Radical Queer Organizing Against Racist Police Terror
I’m Bob Lederer. We’re recording this segment on April 18, as the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd moves to a conclusion and perhaps a verdict may be announced by the time this program airs. Community resistance grows in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center in response to the outrageous murder of Daunte Wright. It’s critical to speak to local activists on the ground in Minneapolis. We’re joined by two guests via zoom.
First, Jae Yates is a Black Trans organizer with TCC4J (Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar [Clark]), which is a black-led anti-police-violence organization fighting for community control of police. Jae joined TCC4J last year as an organizer for Taking Back Pride, a protest against police and corporate presence during pride celebrations in the Twin Cities.
Jae works also with the community, a network Minnesota, a combination of three former pop-up mutual aid sites working to bring food and household supplies, community members, as well as supporting protesters with first aid supplies. Jae’s pronouns are they, them, and he, him. Welcome Jae.
Our second guest, Jess Sundin, is a white lesbian who’s been organizing in Minneapolis for nearly 30 years from anti-war activism to fighting government repression, specifically as a grand jury resistor. That’s a person who, along with her wife and 22 other activists in 2010, took a principled position of refusing to participate in an FBI fishing expedition to gather intelligence on the radical movement. Jess Sundin joined the local fight against police terror after the 2015 police murder of Tamar Clark.
Since then she’s worked with the TCC4J, (Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar) and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to demand justice for countless stolen lives, while also building the fight for community control over the police. She lives with her wife and their teen daughter in South Minneapolis, less than a mile from where George Floyd was killed last summer and her pronouns are she and her. Thank you, Jess, for joining us on Out-FM.
Jae Yates, let me start with you as the Chauvin trial nears its conclusion, how would you assess the level of organizing for justice in Minneapolis and what are the key demands right now around that trial? And the developing case around the murder of Daunte Wright. What is the feeling among organizers that you work with?
Jae: The coalition that TCC4J organizes with, is really strong in our stance about the trial and we really know what we are pushing for. There are several pieces of legislation that this coalition has signed on to support, and community control of police is what TCC4J champions. Independently of the outcome of the trial, that’s a critical part of fighting police violence in this city in particular. We can’t move forward unless we have community control, in my opinion. I don’t think that a lot of the other proposals that are being put forth are meaningful in any way to control police violence.
Someone asked me do you feel optimistic, or pessimistic about the future, following the trial? And I said, I don’t understand how to answer that question because it’s not about pessimism or optimism. It’s we have to fight, we have no choice. What else are we supposed to do? Allow a hostile military force to occupy our city? Are we supposed to allow police to continue to murder us?
Bob: Certainly in Brooklyn Center, there’ve been continual nights of vociferous and militant protest. But also throughout the Minneapolis Metro area, tell us what the climate has been like since.
Jae: Brooklyn Center is a mostly Black neighborhood or suburb. Black youth right now have no, no recourse to express how watching this play out time and time again is making them feel. And I think that the quote unquote, “rioting and looting” is happening because nothing has been done to address the past time that this happened. There’s still trauma that people are dealing with from Philando Castile. People are still dealing with the trauma from Jamar Clark because none of those murderers faced any consequences. The only officer that’s ever faced consequences for murdering someone was Mohammed Noor, because he murdered a white woman point blank period. It’s not that people want to be out here destroying things for fun. It’s that no one is listening to black people in this city and black people have tried it the other way.
Bob: It’s worth remembering that the coalition that both of our guests are active in is called the TCC4J , (Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar) referring to Jamar Clark, who was murdered in 2015. So there’s a continuing history just in your city alone, not to mention the whole country of racist murders by police of Black people and other people of color. So let me turn to our other guest Jess Sundin. You’ve been in the progressive movement for 30 years; what have you observed as far as changes in the movement over that period, both positive or negative? For you as a white person, how do you see that changing in the white community?
Jess: Here in the twin cities Minneapolis and St Paul, we call it the twin cities and then that includes all the suburbs too. There are a couple dozen families who are very outspoken whose loved ones have been killed by police here. We know them and we know their stories, but most of them didn’t have the experience of everyone knowing their loved one’s name when they were killed. The reason everyone knew what happened to Jamar Clark is there were about two dozen witnesses to his murder. It happened right outside a club and there was two dozen black people who watched it happen. Despite what they witnessed, the County attorney found the officers, unprosecutable. And in fact, you know, defended them to the public. Barely a year later Philando Castile was murdered. Actually in the case of Jamar what happened was, where he was murdered is a block or two from the police precinct. The community decided to occupy the police precinct, and did so for 18 days. In Minnesota, in November, that’s no joke to occupy outdoors for 18 days, but people did. During the occupation, white supremacists came and shot at and injured five of the black protesters who were part of the occupation. But the struggle for justice for Jamar was the first time that the whole city was aware of and understood the significance of police violence against black people in our city.
