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Black Lives Matter Leader DeRay Mckesson Speaks Out On Disparities In The Right To Protest

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In 2016, police arrested DeRay Mckesson at a demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, saying the Black Lives Matter activist ignored an officer’s request to get out of the road.

Five years later, he’s still dealing with the fallout from the arrest. Mckesson says his story is just another example of the differences in howpeople of color are treated by law enforcement

The U.S. Capitol Police chose to utilize only 500 of itsmore than 2,000 officersfor a planned event on Wednesday when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol building, he says. Mckesson says he was surprised to see pro-Trump extremists take bold actions such as putting their feet on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk and then walk out of the building without handcuffs.

“I’ve seen the police be more aggressive for 40 people than they were for the thousands of white supremacists that were on the Capitol,” he says. “I thought I’d seen it all. And then there was that.”

Mckesson says he’s attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations where protesters didn’t bring weapons or damage property — but law enforcement tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and shot at them. Friends of his have lost their vision and been hit with rubber bullets at protests, he says, all for advocating against police brutality. 

In contrast, people were physically pushing the police on Wednesday. And one officerdiedfrom injuries sustained during the insurrection.

“Those things are just so much more intense than anything that ever happened at a protest that Black people led,” he says.

Following Mckesson’s 2016 arrests, one of the Baton Rouge police officers sued him. The officer was seriously injured by someone else during the demonstration but held Mckesson responsible for organizing the event. The case has made its way up to the Supreme Court, where Mckesson won. Now, he says he’s fighting another issue related to the case in Louisiana Supreme Court.

An allegation from a police officer wrapped Mckesson up in a 5-year legal battle for something he didn’t do, he says, and the facts of his case were never questioned.

“With white people, the living proof — watching them do it in real-time — still is not enough for there to be a consequence,” he says. “If I hadn’t seen it happen like everybody else did, I probably would think people were exaggerating.”

As the co-founder of Campaign Zero, a nonprofit aimed at ending police violence, Mckesson and other organizers have been working on police reform for several years. He says organizing is the key to challenging the power of the police and changing the system for the better.

But he doesn’t let his hopes for change get too high: Police shoot and kill between900 and 1,1000 peopleper year in the U.S., according to the NAACP, and theprotests and advocacyperformed in 2020 didn’t bring those numbers down.

“The good news is that the legislature just opened. There’ll be a lot of legislation around the police being introduced,” he says. “And this is our moment.”


Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.