Thursday, February 4, 2016

Recording from Conversation with Keith LaMar

On Thursday February 4th, 8:00 Eastern, supporters across the country hosted a conversation with Ohio death row inmate Keith LaMar.

Here is an audio file of the conversation. [UPDATE: full text transcription below]

We will be repeating this type of event on March 10th, and the 2nd thursday of every month after that. If you would like to host an event, or participate in the call, or in supporting Keith LaMar please either sign up to the email list (left column of this website) or visit and sign up there (lower left) or see the "What can I Do?" section (top right).

There were Public gatherings in the following places:

BLOOMINGTON, IN: Monroe County Public Library (503 East Kirkwood Ave)

GAINESVILLE, FL: Civic Media Center (433 South Main St.)

MILWAKEE, WI: People's Books (804 E. Center St.)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN: Walker Church (3104 16th Ave. S.)

NYC: The Base (1302 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn)

PORTLAND, ME: Southern Maine Workers Center (68 Washington Ave)

TUCSON, AZ: Casa Mariposa (127 N. Palomas Ave.)

Feb 4, 2016 Nationwide Call with Keith LaMar from Ohio’s Death Row (content lightly edited)
Topic: Tamir Rice
Interviewer: Ben Turk
BT: I was just introducing what’s going on with your case… I’m excited to hear your voice and to have you on the call. Everybody else is on mute, so we can’t hear them, but there are lots of people listening right now…
KL: Okay, good.
BT: So, how’s everything going? How was your day?
KL: My day was good, man. Same day, basically. Got up, worked out, meditated, did my reading and whatnot. I wrote down some things so I can organize my thoughts for this exchange you and I are about to have. That’s basically it. What about you? How are you doing?
BT: I’m good. I’m good. So, we’re here to talk about Tamir Rice. Two Cleveland police officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22nd in 2014. Can you remember when or how you first heard about that?
KL: Yeah, I heard about it like everybody else… on the news. In here, whenever something major happens, the guys who watch television scream out the channel over the range: “Turn to channel 20!” And so I did and there it was, the whole sordid affair. And being that it happened in my hometown immediately gave me pause, made me think about my own 12-year-old nephew. I watched the video and my eyes welled up with tears. I was beyond angry. I was furious. I’m still pissed off about it to be honest with you.
BT: Growing up in Cleveland, are you familiar with the park where this happened?
KL: I’m familiar with Edgewater Park, not so much the recreation facility that this happened outside of. It’s on the West side of Cleveland and I grew up on the East side. When I was growing up there, I didn’t know too many people who lived on the West side, except a few of my friends who lived in the projects on W. 25th. In fact, I always assumed the W. before the street number stood for “white,” as in white people—that’s how segregated the city was when I was growing up there almost 30 years ago. The first white people I personally met besides my baseball coach were those who went to my junior high school when I was in the 7th grade. This was around 1981-82 and the city, as part of a desegregation program, started busing us little black kids to the West side so we could experience another culture… at least that was the stated goal. I hated it. Not the white people, but being shipped so far from home. For the most part, I refused to go. I would ride the bus to school every morning and then catch the Rapid downtown with a group of my friends and hang out there all day. Needless to say, I flunked the 7th grade. Just couldn’t deal with it… White people calling you the N-word to your face, fighting all the time… So I just said the hell with all of that and just stopped going.
BT: Do you know a lot about how things have changed? I know you still have family that live in Cleveland.
KL: The changes mostly revolve around living areas. The West side was predominantly for white people. Now, white and black (poor) people live right next door to each other, grow up together, listen to the same music, and whatnot. That was unheard of when I was growing up. The only rap groups that white people listened to that I was aware of were the Beastie Boys or [New] Kids on the Block or some shit like that. But white people in here, the younger generations, they even call each other the N-word. If you can imagine that, you have a young white guy calling his other white partner a nigger, but they’re using it with an “a” instead of the “er”… That’s part of this whole change in the demographics and whatnot. That’s one of the sad parts, but the good part about people growing up together is the fear of the stranger has been basically removed, so I’m able to talk to these younger white guys as I would a black guy, and I do that sometimes.
BT: Speaking of the fear that seems to be a big part of what goes on here in these cases of extrajudicial killings by police and it’s a big part, I think, of why the cops get away with that kind of thing. In the last year, the officers… it was announced that they are not going to face criminal charges. The prosecutor said, “Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved, the evidence does not indicate criminal conduct by police.”
