Invoking statistics on police brutality and nationwide racial disparities, writer and activist Shaun King spoke urgently about the need for students to correct a downward “dip in humanity” during a speech at Columbia on Monday night.
King’s speech, delivered in Roone Arledge Auditorium to a crowd of hundreds, was hosted by the Men of Color Alliance and Voting Week, an annual series organized by Undergraduate Student Life to encourage political engagement and register voters.
“We are currently [experiencing] a dip—a dip in the quality of humanity, quality of interpersonal treatment, quality of race relations. Sometimes the quality of humanity goes up, and sometimes it goes down, but I honestly believe that we are in a dip,” King said.
King, a Black Lives Matter activist and New York Daily News columnist, encouraged students in the audience to fight this “dip” by combatting racism in their own communities. He added that people interested in social justice must work within the system instead of trying to fight outside of it, stating that black police officers who combat racism will create more change than someone outside the institution, like himself.
“As long as so many of us are on the outside looking in, our effectiveness is going to be very challenging,” King said. “We are two to three years into a 12-year battle [against police brutality]. ... But the only good news about a dip is that it never lasts.”
Although King only briefly mentioned the 2016 presidential election, he had complaints against both of the major candidates.
“I believe that Donald Trump is the result of the dip,” he said. “Even if Hillary Clinton actually evolved, she would still be in a terrible place because Congress won’t do anything.”
Some students in the packed auditorium questioned King. During the question and answer segment of the presentation, one audience member said that more white people are killed annually than black people by police.
Although he did not cite specific numbers, King was quick to respond.
“That was not inaccurate, that was a lie. I worked with these families every single day. To you, sir, this may be news. This is not news to me. I care about these folk. For me, this is personal,” King said. “I don’t hide that in my writing, in my activism, it’s not about what I think. You’re completely wrong.”
A report by the Washington Post shows that, in 2015, black people were disproportionately likely to be killed by police—24 percent of unarmed people killed by police were black and 49 percent were white, despite the fact that the U.S. population is 13 percent black and 62 percent white.
King closed with an appeal to students of all races, encouraging those who are not black to participate as well in the Black Lives Matter movement and to help fight racism.
“When people that don’t look like you experience pain and trauma and injustice, it is your business,” King said. “I find it deeply liberating to fight for other people’s causes.”