Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 09/19/15
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, what is it
that President Obama declared un-American yesterday at the White House?
Plus, live from Paris. And the sublime strategy of Carly Fiorina. But
first, look away from the lead car and check out who`s drafting.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris Perry. Let`s talk about NASCAR. That
NASCAR. The multibillion dollar stock car racing that`s one of the most
populous force in America. Now, I live in North Carolina. And NASCAR is
kind of a big deal there. Part of the draw of NASCAR, of course, the
danger. Cars are traveling at speed up to 200 miles an hour, and they do
it just inches away from each other. See, this, it`s called drafting. You
see it all the time in NASCAR. Especially at the Talledega speedway, which
we are seeing now. Getting within centimeters of another car when you`re
both going really, really fast. Seems kind of crazy but it`s not. Why?
Well, time to get nerdy, people. It`s all about aerodynamics. Air
molecules create friction against the car, slowing it down. This is called
drag. And drag is the enemy. NASCAR teams reduce drag all sorts of ways.
And the cars are as low to the ground as possible. And pit crews tape up
the grills to block air from flowing through the engine. The side view
mirrors are on the inside of the car. And then there`s drafting. In
drafting, the lead car is hitting the air molecules and getting the drag.
And by hugging close behind within the first car`s slip stream, the second
car skips the drag and both cars go faster.
Now, it`s only an extra few miles an hour faster. But even the tiniest
advantage counts in a race like this. You might think you`d always want to
be in the lead in this situation. But the extra benefit for the car in
back is it`s because it`s being pulled along, it has some energy and
reserve. The goal is still to cross that finish line first, of course. So
when it comes time, that second car can use its extra energy, speed up and
sling slot around the front-runner to victory.
It`s a technique that`s used in all sorts of races. NASCAR, cycling, speed
skating. Presidential. Oh, yeah. Presidential. And we saw some superb
examples of drafting during this Wednesday`s Republican primary debate at
the Ronald Reagan Library in California. Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio
Governor John Kasich track it like champs. Some of their opponents were
trying desperately to cut off leader Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP: Jeb, Jeb, I was a business man. I got along with Clinton.
I got along with everybody. That was my job to get along with people.
JEB BUSH: But the simple fact is …
TRUMP: I didn`t want - Excuse me, one second.
JEB BUSH: No.
TRUMP: I didn`t want …
JEB BUSH: The simple fact is, Donald, you couldn`t take –
TRUMP: More energy tonight, I like that. We don`t need an apprentice in
the White House, we have one right now.
CARLY FIORINA: I think women all over this country heard very clearly what
Mr. Trump said.
RAND PAUL: I`m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear
weapons because I think his response, his visceral response to attack
people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness. That
happened in junior high.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But Rubio and Kasich took a very different tact. Staying
quiet when it came to Trump. Crouched just behind those vying for first
place. In fact, when given the chance to attack Trump, they consistently
deflected the questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much responsibility, Mr. Trump, did the senators
TRUMP: I think they have a responsibility, absolutely. I think we have
three of them here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rubio …
TRUMP: I think they had a responsibility.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There were time that we
have zero responsibility. Because let`s remember what the president said.
He said the attack that he was going to conduct was going to be a pin
prick. Well, the United States military was not built to conduct pin prick
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump says that the hedge fund guys are getting
away with murder by paying a lower tax rate. He wants to raise the taxes
of hedge fund managers as does Governor Bush. Do you agree?
SEN. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE I don`t at this point in
terms of changing the incentives for investment and risk taking. But let`s
just stop for a second. There`s one person on this stage who does have a
record. I`m the only person on the stage and one of the few people in this
country that led the effort as the chief architect of the last time we
balanced the federal budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you catch that drafting? Because you see, they don`t
need to take down the front-runner themselves. They`ll benefit if anybody
does and they won`t get battered in the process. They`re hoping to reserve
a little bit of energy and sling slot to the front of the pack when it
matters most. But it ain`t NASCAR. So is it going to work?
Joining me now is Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California.
