Full Transcript: Woodwater Investments Founder Barron Channer On GHOGH Podcast – Part 2
Barron talks about turning down Harvard Business School, and whether Black-on-Black murders need to be prioritized over police-on-Black murders.
Jamarlin and Barron also debate these questions: Are Obama, Nation of Islam, and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition partly to blame for the Black murder rate in Chicago? Are most U.S. police departments racist? Will Black people start shooting back?
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers, Let’s GHOGH! We have developer and investor Barron Channer, the founder and CEO of Woodwater Investments, a holding company of technology and real estate. How’s it going Barron?
Barron Channer: Going well, thanks for having me Jamarlin.
Jamarlin Martin: So out of business school, Don is kind of putting you in the game in terms of you’re working on $100,000,000.
Barron Channer: Yeah, right away, right away, and he and I share a similar temperament. So he appreciated the fact that once he armed me with the understanding of what he wanted to do and he pointed me to the information that ultimately my approach to what needed to be done would be consistent with his and my temperament, remember I’d been a wrestler, I’d been on a football team, so sometimes you have to understand how to work with entrepreneurs and it’s like working with your coach. Your coach is the boss and he may say things in in a way that’s really meant to hurry things up. You can’t be sensitive about it, just do the work and do it to the best of your capacities. I was always cool under fire, including when we were negotiating with other folks and just played the team role well, so he allowed me to grow. Mind you, he was running a small organization deliberately because his view was I’d rather a swat team than an army. Right? It’s manageable. You can have real relationships with each other. You can actually control what you’re doing.
Jamarlin Martin: So he’s working with a lot of partners and contractors and keeping his fulltime team kind of small.
Barron Channer: Yeah. And in addition to his talent with real estate, his extra juice, if you will, which is what we all as investors and developers to bring to the table is assessing the talent around you, right? Because you can have partners, but are the partners, good or bad, are they trustworthy or not trustworthy. And good partners who are trustworthy are worth 10, maybe 100 other people, right? You don’t need a lot to be successful in this business. You just need to have good ideas and access to money. Everyone else is being paid and if they’re good people, they’re going to do a good job for the money.
Jamarlin Martin: Talk about leaving the Don Peebles’s platform and starting your own.
Barron Channer: Sure. Well, it didn’t start off as an intentional thing. It’s just got to a point where he was grown in a direction where he and I both agreed. I’m not sure we had this conversation, but it was obvious that the next plateau for him was New York. Real estate is location driven. New York is a Super Bowl if you’re a real estate developer. Right? So if your goal is to be a legend, you have to go there. The time in of that also coincided with the time and of my grandmother who passed away in 2014. My grandmother being sick. Mind you, aside from going away to college, I’ve never been away from my grandmother for my whole entire life for more than maybe a couple of weeks. Right? So this is someone with whom I had a very strong relationship. I knew that she was ill, she was in her early to mid nineties and I want, I did not want it to be that I was in New York or somewhere else, chasing wealth while my grandmother was passing away and not be in there. I figured if quote-unquote, I was losing time by not being with Don in New York, I could make it up. So I ended up deciding that I had to stay in Miami. The timing was right for him to go to New York. It was amicable. We stayed in touch, and also as I started to get into that and made the decision to stay in Miami, I just realized, it probably in the long run was a good decision because at some point you’ve got a bed on yourself. If you’re in the business of real estate it’s an entrepreneur’s game and if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, it’s the ideal time. And part of that even if not for me, part of the way I think about the world is can I do something that kids that I hope to have in the future can be proud of or benefit from. And it’s hard for your kids to benefit from your job unless you’re being paid an insane amount of money, but your kids can certainly pick up a small company and take it to the next level. And so, you know, so I started to embrace. It started off with me wanting to be with my grandmother who I would see every weekend and also my mother. And it turned into me embracing the challenge of now not having the halo over Don Peebles, which was a tremendous halo and being on my own, affiliated with him, but now on my own and having to fend for myself. The beauty of being an only child from Jamaica is that I’m not afraid. There’s no such thing as fear of failure because what are they going to do? Send me back to Jamaica to, to be what I was a poor person in Jamaica. Okay. I’ve done it. I was very poor for 18 years of my life. I can say that I did it. I could say, Hey, I was there.
Jamarlin Martin: So talk about what you’re doing now, your new platform, you’re running your own show. Talk about that.
