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Interview with civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson: 5 things we learned

As a part of our commitment to support the fight against racial inequality and injustice, we are sharing the views of students and experts on racism in its political, social and economic contexts.

In 2014 DeRay Mckesson came to prominence following the police killing of Michael Brown, taking a leading role in mobilising and organising protest in what marked the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether it’s through his writing, like in his book ‘On the Other Side of Freedom’, his numerous TV appearances or his podcast ‘Save the People’, McKesson has continued to vocalise the many social injustices that people of colour continue to face in the US and beyond. His platform ‘Campaign Zero’ is providing a concrete policy plan to end police violence and he continues to advise governments at all levels.

Here's what we learned when we interviewed him back in July of this year, as protests spread across the world in response to the death of George Floyd.

1. 2020 is the year for change

“2020 is the continuation of a struggle that, for our generation, really amplified itself in 2014” DeRay tells us. “In 2014 people were ready to learn after the protests in St Louis, when we were in the streets for 400 days. In 2020, people are ready to do”. Ideas that McKesson says were “wild and too far fetched” in 2014 are now possible. “We can do things right now that will change the country forever”.

2. There is no ‘one way’ to end police violence

DeRay’s project ‘8 Can’t Wait’ (eight policy changes his team are putting to governments to limit the power of the police) is one way he’s looking to take on police brutality, but he emphasises that this is “the floor and not the ceiling”. Defunding the police and decarceration will also make a difference, but McKesson stresses that all these strategies need to be “working in concert” to achieve broad change.

3. “The goal is a world beyond policing”

‘Defunding the police’ is an idea that, despite its controversy, most people should agree with. “Experts should deal with what experts deal with. Who should deal with the mental health crisis? Probably a mental health expert!”, DeRay tells us. “We need to scale up solutions to community issues that aren’t somebody with a gun”.

4. Racism is not just an issue for the US

On the global response to the killing of George Floyd, DeRay tells us why he believes protests resonated with so many. “Minneapolis is their city too! Ferguson is their city too! These issues are not just one-offs, but they are everywhere”. McKesson says that people of colour around the world have been aware of racism for long enough, but events in the US have shown that now “they have the power to undo it”.

5. His message to students looking to make change

Ask questions! DeRay explains that “you need to know the system so that you can take it apart...the more that you know, the more that you can press and fight and demand”. He also tells students to be ambitious and creative; “think about where your big goal is, and then all the steps you need to get there”, says McKesson. “Don’t let people tell you that there’s one way to do it, because there isn’t”.


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