KL: *laugh* Yeah.
BT: What do you think about that?
KL: Yeah. First of all, what the hell does it mean? They’re just words to confuse people, because that doesn’t explain anything. When I heard the news, I wasn’t surprised that no one was charged. Why would I be? The officer who killed Mike Brown wasn’t charged. The officer who killed, choked Eric Garner to death wasn’t charged. Why would anyone be surprised that the officers in Tamir Rice’s case weren’t charged? As I understand it, they didn’t even vote on whether or not charges should be brought. And this guy you mentioned, Tim McGinney, just decided on his own, apparently. And so it is what it is. The thing that people need to understand about the police is that they serve at the pleasure of those in power. That’s first and foremost. Second, when it comes to black men, we all know that this country has dealt very violently with us. We can talk about Tamir Rice and the fact that he was only 12 years old. But before Tamir there was Emmett Till, who I believe was 14 years old when a group of white men snatched him from his relative’s home in the dead of night, beat him, shot him and then threw him into a body of water with a weight around his neck. You can Google Emmett Till and look at those horrific images. And what was his crime? They say he whistled at a white woman. Can you believe that? He whistled at a white woman. Now of course it was about something deeper than that, but in this country we don’t like to probe too deeply into our motivations, so we make excuses. Apparently, any excuse will do. But the truth is that this country has a mean history when it comes to black people, more specifically as it pertains to black men. Black men were thought to be the last line of defense when it came to the rape and mistreatment of black women and children. If you Google Willie Lynch, you’ll learn about the methods of brutality that were inflicted on black men as part of the seasoning process. Some real barbaric shit, man. And we tend to believe that just because we live in the 21st century that we’re somehow beyond that level of barbarity. But this shit lives on in our DNA, what was done and what was endured. You dig?
So Officer Loehmann, the officer who murdered Tamir, when he pulled on the scene he wasn’t necessarily responding to the information at hand. It would have taken some time, more than two seconds, to ascertain that Tamir was, in point of fact, a kid and that the gun he was wielding was a toy. When he got the call he was told that a black man was waving a gun. Given the history of this country those are the last words you want to hear if you’re a white person. So by the time he arrived on the scene, he wasn’t thinking logically; he was running on pure adrenalin. His heart rate was probably over 175 beats a minute, shutting down his forebrain, that part of your brain that allows you to ascertain what’s going on, that allows you to think clearly about stuff. Once that shuts down, it’s all about instincts. Instincts come from something that’s imbedded, something that’s deeply ingrained. So Tamir didn’t have a chance, if you think about it. Neither did the officer. I mean, I don’t believe for one second that he woke up that morning—I’m talking about the officer—thinking to himself, “Boy, I sure would like to kill a nigger today.” That type of racism is pretty much pushed to the background in today’s world. People don’t walk around believing that they’re racist and in some ways that makes it even worse, because we have this thing called implicit bias. This shit lives deep within our psyche. And these prejudices and whatnot, people carry them with them and aren’t aware until something like this happens. Since we as a nation have never dealt with the past, we are imprisoned by it. Trapped by these cycles of brutality. It’s sad, man. It really is. And it’s going to keep happening.
BT: Given all of the factors involved in this, what do you think there is that we can do to change that? Is police accountability even possible?
KL: It all comes back to the history, acknowledging our history. You can’t change something that you refuse to acknowledge. We have a black president and now all of a sudden we live in a post-racial society? That’s bullshit. What happened to Tamir was racial, plain and simple…. And until we acknowledge that reality, nothing will change. We live in the 21st century and can’t even have a conversation about reparations. Can’t even talk about it!
BT: U-huh.
KL: And since we can’t talk about that, we can’t talk about police brutality, economic inequality, racism, and so forth. Until we can address the historic wrongs on which this country was built, we can never remedy the effects that these wrongs have wrought. And, by the way, white people get killed by police, too. Poor white people get shot and killed, murdered by police officers, too. Police officers predominantly come from… they’re poor themselves. So we have to find our way to a human path, we have to figure out how we can see each other’s humanity and quit looking at others through labels, through all these associations that don’t have anything to do with reality. Because all of us, black as well as white, if we don’t inform our conduct with a deeper sense of life, then all of us are going down the same drain. I’m paraphrasing Richard Wright when I say that, but that’s the truth, man. You talk about global warming, climate change—which on the surface is kinda off-topic—but it’s the same thing. It’s the wealthiest 1%, and their push for profits over people, that’s really destroying the whole planet, not just black people.
