Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder Black Lives Matter HARDtalk


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Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder Black Lives Matter

Sarah Montague speaks to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter - a political movement that has taken off around the world.


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LineFromTo

Now on BBC News, it's

time for HARDtalk.

0:00:000:00:14

Welcome to HARDtalk, I'm Sarah

Montague. The woman who forced coin

0:00:140:00:19

the slogan Black Lives Matter and is

the American Patrisse Khan-Cullors.

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She first used it as a hashtag on a

friend's Facebook post back in 2013.

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Since then, Black Lives Matter has

taken off as a political movement

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around the world. She has now

written about her own experience of

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growing up in a poor black family in

California and how she is convinced

0:00:390:00:45

that it races and state violence

against African-Americans can be

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stopped, then other problems in the

black community such as poverty,

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poor education and crime will

disappear too. Is she right? And is

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a movement founded on a hashtag have

any part to play in finding a

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solution? Patrisse Khan-Cullors,

welcome to HARDtalk Thank you for

0:01:040:01:32

having me. When you typed hashtag

Black Lives Matter to the bottom of

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your friend's Facebook post, what

were you thinking?

I was thinking

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that our generation wasn't going to

allow George Zimmerman to have the

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end of the story in Treyvon Martin's

death.

George Zimmerman was the man

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convicted of the death of Treyvon

Martin.

-- acquitted. The moment he

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was acquitted, I was full of despair

but rather quickly understood there

0:02:030:02:06

had to be a new conversation about

and antiblack racism in this country

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in the world.

But things must have

irritated you and others. What made

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it about that moment that made you

feel that and made it travel as it

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did?

I think it was witnessing

George Zimmerman and the trial

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against in actually be a trial

against Treyvon Martin. It was

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spending an entire year waiting for

a justice system that has

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historically been terrible to black

communities give this white passing

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person are passed to go home after

murdering a child. I think it was

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spending time in my life seen over

policing in my neighbourhood, over

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incarceration in my neighbourhood

and it came to a head when George

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Zimmerman was acquitted.

This was an

unarmed black man, a youngster, a

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teenager.

Yes.

You've written about

it in your book, When They Call You

0:03:070:03:22

a Terrorist, and talking about your

experiences, when you talked about

0:03:220:03:25

incarceration of those around you,

your own father, your brother sent

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to prison but the things they had

done wrong.

Sometimes. And sometimes

0:03:270:03:32

it was because they were hurting. My

father was a drug addict. He was on

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and off of crack cocaine. In the US,

we have the war on drugs and so for

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my father, what he needed was care.

He needed dignity and instead he was

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given a jail cell, he was given

policing. My brother, whose only

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crime has been mental illness, he

has schizoaffective disorder, these

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should not be crimes, they should be

illnesses as they are.

But those

0:04:030:04:08

cases, neither of those peculiar to

race, are they? Those cross all

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races in the United States.

Of

course. Drug addiction and mental

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illness is an issue that everybody

faces. It's a universal issue. What

0:04:180:04:24

is not universal is the

criminalisation of black people in

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particular and I think important.

What we see with my brother, for

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instance, a big black man, in his

early years, intervention shouldn't

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have been juvenile hall. The

intervention should have been mental

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health treatment and that is

different and mostly white

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communities and I have spoken to

folks who read the book who said, I

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relate so much to your brother's

mental illness but I did not have to

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experienced what he experienced

because I am white you, you talk

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about large family, and you grew up,

your mother was working a lot of the

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time, you were brought up by an

older brother.

Yes, yes. And you

0:05:040:05:08

saw, you talk about when you are 12,

I think, one of your earliest

0:05:080:05:13

experiences.

With the police, I was

arrested and detained at my school.

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I had been smoking weed in the girls

bathroom. Anthony incident with the

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police didn't happen that day, it

happened a couple of days later in

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which a police officer came into my

classroom and whispered into my

0:05:280:05:33

teacher's year and the next thing, I

am being summoned to the front of

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the classroom, handcuffed in front

of my classmates and walked down the

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hallway where I was stopped and

frisked and they told me to call my

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mother and let her know why I had

been arrested in school.

And you

0:05:470:05:52

were taken to...

The principal's

office.

