For those of you who don't know who I am, I'm a historian. I study black people during the era of slavery. I'm a black women’s historian. I study black women. The violence that I was reading about in the archives and the violence that was unfolding on my computer screen and on the T-, on the TV screen was too much, and I shut down.
And then I got a phone call asking me to come speak. These wonderful students from Bloomington North High School asked me, “Dr. Meyers, can you come speak about what is happening in the nation?” and I said, “Sure.”
And then here I am again now. Although now it's not Philando and Alton and the Pulse Nightclub. It's Ahmaud Arbery and it's George Floyd and, lest us, lest we forget, it is Breonna Taylor, whose birthday it is today. And I have a weight on my heart because, ladies and gentlemen, it is also my birthday today, and I woke up this morning, and I grieved. I grieved for the fact that she was not here. And I'm standing here; she's not. She's not.
Here we are again, and people keep asking me, “How do you feel?” I'm like, “Really?” That is not an appropriate question. I am exhausted on so many levels. And every morning I wake up, and the first thing I do is I check in with the people that I love to make sure that they're still alive. This has become an all-too-familiar cycle of death.
Death. Prayer. Tears. Rinse. Repeat.
I don't want to be back here in another two years or four years saying the same things. Do we really understand what it means to say no justice, no peace? What does that mean? It means that we do not rest until there is justice.
If this is truly not just a moment, if this really is something different, and I feel in my bones it is when I look out across this nation from D.C. to L.A. to St. Louis to Minneapolis to Louisville to Chicago. It's not even just a movement, it is an uprising, a rebellion, a revolution. If it is a revolution, then I demand, I demand justice, and I demand that there not be peace until you see equity and liberty and freedom, because we have not seen that yet.
And it's not just about being a one-trick pony, because let me tell you, if all you do is vote, then that is the least you can do is vote. Because what do you do after you vote? What do you do in between elections? What do you do in addition to voting? Because let me tell you, I vote all the time, but if that's all you do, shame on you. What are you doing to hold those people accountable once you put them into office?
I want to speak to you about just a couple of things today, and policing is one of them. In the last 40 years, the police in this country have numerically exploded, and it began with the war on drugs, which, quite frankly, was a war against black people. Because let's be real clear, when it became about opioids and white folks, all of a sudden, it was, “You have a problem. Let's set up drug treatment centers and facilities to help you.”
But when drugs were ravaging our communities, it was assault weapons and police and criminalization, and it was putting our people in the ground or in prison. Do you know that this country incarcerates more people per capita and in whole numbers than any other nation on the planet? More than China and more than Russia. Yes. Combined.
Not only have we increased the numbers of police, we have militarized them in terms of their weaponry and in terms of their assault vehicles, and we're seeing it play out in dra- in dramatic fashion across the country on our TV screens. Peaceful protesters being treated like criminals, water bottles being stabbed, medical supplies being destroyed, milk being trashed. We see what's happening across the land but it's also just on a day-to-day basis right here. Right here. So we see assault weapons, tanks, riot gear. We have a president now threatening to use the Act of 1807 to bring out the military against his own people.
The police are also being called out when they shouldn't be in cases of mental illness, in to be, to be called out against the homeless, like being without a home is a crime. For those who have drug addictions. Okay, I was on the radio earlier today with Chief Diekhoff, and he was like, “We're being called out against things that we don't really want to be called out against.”
All right, well we're gonna get to how we can solve your problem for you. I'm gonna get to that. So let me talk local right now. Right here in Bloomington, our leaders in the police force bought a BearCat for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. What, what could we do? If that's an assault vehicle used by military units overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is an assault vehicle.
Right here in this community, they, the city is allowing a self-proclaimed white supremacist to to sell in our local farmers market. That's a violence against black people, but they say it's freedom of speech. No it's not. There's ways out. They're just not interested. That's what I call polite liberal racism. Right here, right here there are peaceful protesters who have been arrested while armed militiamen can walk free. But our leaders say, “Don't worry. That BearCat will never be used against peaceful protesters.” Right.
Voting is never enough, especially when local law enforcement is itching to increase its ranks. We saw that just yesterday when the Monroe County Sheriff's Office attempted to increase its forces. And I don't know if you know what happened about that, but thank God for BLM B-town, because by the power of social media and the work of Black Lives Matter local, because of social media and emails and Zoom and amazing black women who went to that meeting and spoke up to ensure that this didn't happen, that has now been squashed.
