An Interview with La’Shadion Shemwell
September 1, 2017
La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, is a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and member of the Huey Newton Gun Club. He organizes youth in the projects and has one Saturday a month where he does free educational activities at the community center and feeds all children who come. He recently won election to the McKinney, Texas City Council. His campaign was endorsed by the Collin County Green Party, followed by Our Revolution in the open primary. The Democratic Party, afraid of buying into the “angry Black man” criminal stereotype, didn’t endorse until he was in the runoff and likely to win.
Robert Caldwell, an activist who canvassed for Shemwell during the campaign, interviewed him for the Solidarity webzine.
Robert Caldwell: Mr. Shemwell, congratulations on your recent win to the City Council of McKinney, Texas. You are one of the youngest and as I understand it, only the second person of color ever to earn a seat on the McKinney City Council. What does that mean to you?
La’Shadion Shemwell: It means a lot to me. It means that the city of McKinney recognized the community engagement I’ve been involved with, that they respect and trust I will give my everything to bring about positive change in our community — but more importantly that it gives every little minority child the hope that one day they too could be in a position of leadership and be a voice. If I can do it, they can do it.
RC: Many readers probably remember McKinney for the infamous 2015 incident where a dozen police responded to a pool party where a group of Black teenagers were swimming and having fun, and police responded heavy-handedly with needless brutality, sparking mass protests. Were you living in McKinney at the time? And how did you react?
LS: I was living in McKinney during the pool party incident. I was one of the very first to meet with the Chief, before it took national coverage; I was also one of the organizers of the mass protest. This very incident is when I decided to run for council, to be able to address policies that allow these type of actions.
RC: This was a non-partisan race, and you ran as an independent, getting an endorsement of the Collin County Green Party in the primary and the Democratic Party in the runoff, with lots of progressives and leftists throughout the region excited about your campaign. Why is it important to be an independent to you? What is your philosophy of representing the people?
LS: I think it’s important to be an independent because then you can look at the full spectrum of possibilities without already having preconceived notions and expectations of party and people. I think it’s important to take the best practices from the left, [practices that people attribute to the] right and from anywhere else that has something to offer toward the goal of social uplift. Some people can’t see past their party lines.
RC: What are the issues you are most passionate about? How does that translate into your agenda as a city councilperson?
LS: I’m most passionate about representation for all classes of people with equality. I think seniors, elderly and disabled are overwhelmingly neglected and forgotten, I would like to be the voice for all those voiceless. I’m most interested in our most valuable asset, that being the people. We also need better infrastructure, transportation, and a full spectrum of housing opportunities.
RC: Open carry is legal for firearms in the North Texas area. But this doesn’t seem to apply equally to non-whites. Last summer, in a march against police killing of Christian Taylor, a Black teenager, you were arrested for having a rifle, but the jury found you not guilty. What are your thoughts about what happened?
LS: I believe after going through two trials that my constitutional and civil rights were trampled on. I believe that this is typical for minorities in this country. The sad reality is that laws are interpreted much differently when dealing with whites than with non-white people.
RC: Supporters of your opponent resorted to overt racism and outright lies, but they also brought up your arrest on gun charges, trying to spark fears of a “dangerous Black man with a gun.” How did you overcome negative publicity and mudslinging?
LS: I stood firm on my beliefs, I let my works in the community speak for themselves. I’m grateful that people were able to see past the rhetoric and took the time to get to know me. I think my ability to be open, honest, and to make myself available to all people was a big help.
RC: You were a clear leader in Black Lives Matter in the DFW area, and a member of Dallas Action as well as the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. How do you see the ideal relationship between elected officials like yourself and the ongoing grassroots movements in the communities and the streets?
LS: Community organizations have the opportunity to change their community, which could change their city, which could change the state, which could change the country, which can change the world. The community is where it starts and if we continue to start there then promotion up the ranks to influence change is inevitable.
RC: How can activists living outside McKinney in the wider region and elsewhere support your agenda? What advice do you have to other movement leaders who are considering a run for office?
LS: Everyone can support me by keeping in touch, sending encouragement and challenging me to do more and grow more. This is just the first step for me; stay tuned for more exciting news to come. Nothing beats a failure but a try. Running for elected offices is the only way to make the real change. It is the only way to replace the old with new forward-thinking representatives like ourselves. Run, Run, Run and don’t look back. Victory is in the laps of those running.
Robert Caldwell is a member of Solidarity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Coordinator of the Left Elect Network and co-author of An Orientation Toward Local Independent Political Organizations(IPOs).