Barron Channer: I’m running the Woodwater Group, and they’re focused primarily on real estate, but also making selectively some technology investments. On the real estate side it’s about scaling the business, right? I’ve gotten my sea legs in terms of my ability to show that I can survive and sustain as a quote unquote small business. Now mind you, I’m still doing very large deals because that’s what I was trained to do, but I’m doing very large deals with partners, including on occasion, pursuing opportunities with Don Peebles and others. But I’m running a small shop, so I’m still doing more of that. It’s cuts two fold my real estate investment activity. It’s on one hand, large development deals. Right? And that’s, you know, for the development stuff, if it’s not larger than $30 million, which is small by industry standards, but if it’s not larger than that, it’s not interesting to me as a development. Right? So that’s one side of the business. And the reason for that is simple. Development is the riskiest thing you can do. It takes a lot of time and if you’re going to do all of this and come out of it five years later with a million dollars, you might as well go and get a job. So if I’m going to do all of that, you know, I need to be in eight figure territory in terms of the potential of what I can make to justify the effort. The other side of my investment activity is smaller income producing real estate, right? And the idea is like anything. Even if you’re a risky, you have to have some safe foundation that allows you to springboard from. And in real estate, oftentimes people get diluted to fall in love with the big sexy stuff and do only that and miss the fact that when you’re a real estate developer, not an investor, you’re a developer, I’m spending money from day one, usually for three, four years. Everyone around me is making money because I’m paying them and if things go well, then I can make money maybe year four, five and six. But that business model is not a smart business model to sustain over a very long period of time for most people. In the interim, I’m investing in income producing real estate, the regular stuff, strip centers, and regular neighborhoods focused on south Florida. Just because I grew up here, I think I have an advantage. I have a specialty because real estate’s location based. I think I know south Florida, Palm Beach South better than most people in the world.
Jamarlin Martin: Walk the audience through the economics of a deal. So there’s a $10,000,000 deal. You have to get financing from a bank, the investors come in. Walk us through how the deal is set up.
Barron Channer: Sure. Well, first thing I would say to everyone and then I’ll get into it, it’s instructional because it was my experience. My ignorance led me to not appreciate the fact that you could be a person who is not a billionaire or decamillionaire and do real estate. I didn’t know that until I was probably 25 years old because I didn’t appreciate the fact that business was done with other people’s money. Right? So that’s the first thing I would say is whatever business you’re in there is broad, there was probably a network of people in your city or near your city who are there to give money to people with good ideas. They just need to believe you’re a good bet, right? So take real estate, your average real estate transaction, and it varies depending on whether you’re buying an asset that has income or you’re conceiving something that didn’t exist before. So let’s take the ladder. You’re conceiving something that did not exist before you’re developing from the ground up. Right? So let’s say it’s $100, or use your number, you said $10,000,000, you’re going to borrow a portion of that in debt from a bank, which is basically an obligation.
Jamarlin Martin: How much?
Barron Channer: Money you have to pay back. It’s gonna vary, but it’s going to be in the range of 60 to 80 percent depending on the type of asset and who you go to write. But as these days is probably going to be in the range of 60 to 65 percent after the great recession, once the government stepped in and started to create new requirements for new banking regulations, the banks have had to pull back in terms of the amount of money they lend. They used to lend easily up to 80 percent. That’s first mortgage. That means if things go wrong, they’re going to take the property from you. If they can’t get enough money from the property, they probably have a claim against some of your assets. So they’re going to sue you. And that’s when folks get into foreclosure.
Jamarlin Martin: So the banks agree to lend you a $7,000,000 on a $10,000,000 deal.
