Who is Justice?
I would like to know.
Whosoever she is,
I could love her so;
I could love her, though my race
So seldom looks upon her face. — John Henrik Clarke
The United States injustice system is not broken. It is working exactly as it was intended to work, which is primarily in the service and protection of white supremacy and capitalism. Black communities bear the scars of generations of intentional, sustained violence—physically, emotionally, psychologically, and structurally.
This violence takes place on the block and in the courtroom; in our neglected and shuttered public schools and in the back of police vans; it is poisoning our water and our homes. It is present in the voting booth and in debtor’s prisons across the country.
Finding Justice, a six-part docuseries premiering March 10 on BET and airing through April 14, takes a deep dive into the mass criminalization of Black America. It exposes the mundanity of the brutalities we face on a daily basis; the normalization of our suffering, and it forces a conversation that this rich, cowardly nation flees and hides from.
Executive produced by Danny Garcia, dream hampton, and Dwayne Johnson, Finding Justice travels the country to join heroes—the leaders, activists, and organizers in our communities—as they battle to bring healing and change to the cities they call home. The cities featured in the series include: Tampa, St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Baltimore. Each episode focuses on a different, appalling injustice afflicting the Black community in a specific city, then goes beyond exploring the devastation caused by white supremacy and intentionally racialized injustice as it intimately follows real-life journeys toward change.
In the following conversation, Executive Producer dream hampton discusses the generational impact of activism and organizing, the constant struggle for Black liberation, the Black tradition of community, and why it is our duty to win.
ESSENCE: Finding Justice is a perfect title because what this docu-series does is show people where to look for injustice in order to understand the scope of what we’re up against. So, where is justice? In what structures are justice for Black people buried and hidden—and how do we excavate it, or, does it even exist? Is it something we have to create?
dream hampton: I definitely think we have to create justice. And I’m so inspired by the multi-generational activists innovating on justice, and being intentional about defining what justice looks like.
ESSENCE: Finding Justice expands and furthers the conversation; moves the lens outward from mass incarceration to mass criminalization in a way that shows the rocky terrain, the landmines, that Black folks have to navigate in order to simply survive. It shows how systemic and systemic the destruction of Black people is, how the shame is not ours. How do we shift from pathologizing victims to holding victimizers accountable in this country?
dh: We know the insanity of white supremacy, but what’s interesting is that of the hundreds of people we spoke with for this series, not one of them identified as victims. There is an inherent dignity we are born with; it’s not something bestowed upon us. We know being Black is not a crime.
ESSENCE: You tackle some heavy experiences — the lead paint crisis in Baltimore; cash bail in St. Louis; the school-to-prison pipeline in Los Angeles; voter suppression in Atlanta; police brutality in Twin Cities, Minn.; and Stand Your Ground laws in Tampa, Fla. And each state is a microcosm, a reflection, of what’s happening across the United States.
dh: Absolutely. I look at the Prison Industrial Complex as a pie — I’ve spent the last 28 years working with others to dismantle that system. It is a system that adapts as it expands. Mass incarceration is a problem that we cannot Kim K. away. Wanding students in LAUSD, charter schools, the dismantling of public education, as the Koch brothers have publicly fought to do. These are not sexy topics, but they are necessary ones. One student featured in the series is a rock star; she’s just amazing. And she really shows the emotional toll searching backpacks takes on students. She is doing the same kind of things that [Black Panther co-founder] Huey Newton and MLK did – recruiting allies, and in one scene she’s doing it among white students so that maybe their parents will have a better understanding when they walk into voting booths. We really wanted to look at the things Black people struggle with every day even though it’s not sexy.
ESSENCE: James Baldwin asked white America: “You’ve taken my time, my family’s time; how much time do you want…for your progress?” There are some people who love to say Black people must be patient for justice. But there are also people who understand that we are still in the urgency of now. Do you believe we’re at a pivotal point in our fight for justice in this political moment?
dh: I want to believe that. Radio was a new technology when Marcus Garvey was doing this work and now we have the largest generation since the Baby Boomers innovating with new technology. That excites me. We feature on the ground activists heavily involved in the outcomes of district attorney races and that is so important. For instance, take Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who did not indict police officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet for killing Stephon Clark. There have been 60 police shootings in her district and no indictments, no sanctions. DA Jackie Lacey‘s record in Los Angeles County is abysmal. Who occupies these offices is so important and there are many people currently doing this work. John Legend’s FREEAMERICA, Patrisse Cullors, Rashad Robinson and Color of Change are a few examples.
But, also, this is a generations-long struggle. Boycotts, divestment, sanctions, and protests still work. Protests still work. We saw that with Obamacare and gun rights. We saw it with Anita Alvarez in Chicago. If we don’t have Chicago activists protesting Anita Alvarez, then we don’t have Kim Foxx.
ESSENCE: You’ve done a lot of work around the drug war. How much of an impact does it have on the injustices you tackle here?
dh: There was a student in the LAUSD in 1992 that dropped a backpack and their gun went off, shooting no one. That is the origin of wanding in LAUSD. These students are paying for the criminalization of their parents. Activists and organizers who camped out in Ferguson for Mike Brown began looking at what other injustices were going on there and we got this amazing report exposing the depth of corruption. We felt it was necessary to unpack mass incarceration and what it actually means. From debtor’s prisons to cash bail, what does it mean when we say that? There are people who say, “But it’s a good thing that I’m able to go bail out my loved ones.” But we’re talking about millions of dollars collected on the backs of our people and that just shouldn’t be done by private insurance companies; it’s all related.
ESSENCE: So much of this work is done in community. How important was it for you to highlight that?
dh: It’s powerful to show [SONG Co-Director] Mary Hooks fly up to St. Louis and work closely with the Close the Workhouse campaign. If people need to fortify their protest in Baltimore with numbers, then our folks will caravan from around the country to Baltimore. We are not in this fight alone, even when it feels lonely. Our tradition is not to isolate.
This Sunday March 10th our 6 part docuseries “Finding Justice” airs on BET. My intention was to be lead by the work grassroots organizers are doing in STL, Minneapolis, ATL, FL, B’More & LA Watch our trailer here https://t.co/4FIZY2WMSA
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) March 5, 2019
ESSENCE: This is heavy work, sis. And it’s heavy work that you’ve been lifting for decades. How are you?
dh: You know. I’m fine. I have a roof over my head. I have food in my fridge. I have earned a living that provides my child with some privilege, but I’m still a Black woman from the east side of Detroit. I’m always a Black person in America, so this is not performative for me; it’s instinctive and it’s been like that since I was a child. And we’re not just fighting for people who agree with us; we’re also fighting for people in our family who think the U.S. is the best country ever. I’m not into patriotic bullshit, but I do, in the tradition of Langston Hughes, believe that we must hold this nation to its promises, to its ideals. There is an inherent human dignity that has to be honored. And if it isn’t, it has to be understood that wherever there is oppression, wherever rights are being stripped away, wherever there is unfairness and inequity, the people will rise up.
Finding Justice premieres Sunday, March 10 at 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT on BET.
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