E.J. Dionne, MSNBC contributor, “Washington Post” columnist and a senior
fellow at the Brookings Institution. Julie Pace, chief White House
correspondent for the Associated Press. And Michelle Bernard, president of
the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. Lovely to have
you all here. Nice to be back in D.C.
Julie, do you think I got this right, do you think that drafting strategy
is what`s going on with a couple of those candidates?
JULIE PACE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE ASSOCIATED PRESS”: Yeah,
I think you nailed it perfectly. For Rubio and Kasich it actually is a
great strategy right now. They`re looking at this large field. They have
a solid base of support at this point. They have enough money to compete
for months if this race goes on for quite a long time. And they don`t
really have an incentive to go after Trump directly if they know that Bush
and Walker and others are going to do that. They need someone to do it.
It just doesn`t need to be them right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s interesting to me. This idea that Bush is
playing this role of going after – you even hear Mr. Trump during that
moment say, oh, better energy tonight, good job, Jeb, right? I`m
wondering, should Jeb be drafting a little bit or is it right for him that
he need to attack Trump?
E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I don`t think he has a choice.
First here, I want to say, as I hope every NASCAR fan in America now
becomes a fan of the Melissa Harris Perry …
DIONNE: This isn`t the only political show I know that`s talking about
drafting. Although it`s funny, a conservative friend of mine, Henry Olsen,
a great political analyst, probably because he`s not from North Carolina,
also talked about drafting. It`s something that was said on Friday. He
was talking about horse race.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yeah.
DIONNE: And he agrees with you. And I think this is a classic thing in
campaigns. You saw it, for example, like in a governor`s race, in
California, where there were two front-runners and this was when Gray Davis
was running. They just went at each other. The voters get sick of the
attack and they say who else is up there. So I think there`s a classic
political thing here. But those guys don`t ever want to gain by going
after Trump. The other guy who`s doing a peculiar form of drafting is Ted
DIONNE: Where his idea is someday Trump will collapse or might collapse.
I`m going to pick up his supporters. So he doesn`t say a cross-word about
Trump. He always says nice things about him. Saying, you know, guys,
Trump supporters, I`m here if something happens.
HARRIS-PERRY: More like the wing man than the drafting. Comparably, it
also occurs to me part of why we love NASCAR, North Carolina, is the
inherent danger that always exists. Right? This sense that you are
watching something that could go badly. And it also - it just strikes me
that part of whatever strategy seems to be going on in the GOP primary,
there`s a stoking of fear. A stoking of this sense of danger. And
especially around, for example, the Iranian deal, around the idea that
somehow the president is not keeping us safe as a nation. And I`m
wondering if you can respond to that.
REP. BARBARA LEE, (D) CALIFORNIA: You know, preying on fear, which is a
terrible emotion, to me, is just fundamentally wrong. The American people
won`t be fooled by that, I don`t believe. I think that people will know at
some point that the Republicans are really just trying to play to their
emotions rather than talking about the real issues like the issue around
the affordability of college education, access to affordable housing,
access to the ballot box. I mean, the real issues that these candidates
should actually be addressing. They`re not addressing them. And so the
playing on the fears of people, many of these candidates, the Republican
candidates are doing, is not going to work. People are going to wake up
and see that fearmongering should not be part of the political discourse
when you`re going to support a candidate or determine who you`re going to
HARRIS-PERRY: On this fearmongering, there was also a little bit of a
revisionist history moment that happened, Michelle. I want to play Jeb
Bush talking about sort of his brother`s track record as president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Your brother and your brother`s administration gave us Barack
Obama. Because it was such a disaster those last three months that Abraham
Lincoln couldn`t have been elected.
JEB BUSH: You know what, as it relates to my brother, there`s one thing I
know for sure, he kept us safe. I don`t know if you remember, Donald.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So that was meant to be like his comeback and instead people
were, like, sir, I`m not sure if you remember that 9/11 actually did
MICHELLE BERNARD, PRES. BERNARD CTR. FOR WOMEN, POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY:
HARRIS-PERRY: And Katrina happened on your brother`s watch.
