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CopWatchCoverflickrA_SynLUMPENPROLETARIAT—On today’s edition of Hard Knock Radio, Davey D spoke with social justice worker Matt Nelson (Presente.org, Executive Director) about the current state of American police culture, which is often callous, violent, and deadly towards the general public, particularly lower-income communities.  Even when people are cooperative to a fault, they often end up dead once in police custody.  Racial profiling (and socioeconomic profiling) in policing is clearly an important factor in determining how one will be treated, or targeted, by police forces.

Matt Nelson described how police unions control police budgets and, thus, wield power to obstruct or ignore reforms legislated to curtail extrajudicial killings, police brutality, and other abuses of power by police:

So, [police unions are] able to control huge percentages of city budgets.  And, unless we are able to shift that money into stabilising programmes, jobs, housing, basic needs and real safety, and unless we’re able to push back and fight back on the police union power, we’re not able to, we won’t be able to, change police culture.”

Matt Nelson has been on the copwatch beat for years. [1]  And his experience as a social justice worker allows him to provide us with a broad analysis of police culture, move beyond the immediate trauma of the latest killings by police, and demonstrate the consistently adversarial stance police agencies and their unions often take against civic and community leaders, who try to reign in their abuses of power.  Listen here. [2]



[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Hard Knock Radio.]


Matt Nelson (Presente.org, Executive Director, since August 8, 2016)

HARD KNOCK RADIO—[16 AUG 2016]  [Greg Bridges introduces the show’s programme.]  “What’s happenin’, folks?  Today on Hard Knock Radio, Davey D talks with activist Matt Nelson about the recent murder by police in Milwaukee and police cultures around the country.  Later, Davey and Dr. Pete talk about health practices.  That’s coming up after these News Headlines.  (c. 1:45)

[News Headlines (read by Mark Mericle) omitted by scribe]  (c. 8:45)

DAVEY D:  “Davey D, Hard Knock Radio, hangin’ out wit’ you this afternoon.  Here, in Downtown Oakland, I ran into a good friend of the show, a good friend of ours.  His name is Matt Nelson.

“We knew a lot of his work from Color Of Change and just being an all-around activist.  He co-authored the book about Ferguson with Jamala Rogers.  And he, incidentally, happens to be from Milwaukee, where a lot of attention is being spent on.

“Matt, the other day, penned an incredible article.  And I’m always one to suggest that we have a historical understanding, an institutional understanding of what’s happening, otherwise we wind up saying the same thing, reinventing the wheel.  And we miss very key points, especially if they have policies, that are still in place, if they have key players, that kind of agitate certain situations.  We may forget their names and just start building without necessarily addressing.

“And one of the things Matt did in his article was he reminded folks about this crazy incident, that happened in Milwaukee ten years ago.

“And, so, when you see unrest taking place in Milwaukee today, it makes sense, if you understand what took place when you were really organising on the ground there.

“So, welcome to the show, Matt.  And, first of all, how are you doing?” (c. 10:18)

MATT NELSON:  “I’m doing well.  Thanks so much for having me and your great work.”

DAVEY D:  “First of all, let’s talk about what was going on in Milwaukee ten years ago, maybe a little bit longer.”

MATT NELSON:  “M-hm.  2006 was in incredible time of organizing in Milwaukee.  As a lot of people may be familiar, that was the year where massive immigrant rights demonstrations were happening in Milwaukee, in Chicago, with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people.

“And it was also mass mobilisation in Milwaukee’s black community around the acquittal of the multiple officers, who beat Frank Jude within an inch of his life.”

DAVEY D:  “And who was Frank Jude?”

MATT NELSON:  “Frank Jude was a young man, who was at a party, which was in Bayview, which is a white enclave of Milwaukee.  And Milwaukee is, of course, always one of the most segregated cities in the country.  (c. 11:15)

“So, Frank Jude, a black man at a white party, that happened to be hosted by an officer, who was off duty.  And Frank was getting a lot of attention at the party.  He was very charismatic, very active—”

DAVEY D:  “Gregarious.”

