Angela Davis on Movement Building, “Defund the Police” & Where We Go from Here
By Amy Goodman – Democracy Now! (*)
Guests : Angela Davis world-renowned abolitionist, author, activist and professor at the
University of California, Santa Cruz.
The uprising against police brutality and anti-Black racism
continues to sweep across the United States and countries around the world,
forcing a reckoning in the halls of power and on the streets. The mass protests
following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 have
dramatically shifted public opinion on policing and systemic racism, as “defund
the police” becomes a rallying cry of the movement. We discuss the historic
moment with legendary scholar and activist Angela Davis. “One never knows when
conditions may give rise to a conjuncture such as the current one that rapidly
shifts popular consciousness and suddenly allows us to move in the direction of
radical change,” she says. “The intensity of these current demonstrations
cannot be sustained over time, but we will have to be ready to shift gears and
address these issues in different arenas.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final
AMY GOODMAN: This
is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, The Quarantine
Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As the nationwide uprising against police brutality
and racism continues to roil the nation and the world, bringing down
Confederate statues and forcing a reckoning in city halls and on the streets,
President Trump defended law enforcement Thursday, dismissing growing calls to
defund the police. He spoke at a campaign-style event at a church in Dallas,
Texas, announcing a new executive order advising police departments to adopt
national standards for use of force. Trump did not invite the top three law
enforcement officials in Dallas, who are all African American. The move comes
after Trump called protesters ”THUGS” and threatened to deploy the U.S.
military to end, quote, “riots and lawlessness.” This is Trump speaking
TRUMP: They want to get rid of the police forces. They actually want to get
rid of it. And that’s what they do, and that’s where they’d go. And you know
that, because at the top position, there’s not going to be much leadership.
There’s not much leadership left.
Instead, we have to go the opposite way. We must invest more
energy and resources in police training and recruiting and community
engagement. We have to respect our police. We have to take care of our police.
They’re protecting us. And if they’re allowed to do their job, they’ll do a
great job. And you always have a bad apple no matter where you go. You have bad
apples. And there are not too many of them. And I can tell you there are not
too many of them in the police department. We all know a lot of members of the
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is
also calling for an increase to police funding. In an op-ed in USA Today, he called for police departments
to receive an additional $300 million to, quote, “reinvigorate community
policing in our country.” On Wednesday night, Biden discussed police
funding on The Daily Show.
JOE BIDEN: I
don’t believe police should be defunded, but I think the conditions should be
placed upon them where departments are having to take significant reforms
relating to that. We should set up a national use-of-force standard.
AMY GOODMAN: But
many argue reform will not fix the inherently racist system of policing. Since
the global protest movement began, Minneapolis has pledged to dismantle its
police department, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York City have promised to
slash police department budgets, and calls to “defund the police” are being
heard in spaces that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
Well, for more on this historic moment, we are spending the
hour with the legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis, professor emerita at
the University of California, Santa Cruz. For half a century, Angela Davis has
been one of the most influential activists and intellectuals in the United
States, an icon of the Black liberation movement. Angela Davis’s work around
issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and
social movements across several generations. She’s a leading advocate for
prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a prisoner and a
fugitive on the FBI’s top 10 wanted list more than 40 years ago. Once caught,
she faced the death penalty in California. After being acquitted on all
charges, she’s spent her life fighting to change the criminal justice system.
Angela Davis, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to
have you with us today for the hour.
Thank you very much, Amy. It’s wonderful to be here.
Well, do you think this moment is a tipping point, a turning point? You, who
have been involved in activism for almost half a century, do you see this
moment as different, perhaps more different than any period of time you have
Absolutely. This is an extraordinary moment. I have never experienced anything
like the conditions we are currently experiencing, the conjuncture created by
the COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition of the systemic racism that has been
rendered visible under these conditions because of the disproportionate deaths
in Black and Latinx communities. And this is a moment I don’t know whether I
ever expected to experience.
