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708: Here, Again

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. It's been such an extraordinary and painful few weeks since the killing of George Floyd. And we have a show today with people in scenes that we recorded this past week, trying to capture what this moment feels like and how different people are reacting and what they're doing.

And I know usually right here at the top of the show, I jump right in with some story. But I think it actually captures what lots of people are feeling this week a lot better to start with this essay from one of our producers, Bim Adewunmi. Here she is.

Act One: Letter from America

Bim Adewunmi

The year I came to live and work in America, 962 people were shot and killed by police across the country. Or maybe the number was 1,093. It depends on who you ask about 2016. One project that counted the dead found that black males aged 15 to 34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement.

In case you've become fuzzy on timelines, Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Walter Scott was shot in the back by police in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. In 2016, Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And a day later, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, police shot and killed Philando Castile, while he was in his car with his partner and her 4-year-old daughter.

Those last two incidents were recorded. Both were viewed by the public at large. At the time Sterling and Castile were killed in 2016, I'd been living in New York for four months. I'd come to America to report on the presidential election campaigns with a wry British eye. I no longer have the original text of my visa application, but I remember distinctly that it mentioned both the 19th century French social scientist Alexis de Tocqueville and the late British journalist Alistair Cooke.

Both Alexis and Alistair were men of letters, operating in very different eras of American upheaval. The aim of their writing was to help readers back home understand the unique American situation. They were good names to put on a visa application. It indicated I knew my literary lineage.

But the reality is that beyond the common ground of our jobs, I wasn't really like Alexis or Alistair and moved through the world differently. I was a woman. I was a Muslim. I was a child of working class immigrants, born to parents who themselves were born in an African country still under the yoke of the English monarchy. And of course, I was black. I still am.

Thanks to the spread of empire, I'm no stranger to the project of colonization. Of all the things I would be reporting on and experiencing firsthand in America, the subject of blackness was the thing with which I had the most literal, most lived experience. British police have historically not used guns like their American counterparts.

But the history of disproportionate black deaths during and after interactions with police in the UK tells a familiar story. The lyrics are different, but the melody is old and known to me. That's the horrible thing about this moment. I've been here before.

And so when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day in the last week of May, I had a feeling of resigned deja vu. Police had arrested a man, and then, less than a half hour later, that man was dead. The manner of it-- a cop's knee pressing down on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds-- felt like a stage play we'd all seen before. The fact that it had been recorded felt proper, like a sort of sacred practice.

The mundane location of it was familiar, too-- a regular street suddenly transformed into an arena for public death. The echo of some of Floyd's dying words eerily the same as Eric Garner's in 2014-- I can't breathe. Even that felt like an on-the-nose rerun of a series called, How to Die in America.

Almost every element of what happened next hit the exact beat it was supposed to. The video of his life being snuffed out went viral. Tabloid newspapers brought up his criminal past. Protests began the day after he was killed. Against police brutality, yes, but also against the organizing principle of colonialism in general, and explicitly against the ideology of white supremacy itself.

And it wasn't just black people yelling. Things shifted. Something was different. By the end of the week, there were protests across the country-- all 50 states. And a week after that, there had been protests in other countries, too. Last weekend, I watched protesters in the west of England topple the statue of Edward Colston, a Bristol man who made his fortune by trading in thousands of enslaved Africans.

After kneeling on the supine statue's neck, protesters rolled it down the street, before tipping it into the Bristol Harbour. My London friends sent me videos and photos of protests they had attended, while doing their best to maintain social distancing. As someone on Twitter put it, I can't believe corona blew a 28-3 lead to racism.

The day after George Floyd was killed, I quit Twitter because of my propensity for doom scrolling. I knew my right thumb would be in constant, endless motion, eating up breaking news that would later crystallize into insomnia and migraines.

But even on Instagram, it was a wall of George Floyd content. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with graphics and photos and links to bail funds and that uniquely American habit-- crowdfunding. On pastel-colored digital easels, people wrote anti-racist quotes from Angela Davis and Ijeoma Oluo.

Artists created tributes to people like 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky back in March, and Tony McDade, a trans man killed in Tallahassee.

There were guides on everything, from how to dress and prepare for a protest in the age of coronavirus to the specifics of raising truly anti-racist children. My favorite-- or least favorite-- genre of these is the one that teaches non-black people how to be people in this moment.

Posts with headings like, "Here's what to say to your black friends," or, "Check in on your black friends," were seemingly everywhere. After that first weekend of protests, I got a text in one of my group chats from a black friend. "Have either of you gotten texts from white people this weekend," she wrote. "Yes," we both replied. We all shared a dark laugh.

Black people have been dying in America and elsewhere for so long. What's so different about now? That first weekend, I kept asking myself this. What's making white people care now? I keep looking to see what I've missed. What was the thing that's making brands draw these lines now?

What makes babynames.com dedicate its landing page to listing black victims of police violence, along with the note, "Each one of these names was somebody's baby. Babynames.com stands in solidarity with the black community."

What is compelling people, a lot of them white, to stand up for the first time and proclaim that it's time to do something? How is it that I have read more proposals for defunding and abolishing the police in the last two weeks than over the course of the last two years? What's making people in small towns across America, from Lewistown, Montana to Bad Axe, Michigan, get up and protest now?

If Sandra Bland didn't do it, if Eric Garner didn't do it, if Atatiana Jefferson didn't do it, if Aiyana Stanley-Jones didn't do it, how is the death of George Floyd the thing that moves the needle? I can't think of an easy answer.

It's not because he was seven years old, like Aiyana Stanley-Jones was. It's not because he was a 12-year-old boy, like Tamir Rice was. It's not because he was an award-winning EMT who tweeted that 2020 would be her year, like Breonna Taylor was.

So the next likely answer is that it's as simple as the effect of accumulation. Finally, there are enough dirty clothes in the hamper to justify putting on a load of laundry. Maybe the increased visibility of the stark differences between the haves and have-nots over the last few years has produced a populace ready to be pushed into the hitherto radical lane of thought that suggests, actually, black lives do matter. Maybe the activists finally broke through. Who can say?

A part of me wants white people at large to feel deeply ashamed. This is entry level. Stop killing us. This is basic. If the killing of George Floyd could unleash this tidal wave of demonstration, what was stopping you before? He's as meaningful as any other victim of police violence, named or unnamed here today. You could have harnessed all this energy 15, 20, 200, 500, 1,000 deaths ago. But that didn't happen.

And so when I ask the question, why now, the truth is that I don't really care. All these white people newly attuned to this frequency the rest of us know so well. I told a friend that I wanted everyone to do their belated learning far away from me.

I don't want to see how anyone is carrying the one. I don't want to teach anyone. I have no office hours. I don't want to know what triggered your come to Jesus moment. I have no interest in seeing how the sausage gets made. I just want to rock up to the table and enjoy my breakfast.

