Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 08/15/15
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: There were the early predictions that 2016 would be
the year of the woman, the election in which women`s issues would be at the
forefront, driven largely by Hillary Clinton`s position as the Democratic
front-runner. She was also one of the primary players in a story about
presidential legacies, along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his
attempt to outrun not just the other candidates but also the long shadow of
the presidents in his own family.
Then there were the election issues we could see coming a mile away,
Obamacare and the Republicans running on the promise to repeal it all, root
and branch, foreign policy, the threat of ISIS and what to do about Iran,
and the burden of America`s growing income inequality on working families,
all narratives that the candidates and the American people expected to be
recurring themes throughout the election.
But then came the unexpected. Yes, the success of gadfly business tycoon
and former star of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump, as a viable actual
candidate for the Republican nomination has left the party reeling.
But there`s also the surprise emergence of a narrative that Republican and
Democratic candidates will have to contend with, like it or not, race. And
not just in the ways we`ve become accustomed to talking about race during
elections. This isn`t race as a thinly veiled dog whistle or race as a
talking point after a candidate`s gaffe. And this isn`t race as part of
the Obama-era political analysis. No, this is the expectation that
candidates running for the American presidency should have a meaningful
policy response to systemic racism and the demand for racial justice. And
it`s a demand that has been most clearly, consistently and emphatically
directed to the candidates by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now even before the summer of Democratic candidate disruptions, Candidate
Hillary Clinton made racial justice and criminal justice reform the subject
of her first major policy speech back in April in response to the Baltimore
uprising that was sparked by the death in police custody of Freddie Gray.
One month later, former Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley became the first
candidate to hear directly from protesters when he declared his candidacy
back in May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are lying! Stop your lies. You are lying to
these people, O`Malley! Stop it! You are lying! You are lying!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Activists stepped up their efforts to get the candidate`s attention
when they disrupted a presidential forum at the Net Roots conference and
demanded a concrete plan of action from O`Malley and Vermont Senator Bernie
Right on the heels of Sandra Bland`s death while in custody in Texas,
protesters called on a candidate to join their rallying cry to #sayhername.
And within a week, O`Malley, Sanders and Hillary Clinton had all said the
name of Sandra Bland to audiences on the campaign trail. As of now all
three candidates` stump speeches include the acknowledgement that Black
And by the time Governor O`Malley appeared at the National Urban League
conference at the end of July, he was ready to back up his rhetoric with a
plan, and unveil a nine-page policy proposal for reform in policing and
The movement kept the pressure on, with Black Lives Matter activists
shutting down a Bernie Sanders speech during a Seattle rally last weekend.
The next day, the seven-point platform outlined on Sandra`s website became
an eight-point platform when racial justice appeared as a new entry on the
list of issues. Black Lives Matter activists welcomed Sandra`s plan, which
pledges to transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of
its people of color by addressing physical, political, legal and economic
violence against black and Brown Americans.
And this week, members of the movement made it to the head of the pack
among the Democratic candidates. According to a report from “New Republic”
senior editor, Jameel Smith, activists were planning to disrupt the Hillary
Clinton campaign event in Keene, New Hampshire, on Tuesday. After they
were prevented from entering the event by the Secret Service, the activists
later met privately with Clinton for what they told Smith was an, at times,
contentious, but largely respectful conversation.
By Wednesday, the movement made good on a pledge that Republican candidates
would soon be hearing from them as well. Black Lives Matters activists
disrupted a Nevada campaign rally for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush,
reportedly forcing Bush to wrap up earlier than expected.
And during a Q&A at the end of the event, Mr. Bush gave this response to a
question about how he intended to address racial injustices in policing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: All
leaders, whether they`re presidents, running for president, city council
members, mayors, governors, everybody needs to be engaged in this to
recognize that this is a serious problem. Perception has become reality.
And there is racism in America. No one should deny that. I relate to it,
as a president, to try to create a climate where there is civility and
understanding and to encourage mayors, leaders at the local level, to
engage so there`s not despair and isolation in communities. The best way
to solve these problems are the way I believe Charleston solved it, rather
than communities that were – where there was denial there was not a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: “The Las Vegas Sun” reported that the woman who asked the question
felt Bush`s response was vague and didn`t pinpoint the true issues. But as
the Black Lives Matter movement – as the Black Lives Matter movement re-
centers racial justice as one of those true issues in the presidential
election, it`s a question that all of the candidates may soon be forced to
With me in the studio today is an incredible panel, Cornell William Brooks,
president and CEO of the NAACP; Julieta Garibay, the campaign director for
United We Dream; Akhil Reed Amar is the sterling professor of law and
political science at Yale University and the author of “The Law of the
Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic”; and Jeanne Theoharis is
a distinguished professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the
author of “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park.”
And I`m going to get to this fabulous panel soon.
But, first, I want to go to the activists themselves. And joining me from
Boston is Daunasia Yancey, one of the activists who met with former
Secretary Hillary Clinton this week; and from San Francisco is Alicia
Garza, one of the co-creators of Black Lives Matter.
So thank you both.
I want to start with Daunasia.
Give us a little bit of a readout on your meeting with Secretary Clinton.
What did she say? And do you feel she properly addressed the issues you
wanted to hear?
DAUNASIA YANCEY, BLACK LIVES MATTERS ACTIVIST: So we went to the event
planning to ask our questions in the public forum and, like you said, were
unable to get inside. We were able to have a couple minutes with her and
were able to ask our questions and she did give responses, unfortunately,
we were looking for a very personal response on her responsibility for
advocating for policies that have decimated black communities. What we
heard was not a reflection on that.
REID: And what did you want to hear? What would have been a satisfying
response from Secretary Clinton in your view, Daunasia?
YANCEY: So Secretary Clinton and her family have been personally
responsible for some of these policies. In 1994, she advocated for three
strikes policy that put thousands of black people in jail for nonviolent
offenses. We wanted to hear just beyond saying Black Lives Matter what the
shift has been for her personally in understanding that Black Lives Matter
and advocating for that and we could believe that, as president, she
wouldn`t make some of those own decisions.
REID: Alicia, I want to go to you.
One of the questions people have asked about the approach of the Black
Lives Matter movement is why it is so fixated on Democrats. I think
Daunasia made a coherent point. Democrats were in charge during some of
the issues of policing, but why focus so much on the Democratic Party when,
to a lot of people`s criticism, it`s Republicans that the Black Lives
Matter should be fixating on?
ALICIA GARNER, BLACK LIVES MATTER CO-CREATOR: I think when you look at the
demographics of who votes, right, in this country, 80 percent of registered
voters who are black are registered Democrat. Our base, the folks we care
about, are black people who are trying to make a decision about who is
going to represent us over the next four years. And so it`s very important
to us that we are speaking to our own demographic. At the same time we
also think it`s important for the Democratic Party that, you know, espouses
a lot of values around social justice. To be pushing a narrative that is
counter to the Republicans and in some cases both parties, Republicans and
Democrats, essentially throw black people under the bus by not having a
strong narrative around racial justice so it is important to us to push
Republicans but certainly we have to push the party that claims that it has
our best interests at heart.
REID: Alicia, when you say push the party, give us specific things you
would like to hear from Democrats that they say they will do that you think
would make a concrete change.
GARZA: Well, the first thing we have to be mindful of is we want the
Democratic Party not to take black votes for granted and, certainly, yes,
Black Lives Matter is focused on police brutality and issues of
incarceration but we are also focused on many more issues that impact black
lives, including what is the status of black queer and trans people in our
communities. Black trans people have an expected life of 35 years old.
What are candidates who are vying for the highest office in the land
planning on doing to make sure black trans lives matter? Black women make
64 cents to every 77 cents that a white woman makes, to what a white man
makes in the economy. What are presidential candidates doing on ensuring
black women`s lives matter in the economy and in our democracy? So we have
a long way to go to really seeing a comprehensive plan being proposed by
Democrats to ensure that black life matters in this country.
