A lot has happened since we shared our last conversation with you. It feels like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in real time in 2016: race tensions, presidential debate, a veto override, the passing of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, Aleppo bombing… Marilyn Monroe.
So, when I caught up with Deion he had a lot on his mind, especially concerning the recent policing controversies and our country’s leadership direction.
Here’s our second installment of “1-on-1 with Prime.”
Ellen Carmichael: So, let’s start with a topic on the minds of a lot of Americans: compounding racial tensions, especially the community-police relations. Is there anything different about what’s happening in this moment than, say, in Dallas or Ferguson in the past?
Deion Sanders: None whatsoever. The only difference is these happenings are now being captured. They’ve been reported for years and years and years, and there wasn’t a disbelief in our community, but to the general public, where you don’t have anything to substantiate your claims, you’re led for it not to be believable. With technology – social media, video on cell phones now – everything is captured. There is no privacy. Everybody’s TMZ.
EC: But, even with technology, there are still disputes. A newspaper just came out and said that in the Charlotte altercation, the suspect did have a gun. The family said it was a book. Then, police said maybe it was a gun. Then, more information comes out that the guy had a restraining order his wife put on him…
Sanders: It doesn’t matter what happened previously in this guy’s life. We don’t care about his yesterday. We’re concerned about today. We go by what we saw as a country.
Sanders: We don’t believe anyone anymore. We think everyone’s lying, everyone’s manipulative. Everybody’s trying to come up, get over, get under, get by and get through. Everybody now wants proof.
EC: But it seems like different groups of people in the country are operating off different sets of facts. For instance, with Ferguson, you have the activist community saying ‘Hands up. Don’t shoot.’ A lot of people maintain that Michael Brown was retreating. And then on the other hand, you have the Obama Administration and law enforcement both saying there was no ‘Hands up. Don’t shoot.’ How do we reconcile our differences as a country, using communication, if we don’t all agree on the same set of facts?
Sanders: To me, that’s a moot point. 2+2 = 4. 3 + 1 = 4. 0+4 = 4. No matter how we equate it, we get to the same conclusion: wrong is wrong. We are still witnessing wrong. Both systematically and each individual instance, it’s just flat-out wrong.
People see that someone out of New York who is responsible for a bombing being apprehended and taken alive, and it’s mind-boggling. You attempted to murder a multitude of people, but you’re still taken alive?!
Meanwhile, these other gentlemen didn’t do harm to anyone.
“No matter how we equate it, we get to the same conclusion: wrong is wrong. We are still witnessing wrong”
EC: If it is a race issue, then why are some of these altercations still involving minority police officers?
Sanders: We’re gonna say it is somewhat a race issue, but now, it’s a fear issue. It started off being one thing and it’s transformed into another. Now, the police force is fearful. They’re using unnecessary measures to apprehend or disable suspects.
They’re afraid. They’re scared. I don’t think the training is what it should be. It should be a more tenuous training regimen to even receive the accreditation to be an officer. It should be a more tenuous process.
EC: Law enforcement counter by saying, “We don’t have the resources. Our budgets are being slashed. Salaries are low. We aren’t getting the training and the manpower we need.”
Sanders: So the public should suffer? Maybe people should take that to their local politicians. The public shouldn’t suffer.
We’re suffering because you’re not receiving the necessary funding? That’s just like the education system. If the teachers believe they are not being paid what they deserve, should they not teach to a certain standard? Should they not do what they have enlisted to do because they don’t make enough money? This is what they chose to do.
I don’t know who feels like they’re paid accordingly. Everybody across this country feels like they’re underpaid and most are. Everyone thinks they outwork their pay, but that doesn’t give us the right to underperform or not provide the services we say we will provide.
“Everyone thinks they outwork their pay, but that doesn’t give us the right to underperform or not provide the services we say we will provide”
EC: You’re obviously not arguing that these people don’t deserve to be compensated fairly…
Sanders: Oh, no. Definitely not!
EC: Are you saying that when you have a vocation or sign up for a job, you’re obligated to perform at your highest level?
Sanders: Right. I’m an athlete. If I’m not getting paid what I’m worth, should I just let the guy catch several balls on me because I’m mad or because I’m upset or because I didn’t receive the proper training in training camp? I gotta do what I’m called to do. I gotta do what I signed up to do.
EC: At Opportunity Lives, we’re really passionate about Urban Specialists, a group in Dallas with whom you work. What lessons can be learned from them on a nationwide scale? What are Urban Specialists doing correctly to improve these relationships that other places aren’t?
Sanders: Urban Specialists are identifying the leaders in the community that don’t have the necessary titles or acronyms or accommodation, but they still are community leaders. Believe it or not, some drug dealers are somewhat community leaders in that aspect. It’s not what we would desire or wish, but for some strange reason, the head Blood or the head Crip runs that block or that project. The OG runs that community.
So Urban Specialists are willing to go in and tell these folks, ‘You’re going to do what you’re going to do, and we understand that. First of all, we’d like to get you out of that situation and let you apply that same skill set to something that has longevity and doesn’t have an expiration date on it. The lifestyle you’re lying has an expiration date on it.’ They explain that eloquently.