I know what's different for me. I'm angrier now. I think of what parents say about how their hearts grow bigger after a second child, instead of having to share the love they already feel. That's me. But instead of love, it's rage. I find that this time, I am furious. That's what's different.

Ira Glass

Bim Adewunmi is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "BREATHING WHILE BLACK" BY MONONEON]

Act Two: Before Sunrise

Ira Glass

Act Two, Before Sunrise. So one night, recently, one of our producers, Diane Wu, stopped by Mr. Mango, which is a corner grocery in New York City. It's two or three blocks from the Barclays Center, where lots of the big New York City protests have happened. And it's just down the street from Brooklyn Hospital, which has been hard hit treating coronavirus patients in these last few months-- New York, of course, the epicenter of coronavirus cases in this country.

Mr. Mango is a 24-hour grocery store that has stayed open through the city's shutdown, through the curfew. It is an intersection that all kinds of people pass through. And that particular night that Diane was there, protesters were singing "Happy Birthday" to Breonna Taylor at a little plaza across the street. A woman in scrubs at the store was FaceTiming somebody about onions. Cop cars pulled up.

And standing there, watching all of this, during this intense moment we're all living through, where race and justice and survival are at the forefront of everything, Diane wondered what were all these different people thinking in this quiet little grocery store.

So she went back the next night-- it was this past Saturday night, June 6-- with a microphone and with our co-worker, Lina Misitzis. They stayed all night, until 5:00 in the morning, talked to dozens of people. And they put this next story together.

Usually, I just want to say, we do not point out the race of the people that we talk to on the radio, unless there's some particular reason. But race is the context for so many interactions, including the ones at the store, that in this story, we're going to identify the race or nationality of everybody who you're going to hear. OK, here's Diane.

Diane Wu

We got to Mr. Mango just before the city's 8:00 PM curfew. Inside, it was crowded and serious. People were shopping silently, trying to keep a distance, trying to move fast and get out of the store and get home by 8:00. A police helicopter buzzed overhead.

Mr. Mango is a small grocery store with inexpensive produce out front and a mix of regular and bougie groceries inside. They have 35 kinds of honey, but also dollar pineapples. The cashiers were hurriedly checking everyone out from an island in the middle of the store.

Once curfew kicked in, things relaxed. Like, all the anxious rule followers had cleared out. The regulars started filtering in-- neighborhood people, essential workers. A white guy in pajama pants came in to buy a corkscrew. Chan, who's Thai and manages the restaurant three doors down, he came in after his shift ended at 10:00 to pick up some pita chips for his husband. The curfew had actually been good for business.

Chan

When it's next to 8:00, people were so afraid that they will have to stuck at home or something, so a lot of delivery is going to happen around that time, yeah.

Diane Wu

How many tonight?

Chan

Tonight, we hit, like, 3,000.

Diane Wu

$3,000, which is 50% more than usual, he told me. Devon, a black man who lives around the corner, stopped by in a camo facemask to pick up some ice and cups. He was hanging out with a friend from Jersey that night.

Devon

Yeah, with all this going on, I need something to unwind a little bit. But this has been rough, this world right now-- everything that's going on. No basketball season, no sports. My daughter can't graduate high school. Couldn't have a graduation. Only great thing about this thing, my grandson is born now.

Diane Wu

Wow, congratulations.

Devon

One month old. I'm sorry for people who lost death, but my daughter's happy. My grandson is home. They're safe.

Diane Wu

The ice he was carrying to the register, actually, was for a toast for baby Thurmond. One group of regulars was hard to get to talk, because they were either rushing to work or exhausted-- the hospital workers. Everyone else had moved on to the new crisis, but they were still very much inside the previous one.

Diane Wu

Do you have a minute to talk?

Hospital Worker

Mm, I just came from work. [INAUDIBLE]

Diane Wu

A black woman on the hospital cleaning crew, Bernice, talked to me for one minute and 24 seconds while she shopped, and wasted none of it.

Bernice

I'm tired.

Diane Wu

Yeah.

Bernice

Because of this coronavirus, I've been working for the last 96 days. And then you got these people out here protesting, which I'm all for that, but they're going about the wrong way with the burning buildings and stores. And people got to survive, you know. This is your neighborhood. You shouldn't be doing stuff like that. You know, you've got to do it the right way. But that's just my opinion. And I'm delirious and I'm tired right now, so I'm about to go.

Diane Wu

I know. I feel tired for you-- 96 days.

Bernice

I'm actually walking slowly by slowly, taking it step by step. I am, like, burnt out, drained. I don't know what to say anymore. Just go to work and just pray that the same way you leave there, you come back home that way. That's all I can say, mama. You be careful. Have a good night. I gots to go.

Diane Wu

At the cashier's island, there's Ronny, who's new at Mr. Mango. He just started working here this week. He's Latino, from Guatemala. And Dorje, the longtime overnight cashier, gracious and calm. Dorje is from Bhutan. He's the quiet center of gravity of the whole store and does not want to be on the radio. Every time I swing the microphone in his direction, he leans back and puts his hands up to protect himself from it.

Once the mic is safely out of sight, though, he's happy to talk. After I interview any of his regulars, Dorje helpfully fills in the details. That guy is a really hard worker. They come almost every day after a long day. They used to buy Corona, but after coronavirus, they started getting a different beer.

One of the regulars, Schecter, who's Asian, tells me that Mr. Mango is his favorite store in his whole life. And the reason is Dorje and the other night cashier, Karma, who's off tonight.

Schecter

Last year, I had a bad year. Everything started to fall apart. In my worst moments, I would come here at midnight or 1:00 in the morning and just be with them. And I found out that I wasn't the only one.

Diane Wu

Ever since the pandemic, Dorje has been working more-- 72 hours a week. He's tired. Tomorrow is his day off. As it gets later, around midnight, the mood at Mr. Mango shifts. Some of the energy outside filters in. Lina tells what happens next.

Lina Misitzis

Protesters keep turning up. A sunburned couple, white, holding hands on their way home from a rally. They buy ice cream, beer, and lemons. Patrick, an older black man with long hair and a beard to match, he'd been out protesting, too. Wanted to grab a snack before turning in. He bought one pineapple.

And then these protesters-- I call them Josh and Katie. They seemed about 30, both of them white. She had long red hair, and he had knuckle tattoos, but he refused to show them to us-- for his own protection, he said, and because he didn't want to put himself as an individual ahead of the movement.

Katie

Do you like persimmons?

Josh

Not really.

Katie

Why not? So tell me, what's up?

Josh

I just don't like them that much. I don't know why. I never really liked them that much.

Katie

You're getting started.

Josh

But I like them. You know I eat anything.

Lina Misitzis

Josh and Katie told Diane they'd spent the day marching all over Brooklyn.

Josh

Went through Flatbush, Crown Heights, Bedstuy, and then back up here to Barclays.

Diane Wu

You sound a little tired.

Josh

I was locked up for a long time after one of the recent violent assaults on a protest in one of the outer boroughs.

Diane Wu

So you got arrested this week.

Josh

Yeah.

Lina Misitzis

Josh kept talking about what he called movement moments. Katie focused on shopping for fruit.

Katie

They have the best fruit. They have plantains. They have litchis. They have soursop. They have star fruit. They have mamey. They have things you don't see in America. I mean, you know, these guys are the real deal.

Josh

Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Katie

Hang on.

Josh

What's going on?

Diane Wu

What's going on?

Man

Hey, what's up? How're you doing?

Diane Wu

What just happened?

Lina Misitzis

What happened was a couple NYPD walked into Mr. Mango, and Josh and Katie immediately reacted. Josh very dramatically stopped talking, wrapped a scarf around his face, so that all that were showing were his eyes. He looked like a mummy, who was also an anarchist. He crept away, picked up some tofu, and held it like a prop and glanced back at the police. Meanwhile, I went and talked to the officers, one white, the other Dominican.

Lina Misitzis

What are you guys here for?

Officer Rodriguez

Just buying snacks.

Officer

Snacks and water.

Officer Rodriguez

I got water and pretzels.

Officer

I got some water.

Lina Misitzis

While I was talking to the police, Josh and Katie moved to the back of the store, where they accidentally knocked over some toilet paper. The whole thing is pretty conspicuous. But they didn't want to be near the NYPD, which the cops definitely noticed, but they didn't care.

Officer

It doesn't bother me at all.

Lina Misitzis

Wait, because you're used to it?

Officer Rodriguez

Yeah.

Officer

Oh, yeah.

Officer Rodriguez

But sometimes we get appreciation, too, you know?

Officer

It goes both ways.

Officer Rodriguez

We get both, you know?

Officer

Both ways, yeah.

Lina Misitzis

Did you get appreciation today?

Officer Rodriguez

Um--

Josh

No.

Lina Misitzis

That no was coming from Josh. He's listening to our conversation. Officer Rodriguez heard him, rolled his eyes.

Officer Rodriguez

Yeah, but that's the same guy that when he's getting robbed or something, he's going to call 911. And he's going to expect us to show up. You get what I'm saying? So.

Lina Misitzis

The officers pay for their water and pretzels, tell me they have to get back to work. They're on patrol duty. I walk out with them, and when I get back, Josh has uncovered his face. He's talking about Standing Rock.

Josh

When you've seen him shoot down Americans and natives at Standing Rock with four different jurisdictions at once in every brutal way they can--

Lina Misitzis

Wait, can I tell you what he said about you?

Josh

What did he say?

Lina Misitzis

I asked if it upset him that you wouldn't step up to pay until he was gone, and he said no, but when he gots robbed, he's going to call 911 and expect us to help him.

Josh

I don't call the cops.

Lina Misitzis

You haven't-- you don't call 911.

Josh

I never call it for any reason whatsoever. Everything can be handled within a community-- every possible situation you can come up with.

Lina Misitzis

Does it make sense to you why he would have said that, though?

Josh

Yeah, because he's been acculturated to a system which believes that we will always need policing, no matter what, even though it's an advent of the 18th century.

Lina Misitzis

Wait, are you saying a rehearsed speech?

Josh

My entire life is dedicated to the destruction of the police and the American empire. I'm speaking off the cuff because this is what I think about all day long.

Lina Misitzis

Another protester came in soon after Josh and Katie. She was also skeptical of the police. Her tactic, though, was pretty different.

Diane Wu

This was a white protester I noticed in front of the sliced cheeses, animatedly chatting up a black police officer. She was asking him questions, which he seemed to be answering. This was a kind of conversation I hadn't heard yet, and so I walked over.

Lieutenant Maurice Walston was wearing an upper rank officer's white shirt. Brianna was holding a green juice. She was on her way home from drinks with her friend after protesting all day.

Brianna

And I appreciate you just talking to me.

Maurice Walston

Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that's-- I mean, absolutely.

Brianna

Officer Walston, I really appreciate this conversation just in general.

Maurice Walston

Yep, no problem. And I appreciate it as well. And again, it should be everyone's right that no one should be able to-- no one should fear police interactions like this. We should all--

Brianna

I don't.

Maurice Walston

No, I know that. But I'm sure--

Brianna

But that's my privilege, right? I don't have to.

Lina Misitzis

Lieutenant Walston doesn't want to talk about her privilege.

Maurice Walston

Well, I can tell you this. When I deal with even people of my race, I give them the same respect that I give to you. And that's just across the board.

Brianna

I'm sure you do. That's not the question, right? You're an officer of color.

Maurice Walston

But that's your question. You have a different question, right.

Brianna

That is my question, yes, but I've been-- this is not my first conversation with a police officer tonight.

Maurice Walston

No, I understand. No, I get it. I understand.

Brianna

I want to communicate and understand.

Diane Wu

It's a really awkward conversation to watch. She keeps making big statements about policing, ending with, "Right?"

Brianna

It's not an isolated event here or there, right? It's a systemic problem. I have this general sense that people who go to be police officers generally have a power issue. Right? Either it's a power issue, or they want to help people. And in my mind, it's one or the other.

Maurice Walston

I think generally, most people become police officers to help people.

Diane Wu

And of course, it's hard to get Lieutenant Walston to agree with what seems to be her central premise, that there's something fundamentally wrong with his job.

Brianna

But ultimately, when police are called in on peacekeeping missions, violence ensues, right?

Maurice Walston

See, there are times when we get called, and violence has already occurred or violence is there. And that's the majority of the times why we're getting called to these emergency situations.

Diane Wu

Lieutenant Walston told me later that people who don't have as many interactions with the police often fill the vacuum with the worst images they see in the news, not anything based on their own experiences.

His strategy during this conversation, he told me, was first to mostly just listen. But when she told him she knew what it was like to be in the minority because she'd lived as a white person in Oakland, he realized the depth of her misconceptions. But since she seemed so adamant, he wasn't out to change them.

When we talked to Brianna later, she said she wasn't expecting to change anything about his beliefs. It just felt important to say what she thought. Toward the end of their 20-minute conversation, there is a moment where she asks for his advice. She asks, do you have kids?

Maurice Walston

Yeah, I do. I have twins.

Brianna

I have a four-year-old son. He's biracial. And I'm trying to figure out how to tell him he presents as white. He looks white. But he's not white, right? So how do you talk to a biracial kid about racism?

Maurice Walston

Right.

Brianna

So that's why I asked.

Maurice Walston

Right, no, I understand.

Brianna

How do you talk to your black kids about police brutality?

Maurice Walston

They're also biracial, so I'm honest with them. That's the only way you can be. Be honest, and--

Brianna

What does the honesty look like?

Maurice Walston

Well, honestly looks like me, in part. Tell them that there are officers like me out there, you know?

Brianna

Do you also have to tell them there's officers that's not like you?

Maurice Walston

Yes, I would be truthful.

Brianna

You have to have that conversation with your kids.

Diane Wu

You have to have that conversation with your kids, she tells him. It's funny to imagine how different those two conversations would be. After she left, I asked Lieutenant Walston what you've made of all of that.

Diane Wu

Have you been having more conversations like the one you just had? Sorry, to be more specific, have more white people wanted to talk to you about that kind of thing than usual?

Maurice Walston

Yeah. Yeah, and I get that. Let me just say this. I'm actually, I'm happy that you have all nationalities that are coming together to come and go. And I'm happy about that. The only thing is that when you do get a white person, which is fine, but the one thing I just don't allow is for you to claim that you know my plight more than I do.

Diane Wu

Is it accurate to say that that was like a white lady explaining to you why black lives matter?

Maurice Walston

Yeah. Yeah, basically. In a sense, yeah. It's someone not of my race telling me why my life matters. And I know why my life matters. I know what I went through.

Diane Wu

He gets in an unmarked police car with his patrol partner and drives down Lafayette Avenue.

By 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, the protesters recede off the stage, and the night shift workers make their entrance. The mood changes again. It becomes quiet, contemplative. The night shift workers, they aren't on their way home from protesting racism. But many of them know a lot about it, like Alexander.

Alexander

I do security for 300 Ashland.

Diane Wu

OK, is it that big fancy building on the corner?

Alexander

Yeah. Exactly.

Diane Wu

What's that job like right now? Has it been hectic at all because of the protests?

Alexander

Not really, but people-- it's just that you get surprised to see who has their position politically on the protest from working in a residential building. Some people come out to jump with the protesters. Some people come out and go get the protesters. So you get to see-- you know.

Diane Wu

Huh. Do people kind of match up with what you would guess?

Alexander

Yeah, this is surprising how being cynical is usually being right. [LAUGHS]

Diane Wu

Though there is one wildcard category.

Alexander

The older residents are always surprising on their views. Because at a certain age, you start to be like OK, I don't expect much from you. [LAUGHS]

Diane Wu

There's some older woke people in your building.

Alexander

Yeah, when they're awake, they ain't know what's going on. It's surprising, you know? That feels nice.

Diane Wu

Wait, what kinds of things are people saying who are against the protest?

Alexander

It's more of like, the subtle hints would be, oh, when is it going to be enough of these people protesting? That or it's too late for that. Or now, is this usually the time? Or why didn't y'all do that the last time, you know? It's subtle when people try to diminish or water down the situation. But it is what it is. Ain't nothing us as a people aren't used to, so.

Diane Wu

What do you mean?

Alexander

Like, being a black individual, you're used to people always dismissing your cause. Like, if we talk about slavery, they bring up the Holocaust. If we talk about anything that's about being black, other people bring in their struggles, too. So it is what it is.

So even with the protests now, nothing wrong with I see Caucasian friends helping us out and being a part of the situation. But it's getting watered down because everybody sees the white faces. They're not seeing any black face as a part of it. So whose lives matter? Mm, I don't know. [LAUGHS]

Diane Wu

The vast majority of the protesters we talked to at Mr. Mango that night were, in fact, white.

Diane Wu

How has it been working after curfew? Does it feel-- have you been nervous about it at all?

Alexander

No, I haven't been nervous. I'm not a nervous individual. Yeah, because this is all-- this is all riots, and never know whether you're going to be attacked or not or feeling unsafe. It's part of being a black male, period. So it's a little bit of insight for everybody else to feel like how we feel, you know?

Diane Wu

Alexander works the night shift from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM, which has made getting home hard during this week of curfew. The subway is closed. Cabs aren't an option. Alexander is 26 and has lived in New York City his whole life. He told me that the first time a Yellow Cab stopped for him as a black man was this last year. Tonight, he heard Uber is running, and that's how he'll get home.

Diane Wu

How did you get home the other night?

Alexander

Through the grace of God. [LAUGHS] That's the only way possible to describe it.

Diane Wu

Right now, though, he has to get back to work. He walks over to the cash register.

Alexander

You know what? I'm the type of person that when I buy stuff, sometimes I get all the things that are the same color. I don't know why. I think other people do it, too, but somehow I got Ramune and it looked like blueberries.

Diane Wu

It looks like you got all purple today. You got purple Ramune and an acai drink.

Alexander

And somehow I got this grape juice, too. I don't know why. It's hilarious, huh? [LAUGHS]

Diane Wu

Have a good night.

Alexander

You, too.

Diane Wu

At around 1:30 AM, a guy in an MTA uniform walked in. He was holding a big leather binder. He heads straight for the cash register, eager to show Dorje whatever is inside of it. It's a trading card album, full of old basketball cards, the kind with holograms.

Fred Nixon

Yeah, this is from the 1990s when Michael Jordan dominated. There's Michael Jordan. This is the famous nuts and bolts collection. I'm going to give 500 for that. It's 10 cards. Everybody's in the Hall of Fame. See? Look at that.

Diane Wu

His name is Fred Nixon. He works for the city subway system, specifically the G stop beneath the store.

Fred Nixon

I work right downstairs in the booth. Yeah, I got to-- don't you see I need a napkin since I'm on TV, man?

Diane Wu

Fred comes into Mr. Mango a lot, when he gets hot downstairs. The napkin he asked for was to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He and Dorje talk all the time. They know each other well.

Dorje

Is it crazy people outside also?

Fred Nixon

No, no, it's died down now.

Diane Wu

Fred starts talking about the looting.

Fred Nixon

You know the reason why people did that, because Donald Trump is an idiot. And he said when the looting starts, the shooting starts. People in America, they take that to heart, and they say, oh, yeah? Shoot me. And that's what that was all about. But I'm glad they stopped. I really believe that's why the people looted because they wanted to challenge him, you know?

Diane Wu

Like they felt dared to.

Fred Nixon

Yeah.

Diane Wu

Fred Nixon is 61 years old. He's black, grew up here in the same neighborhood. And he's proud of these past couple of weeks. He feels the protests are a continuation of work he had a hand in starting.

Fred Nixon

Yeah, I started this movement 40 years ago right across the street at Bam with Sonny Carson.

Diane Wu

Wait, [INAUDIBLE].

Fred Nixon

Sonny Carson actually was trying to do something like this 40 years ago. Go look that up.

