Black Lives Matter activist Hawk Newsome sat down with digital editor Montgomery Yu after his talk at Fordham University to discuss the police brutality in America, systemic racism, and the future of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hawk Newsome is a former county committee member of New York’s District 79 and founder of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, unaffiliated with the NYC chapter of Black Lives Matter. (The following transcript has been edited for clarity from the original audio, which is also available.)
The first question that I wanted to ask is that you have gained a reputation for appealing to Trump supporters and conservatives in recent years, you’ve talked to them at rallies and been criticized by members of the Black Lives Matter community for it. How do you respond to criticism that you are pandering to Trump supporters or being “too kind”?
Newsome: It’s extremely offensive. When we were called up to the stage at the mother of all rallies, we were protesting and they gave us an opportunity to speak, and I believe that as activists, it’s our job to win people over to our side of the argument. It doesn’t get any more unambiguous than that: our job is to enlighten, inform and motivate people into action, and that does not only mean people who like what you are saying. You know, there’s a term that says you’re preaching to the choir, alright? Why preach to the choir when the choir already gets it? Black America and those of good conscience, of all colors already understand our message, whether they are acting on it or not, but those Trump folks, some of whom voted for Obama, need to understand the error of their ways. They need to understand compassion, they need to understand what it is to love thy neighbor. So for my colleagues, I am sorry that they feel like I am pandering, but my business degree as well as my law degree gave me negotiating skills, and if I can negotiate legislation and expand on our rights in this country, then I’m going to do what I have to do, even if it means speaking to people who are “unreachable”. I have to give it a try for the sake of our liberation.
Very interesting. You created Black Lives Matter for Greater New York Area because you thought that Black Lives Matter New York was not doing enough. You mentioned them catering to celebrities and not being active at marches, but is there anything else that you felt they weren’t doing to the extent that you had to create your own chapter?
Newsome: This is New York City, this is arguably the greatest city in the country, in the world, and it is our job as Black Lives Matter movement here in New York City, to be at the forefront of this fight, on the front lines, and I have been in this movement for a very long time, I’d say since it began. In the last few years, I didn’t see any actions that Black Lives Matter NYC had created or led, why are there not any Black Lives Matter events, actions, or campaigns? Why am I not hearing about Black Lives Matter NYC creating events, protests or campaigns while I’m out here in the streets? We needed a real Black Lives Matter group in New York City, and although we are not part of the global network, which is 38 organizations, we are a part of the 400 organizations that march under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. After the mall rally, we met with Black Lives Matter global on, I believe 2 ocassions, and we didn’t come to a resolution, but we agreed that we were fighting for the same things, just using two different strategies.
You’re known to be a very devout Christian, am I correct?
So how has your Christian upbringing affected your worldview and your activism? Do you have any thoughts on how Christianity has become politicized by mostly the rights, but also in some ways by the left over the years, especially since the 80’s?
Newsome: It’s scary. It’s scary because people on the left, when you say that you are a Christian, activists and civilians alike, who cringe when you say that you are Christian, that’s a problem right there because the right uses Christianity to their benefit. You have members of the right who say that they are Christian but want to send people back to countries where they will face persecution and in some cases, death. You have members of the right who want to remove healthcare from people who need it. You have members of the right who are Christians that want to take food out of mouths, so I find that to be problematic. Why is it important for me as a Christian to be in this movement? Because Jesus was the most famous radical revolutionary in the history of the world; more famous than MLK, more famous than Gandhi.
Martin Luther King, they called him reverend for a reason, he was a Christian.
Newsome: He was a Christian preacher, right? I’m actually applying to Harvard’s Divinity School this year, and I don’t know how I’m going to work that out in my schedule, but I want to study Theology. I want to become an ordained minister.
Well, we wish you luck on that endeavor.
Newsome: Thank you
This is a bit personal but in one of my Philosophy classes, my professor brought in a guest speaker who was a former detective. She, a white evangelical and in her last days, she supported Black Lives Matter very publicly and also on her last days on the force, she was subjected to a lot of immediate insults and violence by the police union, not individual officers, the police union within the NYPD afterwards. Why do you think that punitive culture is still so powerful and attracts people like Daniel Pantaleo and Jeronimo Yanez, who is Philando Castile’s killer, why do you think people like that are attracted to the police specifically?
