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Transcript: Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later

The full episode transcript for Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later.


Into America

Bonus: Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later

Trymaine Lee: Key, it's Trymaine Lee. Today, May 25th, marks one year since the murder of George Floyd. So we're bringing you a bonus episode in your Into America feeds called Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later, a special from NBC News NOW and NBCBLK. (MUSIC)

Since that day in May of 2020, America has been reeling from the shock of that initial violent act, and the anguish that sent thousands into the streets in protest across the country. And when those guilty verdicts were delivered, some were brought to tears that a Black family had finally tasted something close to justice.

But one verdict does little to untether America from its roots, some 400 years deep and growing. Has the past year of protests and the push for reform bent America any closer toward justice for all? Or does justice remain a dream deferred for Black America?

I set out to answer those questions in a series of conversations with thinkers, doers, activists, and policymakers who know intimately where we've been, and perhaps where we're headed. So I hope you enjoy these conversations from my NBC News NOW special: Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later.

To kick things off, I spoke with Jelani Cobb, staff writer at The New Yorker and NBC News contributor; Anna Deavere Smith, an actress, professor, and playwright who created a Tony-nominated one-woman show about the 1992 Los Angeles riots; and freshman Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones who represents New York's 17th Congressional district. I asked Jelani first: How much has actually changed over the past year?

Jelani Cobb: Yeah. I mean, first off, I wanna thank you for having this conversation and, you know, I'll even ask this out more broadly. The first time that Anna Deavere Smith and I met in person, we were on a panel talking about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And that was in 2014.

And so we could say: How much has changed in seven years? You know, we're still grappling with these same sorts of concerns. You know, that said, in my lifetime, you know, I've never seen a movement for reform have the kind of momentum that we've seen come out of the George Floyd moment.

The conviction of Derek Chauvin, one, is highly atypical, even in egregious miscarriages of justice. In cases where police officers violate department policy, which was what happened with Eric Garner, or just indefensible kinds of actions, we do not see police indicted. We do not see police convicted. And so this is atypical, and it may provide people some sort of blueprint for how they wanna move going forward when they encounter similar sorts of situations.

Lee: You know, this certainly was a moment of firsts, you know, kinda like a unicorn moment. Black police officers are almost never convicted, let alone arrested for killing Black people. And I wanna go to you, Congressman Jones. You know, there was such hope, great hope that, in this moment, with this administration and this Congress, that America might be closer to getting major federal police reform.

But some see those hopes fading with the impasse over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House but is stuck in the Senate. The bill would, among other things, ban chokeholds, get rid of qualified immunity for law enforcement, and outlaw no-knock warrants for federal drug charges. I wanna ask you this, straight up: What needs to happen? And is the window on major reform simply closing?

Representative Mondaire Jones: So this is an incredible bill. It marks a watershed moment. And I remain optimistic that the Senate will pass a version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and that the House would then pass the same. I have tremendous faith in the leadership of Karen Bass who's negotiating, as you know, in earnest with Senator Tim Scott over in the other chamber.

This is not something that would have even happened were it not for the movement for Black lives that really I think got newfound momentum last year with the murder of George Floyd and of course Breonna Taylor. And it's something that I continue to believe will be the first of many success stories in the area of getting us closer to racial justice.

I'm tired of folks only talkin' about racial justice in the context of policing. We know that systemic racism extends well beyond the policing context. It's the way that we fund public education in this country, it is certainly the way that we condition one's ability to get necessary medical care, and how much money they have in their pockets. But this would be, if passed in the Senate, a major step forward.

Lee: You know, Anna, sometimes I think these policy conversations are like a bridge to nowhere for a lot of ordinary, regular Americans. And I wanna ask ya this: Given just how deep the roots of racism are in this country, is policy reform even the answer? Can we policy our way out of racism and white supremacy? Is real lasting change possible?

Anna Deavere Smith: Well, it's everything together, isn't it? We live in ecosystems. And so, you know, policy is critical, as was just stated. Education is critical. Art is even important, just to sort of get people to the river and turn them over to the policymaker and the activists and the teachers.

And so, you know, I'm actually very excited by this very disturbing moment because the windows for change, as you've already alluded to, are very short. But this is a very dynamic moment. And I'm seeing it have ripple effects every kind of way.