REID: And, Daunasia, I`m going to go back to you. We did talk about
Hillary Clinton. What about some of the other candidates? A lot of
friction between the Bernie Sanders camp and some members of the Black
Lives Matter movement where supporters of Sanders are saying, well, why
criticize him? He marched with King, has become a meme. Are there other
candidates you think should have to negotiate some changes in their
strategy to satisfy the Black Lives Matter movement?
YANCEY: Absolutely. Every presidential candidate should expect to hear
from us and absolutely should expect to be held accountable. To stating
publicly their stance on the Black Lives Matters movement and promoting
black lives in this country and how they understand and what they
understand about systemic racism.
REID: All right. Well, I want to thank of Boston, Massachusetts, and
Alicia Garza who is San Francisco, California. Thank you both.
And my panel will get in on this discussion when we come back.
And we will also try to understand just who is pushing whom in this
REID: Long before Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced he
was running for president as a Democrat, a progressive push to shift
presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton to the left had already become one of
the central narratives in the Democratic primary. It only picked up
momentum after Sanders` announcement, and his speeches drew massive crowds
of supporters and energized his campaign. But as the Black Lives Matter
movement has pursued its strategy of directly confronting Sanders and other
candidates on the issue of racial justice, another narrative has emerged
about progressives being the ones who are getting pushed by grassroots
activists, and in recent weeks, that push has come to shove on social
media. On the one hand, you have activist who is believe Sanders` message
of economic populism misses the mark on specific disparities faced by
African-Americans because of racism, and on the other, there`s Sanders`
fervent liberal fans who are turned off by the movement`s confrontational
strategy against a candidate they believe is already the one who is most
sympathetic to the activists` demands.
Let`s get the panel in on that question.
I want to go to you first, Jeanne, on that.
That tension people have been surprised by that you got Bernie Sanders`
supporters, fervent supporters, literally fighting with members of the
Black Lives movement particularly on social media. Is that historically
off for there to be that kind of tension within the Democratic left?
JEANNE THEOHARIS, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, BROOKLYN
COLLEGE & AUTHOR: No, not at all. This is what social movements do. They
move the conversation. They make people uncomfortable. But I think we
have a very sanitized view. We look back to the civil rights movement,
right, about how everybody loved it, about everybody was onboard from the
very beginning, about how John F. Kennedy was, you know, ready, when, in
fact, that was not the case, right? What moved John F. Kennedy was
activists on the ground insisting and insisting. Kennedy, during the 1960
election, right, makes this very historic decision, King is in jail, makes
a call. This is where you first start to see a little bit of movement, but
Kennedy then doesn`t move really until `63. And part of what makes him
move is activists on the ground. And that`s what we`re seeing today. And
I think we get nervous because we have this whitewashed, sanitized Macy`s-
parade balloon version of the civil rights movement as opposed to what the
civil rights movement, was which is uncomfortable and which had to move
liberals and progressives.
REID: And I love that point because I think, Cornell, some of the people
forget, we also had John Lewis intending to go to the march on Washington
in 1963 and essentially tell off the Kennedy administration, theoretically,
their own side. And they had scathing speech he wanted to give. And then
you had the fight with him and King, where King said, whoa, we need to hold
back. That tension was always there.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: The thing about it this
way, King was also a John Lewis at one point in his career so we have the
NAACP relative to the southern leadership conference. 50 years from now it
may well be the Black Lives movement is upstaged by a young upstart
organization. So the point being here is we need to celebrate our young
activists and understand that they create a certain kind of energy and a
certain moral urgency. The fact of the matter is within the NAACP, 0.1 of
our board seats are reserved for young people as a consequence of young
people`s demands within the NAACP. So the point being we need to lay hold
of and claim this tradition of young activists acting as leaven in the
bread. It`s nothing to be afraid of. It`s something to be embraced.
REID: And at the same time, you have all these hurt feelings being
expressed, particularly by the Bernie Sanders supporters. I`ve been struck
by this sense of, we`ll, we`ve been wounded because somehow the fact Bernie
Sanders was at the march on was Washington with 250,000 other people means
he should not be pushed or criticized at all.
AKHIL REED AMAR, STERLING PROFESSOR OF LAW AND POLITICAL SCIENCE, YALE
UNIVERSITY & AUTHOR: Let`s put what Cornell just said – and it`s great to
be on set with my former student, Cornell – in an even larger context.
The people who gave us the American Revolution, the Constitution, on
average, tend to be younger. They were radicals. They were reformers than
the traditionalist opponents. I`m wearing my Abe Lincoln tie. Lincoln
decided that slavery was wrong and he remembered those commitments made
early on and helped redeem them later.
Bernie Sanders was there at the march on Washington. The `60s were what
they were because of the Baby Boomers. Babies started getting born and
started coming of age in the `60s, and that`s Bernie Sanders and Hillary
Clinton, and we want them as older people to remember those passions and
commitments that many of them first formed early on. You see a huge
demographic difference on, say, same-sex marriage since trans folks were
mentioned in the earlier piece. There`s a huge just demographic difference
between young adults and older Americans on this. So throughout American
history there has been a lot of reformist energy. We were talking, Jeanne
and I, before about some of the student activists in the Brown vs. Board of
Education and companion cases.
And I want to get Julieta in. And we may have to start your answer now and
come back after the break.
Because what really strikes me is the dreamer, the Dream Act movement, the
same criticisms were made, why are you targeting the liberal Democratic
president and the Democratic Party? Why are you not targeting Republicans?
Those same arguments were made, right?
JULIETA GARIBAY, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, UNITED WE DREAM: Correct. Why are you
attacking Obama, who said he supported immigration reform? For us young
people as immigrants know the liberation of black and brown youth is
connected. At the end of the day, the same system that stops our parents
or our dreamers in the middle of the road because they`re brown or
immigrant looking and ends up deporting them is the same system that right
now is murdering black youth and black people. To us, it`s very clear
there`s that connection. And, yeah, there is a place that young people are
pushing that might not be very comfortable that is challenging the status
quo. But that`s what it may take, pushing someone who may not want to hear
it but needs to hear the livelihood of our people matters.
REID: See, I told you this was going to be a great panel. And we`ll have
more with in. And up next, what made you wait a whole 20 minutes – we
made you wait a whole 20 minutes, but, yes, we will tell you exactly what
Donald Trump is doing right now, after the break. And then more of this
great panel coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I
haven`t done anything because I haven`t won. If this all happens and I
don`t win – it starts with winning the primaries, getting the nomination,
and then going on and winning. I consider it a total waste of time. You
said, you`re wrong. You`ve done a great thing. Trust me. I won`t be
happy, OK? I won`t be happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was Donald Trump in New Hampshire last night talking about his
desire to win the presidency. Today, he`s expected to make a grand
entrance to the Iowa State Fair grounds aboard his helicopter. There,
he`ll be among other White House hopefuls, both Democrats and Republicans,
digging into fair food and chatting up voters.
Bernie Sanders is scheduled to step up to the “Des Moines Register” soapbox
for a question-and-answer session. And while Hillary Clinton is not on the
soapbox lineup, she had a big night at last night`s Democratic wing ding
Joining me from Des Moines, Iowa, is NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell.
Kelly, what can we expect from Donald Trump visit today, and will he eat
KELLY O`DONNELL: Well, that will be participate of what will be so
fascinating today. When people who have held elective office before coming
to the fair, they`ve been through this grill before. They know about the
mandatory eat something that`s attached to a stick, shake some hands, wear
the right footwear, appropriate for the fair grounds. Those are all tests
that Donald Trump will have to try to meet today.
What will be interesting about his arrival is that he will be coming by
helicopter not landing on the grounds, which are massive, about 445 acres,
but in property adjacent to this area. So I think it`s a real question
mark of people attending the fair will actually see the helicopter in the
sky but we will certainly try to get pictures of it as he comes to town.
But the message will be there. He will be bringing the Trump-emblazoned
helicopter. He`ll be walking about in the fair grounds, be doing the
expected routine, minus, as you mentioned, that soapbox, which is part of
the tradition of the fair where candidates can spell out their vision and
take some questions from voters. Sometimes it turns into heckling.