Diane Wu

I did. Sonny Carson was a civil rights activist and a political organizer from Brooklyn. In the 1970s, he led demonstrations for racial justice, just a block away from Mr. Mango.

Diane Wu

How does it make you feel seeing it happen again now in 2020?

Fred Nixon

I wanted to see it before I'm dead, so I'm glad about it because black people can't do it by themselves. And until everybody jumped in the course, that's why nobody was listening.

Diane Wu

What do you think is different now, though, that-- I mean, basically, more white people than ever are paying attention. What do you think is different?

Fred Nixon

I think that-- you ever heard the saying, the straw that broke the camel's back?

Diane Wu

Of course.

Fred Nixon

George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Diane Wu

Part of Fred's job is interfacing with cops patrolling the subway station often.

Fred Nixon

Sometimes when I see cops, I get really upset about it. When I was 15 years old, I got beat up by the cops right in front of the 88th precinct.

Diane Wu

Where's the 88th pre-- where is it?

Fred Nixon

On Carson and DeKalb. And recently, they tried to burn it up last week. I didn't even feel bad for them because of that experience I had when I was 15 years old.

Diane Wu

It was the early '70s when it happened. Fred said it was a misunderstanding about unpaid bus fare, which, at the time, was $0.35. He says not a lot's changed since then.

Fred Nixon

I've been stopped by the cops with my uniform on. The cops came to my job and told me I stole a Red Bull at the store with my uniform on. And I was going crazy. I was like-- I told them if they didn't get out of my booth, I was going to press the emergency button. They all left. Because they know they have to fill out paperwork for that.

Diane Wu

Fred didn't buy anything at Mr. Mango, not during that break anyway. He just came in to say hi to Dorje.

Fred Nixon

Yeah, this is the place, man. Mr. Mango is the best. Especially Mr. Dorje here.

Diane Wu

Mr. Dorje.

On his way out, Fred promised Dorje that he'd bring back the basketball cards soon so he could get a proper look. Dorje said he'd want a full hour to do it, so that he can see everything.

After 3:00 AM, even the night shift workers weren't coming in anymore. It was just Dorje and Ronny in there. They were in constant motion-- Ronny restocking the eggs and coconut water, Dorje cleaning the coffee machine and rearranging the pastries. Around 3:30, a really out of it man walked in. He was black. It seemed like he might have been homeless. He got a muffin.

After that, no one came in. And the store felt like a safe, clean cocoon, full of soap and honey and different kinds of sprinkles. It felt like a store from six months ago, or 100 months ago, where nothing was out of place, except maybe the case of hand sanitizer above the cheesecake fridge.

The last person we talked to as we left at 5:00 AM was a Latino guy picking over the oranges in a crisp Hawaiian shirt. He was complaining about a notice from the government that his student loans from the '80s were overdue. He was so annoyed. No pandemic or protest on his mind at all in that moment.

Ira Glass

Diane Wu with Lina Misitzis. Coming up, a neighborhood protest that wasn't supposed to happen. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Three: Grand Army

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's show, Here Again, the stories in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd that we recorded this past week.

So there are these Twitter threads that have sprung up these last couple weeks where people were collecting as many videos of police violence against protesters as they can find. I spent a lot of time scrolling through the ones assembled by a North Carolina lawyer named T. Greg Doucette. He's also got them in handy Google Doc form online. He has over 600 videos so far, and he says people have sent him 1,600 direct messages with links that he hasn't even gotten to yet.

The stuff that police are doing in these videos, I mean, the tactics that they're using against peaceful protests, it is not news. There's nothing new about it. At this point, I think everybody knows or should know that this stuff is happening. But watching them back to back, all collected in one place, the sheer concentrated volume of it is unnerving. The simplest ones start with utterly peaceful demonstrators.

Protesters

This is what democracy looks like!

Ira Glass

In San Luis Obispo, Bentonville, Arkansas, Columbus, Ohio, Huntsville, Georgia, Walnut Creek, California-- too many places to name. And then police fired tear gas and sometimes flash bangs or rubber bullets with no apparent provocation.

Man

Oh, shit! Oh, fuck! Oh, shit! Run, run, run, run! [INAUDIBLE]

Ira Glass

Lots of videos, of course, get way more violent. In Austin, police shot a bean bag round at a 16-year-old boy, Brad Levi Ayala. He seems like he's just a bystander, watching the protests from an embankment near the street.

Man 1

Jesus Christ!

Man 2

Murder! Murder! Murder!

Ira Glass

In Minneapolis, on a super peaceful, suburban looking, tree-lined street with pretty homes, police and National Guard marched down the street.

Cop 1

Get inside!

Cop 2

Get in your house now! Let's go!

Ira Glass

And fire some kind of a round at a woman for the offense of videoing them from her own porch.

Cop 3

Go inside now! Get in the home!

Woman

Ah! Ah!

Ira Glass

In Los Angeles, a black family tries to protect a store from looters. They flag down police to help, and then, the police start to handcuff and detain them. A reporter who's there on live TV tries to set the police straight.

Woman

OK, sir, sir.

Man 1

Whoa.

Woman

They're protecting the store. The looters are over there.

Man 2

Stand down for a sec, please.

Ira Glass

In Indianapolis, an officer looks like he grabs a young woman's breasts while trying to detain her. She squirms free. And two officers beat her to the ground with nightsticks.

Cop

Get on the ground.

Ira Glass

This is going to be the last one I'm going to play you. It sums up, I think, all of these as well as any one video could. It's from Charleston, South Carolina. Again, a perfectly peaceful group of protesters, all of them kneeling-- I don't know-- maybe 20 feet from a line of police. There's one guy who addresses officers.

Man

I am not your enemy. You are not my enemy. I love all of y'all. You are my family, and I love you. And I respect you. And I want to understand y'all. I want to understand all of you.

Ira Glass

He repeats this over and over. I want to understand you. Police respond by marching over to the guy, they drag him to his feet, and arrest him.

Protester 1

Come on, what are you doing?

Protester 2

What are you doing?

Protester 3

Fuck you! Fuck you! What the fuck did he do?

Protester 4

Are you fucking kidding me?

Ira Glass

Which brings us to Act Three, Grand Army. So given the way protests have been going, some people do not want them in their own neighborhoods. There's a neighborhood in Brooklyn, Red Hook, where there was a debate about this.

A couple weeks ago, one woman, who is white, woke up, read the news of the day, and then posted online that she wanted to have a protest. She got several responses from local community leaders asking her not to do it.

The wife of a local pastor wrote, please reconsider this. There's more damage than good that will come from this. The hurt and anger that the black community has right now will not allow for this to end up peacefully. In the end, you will be able to go back home to a quiet peaceful block, but the residents of NYCHA-- that's the public housing-- won't. They will end up with more police presence, possible curfew, some may get hurt, and so much more.