BT: The general disregard for or devaluing of human life.
KL: Exactly. So that’s the thing. A lot of times when we have these discussions people understandably focus on, you know, this person was killed, that person was wrongfully convicted, and whatnot. But really what’s underneath all of this is this inhumane machine, this system that eats up human beings and spits them out, shits them out, like they’re nothing. Since it’s happening to us, it’s us who have to really come to understand and strive to change this, otherwise it’ll never change, man. It never will. Because the people who profit from our pain, we can’t leave it to them to wake up one day and say, “You know what we’re doing is wrong. All these millions and millions of dollars that we’ve accumulated, we should give this back. We should be more just.” That’s not how life works, man.
BT: When I was there at OSP a couple of weeks ago… when we talked about this, you talked about the future. You’ve been talking a lot about the past in this conversation, but you talked about how the police of course are not going to pay any kind of cost for this, because why would anybody sign up to be a cop if they were going to be held accountable. And in the future this is going to need to happen more, right?
KL: Yeah, I think so. That’s inevitable to a certain extent. If humanity, society, continues on the course that it is now, then a lot of people are going to be up against it. It might come to the point where black people, white people, poor people, in order to survive, in order to secure the resources that they need to live, might come in direct confrontation with those in power. And in order to be a good police officer you can’t really think about what you’re doing, who you’re killing. It’s the same reason why they’re able to send people all the way overseas to a whole ‘nother country and kill people with no thought about it. It’s programming. But I talk about the past because the past has a lot to do with the future. A lot of this stuff that is going on has been going on for hundreds of years. We see it more now because everybody has an iPhone. But ask a black person. They’re not surprised that Tamir got shot. My cousin got shot in the head when she was 12 years old. My friend, Keedy, got shot when he was 16 years old by the police. This is not a new occurrence. People are just seeing it for the first time. But no one I grew up with, no one who’s a part of my family, is surprised by any of this stuff. They just shake their heads. I have been seeing this shit since I was a kid.
BT: But now at this moment, because of the iPhones and because for all the different reasons this is actually getting national attention, we’re starting to have a movement about this. People across the country are pissed off. Do you have any words or perspectives you’d like to share with that protest movement, what you think that movement needs to pay attention to?
KL: This whole system thrives on divide and conquer. They create all these false categories. Black. White. Working class. Professional. They segment people off into these groups and pit us against each other. That’s how this whole thing works. If they weren’t able to do that they wouldn’t be able to rob people blind like this, but we’re so caught up in our petty needs and whatever the case may be that we never stop to look at what’s really going on. When you had the Black Lives Matter movement, they sprung up a Blue Lives Matter movement, referring to police officers. Again, pitting poor people against poor people. But it’s a false dichotomy, though. There’s rich and there’s poor. That’s what people need to understand, that the wealthiest 1% own close to 50% of the wealth and the resources. That’s an injustice, man. How can that happen? And it’s not just here in this country. It’s global. A small percentage of people own all the wealth and resources. That doesn’t happen by coincidence. That’s a calculated thing. And these confrontations that poor people are having with other poor people… that’s calculated. It’s like the Hunger Games. If you go too far outside of the arena they create situations that force us back into confrontation with each other. And we kill each other. And these people, just like on that movie, they sit back and watch. This is entertainment for them. “Look at these dumb muthafuckers!” So people just have to wake up and realize this. At some point we’re going to have to inform our conduct with a deeper sense of life, a deeper sense of what’s going on. Stop allowing ourselves to be used as pawns. This world doesn’t belong to the wealthiest 1%. It belongs to all of us. We have to figure out a way to care for it and each other, man. That’s the hurdle that we have to try to overcome. We’re looking at the police and the police are looking at us as if we’re the enemy. How? “What did I do to you?”