Newsome: I’d like to speak about Hugh Barrie, who killed Deborah Danner. When Hugh Barrie killed this woman, you had Ed Mullins, the president of the Sargeant’s Union, come out and say that he was a good cop, that he was a cop’s cop. However, when you look into Hugh Barrie’s past, he had two lawsuits filed against him in Federal court for civil rights violations and policy brutality: racism. He beat people while they were handcuffed; these were the allegations he faced. On one of the lawsuits the city settled, so here you have these unions, and they have zero credibility in my book, their job is to protect cops at all costs, so they’re protecting murderers. Even when they know these people may have done something wrong, it’s their job to come out and wholeheartedly support them and the problem is these union heads are cops so people see cops protecting murderous cops and they just get this feeling like “they’re all against us, these cops are trying to hurt us, they’re all against us”. That’s problematic.
Are they? Are they really all against us? I don’t think so, right?
Newsome: I don’t think so. I really don’t. I think policing in its entirety is racist. It’s inherently racist, and we have to deconstruct that practice that suits them, just like we are deconstructing misogyny in patriarchies, just like we are deconstructing homophobia. The police in America are the only thing where there’s not an active and ongoing, well, there is: we are fighting to deconstruct policing as we know it.
Since you already mentioned this (in the speech), what do you think of the media hype surrounding the Black Panther film?
Newsome: I think it’s awesome. I think it’s awesome that little black and brown kids have a superhero that is really cool. There’s diversity in the movie. You rarely see that many dark-skinned people in a movie of this caliber, a movie with this budget, of this size.
Even in the comics industry, you see even less creators for example, Black Panther himself was created by white writers and white artists.
Newsome: Yeah. I agree.
You said that the media is your biggest weapon for activism but isn’t the news media also responsible for stereotyping stereotyping people of color and everyone under the sun, and giving people like Trump his fame and celebrity, so how do you deal with those aspects when speaking out?
Newsome: You keep counteracting them. You listen to arguments, you listen to the way they’re spinning it, spinning the story, and the next time you’re in front of the camera, or the next time you’re on social media, you try to counter what was said previously, and then you use other means, even the media if they will allow you, to point out the hypocrisies, right? Where if you have a black victim of police violence, you hear everything they’re done wrong in their life, however, there was a white woman in Minnesota who was shot shortly after the acquittal of the officer who killed Philando Castile, and she was described as a yoga instructor. The media is portraying the shooter in Florida in a very sympathetic way. That’s problematic, so you have to address these things. There was a really cool article that I was able to add insight to, which was after the Super Bowl, how we are condemned as Black Lives Matter activists when we riot, but when people riot after sporting events, then it’s harmless fun.
You mentioned how bad activism can be on personal health for the activists (for example, MLK was an unfortunate example, he was 39 and had the heart of a 60-year old when they opened it up), so any strategies that you can give to prospective activists so that they can stay in the fight?
Newsome: I am embarking on bringing mindfulness into the movement, which means that I’m trying to eat cleaner. I’m meditating more. I’m trying to relax a little bit more. Personally, I would advise clean eating, exercise, meditation, prayer.
So last question, do you have any parting advice you want to young people of color, whether at Fordham or elsewhere?
Newsome: I don’t want to just restrict this message to people of color: I want to include everyone. I want to say…this is the most historic time in maybe half a century, these fights that we are fighting. These, I don’t want to use the word fights, this movement and other movements like it are historic and there’s never been anything like it in the history of our country, and you have to get involved. This is not something that you can sit out. If you love your neighbor, if you love people, then there is a way for you to get involved. You can get involved with us, you can get involved with another group, right now is not the time to sit back and just let this happen and wait it out. If you look a the world right now, evil people are winning. People with greed in their hearts and devised agendas and individuals who lack empathy are controlling the world, and it’s because good people have sat on the sidelines for far too long. Just please get involved.
Thank you very much for your time.
Newsome: No problem, thank you.
The above interview does not necessarily reflect the views of Fordham Political Review, its various members, or the interviewer.