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Activists On How To Sustain Movement Against Police Brutality

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A summer of protest in Louisville, Ky., has intensified as we enter the fall. When I visited the city in June, state Representative Attica Scott told me it's exciting to see the protests over the death of Breonna Taylor become part of a national movement.

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ATTICA SCOTT: There are people who will do just enough to feel like they can silence us, but having this be part of a national narrative sends a message that no place is unique, really, you know? We're all experiencing these systemic issues that we have to dismantle.

SHAPIRO: Last week, a grand jury declined to charge any of the officers who raided Breonna Taylor's apartment with murder. The only officer indicted was Brett Hankison charged with wanton endangerment for shots he fired into neighboring apartments. When the demonstrations over this grew, Representative Scott was arrested. And so was Shameka Parrish-Wright, a community organizer and operations manager at The Bail Project in Louisville. We've invited them both to talk with us about how to sustain this movement and where it goes from here. Good to have you both with us.

SCOTT: Thank you, Ari.

SHAMEKA PARRISH-WRIGHT: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with your arrests last week. Representative Scott, you posted an eight-minute Instagram video showing events leading up to the arrest.

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SCOTT: We're trying to get to sanctuary.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).

SCOTT: Where do you want us to go?

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SCOTT: Where do you want us to go?

SHAPIRO: And you've both been charged with felony riot offenses. Now, civil disobedience is part of the playbook from the civil rights movement. Do you see getting arrested as part of a larger strategy here?

SCOTT: It's definitely part of the larger strategy, Ari; it wasn't part of our strategy on Thursday night. We were trying to get to the - desperately trying to get to the church, and our pathway was blocked before curfew by police. And so we were not anticipating getting arrested. I was with my teenage daughter. I definitely would not have wanted her to get arrested. That was not our intention that evening.

SHAPIRO: Shameka?

PARRISH-WRIGHT: We - as Representative Scott has said, that wasn't our intention. Our intention was to make it to the sanctuary to make sure that everyone is OK. But I will say, all the gains we've had during the civil rights era, never have we been free of police brutality and police violence. This is something that has plagued us. It's the biggest epidemic that we've been dealing with in our lifetimes. And so this - no one planned to get arrested, but for some reason, when we're out there protesting for our rights and standing up for the injustice that happened to Breonna Taylor, they feel like they're - that we're under attack, and it feels like that we're at war.

SHAPIRO: You have both been marching and demonstrating for months now, and the most recent development is the arrest and felony charges. How are you both feeling? Is this sustainable?

SCOTT: I mean, we - the movement has been sustained. You know, my dear friend Shameka has held the space at - in Justice Square Park for more than 120 days while she's also doing her full-time work of bailing people out of jail. This movement has been sustained. It will continue to be sustained because we're moving it into policy. Our legislative session begins January 2021, and we're already clear about our movement around Breonna's Law for Kentucky. So I am confident that this movement will continue to be sustained until we get justice for Breonna Taylor. This whole system is corrupt and unjust, and we're continuing to fuel a movement that is going to dismantle it from the bottom to the top.

SHAPIRO: Shameka, how do you think this movement can sustain itself beyond short-term achievements to become something that lasts for years or decades, as the civil rights movement did?

PARRISH-WRIGHT: I think that this movement is more than just a flare-up. I think that, as Representative Scott said, Day 127, we've been there. We've created a microcosm of the community, people who are there who represent every walk of life, who come from the hills, to the hollers, to the hood, to the urban areas and to - from professionals. So I think that this movement is going to keep going because there's something tangible that we can do in our lifetimes. I think we're going to always fight racism and racist practices, but there's things that we can do directly. We aren't going anywhere. We want justice. We are demanding justice. And we're working with the family. Breonna Taylor's mother said, keep it going. She's the only one who can shut us down, and she doesn't want us to stop.

SHAPIRO: You both have been fighting this fight since before it took over Instagram, you know? Like, in the spring and summer, there was this moment where it felt like, suddenly, it was a multicultural infusion of support, including from white people. And if that stops being kind of the, like, flavor of the moment and the cool thing to talk about, does that matter? I mean, is that focus and spotlight crucial to keeping this alive?

SCOTT: Well, you know what terrifies the administration in Louisville, what terrifies the Louisville Metro Police Department and the alphabet soup of law enforcement that's there from local, state to national levels, is that this movement is more than a trend for people, including white people. It's more than a trend, that people have invested their whole selves into this movement to get justice for Breonna Taylor and her family and her community. There are folks who are terrified by that reality.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting having you both here because you represent someone who is, on the inside, as an elected official and, on the outside, as an activist. So what do you think the relationship between these two groups, broadly speaking, needs to be in order for this movement to succeed, Shameka?

PARRISH-WRIGHT: I've been telling people that we are many instruments that are - that is one band, one sound - is that we want to end police brutality and police violence now. We want to do it now. Those of us who have the direct experience, who are out on the ground organizing, know that it's more than a Twitter rant from our president attacking Black Lives Matter movement folks. We know that Black Lives Matter is a movement all over the world. There's a reason why people are, all over the world, shouting Breonna Taylor's name and that it's our job to do the work on the ground and do the work in every area we can to keep it going. And that does happen. That happens with the instruments that look like - that work on policy, that work at our state Legislature.

Also, we have people who've been trying to meet with us that work inside the system, that work for corrections. When they were treating me in there, they said, I just heard you speaking at the church yesterday. Some folks can't come out because it threatens their job, and we don't want them to lose their job. But I got to say this for our white allies. I value the support and the way that they've turned out for us. They've been getting attacked - even worse, killed - at demonstrations. They've been showing up.

And we need them there because it's about - you speak the language to your people; I speak the language to my people. We need to be in this together. It's going to take coalition work. And if you can be led by a Black woman, if you can be led by the Black leaders, that says that you recognize and you understand that I have privilege. And it is your duty to use that privilege to break down barriers and to be in spaces like this, where someone's voice like that will sound much different than mine because they're used to me throwing my fist in the air, but are they used to seeing that policy come behind that fist? So we need everybody to work together.

SHAPIRO: Activist Shameka Parrish-Wright and Representative Attica Scott in Louisville, Ky. Thank you both so much.

SCOTT: Thank you.

PARRISH-WRIGHT: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIPLO'S "MMXX - I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.