To lose your son, imagine the pain that Tamir’s mother is in. And to find out all these many months later that no one will be held accountable for shooting her son down. I mean, imagine that pain!
BT: I can’t. I can’t imagine it. I can’t put myself in that…
KL: I can. As I said, I lost my cousin when she was 12 years old, and I wanted to kill the dude who took her life, because I saw the pain that it left my aunt in. And even after all these years, over thirty years by now, she’s still suffering. You can’t overcome that.
BT: Yeah.
KL: So it’s hard when you’re in that kind of pain to think about this other person’s humanity. You know those seven people who were shot and killed in that church in South Carolina by that white racist… every body was shocked when the family immediately forgave this dude. But that’s the thing. To overcome, it’s not saying, “I excuse you for what you did.” It’s the acknowledgement: “I know you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know whose purpose you’re serving.”
BT: It makes me think about the second video. You’ve seen the Tamir video. And then there’s the video later when his sister who saw what happened and she tried to go to her little brother and the cops tackled her, and handcuffed her and threw her in the back of a squad car. And it’s just like, what are they doing? What is going on?
KL: Right. Yeah, they were still caught up in the moment. I saw that, man. It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch. She’ll never forget that, watching her brother lying there on the ground, bleeding, moaning. Her life will never be the same after that. It’s sad, man. How do you overcome seeing your brother shot down like a dog? And like I said, to find out all these months later that the people who did that won’t be held responsible. It must be hard. My heart definitely goes out to her and her family. I’m sure the State will eventually throw a lot of money at them. Same way they did with Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. There was this case back in the 1850s, this guy named Dred Scott. He sued for his freedom, you know? The highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States, declared that he couldn’t sue because he was not a person, he was property. He was like a hammer, a saw, and that’s how they look at it. They use our lives for their own purposes. If they “mistakenly” kill you, they’re willing to compensate you monetarily. I just hope if that’s the case, that if they (Tamir’s family) are awarded a huge sum of money, that they find a way to create a lasting legacy for Tamir. I hope they use some of that money for counseling to get the psychological help that they need, because black people, for whatever reason, kind of shy away from that, but a lot of this stuff is complex, though. You need some help to try to sort it out, in order that you might be able to continue with your life. So, that’s my hope for them. But as far as understanding how she feels, I’m a little too far away for that, cause she was only 14 years old. It’s tragic, man. It is.
BT: I want to try to compare some of what we’ve been talking about with Tamir’s case to yours. Before you joined the call, I briefly introduced your case and your situation. And I’m often struck by the similarities and the differences in the way that the State goes about killing people. You’ve been in prison since you were just five or six years older than Tamir, is that right?
KL: Yeah. I was nineteen.
BT: The cops gave Tamir less than 2 seconds, but the State of Ohio has spent more than two decades holding you under murderous intentions. Both those situations seems outrageous to me, but in completely opposite ways. This is a really weird question, but do you feel lucky that you escaped Tamir’s fate, or do you wonder if he would feel lucky to have escaped yours?
KL: I get what you mean. I don’t know if I would use the word lucky. I mean, I guess I do in a sense. The true tragedy, though, of what happened to Tamir is that he died before he had the chance to live. All of us at some point are going to leave this planet. I think we all know that. But the tragedy of a young person like him being gunned down, dying of unnatural causes at such a young age, is that he’s being deprived of what he was born to do, which is to live. And as you say, I came to prison when I was 19 years old and have been here ever since, going on 27 years now. When I was 18, I was shot in both my legs and was left for dead. The bullet that hit me in my left leg ripped through the main artery and I nearly bled to death. And that would have been tragic. You see, you aren’t even a real person until you’re 26, 27 years old, man. That’s around the time the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, allowing you to see more completely what life is about, allowing you to regulate your emotions, allowing you to form complete pictures of things. Tamir never got the chance to see or understand why he was so blessed to be alive. Never learned about the mighty struggle his ancestors were involved in, in order that he might have a better life than they had. But saying that, thinking in that way, I wouldn’t wish this for him, what I’m presently going through. There has to be an easier way to arrive at some of the conclusions I’ve come to.