So aged 12, the police were

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called. Because people will listen

and think, your father did drugs, he

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was on crack. You were smoking weed

when you are 12. Why, what is wrong

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in a way with trying to police that?

I think what we've noticed over the

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last 15, 20 years is the war on

drugs and didn't actually stop drug

0:06:150:06:20

use. It didn't stop drug selling. In

fact, the war on drugs was just an

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excuse to criminalise some of the

most marginalised communities. I

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think was also important, and I talk

about it in my book, is that I went

0:06:300:06:36

to a middle school with mostly white

kids and in my experience, had this

0:06:360:06:44

particular experience when I went to

my friend's house, and she

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introduces me to her brother who,

you know, just young white kid, and

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she opens up his door, and his

countertop is full of drugs,

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literally. Every drug. I had never

seen that many drugs in my life. And

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I kind of looked over at her and she

didn't really bat an eye but it was

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in that moment that understood, oh,

both of our communities are not just

0:07:080:07:13

using drugs but selling them except

my community has been criminalise

0:07:130:07:19

for it and he was not afraid at all

about the police being in his

0:07:190:07:23

neighbourhood. In fact, I never saw

the police in his neighbourhood.

And

0:07:230:07:27

your brother, your brother Monty's

experiences in prison, and we should

0:07:270:07:33

set this in the context of the

prison population. 14% of the United

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States are black but the prison

population, 38% are black. You are

0:07:400:07:46

five times more likely to be

incarcerated if you are black. And

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the experience, and you didn't

particularly know, what your brother

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was going through, it was many years

later you discovered.

Yes, I knew he

0:07:530:07:59

had been abused by the police but I

wouldn't know the extent of the

0:07:590:08:04

abuse or the fact that he was

tortured until probably a decade

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later.

And how did you find out?

I

came across an ACLU 86- page

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complaint, the American Civil

Liberties Union, and I'd just happen

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to sit in my email inbox, I have it

up and saw they were suing the

0:08:210:08:26

Sheriff 's Department and the piqued

my interest, a terrible incident

0:08:260:08:30

with the Los Angeles sheriff, so I

read the 86- page complaint within

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the power and it was story up on

story, 70 sworn statements from

0:08:350:08:42

prisoners but also to boost

testimonies were from a jail

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chaplain -- also to of those

testimonies were from a jail

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chaplain who had first-hand

experience of witnessing the police

0:08:540:08:58

brutality inside a jail. And the

second one was someone who worked

0:08:580:09:01

for the ACLU who witnessed a

prisoner being beaten by the

0:09:010:09:06

Sheriff's Department and it was

almost that moment when I read it

0:09:060:09:09

that I heard my brother's story and

I called him, he had just been

0:09:090:09:14

released from State prison, and said

the sheriff is being sued and he

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said finally, someone will get

justice. And asked him, what

0:09:170:09:22

happened to you? Is this some of the

things that happen to you? You said

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yes. It would be over six months to

a year that he would tell us the

0:09:270:09:34

extent of what he experienced inside

a jail cell. Which was what?

0:09:340:09:38

Brutally beaten by the sheriffs. He

was in the middle of a manic

0:09:380:09:43

episode. He was punched, kicked, he

said he remembers a sheriff eating a

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panic button and dozens of sheriffs

coming out and stomping him until he

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blacked out and when you finally

awoke, he was in a pool of his own

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blood. They never took into the

infirmary, to get medical care and

0:10:040:10:08

they also had handcuffed him to his

bedpost. And for about the next two

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months, they starved him, they

turned off water in his cell, he was

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forced to drink from toilet water

and my mother had no idea where he

0:10:200:10:25

was. She called up every single day

trying to find her son. She went

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there every single weekend trying to

visit her son and for about two

0:10:290:10:33

months, the sheriff kept him from

us.

It prompted you then to take

0:10:330:10:38

action. In fact, you did it through

artwork. You are in your late 20s?