Black people were at the forefront. The neighborhood it happened in is a predominantly Black neighborhood, Jamar was Black, but the whole city was there. That’s the first time we saw Asians for Black Lives in the Twin Cities. It’s when we first started hearing from Native Lives Matter, which established itself as an organization here around that same time, the Somali community came out in big numbers to support justice for Jamar. And white folks did too. We had a similar kind of response when Philando Castillo was killed as the aftermath of his murder was filmed by his partner, Diamond Reynolds. And many people saw the video with her and her daughter Dayday in the car. His killer was prosecuted, but found not guilty. It was widely known partly because Philando was a beloved community member, he worked in a school and elementary kids in his school called him, Mr. Phil.
We’ve had other killings but no movements of the same kind of scope and size since 2016. And then when George Floyd was killed well, I know that your listeners in New York also stood up with us for justice for George Floyd, the whole world did. I have family in Australia who did and it wasn’t only that George was murdered, but he was tortured for a very long time.
We started to build up lasting organizations and when George was killed, the outrage on the one hand was overwhelming, but also we had organizations prepared to hit the streets. It could have been 20-30,000 people. We marched from where George was killed to the precinct which now stands in a rubble which as I hope one day, all police precincts are.
But we had an incredible response and since summer beautiful, amazing things have happened. I got to meet Jae this summer. We have this amazing new generation of leaders that have come forward that are amazing speakers, do amazing security at the demonstrations. They’re really principled. You know, like all movements, this movement also has opportunists. We also have Democrats who try to get what they can out of it. And the young people that are leading this movement with us right now see through all of that and they’re not fooled. I think what we have now is the strongest I’ve ever seen in this movement.
It’s the strongest movement I’ve ever been a part of as a white person, which you asked me to address. This is a black led movement and there are many white people in it. Minnesota has a lot of white people. It’s a tough place to live if you’re not white because it’s overwhelming. I think and I think that one thing that’s incredibly positive that has come out of this last almost year of struggle is that white folks who had been able to look away, have not been able to look away. And ultimately people had to choose a side. And it’s really the young people that laid siege to the third precinct of the Minneapolis police department. They called the question, which side are you on? And I’m glad to say that there are, you know, a good number of white folks that have, have joined the ranks of this movement. But it remains a movement that is Black-led and of course in a place like Minnesota, we also have a really important leadership role for indigenous folks who are also killed at extremely high numbers here where we live.
Co-host Stahimili Mapp: I was glad that you raised the point about young people. What is the involvement of the black youth in terms of mobilizing and keeping the movement going, and even in terms of the leadership of the movement?
Jae: I was very disillusioned with the Pride parade that I saw, and then I saw all these people with this giant banner basically disrupting the parade. And so I joined in behind them and that was my first TCC4J experience. Part of why I decided to join is I feel that action really demonstrated that TCC4J understands that black oppression and queer oppression are interlinked and both have the same root cause of white supremacy and capitalism. There’s a learning curve for some Black people that maybe have been in the movement before and come at it from a Judeo-Christian kind of lens. I think that there has been pushback to having openly queer people lead the movement. But I think at this point we’re kind of like, we’ve been here all along. I think information about the past of our movement has been actively stolen from Black people. And so, yeah, there’s definitely tension. There’s definitely a lot of those same opportunists that Jess mentioned are homophobic, transphobic, misogynists. But it’s been really encouraging to see young black women absolutely refuse to take any of that. They are very vocal and are not afraid of confronting it when they see it.
Jess: Something I have found to be a very strange twist of events here during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police chief testified, about how great and awesome and forward-thinking our police department is and how they’ve really transformed themselves, and specifically identified that their work with, or policies about the trans community, which I have never heard from a single trans person. By the same token, the County sheriff here is of Lebanese origin, but he’s gay. There was definitely like the rainbow people voting for Hutchinson when he ran for sheriff. And now he and his deputies are some of the leading edge of repression in the Twin Cities right now. So there’s also been this attempt to pit the LGBTQ community against the Black Lives Matter movement or the movement against police terror. People like Jae and the experiences that they’re describing are why that’s failed. So it’s just been a very strange time to see law and order try to kind of pink wash themselves.
Bob: Since Jess mentioned that the police chief is bragging about forward-thinking reforms have been made in their policy towards the trans community; as a black trans person, what is your view of that statement? The Democrats do this too, where they try to position themselves as though they’re allies to the LGBTQ community.
