Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor vs. Janaye Ingram on Hillary Clinton, Racial Justice & the Democratic Party
To discuss Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination and how the Black Lives Matter movement is reflected in the Democratic platform, we are joined by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” and an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, and Janaye Ingram, the former executive director of the National Action Network and a member of the 20/20 Leaders of America.
Janaye Ingram former executive director of the National Action Network and a member of the 20/20 Leaders of America.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. This is “Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” our two-hour daily two-week special from the Republican and, this week, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
To talk more about the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton and how the Black Lives Matter movement is reflected in the Democratic platform, we’re joined now by two guests. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. She’s an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University. And Janaye Ingram is with us, former executive director of the National Action Network and a member of the 20/20 Leaders of America.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Janaye Ingram. Your response to the nomination of Hillary Clinton last night, the formal acceptance speech that she gave on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, the first woman nominated by a major party to be president of the United States?
JANAYE INGRAM: Well, obviously, I think it’s a proud moment for this country that this has happened, notwithstanding all that has surrounded her nomination. I still believe that her nomination, the first female, is a moment that we need to pay attention to and we need to acknowledge as a history-making moment. I was happy about her speech last night. I think she could have done a little bit more with giving us personal—a personal story. I think, leading up to her speech, you had a lot of the speakers—and the video—you had her daughter talking about her as a person. The speeches in the nights prior, you had people sort of humanizing her and bringing that human touch. I was looking to hear a little bit more from that perspective.
But I was also happy to hear her talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, even though she didn’t specifically call it out. She did mention the fact that black and brown people are being sort of brutalized—that’s my word—brutalized by police. And I will say that was something. That was a recognition to have on a national stage by this candidate, was important to the movement. You had Reverend Barber earlier talk about Black Lives Matter. And so, having that repeated by Hillary Clinton, at least in her way of saying it, was an important moment, that shows, I think, a lot of the pressure that has been placed on her. She is feeling that pressure, and she is responding to it, at least now, with words.
AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: So, I guess I was thinking that the speech, along with the convention as a whole, in many ways has demonstrated this gap between the kind of symbolism and the reality that exists on the streets of Philadelphia and around the country. And so, I think that Hillary Clinton gave a speech that was full of platitudes and that, in some ways, I guess, was of symbolic value, but that really lacked any kind of specificity in terms of how we are going to address very serious crises in this country. And so, I think that, to me, that’s part of the problem I kind of walk away with the convention with, is there’s all the talk about how great and wonderful the United States is, and in many ways, obviously, the convention reflected more of the ethnic and gender and sexual orientation diversity in the United States certainly than the Republican hate show last week, but I think that what we’ve learned from the Obama presidency is that we have to move from symbolism into actual policies and programs that are going to improve the lives of everyday, ordinary people. And in the speeches throughout the week and Clinton’s speech last night, I think we’re still waiting for that specificity in how we go from a kind of symbolic representation of people to the actual representation and improvement in the quality of people’s lives on an everyday basis.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you have liked Hillary Clinton to say last night?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think the two things that I’m most concerned with have to do with Black Lives Matter and specific policies that are going to be advanced to stop police abuse and violence in black communities. And also, Hillary Clinton gave a very heralded speech in Harlem in February, where she talked about the reinvestment in distressed communities, and that seemed to be something that was completely missing from the speech. So, in a city like Philadelphia, where the Democratic Party has been having this party all week, there’s 28 percent poverty, and half of those people are living in what is defined as extreme poverty. And so, what are the actual policies and practices that are going to be put into place to address that? That’s the concrete details that I wanted to hear about.
AMY GOODMAN: Janaye, why do you think Hillary Clinton is the best person to address the criminal justice system?
JANAYE INGRAM: I don’t know that I would say that she’s the best person. I think she definitely has a—having had the experience that she’s had, she does bring to the table certain criteria that I think would be helpful, as opposed to the person that she’s running against. To say that she’s the best person is not something that I would be comfortable saying. I think, given the two choices—you have Donald Trump, who has talked about essentially creating a law and order state, which when you’re talking about a fractured relationship between police and specifically the black community, that is very troubling and disturbing to hear. So, given the two choices, I think having someone who at least is willing to have the conversation and to recognize that, even if it is platitudes, that it’s important that she says it. I was really waiting to see if it was going to be said by her, to be honest, because, you know, I wasn’t completely sure. But the fact that she actually acknowledged it means that there’s an opportunity there for us to go further and hold her accountable to the things that she’s saying.
AMY GOODMAN: And you had this unusual moment on the stage of the convention where the mothers of those who had been killed, two of them by police, one by a vigilante—Sandra Bland’s mother, Trayvon Martin’s mother and Jordan Davis’s mother. What did you make of that, Keeanga?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, one thing that I want to say, though, is that Donald Trump may, in fact, talk about law and order and building a law and order—building further on a law and order society, but we have to remember that Bill and Hillary Clinton, in fact, did build a law and order society with the passage of the crime bill in 1994, passage of the Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996. And so, in many ways, we are recovering from the policies that were championed and doggedly pursued by the Clinton, the original Clinton, administration in the 1990s. So I think it’s important to say that.
In terms of the appearance of the Mothers of the Movement, I know that if my child were killed unjustly by the police or by a racist vigilante, that I would want to do everything in my power to bring the perpetrator to justice. So I don’t question the motives of the mothers who participated in the DNC program.