MATT NELSON:  “Yeah; yeah.  He was a gregarious person.  And the officers didn’t appreciate that.  So, they claimed that Frank stole a wallet from the party.  And it escalated from there.  And it ended up being more than a dozen officers, who beat on Frank Jude repeatedly, and off-duty officers, plain-clothes officers.

And it was a public torture of Frank.  He suffered multiple fractures of his face and just a lot of other torturous activities.

“In the article, I point to the ringleader of the cops, who was known for his other forms of brutality.  He was known for choking somebody, killing multiple people.  He ordered a new cop, a rookie cop, to take his fountain pen and stab it in the ear of Frank Jude.  When the cop hesitated, the officer ordered him.  And, then, when the new officer continued to hesitate, the ringleader took the pen and stabbed it in both of Frank’s ears, where he was lying on the ground bleeding from his ears and from his face.  He had been slashed with a knife and just stomped on from head to toe.  (c. 12:45)

“The thing about that case is; that happened in 2004.  And it actually didn’t break news until weeks later.  It was a massive, massive police cover-up.  It wasn’t until the early part of 2005, where the news started to cover it.

And then, from there, seven officers were chargedBut they all were acquitted in 2006, which sparked thousands and thousands of people to take to the streets of Milwaukee.

“Again, this—and it—you know, we saw a lot of unity there.  We saw a lot of black unity with Milwaukee’s North Side unified with Milwaukee’s South Side, which is a Latino neighborhood.

“And, so, on that day of protest, after a week of protests after Frank Jude‘s—the people, who nearly killed him, were acquitted, every body was out on the streets.”  (c. 13:32)

DAVEY D:  “So, how does this connect now?  You know?  Because understanding what took place there, the climate, that existed, the brutality, the cover-ups.  We know that there has been a lot of work to do—police reform.  But how do you see it over those past ten years?”

MATT NELSON:  “So, the organising has the power to bring a substantial policy shift to the city, to how policing happened.  And, so, they went through all their regular motions, that we see.  There was federal oversightThere was DOJ interventionThere was a strengthening of the civilian review board. [3]

“So, it seemed like there was a police monitoring similar to how Oakland has it.  There seemed to be reforms, that were actually voted on, passed, and began to be implemented.  That actually resulted in—well, what they didn’t cover was changing police culture and changing police budgets.

“So, while the reforms are in place on paper, police unions, who hold the power of the culture of police, didn’t comply.  They didn’t comply.  They fought the [police] chief.  They fought the mayor.  And you saw a break of the chain of command in that the public had won these policy reforms.  But the police culture, that incentivises brutality and that funds—and then the funding streams, that fuel that culture of violence were not addressed.”  (c. 15:06)

DAVEY D:  “And that seems to be the case, not just in Milwaukee, but all over.”

MATT NELSON:  “Right.”

DAVEY D:  “I mean we see that in San Francisco most egregiously, where they recently put out an ad or a picture in their newsletter with a black and white dog and talked about all labs, or labradors, matter.  And it seemed to flaunt in the face of attempts to reform, you know, whether it’s coming from the mayor or the city council, or I mean, in their case, supervisors.  It seemed to flaunt that they’re not gonna do that.

“We’ve seen ’em show up a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty deep to police commission meetings and storm out like troopers.  And we see that resistance, obviously, in New York City.  We see that in Oakland.

“So, these unions, there’s never been any bringing them to task?”  (c. 16:00)

MATT NELSON:  “Police unions control the culture in police departments.  And, also, the power of police unions controls the budgets of law enforcement.

“And, so, so much money is being—”

DAVEY D:  “Through their political power, they scare politicians.”

MATT NELSON:  “So, they’re able to control huge percentages of city budgets.  And, unless we are able to shift that money into stabilising programmes, jobs, housing, basic needs and real safety, and unless we’re able to push back and fight back on the police union power, we’re not able to, we won’t be able to, change police culture.

“And, in Milwaukee, we see an example of this.  Through the leadership of the police union, the police department is asking for $28 million more dollars this year in their budget to support things like weapons and intensified policing, when really there should be an effort to move that money into other programmes.”