I

0:10:380:10:43

was about 27 when I first delved

into taking on the sheriff's

0:10:430:10:49

department. I did an intimate art

piece betraying state violence and

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it was a way to process what I had

read and what my family had

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experienced but it was also a way to

amplify the issue. I wanted to bring

0:11:010:11:06

this conversation to LA County but

one of my friends came and saw the

0:11:060:11:10

performance and said, this isn't

enough. This is a great piece but

0:11:100:11:13

you've got to do more. This is

happening right now. And I did. I

0:11:130:11:20

would start the first organisation

that centred people most directly

0:11:200:11:23

impacted by jail violence.

And that

was an essential first campaign

0:11:230:11:28

because it resulted in civilian

oversight. Exactly. But that

0:11:280:11:32

happened after Black Lives Matter.

There are many more black men in

0:11:320:11:40

prison then you would expect from

the prison population. 14% of black

0:11:400:11:46

men in the United States, 38% in the

prison population. Why do you think

0:11:460:11:52

that is?

It's because we spent the

last 40 years creating laws that

0:11:520:11:59

criminalise poverty. That

criminalise some of the most

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marginalised people. And so what

happens is, you have someone who is

0:12:020:12:09

going to school, going to high

school and instead of having

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counsellors, they have police

officers on the campus so what might

0:12:130:12:16

be something that got you sent to

the principles of this 30 years ago

0:12:160:12:20

is now something that will get you a

misdemeanour or a felony. What we

0:12:200:12:25

have is a community of people who

are struggling to raise their

0:12:250:12:30

children, feed their children, give

their children shelter and so might

0:12:300:12:35

try to steal food and instead of

dealing with the issue of poverty,

0:12:350:12:40

we have people criminalising

poverty.

But poverty affects whites

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just as much as blacks.

Yes, and

racism becomes the key factor. Race

0:12:460:12:56

and the history of race inside the

US becomes very important for us to

0:12:560:13:01

delve into.

But where it is at play?

Are you saying that more black

0:13:010:13:06

people are poor because of racism?

Yes, and also say in more black

0:13:060:13:11

people I could analyse because of

racism.

But there are some

0:13:110:13:15

interesting statistics highlighted

by the African-American S East Debra

0:13:150:13:21

Dickerson saying the race of

criminals reported by crime victims

0:13:210:13:26

matches the arrest data which

suggests the police are not over

0:13:260:13:30

arresting black people more than

white people.

I think that's an

0:13:300:13:34

interesting statistic. What we have

to look at is, we the police and up,

0:13:340:13:39

which communities? I mentioned

earlier, I am in a community where

0:13:390:13:46

over policing is happening. We have

police from morning until sundown.

0:13:460:13:53

And families and communities are

being criminalised by police but

0:13:530:13:56

then you go to Sherman Oaks which is

a neighbourhood over, the same

0:13:560:14:00

things could be happening and yet

those communities aren't

0:14:000:14:03

criminalised.

0:14:030:14:07

Is a powerful statistic that when

someone is reporting a crime, they

0:14:070:14:13

say they are black, they say they

are white. The ratio is the same as

0:14:130:14:17

the rates -- arrests. When it comes

to actual arrests made, if that

0:14:170:14:25

matches those who are reporting

crime...

The question then becomes

0:14:250:14:31

about conviction. Did the people who

get arrested, who ends up getting

0:14:310:14:38

convicted? That is where that

statistic lacks. Who is convicted of

0:14:380:14:42

the crimes they say they committed

and what we note time and time again

0:14:420:14:50

is that black folks are over

convicted even of crimes they might

0:14:500:14:53

have never done. Crimes they may

have done but instead of getting a

0:14:530:14:58

misdemeanour, and in or getting to

go home, they are convicted.

OK. So,

0:14:580:15:03

the suggestion is that in a way, it

is all through the system even if

0:15:030:15:08

you can't prove it. So the criminal

justice system itself is racist.

0:15:080:15:12

Definitely. Definitely. And this is

something that we don't need

0:15:120:15:20

statistics for. I mean, statistics

are important that there is a

0:15:200:15:24

history of racism by the criminal

justice system. Let's think about

0:15:240:15:28

how many young black folks, how many

black folks who had mob violence,

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easing cause to identify black

people and put them in jail or

0:15:370:15:40

prison, digging them inflated

sentences, giving them enhancements.

0:15:400:15:43

There is a history of this in the

US. -- giving them inflated centred

0:15:430:15:48

us.

