WILLIAMSTOWN — As a whole, humanity is not moving backward, but rather is entering into a period where its progress is quickly slowing, according to social media activist and columnist Shaun King.
And the election of Donald Trump isn't the cause, but rather the result.
King was speaking to an overflow crowd from the main stage at the Williams College '62 Center for Theatre and Dance on Thursday as part of the "Claiming Williams Day," in which classes are suspended and the campus gathers at events and discusses how to be a more inclusive community. Claiming Williams Day has been held on the first Thursday of the spring semester since 2009.
King is a senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, a commentator for The Young Turks and The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and he is a prominent voice in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"The election of Donald Trump didn't make sense to us," he said, "because we all thought human progression was linear. But it's not linear. It's like a roller coaster, with wild peaks and valleys. And right now we are in a dip in the quality of humanity, a historic low on metric after metric. But it is a dip we can work our way out of."
With overflow audience members watching video screens in the lobby and computer screens around campus, King talked about the police shootings of 102 unarmed black men, women and children in a year's time. He described the fire that was lit when Eric Garner was strangled to death by a police officer on the streets of New York City in July 2014 and video of the incident went viral.
"None of us had seen something like that," he said. "You knew similar things had happened, but you'd never seen it. It shook me. So I had this thought. I was going to share this video, and eventually someone would be held accountable."
And then the parade of police shooting after police shooting of unarmed black citizens all over the country, many of them with eyewitness videos, started rolling out of the YouTube screen.
"At first we thought it was happening every few weeks. Then it was every few days, then it was every few hours," King said.
All the while, the hope was that officers responsible for these unarmed deaths would be held accountable for their actions, but none were.
"We soon learned that is not how this country works," he said. "We learned that there would be no justice."
King then pointed out other examples of injustice and social failings, such as the rate of incarceration, which spiked to unheard of levels beginning just after President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. King explained that the war on drugs was actually a preconceived tactic to outlaw being black, according to surviving members of Nixon's White House.
"They wanted to know how they could outlaw blackness without people knowing what they're doing," King said.
They crafted laws in the mid-1970s criminalizing activities or creating harsher punishment for violating laws against activities they perceived as being concentrated in minority communities.
Now, he noted, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth.
Some point to the incarceration rate and say the system is broken.
"But the system isn't broken; This is on purpose. It's working exactly as it was designed to work," he said. "Right now the United States has more people incarcerated than any other country in the history of the world."
The killings of unarmed people, the massive incarcerations, economic inequality, the plight of women in the workplace, are all signs of decline in the human condition, King noted.
"Make no mistake, we are in a dip and we could be in this dip for a very, very long time - the slave trade for example went on for hundreds of years," he said. "The only thing that will get us out is a crazy, extended, determined effort. But it's hard to know a moment in history if you're in it because you're just living your life."
But those who are aware can react accordingly — it changes perception and thought process.
"My call out to you is to live your life mindful of where we are right now, and know that we will stay in this dip until we work our way out of it," King said. "It will take commitment and it requires a completely different set of decisions."
Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.