BERNARD: I don`t think that`s what he was thinking. I think this was Jeb
Bush actually drafting, you know. He was going to sort of hang out there
and allow Donald Trump to implode. Which eventually I think is going to
happen. From what we`ve seen from Jeb Bush so far, I think that`s the best
we`ve seen him. If we don`t – I don`t want to say ignore, but – I don`t
want to take away in any sense that 9/11 happened. I think his point was
that after 9/11, on his brother`s watch, the United States was not attacked
at home again. And it gave him an opportunity to look like a leader, to be
strong, to be emphatic, to be as Donald Trump would say, high energy. That
moment and the moment when he protected his wife were I think his greatest
moments in the second debate and he needed to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, but I got to say, we - but anthrax did happen
after 9/11 and …
DIONNE: He is talking to Republicans. There are two worlds in America.
“The Washington Post” story this morning. Where it`s as if you have
completely different groups of people talking about completely different
things. That line went over really well with Republicans.
DIONNE: And for now, he desperately needs the support from Republicans.
DIONNE: If you like revisionist history …
DIONNE: You`ll love the Republican debate.
PACE: I think it`s actually a little more simple. He has struggled with
this question of what to do with his brother throughout this campaign and
what his supporters this campaign really liked about that moment is that it
was decisive, it was clear. He seemed confident in his answer. He handled
the brother question and that`s …
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, style even more than substance –
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man, they`re getting on fire now. But I promise when we
come back, we`ve got more on this debate and the way that it`s making all
of us feel. And up next, the candidate who may have had the best comeback
HARRIS-PERRY: The consensus winner from Wednesday`s Republican debate was
Carly Fiorina. The number one highlight, of course, was her excellent
response to Donald Trump`s remarks about her looks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLY FIORINA: I think women all over this country heard very clearly what
Mr. Trump said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was so clean. It was so – but it was – it had that
kind of strength that you were talking about with Jeb. And I wonder like,
is this, as much as we are talking about drafting as one way to pull back.
Are there other folks who are just going to need to like straight up stand
up in order to demonstrate their credibility?
BERNARD: Well, she had to. I mean she - in the second debate, she
basically made it from the kiddie table from the first debate. This was
her first appearance on the stage with the quote/unquote big boys. She`s
the only woman on the stage. There would inevitably – comparisons, I
would imagine viewers going to be thinking to themselves, OK, is she like
Michele Bachmann, is she like Sarah Palin, you know, is she like Hillary
BERNARD: So, she had to hang back, but also move forward. And her
performance was extraordinary. She - whether you agree with her politics
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Absolutely.
BERNARD: The way she carried herself, the way she handled herself. The
way she was able to get back and Donald Trump make the comment about Jeb
Bush smoking pot 40 years ago. And she did it in a way where people would
not say that was a shrill woman. Very important.
HARRIS-PERRY: She was so very measured. Yes.
LEE: You know, I think people are getting – I`m sick and tired of all of
these personal attacks.
LEE: I think it`s going to be very important that all of the candidates
realize that that`s got to stop or else. The one who stops the personal
attacks and starts talking about the real issues such as equal pay, paid
family medical leave. Not that Carly Fiorina supports all these issues.
LEE: But I think what`s going to happen is people are going to say, but
where do you stand on all of these important issues that affect our daily
lives. Why are you going after people personally? That has to …
HARRIS-PERRY: She did that in making that pivot to say I think the
American - women in America heard it. She did what a politician is meant
to do - don`t make it about you, make it about the people who vote for you
want. And yet in that moment and then, of course, the thing that occurs
after, the big thing that blows up in the press around Mr. Trump has been
his failure to stop someone from saying a series of really troubling things
about the president. He actually ended up tweeting about it. I don`t want
to play the comments themselves which I found really offensive. But I
thought it would be interesting to see how Mr. Trump has responded. And
he`s clearly saying, look, I don`t have to – why is it my responsibility
to stop someone else from saying something offensive? And I was like,
because when you do, you look like a president. So let me just play John
McCain actually stopping someone from saying something offensive back in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can`t trust Obama.