So I'm a hope-a-holic, but I'm also a realist. And I do think that we are in a moment where the main thing is to remain active and not think that the window is closed, to use our very last breath to make a difference. Because when it does close, there will be a long time before we have the chance to do anything.

Lee: Jelani, Anna talks about the dynamic nature of protest and pushing. You know, movement building, right? And reform. But the systemic nature of racism is also very dynamic. And we know that the fuel of injustice in America is systemic racism, right? And President Biden promised to make tackling systemic racism central to his administration. And I wanna ask you this: Where do you think he's succeeding in that effort? And where has he fallen short?

Cobb: Well, I mean, I think that it was significant that he even mentioned that such a thing as systemic racism exists. That's the foundational thing because we're having this dispute now. As you can see, people on the right who are attacking all sorts of scholarship and all sorts of scholars who have very meticulously made this point.

But I think that really, you know, early in his term, we will see, you know, what happens with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. You know, what happens with the voting reforms that are on the table? You know, the HR1 bill which would create reforms, and also the John Lewis bill which would re-enshrine the Voting Rights Act. You know, all of that's on the table.

You know, what will come out of this infrastructure bill, and specifically the violence intervention funding, which is a crucial component of this, as people are saying some people don't like the term "defund the police," or they want to come up with other language.

But essentially, communities are trying to find alternate strategies of violence interruption, and to have that be a mechanism so that you don't always have to rely on police. That's significant. That's important, that that stays in that bill. So there are an array of things that he will be judged on. They're all kind of on the burner right now and waiting to see, you know, what actually comes out of them. (MUSIC)

Lee: While some departments are trying to take on reforms, change is slow. A Yale analysis from 2020 finds no change in racial disparities in police shootings over the last five years. Black people and other people of color were shot and killed by police at rates significantly higher than whites.

I turn next to Carmen Best, former Seattle police chief and NBC News law enforcement analyst; Marlon Petersen, host of the DEcarcerated Podcast, author of Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist Freedom Song; and Trayvon Free, writer, director, and comedian.

Carmen, let's start with you. The Washington Post had a story out this month that quoted experts saying that most of the 18,000 police departments in America are small and that's why they're hard to reform. As a former big city police chief, does that sound and sit right with you? Why is reform so hard?

Carmen Best: Yeah. No, it doesn't sit right with me because I don't believe your geography should determine the level of policing service that you get. Just being from a smaller area, it should not mean that somehow you are more at risk when you encounter a police officer.

I really advocate for, believe in setting some national standards so that, no matter where you are in the country, in the state, in your city, municipality, or your urban areas, or suburban area, that you get the same level of service. That you know that there's gonna be body-worn cameras. That you know the officers aren't allowed to use chokeholds. That you know they're not using no-knock warrants.

If we can do that on a national basis, and create some national standards, I think that will be very helpful and move us a long way. Otherwise, you're dealing with 18,000 independent jurisdictions and it's questionable what can happen when you have that sort of system.

Lee: Marlon, they're just, you know, too small to reform. What can they do? They're too small out in the woods somewhere. But I wanna get serious. You've been on the other side of the justice system, incarcerated for years after a robbery in your 20s. It's an experience that many other young Black men have faced. When you imagine police and criminal justice reforms, what does it look like to you?

Marlon Petersen: Well, I think police reform looks like people like me not bein' afraid of 'em. I think that's the first thing. You know, my experience with incarceration is just my first experience with law enforcement in that capacity, but I had negative interaction with law enforcement since I was a young person, before I got involved with anything.

I think ultimately, here's the thing, is that from the ground that you sorta describe me as, policies that are enacted, they're not actually applied on the street level. And that's the problem. The problem is ultimately the officer and individual interactions on a interpersonal basis.

Lee: Trayvon, Marlon talks about that interaction, that day-to-day interaction between Black folks, Black men in particular, and the police. And you now have an Oscar under your belt for your film Two Distant Strangers which focuses on this wild, Groundhog's Day experience of police killing Black people. Not long before Derek Chauvin was found guilty, Daunte Wright was shot and killed right down the street. Do you see, with all of this, any hope amid the seemingly endless cycle of violence?

