Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that white people are now getting filthy rich off of selling weed. We’re not talking about thousands, or millions, but white people in America are now scheduled to make billions of dollars off of weed this year — including some of the very politicians who wrote and voted for laws sending Black and Brown people to prison for this.
And today I need to tell you the story of one man. And I need you to know his name, remember it, and I need us to help get him out of prison.
His name is Michael Thompson. And in 1994 he sold weed to an undercover informant. He’s been in prison for 25 years ever since. He’s 68 years old now. And has 35 years to go. In other words, he was given a life sentence for selling weed.
His mother died while he was in prison. So did his father. His only son died while he was in prison. And we’re going to fight to get Michael free. We can do it. We must.
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
Can I get historical for a moment? I need to break something down right from the jump today to help us better understand what’s going on in the United States right now. And ultimately this is going to help all of us better understand the injustice being experienced by Michael Thompson.
(Break it down voice)
If you ask me 100 times if the United States was founded on racism, bigotry, genocide, slavery, and theft — 100 times I’m going to tell you that this is absolutely true. That this land wasn’t discovered. It was already populated by beautiful indigenous people who had been here for thousands of years. They had already cultivated the land. They had already created cultures and governments. They had already created currencies and trade routes. This land, before Europeans ever stepped foot on it, was already fully established. Tens of millions of indigenous people were murdered. Tens of millions of Africans were then enslaved and shipped around the world, including to this land, to build it up, to build up the economy on the backs of free labor. And it was brutal and horrible.
All of that’s true. And as a historian, I do more to tell that story, than the story that I am about to tell you, but for a moment, I need to tell you the other side.
The pain of Native Americans. The pain of enslaved Africans. Their trauma. Was a business opportunity, an investment opportunity – that created deep generational wealth for millions of Europeans. Our pain, was their come up. Our trauma, was their hustle. Our misery and genocide and enslavement produced their success.
And that equation — of one group’s success on the back of another group’s oppression — is the modern day business model for the so called War on Drugs. What we know is that the War on Drugs was never a War on Drugs, it was always a war on people — particularly on Black people — to destroy communities and organizations and impact voting. And the War on Drugs is now nearly 50 years old. And what it has produced is not reduced drug use, not increased drug treatment, but all it has produced is mass incarceration.
And what I want you to understand is that in this country, deep oppression always means somebody else is getting rich. Deep oppression is always somebody else’s business opportunity.
And that’s where I want to introduce you to Michael Thompson.
(Play montage of news clips saying recreational marijuana is now legal in Michigan)
Last year, after decades of work from activists and organizers on the ground in Michigan, recreational marijuana was finally legalized — making it the first state in the Midwest to do so. Now the laws haven’t fully taken effect, they have a lot of red tape, and will be rolled out — no pun intended — they will be rolled out slowly over the next year, but right now, it’s finally legal to possess it. And businesses and investors from all over the country are lining up to make a fortune there in Michigan just like we see in Colorado and California. They have apps and delivery trucks. They now have lobbyists — including former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner who literally voted for every law you can name creating tough penalties for selling or possessing weed. Now Boehner is on the boards of weed companies and making money off of all of this.
And while all of the corporate machines are getting ready to profit off of an industry that has sent hundreds of thousands of Black men and women to prison — including so many of my own childhood friends — right now in Michigan, right this very moment, as you hear my voice, a 68 year old man named Michael Thompson is serving 60 years in prison for selling weed.
That makes it a life sentence. He’s never committed a violent crime. And for the 25 years he has been in prison, he hasn’t had a single infraction. Not one. Do you know how hard that is? That’d be like not getting a single parking ticket or speeding ticket for 25 years. Or not being late on a single bill for 25 years. His guards have testified on his behalf. Guards from the morning shift. Guards from the night shift. Staff from violence prevention programs. Staff from the school.
But he’s literally spent almost half of his life in prison for selling weed. It’s cost the state of Michigan over a million dollars to keep him there. And it’s one of the single most egregious cases of injustice going on in the entire country right now. For a man to spend to spend his 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond in prison for selling weed is abusive. It’s wrong. It’s unjust.
Which brings me to our three ACTION STEPS for today.
(ACTION STEPS MUSIC)
It’s not enough for us to simply learn about an injustice and mention it on social media, let’s put our words into action.
I have 3 Action Steps for you ok?
Action Step #1: I want you to make a few phone calls, ok? These phone calls work. Just know that we’ve already had several action step victories with these phone calls.
And today I need you to call the office of the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. She’s a kind, compassionate woman. She’s the new Governor and I respect her. I need you to call her office, be respectful and kind, but also be clear and direct. Ask to speak to someone in her office. An actual human. And let them know that you would like for Governor Whitmer to consider pardoning Michael Thompson or commuting his sentence. He’s done enough time. He’s paid his price. Do this in your own words.
Here are 2 phone numbers for you. Save them in your phone.
And then email me @ email@example.com to let me know how it goes ok?
Action Step #2: I want you to do what you just did over the phone, but I want you to do it over email, ok? Email Governor Gretchen Whitmer at Gretchen.Whitmer@michigan.gov
Action Step #3 is this: Let’s take it to Twitter. Please tweet @GovWhitmer — respectfully — and ask her that she consider pardoning or commuting the sentence of Michael Thompson. And let’s include the hashtag #FreeMichaelThompson in each of those tweets, ok?
Let’s do this!!!
Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!
If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast, we’ll be right back here every single weekday, breaking down important news stories and issues, and we’d love for you to subscribe on your favorite podcast apps like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Please share this podcast with your friends and family. Our next goal is to get to 100,000 subscribers and we won’t get there without you! Have you left a review yet? On Apple Podcasts we now have over 7,000 5-star reviews, but we’re aiming for 10,000 — so we still want to hear from you so please leave your best review when you get time.
Thank you so much to the nearly 30,000 founding members of The North Star whose generosity even makes this podcast possible. Love y’all and appreciate you so much.
If you love this podcast and want to support our work — or want to see the show notes and transcript for each episode — we’d love it if you considered becoming a founding member of our community at TheNorthStar.com. There we not only have our podcasts, but hundreds of original articles and stories and commentaries from some of the leading scholars and thinkers and journalists in the world.
Lastly, a shout out to our Associate Producer Lyssandra and Podcasting Director and Senior Producer, Willis, for their hard work on this and every episode.
Take care everybody.
Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon
Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis, Scooby Williams & Debraun Thomas.
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush, Jason Coffey & Marcus Wilkerson
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg
Contains samples from:
“Where Do We Go Now?” and “Stoned” by The Off Daze