The one who wrote the initial post backed down. But last weekend, there was a protest in Red Hook. One of our producers Dana Chivvis, who lives there, explains how that happened and how it went.

Dana Chivvis

The protest that did happen was organized by a 22-year-old named Na Dortch, who had never done anything like this before. I met up with him just before the protest started.

Dana Chivvis

Have you been in touch with the police? Have they contacted you as the organizer at all?

Na Dortch

Oh, yeah, they have.

Dana Chivvis

What have those conversations been like?

Na Dortch

They're just mainly interested in the route and what's going to happen and things like that.

Dana Chivvis

Has it been cordial, your conversations with them?

Na Dortch

Oh, no, no, no, no, no. It's been-- it has been cordial. It has been cordial, but they say things like, so we need the route. And I say, I don't think you need the route. And they say, well, you don't have a permit. You know what I mean? Like, hey, if you don't give me the route, we're going to shut it down because you don't have a permit-- things like that.

Dana Chivvis

So you didn't give them the route.

Na Dortch

I didn't give them the route at all. I didn't give anyone the route. I gave people a general route.

Dana Chivvis

The police told me they didn't try to shut down the event. Three weeks ago, Na was doing what a lot of us were.

Na Dortch

Literally, I was doing nothing. Literally nothing. I was just home in my house, doing nothing. Just going outside sometimes, getting some air, but I was doing nothing.

Dana Chivvis

And then George Floyd was killed. The country erupted in protest. Na looked out at his neighborhood and saw--

Na Dortch

Nobody's coming to fucking Red Hook. And nobody's out here protesting, and I was just like, fuck it. I'm going to do a protest.

Dana Chivvis

He'd been to a few protests over the years. When he was 17, he joined a Black Lives Matter group for a few days. But he felt like he was too young to make a difference, to be heard. Everyone else in the group was ancient, in their 30s.

He texted his friend Crystal. She agreed to be his secretary. Made a flyer with the date and time for the protest. Na pulled in his friends, Mo Pringle-- like the chimp, she told me-- Naseem Stevenson, who plans to go to law school, and a few others. They came up with a name-- the New BLQK Leaders, black spelled BLQK, because the other version was taken.

Objectively, 2020 has been an unremitting shit storm of a year, but things have actually been going OK for Na. He recently came out to his friends and family. Most of them were supportive. His grandmother asked a few awkward questions and then tried to get some hot gossip about who else was gay. He's been feeling more empowered lately, more like himself.

But when he and some friends decided to have a protest, they got the same response from some community leaders as the other woman, the one who proposed a protest on Facebook. They worried it could be dangerous. People from outside the neighborhood could come in and start trouble. It could give the cops a reason to harass them or to get violent.

One of them felt like people have been protesting for years, and nothing had changed. The New BLQK Leaders had a Zoom call where they tried to convince them everything would be fine.

Na Dortch

I'm going to express all throughout the protest, we do not want agitators here. If you see anyone who's trying to agitate, stop them. If you feel like you are going to get agitated or if you are here to be violent, leave. I'm going to constantly express that.

Dana Chivvis

After this call with the community leaders, though, one of them, a guy who serves as a community liaison to the 76th precinct, sent an email to the police, telling them what route he thought the march would take and giving them the names and photos of the organizers. It made Na feel even more targeted than he already did.

Na Dortch

It hurt me. It almost discouraged me, because it made me feel like, damn, nobody believes in us. You know what I mean? Even though we constantly express how it was going to go and we expressed that, you can help us make sure that these things remain-- like, the protest is safe. But it almost discouraged me. It kind of made me feel like, I didn't know what I was doing.

Dana Chivvis

Na's friends, the other organizers, convinced him to keep going. And that email, it was actually the reason one of the reticent community leaders, Tiffiney Davis, decided to go to the protest.

Tiffiney Davis

It's a crazy day-- it's an empowering, but scary day.

Dana Chivvis

Tiffiney runs an organization called Red Hook Art Project. On Sunday, the day of the protest, she showed up early. A handful of people were hanging around outside the community center, getting ready, making signs and T-shirts.

Dana Chivvis

What are you scared about?

Tiffiney Davis

I'm just seeing a lot of the police ride around in ways that they-- I mean, they always patrol the neighborhood, but they're patrolling it way too much now. Because they know that there's black leaders behind this protest. And they're looking for them to do something that that's not what their intentions are.

Dana Chivvis

You're seeing them drive around more today?

Tiffiney Davis

I did see them drive around today, and I'm a little frustrated by what I'm seeing. As of now, I'm frustrated because these are young children. They're all my son and my daughter's age, so I'm very disappointed at the community police. I'm very disappointed.

Dana Chivvis

What are you worried might happen?

Tiffiney Davis

I don't know, just that any kid can make a wrong move. Like that gentleman right now is bouncing a basketball. What if the basketball rolled over and hit a police officer, and then they try to blame that on something negative and a reason to start shooting? Look at them. Do they look like they want to start trouble?

Dana Chivvis

No, they look like they want to make T-shirts and signs.

Tiffiney Davis

They just want opportunities to be seen and heard and respected.

Dana Chivvis

The signs and T-shirts had George Floyd's face on them and Black Lives Matter-- and also, Forever Deion. Deion Fludd was a kid from Red Hook who died in 2013. He went through a subway turnstile without paying. Some cops tried to arrest him, and he jumped into the subway tracks to get away.

He ended up in the hospital, paralyzed from the neck down in a coma and shackled to the bed. The police say he was hit by a train, but his family says he woke up from the coma and told them the police had beaten him and left him on the subway tracks. He died from the injuries not long after.

When 4:00 PM comes, there are probably 100 to 200 people waiting for the protest to begin. Na is walking around with a bullhorn in hand. He's tall, wearing a white Black Lives Matter T-shirt. His mask is around his chin.

Dana Chivvis

Na, are you nervous?

Na Dortch

I'm a little nervous.

Dana Chivvis

Are you used to talking to this many people?

Na Dortch

I've been in front of this many people doing other things, just not talking. But I'm not worried about the talking. My eyes are on a mission, on a prize. I don't really-- I'm not thinking too much about my speech or anything.

Protester

You don't be nervous, man. You stand up--

Na Dortch

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm not that nervous. I'm just a little-- I'm shocked, really.

Dana Chivvis

Is it more people than you thought there would be here or what?

Na Dortch

A lot more people than I thought would be here.

Dana Chivvis

It's a lot, huh?

Na Dortch

Yeah. I need everybody to repeat after me. One mic.

Protesters

One mic.

Na Dortch

One mic.

Protesters

One mic.

Na Dortch

All right, at 4:15, we will start moving. Right now, we are just waiting for other people to come. I'm so glad to see so many people out here. Let's give a round of applause because this is beautiful.