DAVEY D:  “Do you have an understanding of how that can happen?  You talked about this unity, this black-brown unity.  We’re starting to see that, in terms of how people have been gelling together around police brutality incidents.  We’ve seen this in San Francisco, where they had a [marrying] of Latino organisations in the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition. [4]  We’ve seen concerted efforts, here, in Oakland as well.  And, you know, you talked about this happening in Milwaukee.  How do you see that now?  And, especially, in lieu of what we saw, a very highly publicised, very similar type of shooting, that took place in Los Angeles with Jesse Romero, maybe about a week or so ago?” [5]  (c. 17:44)

MATT NELSON:  “These are two recent examples, that are gonna be a test on whether or not communities can elevate and get together.  The Boyle Heights example and Milwaukee—you know, Milwaukee’s south side, Latino neighborhoods need to come out.  Latino organisers need to come out and support what’s goin’ on in Sherman Park and the North Side and show up.  I think that’s the first step.

“People have to show up, show their solidarity, and, from the Latino community, be really clear that our interests are met when police stop killing black people, that our interests are met when there is true safety in all of our neighborhoods.

“And the same with Boyle Heights, another very much segregated area in L.A..  And it’s gonna be up to Boyle Heights to show the same type of commitment and passion to stopping police brutality, that we see from our brothers and sisters in the movement for black lives.  (c. 18:47)

“So, one is, like, showing up in solidarity.  The other one is showing the leadership and the commitment to police accountability, greater community control over police, that we’ve seen in a lot of the uprisings in black communities across the country.”  (c. 19:04)

DAVEY D:  “How do people deal with the concerted efforts to divide and conquer?  And we see this in terms of—in some cases, some of the people, that have been killed by black folks, including the one in Minneapolis, Latino officers.  Sometimes it’s black officers.  Sometimes, it’s insensitivity.

“And then there’s the on-the-ground stuff, that happens behind the scenes, you know, the disrupting of peace attempts by police, which you often hear gangs, or organised tribes, street tribes, talk about that their peace efforts were undermined.  And you hear this over and over again, whether it’s in Newark or L.A. or you pick a city.  And I often talk about police spend a lot of time trying to disrupt these attempts at unity.

“How do we start to move beyond those attempts?”  (c. 19:58)

MATT NELSON:  “And that’s always gonna be a pressure, is to divide, is to get your own at the expense of others.  And one of the important things is to be truthful and bold and courageous around what we’re saying about these things.  You know?

“There’s also always a pressure to criminalise the victims, to criminalise the corpses, and to wait for the ideal person to get killed by police, this ideal form of innocence.  And I think we really have to push back on that, talk more about the systemic problem.  And, in Milwaukee, the example is this debate around: Oh, did he have a gun or not?

“But this case, like so many others, he was stopped in, what they’re calling, a routine traffic stop.  But everybody in that part of Milwaukee and Sherman Park.  knows that routine traffic stops are racial profiling.  They are targeting.  They are targeted attempts to, like, trip people up with tickets, to trip people up with bogus warrants, and extract money, to continue to surveil and harass and intimidate the entire black community.

“So, that’s the context.  This young man was stopped, probably, unlawfully.  And he was harassed by the police, like he, most likely, was dozens of times in the past.

And we have to call that out.  We have to talk about how it’s that type of policing, that leads to situations, that can escalate to people getting killed.”  (c. 21:34)

DAVEY D:  “Right.  So, when people say: Well, if you have nothing to hide, nothing would happen.  That is very much—we found this is in the reports in Baltimore; we found this in the reports in Ferguson, you know, the DOJ reports—that it’s furthest from the case, that if you’re stopped it’s more than likely to be an unpleasant encounter.  And, if they can’t find anything, by the time they’re done, they will have found something, you know, if not, you will have been humiliated.

“So, it’s a thing where people try to avoid that at all costs no matter what.”

MATT NELSON:  “And, you know, I think there’s an important discussion to be had about policing.  And: What kind of policing do we need?