That, that is what you do. That is community activism in action. That's what you do after people are voted into power, because if it hadn't been for community engagement and BLM and people going to that meeting, those two extra officers would have been hired by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. It's not just about voting. We need to transform our way of thinking. We need to begin defunding the police. Plain and simple.
Just today, the Los Angeles, city of Los Angeles, said that they are going to take 150 million dollars away from the police. We need to stop talking, and we need to…
We know what the issues are. Structural change is necessary. It's time to stop sending the police where they're not needed. It's time to start reducing their numbers. Period.
The system, folks, isn't broken. Oh no. It's working exactly the way it was always meant to. It's supposed to help white people, and it's supposed to criminalize black and brown people people, and lock us up. It's very simple. I don't know if you all know this, but I'm, again, I'm a historian of the 19th century. Policing arose directly up out of what? The slave patrol. Yes it did. White folks, white men were supposed to patrol the roadways at night, and they were supposed to pick up any black person who was on the road in the city or in the country, frisk them, demand their papers, make sure that they had a pass from their masters to be out on the road at night running an errand going to visit their spouse or to prove that they were a free black person. If they didn't have those papers, they were roughed up, locked up, and then turned back over to their owners. Or, if they were a free black person without proof, they were put up on the auction block and sold.
Stop and frisk, anybody? Where do you think that comes from?
Everything has historical context. You cannot tell me that all of a sudden the Thirteenth Amendment is passed, and police people policemen wake up one day and say, “Oh, you're not property or a threat to property. You're now citizens in need of protection,” and they look at black people as somehow being people in need. People who are citizens in need of protection.
No, this is an inherently structurally racist system, and they have always looked at black people as being a threat to white people's property or white people's property.
We need to take the money away from the police, and we need to put it into mental health, social services, and other systems. We also need to make the right call. We don't need to call the cops every time we see something happening. Do we understand this, folks? We don't need to call the cops when there's a bat in our attic or when someone tells us to leash our fucking dog. That’s some, that’s some nonsense right there. Pardon, but look. I need a t-shirt that says, “I’m classy, but I cuss a little." Okay? Right.
BLM is actually working on a Make the Right Call program for for Bloomington for that very very reason. We gotta, we gotta, we got to create community structures for mediation, restitution, and reparation. We got to release nonviolent offenders. We need drug treatment. We gotta legalize marijuana, and get people out of prison, get people out of prison. Decrease the prison population, and decrease prison police numbers. It makes things safer for everybody. At the end of the day if you reduce and defund the police, it diverts the money to education; it diverts it to universal healthcare; and it diverts it to raising basic income for everybody.
It also leaves money for the most important thing: true reparations for black people in America. Don't tell me that we don't have money for reparations. If we have money for the military and the police, we got money for reparations.
So let me tell you something. We take money away from war, and we take money away from cops, and we put it towards rebuilding black communities. That’s where it goes. And it’s not just a one-time check. It's universal healthcare; it's universal basic income; and it's free college tuition for every black person in America. If you are the descendent of enslaved African people in America, you get a four-year college tuition bill paid for. Period.
Take away the people, take away the cop, take away their guns, attack the police’s pension funds when they screw up, and ultimately you look to a future without policing in prisons. That's it.
You cannot go any other way. I'm sick of having the same conversation. It's time to attack the structures that hurt us and kill us and take away our lives. That is the way it goes.
I have three, I have three demands for the city, the BPD, and the Indiana University Police Department, because it's time to stop talking and time to start asking and demanding. IUPD, you don't need guns.
College cops don't need weapons. College cops don't need weapons. Maybe you can have tasers, but you sure as hell don't need guns.
Number two, BPD, I want you to sell your BearCat. That sale, that purchase was shady, and you know it. Number three, city of Bloomington, it's time for you to divest from the farmers market, and get out of that market now. Period.
You wanna tell me that black lives matter? You better put your money where your mouth is. Get out of the market, privatize that market, and and join the the new people's market on the east side that is being run by women and people of color.
Those are my asks. The time for change is now, because I ain't coming back here to give another speech in two or four years.
White folks, you cry BLM when we layin dead in the streets. I'm gonna need for you to start actually saying it while black folks are still alive. More importantly, I'm going to need for y'all to start making real changes that actually keep us alive and thriving. Because the time for weeping and crying is over. Because enough is definitely enough.