Barron Channer: So you’ve got $3,000,000 left, $10,000,000 deal, you’ve got your $3,000,000 of capital to fill. Typically there are either a high net worth individuals, doctors, dentists or others or professionally organized real estate investment firms that are willing to lend you up to 90 percent of that capital, but oftentimes it’s more in the 70, 80 percent range. So that’s of the equity. So that’s a the gap that’s not filled by the debt. So if it’s $3,000,000 dollars, 90 percent is going to be $2,700,000. So with a $300,000 investment, you could control a $10,000,000 project. Now mind you, one of the things we always say is you’ve got to respect the money, so it’s not as if these people are being fooled. The folks who have lent you to $7,000,000 from the bank, they are getting an interest and you have an obligation so you have to pay them and they get paid first. So they’re taking less risk. They get a lower return. The folks that have invested in equity, the equity with you, your co-investment partners, you likely have an agreement with them that allows them to take over. If you start to do things that are objectionable, right? And also they are being paid before you start to get, you know, paid an insane amount of money. They have to be paid a certain return on their investment, which typically starts off somewhere in the range of, you know, they have to get eight percent on their money, what’s called pari passu. So they put in 90 percent of the money, they get 90 percent of the profits until they get an an annualized return of their money, plus the equivalent of eight percent per year. Then you can negotiate what’s called a promote. So you can say, I’ve now gotten you to your initial preferred return of eight percent. Nine percent, 10 percent, it’s negotiable. After that point, I’ve now succeeded in showing you that this was a spectacular investment. You should reward me by giving me an extra share, a bonus share. So now the rest of the money that hasn’t been distributed, you have 10 percent in, but you can get a promote, maybe it’s 15, maybe it’s 20 percent. So now you’re getting your 10 percent that you paid for. Plus an extra 15 or 20 percent, so you’re getting 25, 30 percent of the residual profits after the preferred return, which is probably eight to 10 percent. It sounds complex and when you look at it on paper, it’s just simply saying, ‘Bro, if I lend you money, you gotta at least give me back my money, plus some interest for the benefit of having lent you the money. And then after that then you can be rewarded by getting an extra share. But until we get to that point, you’ve not done anything intelligent yet. You’ve just spent my money until you show me that we can actually make money’, because that’s the basic concept.
Jamarlin Martin: Some folks here in Miami, they like the chances of Amazon selecting Miami for HQ2. But if you had to handicap it, what would be the probability percentage for Amazon setting up shop here for their second headquarters?
Barron Channer: I would give us probably I’d give us a 15 to 20 percent chance right there. There are what, 10 cities in the mix right now. I think we’re better than average. I do think we have some real challenges in terms of how the game is played out and if you actually read the tea leaves and you look at what’s out there, if I’m Amazon a logistically I want to be center between the mid Atlantic, the southeast, and the northeast. Miami, you’re making a full commitment to the southeast from a logistical standpoint. Politically, I want to be in a city that’s seen as an influential city for classic America, right? That’s where your DCs, Maryland, Virginia area pops up.
Jamarlin Martin: Essentially you’re suggesting that your bet would be on one of the three Metro DC areas.
Barron Channer: That would be my bet, because I think Miami is a dominant player if they’re making the decision that they want to project to Latin America. I’ve not seen anything that obviously suggests that.
Jamarlin Martin: You’ve read more about Amazon betting on Indian than Latin America?
Barron Channer: Now that said, right, there is a very important element of this. Miami has made it into the top 10. Right? So I heard city of Miami, mayor Francis Suarez say we have already won. The question is now do we win the ultimate championship? Right? Because we as a city have to appreciate the need as a city to validate ourselves as a gateway of commerce. Everyone knows that we’re a great place to party. Everyone knows that we have spectacular diversity and people are starting to appreciate us for the cultural arts. People aren’t as attuned in part because we haven’t told the story, people aren’t as attuned to Miami as a commercial gateway and so they ignore the fact that Miami, I believe as of 2017, the 12th highest GDP of any MSA, that includes Broward and Palm Beach, but we all know that Miami leads that. The Miami MSA has the 12th largest GDP in the country of all MSAs, right? So were exceeded by all the names that you would expect the New York to San Francisco with the Boston’s. We’re the sixth largest based on population. So Miami Msa is an ascendant region from economically, and this was a perfect opportunity and you know, sometimes you’ve got to get into a fight to show people that you belong. Right? And you take, had I not actually gone to the college that I went to and actually taking the test next to kids from Japan and Sweden and elsewhere, I would have continued assuming that little old me from nowhere as less intellectual than them. Right? So, we’re in the fight and now everyone knows that we’re serious.
Jamarlin Martin: Who would you put after the three DC options? Who would be number two? If we wrapped the DC options into one.
Barron Channer: I think you can ignore Boston.
Jamarlin Martin: Wow, that’s interesting.