I spend some of my time talking to young black men in juvenile justice centers, trying to get them to see what Tamir was deprived of. I send in books, and I talk to them about a more expansive way of looking at life, the way I’ve come to look at life. But, it’s a crapshoot, to a certain degree. Life is. You can get killed walking down the street, and you can lose your life choking on a French fry. That’s how absurd this life is at times. But I can see how you can draw the comparisons… The way he was treated, the way I’ve been treated, the way I’m being treated right now. The dehumanization involved, it’s basically the same thing, coming from the same place: racism. The major difference between myself and Tamir and his sister, he was 12 and she was 14. I’m a grown man now. I’m 46 years old and if your intentions are to dehumanize me, I’m gonna make you understand your own humanity is at stake. In other words, you gotta bring some to get some. When I first came here to OSP 18 years ago, they had me pegged as the most notorious prisoner in the state of Ohio. They wanted me to play that part, to be that big, bad, black nigger, you know? *laugh* But by the time I got down here I was 28 years old and I could see the whole picture then. I knew exactly what they wanted me to do in order to give them the permission to shoot me down, to spray me with mace, to come in my cell with their goon squad and beat me down. But by the time I was 28, I had already decided not to play that part. And unfortunately a lot of black men don’t get to that point where they can get out of that movie. And that’s the tragic thing about it. So when I talk to these young people that’s one of the things that I’m constantly trying to get them to see, that you’ve got to give yourself some time. They just recently turned down my appeal, so I’ve been in the balance from the very beginning, but I was going about it the wrong way. I thought that the way I would be able to deal with my situation was through fighting these people with my fists, physically. But, you know, I taught myself how to write, how to fight with an ink pen. You feel me?
BT: U-huh.
KL: So I’m going to fight y’all, but I’m going to do it on my own terms, in a way that doesn’t compromise my humanity. ‘Cause, that’s the key. Like I said, we might not live in a mansion, drive around in a Rolls Royce, but life doesn’t have anything to do with any of that stuff, and I had to find that out the hard way. The only thing we really have is our soul, and the goal is to not give that up. Not to give up your dignity. And you may lose your life in the end. All of us are going to leave this planet. That’s unavoidable. But that’s beside the point. The point is not to surrender. That’s what I want to leave people with when I’m telling my story. I don’t tell my story so people can feel sorry for me; as far as I’m concerned, we’re all in the same boat. And when you read in the Bible about how Jesus moved mountains, I think it’s important to understand that those mountains are metaphorical, that they exist within. All the false teachings, all the bullshit we’re taught and told—it’s all meant to block the view, keep us from seeing the truth about ourselves. But that mountain can be moved. It can be climbed, too! In fact, you’ve got to climb it! Try to reach the very top of yourself before you can see how beautiful this life truly is. So that’s what I regret about Tamir dying so young. I know the likelihood of him living like Lebron James is unlikely, but that’s beside the point.
BT: U-huh.
KL: So when you ask if I feel lucky, I do feel lucky, I understand exactly what you mean. I somehow woke up in time to realize that I had to climb this mountain. And it’s been hard, man. I’ve slept in mattresses. I’ve been beaten. I’ve been starved. All those things. But I kept climbing. That’s one of the things I want to tell people: Just keep climbing. Because when you reach the top and you look out on all of this, it’s a helluva view, it’s a helluva thing. I can’t really describe it, but this life that we are engaged in, it’s a beautiful thing, man. It really is. And all this stuff that’s in the way, you’ve got to try to overcome it. You’ve got to try to overcome it. All the pain, all the bullshit, you’ve got to keep pushing past it and keep climbing, no matter what they say. You know, I get letters in the mail telling me, “We’re going to kill you, Mr. LaMar.” Shit. Mother Teresa died. What you talking about? All of us are going to die. What you talking about? That isn’t a threat, you telling me you’re going to do something that’s going to happen anyway. But they say those things, “We’re gonna kill you,” to immobilize me, to stop me from going in and talking to these young cats, to stop me from getting up and trying to develop my thoughts, to stop me from living my life. That’s the trick that they play: “We’re gonna kill you,” and so you just stop living right then and there. Man, fuck that. Fuck that.
BT: There’s so many ways that that’s reinforced. For everybody. You’ve often, you’ve told me many times that we’re all living in prisons, it’s just different kinds of bars. Up at OSP, visiting OSP, the experience with the COs and the way that people just treat me as a visitor in the visiting room where they’re putting the public face on, and how just blatantly disrespectful that is… It makes me think about how it seems like at least some of those COs up there are trying to lose their humanity. They’re trying to be like those robotic cops who just threw Tamir’s 14-year-old sister in the back of the car and walked around while he bled out, and didn’t give a shit.
