Cornel West in New York City April 6:
The Police Are STILL Killing Unarmed People and This Must STOP!

April 7, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

What a blessing to be here. That’s Brother Carl Dix...still on fire...been at it for decades…

I apologize for my voice—it’s about to go out. But you let me know if I’m not communicating and I will try to be more clear and more loud. Just got off the plane from Chicago, we’re trying to push out a neo-liberal opportunist named Rahm Emanuel, trying to get rid of him. Brother Garcia—not because he’s pure but because of the vicious attacks on poor people, working people.

Cornel West

Cornel West

I want to thank each and every one of you for being here tonight. I come with a heavy heart. One of the great giants and geniuses of American culture just died, Reverend Dr. Gardner C. Taylor. He was a big brother of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a friend of Malcolm X. He was the founder of the progressive Baptist Convention that said that the National Baptist Convention may be spiritually rich, but there’s too much cowardice and conformity. He and Martin Luther King, Jr. broke in the name of a love, in the face of a vicious legacy of white supremacy, in 1961. He was pastor of Concord Baptist Church, a chocolate slice of Brooklyn. I know I’m in Manhattan, but Brooklyn is the greatest borough in the world! [laughter] Let us never forget Gardner Taylor. You may not subscribe to his progressive Christian practice, but you cannot deny his integrity, his honesty, his decency, and his courage. Give it up for Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor. [applause] In his early, early 90s—he’s gone now, but we shall never forget him.  

The same is true for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Let us keep him in our thoughts. Revolutionary Christian like me, I’m praying for him constantly. I just talked to the brothers and sisters who were there at the Department of Corrections. He’s lost 85 pounds already. Mumia Abu-Jamal—unbowed unbought, refused to sell out—which is so characteristic these days. People say, “Oh, but Brother West, didn’t he kill a policeman?” No he didn’t kill him. He didn’t kill him. But he’s still in jail. Same is true for Sundiata and so many others. The reason why Assata Shakur is in Cuba today—she didn’t do it! The police will come at ya if you straighten up and try to tell the truth!

And I begin with those figures because for me, I’m here ... the reason why I spend the time with my dear brother Carl Dix, year after year after year, the reason why we went to jail over five years ago and had the trial for a week and came up guilty, but we had a smile on our face—because we were bearing witness. The reason why we went to jail in Ferguson—same reason. Because there were two geniuses that raised a question over 41 years ago, one from St. Louis and the other from North Carolina. I’m talking about Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack– they raised the question, “Where is the love?” Where is the love? And when you talk about Mumia Abu-Jamal, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day—they’re what the Isley Brothers call a “caravan of love.” And we’re here because when you look at the sparkling eyes of these precious ones, these priceless ones, we’re here because we love them, and we are unapologetic about our love of our young people, our precious people, our middle aged people, our older people. And when you love folk you hate the fact they’re being treated unjustly, you loathe the fact they’re being treated unfairly. And if you don’t do something the rocks are gonna cry out! That’s why we’re here! That’s why we’re gonna march on April 14th! Oh, yeah!

I don’t care what color you are—how deep is your love for the young people? And I come from a people who for 400 years have been terrorized and traumatized and stigmatized. One of the most hated people in all of modern history. And who did we dish out? John Coltrane and “Love Supreme,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in need of love today”—taught the world something about love. And because justice is what love looks like in public, we taught the world something about justice, too. In the face of 400 years of being trashed like cockroaches, shot down like dogs, but still straighten up our backs.  

And Brother Arturo O’Farrill will tell you, he’s a great jazz musician—give it up for Brother Arturo. [applause] He understands that great tradition: the Louis Armstrongs, and Charlie Parkers and Mary Lou Williamses, and [inaudible]. And embrace everybody—white, brown, red, yellow. But it begins on the chocolate side of town because it’s there where we refuse to be in denial about the legacy of white supremacy in America. It’s profoundly human, it’s universal, but it has a particularity.

I know Brother Calvin Butts—where’s Brother Calvin? Has he already gone? Tell that brother I love him, I’m gonna keep track of him too. Because he’s head of the United Clergy which is a five-borough organization of Black preachers that’s called for the resignation of the Police Commissioner, called for the firing of the police and the medical helpers who stood there when our precious Eric Garner was dying and hollering that he couldn’t breathe. He’s called for—not the amending– but the ending of stop and frisk. Now why is that significant? That is significant because in this country, including in this city, we got too many mega-churches that don’t have mega-love, too many mega-churches without enough mega-courage—of all colors. And the reason being, of course, is that we live in the age of the sell-out.  

