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Nothing About Us, Without Us! - Interview with Leroy Moore

By: 
James Tracy
Date Published: 
October 01, 2007

Leroy F. Moore, Jr. is a radical Black organizer in the disability and racial justice movements. He works with Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, Poor Magazine, and Harambee Educational Council, an organization for parents, advocates and young adults focused African Americans with disabilities. Long a fixture in the anti-police brutality and homelessness efforts nationwide; he is now taking on the hip-hop industry with a groundbreaking compilation of disabled rappers: Krip-Hop. He is also a member of the Molotov Mouths Outspoken Word Troupe.

Leroy

LT: Tell me a little bit about your background, what led to your politicization?

LM: I was born with cerebral palsy into a family that was and still are activists. My father was a Black Panther and my mother was an independent thinker. I had no choice but to be an activist.

My experiences in both communities-Black and Disabled, and how they treated, or better yet, not treated both of my identities gave me a real eye-opener on how society treats Blacks and other people of color with disabilities.

Racism in the disability movement and services for people with disabilities became clear when I was mainstreamed from my all Black Special Education class to a majority White non-disabled mainstream class. From that point onward, I had the question of race and disability in my head.

LT: You talk about the "intersection of race and disability" How exactly are these entwined? Some present disability as color-blind, something that could happen to anybody.

LM: The reality of race and disability has been with us since day one. Disability is a part of our fabric of our being, just like race, all the way back to Moses. People of color have found themselves in situations where the onset of disability is delivered by the oppressive society we live in. From robbing the land from Native Americans to slavery to the Tuskagee Experiment, to today's budget cuts in mental health, hospitals, and the violence we seemed to live in at home and abroad, this country's action and policies have helped increase disability in POC communities.

LT: Let's talk about your anti-police brutality work. What are some of the larger patterns you see in anti-police brutality work as is pertains to people with disabilities?

LM: I've been doing anti-police brutality work since I was seventeen-years-old from coast to coast and I've seen a larger pattern than what is out there now.

Consciousness around this topic has been increasing throughout this country and world, but there is a lack of avenues to talk and actively work on it. At this point of time there is not an organization taking charge of this issue and pushing it into the mainstream with an organizing, research, a legal arm pushing the Department of Justice to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example.

Many times the disability is played down or not mentioned because parents are ashamed of it or the investigator has a lack of knowledge of disability factors in cases of police brutality. As for me as a disabled advocate, I see only a few people like myself in this field.

Also there is a notion that police brutality only happens to people who are homeless with mental health disabilities. This type of thinking has created a hierarchy in the disability rights movement. If you look at recent cases of police brutality you will see that people with all types of disabilities-from autism to deafness to my disability, cerebral palsy-are being abused by police. There is also a lack of collaboration with organizations representing people with disabilities. From my point of view, we need a social justice framework in the disabled movement going beyond a civil rights platform. Yes, there are individuals, especially young disabled activists, who are in social justice movements interjecting disability; but as a movement, it is in the infant stages.

LT: Do you think that the existing anti-police brutality networks factor disability issues into their work?

LM: A lot of Copwatch organizations around the country have done amazing things when is comes to the awareness of police brutality against people with disabilities. In Denver, Colorado, Copwatch wrote up a statement of all people with disabilities in 2002 who had been abused by the police and used that statement to get community services.

The October 22nd Coalition has added disability into their data collection for their Stolen Lives projects. What is surprising is a lot of national organizations, like the NAACP are writing about police brutality and people with disabilities but are bypassing local advocates like myself. Once again our voices are not heard and our issues is in someone else hands.

I know that this type of work, anti-police brutality work is never going to have the resources they need to survive not to mention taking on the disability factor because of the system we live in. Capitalism strives on having protection of wealth, property, services and goods; and, in a strange twist, we don't put our trust into the community, we try to protect ourselves from our own community.

When it comes down to it no one can advocate our issues except for us! Yes, we can have allies, but until the disabled community and leaders take on the issue of police brutality at the individual, community and organizational level, it will continue to be overlooked by the broader community.