There is a difficulty. It has

been highlighted by campaigns like

0:15:480:15:59

Black Lives Matter. One of the

consequences is you have policed who

0:15:590:16:04

are afraid to go into black

communities. 78% of police say they

0:16:040:16:10

are less willing to stop-and-search.

The difficulty of that is that it's

0:16:100:16:15

the black community, the law-abiding

members, who will suffer from that.

0:16:150:16:20

Young, and I think we have to look

at why harm and violence are

0:16:200:16:24

happening in communities in the

first place. -- yeah. When we

0:16:240:16:29

neglect looking at the root issues,

you get a country or a state or a

0:16:290:16:34

city that uses police at the mental

health providers. They use police as

0:16:340:16:38

social workers, they use police as

domestic violence workers and that

0:16:380:16:42

is not what they are. The police are

the police.

So the police are not

0:16:420:16:46

the solution to that problem.

Precisely.

What I wonder if your

0:16:460:16:51

relationship with the police. The

police are at war with us. If that

0:16:510:16:59

had you feel?

Of course was up I

felt that way as a child. The first

0:16:590:17:04

police experience I had was when

they raided my home as a

0:17:040:17:07

four-year-old. And they didn't look

at me my sister my siblings or ask

0:17:070:17:12

us how we were doing. They our home,

they brought in multiple police

0:17:120:17:18

officers, they scared my mother and

my family. And so there has never

0:17:180:17:23

been a moment in which black folks

have had a healthy relationship with

0:17:230:17:30

law enforcement.

OK, so how do you

get that? Presumably, that's the

0:17:300:17:37

game.

I think the aim is creating an

environment where people feel safe.

0:17:370:17:41

And safety isn't always a badge and

a gun. We have an idea of safety

0:17:410:17:47

that has largely been created by

policing but safety is people being

0:17:470:17:53

able to each... -- eat.

But

listening to you, you don't have

0:17:530:18:02

solution... Police have a role in

society. Sellar tried to get to

0:18:020:18:09

another point. When communities

don't have jobs, they don't have

0:18:090:18:13

access to healthy food, they don't

have access to public education,

0:18:130:18:18

harm happens and we need to talk

about that and we have spent too

0:18:180:18:22

much time talking about fixing the

police and not enough time talking

0:18:220:18:25

about how do we ensure black

employment rates go up. How do we

0:18:250:18:31

ensure black folks are able to stay

in their homes and fight

0:18:310:18:34

gentrification. These are the

conversation that need to be

0:18:340:18:38

happening. -- conversations. I hear

someone in the black community sang,

0:18:380:18:44

hang on a second, I was mugged and

we need someone to deal with that.

0:18:440:18:48

I'm not saying don't. I'm saying we

only talk about the police will stop

0:18:480:18:52

that becomes the focus.

Do you

recognise that you need, in a way,

0:18:520:18:57

are you at war with the police?

Definitely not. Definitely not. In

0:18:570:19:03

fact, if you grew up in a black

neighbourhood, you try to avoid

0:19:030:19:07

police. What you are often told is

the police are behind us, don't look

0:19:070:19:11

back, you don't want to cause any

attention. You don't want it to seem

0:19:110:19:17

like you are doing anything wrong.

We are attracting attention from the

0:19:170:19:20

police. Also, you know, I come from

the tradition of abolition. I want

0:19:200:19:30

to be honest. Eventually, I don't

want to seek the police being the

0:19:300:19:34

ways in which our community deals

with harm and violence. I think we

0:19:340:19:38

need to think outside the box. This

becomes our moment where it is about

0:19:380:19:42

philosophy and we have to talk about

how that philosophy meshes with

0:19:420:19:45

practice.

In a way, here you are

representing Black Lives Matter

0:19:450:19:52

which you found it and the answers,

the policies put forward on policing

0:19:520:20:00

are the same whether it's in the

black community or the white

0:20:000:20:03

community, it's not like the black

community wants something different

0:20:030:20:06

from the approach to drugs, for

example.

Do know about that I don't

0:20:060:20:11

think we have heard enough from

black folks to give a concrete

0:20:110:20:15

cancer. What we do know is that

people want to make sure that in

0:20:150:20:19

their life, they don't want to have

to train their child to keep

0:20:190:20:23

themselves safe from the police. --A

concrete answer. When my mother sits

0:20:230:20:32

me down and says, when you come

across in the police, be careful,

0:20:320:20:36

you might get killed. That doesn't

happen in white communities.