Barron Channer: And I don’t think they’re making this move for pure commerce play, I think you can make a Boston move and that move can be about future intellectual property, having direct access to the Boston corridor and all of the artificial intelligence, and then I think they would probably be able to get adequate amounts of land. And they would have the region strongly in support of them and they would be clearly the big dog of Boston. Like if they go to New York, they’re going to be big, but you’ve got major financial institutions, you’ve got other major technology companies there, but if they go to Boston, they would be clearly the dominant player in the technology, the new age technology space there
Jamarlin Martin: In terms of HQ2’s impact on the black community, in terms of whatever city they select. What would you say that the biggest impact would be in Atlanta in terms of property value increases in terms of, we saw what happened near Reno with Tesla, we saw what happened in Seattle with Amazon, but wherever they place their bets, there’s a high probability that there’s a housing prices are going to increase. So what selection do you think would have the biggest positive impact on the black community?
Barron Channer: It’s tricky, right? My experience has been the fate of the black community is often decoupled from the basic economics of a situation. So if you look at most places that go through an economic renaissance in part because we’re not participating in that economic renaissance at the same level as, we don’t own businesses that are actively participate in, we don’t own homes at the same level, we don’t actually benefit as significantly as we should. And what that then translates into is we’re disadvantaged because the environment has gotten better, folks have gotten richer and on average the black community has not. And so now they’re made poorer relative to the others because things have gotten richer and they’re forced out by the economic circumstances because they can’t either afford the rent or can’t afford to own in the area. So I would say it would be tough, to me the place that in which you would benefit the most would be the region that would be most aggressive about negotiating to ensure inclusivity in the economic fallout or economic windfall. So, where’s the place that’s talking about local, about training and jobs? Where’s the place that’s talking about contracts for our business owners? Where’s the place that’s expecting equity participation for our investors? Right? That’s the place that we’re going to benefit.
Jamarlin Martin: You don’t think the biggest kick though in terms of what’s most likely to happen? Wouldn’t you say the biggest kick to an area or community is in home ownership in terms of wealth creation, so I get there could be deals, there could be investments, there could be jobs, but what would it be the most reliable impact to expect, positive impact to expect wherever Amazon HQ2 lands?
Barron Channer: I think it probably boils down to jobs and training, right? Homes are going to grow, but you’re going to have to have equitable access to mortgage financing at rates that are comparable to others.
Jamarlin Martin: But let’s say you take a city like Atlanta. You have thousands and thousands of homeowners, right?
Barron Channer: But you know, people forget, right? Atlanta has a sizable African American population, but it’s questionable whether or not Atlanta as a city has a majority African American population. So don’t forget there are a lot of Caucasians and others sitting in Atlanta that would also benefit and God bless them for it. Other people are going to benefit, but the bigger point that I was making is that the value of homes going up may be relevant to a couple of the folks that are there, but there’s also the displacement effect, right? Can you trade out of your home? I believe everyone should have the right to sell their home. The question is if you sell your home and capture the wealth that comes from that, the equity that was built into it, can you roll into another circumstance that is actually beneficial to you or are you now cash rich but property poor, right? Because you can’t find something that you can afford.
Jamarlin Martin: What are your thoughts on folks in Atlanta being concerned that, hey, if Amazon HQ2 lands here, this city is going to flip from black to white, it’s going to be gentrified and Amazon is really going to impact the character of the city in a negative way, specifically as it relates to black people?
Barron Channer: Yeah. I wouldn’t characterize it as negative. I think that’s a legitimate concern, right? If you looked at the numbers and if you paid attention to the recent mayoral race in which the population dynamics were brought up, the reality is today the city of Atlanta, it has, it’s questionable, I couldn’t tell you because I’ve not studied it, but it has a very large Caucasian population that I believe either as equivalent to or already exceeds the black population. That’s just not obvious in the politics of the city.
Jamarlin Martin: Well, some people would argue that the white Democrat who ran for major, she almost won, and the politics are actually supporting what you’re saying that this thing is really right down.
Barron Channer: Yeah. And I’m not sure she was a, I’m not sure if she was a Democrat, I had the privilege of being exposed to some of the numbers by colleagues of mine. And what became obvious to me was there was a huge skewing of the republican vote almost to the tune of, I think she got maybe 80 percent of the republican vote. And you ask yourself are die-hard republicans just voting for her because she is white or do they know something that we don’t know?
Jamarlin Martin: I would think that hey, there’s no way a conservative republican is going to be mayor of Atlanta. So if we have to have a democrat mayor, yeah, most likely this lady is going to run Atlanta better and she has more distance than the old guard establishment who may perceive as corrupt.
