Nekima Levy Armstrong Outlines Her Mission To End Police Violence in Hulu Documentary ‘Sound of the Police’

The film, she says, ‘examines the fraught relationship between African Americans and the police.’

Nekima Levy Armstrong has committed her life to the cause of Black freedom. As executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation and Principal Consultant of Black Pearl LLC, the Los Angeles native has worked for years to address racial inequities, antiquated public policies, and police violence in Black communities.

Before coming to prominence as a national justice advocate, Armstrong was a legal scholar serving as associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis from 2003 to 2016. She was also president of the Minneapolis NAACP from 2015 to 2016.

In February 2023, Armstrong released her first book J is for Justice: A Social Justice Book for Kids. which teaches children to use their voices as advocates for social justice.

Recently, Armstrong lent her legal expertise and experience on the frontlines of the Hulu documentary Sound of the Police. Directed by Stanley Nelson, the doc examines the contentious relationship between African Americans and law enforcement. spoke with Armstrong about the importance of documentary, what inspired her to become an attorney, and her ongoing fight against police violence in Black communities. Do you recall your first encounter with the police?

Nekima Levy Armstrong: My first encounter with police involved living in South Central L.A and the early 1980s, around the time of the start of the War on Drugs, and seeing the police cycle in and out of our community. After seeing all of this, I made the decision that I wanted to become a lawyer. I also remember the impact of the beating of Rodney King, upon our community in LA and seeing the brutality, the dehumanization involved, and the lack of accountability for those officers and how our community essentially had to take matters into their own hands. That stayed with me.

When communities are disenfranchised, marginalized, over-policed, and under-resourced, it can become a combustible situation if elected officials refuse to hear the cries of those who are suffering under the weight of oppression. That's what happened in LA. and that's what happened where I live now in Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police.

In Three Years Since the Murder of George Floyd: How Far Have We Come? Earlier this year, you released your book J Is For Justice which aims to teach children about protesting. Why is it important to introduce race in America to Black children at an early age?

Levy Armstrong: I wish that I had understood a lot of these dynamics growing up as a child and I think it’s critical to be honest about race to children. My experience as a mom, bringing my children out to the frontlines, especially my youngest child who's now six, from the time she was in the womb, I was out there marching, demonstrating, and participating in protests against police violence. So my daughter almost has a sixth sense as a child, she knows she is responsible for using her voice, even as a child. I thought about her as I was writing the book and all the other young children that I saw out on the frontlines with their parents who were marching, chanting, holding signs, and being a part of those protests. How did you become a part of Sound of the Police?

Levy Armstrong: They reached out to me at the beginning of the year before they were getting ready to film. From that point,  they shared with me what they were focused on and then they asked me if I would contribute my voice to the conversation. So I went to Los Angeles and was interviewed by them for several hours, and then it was decided what aspects of the stories that I told would fit into the broader narrative of the documentary. How was it to be a part of the documentary that put the spotlight on police violence and brutality in real-time?

Armstrong: It was a really powerful experience but also a sobering experience having to tell story after story of police abuse, the aftermath of that police abuse as well as the unresolved issues. I majored in African American Studies at USC which gave me more depth of understanding of how modern-day policing connects to the institution and the brutal sister system of slavery, and Jim Crow. After I graduated, from law school, I became a law professor and launched a civil rights legal clinic, called the Community Justice Project which was the first in the nation, that took the type of approach of problem-solving right alongside the Black community, and being willing to conduct research and to advocate and to go into the halls of power to demand change alongside communities of color. Throughout that experience, it showed me the power of our collective voice and the importance of being relentless in the pursuit of justice. What do you want those who watch Sound of the Police to take away from the doc?

I hope that folks will get a sense of how serious these issues are when it comes to police brutality, police abuse, and the fact that it is systemic. It is a part of a system that was put in place before slavery even ended with the Fugitive Slave Act that deputized White men to go around with dogs to find so-called escaped slaves. That eventually morphed into what we consider to be our modern-day system of policing.

So I want people to understand that connection because there's so much history in the documentary that takes us back to the origins of the system and then connects the dots to how we got here in the 21st century. We’re still grappling with the very same issues, except now we have the technology.  It's just a matter of us deciding what we are going to do when we see it. Are we going to sit back and think someone else is responsible for addressing it? Or are we going to take matters into our own hands and organize and fight back and advocate for the changes that we want to see? I want the documentary to light a fire within the folks who watch it to know that you have the power to affect change. It's our duty to get involved.

Sound of the Police is now streaming on Hulu.


Editor’s Note: This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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