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Summary

  • The Summer of 2020 saw the United States’ biggest protests for racial justice and civil rights in a generation, when deaths of African Americans in police custody brought a national reckoning with systemic racism.  As we near the one year anniversary of some of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, Dr. Alvin Tillery,  Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, discusseswhat the recent verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial means for racial equity in the United States, how current racial justice movements, like Black Lives Matter, fit within the broader history of the U.S. civil rights movement, and how today’s efforts differ from past American racial justice initiatives. 

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s get started. Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center briefing, “From Civil Rights to Racial Justice: Understanding African American Social Justice Movements.” My name is Jen McAndrew, and I’m the moderator. 

First I will introduce our briefer, and then I will give the ground rules. 

The summer of 2020 saw the United States’ biggest protest for racial justice and civil rights in a generation, when deaths of African Americans in police custody brought a national reckoning with systemic racism. As we near the one-year anniversary of some of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, Dr. Alvin Tillery, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity in Democracy and associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, will discuss what the recent verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial means for racial equity in the United States, how current racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter fit within the broader history of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and how today’s efforts differ from past American racial justice initiatives. 

Addressing racial justice and equity is a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration, and we greatly appreciate Dr. Tillery giving his time today to provide context and analysis of current events and their historical underpinnings. 

And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. The views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State or U.S. Government are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government. Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views. 

We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website. Dr. Tillery will give opening remarks, and then we will open it up for questions. If you have a question, you can go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand. 

And with that, I will pass it over to Dr. Tillery. Over to you. 

MR TILLERY: Thank you so much, Jen, for that kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to participate in this briefing. 

So I am going to share some slides which will give a little bit of an overview of my background and the work that I’ve been doing and some of the empirical work that’s been coming out of my research center about the Black Lives Matter movement. And then I’ll close by talking about what I think all this means for not only the Chauvin verdict, but for our quest to achieve greater racial equity in the United States of America. So I’m going to share my screen, and I just have a few slides that I would like to walk through. 

So first I’ll say that I’m an African American who came of age in that time when America was in the shadow of the – what we call the classic phase of the Civil Rights Movement. And so I’m in that generation that sort of really experienced integration in the United States. I integrated my – helped to integrate my neighborhood. I integrated my bus stop. I am a survivor of racial violence myself. I’m a lynching survivor. And so for me, the work of being a social scientist was always – has always been about the work of trying to find ways to bolster tolerance in our society, and also find ways to help people live together better. 

And so in 2016 and ’17 I became very concerned that America was on a path that was going backwards, that we were in essence returning to some of the days of hardship that I know my parents growing up in Jim Crow America and grandparents had experienced and that I had experienced in this kind of integration era. 

And so I founded the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern to do translational research and pedagogies about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to translate that research to corporations, governments, and nonprofits. Our main programs now are we run an executive education program on leading diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we also have a poll, the CSDD poll, and it has emerged as a major contributor to empirical research on the Black Lives Matter movement. And most of what I’m going to say today will be results drawn from that polling work. That’s what I’m going to share primarily with the group. 

But just to give a little bit of context about why I started this work and why America is still struggling with racial equity, we’ve got to come to grips with the fact of our historical context. The 1787 Constitution established America, and so for most of our history as a nation we were essentially a master-race democracy, or what we call in the social sciences a racial dictatorship, meaning that you had to be some sort of white person in order to fully exercise the democratic rights in the society, to move freely in the labor force and in the housing markets, and to sort of participate in the systems of justice that administer America. 

It’s really not until 1968 when President Johnson signed the fourth of the charter civil rights laws that he signed, starting with the Civil Rights Act, then the Voting Rights Act, then the Hart-Celler immigration reform act of 1965, which took away the racial origins quotas and said that you no longer had to be some sort of white person to immigrate and naturalize to the country, and the fourth one, 1968, was the Fair Housing Act, right? And so we really don’t begin to try to be a full, multiracial democracy until that final law is signed, right? And so that’s just 52 years ago. Just to put it into context, that’s two years before I was born, so by the time that I reached the level of grade school, we’re in the middle of doing this work of trying to be a multiracial democracy. And so that’s where the first movement, right, the movement that we associate with people like Dr. King and Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer, we call the classic Civil Rights Movement of 1950s and ‘60s – what it was all about was bringing their power as activists, as mobilizers of the masses, to bear in partnership typically with powerful leaders like President Johnson but sometimes in opposition to them, right, in order to pass these laws, right? And these laws were striking at the late 19th, early 20th century laws that sanctioned a de jure or legal caste system whereby blacks were expected to sort of take a lesser share in American life according to the laws. 