Trayvon Free: You know, I wanna see hope, I wanna believe that there's a light at the end of the tunnel for us. Up until now, up until the reforms you guys were just talkin' about in your piece, you know, it didn't look good. And it still doesn't look great in the moment when you think about what's being done across the country in certain departments.

And where people are pushing back, and where people are buckling down and making it more difficult to reform police departments. So you see that there's divide in the country where we can't even really agree on a baseline level of rights that people should have when it comes to interactions with police officers.

Lee: A baseline level of rights. Marlon, with that in mind, we have to talk about the young sister Ma'Khia Bryant, the teen girl who was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. Now, law enforcement says she had a knife. And when you see the body camera footage showing the fight between her and other girls, it gets out of hand quickly. I wonder, from your vantage point, could police have done anything differently? And how could your work, as a violent interrupter, have maybe saved her life?

Petersen: Yeah, definitely. Say her name. Thanks for bringin' up Ma'Khia Bryant, without question. I think that, you know, in that situation, you know, but what we have from the video footage, we also know that police had other opportunity. He had other things at his disposal to be able to sort of get the attention, to sort of deescalate the situation.

The ultimate problem is this, though, even in that particular case, is that there was an assumption of young Ma'Khia, this child, not bein' childlike. She was a 16-year-old little girl. And I think that's what's lost in the equation here, that this adult officer saw this little girl as an adult. And treated her such as, in that capacity. The whole thing about bein' a violence interrupter is about relationship building. What relationship did that officer have with Ma'Khia and that community before they entered in that particular situation?

Lee: Wow. Carmen, there are now federal investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department over the murder of George Floyd. Same for Louisville in the death of Breonna Taylor. What happens when the Justice Department starts really takin' a good look into these local law enforcement agencies? And what comes next? And does any of it create meaningful, practical change?

Best: Yeah. Well, the Justice Department coming in I think, one, will make sure that any policies, procedures, tactics, you know, any of the culture that needs to be changed, they'll take a thorough look at it. You know, I was a chief in Seattle that was under a federal consent decree. I think a lot of good came out of that in many ways.

But, you know, they still have to build, as was said earlier, the relationships with the community. So they can come in and look at all the policies and the procedures and the training, which is incredibly important and needed, and plays a vital role.

But along with that, there needs to be the capacity to build the relationships, as was just talked about earlier. How well do you know the community that you're serving? How often are you out there? How do you know the people? So that's a real critical component as well. I personally do see light at the end of the tunnel. (MUSIC)

Lee: We have to take a quick break. But when we come back, I'll bring you more of this special. We talk about police accountability and what true reform looks like. Stick with us.

Lee: We're back with more of my NBC News NOW special, Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later. Guilty on all charges. That was the verdict for Derek Chauvin in a courtroom back in April, and you could see the relief in the streets of Minneapolis.

But was this justice, or just accountability that should have happened anyway? To help me unpack that question, I spoke with civil rights attorney Lee Merritt; Jelani Cobb, who you heard from earlier; and Dr. Yusef Salaam, prison reform activist and one of the exonerated Central Park Five.

Lee, I wanna come to you first. Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts. And for a lotta people, it felt like a huge sigh of relief because police officers are so rarely convicted of killing Black people. But in some ways, this was a layup.

America knew what it saw in those terrible nine minutes captured on camera. The facts in each case are different, but you've been engaged in this work for a very long time. Do you get the sense that the Chauvin verdict means maybe, possibly we'll start seeing fair outcomes and more accountability?

Lee Merritt: As you said, it was a layup, but it was a layup for the Bad News Bears who miss layups all the time. And I don't expect that this one recent conviction is gonna change the policing culture that permits this kind of violence against Black people. We would need more civic change, both in terms of training policy, personnel, but also a major cultural shift before this kind of conviction becomes the standard, the expectation.

Lee: A cultural shift. Jelani, justice, if we've ever experienced it as Black Americans, has been fleeting at best. And police are given wide legal latitude to kill, and even wider social latitude when they kill us. Do you see any lasting meaning in the Chauvin verdict? And are we at any kind of historical inflection point?