AMY GOODMAN: The fact that they were there.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Absolutely. I do question, however, the motives of political operatives who I think would use the suffering of black parents for votes. And so, there’s nothing that I have seen yet in Clinton’s policy platform that, to me, takes seriously addressing the issues of police violence. There’s been talk about money on police training, that sort of thing. But what about police accountability? What is actually being talked about in terms of holding the police accountable for the deaths of black people? We’ve just seen this week, Freddie Gray—apparently, no one killed Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray’s death was declared a homicide, and no one will be held to account. And so, that—I’m interested in what Hillary Clinton has to say about that. And that’s what I mean that we have to move beyond promises during election time and platitudes into concrete specifics of what elected officials are going to do to defend black people from violence and abuse at the hands of the police.
JANAYE INGRAM: You know, going back to the earlier point about the—
AMY GOODMAN: Janaye Ingram.
JANAYE INGRAM: Yes—the crime bill, while I agree, you know, that was not the right legislation that we needed to have—and clearly, we are seeing the effects of that daily. The Clintons championed that, and so, by doing that, they are the face of that. I will say there were other people who championed that and who supported that bill, who looked like us, like the two of us. And so, you know, at that time, I want to put the context behind that bill. At that time, there was a lot of crime, and there were a lot of people of all races—it wasn’t just the Clintons who were saying this is the bill. And so, there is a responsibility that we have as a community, and I think that’s the part that I think is really important. Yes, we’re talking about—we need to talk about policy solutions, but offering policy, in and of itself, does not guarantee that that policy will even be implemented. Power concedes nothing without a demand. So, yes, we have to make sure that the power structure is meeting our demands and is essentially responding to the things that they said that they were going to do.
There’s a certain level of accountability that I don’t know has been achieved yet. And that’s not just by the black community. I think that’s by the American society as a whole. I think that’s part of the frustration that you’re seeing coming out with the Bernie movement. People don’t feel like politicians have been held accountable. But what they fail to realize is that we are the ones that are supposed to keep politicians accountable. And so, with that, I think, you know, we’re talking about policy solutions. I think Hillary Clinton needs to have someone in her ear talking about what types of solutions need to be had. I don’t know that, given the ’94 crime bill, that I would fully say, you know, “Have at it. You create the policies, and we’ll be behind it.” It needs to be a conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah, I would just say that, first, talking about the 1990s, I think it’s one thing if you’re in a black community that is absolutely having issues with crime and poverty because of decades-long disinvestment in jobs and infrastructure in black communities, and you’re left with no other viable alternative. So, the alternative wasn’t either support the crime bill or support this host of public policies that are aimed at rebuilding the public infrastructure, rebuilding public programs that are intended to mitigate the worst aspects of poverty. People weren’t given that option. In fact, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton helped to usher in a period where they declared the era of big government, i.e. government programs, is over. And so, the only alternative that people were given was more police and more prisons.
And that’s the very important context, because the thing I think that we miss that was most pernicious about Clinton policies in the 1990s—the crime bill, the Effective Death Penalty Act, welfare reform—was not just that people ended up in prison, was not just that poor people lost access to important government benefits, but most importantly is the damage that was done to the idea that government has a role in the life of everyday people, that government has a responsibility to poor and working-class people. And, in fact, they helped to disconnect the idea that government has any role. They helped to disconnect the idea that poverty, that economic inequality is responsible for the issues of crime, that those things were responsible for people’s reliance or need for welfare. And these are ideas that we are still contending with today, the idea that government somehow is a bad thing.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is your assessment of Donald Trump, where he fits into this? Let’s begin with Janaye.
JANAYE INGRAM: My assessment of Donald Trump is obviously that he is using fear as a tactic to sort of gain him some votes, popularity. Even seeing his most recent comments talking about hitting some of the speakers, I mean, it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: He was in Iowa—
JANAYE INGRAM: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —and he said that he wanted to attack some of the DNC speakers.
JANAYE INGRAM: He wanted to attack—he said—I believe he said “hit.”
AMY GOODMAN: “Hit,” you’re right.
JANAYE INGRAM: He wanted to hit some of the speakers. It is appalling to me that this man is a nominee to be president. I can’t even fathom that this is the person that some people in this country want to lead this country. What he’s doing is not leadership. What he is doing, I don’t even know the word for it, but it’s disgusting. Whatever it is, it’s disgusting.
And ultimately, you know, I think, at the end of the day, I noticed in the package that—one of the packages you showed, someone was talking about how there was this sense of nationalism at the DNC. And I noticed it, too. I noticed the signs and the chants. What I attributed that to was when you have a person who is talking about making America great again, as if America hasn’t made strides, and talking about taking America back to a period when I don’t think it was great at all—let me not say “at all,” but I don’t think it was as great as it could have been. It did not live up to the ideals and the tenets that we want to hold America to. I think that was the reason behind all of that sort of sense of nationalism, to basically say this is still a nation to be proud of.
AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga, I’m going to end with the question about movements and where they fit into this whole electoral process into November.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think the movements are quite critical in terms of keeping alive the issues that are most important to us, because, to be honest, there would be no discussion about police violence and police brutality, there would be no discussion about black lives mattering, without there having been, since August 9th of 2014, a movement highlighting and exposing that police violence is not just a case of bad apples or rogue cops, but that it’s absolutely systemic. And so, I actually think that in order to keep these issues alive, in order to keep whomever is elected in November, to keep their feet to the fire, that the movement can’t collapse into just blind support for Hillary Clinton because we know that Donald Trump is not on the agenda, and that the movement needs to remain politically independent, with its own set of independent objectives and goals that are not tied to whomever becomes president.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue this discussion in these months to come, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, and Janaye Ingram, former executive director of the National Action Network.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we take a look at the vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, the senator from Virginia, and his time in Honduras. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.