And so where we are now in the wake of the George Floyd, the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, is that we are reaping the benefits of a – another very powerful black-led social movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, which really started in earnest in 2013 when these three women – Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi – posted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter in response to a jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman in the vigilante shooting death of African American teenager Trayvon Martin. And so the movement starts with a kind of unjust killing of a young black person, and it’s beginning to reap benefits in terms of how it’s impacting the structure of police brutality and extralegal killings with regard to policing in America. 

And so the Black Lives Matter movement grew from social media. The hashtag is one of the three most utilized hashtags on Twitter. I think it’s been tweeted something on the order of 65, 70 million times at this point. The first wave of Black Lives Matter protests which I began studying started shortly after the hashtag. Black Lives Matter became the rallying cry of what we call the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests in places like New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2015, right, protesting the deaths of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer. His supposed infraction was selling loose cigarettes. And Michael Brown, of course, was shot in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Estimates of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests were that somewhere on the order of 2,500 to 3,500 protests happened across the nation in the two years between the first protests in Ferguson and the 2016 election. 

In the Trump era, there were consistent Black Lives Matter protests, but it didn’t reach – they didn’t reach their zenith in terms of participation, in capturing media attention again like they did in the first wave until after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and then, of course, the infamous killing of George Floyd, which was televised across the world in Minneapolis last May 25th. 

And so The New York Times and cell phone tracking services have estimated that the wave of protests that started after May 25th through to the end of the year was the largest mass movement in American history. Polling data confirms that. Something on the order of 10 percent, 7 to 10 percent of Americans, claim that they have participated in Black Lives Matter protests since George Floyd was murdered last May. And estimates done by counting groups argue that somewhere between 7,500 to 10,000 protests occurred in the second wave of Black Lives Matter activism. That activism was also much more multiracial and much more likely to penetrate into suburban and into rural areas than had previously been the case, according to estimates. 

I also want to note that something on the order of 95 to 97 percent of those protests involved no property damage and absolutely no violence; and when there was violence, we’re now learning that a good number of that violence was staged by opponents of the movement. Like we know that the (inaudible) that was (inaudible) in Minneapolis in the wake of the George Floyd killing, that that was done by a white supremacist group called the Boogaloo Bois in order to tar the movement with these claims of violence. So largest movement in American history, overwhelmingly peaceful, increasingly multiracial, right? Those are the big takeaways about the second movement. 

First wave of the movement (inaudible) some criticisms that the movement was not following the standard playbook for African American activism that had been set by the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s was all about changing laws. They would create disruptions and it quickly turned to negotiation with local leaders in order to achieve incremental gains toward the work of (inaudible). Black Lives Matter is a much more disruptive movement. There’s no centralized leadership (inaudible) was led by the so called Big Six civil rights organizations. Black Lives Matter is decentralized. Much of the action and leadership happens at the local level. We don’t even know the names of most of the – of the (inaudible) leaders of the movement on the local level, right? 

And so that led social movement scholars in 2014 and ’15, including myself, to say that Black Lives Matter is really what we call a new social movement. It’s really about expression and disruption, and not so much about impacting politics and outcomes, right? Well, I’m going to say that much of my empirical data I’ve done (inaudible) research institute over the last four years has changed my mind on that. It’s disrupted my view that there’s this gulf in terms of the way that the Black Lives Matter movement approaches things and the way that the classic Civil Rights Movement approaches things. 

And so we’ve done a bunch of studies on messaging, how the Black Lives Matter movement organizations message on Twitter, affecting opinion in black America. We ran what we think is the first nationally representative survey of African Americans (inaudible) they are seeing the movement. And then with my brilliant young colleague, Tabitha Bonilla, another Northwestern faculty (inaudible), we’ve been running studies on political behavior. How is the movement affecting the political behavior of white (inaudible)? And then recently, we ran an important study on Georgia, how – what’s the electoral impact (inaudible) of the movement? 