Oh yes, we’ve been told for 40 years that to be successful in America is to have material toys and be well-adjusted to injustice and well-adapted to indifference—rather than faithful to something bigger than you and put a smile on your grandmama’s face from the grave because she taught you better than that. Had she had the spiritual blackout that so many of our Black professionals have these days, we wouldn’t be here. I know I am who I am because somebody loved me, just like we love these young people. That’s the tradition that we’re talking about.

They say, “Oh Brother West, how come you always so hard on the leaders and the Black leaders?” I say, “No, no, no, I’m hard on myself. I begin with myself and then it extends outward.” But somebody’s got to raise the question—for over 7 years, young Black and Brown women and men have been shot down by the police every 28 hours. We’ve got a Black president, Black attorney general, Black cabinet secretary of Homeland Security. Their fundamental aim is to ensure that citizens are secure and safe in America, but we haven’t had one federal prosecution of a policeman for killing all of those folk. There’s something wrong, something deeply wrong. I call it a “Keith Sweat” moment—something, something ain’t right. Something, something ain’t right. Because you get these Black faces in high places that don’t want to be committed to honor our truth—and the condition of truth is always to allow suffering to speak.  

And it’s not a game. The struggle for justice is not a fad, it’s not a fashion. It’s a way of life and you have to be faithful unto death. Don’t play with it. It ain’t something to play with, because these folk in power are serious. These folk in power use anything they can to buy you off, to cast water on your fire, to dangle seductions and temptations so you’re no longer faithful to what your original calling is. And the calling is not grandiose. It’s just wrestling with the 4 questions of the greatest public intellectual in the history of America—W.E.B. Dubois.  

Dubois said there’s four questions. How shall integrity face oppression—he didn’t say cupidity, he didn’t say venality, he didn’t say vapidity—he said how does integrity face oppression?

And the second question—what does honesty do in the face of deception? All the lies and all the crimes, all the mendacity and criminality at work in America. It could be drones dropping bombs on innocent people. It could be 500 precious Palestinian babies killed in 50 days and not a mumbling word said by one politician, not a mumbling word. And I would say exactly the same thing if there was a Palestinian occupation of my Jewish brothers and sisters—because a Palestinian baby has exactly the same value as an Israeli baby, a white baby, a brown baby, a yellow baby, a black baby. That’s the kind of tradition I come out of, and I’m not ashamed of it. That’s how I was raised.

The third question—what does decency do in the face of insult? Attack, assault, dishonorment, disrespected—4 ½ hours on the street, blood flowing, dogs sniffing. And what really broke the back of many young folk was the dog urinating on the body. The level of contempt and disrespect—to be Black in America you’re already disrespected anyway in various ways, but when it becomes that wrong and that coarse, you got to do something. That’s what Ferguson was about. And that’s why many of our white brothers, brown brothers, yellow brothers said this is too much. They’ve been shooting young folk for so long—older folk too– but when it reaches that point of such unadulterated disrespect if you don’t straighten your back up and go somewhere, something is wrong.

The last question—what does virtue do in the face of brute force? April 14th is simply a call for us to have integrity, honesty, decency, a sense of virtue and not be afraid. And not be afraid.  

Or to put it in another way, especially for Black folk, we got to become de-niggerized. Because when you niggerize a people, you convince them that their lives have little or no value. When you niggerize a people, you try to convince them they’re less beautiful, they’re less moral, they’re less intelligent. When you niggerize a people, you keep them so scared and afraid and intimidated that you’re walking around laughing when it ain’t funny, and scratching when it don’t itch, wearing the mask, trying to make it through. Straighten your backs up!

When we say that to our leadership… look at all the different marches they had for Trayvon Martin, we said it then: It’s not just a matter of fighting the laws in Florida. It’s a matter of putting pressure on the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Congress as well as the state and the local. I don’t care what color your president is—he has a responsibility to make sure his police are not engaging in trigger-happy policing. Or to put it another way, to put it another way: you and I know that if all those precious young folk looked like the vanilla youth of Newtown, Connecticut, for the last 7 years, every 28 hours they getting shot down like a dog—do you think there would be no federal prosecution of the police in America? Hell no. That’s the truth we need to tell.

We stand with our Brown and Latino brothers and sisters, we stand with our poor white brothers and sisters, we stand with our Asian and our Black brothers and sisters. It’s a matter of morality, and for me as a Christian it’s a matter of spirituality. What kind of human being do I want to be?  How do I want to live my life in terms of whatever sense of character that I have? Not because I’m perfect, but because I refuse to be a gangster. I refuse to be afraid. Brother Martin used to say, “I’d rather be dead than afraid.” I agree with that. And that’s what our young people more and more are feeling. That’s why we cannot allow the spirit of resistance to fade away. That’s what the corporate press is talking about: “Oh, Ferguson is over. We’re going on to something else now.” So they can make some more money on their truncated reportage and on their sensualizing media. That’s all they want. No, no, no. We here for the long run. Because our love ain’t no plaything. And we’re gonna tell the truth about the system as a whole.

Neo-liberal agenda. When we talk about neo-liberal agenda, we mean financialize, privatize, militarize—that’s what rules the country. Big banks, big corporations, big money. One percent of the population owns 43 percent of the wealth, yet 40 percent of the precious children of color in America live in poverty– that’s morally obscene. That’s morally obscene! 22 percent of all America’s children—no matter what color, each one precious—living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world with profits coming out like I don’t know what—hemorrhaging at the top with the 1 percent. Thank God for the Occupy Movement to at least tell us the truth about that. Not just finanicialize but privatize. That’s what we’re fighting in Chicago. Shut down 50 schools, most of them in chocolate Chicago—children dangling, teachers fired and then shifted to the private schools. You got a problem in America? Bring in the big banks, bring in the CEOs, and privatize—and they can make profits and somehow act as if they’re dealing with the problem rather than just making more money.  

And it’s always militarize. They’ve invested over half a trillion dollars in a Marshall Plan and what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow—the prison industrial complex. But when it comes to a job with a living wage, when it comes to quality education, when it comes to decent housing—can’t find a penny. Can’t find a penny. We’ve got budgetary deficit, but when it comes to war, when it comes to prison, the money flows. It flows! No, that’s hypocrisy! That’s mendacity! We gonna tell the truth out of the love that we have! That’s why we come together.

A lot of people ask me: why could a revolutionary Christian like you work with a revolutionary communist like Carl Dix? And I like to just throw that question out. I aspire to be a jazzman in the world of ideas, a bluesman in the life of the mind. And a jazz woman or a jazzman is always flexible and fluid in approach and going back and forth and here and there, sometime on the beat, sometime off the beat, don’t know what they gonna play, depending on what I’m feeling like. But there’s always an integrity in that. Oh, if I could just be true to the voice of a Billie Holiday, the honesty, the decency, the vulnerability, the truth-telling, the risk-taking, the unbelievable courage to put her soul in her song in such a way that it affects your soul too. She’s not just an entertainer –she’s a warrior, she’s a truth warrior, she’s a love warrior. That sets the standard, y’all! So when I work with Brother Carl Dix, I say: Oh, I keep track of the love that he has for poor people. I keep track of his willingness to sacrifice. I keep track of our analysis of the capitalist system, the analysis of American imperialism and the empire, and where it overlaps. And where it doesn’t overlap, we argue. I think he’s wrong on the God question. He knows that. We struggle over what we mean by socialism. I’m a democratic socialist. He’s a communist. We got differences. But you know what? Just like in Duke Ellington’s orchestra, you allow all the different voices to come forward, you’re not concerned about unanimity, you’re not concerned about agreeing on every issue. When it comes to the children we’re faithful unto death, we’re willing to fight and go to jail. When it comes to defending the working class, we’re faithful unto death, we’re willing to fight and go to jail. And, anybody mess with Carl, I’m gonna have to come for you. Of course he’s not the only one. I’ve got a whole lot of comrades. I’ve got some Buddhists—like Bell Hooks. I’ve got some Jewish brothers and sisters—like Susannah Heschel, Michael Lerner. White Christians—like Phil Berrigan and Dorothy Day. And I got a lot of agnostics and atheists—Stanley Aronowitz and a host of others. We all come together fighting for justice. That’s what April 14th is about. Brother Jim Vrettos, you know what I’m talking about.

Thank you all so very much and I’m gonna see you in Union Square on April 14th. We gonna be there! We gonna be there! Let New York know we are loving our young folk, our middle aged folk, all of our folk, wrestling with this oppressive apparatus.

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