Cobb: Potentially. I mean, so one of the things that's important to remember is that this case happened in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of a lockdown when many people were in their homes with nothing to do but watch that video on loop. It was not an instance of a firearm where the person could have made a wrongful, split-second decision.

This took nearly ten minutes for Derek Chauvin to kill Mr. Floyd. And it was on video. And so there were all these elements that made this atypical, made it different from the cases that you had seen in other instances. And I would hazard to add here, one thing that I think is very important is that I've spent about two and a half weeks in Minneapolis, in and out of George Floyd Square, which is the area where he died, has been renamed by the community as George Floyd Square.

And they have a whole list of demands. They do not view the conviction of Derek Chauvin as the culmination of all this. They have Justice Resolution 001 which has 24 demands that the community wants, including the recall of the county prosecutor, about a half million dollars' investment in the community where he died. Full disclosure of information about six or seven other Black people who died at the hands of the police. And the full prosecution of all the officers involved.

A lot of people forget that there were four officers who were there, present, and at various times holding Mr. Floyd down. And so there are still three more trials that are set for later in the year. Actually, early next year. And so there's a lot to be said before people can actually say whether or not this is a watershed.

Lee: Dr. Yusef Salaam, I wanna come to you. You know, you were famously on the receiving end of a massive miscarriage of justice as part of what's now known as the Exonerated Five. You know just how wrong policing and the so-called American justice system can be. Talk a little bit about how law enforcement treats young Black men and boys in particular, these two kind of different justice systems in America.

Dr. Yusef Salaam: Yeah. The duality that we're experiencing in America has always been there. I mean, we're talking about something, when we think about the origin stories, we're talking about the creation of a police department that was birthed out of the emancipation process, right?

And so when we look at people being pulled out of their cars by hair, by their hair, like a grandmother was, or families being told to lay on the ground, all the family members, the mother, the father, the daughters, the children, the babies. We're seeing the disparities and the real problem that we're trying to overcome, right?

And this problem is not a problem where we're saying, "Hey, look, there's a problem," right? No, this is really something that has been created and is working exactly as it was designed in the minds of the people who created it. Unfortunately for us on the receiving end, if you're Black or brown, you'll always be seen as having a weapon because of the color of your skin, being judged by it and not the content of your character.

And so we want what I call transformative change that allows for the kaleidoscope of the human family to be the people, not what "We the People" was considered back when the Constitution was drafted and created and ratified, and then the 13th administration being created as a part of that to make sure that slavery would continue by another name.

And so what we're seeing is the overwhelming injustice. We're seeing this in so grand a form because of social media. Social media has done a great job at letting people know what's going on. But back in 1989, 32 years ago, when we were vilified by the system, even now, right? George Floyd being a clarion call for us to make systemic change. They want you to think of it as an anomaly as opposed to the whole thing, the norm in America. This is what's been going on and what has been going on and what continues.

Lee: Anomalies and norms. That leads us right into this next question with you, Lee. The news is still breaking, but it's disturbing news. You represent the family of Ronald Greene, a Black man in Louisiana who police at first said died after crashing into a tree during a chase.

And later, they said that he struggled with troopers and died on the way to the hospital. We've heard stories like this time and again. And now, the Associated Press obtained very, very problematic, disturbing video of the last moments of Mr. Greene's life.

And I wonder, how do we respond to that level of inhumanity? And in some way, are videos like this, as troubling as they are, necessary in cases like this to push them forward? Let's not forget that the Minneapolis PD initially said that George Floyd's death was a medical incident.

Merritt: We've been fighting to have that video released for the past two years. Ronald Greene died in 2019, in May of 2019. And the State of Louisiana has thrown up every obstacle possible to ensure that this video doesn't come out to the public because they knew, not only had the officers falsified reports and misstated the facts as it related to his death, but those responsible for supervising those officers, those responsible for prosecuting and investigating the facts also participated in a cover-up.

And so now, we expose the bad apple theory that, you know, mistakes in policing are only the result of a few bad apples here, maybe a bad troop F. But that troop went on to brutalize other people and brag about it. Those officers were never arrested for this incident. Most of 'em are still on the job.