KL: Right.
BT: It’s almost like they need to get into that headspace in order to do their job.
KL: Right. The genius of capitalism is that it ties everything to your necessities. You have to eat. You need food. You need clothes. So everything is tied into that. So when you come into this place they’ve got a metal detector to detect whether or not you’ve got a gun, a knife. And then they have a cell phone detector to pick up the faint little metals, the mercury and stuff. But it’s a humanity detector, too. You’ve got to leave your humanity at the door, because they might ask you to do some horrible shit. They might ask you to spray a guy down with mace until he’s incapacitated. And you’ve gotta do that because your livelihood is dependent on that, in order to feed your family… So it’s all tied into that. But you have a few in here who, though they are sometimes asked to do horrible shit, they hold on to that part of themselves that makes them human.
In Youngstown, they shut down all the factories and whatnot. So even though I’m at the receiving end of some of the bullshit that they have to put down, I try to look at their humanity. Because the same thing happens in reverse: if you dehumanize somebody, you dehumanize yourself; if you humanize somebody, you humanize yourself. See the humanity in others, you can start to see it in yourself. It’s a two-way street.
BT: I was just thinking about Youngstown and what it is that the politicians and the businessmen are trying to say to the people of Youngstown. It’s like it used to be this factory town where it was okay to exploit your labor to build car parts for Detroit, but then they found a cheaper way to do that. And now the only thing that the people of Youngstown are good for is locking folks up and absorbing poisons that are injected into the ground and enduring earthquakes from the fracking. That is the most insulting thing. And how these politicians get reelected on that kind of platform boggles my mind.
KL: Yeah, it’s something to see. A magician on the stage pulling a rabbit out of his hat, we all know that no one can really do that. But we still get caught up in it. There’s just something about us as human beings that we’re amazed by that shit. These people ride through slums just to get here. But they suspend that part of their mind that allows them to get to the truth of it. In some ways, they’re just walking around in this dream. That’s what the dream is all about, the American Dream, the suspension of reality. And a lot of people buy into it. They tell them one thing even though they can see that’s not really what’s going on. They buy into it because their life depends on that. Because when your whole life is about accumulating material shit, when your whole life is having something better than the man next door to you, when that’s the foundation of your whole life, then you’re willing to look past some terrible shit. Believe me, I’ve done it, man. I sold drugs in my neighborhood. I sold that shit and I knew deep down inside that what I was doing was wrong. I knew it. But the feeling that I got when I was in that Mercedes Benz, when I had on those expensive clothes… that feeling it overtakes your rational mind, man. But there’s a penalty. I had to pay a penalty for that. I was bartering my soul, and I didn’t really know that. So even though I was accumulating those things, I was losing the essence of myself. And then when I came to prison, I was a shell of who I was. And all those things I gave my soul up for, I lost all those things. The tragedy of this whole thing is that most people will never come to these realizations. I mean, even some of the guys that I talk to here in prison, they don’t always get it, even though experience has taught the lesson. They say to themselves, “I know where I made my mistake. I should have put the coke in my shoes instead of in my jacket. I should have hid the money under the car instead of under the couch.” The ignorance is thick. But, again, I got lucky. I met some guys who had their shit together and for whatever reason took the time to help me. So that’s the thing I’m trying to do when I’m going into these juvenile places. But I’ve got to be real careful, because the administrators are right there sitting among these young people, making sure I don’t say the wrong things. So you’ve got to be real clever in how you slip it in. That’s what all of us have to do. Your friend, your mother, your brother… you’ve got to turn them on, you’ve got to try to wake them up. So that’s how I spend my time, when I’m not continuing with myself, trying to save my own life.
BT: Well I’m glad that we can spend this time and we can do what we can to bring your perspective out beyond the people you have access to there.