And so I’m just going to present some quick findings from these studies and then I’ll open it up to questions, right. So on the (inaudible) we wanted to know is: How do BLM activists communicate on social media and what actions do they urge their adherents to take? And so I studied 18,708 tweets. I published this in a paper in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics in 2019 or 2020. And what I found is that overwhelmingly, blacks frame their movement in what we call classically liberal terms. They’re talking about things like individual rights (inaudible) free of police violence and harm, the right to expression, the right to free movement that’s – I think that that’s a big reason why the Black Lives Matter movement in the second wave has so resonated with a cross section of Americans. It’s really channeling these kinds of basic values of the society. 

Now, it’s doing a lot of other things. It’s – 10 percent of the frames are about gender, feminist politics, right. The leaders may have been intentional about including women’s voices, representing the most marginal elements of the of the black (inaudible) LGBTQ-plus adherents, transgender adherents. And so we see that these frames matter as well. That was just not a part of the classic Civil Rights Movement. The society in the 1950s was incredibly repressive, both along the lines of gender and LGBTQ-plus identities, and so you wouldn’t expect that to be there. But the Black Lives Matter movement is making a conscientious effort to make those kinds of representational claims, but overwhelmingly, what they’re doing is they’re making claims through the lens of individual rights in American society. 

I also looked at what kinds of actions they urge, right. You hear on some media outlets that, oh, the Black Lives Matter movement is violent, they’re urging violence against police. So we wanted to check that. And so what we found is that the overwhelming majority of tweets in this sample that we studied from the first wave were urging people to do things like register to vote, vote for a candidate that’s pro-racial equity, right? Only 12 percent actually even urge people to go out and protest, right. They’re much more engaged with the kind of mainline political activism. Also, of that 18,708 tweets from six Black Lives Matter organizations, I found a total of zero that advocated for violence against the police or any state authorities in the United States. 

The public opinion studies – we wanted to know: Do black people like the BLM movement and do black people think the movement is effective? And so we ran an online internet poll of 815 African Americans in 39 states and Washington D.C. between September 2017 and October 2017. And what we found is that the movement is overwhelmingly popular in the black community. Eighty-one percent of respondents see the BLM movement as at least moderately effective; 56 percent see it as effective for LGBTQ rights; 63 percent thought it was effective at protecting Americans from police brutality; and 68 percent thought it was effective at protecting the rights of African Americans to vote, right. And so this really tipped us off to something that, okay, so when they’re on Twitter, they’re talking about voting, and they’re talking about sort of systemic actions. Then when you ask on the demand side what do black Americans think that the movement is doing, well, they’re saying they’re protecting our right to vote, they’re doing all these broad things. They’re not just doing disruptive protest. 

And so that led us to ask, like, how is this affecting the political activism of black Americans in both movements and in the electoral realm? And so that’s what we wanted to look at with the political behavior studies: What motivates black people to participate in the movement? And so these are simple – this is a simple point diagram of coefficients from a sort of statistical technique known as regression analysis, right. And so the only thing that you have to think about is all of these variables here are independent variables that should drive people to participate in protests. And so what this means is that zero is a kind of baseline level of participation, non-participation. When you get to the right side of zero, these estimates are driving positive participation. On the left side of zero, they’re driving negative participation. 

And so what’s so interesting is that gender, which we thought was going to be a big positive driver of participation, is actually a negative driver in this sample, right, and we think that there’s a lot of reasons for that. I mean, protests can be incredibly dangerous spaces, not just from police but from male protesters as well, right, so – we also think that women take a much greater role in the kinds of organizing work that comes after movements than the actual on-the-ground protests, right. 

The older you are, the less likely you are to participate. The higher your income and education levels, the less likely you are to have participated in a Black Lives Matter protest. Now, that’s 

really interesting, because what social science research tells us is that participation in the black community is typically more acute if you have a higher income and a higher education level. So we think that income levels and education levels and gender are factors that lead people to kind of say maybe going down to these areas and protesting are less good ideas than supporting in other ways. 

And so what we’ve also found is that overwhelmingly, the people who are participating in the protests are in bottom half of the income distribution of black America, right, and so this substantiates what Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a really famous and prolific sociologist and African American studies scholar at Princeton – she argued that part of what’s happening with the Black Lives Matter movement is that it’s a movement about class dynamics, right, that, like, working class people are rising up against their conditions. And so I found evidence to support that. I think that that might also be why so many young Millennials are joining the movement, because they are suffering from sort of incredible inequalities under our capitalist system as well, and so they relate to a lot of stories about the movement, right? 

