened the last four years and how it directly impacted them, but they’re not thinking this is a better situation. They’re hoping that things can get better. And if Biden continues with whatever’s happening regarding this issue, he brought, he said, potentially stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s a good start, especially for a lot of Native people who support him and might see a brighter path ahead.
Marc Steiner: All right. We look forward to talking many more times with the three of you as we see what happens in our nation, and look forward to all your writing, Dalton. I think we lost Aaron Cantú, but I want to thank him for being with us, and his writing has been really powerful around the country. Angela Lang is one of our really leading organizers in fighting for political change in Wisconsin and in Milwaukee. It’s good to have you with us, as always, Angela, great to see you and thanks for your words of wisdom. We needed those. And, Dalton Walker, welcome to the Real News, the first time. It was good to have you with us, and keep on your writing. It’s great to have you with us as well.
Dalton Walker: [inaudible 00:51:57] Marc. Thanks for having me. Marc Steiner: And we will all stay on top of this, here at the Real News Network. This is going to be a mainstay here. Because we have to talk about where we’re going as a nation, where we’re going as a movement, how we push the agenda for economic, racial, and social justice in this country. So I’m Marc Steiner here at the Marc Steiner Show, the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us and please be in touch and write to us at email@example.com. Let us know what you think, your ideas about what you saw, what you like us to be covering, and we will be staying top of this, seriously, over the next year, because our future depends on it. Thank you, much for joining us and take care.
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