Some of 'em have been arrested for other incidents where they have been exposed for brutalized Black men in the State of Louisiana. And the failure is not only on the part of those officers, it's the entire system. As Dr. Salaam just described, they've created a system that works for them, that is designed to protect officers.

They're doing exactly what they're supposed to do, and now they're being exposed. The question is now, as a nation, how do we respond to it? Do we (DISTORTS) demand justice for Ronald Greene? Of course. But we do demand also a restructuring of that entire system that facilitates this kind of result over and over and over again?

Lee: Yusef, there's the violence of police brutality and the carceral system. But there's also the violence of poverty, health disparities, and ongoing segregation. In your new book, Better Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in Pursuit of Racial Justice, you address the layered, complicated nature of life, death, and the system in America. Tell us about it.

Salaam: You know, the thing about it is that we have to weave very carefully from what was to what is and what will be. A lotta times they want you to think that, you know, the people who are in poverty were there because of some type of mishap in life, right? That they are cursed because of the color of their skin.

When we look at things like redlining, somebody probably literally took out a red marker, marked up a map, and said, "Okay, these areas are restricted, and these areas are not." And so therefore, they bulldozed large areas of land, put highways and byways in between them, segregated families and communities because of that.

And my book is an attempt not just to tell my story, right, but it's the story of being Black and brown in America. It's the layers that we need to uncover on how we survive in this system, and how we really tell the historical facts of all things that have happened.

And so it's important to look at things like poverty as a crime, right? It's the most violent crime that you can heap upon a people. Because then in the poverty cycle is also what people place in their minds, what people consume in their bodies. And therefore, when we have crisis like COVID-19, or any other thing, it hits the Black and brown communities the worst because of the ways that we have been socialized. (MUSIC)

Lee: So where are we headed when it comes to justice and lasting change? To wrap things up, I look toward the future with a final group of panelists. Martin Luther King III; he's the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a human and civil rights advocate; actress and writer Anna Deavere Smith, who you heard from earlier; Dr. Sandy Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook professor at Duke University; and comedian and creator of Smart, Funny, and Black, Amanda Seales.

Anna, let's start with you. Your play Twilight: Los Angeles focused on the L.A. riots in the '90s after the police beating of Rodney King. We've seen protest movements like this before. Are you hopeful that things will be different this time? Or are we doomed to stay on this loop of death, injustice, and protest?

Smith: Well, I'd never say we were doomed, and especially not in the company on this particular panel, or with you. I think this has been a very dynamic year. It was worldwide. We saw statues come down. We see the promise of new policy. And as a professor, I see a huge movement inside of universities, not unlike that movement in the '60s.

So I think the most important thing is for all of us who are still inspired, and the pandemic had something to do as well with the intensity of this, as we start to come out of our boxes and out of our homes and back to our lives, to stay vigilant and to stay creative. And to stay inspired to make a change in what will be ultimately a window of opportunity. But it's important that we remain active right now.

Lee: Making a change and taking advantage of that window. Martin, with that in mind, I wanna ask you this. You know, four in ten U.S. adults think race relations are worse now than they were just a year ago, with white people being more likely to say that than Black people. Right? To say that things have gotten worse. And that's according to an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll. What's your take on how race relations have progressed or not?

Martin Luther King Iii: You know, it's very hard to really quantify it in a very short period of time. It is crystal clear that racism, I believe and hope, is taking its last breaths, not just here in the United States but in many places around the world. Whether it's Brazil, where you have 60 million Afro Brazilians, larger than in the United States; whether it's in France or Italy; or whether it's in the U.K.; or wherever it is on the planet, even Australia.

Because wherever there are Indigenous people who were there before anyone, they are always mistreated. So racism is a constant struggle and battle that has to be eradicated. You may know that my father, he called racism one of the triple evils that he wanted to eradicate from our nation.

He said racism, poverty, and he used militarism, which I've changed to violence. But it's crystal clear, in this short period of time, in this window, what I believe is there are more people determined to get rid of the seeds of racism. We saw the largest demonstrations last year on the planet for civil rights.

And whether it was in the United States, in every state, or whether it was on the European continent, or whether it was in Australia, or whether it was in South America, on the African continent, or in Canada, many of them or most of them had signs that say "Black Lives Matter." That's a consciousness awakening that we had not seen prior to that point. So my point is I believe that positively we're gonna continue to make progress. We have no choice, quite frankly.