Jae: They try to recruit LGBTQ people to join their ranks because for a lot of people, that is sort of gay rights and like, that’s great. But regardless of how many trans people you recruit into policing or how many trans council members you put on the city council they are serving a racist white supremacist system. They exist in this system to make it work, not to dismantle it. And so I think that a lot of people are very aware of that in our movement right now, I think that they’ve seen it enough and they’ve seen how much it doesn’t matter to have a black man as the chief of police and how little it matters to have a black trans woman as one of our city council members, Andrea Jenkins has done very little to actually advance the rights of anyone actually.
I think that identity politics are really on their way out. People are seeing that you have to have a deeper analysis than just, Oh, I’m getting political representation because this person looks like me or they they’re a Democrat, so they must be good. I think the youth are really clued in and don’t fall for it.
I see identity politics as having been morphed from its original idea. People have started to misuse intersectionality where they don’t understand the origin of the term and then twist it to their own gains. So when I say identity politics, I mean, when people assume that just because a person is black, that they have to have good politics on black issues, that they should be listened to regardless of what actually comes out of their mouth. I think that people are starting to recognize it for what it is, an incomplete way to build political coalition. It’s not enough to have an oppressed identity. You also have to understand the nexus of oppression that you exist in, and you have to understand how you relate to other oppressed people. It’s not just enough for you to know that you are oppressed and be oppressed.
Stahimili: Your AG in Minnesota is a Keith Ellison, a Black man who has put forth a few progressive thoughts I’ve heard uttered from his mouth. I was wondering what your perspective is on that. Does he give you any kind of support at the grassroots level?
Jess: I’ve known Keith Ellison. He used to be a radical, maybe even a revolutionary. Oh, how far he’s fallen. I don’t know if he aspires to a higher office, but he acts like someone who does. Journalists here filed an injunction, tried to get a temporary injunction against police who were firing on them for covering the demonstrations and the police response. Many of them have been injured and arrested and detained and had their equipment damaged as well. So they tried to file a restraining order against the police, and it was AG Ellison who filed arguments against the free press and on the side of the police. A judge thought better of it and sided with the journalists. Unfortunately, police ignored that judge’s decision and continued to violate the rights of not only community members, neighbors, protestors, medics, but also journalists. So we have a long list of grievances with AG Ellison. But I think they put on a serious case against Derek Chauvin which before we watched it, we were all holding our breath. I’m not a lawyer, but I think it was a serious effort to get a conviction. So I can say that positive about his contributions today.
Jae: A lot of white people in Minneapolis still that think that Chauvin is being prosecuted out of the goodness of someone’s heart, and I 100% believe that if there hadn’t been a massive uprising, this would have gone the same way that every other police murder has gone, where they either do a really bad job at prosecuting and the person doesn’t get convicted or they just don’t prosecute at all. Since 2000 there’s been 400 murders, and there’s been one conviction, that’s horrifying. That pattern would have absolutely continued if there hadn’t been an uprising.
Jess: In fact Chauvin had reached a plea agreement with our County attorney while the uprising was still happening before any charges had been brought against him. And it was strangely federal Attorney General Barr who stopped the plea deal because it involved the federal government because of where Chauvin would serve his time. So in fact, the only reason there was a prosecution is because A.G. Barr said, I don’t think that people would think that was a serious enough charge. So if Trump’s attorney general could see that, I’m not surprised that our attorney general who has a past as a progressive and even revolutionary Muslim black man in Minnesota, would step up at least that much. All the cops are also saying, he’s the only one like this we had, none of us would ever do this, despite that he had done this multiple times, he’s a serial killer. He’s involved in five other police murders before this. So they want us to think that policing is fine. It’s just one bad cop. The trial was supposed to prove that, and the other part of their strategy is this massive mobilization of police, national guard, state patrol, DNR officers, even coming from Ohio and god knows where else; there are thousands of additional police forces here in the Twin Cities, national guard trucks with the soldiers in full gear with their long guns. They really got to practice the full force of that operation against protestors and community members. So they have a two-pronged strategy, sacrifice Chauvin and see if that quiets the masses. And if it doesn’t, brutalize them and arrest them and try to quiet them that way.
Jae: I think that next steps for us in Minneapolis, regardless of the outcome of the trial, we’re really committed to community control and seeing it happen because we think that it’s part of a larger project of getting self determination and self determinative power into Black communities. And that, that is critical to Black liberation. People that think of themselves as liberals, I really want them to start interrogating what these liberal politicians and nonprofits are saying to them. Specifically in Minneapolis, we’ve had a lot of campaigns that are about rebranding the police, and touting that as some sort of meaningful reform. People can’t allow themselves to be placated by that or taken in by that, and continue to demand real, concrete measures to reign in the power of police, to enact brutalism on, on communities. Be aware of what you support.