“You know.  The example in the NYPD, when they were getting tremendous pressure.  And the union ordered the police department to, not only, turn their back on the mayor, but to say: We’re only gonna do essential police work.  This is their words: “essential police work”.

“And the policing went down 90%.” (c. 22:35)

DAVEY D:  “Even the crime went down.”

MATT NELSON:  “And the crime went—no!  The actual policing went down, and the crime went down.  It was, like, one of the safest moments in New York history.

“So, if, by their own account, only 10% of what they do is ‘essential police work’, then cities should consider moving 90% of their budget into much needed services, that people can benefit from.”  (c. 23:01)

DAVEY D:  “And, in Milwaukee, where do you see things headed now?  You know?  What do you think people, from afar, could be doing?  You know?  How do we tie in local efforts, whether it’s here in Oakland and other places, to what we see unfolding in Milwaukee, so that it doesn’t become just the same old same-old.”

MATT NELSON:  “I think folks need to help tell the story.  They need to help tell the story of Milwaukee and help tell the story of a community, who is in struggle, a community who is trying to rebuild, and to also make sure that we are addressing the systemic issues with the police, police culture, police unions, police budgets because this goes far beyond policing.

“It does go into the conditions, the undervelopment, the neglect of a community.  And that ties back to policing.  If law enforcement, militarised law enforcement, take up so much of the city budget, Milwaukee could do a lot more.

“And, if police violence didn’t impact communities so deeply, not just the person who is killed, not just their family, but the entire apparatus, that leads to these incidences, which make communities unsafe, surveilled, targeted, constantly harassed, and that’s what young folks learn.  Young folks learn that the police are out to create a situation where, either, they are harmed or they are put into the mass incarceration apparatus.  And those are lessons, that people carry generationally.

“And, so, this is the moment where Milwaukee needs support, needs love, needs resources to be able to counter the really horrible media stereotypes and criminalisation that’s coming out of there; and really tell the story of the city as a whole, that’s been abused by the police at the individual level and at the societal level.”  (c. 25:20)

DAVEY D:  “That’s real talk.  Matt Nelson, we appreciate you taking time out this afternoon.  The work, that you’re currently doing allows you some of this leeway to start connecting dots.

“How do people get a hold of you?  And what is your org?”

MATT NELSON:  “Presente.org.  And to reach me at Matt@Presente.org.  ”

[End of Matt Nelson interview.]

[(c. 26:20) music break: hip hop song, “Cops Keep Firing” by Sellassie cites Kenneth Harding, Trayvon Martin, Donald Johnson, and others murdered or killed by police, or died while in the custody of police.]

Cops Keep Firing” (2016) by Sellassie

Frisco 5 March to City Hall” (circa MAY 2016)

Cops Keep Firing” (2008) by Nas

Don’t Shoot” by The Game (with Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, et al.)


[Greg Bridges gives us the news that Bobby Hutcherson has died; and he encourages us, if we don’t already know, to bring some of his music into our lives.]


Learn more at HARD KNOCK RADIO.

[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]


[1]  For example, see:  https://hardknockradio.wordpress.com

Also see the following recent Presente.org press release and relevant links (below):

Presente.org announces new Executive Director Matt Nelson, veteran organizer, to lead National Org.

Group continues to surge in growth and impact

Aug. 8, 2016

Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latinx organizing group, announced Matt Nelson as its new executive director.  Nelson helped launch Presente in 2009, served as managing director of Presente for the past year, and is now taking over as executive director from Favianna Rodriguez and Oscar Chacón, who had served as interim executive directors.  Rodriguez and Chacón will continue serving as board members of Presente.

“Matt is well known as a tireless, dedicated, courageous and generous leader who is unafraid to take on the most powerful corporations, government officials, police unions, and media giants in the country,” said Rodriguez.  “He pours his heart and soul into the work of building a more just, equal and prosperous world for all of us.”