And so let me wrap up here by just showing a couple more slides. What’s been the electoral impact? I’ve referenced my colleague and coauthor Tabitha Bonilla. She and I did field – we did surveys in Georgia during the runoff elections between Senator Warnock and Ossoff and their Republican opponents. And what we found is that when we exposed Democratic-leaning white voters in Georgia to four frames about the 2020 Senate runoff trying to boost their mobilization for the Democrats, what we found is that the most potent thing in making white Democrats in Georgia want to go to the polls was a frame that said that John Ossoff was highly supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, right – not a frame saying he’s going to give you a COVID check, not a frame saying he’s going to reduce your taxes, not a frame saying he’s going to, like, help you with education, right. The frame that was most impactful was saying that he is going to raise the standard for Black Lives Matter, right. 

And so what this all means is that it’s further evidence like we saw on the ground that Black Lives Matter is now turning to politics, right, trying to run adds to impact campaigns, having voter registration drives. We know that the group Black Voters Matter, right, is a Black Lives Matter-affiliated group that had a huge impact, along with Stacey Abrams’ group, in Georgia, right. And so for the future of the movement, what’s going to be really impactful is how well are they going to be able to continue this foray into electoral politics, how well are they going to manage the attacks that are coming from the right, laws to limit their ability to protest and organize, and how like – how successfully will they partner with allies in government who want to promote racial equity. 

And I will stop there with a simple thank you and stop sharing my screen, and we can transition to the Q&A. 

MODERATOR: Thank you, professor, for that excellent overview of your current research in this area. We will now begin the Q&A portion of the briefing. As a reminder, you can raise your hand in the participant field or submit a question in the chat box. And as we’re waiting for a question, I wanted to ask you, Dr. Tillery, if maybe you could expand a little more on how the Chauvin verdict is viewed by Black Lives Matter and what this verdict means for future racial equity efforts. 

MR TILLERY: Yeah. I mean, I think the Chauvin verdict is the fruit of the Black Lives Matter movement, right? So this – and that’s what I really wanted to show, the connection between the Black Lives Matter movement and the traditional classic movement of the civil rights spaces that that – the classic movement saw all this as one bucket of activity, right, sort of organizing to strip the Jim Crow laws away, mobilizing against police brutality. I mean, there were police brutality – there was a police brutality case in Selma that was part of the reason that people wanted to mobilize, right, because you can’t register to vote, you can’t be on juries, right? 

And so what we saw with that jury in Minneapolis in my view was the results of five years of a heightened consciousness on the part of Americans because of all of the multifaceted activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. And so I think that this will encourage them to continue, that they are – and again, who is the “they,” right? I mean, this movement is happening in 3,000 localities across America, right? So it’s just hard to pin down, like, what the movement thinks, right? 

But from what I’ve been reading of activists, this is going to propel them to continue to do the work, right? Now the hard thing for them is that the question of abolition – abolishing the police – is still a very hard sell in an American society. Like, getting to a conviction for George Chauvin* and getting to the main policy agenda item of abolishing the police is a big leap, right? I mean, the police have only been successfully abolished in one city in America – Camden, New Jersey, right? And that was done because the department had been found to be corrupt, so they abolished it and they immediately reconstituted it. So – and then when we’ve run surveys of black Americans, like, even most surveys show that black Americans don’t want an abolition of the police, right? 

Now, so what’s the middle position? The middle position is defunding the police. And so I think that there are a lot of people across the political spectrum that think we’re spending way too much on our organized police forces. That’s money that takes away from parks and schools and medical care in our public system. We are spending way too much on police abuse cases. You go to the city of Chicago, they’re paying out $15-, $20-, $30-million settlements for police abuse at a time when budgets are tight. My research shows that there are a lot of Americans, including white Americans, that when you frame it to them like, “Should we be spending less money on police so we could spend it on other services”, that’s overwhelmingly popular, right? 