Lee: Amanda, we've seen this global movement, right? We've seen it be cross-racial, but it's also cross-generational, right? And we've seen a generation of young Black folks, many who were just kids when Trayvon Martin was killed, who've been raised with the constant specter of highly publicized police and vigilante killings. They've marched. They've taken to social media. But do you think America is a racist country, too racist to ever be fundamentally changed?

Amanda Seales: (LAUGH) I--

Lee: That's a big one. That's a big one now.

Seales: It's a big one. I mean, America is absolutely a racist country. It was founded on racism. So in order for that to change, the foundation has to change. And I wholeheartedly believe that. I think that, understandably, there are people who don't wanna say that based on their positions.

There are people who don't wanna say that based on their fear of, you know, expressing hopelessness, et cetera. But at the end of the day, this country was built at a time when slavery was acceptable to many of the founding fathers, and to individuals who were a part of this changing of this nation to America.

And, like, we are literally living in a country where slavery was written into law. So I don't think that anyone can dispute the fact that it was founded on racism. And that has been upheld, and we continue to see it upheld (UNINTEL) all of these politicians make bold efforts to attempt to keep racism being discussed in schools.

You know, we're seeing the number of legislation around voter suppression, et cetera. So this is not something that is, like, just kind of echoed by people who have, like, psychosis around racism. It is within the fabric of this nation. So I believe that the only way that the racism of this nation can be changed is if the actual foundation of what this nation is founded on is shifted.

And, you know, South Africa at one point had to write a whole new Constitution and get a whole new flag because they had to have a whole new direction. Well, I believe that that's what's gonna have to happen here for that to actually be a part of our action plan.

Lee: Dr. Darity, let's talk about that kind of purposefulness, right? Policy reform today won't likely shrink America's huge racial wealth gap anytime soon, right? And we've heard the calls for reparations growing louder and louder with each passing year. Is there any hope of justice and equality without first addressing reparations?

Dr. Sandy Darity: I don't think that there's any significant hope of achieving racial justice in the United States without addressing the question of restitution and redress for Black Americans who are descendants of persons who were enslaved in the United States.

But I would like to emphasize the case for reparations in not one that is anchored exclusively on the horrors of slavery. That's merely the starting point. I think what's really critical in terms of understanding the rationale for reparations for Black Americans is the entire history of events that took place, including those that took place after slavery ended.

Particularly the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40-acre land grants that they were promised, while the United States government provided 1.5 million white families with 160-acre land grants in the western territories of the country under the Homestead Act. Followed by waves of white massacres that took place in Black communities where some measure of prosperity had been established.

Those waves of massacres not only took Black lives but resulted in the appropriation and seizure of Black-owned property by the white terrorists. And then this process was succeeded by, in the 20th century, legislation that was intended to promote homeownership and build the middle class, which was discriminatorily applied.

So that Black Americans were denied the same opportunities to become homeowners and to have equity build in their homes that white Americans were provided, both by the Federal Housing Administration, and the way in which the GI Bill was executed.

And so we have to think about federal policy lying at the heart of creating what you have written about, the gaping racial wealth gap in the United States, where today, the net worth of the average Black household is $840,000 less than the net worth of the average white household.

Or, correspondingly, Black Americans who have enslaved ancestors in the United States are about 12% of the nation's population, but possess less than 2% of the nation's wealth. And this is an injustice that needs to be addressed through a program of reparations. Unless we address it, we're not going to be moving the nation in the direction of being a true democracy.

Lee: Anna, when I hear Dr. Darity kinda lay out that history, you know, bleeding into our present, I can't help but think how important artists are in helping to shape our understanding of history and the context of the lives in which we lived. And we've seen a year in which artists have raised their voices in pursuit of justice. And I wanna ask you, you know, what role should artists such as yourself play in reimagining what's possible in America in this moment?

Smith: Well, I always think about it as an opportunity, you know, that we have as artists. But to walk in the company of others, right? I'm not on the ground, I'm not saving lives every day, and I'm very clear about that. And so I think it's important to collaborate with the folks who are doing that.