When the protests began, of course, around the murder of
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade and many
others who have lost their lives to racist state violence and vigilante
violence — when these protests erupted, I remembered something that I’ve
said many times to encourage activists, who often feel that the work that they
do is not leading to tangible results. I often ask them to consider the very
long trajectory of Black struggles. And what has been most important is the
forging of legacies, the new arenas of struggle that can be handed down to
But I’ve often said one never knows when conditions may give
rise to a conjuncture such as the current one that rapidly shifts popular
consciousness and suddenly allows us to move in the direction of radical
change. If one does not engage in the ongoing work when such a moment arises,
we cannot take advantage of the opportunities to change. And, of course, this
moment will pass. The intensity of the current demonstrations cannot be
sustained over time, but we will have to be ready to shift gears and address
these issues in different arenas, including, of course, the electoral arena.
Angela Davis, you have long been a leader of the critical resistance movement,
the abolition movement. And I’m wondering if you can explain the demand, as you
see it, what you feel needs to be done, around defunding the police, and then
around prison abolition.
Well, the call to defund the police is, I think, an abolitionist demand, but it
reflects only one aspect of the process represented by the demand. Defunding
the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement and
doing nothing else. And it appears as if this is the rather superficial
understanding that has caused Biden to move in the direction he’s moving in.
It’s about shifting public funds to new services and new
institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in
crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to
recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about
learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety.
And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative
strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about
reenvisioning. It’s about building anew. And I would argue that abolition is a
feminist strategy. And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging
the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices.
Explain that further.
Well, I want us to see feminism not only as addressing issues of gender, but
rather as a methodological approach of understanding the intersectionality of
struggles and issues. Abolition feminism counters carceral feminism, which has
unfortunately assumed that issues such as violence against women can be
effectively addressed by using police force, by using imprisonment as a
solution. And of course we know that Joseph Biden, in 1994, who claims that the
Violence Against Women Act was such an important moment in his career
— the Violence Against Women Act was couched within the 1994 Crime Act,
the Clinton Crime Act.
And what we’re calling for is a process of
decriminalization, not — recognizing that threats to safety, threats to
security, come not primarily from what is defined as crime, but rather from the
failure of institutions in our country to address issues of health, issues of
violence, education, etc. So, abolition is really about rethinking the kind of
future we want, the social future, the economic future, the political future.
It’s about revolution, I would argue.
AMY GOODMAN: You
write in Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, “Neoliberal ideology drives us to
focus on individuals, ourselves, individual victims, individual perpetrators.
But how is it possible to solve the massive problem of racist state violence by
calling upon individual police officers to bear the burden of that history and
to assume that by prosecuting them, by exacting our revenge on them, we would
have somehow made progress in eradicating racism?” So, explain what exactly
Well, neoliberal logic assumes that the fundamental unit of society is the
individual, and I would say the abstract individual. According to that logic,
Black people can combat racism by pulling themselves up by their own individual
bootstraps. That logic recognizes — or fails, rather, to recognize that there
are institutional barriers that cannot be brought down by individual
determination. If a Black person is materially unable to attend the university,
the solution is not affirmative action, they argue, but rather the person
simply needs to work harder, get good grades and do what is necessary in order
to acquire the funds to pay for tuition. Neoliberal logic deters us from
thinking about the simpler solution, which is free education.
thinking about the fact that we have been aware of the need for these
institutional strategies at least since 1935 — but of course before, but I’m
choosing 1935 because that was the year when W.E.B. Du Bois published his
germinal Black Reconstruction in America.
And the question was not what should individual Black people do, but rather how
to reorganize and restructure post-slavery society in order to guarantee the
incorporation of those who had been formerly enslaved. The society could not
remain the same — or should not have remained the same. Neoliberalism resists
change at the individual level. It asks the individual to adapt to conditions
of capitalism, to conditions of racism. June 12, 2020
(*) Democracy Now! produces a daily, global,
independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists AmyGoodman and Juan González. Reporting includes
breaking daily news headlines and in-depth interviews with people on the front
lines of the world’s most pressing issues.
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Refund the Police
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Gain Traction Across U.S.
Along with banning chokeholds, ending no-knock
warrants, and requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer using
excessive force, the mounting demands of protesters to defund police are being heard in city halls across the nation: