US Black Lives Matter leader believes Joe Biden will do the bare minimum for African Americans

New President-elect Joe Biden.
New President-elect Joe Biden. Photo credit: Getty

"You've always had my back, and I'll have yours," President-elect Joe Biden said, as he thanked African American voters who helped deliver him the White House.  

The year 2020 has been blighted by violence against Black Americans, in some cases by police.

George Floyd struggled to breathe because an officer was kneeling on his neck. Breonna Taylor, a medical worker, was killed in a botched police raid at her apartment, and Walter Wallace was fatally shot by police after his family called for mental health assistance.

That prompted widespread protests and civil unrest.

Incumbent US President Donald Trump also drew criticism for failing to denounce white supremacist groups during the election campaign.

Hawk Newsome from Black Lives Matter Greater New York told Checkpoint for now he is happy with Joe Biden's win, but is looking forward to the fight ahead.

"We have removed an outright racist misogynistic xenophobe, we've removed the worst President in modern history from power," he said.

"We've removed a white supremacist, who refused to disavow other white supremacists, from power. A man who has issued tweets from white supremacist groups, whose issued tweets that said 'white power', a man who has just made America the laughing stock of the world.

"And we've removed him, but what we really have to understand is Joe Biden is not as progressive as a lot of other candidates were who were running in the Democratic primaries. So we're still going to have a lot to do. There's still a lot of fight left for Black liberation. This doesn't change much," Newsome told Checkpoint.

"Strategically, in regards to the liberation of black people, voting for Joe Biden made more sense. Joe Biden would have more of a sympathetic ear to our cause.

"He has done some pretty egregious things to Black people in the past. But right now, especially with his Cabinet and Kamala Harris, and with the atmosphere we've created with this Black Lives Matter movement, we'd be able to make more progress with Joe Biden."

Newsome said African American voters had a significant impact for Biden in the election.

"Georgia is what put him over the top. Specifically, Atlanta, Georgia. My team was down in Atlanta, Georgia, guiding voters to the ballot booths, because Donald Trump had said that his people would be out with guns and intimidating people at the polling sites.

"He called them poll watchers, but what it was, was voter suppression and voter intimidation. So we went down and some of us were armed and we escorted voters to the polls in Atlanta, Georgia, to make sure that they can vote safely.

"Most of the mail-in ballots from what I understood was from Black people. There are a lot of Black folks who sent in their mail-in ballots. And what's really important [to understand] is that Black people carry the Democratic Party. And the sad part of that is Black people always are left wanting. That's why I said we have a serious fight ahead of us."

He said people armed at voting booths were armed with "really huge guns they probably don't have in New Zealand ... big machine guns or submachine guns".

"You have to remember that even when we were fighting for the right to vote in this country, Martin Luther King and those folks were marching, for the right to vote. We weren't the ones with guns. We were the ones who were singing songs and being peaceful.

"But there comes a point where you're not even going out to incite violence, but you just want to feel safe.

"It's hard to feel safe when the people who are opposed to you are training with weapons.

"Trump supporters were about to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The FBI captured them and had evidence that these people were going to kidnap the governor of Michigan. These people are scary."

Michigan's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been a frequent target of Trump's criticism, including over her moves to enforce coronavirus social distancing rules in her state.

"These people are scary, and you just feel the need to defend yourself. I don't want to be cannon fodder ... but Donald Trump called me treasonous, Donald Trump called me a traitor. I get death threats every day from his supporters. Are we supposed to just be intimidated or run away in fear? That's not an option for us."

Mission to hold Biden, Harris accountable

Newsome said he is expecting Biden will do the bare minimum for African Americans as President.

"He'll do the absolute least that he can do without being seen in a bad light. He'll do what he can do to save face. There'll be big things, there'll be big symbolic gestures. But will it be thorough? Will it be hard hitting? Will his solutions go to the root of the problem?

"Without us forcing him to do that, I don't think it will, we are calling it 'mission accountability'. So our new mission is to hold Joe Biden and Kamala Harris accountable."

On Monday in the Bronx, where Newsome grew up, he was part of an event giving groceries to neighbours in need, had music, balloons and children painting. He said it felt like community, and that is what is needed for African Americans in the US.

"We have to build stronger communities. That's not necessarily sexy, or news garnering ... people would much rather see me leading a march in Manhattan with 3000 angry people behind me.

"That's not going to do it alone. Where we really win is by building a stronger community. That's where we win by organising our people."

Newsome said for now it is a good feeling to have Harris taking up the vice presidency, a Black woman who went to Howard University.

"I went there for law school... but in January, we will look at her as a former prosecutor, as a former top cop, as someone who's sympathetic to police officers, and we will treat her as such.

"We will protest and organise and put pressure on her to do right by the Black Lives Matter movement. To do right by the people, to hold police accountable."