Barron Channer: I hear you to get to knock on a key point though, I think we’ve got to appreciate the numbers as black people, right? We’re 13 percent of the national population, we’re also in an era during which you’re having the rise of super regions, right? So there are folks, baby boomers and millennials are all moving wherever they live, they’re generally move into an urban environment. And that’s of all races. So if white folks in the southeast are looking around and saying, where do I go, what’s a spectacular city for me to live in and have a really cosmopolitan experience? The list is relatively short in the southeast. If you’re not looking to travel 500 miles, maybe you look at a Nashville and you’re certainly looking at Atlanta, maybe you’re considering an Orlando and so folks are going to start to move there. When those folks start to move their 87 percent of the people in this country, maybe 88 percent are not black. So that means that net net, the people who are going to be moving in are getting to be, particularly a city like Atlanta that has had a rich history of a high black population, they’re not going to get six out of every 10 people now move into the city. Now that the city is one of America’s leading cities will not be black. So just over time it’s going to the, the, the numbers are going to dilute a bit.
Jamarlin Martin: But do you think the black community in Atlanta should resist this demographic change?
Barron Channer: No, I, I do think the black community in Atlanta as well as the black community in Miami, which, I’m active in some of these conversations, should always be asking the question and challenging their leader’s and themselves to make sure that they’re part of the equation, right? If there’s a party, let’s say these people are moving to Atlanta because their are jobs and there’s wealth to be had, if you want to be an entrepreneur and no reason to stop the other people from getting into the party, the question is, can I get in as well. If the setup is such that I don’t believe it’s equitable and I don’t have a fair chance to get into the game, then yeah, I should be concerned about there being a party that I’m not invited to. And the analogy that I use to most people when I talk about this is a party is a noise nuisance. If you’re the next door neighbor. A loud party parties a blast if you’re in the party, right? So what did you always do as a kid? If you didn’t want your neighbors to complain, you invited them to the party and magically no one called the police. That’s the same thing as it relates to economic development is oftentimes the black community’s not intentionally invited to the party, and sure there are few of us, myself and yourself included who have the fortune of of somehow having gotten ourselves into all sorts of parties, but the average person who comes from the neighborhood I grew up in who went to the elementary school that I went to, they’re not being afforded the opportunity to maximize their intellect. It has nothing to do with their lack of intellect. The I. I’ve gone from a English for speakers of other language at a public school in a lower income community in Miami to Wharton. I’ve had friends who were sons and daughters of royalties and friends who are sons and daughters of drug dealers and I’ve not seen a substantial difference in their intellectual capacity. I’ve seen a difference in their understanding of the world and the amount of information they’ve digested, and that’s really just about opportunity. Right? You point, you point me in the wrong direction and I may end up in some of the same places that some of my friends ended up, and you point me in a different direction. The black community needs to be more intentionally included in the economic development conversation and none of us are really having that discussion. We’re talking about how to stop other people. We’re not talking about how to play offense and if you can’t play offense economically, if you’re not building wealth. If you’re not managing your finances or the people around you aren’t managing your finances. If you don’t have a appropriate ways of covering the disaster events that occur in your life, health insurance and life insurance, eventually you’re going to be losing out to others who are amassing wealth incrementally and they may not seem tremendously wealthier than you during your lifetime, but their kids now start with a better leg up. And it just keeps building from there.
Jamarlin Martin: A group of black investors give you a $100,000,000 and they say that you need to build a institution to focus on two issues. One issue is the police institutionally murdering black people, innocent black people. The other issue is black on black violence. If you break those two issues up into your portfolio in terms of having to invest to make an impact, what percentage goes to black on black violence and what percentage goes to police across America killing innocent black people? How would you allocate that?