What do

0:20:360:20:40

you feel like when you come across a

policeman now?

Scared. Still scared.

0:20:400:20:46

I have a somatic response to

law-enforcement. I am respectful, I

0:20:460:20:54

sometimes have officers who do

security for me at events so I am

0:20:540:20:57

grateful. And for me, it's not about

individual law enforcement, it's

0:20:570:21:02

about the system of policing and

that, to me, isn't so important. I

0:21:020:21:06

have policed better in my family.

But it is the system of law

0:21:060:21:11

enforcement that we have to look at.

You are talking about really

0:21:110:21:14

changing the whole of society.

I am.

And you think that Black Lives

0:21:140:21:20

Matter have a role in that. Sellar

think we have, yes. Some people say,

0:21:200:21:26

look, for a while it was temporarily

a fashion on social media. What

0:21:260:21:31

makes it last? It is just a

movement, isn't it? And yes, it's

0:21:310:21:36

taken off but it's also been

eclipsed by the latest social media

0:21:360:21:45

movements like me too and time is up

Mac. -- Time's Up. What makes it

0:21:450:21:56

last?

Most of us are invested in

building it further than what it was

0:21:560:22:03

on social media. We have 40 chapters

across the world, across the US and

0:22:030:22:08

Canada and here in the United

Kingdom.

With what aim? Militant

0:22:080:22:14

action?

Sometimes, sometimes as

direct action, sometimes of civil

0:22:140:22:18

desert that -- is disobedience, it

is similar to what Act Up did around

0:22:180:22:28

giving folks medicine when they were

dying of AIDS. We are having a

0:22:280:22:33

conversation because black people

are dying at the hands of the state

0:22:330:22:36

and oftentimes, nobody is caring.

Indirect and direct action...

So

0:22:360:22:40

it's about protesting, what,

locally?

That is our aim and mission

0:22:400:22:48

but also, when they come to the

United Kingdom or Canada, it is also

0:22:480:22:52

to build relationships with folks

that are using Black Lives Matter,

0:22:520:22:55

that a part of our network.

But you

are a protest movement, you are not

0:22:550:23:04

going to endorse or promote

candidates?

We might. We are looking

0:23:040:23:08

at what it might look like to run

for office. We are in an exploratory

0:23:080:23:14

phase.

Under a Black Lives Matter

and?

Yes.

You are seeing this very

0:23:140:23:23

confidently. Would you?

I have been

approached to run for office. Some

0:23:230:23:29

folks are talking about state, some

local, just approached, I haven't

0:23:290:23:36

said yes but it is a conversation

and we have seen this in bed

0:23:360:23:40

trajectory of many protest

movements. -- into trajectory. That

0:23:400:23:47

is something that we... We have

never been against it but that is

0:23:470:23:51

not something that we thought of as

the first place to go to.

Is that

0:23:510:23:58

the aim to have three black senators

in the Senate?

It is to grow a

0:23:580:24:03

movement that can change the

material conditions the black

0:24:030:24:06

people.

But I wonder if that is the

way to do it? To go right to the top

0:24:060:24:11

of the political tree. Sometimes

it's both. What I don't want to say

0:24:110:24:16

is we need to abandon protest. What

some of the best movements are able

0:24:160:24:21

to continue to protest and continue

to fight and Hrovat movement while

0:24:210:24:25

they have someone in office and who

are elected officials. When They

0:24:250:24:28

Call You a -- Patrisse Khan-Cullors,

thank you for coming on HARDtalk.

0:24:280:24:37

Sarah Montague speaks to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, the woman who first coined the slogan Black Lives Matter. She first used it as a hashtag on a friend's Facebook post back in 2013.

Since then, Black Lives Matter has taken off as a political movement around the world. She has now written about her own experience growing up in a poor black family in California and how she was convinced that, if racism and state violence against African Americans can be stopped, other problems in the black community - such as poverty, poor education and crime - would disappear too. Is she right? And does a movement founded on a hashtag have any part to play in finding the solution?