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How response to George Floyd’s death reflects ‘accumulated grievance’ of Black America

In the days since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, there have been peaceful protests, violent clashes and persistent calls for justice. But there is a long history behind this particular shocking event. Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is chair of the department of African American Studies at Princeton University, and he joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the broader context.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now Amna Nawaz continues our conversation about some of the larger underlying issues surrounding all of this.

    It's part of our ongoing series Race Matters.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, it's been four days since George Floyd died in police custody.

    Since then, there have been peaceful protests, violent clashes, and persistent calls for justice. But those four days are about much more than just this incident.

    Joining me to talk about that is Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the department of African-American Studies at Princeton University, and he's the author of the book "Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own."

    Eddie Glaude, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    And let's just start with the news of today. It's been four days, as I mentioned. It took video documenting a man's death and days of protest, but the officer was arrested today. What's your reaction to that?

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    It's a great first step.

    It doesn't dispel the deep distrust. We have seen before officers arrested or individual citizens arrested, and the process of — the judicial process taking place, and many of those same folks have been acquitted.

    So this is just the beginning. It could have been an easy step, given what we saw on the video, but we don't want to over — overreach. You know, we always want to congratulate ourselves in these sorts of moments. We just need to understand this as the first, perhaps, obvious step that should have been made four days ago.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have also seen night after night of growing tensions, of people's frustrations coming out into the streets.

    The other piece of news today is the mayor announcing a curfew and a state of emergency. Is that the right move right now?

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    Well, you know, I'm not a mayor of a major city in the United States. I don't want to presume.

    But I do want to say this, though, that is anger is — the anger that was expressed over the last few days, and especially last night, reflects, I think, a kind of accumulated grievance, you know?

    And in the way in which we tell the story of African-American politics, we always want to kind of bracket anger. We're not allowed to be angry in public. And, in some ways, anger, going back to the ancients, going all the way back to Aristotle, announces that something just happened here.

    It puts folk on notice that something must change. And it's not just simply a spontaneous act. It is the consequence of, shall we say, as I said earlier, accumulated grievous.

    So, there is a curfew. Folks will perhaps calm down, but we need to understand that anger, in this instance, rightly expressed, right, is the precondition for a general and, I think, appropriate correction of the underlying problems that define the life of black folk in Minneapolis and in some ways across the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, none of this is happening in a vacuum. You saw many of the protesters out there wearing masks. You can't forget all of this is unfolding on top of the health crisis, a pandemic that is disproportionately killing black Americans.

    You wrote about that today. I just want to read you a short quote from that.

    And you said: "How does one live in such a time? For those African-Americans who lost loved ones and their jobs, who find themselves in long lines at food banks, who have to deal with the ongoing stress of a virus that can strike at any moment, how do you manage the trauma of loss and the terror of seeing another black person killed by police?"

    And you use the word another because we have seen video after video. What's the collective impact of that, the cumulative toll of those videos?

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    Oh, my God.

    I mean, for those of us who have to watch it, and then we have to worry about our children and our brothers and sisters and our uncles and aunts and friends, right, it increases the levels of stress and worry and concern.

    You know, when we think about every major urban uprising in this country, bracketing 168 after the murder and assassination of Dr. King, every last one of them have been rooted, since '64, going back into the 1940s, in some form of encounter with police, some form of police brutality or some act in which the police have in some ways harmed or even murdered a black person.

    So, here we are in the moment in which we're dealing with a global pandemic, trying to figure out how to live under these conditions. And we still have to deal with the fact that our children, that our family members, that our friends can be murdered by the police.

    It makes living hard. It makes it difficult, in a moment that's already difficult and hard.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We come back again and again to this question of, when will it change, how will it change?

    I was speaking earlier with a police chief in a major city who is himself a black man, and he said the frustration for him right now is that — he said, I don't know what else we can ask people of color to do. I don't know what else we can ask black men to say or do that hasn't already been said or done. And until the people who aren't affected are as outraged as the people who are, nothing will change.

    Do you agree with that?

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    I understand it.

    I don't think we can wait on those who are invested in the idea of whiteness to change. If we do that, we're going to lose another generation, those who are invested in the idea of America as a white nation in the vein of old Europe clinging to those commitments.

    And in — and in the interim, we keep losing people. Those of us who are — who have learned the lessons of our history, those of us who want to imagine America differently, we have to start building a world where those kinds of beliefs have no corner to breathe.

    Vice President Biden needed to say, what we need to do is hold police accountable, what we need to do is decriminalize, right, a whole host of actions that force these encounters. We need to change the way police see black men and women, right, which is rooted in a deep cultural ethos. We need to address the fundamental underlying conditions of resource-deprived communities, where people don't have a living wage, where they don't have decent education, where they don't have decent housing.

    All of this is rooted in this belief that America is a white nation. If we have to wait on those folk who are committed to that, America will continue to be this ugly place.

    So, I believe, in my heart of hearts, that you and I and those of us who are committed to a more just America, a new America, we have to get about the business of building it now.

    COVID has changed everything, has changed everything. We can't go back to what was. We can't allow people to double down on their ugly commitments. We have to finally muster the courage to build a new America, or this thing will go to hell.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Eddie…

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    That's a bit melodramatic, but I hope you get the point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I do, indeed, and it was very well said.

    And I apologize. We only have a few seconds left.

    But I have to ask you, because you shared in this essay that, when you watched the video of George Floyd, that you wept. And you dig into the dark chapters of American history and spend your time making that truth very clear to the rest of the country and the world.

    What was it about this video and this moment that brought you to that moment?

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    He cried out for his mother.

    She's been dead for two years. She's been dead. He basically told someone to tell my kids that I love them, because I'm going to die.

    And that man, that moral monster kept his knee on his neck.

    I didn't — I couldn't process it. It broke me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Eddie Glaude Jr. weighing in at the end of a very difficult week for, not just the family and friends of George Floyd, the people of Minneapolis, and for the rest of the country.

    Thank you so much for being with us today.

  • Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

    Thank you.

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