And I think the Democratic Party is really missing an opportunity. I mean, the kind of old guard, the Clinton era, they say, “Oh, when you say defund the police, it scares away moderate white voters in the suburbs.” Just the opposite. That’s not true. A lot of those voters say, “Yeah, we are spending way too much on these police settlements.” And so that’s going to be – if the BLM movement can recalibrate and figure out those kinds of dynamics that I’m finding in my research, I think that there’s a great potential for there to be coalition politics in Congress that will move a lot of the stuff forward. And I do think that they are figuring this out. 

MODERATOR: Thank you for that. Your research on the electoral impact of Black Lives Matter in the 2020 elections is quite interesting. I wonder if you might venture to predict what role racial equity issues might play in the 2022 midterms. 

MR TILLERY: Yeah. I mean, I think that it’s going to play a huge role, and I think that it’s all going to be up to the Democratic Party. Are they going to follow President Biden and Vice President Harris’ lead and sort of lean into racial equity as a policy position for the party? Are they going to have their eye on future voters? Americans under 18 are already majority Latino, Asian, and black. So by 2022, the size of that share of voters in the Democratic coalition is going to be larger. And then let’s add to that that white Millennials and Gen Zers are overwhelmingly supportive of racial equity policies, right? 

So the Case Foundation found that Millennials cite three big issues – climate change, racial equity, stakeholder capitalism – as their issues. So we’ve got that set of data, then we’ve also got my set of data that are showing that Gen Xers and highly educated affluent suburbs are more sympathetic to racial equity than the Democrats behave as if they are. There’s a great potential to hold the line on the congressional majority in the House and maybe pick up some seats in the Senate. If they run away from the issue as some of the partisans seem to be doing in Congress, right – I mean, the dominant story coming out of November 3rd was Black Lives Matter cost the Democrats (inaudible) seats in the House. I mean, that’s just nonsense. I mean, the data does not support that. 

I mean, what cost them seats in the House was that they overperformed in 2016 because Mr. Trump wasn’t on the ballot, and then all of Mr. Trump’s people came back out in 2020 – I mean, I’m sorry, they overperformed in 2018 because Mr. Trump wasn’t on the ballot. In 2020, he is on the ballot, so that drove up his share. And we are a closely divided country because of the gerrymandering, but it’s very clear where the future trends are for these electoral dynamics. But can you convince septuagenarian, octogenarian leaders in the Congress that everything that they learned from their playbook from the Clinton era about the kind of moderate white swing voter is wrong, right? I mean, I just don’t know that that’s going to happen, but, I mean, Mr. Biden has certainly figured this – President Biden has certainly figured this out, and I think that they need to follow his lead on these things, honestly. 

MODERATOR: All right. We’ll do one last call for questions, although I don’t see any hands raised today. We have a quiet group today. Oh, I see a hand raised. Pearl Matibe, if you’d like to unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, Mr. Tillery. Thank you for being available. Regarding the whole Black Lives Matter, it crossed over into foreign persons when a South African was shot in Honolulu just this month. I believe 911 is still to release kind of, like, the details of what happened there as to who was at fault. But can you talk a little bit – I think they used a taser gun on this individual. He was a 29-year-old black man. 

When and how do you see the Biden administration operationalizing effective reform in the criminal justice system? I mean, do you think or do you even foresee – just as a hypothetical example, I’ll just use way back in the Reagan administration, when Reagan was trying to solve the immigration crisis, he put out some type of an amnesty, right? Do you see something similar or some type of an amnesty, say, African Americans 25 and younger from such-and-such a year and do some type of blanket amnesty? Like, where – at what point, to try and bridge and get some unity going and some reform of the criminal – where do you see this thing going? 

MR TILLERY: I’m sorry. So by reform of criminal justice system, do you mean combat mass incarceration, like — 

QUESTION: In particular – in particular, but then, of course, given the fact that there are a significant number of young African Americans of particular age range that may have benefited from different outcomes in their cases, so how do you – I’m trying to – I just was trying to figure out if there was maybe a way where there could be some type of forgiveness and educating them and helping them in a different way and being more creative in how you innovate — 

MR TILLERY: Yes, yes. 

QUESTION: — what you do for them as opposed to hey, this is – you end up incarcerated for 10, 16 years. I mean, where is this going? Where is this thing going? 

MR TILLERY: Yeah. 

QUESTION: And as I said, a South African was killed by officers, so – just this month in Hawaii. 