And I don't think about us as important. I think of us as trying to be of service to folks in all realms. That's really what we need to be doing. And, you know, maybe we can work our way back into the schools sometime, (LAUGH) I mean, so the kids themselves can be artists and express themselves in different kinds of ways. But mostly I think about longing for collaborations, really. That's what we can do.

Lee: Amanda--

Smith: We can make noise. We can make noise. We can look great. We can attract attention. We can fill our work with content. We can move hearts as well as minds. But I'm so aware of the need for me to be in collaboration with folks exactly like the individuals on this panel.

Lee: That notion of moving hearts. Amanda, you know, so much of what we saw in the Derek Chauvin trial was Chauvin's defense trying to make the trial about George Floyd's past. And you just had a conversation on your podcast, Small Doses, about this idea of redemption. What role do you think forgiveness and redemption needs to play in our criminal justice system? And, you know, how we just basically treat each other?

Seales: I think specifically in the case of our criminal justice system, there is just this idea that, once you enter that system, that you are no longer valuable to society. And we see that in the disenfranchisement of our, you know, prisoners who come out and are back in society but yet cannot continue to be a part of society in the same way as individuals who did not go into prison.

We see that in their limitations in their ability to get loans for homeownership, to get insurance. I mean, there's a multitude of ways. And when we look at our prisons industrial crisis, we see that that's not even considered. But of course, Black people weren't even considered humans, and the prison industrial crisis is all about keeping Black folks enslaved in another form. So it's no surprise.

Smith: Can I say just one really fast thing on the end of that--

Lee: Of course. Of course.

Smith: --about Black folks not being human. Of course art and humanities has done an extraordinary job in the 20th century and in this century too to fill in that gap by insisting on humanity, insisting on our humanity.

Darity: Yeah, I'd like to add that one of the things that we've attempted to (MEDIA SKIPS) in the work that Kirsten Mullen and I have been undertaking is to try to give measures to the immeasurable. And I'll note that, in 1894, Frederick Douglass said, "There's no way you can come up with a sum of money that would be adequate to compensate the individuals who have been subjected to slavery. But," he said, "that doesn't mean that you should not try to make the effort to provide compensation for that experience."

Lee: Martin, your father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision of a more just and fair world. With all the issues we've discussed today, and that Dr. Darity and other panelists have laid out, are we closer to your father's vision today where we stand, or are we further away?

King: (LAUGH) Very good question. Yeah, I'm always thinking about how to characterize reality in a positive way because just based on the conversations that we're havin' right now, it shows that we have a long, long way to go. Individuals have made great strides, but the vast majority of Black people are still languishing and struggling.

But, again, I'm not pessimistic. I'm very concerned (?) because, as I said, these movements around racism exist all over the world. And European cultural supremacy is what the order of the day has been, and that's got to change. We have got to have a history that talks about what happens with Black folk and white folk and, you know, Native people from a conclusive standpoint every day that we are in school. If we're able ever to accomplish that, maybe we'll help create a different America. And perhaps even a different world. (MUSIC)

Lee: That was Can You Hear Us Now? One Year Later, a special from NBC News NOW and NBCBLK. A big thanks to all the panelists who took part, and you can actually watch the entire thing, including some extras we couldn't fit into this bonus podcast.

You can find it at and streaming on Peacock. There's also a link in our show notes that will take you right there. And if you haven't already, check out Into America's coverage of the anniversary. I sat down with Christopher Martin, the teenager store clerk who accepted George Floyd's counterfeit $20 bill.

It's a conversation that truly moved me, so I hope you'll give it a listen. It should be right below this episode in your Into America feed. And the team has more good stuff comin' your way. Be sure to check out your feed this Thursday. We're bringing you the first episode of a two-part special on the centennial of the Tulsa race massacre. I went down to Tulsa to help trace the story of two families who descended from survivors of that tragedy. I learned what was stolen from their ancestors in 1921, and hear their struggle to rebuild their wealth over the past 100 years.

Tulsa Descendant: He said it was traumatizin' to wake up and see your city thrivin', your parents workin', your cousins, your grandparent workin', and then you wake up and it's up in smoke.

Lee: You don't wanna miss it. I'm Trymaine Lee. See you on Thursday.