Sometimes they`re just good, honest questions. It`s usually quite
Donald Trump is not going that route. He will be mixing and mingling and
talking to people. And I can tell you in the hours we`ve already been here
today I`ve met people who are anxious to see Donald Trump, like his style,
and want to see where his campaign goes. So the energy around him seems to
be real. It will be something to see because Trump will be here and so
will Hillary Clinton. I`m not sure we can handle that much mega-wattage
attention in one location but we`re going to try to meet that challenge.
REID: You can handle it, Kelly but we want you back healthy. Only eat a
little bit on a fried stick.
O`DONNELL: I`ve learned that rule. Once you start, you can`t stop. I`m
waiting for the last day.
REID: All right. Kelly O`Donnell, thanks very much in Des Moines. Thank
you very much.
And while the official candidates are stumping in Iowa, buzz still
surrounds Vice President Joe Biden, and whether or not he`ll decide to run.
Sources tell “Politico” the vice president will meet with his closest
circle of advisers before making a final call. This afternoon, the vice
president is scheduled to attend a military memorial service for the sailor
and four Marines killed in Chattanooga last month.
Joining me from Martha`s Vineyard is NBC`s Ron Allen.
Ron, I know you`re there covering the president. I`m going to ask you
about that in a minute. First, what can you tell us about the vice
president`s vacation in South Carolina and why that might be key to his
RON ALLEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has a lot of support in South
Carolina. He vacations there a lot. And some of his people urging him to
run, we believe, are in that first-in-the-south southern primary state.
There are those factors. And Biden has said, we understand, that he`s
probably going to make a decision in late August, early September, so we`re
getting close to that time. But the big barrier on all this seems to be
his son, the passing of his son, Beau Biden, at the age of 46 of brain
cancer in May. It`s very understandable that the vice president is still
working through his grief and trying to summon whatever it would take
inside of him to be into this campaign 100 percent. You have to believe,
also, the vice president, who has been running for president several times
if the past, and has been in public life since his late 20s, believes he`s
the best prepared to be president, especially after eight years in the
White House. So it`s probably a very, very tough decision.
A lot of this, I would expect, depends on how Hillary Clinton does. Is her
candidacy viable? Does she stumble? There are lots of concern whether
she`s exciting the base or not, and these e-mail questions. So there`s all
of that, but ultimately, it seems this is a very personal decision for the
vice president and he`s probably asking himself, his family, his friends,
his closest advisers whether he can really get through this and can really
do this, given the loss of his son – Joy?
REID: Yeah, indeed.
All right, I want to ask you quickly about the presidents` day on the golf
course yesterday, Ron. What can you tell us about that?
ALLEN: Well, he was golfing with a number of NBA legends, including Steph
Curry, the reigning MVP for the Golden State Warriors. They`re playing out
on the course and who should they run into, but Bill Clinton, Vernon
Jordan. And we have some, what we think are exclusive pictures of all of
that happening. We don`t see the president much on these vacations but
there they were. Vernon Jordan turns 80 tonight. He`s having a big party,
a birthday party here on the island. And we believe the Clintons and the
Obamas will be among what`s probably a very star-studded and powerful guest
list tonight on Martha`s Vineyard – Joy.
REID: Here is hoping you scored an invite.
Ron Allen on Martha`s Vineyard. Have a good time.
ALLEN: Still waiting.
REID: OK, it`ll get to you. It`ll get to you.
Up next, can you have a racial justice platform without talking about race?
REID: At the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement`s message to
presidential candidates is a proposition that for a racial justice platform
to be authentic it must be explicitly about race and the ways in which
structural racism, historically and presently, have a disparate and, in
some cases, deadly impact on black people. It`s a recent phenomenon in
modern politics for political leaders to be called out and called upon to
respond to racial inequality with explicitly race-based solutions. In the
past, what politicians did was to spread racial policies across multiple
groups to get maximum public support. The war on poverty, for example,
marrying to poverty in the urban ghetto with the destitution in Appalachia.
When politicians talk about dreamers, they don`t say this is explicitly for
Latinos. The racial component of that policy is implied.
Now back in 2011, that changed when the Congressional Black Caucus went on
a five-city tour hosting a series of town halls and job fairs aimed at
addressing chronic African-American unemployment. Members of the CBC found
themselves walking a fine line between representing black constituents, who
overwhelmingly supported President Obama, and criticizing the president for
what they saw as his failure to pursue a policy agenda to specifically
address their concerns.
And during a stop in Detroit, California Representative Maxine Waters got
really real with the audience about her frustrations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP MAXINE WATERS, (D), CALIFORNIA: We don`t put pressure on the president
because you all love the president.
WATERS: You love the president.
WATERS: Just a minute. You`re very proud – you`re very proud to have a
black man –
WATERS: – the first time in the United States of America. If we go after
the president too hard, you`re going after us. Hey, we want to give the
president every opportunity –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long?
WATERS: – to show what he can do and what he`s prepared to lead on. We
want to give him every opportunity. But our people are hurting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma`am!
WATERS: Unemployment is unconscionable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And back with me are Cornell William Brooks, Juliete Garibay, Akhil
Reed Amar and Jeanne Theoharis.
And I`m going to come right to you, Cornell, because the frustration of the
CBC at the time and before was that the president`s policies were leaning
on disproportionate impact, but they weren`t exclusively saying, these are
the problems of black America, these are the problems that are race based.
BROOKS: The challenge here is one needs to be both race specific and when
the NAACP released a report called one suspect describing racial profiling,
we spoke about racial profiling with respect to African-Americans do you to
race and ethnicity but also in terms of sexual identity and perception of
sexual identity. We also spoke about racial profiling with respect to
religion in terms of Muslims. So the point being we put forward a plan
that spoke to the particular focus of bias and discrimination and bigotry
but we also spoke in terms of strategies and techniques that rose above the
particular ways in which people are being mistreated in this country. That
needs to be reflected in presidential platforms, be race specific and also
race transcendent. We say that because of the nature of what`s happening.
Think about it this way. Tamir Rice was 12. Michael Brown was 18. Eric
Garner was 50. Walter Scott was 50. The problem is multi-generational.
It`s not age specific.
In terms of looking at policing in this country, we have to drill down in
terms of evidence-based strategies for addressing the problem. But we
cannot ignore the reality. And when I talk to my sons, who are 16 and 18,
I`m very clear with them, when a police officer pulls you over for no
reason, it`s because you look like I do.
REID: Yeah. We obviously saw with Sandra Bland as well.
You talked about platforms, let`s look quickly at the platforms that have
been put out by the present candidates. You have Hillary Clinton saying
more funds for police best practices, body cameras. You know, general
stuff that we`ve heard before, alternative punishments for low level drug
offenders, mental health, drug addiction and treatment, and more for
Let`s go to Martin O`Malley, who put out his platform that says build trust
in law enforcement, more fairness in sentencing, medicalized response to
addition, mental illness, accountability and due process, economic
inequality. Pretty standard.
And let`s go to Bernie Sanders. He says demilitarize the police force so
they don`t look like an invading army, invest in community policing,
training in de-escalation, make progress and get more money if you`re a
state and federal resources to crack down on illegal activities.
All of those policies are race transcendent. They`re not specifically
saying these are policies about black issues. Is that sufficient?
AMAR: Well, let me add a couple others that are formally race transcendent
but they`re all about racial imbalance. If we`re talking about the
criminal justice system we should be talking about grand juries, a trial
jury, and who sits on them. And right now, people are dinged – it`s
called peremptory challenges – with no explanation whatsoever, and they`re
disproportionately dinged if they`re old, young, but, yes, also people of
color. And we should get rid of preemptory challenges because, how our
juries look and grand juries look and whether they`re fairly represented,
that goes to the essence of democracy. And the Supreme Court has just
agreed to take the case of preemptory challenges.
Let`s talk about – because criminal justice is nested in a broader
political and justice system so talk about voting rights, the 50th
anniversary of voting rights in America. And that was an insider, LBJ,
older, and younger outsiders like Martin King. And LBJ was telling King,
you keep pushing me, the more you push me, the more I can push other
people, so we have to work together on this. That was 50 years ago that it
was signed into law. And the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of it,
and that law when you get deep into it is race transcendent but also race
specific because there are portions of it, racially disparate, and we need
a new Voting Rights Act.
