As the world awaited the fate of Derek Chauvin--the Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of killing George Floyd--Black Lives Matter co-founder Melina Abdullah joined Robert Scheer on “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss what he calls the most successful social justice movement the country has perhaps ever seen. In the timely episode, Abdullah, a lifelong activist and California State University, Los Angeles professor, traces the roots of the BLM movement back to 2013 and notes that Floyd’s killing was the moment the “world was cracked wide open” for everyone to see the deep-seated systemic racism at the core of every American institution. She adds, however, that regardless of a guilty verdict there is still a lot of work to be done in order to truly achieve racial justice. Even a guilty verdict, she states, does not amount to anything akin to justice, as “justice is much bigger than anything the criminal legal system or any verdict can mete out.”
Noting that the global grassroots response to Floyd’s untimely death came as COVID-19 gripped the globe, Scheer begins the conversation with a simple but powerful question: “What has it been like to be an activist in the midst of a pandemic?”
[W]hen we say “Black lives matter,” it's not only about ending police killings and intervening in an unjust system of state-sanctioned violence,” Abdullah responds. “It's also about ensuring and doing all we can to protect Black life.”
Abdullah explains that in many places the official pandemic numbers did not reflect the reality that BIPOC communities were being hit hardest by the novel coronavirus, leading BLM to “very quickly [become] involved in trying to unmask racial disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic.” The movement’s activists organized Black-led groups across the country and in Los Angeles, where she leads the city’s BLM chapter, to rethink how our societies are structured and what our taxes are being spent on. These efforts led BLM to the founding of the People’s Budget LA, a coalition that ultimately drafted the successful Los Angeles’ Measure J designed to redistribute public funds away from policing and towards communities that need it most.
Another example of BLM’s remarkable influence and organizing power was the success of the LA chapter’s three-and-a-half-year campaign to unseat District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Lacey, whose husband pointed a loaded gun at Abdullah during a direct action--a story the activist recounts in detail during the episode--lost to George Gascón in the November election after eight years as the city’s DA in large part in response to Black Lives Matter’s weekly protests in front of City Hallurging Lacey’s removal. But, as Abdullah notes several times, she is conscious that BLM cannot be a single-issue movement if racial justice is truly to be achieved.
“We've moved from protesting Jackie Lacey, [who] as the district attorney who signed off on the murders of 634 people at the hands of police, [refusing] to prosecute those officers,” says Abdullah. After successfully unseating Lacey, she adds, “we moved our Wednesday weekly demonstrations to protest the L.A. Police Protective League and all police associations.
“We're there every Wednesday. We maintain our discipline; everyone's masked up, we have hand sanitizer and gloves and give away...hygiene products there to make sure that, as you're saying, we are remembering we are still in the midst of a pandemic. And we are pushing forward as hard as we can to transform systems as well.”
Listen to the full conversation between Abdullah and Scheer, which not only expands on their discussion shortly after Floyd’s murder, but highlights the importance of pushing police associations out of the broader labor movement and sheds light on the growing power of the BLM movement, which, as Abdullah affirms is “winning—as long as we fight, we win.”