Activist Alicia Garza is famous for coining the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” a mantra that has since become the most influential social movement of the 21st century. Since then, she has traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014, and helped establish the Black Lives Matter network and the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platform.
Garza, who also works as the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, agreed to take part in an email exchange with the International Business Times to discuss how the movement she helped create moves forward in the President Donald Trump era, why she stays away from Twitter and what the media gets wrong about Black Lives Matter.
IBT: Donald Trump declared himself the “law and order” candidate, and has tried to paint a picture of a rising tide of violence in America. He recently said new legislation should be developed to protect police. Many scholars and activists, like Michelle Alexander in “The New Jim Crow,” have argued that kind of rhetoric has always been used to develop political support for policies that target the black population (Nixon’s “southern strategy,” Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” and Hillary Clinton’s comments on “super-predators” are all recent examples). Do you see history repeating itself? Is this kind of rhetoric a threat to black lives?
Garza: We should be clear that Donald Trump doesn’t care about law and order — he skirts the law and avoids order every chance he gets. He has absolutely no track record in addressing issues impacting black communities, and has very little concern for black communities, as evidenced by his involvement in the case of the Central Park Five, where he whipped up racially charged hysteria that nearly ruined the lives of five teenagers wrongfully accused of rape.
The only law and order that Donald Trump cares about is the law and order that lines his pockets, sows division and hatred, and maintains a racially segregated social and economic order. Donald Trump is a predator — he preys on the fears that everyday Americans have about an increasingly unstable world and exploits them.
Is this a threat to black lives? Absolutely. When you have a president that claims to govern for everyone but continues to pass laws that threaten the safety and security of black Americans and black immigrants, it’s a definite cause for concern. For example, his recent executive orders on policing expand “rights” for law enforcement, but doesn’t increase transparency and accountability for law enforcement, who themselves are not above the law but continue to operate that way. Trump’s Muslim ban in part targets black Muslims. His rolling back of the protections that existed for transgender communities impacts black lives. Donald Trump is not about law and order — he is about skirting the law and has absolutely no respect for it.
IBT: Where are you focusing your energy? What specific issues do you think are the most important at the moment?
Garza: Right now, I’m focused on figuring out how we build political power in a tenuous moment where any semblance of democracy is being bulldozed by Trump and his administration. Every issue is important under this administration — it’s difficult to narrow to just a few. From climate change to police violence to indigenous sovereignty to transgender rights, it’s all important and we all have a role to play.
IBT: President Barack Obama’s Justice Department used consent decrees, among other tools, to try and reform local police departments. What do you expect to see under a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department?
Garza: What we can expect to see from a Sessions-led Justice Department is a rolling back of civil and human rights. Sessions’ track record is that of denying protections to marginalized groups. I feel great concern for the people working inside the Justice Department who really want to see this country move in a different direction, and who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that everyone’s civil rights are upheld and protected. Already under a Sessions-led Justice Department, transgender rights are being rolled back at a time when they need to be expanded.