AMAR: And that`s both. That`s key because you`re not going to get racial
justice in America unless everyone votes, especially – and that includes,
of course, people who for centuries were not allowed to vote.
REID: I`ll come back. I know everybody wants to get in on it more. But
we have to take a commercial break to pay for all of this.
Up next, Democrats distance themselves from two of their party`s biggest
stars. What`s behind the move? We`ll talk about that and get more of the
panel in on this when we come back.
REID: Every year for nearly a century, Democrats have thrown themselves a
big celebratory confab named for the men they recognize as the founders of
the party, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The annual
Jefferson/Jackson Day Dinners are organized by state branches of the
Democratic National Committee and they draw political candidates and
activists to help raise money to fund state and local elections. But
recently, the Democratic Party has realized that celebrating two men who
were slave holders, and one of whom spearheaded the Trail of Tears to
remove Native Americans from lands desired by the expanding nation, is
inconsistent with its values of exclusiveness and diversity. So, state by
state the party has begun to abandon the names of Jefferson and Jackson in
association with the annual events. Last weekend, the Iowa Democratic
Party joined three other states that have already changed the name of the
dinners, and five other states have been considering a change since the
June massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
But a question is, is changing the name of an event most voters know
nothing about enough? Shouldn`t the party also address some of the more
systemic beefs that voters of color have with their party of choice?
And for that, I want to go straight to you, Julieta, because one of the
things that you hear, complaints about the Democratic Party, is that it
takes the base for granted. You hear that from African-Americans. And one
of the things the African-Americans say is, how come when it comes to
Latinos, and they make demands on the party, they get what they ask for,
when the LBGT community stands up and heckles the president, they get what
they ask for, and it`s always specific or it`s LBGT specific, why not us?
From the point of view of somebody who has fought for the dreamers –
you`re part of that group – African-Americans often say, you always get
what you want. Do you feel that you get what you want when you go after
GARIBAY: Before I answer that question, I think that power does not
concede anything unless you demand. It never has and never will. That`s
what undocumented youth and what Black Lives Matters does. It says, I`m
going to demand what I deserve because that`s what it should be.
For us, yes, we were able to push and demand and win that Obama provide
relief for immigrant youth. And then this past November, we were able to
win for some parents. But at the end of the day, we still hear of people
being deported, being detained. At the end of the day, the Democratic
Party as well as the Republican Party is OK working with for-profit
corporations that criminalize our communities. So we haven`t gotten what
we want. Every single day, we get a call from someone who is deported, a
call from an LBGT immigrant youth who is in deportation proceedings. And
so more power to youth to keep pushing against this so we actually get
humanized as who we`re supposed to be.
REID: And historically, Jeanne, as a historical matter because you did
write a book about Rosa Parks, which is fabulous, as a historical matter,
has this been a long-running argument that you`ve had African-Americans
fighting for change primarily within the structure of the American party,
which was inhospitable at the time you wrote the book. Is it the standard
as a historical matter?
THEOHARIS: I think we forget, right, that African-Americans supporting the
party, happens at historical moments, midway through the New Deal, right?
African-Americans don`t support Roosevelt when he runs in because there`s
nothing to indicate that Roosevelt`s New Deal in its vague sense and in its
first years is going to aid African-Americans. You begin to see African-
Americans moving to the Democratic Party. So this idea that African-
Americans are wed to the Democratic Party is born of a historical moment,
and then it happens again more fully in the 1960s. But it`s not – it
doesn`t exist from time immemorial.
And going back to the question of the Voting Rights Act, I think if we`re
thinking of getting rid of Jefferson or Jackson, we could do something more
substantive, which is the legacy of Jim Crowe America, which is
AMAR: And power, voting power, you have to make it easy for people to
register to vote and that`s young adults. If you just show up at the
protest but don`t show up on election day, you`re not going to be able to
affect the kind of positive change that if you show up at the protest and
you show up on election day, and so that`s voter registration.
And you say it`s not just the Jefferson you see was a slave holder, it`s
that the Electoral College was rigged to help, actually, the south because
the three-fifths clause meant the more slaves you have, the more Electoral
College vote you got. Thomas Jefferson would have lost the election of
1800 against John Adams if you hadn`t counted slavery.
REID: Yeah, absolutely.
AMAR: Southern states and not the northern states. So the rules for
voting matter hugely.
REID: Very short.
BROOKS: Sure. When we think about Ferguson, Ferguson exploded as a
consequence of police brutality but also the failure to exercise the right
BROOKS: Which is why the NAACP is pushing for restoration of the Voting
And, unfortunately, I have to leave it there.
Thank you very much.
This panel will be back next hour.
But next, his plan could prevent thousands of people from voting. And
that`s why he is getting my “Letter of the Week.”
REID: On August 6, the Republican National Committee issued a statement
issued from Chairman Reince Priebus commemorating the 50th anniversary of
the Voting Rights Act. The statement noted the broad Republican support
that the act enjoyed back in 1965 and stated that “protecting citizens`
right to vote in free and fair elections is not a Republican priority, it`s
an American priority.” Hear, hear.
But Mr. Priebus also included this: “Every citizen should have the chance
to vote in our elections while we also work to ensure the integrity of the
voting process by preventing things such as mistakes, fraud and confusion.”
It`s an interesting and seemingly contradictory statement from the head of
the Republican Party. On the one hand, celebrating voting rights for all
Americans harkening back to the party`s crucial yesteryear support to the
landmark bill that tore down the insidious barriers southern states erected
to keep millions of black citizens from exercising their right to vote,
and, yet, still harping on the mythical and manufactured threat of voter
fraud, a myth that has been used time and again to justify new restrictive
voting laws in state after state, legislation that disproportionately
impacts the ability of those very black voters to exercise the franchise.
Which brings me to this week`s letter to Kansas Secretary of State, Kris
“Dear Secretary Kobach, it`s me, Joy. Congratulations on your powerful new
role in which your governor, Sam Brownback, deputized you personally to
prosecute voter fraud. You know, the voter fraud you say is common in
Kansas, despite the fact that the U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas,
Barry Grissom (ph), told you in a November 2014 letter that he never
received a single voter fraud case from your office in four and a half
years. Despite the fact the textbook case of fraud you cited in a 2010
press conference, that of alleged zombie voter, Fred K. Brewer, was
undercut by the fact that Mr. Brewer was actually very much alive. And
that, according to your own data, your office examined 84 million votes
cast in 22 states and found just 14 cases of duplicate voter registration,
a fraud percentage of 0.0017 percent. Six zeros. And the fact that
between 1997 and 2010, an analysis by “The Wichita Eagle” found just 11
confirmed cases of voter fraud in your entire state. And yet, Secretary
Kobach, your new powers will enable you to prosecute these fictitious cases
as felonies, no less, by going after voters who show up at the wrong
polling place by mistake or for making an error on their voter registration
Meanwhile, as if it`s not enough for you to have extraordinary
prosecutorial power no other secretary of state in the country has, one of
your new initiatives is a regulation that would empower your office to
purge more than 30,000 Kansans from the voter roles. 30,000. You would be
able to conduct your purge by declaring those voter applications incomplete
because the applications – the applicants failed to provide sufficient
proof of citizenship like a birth certificate or passport. That is on top
of the 25,000 voters who had their registrations suspended ahead of the
2014 election, your re-election year, because of the birther law you
spearheaded in 2011.
Now under the current rules, voters have until Election Day to provide the
required documents. You`d like to cut that to 90 days. Your state is just
one of four to require proof of citizenship at all. And, surprise, the
people most affected are young people, low-income Kansans, the elderly, and
– wait for it – African-Americans.
Secretary Kobach, enacting birther-inspired legislation to cancel 30,000
Kansans` right to vote is no way to honor your party`s support for the
Voting Rights Act. And it`s certainly not going to help your party do
better with minority voters. But based on your actions, maybe that isn`t
what your actual goal is anyway. Sincerely, Joy.”