Protesters

Woo!

[CLAPPING]

Dana Chivvis

For a guy who's never led a protest before, he seems totally at ease. There are also police there, about 10 of them by my count, including the commanding officer of the 76th precinct, which covers Red Hook, Deputy Inspector Megan O'Malley. She's talking to Naseem, Na's advance man, telling him certain streets are closed, including the block the 76th precinct is on.

Dana Chivvis

Did she say that was because of construction, or did she say--

Naseem Stevenson

Construction.

Dana Chivvis

She said it was because of construction.

Naseem Stevenson

She said it's construction, and they've been making mocktails.

Dana Chivvis

Oh, like molotov cocktails?

Naseem Stevenson

Yeah, mocktail--

Dana Chivvis

Like the fire bombs?

Naseem Stevenson

Yep.

Dana Chivvis

Na's planned the whole thing out. He has the bikers in the crowd to move to the front of the march. Next come six people carrying a banner that reads, "Defund the Police," and a more and more common tactic-- the white marchers are put at the front of the protest and on the sides, the thought being that police will be less likely to harm them.

Na stands in front of the group with his fists in the air. The crowd gets silent, puts their fists in the air, too. And then--

Na Dortch

Can I have some noise please?

Protesters

Woo!

[CHEERING]

Na Dortch

No justice.

Protesters

No peace.

Na Dortch

No justice.

Protesters

No peace.

Dana Chivvis

He leads the protest through Red Hook. The crowd is amped. There are a bunch of young people.

Protester

This is the first time I've seen the whole country together. I ain't even going to lie. I love it.

Dana Chivvis

Out in front of the marchers are eight or nine cops and more cops flanking the crowd. The protesters do the usual cheers-- no justice, no peace.

Na Dortch

How do you spell racist?

Protesters

NYPD.

Na Dortch

How do you spell racist?

Dana Chivvis

As well as a few hyper local chants.

Man

When I say 76, y'all say, suck my dick. 76!

Protesters

Suck my dick!

Man

76!

Protesters

Suck my dick!

Dana Chivvis

Is it a little weird that the cops are like--

Rocky Harris

Leading? Leading the way, yes, very weird. Very, very.

Dana Chivvis

This is a guy named Rocky Harris.

Rocky Harris

I wasn't expecting none of them. I thought they was gonna hound us. They actually leading the way. So I don't know.

Dana Chivvis

The cops are there to keep the community and the marchers safe, Deputy Inspector O'Malley told me. But the marchers were there to protest the cops for making them feel unsafe.

Na runs through the crowd, front to back, leading the chants with his bullhorn. The march winds through the public housing high rises, picking up people as it goes. What started as a couple hundred people just keeps growing.

Na Dortch

I did not think there would be this many people at all-- at all. This is crazy. I expected, like, 200. This is, like, 500.

Dana Chivvis

You are commanding this crowd.

Na Dortch

Yeah, I got to make sure it stays in shape.

Dana Chivvis

So far, so good.

Na Dortch

Yeah.

Dana Chivvis

The planned route, I find out, is to march over a little bridge, a highway overpass, and get as close as they can to the 76th precinct station, then turn and head back into Red Hook. But as the protest gets near, Na changes the plan. He tells Naseem, who's been walking out in front of the marchers, communicating with the police, that he doesn't want to turn around and end the march. It's going too well.

Na Dortch

We have to. There's too many people to stop. We could go to the bridge and then we could walk downtown.

Naseem Stevenson

OK.

Dana Chivvis

Downtown is downtown Brooklyn, near the Barclays Center, which has been the location for a lot of protests these last few weeks. They get onto the overpass and cross it and find a police barricade at the end, a line of those metal fences blocking off the intersection. They have to stop. Hundreds of people pile onto this bridge above the expressway. And this is where Naseem tells Deputy Inspector O'Malley that Na wants to change the plan.

Megan O'malley

Where is he planning to go?

Naseem Stevenson

[INAUDIBLE]

Megan O'malley

That's fine.

Naseem Stevenson

OK.

Megan O'malley

You're-- you know, there's going to be more cops, but OK.

Naseem Stevenson

I'm just relaying information that I received.

Megan O'malley

I understand that. You gave me a route. You wouldn't give me a route. You never gave me the end of the route. We agreed upon the footbridge. I facilitated, but OK. So.

Dana Chivvis

Someone needs to tell O'Malley where they want to go. Naseem turns and looks for Na, who's walked back into the crowd.

Naseem Stevenson

I'm speaking on his behalf.

Megan O'malley

So to make this cleared up, we could just speak to the organizer. And whatever we can do to make this work--

Naseem Stevenson

I'm grabbing him for you.

Megan O'malley

All right, this isn't a standoff. Don't try to trap anybody. No one's going to go in handcuffs.

Naseem Stevenson

Nasheem!

Dana Chivvis

Nasheem is Na's full name. It's a little confusing. It's very close to Naseem, his right hand man, this guy.

Naseem Stevenson

Nasheem, I need you. You need to articulate--

Na Dortch

All right, all right.

Naseem Stevenson

--what you like. Stand back. Stand back. Give him some space.

Megan O'malley

Hold on, listen.

Naseem Stevenson

Stand back.

Megan O'malley

We're not them. We're OK. This has been great. We're OK. We're going to keep being OK. I know you're under a lot of stress. Where do you want to go? You want to go downtown?

Na Dortch

You said to go downtown?

Naseem Stevenson

No.

Megan O'malley

You can go downtown with no problem.

Naseem Stevenson

I'm going by what you want. I'm here to facilitate for you. What do you want?

Megan O'malley

We've had people downtown. No arrests, no issues, all right?

Na Dortch

We're going downtown. We're going downtown.

Megan O'malley

Downtown is totally fine. You want to go downtown, we could go downtown.

Naseem Stevenson

And I just want to say while we're here. Information that I got was from him, and I relayed it you when I got it.

Megan O'malley

It's OK. Listen, we're OK.

Naseem Stevenson

I mean, I just want you to know why.

Na Dortch

I never promised that I would--

Dana Chivvis

It's tense. There have been plenty of protests in recent weeks where things did not go well. Right here in Brooklyn, cops beating protesters, driving cars into them, people throwing firebombs at police. This stuff's on everyone's mind.

Na Dortch

So there was-- no--

Megan O'malley

It's OK. Listen, we're gravy. Everything's good.

Na Dortch

No, I want transparency.

Megan O'malley

Everything is good.

Na Dortch

I want transparency. So I'm just being transparent while you're here.

Megan O'malley

But you're starting to get a restless crowd. Let's get them moving, all right? They have momentum. Let's take it in a positive direction.

Na Dortch

All right, can we go downtown?