Barron Channer: Heavy allocation to black on black probably to the tune of 80, 85 percent and 15 to 20 percent to the police issue. And I explained to the fallen away, to me the police issue is a technical issue that could be legislated or lobbied out of existence because I think it comes down to the training, right? In the training and the expectations, right? The expectation is that if the training is such that the black folks in the community are seen as threats more often than not, and the expectation is low that you’ll be punished for transgressing against their rights. Then you’re going to have violence. I think you can deal with that issue in a matter of probably less than five years if you had enough money to advocate at the right level. The issue as it relates to black on black crime, black on black violence has multiple levels. There’s an economic pragmatism to it, right? A lot of the people were committing acts of violence, if they thought they could make a quarter million dollars or $100,000 doing something else in air condition and be lauded for it, they’d be doing that instead of whatever got them into the point of doing crime. So that’s one. There’s a psychological element to it, right? Uh, in the sense that, you know, if you live in a world in which folks perceive you to be less, you start to perceive yourself to be less. And most people can’t digest that. So you project that. So now the people who look like you, you have a higher level of aggression towards them then you may to certain other folks. So there’s a psychological element to it. And then you’ve got real issues as it relates to the support structure. So there’s a lot of things that would need to be brought together, could be brought together, but the resources need to be significant and concentrated. So you’d have to put 80, 85 percent, heck maybe 90 percent if it’s $100,000,000 into just that alone. And, and start by focusing on successes that can be celebrated. Everyone gravitates to our success. I take as a perfect example, I tell folks, take a look at the perspective of the hip hop generation as it relates to business ownership, right? There was a time where everyone just wanted to be on wax and they were being distributed and produced by someone else and they never cared about the points that never cared about the merchandising. They had no concern about accounting. Just perform, and that’s it. You move forward and they start to realize that the people they idolize, the Master Ps, the Diddys, the Jay-Zs, are actually now thinking about business ownership and magically all the same people who have always been perceived to not have an interest in anything cerebral and not be interested in business, all want to be a boss and they all want to have their own merchandise and they all know what a 360 deal is. They all have a website and someone, cousin, friend or other doing social media, so now the whole culture around hip hop and all the kids who are tied to it, even the preteens have embraced the idea of being entrepreneurs and business people without even articulate that stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You could check me out @JamarlinMartin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M dot com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s get back to the podcast. What would you say to a minority segment in the community will say that, hey, we need to be doing just as much marching an activism about black on black violence or more than whenever a white police officer shoots an innocent black person, that we need to have so much more priority on what we’re doing to each other and within our communities, than reacting to whenever a police officer murders a innocent black person.
Barron Channer: I would agree with that right now because the issue is probably even more detrimental to our community. That said, everything has a rationale behind it. Right? The reality is that if you, if the black community at this point has faced this, these waves of violence within our community, most of them economic-born for so long that no resistance, no army can withstand the barrage of decades upon decades of things happening to them. So the black community is kind of beaten down now.
Jamarlin Martin: It’s like, hey, we’ve been killing each other for so long. It’s not really comparable. It’s kind of normalized.
Barron Channer: Yeah. And not the same degree for everyone, but you think about it, go and take a look at Youtube and other channels. Go and take a look at the interviews with folks who are now two or three generations into gang violence. And they’re talking about people being shot in the head, almost the same as the average person talks about punching someone in the face.
Jamarlin Martin: Chicago of course is a hotspot. Black on black violence. So Obama is out of Chicago, he’s an activist in Chicago. He becomes president, the nation of Islam organization that’s been deep and embedded with progressive things in black America. Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, they’re based in Chicago. Chicago has had black politicians. Why is Chicago so wild when you have these black leaders of influence and institutions, Barack Obama, Nation of Islam, Farrakhan, but Chicago is just a mess? How much accountability needs to be assigned to the politicians and leaders, including the names that I mentioned, why can we have a better effort to address the violence in Chicago? Sure. Well, like we get like, Hey, white folks need to do more. We get that, but what can we be doing better?
Barron Channer: Let’s tackle that question. What could we be doing better? I think it’s about focus, right? You mentioned the point of this issue being such an issue that should be focused on, in part because of influence, but the reality is influence on who, right? If you think about the folks who are really living the violent episodes in Chicago, and by the way, Baltimore went through a stretch, Miami went through a stretch, LA, New York. So this thing comes and it goes. It’s not endemic or unique to Chicago. It’s just unfortunately their time now and it seems as if…
Jamarlin Martin: But it’s relevant though that Barack Obama is from Chicago. He pushed his activism in the streets of Chicago. He’s embedded in Chicago. He becomes president of the free world from Chicago. He knows that Chicago is a mess. The Nation of Islam is based in Chicago. But this, the issue on black, on black violence, it seems like it’s getting worse, meaning that you have black leaders and institutions in seats of influence and power. But this issue is getting worse. I mean, it doesn’t sound sensible to me to expect that white folks are going to change or the police departments are going to change anytime soon. So it sounds to me that the focus should be on how can we pull our resources together, hold leaders accountable and better address the violence in Chicago.