And coming up, a volatile week in Ferguson and why police took DNA samples
from some of the protesters.
Plus, the prisoners on the front lines of California`s firefight saving
homes and maybe even lives while earning just $1 an hour. More Nerd Land
at the top of the hour.
REID: Welcome back, everyone. I`m Joy Reid, in for Melissa.
On Friday morning, a state of emergency was lifted in Ferguson, Missouri,
placing the city back under local control for the first time in five days.
St. Louis County initially imposed the state of emergency after a young man
allegedly opened fire on a group of undercover police officers Sunday
night. The officers fired back, leaving the 18-year-old, whose name is
Tyrone Harris Jr., in critical condition.
Although police say Harris was not part of the protest, the freshly imposed
state of emergency came amid the renewed demonstrations marking the one-
year anniversary of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The
killing of a black teenager by a police officer, the outrage expressed on
social media, the subsequent protests, and a militaristic police response
brought national attention to the small city of Ferguson and added fuel to
the movement known as Black Lives Matter.
This week, as protesters mark the one-year anniversary of Brown`s death, it
felt like deja vu. Protests and vigils were mostly peaceful, beginning
Sunday morning with the silent march. But after dark, police moved in,
wearing riot gear, following reports of looting and vandalism at some
Then, on Monday, more than 100 people were arrested for various acts of
civil disobedience. More than 50 were arrested while protesting at the
federal courthouse in St. Louis. More than 60 arrested when they blocked
Interstate 70 during rush hour clasping hands across the busy road.
When one woman tried to drive her SUV through the crowd, two protesters
fought back and they were charged with assault and felony property damage.
But the rest of the week was peaceful.
And yesterday, after several nights of quiet, the county executive lifted
the state of emergency saying, quote, “I am pleased to report our law
enforcement officers have established order while preventing further acts
of violence in Ferguson.”
Some of the most striking images from Ferguson this week were these.
Heavily armed white men who appeared at the protest saying they were
members of the Oath Keepers, a paramilitary group that advocates armed
resistance to what they deem unlawful government overreach.
The fact that police didn`t approach the armed Oath Keepers or ask them to
leave let alone arrest them while unarmed black protesters were handcuffed
and arrested touched a nerve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and people who look like you white males have the
sovereignty to take advantage of the Second Amendment and walk around with
assault rifles, but we can`t even stand out here and assemble peacefully
and exercise our constitutional right to do so without being gassed, maced,
and arrested. What`s your perspective on that? What do you think about
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t have a perspective.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t have a perspective?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven`t been here since day one. So, I haven`t
firsthand how you`ve been treated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Seeing these images, we have to wonder, has anything changed in
We also learned this week the city is pursuing criminal charges against
members of the media who were arrested during last year`s protests, arrest
that is have been condemned by journalists and human rights groups as
unjustified and unconstitutional.
At the table with me in New York are Cornell William Brooks, president and
CEO of the NAACP, Julieta Garibay, campaign director for United We Dream,
Akhil Reed Amar, sterling professor of law and political science at Yale
University, and Jeanne Theoharis, distinguished professor of political
science at Brooklyn College.
And joining us now live from Washington, D.C., is one of those journalists
now facing charges in Ferguson, Wesley Lowery of “The Washington Post.”
OK, Wesley. You were reporting in Ferguson this week. First of all, let
me ask you if you feel like anything has changed much in perfecting son
versus last August.
WESLEY LOWERY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, in terms
of my reporting, it seems as if much has not changed in Ferguson. So, I
mean, the obvious things people point out, the national changes, the change
in perception, the change in perspective and now the national conversation
about body cameras.
Some states, we`re seeing in California just this last week banned the use
of grand juries and in cases of police shootings. New York, which is now
using a special prosecutor in cases of police shootings. But in Ferguson,
Missouri, itself, we`ve seen cosmetic change but not a lot of deep
political and policy change.
So, we`ve seen a new police chief who`s a black officer. We`ve seen some
new city council members, some turnover in the court system. But with that
said in terms of the broader policies we`re still seeing a lot of people
arrested, a lot of arrest warrants being issued. And we are also still
seeing in Ferguson, Missouri, a disconnect between a lot of the police
departments and the residents themselves and that manifested itself in the
arrest that we still saw during these acts of civil disobedience and these
demonstrations since last week.
REID: Yes, they certainly to be just as aggressive against the protesters.
I want to ask you about your own arrest yourself and Ryan J. Reilly being
post (ph) or facing prosecution. Do you expect these prosecutions to go
forward? Is that the expectation of your legal counsel?
LOWERY: Well, at this point, we`ve been charged, and so, we`re moving
forward as if. We`re expecting this to go forward unless we hear
otherwise. We`ve all come out and we`ve been pretty forthcoming with what
we think of these charges previously. I don`t have a ton of new stuff to
We know that we were detained illegally. We were given illegal
instructions and we were two journalists trying to do our job. I was
frankly surprised that these charges were something that were revisited by
St. Louis County a year later. But, at this point, we probably should have
learned our lesson about being surprised by the behavior of police in
REID: Yes, absolutely. And, Akhil, I want to come to you on that
question. This idea of arresting journalists who are on the streets
actually covering the protests but then really despite the negative
blowback from having done that, really going and continuing to pursue
prosecution of these journalists, what do you think of that as a
constitutional matter, as a legal matter?
AKHIL REED AMAR, YALE UNIVERSITY: So, we`ve been talking about the First
Amendment and freedom of assembly and press and the Second Amendment has
come in with folks parading around. Let me give you a different account of
the second amendment.
It starts with power and voting power, black people are now voting in
Ferguson more than before and we have city council people, OK, and I said,
we need to have juries look different and grand juries look different. We
need to have – and city councils look different, police departments as
well and not just the chief but the department should look like the
community, just like the jury should look like the community.
And Bernie Sanders` platform talked a little bit about representative
police forces. The Second Amendment is actually about that. Let me read
it to you and listen to a well-regulated militia necessary to the security
of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be
The militia is supposed to look like the people. Who are the people? The
voters. We the people actually on election day we elect Congress.
Who is the militia? Well, today at the federal level basically the army.
The army should look like America and at the local level, basically, it`s
So, we don`t really have the founders militia anymore. We have police
departments at the local level, the army at the national level, and both
should look like the community as should grand juries, as should juries, as
should city councils, as should people who show up on election day.
REID: But I`m also just concerned specifically for the panel about this
idea of essentially punishing journalists for being there and filming.
That as a constitutional matter seems dubious, Cornell.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, NAACP: Yes, of course it is. But the climate in
Ferguson has not changed. So across the country we`ve seen a seismic shift
in attitude with respect to race. But in terms of policy reforms, a
glacier shift. So, across the country and specifically in Missouri, all
we`ve seen is a change with respect to municipal find. The law under which
Michael Brown was killed has not been changed. There has not been reform
in policing across the state, and the governor and legislature would both
admit that they are not where they should be.
So, the point being here is, we can`t be surprised that journalists are
treated as poorly as citizens.
And, Wesley, I want to come back in on this question of the changes that
have been happening in personnel and who is actually running things in
Ferguson are real. There are more city councilmembers. They have a new
But when you were back in Ferguson and just looking at the situation on the
ground, do you get the sense people feel more empowered, the citizens who
LOWERY: No. I mean, talking to the citizens and residents on the ground,
Ferguson feels as divided as ever. The business owners and some of the
parts of the white community very frustrated with these protests and these
demonstrations a year ago remain frustrated and remained confounded and
confused by this anger they`re seeing by their fellow residents. And many
of the people who have taken to the streets are just as angry and just as
upset and they do not feel in any way more empowered.
And so, as I have conversations, as I worked in the city for several days
last weekend, it became very clear that, like I said, there has been
cosmetic change in Ferguson, Missouri, and there`s some cosmetic change in
greater St. Louis and, you know, with the caveat that sometimes it is hard
to feel the titanic turning as it turns, there is certainly some work that
is being done, there are people who are working hard and have some progress
that has been made. But, no, to show up in Ferguson last week, it was not
to parachute into a new and fundamentally different and changed city than a
year ago that had to be drafted a year prior.