MR TILLERY: Yeah, so, I mean, I’ll talk about the first – the issue of the killing. So, I mean, I think that many of our African immigrant and African tourists who come and visit the United States are shocked that there’s not an able to – the police forces do not seem to be able to differentiate them from native-born blacks, right? The famous Amadou Diallo case in the 1990s, a Senegalese immigrant who was shot 20 times in New York City when the police asked him to hold up his hands in his – in front of his apartment and he held up a wallet, right? 

And so what we do know is that sort of foreign status does not save you from predations of racist institutions. I mean, that’s absolutely the case, and that’s another argument for fixing the institutions in a globalized world where people of color are the majority, right? And so – and I’ll say the same thing with the Stop AAPI Hate movement that’s happening, all of our debates over immigration. America will be a majority minority society by 2035, and it is unconscionable for us to have an overwhelmingly white police power that doesn’t equally value lives of color, and so I think that that’s got to be signaled from the top. I believe that President Biden and Vice President Harris have been doing that consistently. I’m going to say in my role as presidential historian, President Biden’s rhetoric on these issues has been a different order. We’ve never had a president use the construct of racial equity in the way that President Biden has, right? And so (inaudible) able to put legislative heft behind it in the way that President Johnson, who’s probably our most successful president on racial justice issues, was able to do, right? 

But in the field of policing and criminal justice reform, President Biden does not have the powers that he has in, say, immigration. Our constitutional structure gives him wide deference on immigration like it did to Reagan when he created that amnesty program. It does not in policing. Policing is controlled in our federal system at the state and local level. And so he’s going to have to find ways to get buy-in at those levels, or he’s going to have find ways that he can use the oversight of the Justice Department to exact reforms, and I think that that’s precisely what Attorney General Garland is doing by reviewing Minneapolis’ policing practices. I expect him to be back in Chicago looking at consent decrees all over the place. And so that’s what he can 

do and I think he is doing that, but it’s not going to be the kind of sweeping changes that you could get in, say, in immigration reform because he just doesn’t have the power, unfortunately. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. I’d now like to call on Edward Keenan from the Toronto Star, Canada. Ed, if you can unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION: Great. Can you hear me okay? 

MODERATOR: Yes, we can. 

QUESTION: Okay. Jen and Alvin, thanks so much for doing this. So, obviously, as you’ve said, the George Floyd murder sort of galvanized public opinion and public participation in a way that many Americans will never be able to remember ever happening before. And when I was in Minneapolis this week awaiting the verdict, and I’ve never been in a place where there was such a sense that the paths of history depended on the announcement that was coming in a single moment – right – that something significant for the country, like, turned on this decision. And I’m just wondering if you can comment on the significance of the Chauvin verdict and the events in Minneapolis this week for the broader, like, movement, because I did also hear from people some skepticism, especially with Daunte Wright’s funeral just two days later – there was a sense of the more things change, the more they stay the same. So I’m just trying formulate a question, but it’s basically I wonder if you have thoughts on the significance of this week in Minneapolis. 

MR TILLERY: Yeah. I mean, it’s huge, right? I mean, we just have not convicted very many police officers for killing any civilians in our country, let alone for killing a person of color or a black man. One of the other – only other times in recent memory was, again in Minneapolis, where an officer was convicted of killing a woman a few years ago, right? And so it’s significant to get this conviction on all three counts of murder. It’s significant because the thin blue line that the police officers talk about, which many reformers see as an obstacle to promoting changes, cracked, right? We saw half a dozen officers from – including the chief and the lead trainer from the Minneapolis Police Department testify that they thought what Chauvin did was abhorrent and was not part of his training and that he was guilty, right? And that’s a huge victory for the movement for reform, right? And I think that it will be remembered as as significant a moment as President George H.W. Bush trying to use federal civil rights law to prosecute the officers that beat Rodney King, right? Or even more significant, it might be remembered like the Emmett Till turning point in the sort of Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, right? 