KL: Yeah, I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful to have the chance to reach beyond this madness and just let people know that no matter what they may hear about prisoners and prison, that it’s not always true. We aren’t as ignorant as those in power would have people believe. And my being here has nothing to do with being morally defective. I’m here because I’m poor—plain and simple. It took me some time to comprehend that, to come to the realization that the whole social system, as it relates to poor people, is rigged in favor of those with money. There’s nothing wrong with my brain. The same way you can decipher signals, I can do the same thing. The question is: what are we going to do about what we see? You see, it has to go beyond talking. I’m living in proximity to guys who smear shit all over themselves, who forget their names, and it’s a very frightening thing to see. But doing what I’m doing, and having the opportunity to reach out and exchange with cats like you, with all the people who are on the call right now, whose faces I can’t see, whose voices I can’t hear, it goes a long way in educating the public about what goes on inside these places. I just hope that something I said tonight brings someone new to the struggle that we’re engaged in. They keep us separated from each other so that we can’t have a meeting of the minds. But, if we keep at it and refuse to lose, there isn’t anything they can do to stop it. I’m in the Supermax prison, on death row--there’s no way I’m supposed to be having this conversation with you right now. No way (laugh)!
BT: I want to think about and talk about that. Since I’ve known you, I’ve seen the conditions of your confinement improve, including the recent hunger strike where you got expanded access to communication and stuff like that. We’ve won some victories together. I think of it as some of the most important work that I’ve done with my life. In each of those instances, you worked so much harder than I, going on hunger strike and doing all the things you had to do. First of all, I just want to thank you for fighting.
KL: Yeah.
BT: …by continuing to be there and creating this opportunity and the inspiration that you’ve brought into my life.
KL: But, Ben, it’s a two-way street, though, you know?
BT: Our biggest fights are still ahead. I want to leave people on a positive note. I just want to hear from you a little bit what it’s been like, these hard-fought, gradual gains that we’ve made that seem to be, maybe, hopefully, building momentum.
KL: It’s been hard, man. It’s been difficult, painful, impossible sometimes just to hold it together. It’s not like you get a bad letter one day, and then the next few weeks or months it’s okay. You get bad news every day. “Your mother died.” “We turned down your appeal.” “We’re about to take your phone.” “We’re about to take your visits.” “We’re about to do this, we’re about to do that.” And these things are really just life. It’s just life. And you have to, as hard as it might be, you have to try to maintain your presence of mind, to hold onto yourself. That’s one of the things that I have learned in all of this. Before when I was reacting physically, I provided them with the justification to lock me down even further, but like I said earlier I see the picture. I see what they need me to do, and I’m not going to do it. In order to take the phone, in order to take my visits, I have to do something; otherwise your humanity comes into play. What kind of human being would do that (laugh)? You feel me? So you know, I figured out they need you to participate; they need you to be a certain person in order for them to use their guns, in order for them to spray you with the mace. Otherwise, they lose their humanity. You feel me? Martin Luther King, man, I used to really talk bad about that brother. But he figured it out. He figured it out. “Hate which can destroy so much, never failed to destroy the one who hated.” Don’t surrender. Don’t give up your heart. Don’t stop loving people, man. ‘Cause that’s how they win. It’s not about me lying on the table with poison pumping through my veins. They don’t really get anything out of that. They get something out of me smearing shit on myself. Now just imagine that, Warden Tate, making the rounds and seeing me with shit smeared all over my face. Oh, he would love that. He would love that! *laugh*
Admin: Tamir Rice’s brother is on the call. He asks if you could explain why you’re talking about his brother. Maybe you can answer that.
KL: I'm talking about your brother because your brother is my brother, to put it plainly, man. I'm talking about your brother because I have a 12-year-old nephew and when your brother got killed I talked to my nephew and just told him, just tried to tell him something that was encouraging, you know? I am talking about your brother because I lost my 12-year-old cousin to the same kind of violence, man. I'm talking about him because I was Tamir Rice, a young cat standing on the corner, trying to figure out which way my life was headed...
I'm talking about your brother because I am your brother, man. That's it… I'm talking about him because I love him, because I promised him that I'm going to do something righteous so that his death won't be in vain, man. That's why I'm talking about him, because I don't want these people to forget about him. I also don't want them to forget about you. I want his death to mean something… You take care of yourself. You hold onto yourself, man. You love your sister, man. Help them through this you know? Yeah.
All right, y’all. I gotta go. Peace.
BT: Thank you.

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