“Matt knows that to create lasting change, we need to create movements that are bigger than any one person or group,” said Chacón.  “He is the kind of rare leader who knows how to be strategic, focused and effective without compromising our ideals and values.  This combination of vision, strategy, and heart has shown up throughout his work as an activist and organizer.”

“Presente has an amazing team, an incredible community of members, and a powerful network of allies,” said Nelson.  “Now more than ever, our work is vital to protect the rights, safety, and well-being of Latinx communities.  At the same time, there are unprecedented opportunities to create meaningful and lasting power for Latinx people.  Presente is uniquely positioned to meet these challenges, and I’m honored and thrilled to lead the organization forward.”

Nelson, a Colombian-born Midwesterner, is a veteran Latinx organizer with deep experience building grassroots power in Latinx communities.  He has worked for years at the forefront of digital organizing, leading groundbreaking campaigns that have created real victories for Latinxs, Black people, refugees, workers, and other marginalized communities.

Inspired by his parents’ deep commitment to justice and fairness, Nelson worked as a journalist at a bilingual newspaper, ran a pizzeria in Milwaukee’s Southside, and worked for years as a grassroots organizer in Latinx and Black communities.  He advocated for police accountability, the rights of refugees, and helped mobilize people for the massive immigrant rights marches in 2006.  He also started several successful small businesses with innovative models that empower workers and give them ownership in the business.

Nelson helped lead ColorOfChange – the country’s largest Black online political organization – for five years.  As Organizing Director, Matt led the organization’s criminal justice, grassroots organizing, and member relations work, managing a team of campaign managers, associates, member services specialists, and contractors.  He played a critical role in many of the organization’s significant victories, and his efforts dramatically expanded ColorOfChange’s membership and fundraising capacity.  He also led ColorOfChange’s launch of several new online platforms for grassroots organizing and police accountability: IAmColorOfChange.org (now OrganizeFor), CopWatchNYC, and KilledByCops.

Just over a year ago, Nelson left his position at ColorOfChange to work on the first major book about the Ferguson Uprising – entitled “Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion” – and shortly thereafter became the Managing Director at Presente.

# # # # #

Presente.org is the nation’s largest online Latinx organizing group; advancing social justice with technology, media, and culture.


Also see:

  • “California Coalition Launches Groundbreaking New Campaign To Evaluate Legislators; Hold Them Accountable for Not Representing Their Districts”, press release by Courage Campaign, 5 APR 2016.
  • “At Flint Debate, Clinton and Sanders Avoid Talk of Environmental Racism” by Lisa Song, Inside Climate News, 8 MAR 2016.
  • “Coalition Delivered Over 130,000 Signatures to White House to Ban the Box”, press release by Color Of Change (Washington, D.C.), 26 OCT 2015.

[2]  Terrestrial radio broadcast, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) (also broadcast simultaneously across much of the national Pacifica Radio Network) with online simulcast and temporary digital archiving:  Hard Knock Radio, this one-hour broadcast hosted by Greg Bridges and Davey D, Monday, 16 AUG 2016, 16:00 PDT.  [For some unfortunate reason, Hard Knock Radio usually removes their digital archives from public access two weeks after the initial broadcast date.]

[3]  For more on civilian review boards, see “Citizen oversight“:

Citizen oversight is the act of an assembly of citizens, a form of citizen participation, who review government activities.  Activities may be deemed as government misconduct.  Members of the group are civilians and are external to the government entity.  These groups are tasked with direct involvement in the citizen complaints process and develop solutions to improve government accountability.  Responsibilities of citizen oversight groups can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and their ability to become influential.  Oversight should not criticize but improve government through citizen support for government responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and overall efficiency.

Proactive citizen oversight improves transparency and demands accountability at all levels of government.  Reporting and monitoring (financial records, performance measures, and open records,… etc.) are now regarded as fundamental governance responsibilities.  Citizen Advisory Boards are a way for citizens to be involved in government oversight. Other forms of government oversight include citizen committees, citizen panels, citizen juriescitizen initiatives, negotiated rulemaking, and mediation.  Citizen oversight shares similar aspects with Demarchy and the Jury system.