LT: In your poem, Disabled World Nation, you make the connection between war and disability. Has the rest of the disability rights movement made this connection as well?

LM: Yes, the disability rights movement is clear on the notion that war creates more people with disabilities. However the anti-war movement needs a lot of education when it comes to issues concerning people with disabilities. There is a lack of disabled voices in the current anti-war movement and it shows at their rallies through non-accessible stages to safety issues. At many rallies activists with disabilities are not protected so therefore they are easy targets for the police to harass and be arrested.

This year alone we have read stories of disabled veterans waiting for their checks from the military and a lack of health care of disabled veterans. War has become a multi million dollar industry, while disabled soldiers return home with broken bodies and broken promises from the military and their country.

LT: You are also a cultural worker. Tell us about your current project, Krip Hop, and why cultural work is important.

LM: Just like Paul Robeson and the Black Arts Movement, I believe that art plays a major role in our activism. We are changing people's attitudes and creating a stage on the street, in city halls, and in the arts arena as people with disabilities. There are two artistic projects I'm heavily involved in dealing with reclaiming our histories and voices and at the same time healing from verbal and physical violence towards our beings, bodies, and voices.

Krip-Hop is an international CD compilation project whose main goal is to make people aware that from Blues to hip-hop there has always been and still are disabled musicians who have struggled to make a name for themselves and many have changed the music arena as we are now it today, for example Cripple Clarence Lofton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and DJ Boogie Blind. However their contributions, lifestyles and music continue to be overlooked in all arenas, even in the education system, by today's hip-hop generation.

Unfortunately many publishers, producers, agents, record companies and media still can't see the audience and marketing potential of disabled arts in general, and many Black bookstores, publishers, newspapers and agents have the same view. Krip-Hop is also raising the question of negative images and hateful language in the hip-hop industry towards us. Currently the N-word is a hot debate in the society in general with the comment of [Don] Imus and in the hip-hop industry, but what about the disabilist language that hip-hop artists [Black-Eyed Peas and Eminem, in particular] and even our so-called Black leaders use constantly?

Krip-Hop has lead to a vision that nothing will change in the music industry until there is an organizing force making the music industry more accessible in all ways. This organizing force is a newly establish organization that will educate the music industry about the talent and market potential when it comes to artists with disabilities and will incorporate positive language in the music arena when it comes to people with disabilities.

LT: You sure don't leave any stone unturned as an activist!

LM: In another project we take on sex. Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility is another artistic avenue of artists/activists with disabilities reclaiming their voice, art, and body to make a statement that we are beautiful in our disability. Sins Invalid is a performance and video event featuring disabled artists speaking truths about their bodies and stripping taboos off of sexuality and disability. Patty Berne, Co-Director/Performer of Sins Invalid, and I realized that as people who are artists and activists with disabilities there was and still is a lack of visible representation in society, media, and in the art arena of our hot, sexy and fiery sweet disabled brothers and sisters, especially us of color. We can choose to define what's "hot" in a way that supports celebrating the power of the disabled body as beautiful.

LT: What do you think are steps towards a stronger movement?

LM: First of all the days of one leader are over. If we want to use the term "movement", then the movement must lead. Not one person! We have been hypnotized by mainstream media and this individualistic achievement umbrella the US lives under, causing isolation and falling back to identity politics with our guards up, protecting ourselves from our brothers and sisters, and playing into the role of divide and conquer.

The next step is taking a page from Malcolm X of self-determination but in a social justice framework. First we must regain the philosophy of collectivism then take back our power that we give away too easily to institutions, political leaders, and the media. We must continue to work at the community level with our own programs.

We also need to learn from movements from around the world, for example, parts of Africa's disabled movement have separated from the government to have community control of some their organizations. We can learn from that model. Why can't neighborhood schools be controlled by the community? There are many models of movement building around the world that we can learn from.

Leroy's first book Black Disabled Man With a High IQ will be released in the fall of 2007. He is currently booking events for his Black & Disabled Tour this winter and you can contact him to get involved or set up an event at [email protected]. To find out more about Leroy's work, see www.leroymoore.com and http://thedancingtree.org/sinsinvalid.html.