Megan O'malley

All right? You want to go downtown? Yeah, we'll go downtown. So we're all going to go downtown, right? We're going to stop traffic, yeah? All right. We're going to open this up. We're going to go this way. All right, we're good? We're in agreement now?

Na Dortch

Yes.

Megan O'malley

Yeah?

Na Dortch

So once we're out of--

Megan O'malley

You're doing a good job. You're doing a really good job. All right? This is very successful. Let's keep it this way. What have you got?

Na Dortch

Once you-- hello, Vinny, by the way. How are you? Once we're out of the 76th, it's out of your control.

Megan O'malley

No, I am going to walk with you to Barclays or to the bridge or--

Na Dortch

Oh, you are?

Megan O'malley

--wherever you're going, yeah.

Na Dortch

Oh, OK, nice.

Megan O'malley

Yeah, yeah. No, it's we're pals today, all right? That's what I'm saying. We're going to do this together.

Naseem Stevenson

Start it back up. No justice, something. No justice!

Protesters

No peace!

Megan O'malley

Slowly, slowly, please. Give an announcement slowly. Call slowly.

Dana Chivvis

The officers swing one of the metal gates open, so only three or four people can walk through at a time. Na is back in the crowd, with the bullhorn. Naseem and I walk through together, at the head of the crowd. He turns and blows some kisses towards people on the precinct side of the barrier.

Dana Chivvis

Who are you blowing kisses to?

Naseem Stevenson

Huh?

Dana Chivvis

Who are you blowing kisses to?

Naseem Stevenson

I used to work here, so I'm saying hi to one of my co-workers.

Dana Chivvis

Where did you work?

Naseem Stevenson

In the 76th.

Dana Chivvis

You worked at the 76th?

Naseem Stevenson

Yep.

Dana Chivvis

When I ask about it, he doesn't have anything bad to say about the officers at the 76. And he tells me he's planning to have a career of some kind in law enforcement.

It's a peaceful march to the Barclays Center, about three miles away from where it all began. The protest picks up more and more people along the way. The police estimated 1,200 people at its peak. The young woman in the crowd walks up to Na and gives him her number, which he takes politely. And they continue even deeper into Brooklyn. At Grand Army Plaza, Na stands up on the wall of a fountain and looks back at a sea of faces waiting to hear him speak.

Na Dortch

This is amazing. I don't even know what to say at this point.

Protesters

Thank you.

[CHEERING]

We did it. We did it. We did it.

Na Dortch

There's just so many people. And to think it started all in little Red Hook, this is crazy.

[CHEERING]

This gives me hope, you know? Seeing all these people here, all these allies, all these young black men, all these young black women. Let's just-- can we just put a fist up please?

[CHEERING]

I'll try not to cry. I'm black and I'm proud!

[CHEERING]

Dana Chivvis

I met up with Na a few days later in a park in Red Hook. When he walked up to me, he was talking to his team, saying maybe next he would run for some kind of elected position. Nothing too big, just something local.

Na Dortch

Yesterday, I was in my house, and I was just laying down on my bed. And I'm like, wow. I really fucking did that. Black, queer man, broken tooth, a little chubby-- like, shit, I really did that. You know what I mean? It just feels like the odds are stacked against me. And I like winning. I like winning.

Ira Glass

Dana Chivvis is one of the producers of our show.

Act Four: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Ira Glass

Act Four, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. So there's this video making the rounds that a bunch of us saw, and we thought the writer who is in it, Kimberly Jones, did such a good job giving context and laying out a history quickly in a way that anybody can understand. That even though this video has gotten a lot of views online and even after we learned that John Oliver ended his HBO show last week with this video, we still wanted to play it here.

Kimberly Jones starts this video by talking about the looters in the recent protests. And she says, people say all these negative things about the looters, but don't ask why they're looting. And to explain a feeling that lots of people have, she launches into an economic history of black people in America, starting with slavery.

Kimberly Jones

We must never forget that economics was the reason that black people were brought to this country. We came to do the agricultural work in the south and the textile work in the north. Do you understand that? That's what we came to do.

Now if I right now decided that I wanted to play Monopoly with you and for 400 rounds of playing Monopoly, I didn't allow you to have any money, I didn't allow you to have anything on the board, I didn't allow for you to have anything. And then we played another 50 rounds of Monopoly and everything that you gained and you earned while you were playing that round of Monopoly was taken from you-- that was Tulsa. That was Rosewood.

Those are places where we built black economic wealth, where we were self-sufficient, where we owned our stores, where we owned our property, and they burned them to the ground. So that's 450 years. So for 400 rounds of Monopoly, you don't get to play at all. Not only do you not get to play, you have to play on the behalf of the person that you're playing against. You have to play and make money and earn wealth for them, and then you have to turn it over to them.

So then for 50 years, you finally get a little bit, and you're allowed to play. And every time that they don't like the way that you're playing, or that you're catching up, or that you're doing something to be self-sufficient, they burn your game. They burn your cards. They burn your Monopoly money.

And then, finally, at the release and the onset of that, they allow you to play and they say, OK, now you catch up. How can you win? How can you win? You can't win. The game is fixed. So when they say, why did you burn down the community, why did you burn down your own neighborhood, it's not ours. We don't own anything. We don't own anything.

Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night. There's a social contract that we all have. That if you steal or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us! So the social contract is broken.

And if the social contract is broken, why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking Football Hall of Fame, about burning a fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn't give a fuck!

You broke the contract, and for 400 years, we played your game and built your wealth. You broke the contract when we built our wealth again on our own by our bootstraps in Tulsa, and you dropped bombs on us. When we built it in Rosewood, and you came in and you slaughtered us.

You broke the contract, so fuck your Target. Fuck your Hall of Fame. Far as I'm concerned, they could burn this bitch to the ground. And it still wouldn't be enough. And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.

Ira Glass

Kimberly Jones, she's a writer, author of a young adult novel. Her website is KimJonesWrites.com.

[MUSIC - "WALKING IN THE SNOW" BY RUN THE JEWELS]

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Nadia Reiman and Bim Adewunmi. The people who made today's show include Emanuele Berry, Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Aviva DeKornfeld, Noor Gill, Damien Graef, Lina Misitzis, Stow Nelson, Katharine Rae Mondo, Ben Phelan, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, Nancy Updike, and Julie Whitaker.

Our managing editors are Diane Wu and Sara Abdurrahman. Our executive editor is David Kestenbaum. Thanks today to Eric Stevens and the staff of Mr. Mango and Dream Team Felix. The art on our website for today's show is by Adrian Brandon. Our website, thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he chose a funny way to announce to the staff some cutbacks in our equipment budget.

Na Dortch

I need everybody to repeat after me. One mic.

Protesters

One mic.

Na Dortch

One mic.

Protesters

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Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.