How does a former teacher and school administrator go from joining the Ferguson, Missouri, protests just over a year ago (after the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown) to meeting with presidential candidates, teaching a class at Yale University, being named a world leader in Forbes and reaching nearly 250,000 followers on Twitter?
Having had the honor of recently interviewing DeRay Mckesson for my web series On the Loudspeaker, I’d say it’s his voice, which is as compelling as it is deep, as candid as it is succinct. Motivated by the students he taught as a Teach For America corps member, DeRay is using his voice to document and explain race-based police brutality and the nation’s response to it moment-by-moment. He’s plucking at the usual threads of the mainstream narrative and, in so doing, causing a forceful reaction from all sides.
This was never so clear as when Wolf Blitzer tried to pressure DeRay in a live CNN interview to concur with his description of the civil disobedience and fury unleashed in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray:
Blitzer: “There’s no excuse for that kind of violence, right?”
Mckesson: “Yeah, and there’s no excuse for the seven people that the Baltimore City Police Department has killed in the last year either, right?”
Blitzer: “We’re not making comparisons…Obviously, we don’t want anybody hurt. But I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Mckesson: “Yeah, there should be peaceful protests. And I don’t have to condone it to understand it, right? The pain that people feel is real…and you are making a comparison. You are suggesting this idea that broken windows are worse than broken spines, right?”
Last week, two “independent” investigators determined that the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “reasonable.” As with Freddie Gray and the choking death of Eric Garner, this killing was caught on video. In the video, we can see that Tamir is a child, and that no one is in his vicinity nor is he holding a weapon when the police arrive. The police drive so closely to him and shoot him so quickly that their conclusion appears foregone. We can see that on video, but apparently, we are not to believe our own eyes.
Fortunately we have voices like DeRay’s to speak out for the Tamirs, Trayvons and so many others who no longer can.