The summer of 2014 changed Shaun King’s life forever.
It was during that tumultuous summer that a national awakening occurred; in no small part due to King. And all because he figured out how to take a video off of YouTube and upload it the Facebook. The rest, they say, is history – fitting for King, a former history teacher.
That video King uploaded was one he was reluctant to even watch.
“I was working as the director of communication for Global Green, a nonprofit in California, and I got a call from a friend who told me there was a video on YouTube I had to see,” recalled King, speaking Oct. 23 to the audience at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis during Pillsbury United’s Greater>Together fundraiser. “The video was of a man being choked by a police officer who came up from behind the man and you can hear the man saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I was literally watching a man die before my eyes.”
That man was Eric Garner. And if it were not for King sharing the video to Facebook, which then went viral, Garner might well have been one of the many to die at the hands of police without raising the community’s ire. To put “many” in perspective, in 2014 more than 1,100 people in the U.S. were killed by police.
King recalled that while fighting for justice for Garner it was just a few weeks later that John Crawford, III was killed in an Ohio Walmart while looking at a toy gun on a store shelf. Four days after Crawford it was Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The killings began to consume King.
“It really took over my life,” said King. “Within a month I quit my job. I was consumed with getting justice for these victims and their families. And while we were organizing, a 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed, and I made a mistake. I promised I would get justice for Tamir.”
Rice, also in Ohio, was killed by police who rolled up on the child and immediately shot the kid, who was holding a toy gun. The district attorney declined to prosecute the officer, Timothy Loehmann, who shot Rice.
“I told the family (of Rice) we would get justice … I really believed it,” said a somber King.
But of the more than 1,100 killed by police in the U.S. that year, not one was successfully prosecuted. Most never faced charges.
“Not a single family got justice … not one,” said King, who said he went into a period of deep depression.
What pulled King out of that depression was his love for history. In particular, a single history course.
“I’m in a history class and I open a book to the picture of a man, Leopold von Ranke, the father of scientific history. Von Ranke had a theory that if you look at history in chronological order you would see a steady progression of humanity, but what he found was there was a steady progression of technology, but humanity went in ebbs and flows,” said King, offering the audience a master’s level history lesson. “Von Ranke then asked, ‘What happens when we get to the peak of technology but the bottom of humanity?’ I suggest to you that in some ways that’s where we are now.”
Kings comments came a day before at least six bombs were sent to several prominent targets of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, including the residence of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, the residence of President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential foe, Hillary Clinton, two to the D.C. and Los Angeles offices of Rep. Maxine Waters and one to CNN, a constant punching bag for Trump.
“I believe we are currently in a dip in humanity and it was easy to get in this dip, but it’s pretty damn hard to get out of it,” warned King. “For example, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a dip in humanity and that was a 300-year dip.”
King said to get out of this dip people need to be both energized and organized.
“You can be fully energized, but if you’re not organized it won’t matter,” said King. “There must be a plan that is as sophisticated and comprehensive as the problem itself. The analogy I use is, if your house is on fire it’s a bad time to be talking about fire department policy. That’s a conversation that needs to happen well before the fire. We are experts in the problem, but amateurs in the plan.”
According to King, part of the plan is funding. The racial justice fighter praised the work of Pillsbury United and called on the audience to further fund the organization to advance its mission. Greater>Together is in its second year and is one of Pillsbury United’s largest private donor events.