But I’m – you can understand why the activist class, it’s their job to keep pushing for reform. And I always say to my students and my – when I go to do corporate engagements, like, we’re closer to racial equity in America than we’ve ever been – right – but yet, we’re very, very far away. And I think the activists know that. And Daunte Wright’s killing just underscores that for the activists. So they’re not going to take too many victory laps, and they are going to go right back out organizing. And they have a ton of incentive to organize because there’s a crowd in America on the other side of the aisle from Mr. Biden that is apparently trying to make it more difficult to hold police officers accountable, trying to make it more difficult for Black Lives Matter activists to vote, trying to make it more difficult for people of color and young, urbane, and highly educated whites in the suburbs to vote by passing suppression bills, right? And so they don’t have time to kind of celebrate, right? They do have to continue to mobilize, because what Mr. Trump unleashed in his campaign, the first wave, everyone said, oh, Black Lives Matter, great. Let’s put these three women on the covers of Cosmopolitan and Vogue and celebrate their activism. Because there wasn’t any evidence that it was changing politics or shaping outcomes, right? So it’s easy to celebrate something that’s novel and seems progressive when it’s not a threat to your power. 

Mr. Trump rightly identified that the Black Lives Matter movement is a threat to the white supremacist order that still holds power in a lot of corners in our federal system in America. And so – and now we have a president at the head of that system that’s saying that white supremacy is wrong. He’s saying that racial equity will be the policy of his government. And that creates incentives for the other side to mobilize against it. And so Black Lives Matter has got to be ready for that. And they’ve got to ratchet it up if they’re going to be successful. 

And so that’s my comment on the impact. But it’s – it was a monumental day in American history when that verdict came down. 

MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question is submitted in the chat field from Jan Kaliba with Czech Radio, in Czech Republic. And I will read the question: “How would you explain the Black Lives Matter idea and aims to an average citizen of Central Europe, nearly 100-percent majority white country without colonial history, but with communist history? For example, the Czech Republic, where people don’t know much about Black Lives Matter and tend to view it as some kind of left-wing or radical movement.” 

MR TILLERY: Yeah. Well, I mean, it certainly is both of those to the extent that it is progressive in the sense – in the way that Dr. King was a left-wing radical movement. I mean, that chart that I showed in the beginning, 101 – 81 years of a white supremacist order in this country means that promoting democracy for everyone is left-wing and radical. So I would say, yeah, that’s how I would start to explain it. 

And then I would ask them to step out of their own racial lens and valence of who they are and try to develop empathy for people who are abused by state power, and the communist history – I’m certain – would be a bridge to that empathy, right? So pretend that the Black Lives Matter people aren’t black, and that they’re just people who are suffering from state violence, and they are demanding that the state be accountable for every individual life in America, and that people be given free, fair treatment by state authorities, particularly those that have the power to kill you. 

And so once you do that exercise, it’s easy to transpose to the question of those in the Czech Republic: What if there were extralegal killings of people in distressed neighborhoods in the country? Wouldn’t it be the moral thing to ask questions of your government, “Why is this happening? And what can we do to prevent it?” And the reality is that black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police officers than their white counterparts. Latinos are two times more likely. Black Americans are five times more likely to be stopped by police and searched for contraband than are their white counterparts, even though they’re half as likely to actually have contraband than are their white counterparts. 

And so is that fair, right? And so I think that’s how you should it explain it to your audience. 

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Tillery. I think we’ve now come to the end of our time, so I’ll just turn it back over to you for any final thoughts before we conclude today. 

MR TILLERY: Well, my final thought is that what your international audiences should know is that (inaudible) been three foundings in American history: the founding of 1787 that started the republic, blacks were intimately bound up in that. I myself am descended from men who fought in the American Revolution and got their freedom papers in their (inaudible) county in North Carolina where they had been slaves, right. And so there would be no America without James Armistead Lafayette, who was a black man who spied in the camp of the British and told General Washington that they were coming back to Yorktown with a major armada. And that’s how they were able to defeat the British and make America. 

The Civil War, the second founding, is won because 250,000 black men streamed into the Union army and turned the tide of that war so that the Union could win. As black women were doing the cooking, helping to build the forts, right? 

The third founding was the founding of Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King, that made this a multiracial, gender-equitable democracy for everyone. Black Lives Matter is leading a fourth founding, which will be a multiracial movement, whereby young people of all ages – young people of all races are coming together and demanding that their elders do better, right? And so I’m just excited to see what happens at the end of that fourth founding. So thank you. 

MODERATOR: On behalf of the U.S. Department of State and the Foreign Press Center, I want to thank Professor Tillery for sharing your expertise and insights today on that – on this critical topic. And that concludes today’s briefing. Thank you very much. 

MR TILLERY: Thank you. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future