REID: Yes, we don`t have a great deal of time, but I have to play this one
piece of sound one more because Akhil did talk about the Second Amendment.
Let`s play the Oath Keeper again interacting with this time a white
protester who was asking them about what they were doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine a black man coming down here looking
like you, walking this way? You think what would happen to him? What do
you think might happen to him? You wouldn`t be left alone like you are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: I mean, Jean, you have the situation where literally you have white
armed men walking around the street unassailed by police and black unarmed
protesters being arrested. This seems dystopic.
JEANNE THEOHARIS, AUTHOR: Undoubtedly. And I think this is emblematic of
where we are in this country that some people`s rights are understood to be
full and rich, and some people`s rights we cannot imagine an African-
American fully armed like that, a Muslim-American fully armed like that and
getting to walk freely similarly, right? That when you are stopped by
police the kind of generosity, the idea that the police are protecting and
serving you varies, right?
Sandra Bland, you know, how she`s treated versus sort of – I mean, if you
look out on the street, right, the NYPD says to protect and serve and
certainly the NYPD protects and serves some people.
REID: It`s clearly the same for members of the Latino community.
JULIETA GARIBAY, UNITED WE DREAM: Exactly talking about Sandra. I
remember we were (INAUDIBLE) coming out and I just kept on thinking had
Sandra been a white woman or an Irish immigrant, she would have never been
pulled over. Or maybe pulled over but she would never even asked to turn
off your cigarette. She would have never died.
REID: I think it`s important to remember that this traffic stop before
that went swimmingly and the person apparently didn`t have their insurance
and the police officer said, have your dad e-mail it to you?
All right. I want to thank Wesley Lowery in Washington, D.C. Thank you
REID: Everybody stay right there because up next why did police collect
DNA samples from some of the Ferguson activists? One of the protesters
joins us live when we come back.
REID: Early this week, protesters marched and held a sit-in at the federal
courthouse in St. Louis, an act of civil disobedience in the face of police
and federal marshals who tried to keep them off the grounds. More than 50
arrested for causing a disturbance on federal property.
Among them were prominent Black Lives Matter activists Deray McKesson and
Johnetta Elzie, who each took a pretty – told a pretty shocking story
about their booking experience.
Deray tweeted, “Did you know that when in the custody of the U.S. Marshal,
that they take two DNA swabs from your mouth to be sent to the FBI? I
Elzie had a similar experience, “DNA swabs were wild. The woman marshal
told me to open my mouth and I had to ask her for what. Sound outrageous?”
Well, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was all perfectly legal. In
2012, the court ruled that police can collect DNA from someone who`s under
arrest without a warrant. Their reasoning was that swabbing for DNA is the
same as fingerprinting and photographing suspects.
In his dissent, Justice Scalia joined by the court`s three liberal women
rained down hot fire claim, writing, quote, “Today`s judgment will, to be
sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes. Then again, so
would the taking of DNA samples from everyone who flies on an airplane,
applies for a driver`s license or attends a public school. Perhaps the
Constitution of such a generic – perhaps the construction of such a
generic practice is wide, I doubt the wise men would have been so eager to
open their mouths for royal inspection.”
Joining us from St. Louis is Johnetta Elzie, a Ferguson protester who was
arrested on Monday and the co-founder of Mapping Police Violence.
All right. So, Johnetta, tell us how does it feel to have to open your
mouth for royal inspection.
JOHNETTA ELZIE, FERGUSON PROTESTER: It was really intrusive. She didn`t
tell me what she was doing or why she was about to swab my mouth. She just
told me to open my mouth, and while she had the swab in my mouth I asked
what was it for, and then she told me that it was just another form of
identification. But she did not – she explained what she was doing before
she did it to one of the white women who was also arrested who came after
me. So, it was really interesting just to see how she described it to a
white person versus how she told me to open my mouth.
REID: And were you told at the end of the day after it was all done that
this is DNA that`s going to be held, that`s going to be maintained? What
were you told about what was going to be done with the sample?
ELZIE: I wasn`t told anything. She just took my swabs, put it in an
envelope, mailed it – or sealed it – or they sealed it and prepared it
for mail and that was it.
REID: OK, Akhil, I have to ask, we read there is a Supreme Court case
saying this is OK to do. It doesn`t feel OK I think to most people here.
AMAR: And it cut across ideological lines. You had Scalia dissenting and
Justices Thomas and Alito thinking it was OK. You had three Democratic
appointees, the women who were dissenting but Steve Breyer, another
Democratic appointee and liberal, thinking it`s OK.
So, the Fourth Amendment says there`s a right against unreasonable searches
and seizures. And here is the kick in the head – sometimes actually the
broader search might be more reasonable. The problem now is we`re only
doing it to arrestees and arrestees are disproportionately nonwhite going
back to earlier questions about disparate impact. So, maybe, actually,
eventually we`ll be in a world that freaks Justice Scalia out where we`re a
part of a database, maybe even a drop of blood at birth goes to DNA
fingerprint ID, so your ID card will be buy metric and that`s scary.
But let`s take airports. They don`t just ask me to go through a metal
detector because I look a certain way, Middle Eastern or something, they
make everyone go through. And some ways, that makes me feel at least
treated equally. Misery loves company.
AMAR: We may be in an unstable situation where only arrestees. And, by
the way, the DNA fingerprint can also generate information about family
members. Family members share DNA. So, maybe it`s unstable to only do
arrestees. Maybe we`re going to have to do possibly more.
REID: OK. That`s terrifying.
I want to go back to Johnetta, just to come to your experience, because the
purpose of why you were in Ferguson, what you and other activists were
there for, explain to me what your purpose was and do you feel it was
ELZIE: So, I came back home because it was the one-year anniversary of the
shooting death of Mike Brown and I just was there to support to do what
I`ve been doing since August 4 of 2014 to document tweets, Vine, Periscope,
and really just being there to reflect on what it feels like to be in St.
Louis a year later.
REID: And I want to ask you the same question –
ELZIE: And realizing not much has changed.
REID: That was the question I was going to ask you, the same question I
asked Wesley Lowery, does it feel any different? Do the people on the
ground feel more empowered versus the police or – I mean, given your
experience I can`t imagine much feeling of empowerment. But did the
activists on the ground, did the citizens feel, to you, more empowered?
ELZIE: Yes, I would definitely say that people are definitely impacted in
a different way than we were last year, just the experiences that we faced,
while coming out of our homes and refusing to go in for the first 21 days
under police and military occupation in Ferguson, I feel like this year
everyone is a little more bold, little more brave and definitely empowered.
I don`t and did not expect the police to be any different than they were
ELZIE: I lived in St. Louis and I`ve experienced police violence, micro
and macro. And so it`s not surprising to me that what happened this
weekend happened. But I do feel that more people are being radicalized by
watching how brutal police can be or experience in it for themselves.
REID: Yes. All right. Well, I want to thank you and get your last name
properly, Johnetta Elzie. Thank you for being here from St. Louis.
ELZIE: Thank you.
REID: OK, thank you.
And here in New York, thank you to Julieta Garibay and the rest of my panel
is sticking around.
And still to come, the surprising group of people helping to fight the
California wildfires and why they`re earning just $1 an hour.
But up next, Donald Trump wants a wall to divide two nations. We`ll have a
look at the one that once did.
REID: On this day in 1961, construction began on one of the world`s most
infamous symbols of oppression and division, the Berlin Wall. After World
War II, the city of Berlin, like the rest of Germany, was divided, with the
Soviets controlling the eastern half and the U.S., Great Britain and France
controlling the Western section.
But life in the two Berlins was very different. Throughout the 1950s and
early `60s, some 2.5 million East Germans fled to West Berlin to escape
communist rule. The refugees including many skilled workers, professionals
and intellectuals, and their exit had a devastating effect on the East
German economy. By August of 1961 an average of 2,000 East Germans were
crossing into the west every day.