Then, they say, ‘At least, let’s understand how we can improve our community, including race relations with police officers, with children, with single mothers and hardworking fathers and other parents.’ They’re going to the root of the problem, not doing a drive-by analysis of the fruits of the problem.
“They’re going to the root of the problem, not doing a drive-by analysis of the fruits of the problem”
EC: Knowing that some of those who have been involved in altercations with police are not Bloods and Crips, how do we take those same lessons and apply them across the board? You mentioned identifying community leaders. Obviously, as you and I have talked about, not everybody is destined to be a community leader. So, what do we need? Is it better communication? Is it more respect?
Sanders: It has to be an understanding among several parties: the community leaders, the police and the general public. There has to be an understanding that if this happens, this needs to be how it needs to be dealt with. These are the steps you need to take to improve your safety.
It’s a darn shame. I stayed in Dallas this past Wednesday to watch my son return from an injury he sustained in his first game playing junior high football. I had to take a long flight to New York, and then they had to drive me to Boston – three or four hours. I’m in the backseat studying – it’s probably 2:30, 3 a.m. – and I look up and see the police have pulled us over.
I think ‘Oh, Lord. I hope nothing happens while I’m in the backseat of this car minding my own business.’ I shouldn’t have to feel like that. But that’s where we are as a country. I felt afraid at that point in time. I can imagine if that was one of my kids. But, I felt afraid, and I was just in the backseat as a passenger with a Caucasian driver.
Still, I don’t know what that police offer has been dealing with. I don’t know the trials and tribulations that he’s been going through. I don’t know what provoked him today. I don’t know what he thinks about the racial tensions that have transpired around the country. I don’t know any of that. All I know is that I was afraid for my life. And I’ve never felt that way. That was last week.
EC: And everything was OK?
Sanders: Oh yeah, everything was OK. The driver was speeding and he got a ticket. We moved on. But I shouldn’t feel that way in the backseat. I would have really felt uncomfortable if I was the driver.
EC: It’s about communication. It’s about respect. It’s about assuming good intentions of each other. Which brings us to another important topic: the debate this week. I know you ended up watching it. You know it was very negative, it was very pessimistic. Neither candidate seemed to offer solutions. How did you feel about it?
Sanders: I feel like we’re watching two adults that are poised to be the chief commanding officer of our country doing something we tell our kids not to do: don’t talk about others; don’t throw stones; don’t bring up people’s pasts. Everything we teach our kids not to do, we find them doing.
It is almost like they missed the whole point while they were so busy trying to sabotage each other. I never thought I’d see a day when we have political figures spend millions of dollars just to discredit another person. Then the other person spends the majority of the time they’re allowed to speak [on the debate stage] trying to discredit the other person, instead of telling us what you can do for us in our beloved country.
Now, I’ve gotta decipher who’s telling the truth about what. We might as well have just skipped the debate and put the candidates in a ring. That’s what we want.
We were not looking for answers anymore as a country. We’re looking for entertainment.
EC: So, you also heard no solutions?
Sanders: I heard no solutions to the problems of our country.
EC: What would either candidate need to do to earn your trust as a voter?
Sanders: I look for the genuineness. I look for truth. I look for sincerity. I look for a common thread that’s gonna tie all of us together – the single mother of three; the father who’s struggling, who’s working 9 to 5, only to get a few hours of sleep to go back to work again just so ends can see one another. I want someone who can help the man who just got released after being incarcerated for 10 years. I look for someone who can reach and touch that millionaire who’s worked his butt off and wants to make sure he has enough money to take care of his family and his entire community. I look for someone who can tie all of this together.
EC: Do you think anyone could ever do that?
Sanders: We gotta put 10 political figures together just to get one! I was always taught in my life you don’t have to settle. You don’t have to settle for being good. You can be great. You don’t have to settle for being great. You can be the best ever. I never settled in my life.
Now, I watch television and am being pushed to the point where I have to settle. I shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to my country.
“I watch television and am being pushed to the point where I have to settle. I shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to my country”
EC: You might have noticed that when Donald Trump was talking about the race issue, he said that African Americans live in hell. He caught some fire for that. What did you think about that?
Sanders: I don’t live in hell. It’s hard to speak for everybody. It’s hard to generalize everyone. Probably the last African American group he had a conversation with echoed that to him. But that doesn’t substantiate everyone.
EC: So you don’t find it insulting?
Sanders: No, I’m not easily insulted. I’ve been booed by 70,000 or 80,000 people chanting hate toward me. I understand there’s always opposites in life. If there’s a hell, there’s a heaven. We’re trying to get to heaven. So, if you feel like a majority of African Americans are living in hell, show us how to get to heaven.
But, I don’t know how someone could generalize or group a whole race together. That’s too broad.
So, I’m willing to look past the ignorance and his blemishes and understand that maybe the last person he spoke to articulated that to him to seduce his finances in exchange for positioning prospective voters.
I just left home and I promise you, it wasn’t hell. Now, I’m speaking for a multitude of African Americans.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.