Barron Channer: Yeah. Alright. So let me tackle that from my perspective. One, I don’t think it would ever be realistic to expect the police to play a meaningful part in the level of violence because they’re there to contain the fire. Right now we can argue and I think it is true that at times in containing the fire there transgressing against the civil rights of some of these folks and, and treating them in a way that doesn’t seem to respect their humanity. Right? But I’m sure that there are reasons for that. So they take the police out, right? To me, the real issue here has to do with the what’s happening at the neighborhood and family level, right? If you have circumstances where you have large populations of young people who do not feel connected to the larger society, do not feel optimistic about their future or even their lives. And you know, I’ve not spent a lot of times Chicago, but when I hear the interviews, many of these kids don’t think you’re going to live past the age of 18, which in reality I was in a situation like that where I was just happy…
Jamarlin Martin: Oh. I forgot a name. Jesse Jackson is also out of Chicago.
Barron Channer: But my point is the focus needs to be placed at the level where it can have most impact. All the people that your name and President Obama, Mr Jackson, the nation of Islam, their influence is at a level that is above. That doesn’t resonate with the people who are actually experiencing the violence. They may know them, but there is not a emotional connection to them. And so in terms of what could we and what should we do different, I think…
Jamarlin Martin: But what would you say. Barack Obama, he’s the president for eight years. Nation of Islam has been in Chicago forever. Jesse Jackson has been in Chicago forever. If these leaders cannot drive impact with black on black violence in Chicago, who else is going to come in and do something better?
Barron Channer: Easy, I will tell you. The people that have the time to really dedicate themselves to the hard work. So President Obama during his eight years was the president of the entire country, right? I think we’re going to see…
Jamarlin Martin: I don’t buy that. I mean, I get that a President Obama was the president of the entire country, but you have seen over and over again when presidents get in power, they really respond to their donors, the people who supported them, and in nuanced ways, they address some of the needs of specific groups that are responsible for their win. So although Obama is the president, yes, of the entire United States, we may not have the money of some of these lobbyists and interest groups, we may not have the lobbying money of a Silicon Valley or other industries, however we voted for you, we voted for you in masses like never before, so we deserve for you to stick your neck out and deliver for this community specifically.
Barron Channer: I think the challenge is this, and we’re talking about black on black violence and we’re using Chicago as an example. There are others, but we’re using Chicago. No one person can address that issue in a sustainable way. Right? And I think the big missing piece here is that we have not had, and maybe the federal government could play a part in this, we have not had a true, sustained investment in the social organizations that are in these communities and have the connections at a ground level. The reality is if you look at Chicago, I would, and I don’t know this for fact, but I’d probably bet that there are probably 5,000 individuals, individual people, maybe even less, that are directly involved either the perpetrators or the victims of the violence that we’re talking about and those people are imminently salvageable folks, but they need to be reasoned with in a way that they can understand, and that doesn’t happen simply by out-debating them one time. It’s a relationship. It’s a context. It’s creating an environment in which they can be hopeful. If not for themselves. They can be hopeful about their kids and/or the people that they care about and/or love. Right? And the challenge ends up being when we try to have the magnificent savior. You think about in the nineties, right? Whenever they had the LA riots, the LA gang violence would flare up. Jim Brown, who everyone respected would show up Ice-T or or someone else would show up. They stopped the violence for a month and things would go down and then invariably they’d flare up again because the sustained ability to invest in the community, in creating hopefulness, people that are hopeful, especially young people that are hopeful and young boys in particular are not violent. They may be despondent in terms of woe is me. I’m poor, but they’re not violent. The people who are perpetuating violence on a sustained basis, they have lost hope and they have turned that into aggression.
Jamarlin Martin: There was a couple of instances where you had folks just getting fed up with the police murders against black when they started kind of just shooting innocent police officers. Right? Do you think the police departments in America should expect more random violence if the black community is just going to have to just absorb what I believe is systematic oppression. You with the killings of innocent black people, meaning that the more this goes on and the more visibility that’s out there, we have the cameras, we have it on video. The people are really in tune in terms of what’s going on at the local level now. How much pain is the black community going to take before? Meaning if it’s not addressed by politicians, it’s not addressed by religious leaders, it’s not addressed by America where you’re probably going to expect that there’s going to be more of these instances where people have tried everything. We tried to vote, we voted for Obama. We’re trying to reform the police, body cameras. The police departments are so racist that maybe nothing works, and so you’re going to have more kind of desperation events where black people in the United States, they started firing back at police.
Barron Channer: Well, a couple of things. I’m not on the side of thinking that the police departments are racist. I think there are racist people in all walks of life and unfortunately you give someone a gun…
Jamarlin Martin: Hold up. You’re serious?
