As the Black Lives Matter movement, and calls to defund the police gain mainstream attention, KTVU turns to Bay Area folks who have spent their lives fighting for these issues--in theater and art, through organizing, music or politics. We spoke with them to learn how their work, including as members of the civil rights movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement or the Black Panther Party, informs the current sociopolitical moment.
Walter Riley, 76, Oakland Attorney, Activist
Riley lived through the civil rights movement in North Carolina, where he organized lunch counter sit-ins and worked on campaigns to desegregate public spaces. He said that the current Black Lives Matter movement’s wide reach, and national reimagining of the status quo, feels familiar.
“We've gone through many periods in the movement, and I see this movement right now lifting up some of the ideals that led to this upsurge in this late 50s and 60s and the civil rights movement,” Riley said.
He said that the current Black Lives Matter movement recalls the civil rights movement’s national reckoning with where black people stand in American society.
“I think about the role of the relationship of people of color---black people in particular--to the country,” Riley said. “And it got attention to the world and helped to elevate our consciousness in this country, in many ways. So some progress was made. I think this current movement is something like that. It's creating a different imagining.”
Riley currently works as an Oakland attorney who represents protesters, and also in criminal justice. He recently filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland for the police department’s response to recent demonstrations, and their use of force policies. Although he knows he has plenty of wisdom to lend, he said that he also trusts young people right now to reconceive the systems in place, and to intrepidly demand better.
“Older folks generally tend to say, ‘We have been dealing with this for a long time. And this is how we think we are to approach it.’ And people say, ‘It's not working, you haven't worked it out. Don't just limit us to your ideas.’”