Asa Khalif had promised the crowd an educational experience at ThinkFest, and on Tuesday morning, he struck a professorial pose on stage, sitting across from Tamala Edwards of 6ABC. The leader of the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter spoke about the antecedents, accomplishments and future plans of his movement, both locally and nationally.
Khalif and Edwards covered a lot of ground in their near-half-hour on stage, though a few snippets stood out:
Breaking down the blue shield. Repeatedly, Edwards pushed Khalif to offer specific, concrete changes that Black Lives Matter would like to see made in Philadelphia. The overarching sentiment he offered was that police officers needed to change their perception of people of color in this city: “I want police officers to not look at black and brown people as demons, or something that is out of a Friday the 13th type of character.” Khalif also demanded a cultural change within the police department, particularly one that would encourage self-censorship in rooting out prejudiced behavior. “We need to train police officers much better than they are at this point. Every cop knows which officers are racist in their group,” Khalif said. “If police want help in terms of snitching, they need to start snitching on their own and break down that blue wall of silence that they constantly hide under.”
On the election of Donald Trump. No surprise here: Khalif is not one of the people who’s of the mindset “to give Trump a chance.” Rather, he insisted, “anybody who voted for Trump is a racist bigot, period. And a homophobe. And clearly have issues with women.” Though we’re at the onset of some dark and turbulent years ahead, he believes, the election results weren’t altogether a shock. “Nothing that America does scares me. Nothing that America does surprises me. Donald Trump poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning. The racist opinions have always been burning. We didn’t see the fire, but the house was clearly burning.”
A mainstream political future? In 2020, could Black Lives Matter run a candidate against Trump? Across the country, prognosticators have tried to predict where Black Lives Matter is headed. One point of discussion is whether the movement would aid itself by gaining a stronger foothold in the political sphere or remain an outside check on the political establishment. There have been signs of the movement taking both routes — Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson running for mayor of Baltimore last year (though he ran as a Democrat) and the release of a national platform of reforms that Black Lives Matter would like to see enacted. Then again, the movement chose not to endorse a presidential candidate in this election. On Tuesday, Khalif suggested that the coalition might be getting more involved with politics in the years ahead. “I see us working on a third party. I see us running our own candidates. I see us having a voting bloc,” he said. “I see us still in the streets, but I see us at the table in the decision-making process.”
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