Natasha Cloud says her 2020 WNBA season was draining, without playing in a single game. The 2019 champion guard with the Washington Mystics opted out of the season to devote her full energies to social justice initiatives in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. For Cloud, trying to reform a system that has never been fair to Black Americans has been “daunting,” but there was no question that even an attempt to force change–starting in the District of Columbia, where she plays–would outweigh in importance a Mystics’ title defense. For Cloud, righting injustice starts with giving power back to the people, and that starts with voting.
During a conversation in early October, Cloud weighed in on the urgency of the 2020 presidential election (in the following Q&A that has been edited for clarity and conciseness):
How would you describe your season of social justice work?
Talking about what’s going on in our country right now and how it directly affects us … It was really hard when looking at social reform as a whole. When you look at what needs to be fixed in America, it’s actually really daunting. Our systems are set up to keep the white status quo and keep Black and brown people out.
With so much work to do, where does one begin?
Okay, what low hanging fruit can we have an immediate impact on? And that was voting. We have a huge election coming up November 3rd, but it’s not only federally, it’s also state, and locally, too. How do we register people to vote? How do we educate them on who they’re voting for? How do we make the voting locations easily accessible and to try to cut down voter suppression?
And then, two, making sure people understand that in the case of Breonna Taylor, (Kentucky Attorney General) Daniel Cameron, who is not doing his job–he is an elected official. So it’s not only important to vote in this presidential election coming up November 3rd, but it’s so, so important to vote for your state and local government as well, because those people directly affect what you get in your community.
Describe the day you learned that a Kentucky grand jury declined to charge the officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death, and that Daniel Cameron, the attorney general, did not give jurors the option to indict for murder?
It was a really hard day, the day that the ruling came out, because they announced that the National Guard would be coming in, and we all know what that means. I knew before the verdict came out with the National Guard going in that Breonna and her family weren’t gonna receive justice. So, you’re met with that anger. And, you’re confused. You’re frustrated. You’re angry at Daniel Cameron, as a Black man, to not protect your community, to not do your job that you took. And disgust was really what I felt that day.
She hasn’t received justice, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna continue to fight for her to receive justice. Those cops murdered her. They murdered her.
When you’re talking about social reform and when they’re looking at police brutality–very daunting, again, because they are untouchable. In all these cases, we don’t ever see justice. I truly am a firm believer, even in this case of Breonna Taylor, if you held those cops accountable for their actions, it changes how policemen and women go about their day. It changes how they handle situations with Black and brown men and women every day because they understand, ‘I can’t just do what I want anymore. I’m gonna be held accountable. I’m gonna be held accountable for my actions.’ And that will change drastically how policing is done.
Some believe defunding the police is the only way to bring about the accountability you’re talking about. What are your thoughts on defunding the police and how accountability in policing can be achieved?
I think defunding is a harsh word for a lot of people. When you say ‘defunding,’ it ignites their–they have to be on defense. And what I tell people is that, ‘Listen, we can have a calm conversation where we discuss what I mean by defunding, because I don’t think we need to abolish. (Police officers) protect our community, the good ones. They protect our communities. They take an oath to serve our communities and protect them. There’s a lot of bad apples, though, that need to be weeded out from top to bottom, whether that is the police chief or just regular deputies. We need to be able to get those bad apples out.
Defunding to me is allocating that money elsewhere to take pressure off of our policemen and women, because we put so much on their shoulders to be there for domestic cases, to be there for mental health cases, to be there for the cases that people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Why not allocate that money into counselors? Why not allocate that money into social workers who can handle these other situations without force? It not only takes pressure off, and takes the workload off, of our police officers to not have to deal with those situations that they are not trained for. We also help our unemployment rate by hiring people that are specific to that field.
You’ve also done a lot of work in support of reforming gun laws. What correlation do you see between the everyday gun violence we see between civilians and police violence?
I think what we see most of the time is a lack of concern on the value of life. Whether it is violence within the community or police brutality, there’s a lack of concern on value for life, and a lot of these lives are Black and brown. For me, it’s the hardest thing: How do we bring back that value for life? How do we bring back people’s empathy and sympathy and humanity, especially in these last four years under the president, that we have. Shit has gotten worse.
For me, it’s always been to just get in the community and be out there facing the community. Try to listen. That’s one thing that I’ve learned through this whole process is that I’m using my platform to be a voice for the voiceless. But in order to do that, I first need to listen, especially to our lower economic communities. So, let me listen. Let me decipher through what you’re telling me and let me figure out how to best use my platform in order to attack those things. Even with the police brutality. If we can get everyone on the same damn board and working together, it changes drastically.
With these problems being so entrenched and commonplace in our society, do you feel hopeful that solutions can be found that will lead to change?
I do have hope that there is a solution. I do have hope that we will find our empathy and sympathy and our value for life again. I do have hope that a world that my future children will be brought into, they won’t be looked at for only the color of their skin. They’ll be looked at for the human being that they are, the good person, that they are.
We have more access to information than at any point in human history. Yet, people seem more misinformed and ignorant than ever before, especially when it comes to politics. Why is that?
Oh, man, I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. I’m not even being funny because I say this all the time: I am a Democrat because I grew up in a middle-class family but if there was a better-suited Republican to run, whether it was state, locally or federally, I would vote Republican. So, we get so stuck in party; I think that’s the first problem, especially with where we are right now in 2020 with November 3rd coming up. We’re so stuck in. I’m a Democrat. I’m a Republican. I don’t give a shit about that at the end of the day right now. Are you a good human being? Because we have seen a racist run our country, a bigot, sexist, a homophobic man run our country and spread hate and division into our country.
I’m 28 and I’ve never felt so divided by race this much. And so for me, the first part is, get out of being so loyal to your party that you ignore the signs that are right in front of you. You ignore the hate that is right in front of you.
I have Trump supporters in my family, and it has been the hardest thing for me to decipher through and to emotionally get through because not only am I Black, but I’m also bisexual. I’m also engaged to a female, (and) now we have to rush our marriage out of fear that Trump gets reelected. And because Republicans hold the house, we might lose the validity of our marriage. We might lose our ownership on our home.
Having those conversations with my family members who are Trump supporters, they have no idea that this is going on. They have no idea that he tried to pass laws and bills that would prohibit us from adopting if, God forbid, either of us couldn’t have children.
It’s extremely frustrating that people don’t educate themselves on the facts, that they just want to sit and listen to whatever designated news station media outlet that they prefer. There are a lot of ignorant people out there that don’t understand why we’re continuing the fight for LGBTQ-plus rights. Why we’re fighting the fight for Black Lives Matter. They don’t understand the depth that this affects us in our everyday life. Because for a lot of people, it doesn’t affect them.
And can you explain what you’ve done to bring disenfranchised voters into the electoral process?
The voter suppression has been terrible (in Wards 7 and 8 in D.C.) for years. There’s been voters who said that they have waited five hours in line, just to cast a vote. And so, you know, our first initiative was to get Capital One Arena, which is where the Wizards play, available as a polling location. We did that–me, Bradley Beal, our social advocacy group that we established. We got that done.
The one thing I’ve just been ending all my interviews with is, Please vote. Please register to vote. Please be ready to either mail in your ballot early, vote early or show up on November 3rd. Um, We need to vote like our lives depend on it. And when I say that I’m talking primarily to the Black and brown community. We need to show up. There’s no excuse for us not showing up like we did last election. We are the deciding people on who runs our country.
I know we don’t have the best two candidates but when you’re talking about getting back to being empathetic and sympathetic and having a human being run our country, it is Biden. And it is Joe Biden through and through.