An effective citizen oversight committee is structured to take on the following responsibilities: create processes for risk governance, monitoring and reporting; create clear defined duties to improve effectiveness and avoid overlapping work; recruit/retain members that are knowledgeable and engaged about policy; develop critiques that result in improved service outcomes; assign oversight responsibilities to designated individuals or groups for specific government functions; and reviews rolls regularly.

Citizen oversight committees brainstorm ideas to improve transparency and create policy proposals.  Most proposals regarding citizen oversight have been with respects to police activities, healthcare, non-profit and private sector.  Proposals since the 1970s about police misconduct or government corruption have universally been met with resistance from authorities and did not gained much traction.


Also consider the following passage from a United States Commission on Civil Rights report on police misconduct in West Virginia:

“A civilian review board is an entity external to the police department’s internal affairs, and consists of citizens from outside the department, appointed by the mayor or other senior government officials. A civilian review board is generally charged with the duty of reviewing complaints and making recommendations as to disciplinary action after the police department has completed its own investigation and made a disciplinary recommendation.

“A civilian review board is usually charged with reviewing the same materials or a redacted version of what the internal affairs division examined, although a civilian review board could be given investigative power in order to conduct its own inquiry into the complaint. Such authority could include subpoena power, and the ability to administer oaths and compel the production of documents. The sufficiency of individual case files, and thus the accuracy of a subsequent review, may depend heavily on what information the board is given and whether it can supplement these files on its own initiative.

“A key concern with instituting a civilian review board has to do with how much weight the recommendation of the board is accorded by law, that is, how binding. The activities of the board may be symbolic, as it has indeed been suggested that civilian review boards end up “agreeing with the police department in almost all instances.”[citation link] The importance of the civilian review board, therefore, rests on whether the disciplining officer is forced to accept or to provide a public account of why the recommendation is not accepted. For civilian review boards to be effective, they should be provided the authority to override the recommendations of the police, although such prospects are somewhat unrealistic.

“A study of 17 law enforcement agencies found that citizen review boards sustain police brutality complaints at a higher percentage than do the police themselves, suggesting that such boards operate more fairly, although the “sustained” rate is only one means by which to measure possible success of civilian review boards.[citation link] It is important to note that it is unclear exactly what power the examined civilian review boards had, such as whether they could overrule the recommended sanctions of the internal affairs division.

“The suggestion of a civilian review board will likely be met by considerable opposition from the law enforcement community in West Virginia, as it has in the past.[citation link] External recommendations will be viewed not only as an imposition from outsiders who are less knowledgeable in police affairs, but as another bureaucratic layer that does not aid in securing a final disposition with the police. Opposition or resistance will be proportionate to the power accorded to a civilian review board.”


[4]  Mario Woods (killed by police, 2 DEC 2015, aged 26).  Also see:

  • “Beyoncé back up dancers held ‘Justice 4 Mario Woods’ sign at Super Bowl”, by Evan Sernoffsky, SF Gate, 7 FEB 2016.
  • “The Shooting of Mario Woods Brings Ferguson to San Francisco, Activists Say” by Katy Steinmetz, Time, 16 DEC 2016.
  • “SFPD Shooting Of Mario Woods ‘Could Have Ended Differently If We Had Tasers’ Says Chief” by Caleb Pershan, SFist, 7 DEC 2015.
  • “List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States, December 2015”, Wikipedia, accessed 18 AUG 2016.

[5]  Jesse Romero (killed by police, 9 AUG 2016, aged 14).  Also see:

  • “Officer fatally shoots a person in South L.A. after an emotional Police Commission meeting” by Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times16 AUG 2016.
  • “Family of 14-year old boy shot by LAPD calls for release of body cam footage” by Ruben Vives and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times12 AUG 2016.
  • “Suspect shot dead by police in Boyle Heights was 14-year-old boy, coroner says” by Veronica Rocha and Brittney Mejia, Los Angeles Times10 AUG 2016.


[17 AUG 2016]

[Last modified  15:43 PDT  19 AUG 2016]