In an effort to stop the exodus, late one August night, East Germany began
constructing a barrier first with miles of barbed wire, but within days
that was replaced with concrete walls. With little warning, Berliners
found themselves cut off from friend, family, and work.
The barrier continued to grow, eventually comprised of a series of concrete
walls standing up to 15 feet high. Heavily fortified and stretching more
than 100 miles. Soldiers stationed along the wall were under order to
shoot anyone who attempted to defect.
And yet some East Germans risked their lives to continue trying to cross
the border. An estimated 5,000 managed to get past the Berlin Wall.
Another 5,000 were captured trying and nearly 200 others killed. For 28
years the wall stood as most visible symbol of the cold war synonymous with
the divide between East and West, American-style capitalism and communism.
Finally, on a historic night in 1989, the Berlin Wall effectively came down
as East German guards opened the borders allowing East and West Berliners
to roam their city freely.
But walls as a means of separating and isolating people, countries and
cultures are still a thing, including in the United States as evidenced by
Donald Trump`s plan for the U.S.-Mexico border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said we need to build a wall
and it has to be built quickly. And I don`t mind having a big, beautiful
door in that wall so that people can come into this country legally. But
we need, Jeb, to build a wall. We need to keep illegals out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: But history has taught us building a wall whether to keep people out
or to lock them in can have far-reaching and sometimes devastating
consequences. Just like that wall bisecting Berlin which the government of
East Germany began building on this day August 15, 1961.
REID: California is burning. So much so that its governor, Jerry Brown
has declared a state of emergency to help mobilize efforts as wildfires
burn across the state. There are currently 16 active wildfires across
California and more than 10,000 firefighters are on the ground battling
But this isn`t a story about how extreme weather and drought have turned
California into a tinderbox of dry vegetation or about the 150 people
forced to evacuate their homes. Instead, it`s about some of the people on
the front lines fighting the California blazes and how they might not be
who you think.
Between 30 percent and 40 percent of California`s forest firefighters are
state prison inmates. Yes, you heard that right. That`s because 4,000
low-level felons in the state`s prison system are part of a program that
allows them to earn wages doing manual labor outside, from clearing brush
to starting fires. The inmates live in concentration camps scattered
throughout the state. California is the largest program of its kind.
The inmates are supervised by correctional officers and chosen based on
good behavior, as well as what they were convicted of. For instance those
convicted of arson, for obvious reasons, are barred from the program.
For each day they work in the program, the inmates receive a two-day
reduction in their sentences. They`re paid $1 an hour while on the line
fighting fires. It`s estimated that the program has saved the state of
California up to $100 million a year, according to Bill Sessa, the
spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation, the agency that runs the program with Cal Fire. Sessa also
told us that the inmates cut containment lines and get close to the flames
which can reach 100 feet high on rugged terrain. He said it`s life-or-
death situations, it`s dangerous work.
And joining the panel now is Glenn Martin, president and founder of
JustLeadership USA. And joining me from Toronto, Canada, is Philip
Goodman, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the
University of Toronto.
I want to first come to you, Glenn, because I believe you wrote a
dissertation about this issue.
I`m sorry, oh, Philip wrote a dissertation about issues. I`m going to go
to Philip, first.
You wrote a dissertation about this issue. So, tell me about the ethics of
this first. You have people who are incarcerated. It`s not like they have
a lot of choices, but giving them this choice, which is to do potentially
deadly work for an hour, the ethics of that, in your view?
PHILIP GOODMAN, ASSISTANT PROF. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO: Thanks for that
question and thanks so much for the opportunity to be on the show. So, I
think you`re right to highlight the fact that on the one hand, prisoners
who are spending their time, their incarcerated time inside of the fire
camps, those men and women for the most part would prefer to be in a fire
camp as opposed to a traditional walled prison.
On the other hand, it`s important to note that it`s in light of the
alternative and that really makes it complicated, right, to identify this
as either purely voluntary or not. Ask questions about ways in which it is
and is not coercive is precisely because they`re choosing to be in a fire
camp, in many cases from the men and women I had a chance to interview
because the conditions are somewhat less austere and painful than in walled
The food may be in many cases better. But, again, they`re choosing to do
that dangerous, dirty, exhaustive work of fighting wildfires precisely
given both the better conditions but also very much the alternative of how
they would otherwise spend those days of their lives.
REID: I mean, there are some ways in which these prisoners are having a
less onerous experience the camps are less segregated. We understand about
250 of the 4,000 are women. The conditions are just not as onerous as
being locked down, I guess, in a prison.
At the same time, you have people who are earning $1 an hour to do work
that we pay – that we pay professional firefighters substantially more. I
don`t know. I can`t get my head around the ethics.
GLENN MARTIN, PRES. & FOUNDER, JUSTLEADERSHIP USA: I don`t – as someone
who served six years in prison, the first thing I would say, the idea of
being able to work and keep yourself busy while you`re there makes sense,
right? It helps your time go by. You pick up skills that you may not have
But in this situation, we shouldn`t be surprised that California has found
yet another ways to monetize misery. The idea that we save $100 million,
that`s like government sleight of hand, right? You save $100 million here,
but you`re spending $9 billion here to lock people up.
And these are the lowest level defenders. Arguably, many of these folks
probably shouldn`t be in the criminal justice system in the first place.
But it`s not just government. I mean, the perverse incentives that
underlie our system have been taken advantage of by Walmart, by many for
profit companies, Victoria`s Secret, you name it. So, essentially, we have
a criminal justice system that people are essentially in the business of
keeping locked up because it means you have low wage labor, people who are
not going to stray, people who are not going to complain about vacation
time and so on.
And so, the coercion is one piece but just overall, when you have 100
million Americans who have an arrest or criminal record on file, you have
to ask yourself, what is driving this sort of criminal justice?
REID: And in the case of people who are fighting forest fires, they could
actually die doing this. This is sort of making people doubly expendable.
Meaning, you don`t have to pay them more than a dollar an hour or $2 a day
when they`re not actually on the fire line. But they also – this deadly -
- potentially deadly work.
GOODMAN: It certainly is. And I think in exchange for doing that
potentially deadly work, if it is something we want prisoners to do at the
very minimum, we owe them many things. We owe them better wages than we
currently pay them. We owe them better opportunities to get work for those
who want it after they`re released.
And for those who are not interested in that, we need better educational
and vocational opportunities not just in the camps but in prisons in
general, right, so that we can follow through on this commitment to allow
people to lead better lives post incarceration. So, I think we need all of
those things and those who are doing this deadly work in the fire camp so
clearly deserve all of those things and more.
REID: And, Glenn, we need to be paying people professional wages to do
this work, aside from that. But I want to ask specifically about the post
incarceration experience. Let`s say you do a prison “job”, quote/unquote,
as minimally paid as it is, does that mean you`re more likely to get the
same job outside?
MARTIN: A couple of things. One, I think we should always go upstream and
figure out where the bodies are coming from, right? Our criminal justice
was created at the intersection of civil right gains and jobless ghettos.
So, these are folks who couldn`t get jobs in the first place. Yet, once
they`re in prison we`re suddenly willing to give them these great jobs.
Post release, right now, we`re asking President Obama to sign a ban the box
executive order to create job opportunities for formerly incarcerated
people because there are so many people in this country who have been
impacted by the criminal justice system that we`ve created an under class
REID: Yes. Absolutely. That`s something the Clinton campaign has jumped
on, the ban the box.
Thank you very much to Philip Goodman in Toronto, Canada. And thank you to
Glenn Martin here in New York.
And up next, New York`s homeless caught on camera. Are they becoming
victims of a political feud between the police and the mayor?
REID: A New York City labor union for police officers is being accused of
homeless shaming in its most recent social media campaign. The Sergeant`s
Benevolence Association is encouraging officers along with friends and
family members to take pictures of homeless New Yorkers and post them
The new campaign is called “Peek-A-Boo, We See You, Too”. And it was
announced in a letter e-mailed to the union`s 12,000 members on Monday.