Barron Channer: Yeah. I’m very serious.
Jamarlin Martin: You don’t believe as an institution, let’s say if you aggregate the institutions, obviously some police departments are better than others. You don’t think that there’s enough data out there to say that the police departments in America are racist?
Barron Channer: No. I think a couple of things, and to qualify that, right? I believe that most instances result from easily discernible circumstances. So I think the police in that we see, right, because that’s what we’re talking about, the police in that we see is a combination of two things. One, the larger society, including black people, have been diluted to believe that black men are the biggest problem in our society. Right? And in terms of physical violence, and you just think about it. If you know, most people I know if they’re walking around at 11:00 at night and they see a random black guy, they don’t know who’s not dressed in a way they assume they are now magically more curious about what that person is doing than if that person weren’t black. That’s everyone. Right? So I think you have that. That’s one layer of this is there’s this negative bias against the black male in society, not created by black people, but we’ve inherited some of it as well. That bleeds into the police as well. The other part of it is the capitalism around the existence of police forces, what they’re protecting and who from, lead them to be in our environment far more than anybody anywhere else, and that’s borne out in just drug arrests. Anybody in their right mind would know that black folks are not using more drugs than others yet were arrested at equal and maybe higher ratios. Why? Because the police are told, you should go and police that neighborhood so you have the combination of the bias meat and more instances of things that can potentially go wrong and then over time there’s a certain apathy that’s built up. If you’ve always just chased people down and arrested them and thrown them in the back of the car, than chasing people down becomes what you do and then when they start to escalate, you escalate and you bring your frustrations. Also you have…
Jamarlin Martin: Ok. Hold on. So you’re defending the police department.
Barron Channer: Not Defending. I’m just saying that…
Jamarlin Martin: You don’t think that it’s fair to say that police departments in the United States in aggregate are racist. Is America racist?
Barron Channer: Yes. I believe America has…
Jamarlin Martin: But the police departments are not?
Barron Channer: I’m saying they’re not uniquely racist. That’s all I’m saying. They’re not uniquely racist. I believe that they have a racist bias that they inherited from, but it’s like saying our banks are racist. I believe that the way they practice their lending habits could be discerned as being racist. Are employers racist? If you look at the way people hire, same credentials, Laquisha Smith and Mary Jane. Laquisha Smith is going to be given the job at far lower, and those are studies being done. So our society has a racist bias that’s been built into it that we’ve never actually dealt with in terms of a conversation. And to me, saying the police are racist and not acknowledging that the country has a culture that’s influenced by racism is ignoring the larger problem and thinking that you can just carve out one piece of the cancer and cure the cancer. We need to tackle the entire cancer. Now the challenge is police officers have guns. They have arresting power. I think all of those things, if we were electing people at a state county and city level who were sensitive to the way policing should be, those issues would go away. The mayor of your city has a tremendous amount of influence over the police. How they police in your city.
Jamarlin Martin: We just crossed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr King. If Dr King could speak to us, uh, from the grave and kind of analyze what’s going on, what type modern message would he have, in terms of your study of him?
Barron Channer: Yeah. Well, I think that’d be an interesting conversation. My belief is that there are two primary themes that would come out. One, stop locking me in the box of being Mother Teresa. He was an activist. Now he chose nonviolent activism, but he was an activist and he was an activist trying to change in transit and issues and he was willing to go to jail for it and he was willing to exercise civil disobedience. So he would say, stop putting me on this pedestal and get to work. These issues still exist and I want them to be changed. Right?
Jamarlin Martin: By the way, Dr. King met with Elijah Muhammad. So when you talk about what black leaders are okay to meet with and have dialogue with, just keep in mind that maybe Dr King needs to be condemned because he met with Malcolm X and he met with Elijah Muhammad, who are on record with what many people would believe are racist or controversial statements.
Barron Channer: Yeah. So he would definitely say that. Then he would also say this starts with race, but it doesn’t end there, right? Because remember, he was moving onto the poor people’s campaign and he was moving onto poor people’s campaign as a means to an end. It’s fine to do away with racism, but if there is no racism and I’m still poor, has my life substantially been enhanced? Right? The idea of being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, the idea of being able to enjoy the fullest extent of an American society, which is capitalist, has to take into account economic status and so he would encourage all of us to focus on what are we doing to deal with the income inequities that exist.
This podcast has been edited for clarity.