‘I Just Can’t Stand By and Be on the Wrong Side of History’
Young people in all 50 states are taking to the streets in protest, calling attention to police violence against black Americans and systematic racism.
Riley Lockett is a black college sophomore from Oakland, and a YR Media contributor. For the first time in his life, he’s going out to protest.
Lockett spoke to Al Letson, host of the radio program “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX for an episode called “Uprising,” exploring racial justice and policing.
Below is a transcript of that conversation.
Riley Lockett: More than anything, I feel enraged. I feel like people are finally waking up to the injustices in society. And that we’ve sort of pulled back the curtain on police brutality. I feel like anyone who says, “It’s just a few bad apples right now,” either is ignorant of the situation willfully or otherwise, or is just lying. My mother is very uncomfortable with me going out and protesting. And she’s made it clear that she’s very worried about my safety.
Al Letson: So why keep going out?
RL: I keep going out because it’s like a gravitational force. I can’t just sit at home and watch this happen. I need to go out because I keep on seeing my community being terrorized by the police state. And I just can’t stand by and be on the wrong side of history.
AL: How does all of this make you feel?
RL: I think society is just laying itself plain. It’s telling my people that they do not care about us when we have video evidence showing that they are abusing us in broad daylight from every possible angle. That’s the establishment telling me and telling everyone who sees this that it doesn’t matter. Like the police officer has had 18 different call-ins about his abusive behavior in the community and he was still out working.
AL: Some media outlets seem to be focusing on property damage and violence from the protesters. What do you think about that?
RL: Me personally, I do not lose that much sleep over property damage, especially when it’s in multinational corporations like Target or the Chase Bank or Walmart. I’m sure those places are insured, but black lives are not. And it’s very telling to me that the police take a stand against property damage rather than damage of black lives because that goes back to the origin of police and America, where they were organized and formed to stop slaves from running away and gaining their freedom.
Police from the very beginning have been about protecting property, rather than lives. Back then, the property was us. It was black people. And now the property is stores and street corners. And still the police aren’t protecting black lives because that’s never been their intention from the beginning. And it also shows a double standard in the way the news is covering the riots and the violence.
This country was formed on violent revolution. The Boston Tea Party was blatant destruction of property. They destroyed countless dollars in tea because they believed that the law was unjust. And it’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating. It is enraging to see people speak out against property damage more than they are speaking out against the damage of the black community.
AL: So how old are you, Riley?
RL: I’m 19.
AL: 19. I was about your age when maybe the first videotaping of police brutality ever hit the national airwaves and that was Rodney King. I was a senior in high school and still today, we are seeing the exact same thing happen. And I’m just thinking about your generation, how you grew up with the names like Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, all of these guys died while you were in high school and middle school and kind of coming up. What kind of effect does that have on you as a teenager?
RL: I don’t want to self-diagnose, but ever since I joined Twitter and Reddit, and started looking at the world through my phone and online, I’ve become more and more stressed. I’ve become more and more perpetually angry. And I’ve just become tired. It seems like every day or every week, there’s a new name and there’s a new video and there’s a new corpse of my people.
AL: Riley, thanks for talking to me today.
RL: Thank you for this opportunity.
Listen to the full show “Uprising” by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.