Sergeant Ed Mullins, the SBA president and an outspoken critic of New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote, “As you travel about the city of New York,
please utilize your smart phones to photograph the homeless lining in our
streets. Aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public, or engaging
in open air drug activity and quality of life offenses of every type. Our
sergeants will notify our public officials in writing of what is being
The photos were being posted on the SBA`s Flickr site, a page that shows
hundreds of images of homeless people sleeping or asking for money. As of
Thursday afternoon, however, the photos were no longer visible to the
public. The SBA told us that the reason was a technical glitch and that
the photos will be back up shortly.
However, “The New York Daily News” reported yesterday that Flickr took down
According to New York City`s Department of Homeless Services, 56,000
individuals including adults and children were housed in homeless shelters
on Thursday. The mayor`s office told us – told us this show, sorry, by e-
mail that the number of homeless New Yorkers has dropped from approximately
59,000 in 2014 to approximately 56,000 today. And yet, other reports say
the number of homeless has actually gone up.
In fact, in recent years, homelessness in New York City has reached its
highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s according to the
Coalition for the Homeless.
In a Quinnipiac poll released last week, 53 percent of New Yorkers reported
seeing more homeless people than they did a few years ago.
Facing mounting pressure to reduce and serve the homeless population, Mayor
de Blasio unveiled a $22 million plan to help New Yorkers suffering from
mental illness. The initiative NYC Safe proposes more services for the
homeless who pose a danger to themselves and others.
But what happens if the homeless become just another prop in the ongoing
drama between the mayor and the police?
Joining the table now is Christy Parque, executive director of Homeless
And, Christie, thank you for being here. I want to start by asking you,
what you – what is your response to hearing the characterization of
homeless people in this callout by the SBA saying take pictures of people
urinating in public and doing open air drug activity, is this a
stereotyping of homeless people that you are bothered by?
CHRISTY PARQUE, EXEC. DIR. HOMELESS SERVICES UNITED: Absolutely. When I
heard this, it was clear this was a publicity stunt designed to shame the
mayor and the city council for their efforts to have oversight over the
police department and instead of shaming them, what they`re doing is
shaming a very vulnerable population. It`s based on stereotypes that`s
already oppressing people who are struggling on the street, and it`s, you
know, perpetuating a myth about who is homeless. It`s making this
Just putting aside the privacy and legal concerns about this, it`s
perpetuating a myth about who is actually homeless in New York City. In
reality, you know, I think everybody recognized there`s a problem. The
mayor recognizes there`s a problem but is perpetuating this myth of who is
homeless assuming that the public can identify who is homeless by how they
look or where they`re at.
When in reality what we`re seeing in New York City`s homeless is families
and children. It`s the woman escaping a domestic violence situation with
her child, it`s the senior citizen priced out, it`s the trans kid kicked
out of his family`s home, the people homeless.
It`s this kind of publicity that does nothing to solve the problem. What
we need is affordable housing and supportive housing for this particular
population on the street.
REID: Yes. And, Cornell, it does feel like, to Christy`s point,
attempting to shame the mayor but actually shaming the homeless. On the
shame the mayor part of it, even the title “Peek-A-Boo, We See You, Too”,
it seems like a response to even citizens filming police.
Am I reading that go wrong?
BROOKS: Exactly. To me this is emblematic of bad policing, right, in the
sense of we have these quality of life crimes criminalizing a class of
people, a kind of hard-hearted Jell-o brained approach to policing that has
nothing to do with deterring crime. And to use the citizens of New York,
because homeless people are still citizens, they`re using the citizens of
New York as a prop or a cudgel to go after the mayor is absolutely
So, they are not, in fact, shaming the homeless. They`re shaming
themselves, their badges, their oaths and everything police officers
REID: But at the same time, Christie, they`re also dehumanizing these
people by using the props. They are essentially shaming them because
they`re showing somebody without their permission and showing them as if
they don`t have the option or the right to give their permission to be
PARQUE: It`s completely unethical to create an Internet meme out of
somebody`s suffering. It`s unacceptable. New Yorkers can do better and
our police, you know, by and large know this, too, because we work with
them every day with our folks.
So, this is the leadership and this kind of characterization will lead to
criminalization of poor people, homeless people and this is just absolutely
dehumanizing to the people that were trying to work them and the people
that are working with them.
REID: Yes. And I wonder about that. How this – what this says about the
attitude of police in general and should it be concerning?
AMAR: Well, your point was very interesting this may be a reaction to the
filming of the police. And so if you film the police in Ferguson, I guess
you get yourself arrested maybe in Ferguson, but the police can film you.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms – well, what are arms? You
know, cameras are among the most powerful weapons in the world and when
wielded by the citizenry to keep the police accountable –
AMAR: – it can be – but then there are these privacy issues that are
REID: Well, I think we`re out of time. But very quickly, Christy, is
there going to be a response to what you`ve seen here?
PARQUE: A lot of my members, including my board members, we have a broad
network of folks who are issuing responses, letters to the editor. There
will be a rally coming up this week. So, people are really pushing back.
REID: Keep us posted.
PARQUE: We need to be taking care of folks.
REID: OK. We are out of time but keep us posted.
Thank you so much to Cornell William Brooks, Christy Parque, sorry about,
and Akil Reed Amar, and Jeanne Theoharis. Thank you all. I will
eventually be able to do this properly.
And a quick programming note, want a chance to see Beyonce, Pearl Jam, Ed
Sheeran and Coldplay live? If you`re in the New York City area Monday,
August 17th, you can join MSNBC on a Snapchat journey through the city.
For a chance to win tickets to the Global Citizen Festival, to play, first
follow us on Snapchat at ShiftMSNBC and visit snap.MSNBC.com for full rules
and details. Good luck to you.
And up next, our foot soldier of the week.
REID: For many of us, doing our hair and maybe applying a little makeup is
just part of the daily routine, TV appearances notwithstanding.
But what about the more than 300,000 Americans who spend their nights in
homeless shelters around the country? For them, issues of appearance and
grooming are anything but routine. In fact, they can add stress to an
already-difficult living situation.
Our foot soldier this week is breaking the stereotypes attached to
homelessness and bringing beauty to where it is needed most.
Jody Wood, a multimedia artist, is the founder and creator of Beauty in
Transition. It`s a project that provides free services like hair washing,
cutting, coloring and styling to people living in homeless shelters who
lack the resources, supplies, and space to allow the day-to-day things so
many of us take for granted.
Beauty in Transition is an ongoing artistic project with a mobile twist.
As on lookers walk by what looks like a typical truck, those who venture
inside find themselves in a fully outfitted hair salon. Within the small,
intimate space of the mobile salon, participants are treated as equals.
The label “homeless” disappears. And they are transformed.
Using her artistic talent, Jody Wood has showcased the project using
photography, video, and audio recordings, allowing her audience to
empathize with the experience of homelessness.
The goal of the project is to shatter the cultural value system that
defines beauty by rigid standards, often excluding those who are not
conventionally attractive or financially successful. With the city streets
as her muse, Jody unpacks the trauma and social isolation that comes with
being homeless while at the same time reacquainting those who may have
forgotten their identity in the midst of their circumstances with their own
The project began in 2006 in Kansas and now operates through invitations
from art institutions serving homeless shelters in Philadelphia, New York
City, Denver, and Denver, Colorado. With the help of professional
stylists, some of whom were once homeless themselves, along with shelter
volunteers, the project provides services that may not seem like the most
urgent need of the homeless but which help build crucial self-esteem while
challenging the social stigmas that add to the flight of some of our most
When we spoke with Jody, she said, “The stigma attached to homelessness is
such a learned cognitive error and it`s so easy to undo once you have face-
to-face contact between two humans in a tactile intimate setting and a hair
salon can create this.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, my experience was rejuvenating. It restored
my self-esteem. It gave me a little more hope that I could get through
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: While they`re temporary, the Beauty in Transition pop-up salons
allow homeless individuals to enter a healing space where stylist can
impart a little beauty therapy.
And for reviving the self image of the displaced and giving them a sense of
hope for tomorrow, Jody Wood is our foot soldier of the week.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll
see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
And now, it`s time for a preview of “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT.”
My sister, Alex, how are you?
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