JOHN MCCAN: I got you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have read about him and he`s not – he`s not –
he`s - he`s an Arab. He`s not ….
MCCAIN: No, ma`am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma`am. No, ma`am. He`s a decent family man, citizen, that I
just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that`s
what this campaign is all about. He`s not. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean –
BERNARD: That was extraordinary. And what Donald Trump did I found to be
horrifying. Number one, let`s assume that the president is Muslim. We
know he`s not, but let`s assume that he is Muslim. So what? Being Muslim
doesn`t mean jihadist. Being Muslim doesn`t mean you hate America.
BERNARD: Being Muslim doesn`t mean you want to blow up the country or it
disqualifies you from being president. But secondly, if you want to be the
leader of the greatest nation in the world, and even appear or pretend that
you care about our Constitution, why not put that person in their place and
say this is not the America that we stand for.
PACE: We are maybe giving Trump a little too much credit. I mean you have
to remember where the Trump running for president …
HARRIS-PERRY: The birther - started with, the birther movement.
PACE: So he is not – Almost to expect that he would I think is may be
giving him a little too much credit for what his real goals here probably
BERNARD: He embarrassed the country.
DIONNE: He absolutely could not renounce that guy. First of all, good for
you, it`s so important, that whenever this comes up, people say, why –
what could be wrong with having an Arab or a Muslim president?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right, right, right.
DIONNE: That`s important. But secondly, his base are the people who
believe what that guy believes. A Significant part of his base. Not the
whole thing. And he came into this business – he began to build the
following on the right with birther ….
HARRIS-PERRY: But let me suggest, John McCain had many of those people in
his base as well and he was like, no, ma`am, you are not – let me show you
what leadership is.
DIONNE: He has integrity. And he has - He did have a different base.
LEE: Once again, Donald Trump, first of all, is speaking to people who,
again, are fearful of others. Secondly, I believe that Donald Trump
doesn`t even understand religious freedoms, religious pluralism that`s in
our country. As its basic central tenant. As a country that values all
religions. And for him not to take a stand as John McCain, to be - tells
me, and tells the public that he really doesn`t get it in terms of our
BERNARD: And is he really – I mean, is that leadership? I mean, the
answer`s no. That`s not a leader.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the point to me. He always talked about, I`ll take
the slings and arrows. And you have to take them at that moment. When we
come back, we`re going to talk about whether or not Dr. Ben Carson boosted
his campaign`s prognosis.
HARRIS-PERRY: During Wednesday`s GOP debate, Ben Carson, a retired
pediatric neuro surgeon, had an interesting moment when he was asked of
response to Donald Trump`s claims that the vaccines cause autism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN CARSON: Well, let me put it this way. There have been numerous
studies and they`ve not demonstrated that there is any correlation between
vaccinations and autism. Vaccines are very important, certain ones, the
ones that would prevent death or crippling – there are others, a multitude
of vaccines, which probably don`t fit in that category. And there should
be some discretion in those cases. But, you know, a lot of this is pushed
by big government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So I just have to say, all of a sudden, Ben Carson turns
back into a doctor.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was a really interesting moment in the debate for me. I
was like, right, that`s who that guy is.
PACE: Unfortunately, it wasn`t about the three-hour mark.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who are you telling, that was a long debate.
DIONNE: And it was so interesting as it`s almost as if he realized, I`m
talking to a conservative audience. They may not agree with me. So that
he throws in that thing about big government at the end. Just to make sure
LEE: African-American physician does not support the Affordable Care Act
or access to health care by – for all.
LEE: And in terms of the expansion of Medicaid, in terms of supporting
what the president has done. You would think as a physician, he knows that
– African-American physician, he would know that African-Americans need
health care coverage.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is so interesting because you know all of us who
grew up in a certain time here, we were all told to read Dr. Carson`s book.
And, you know, he was this kind of ….
BERNARD: And watch the TV movie.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right, right. But he`s kind of the up from, you
know, nothing. But it is - he becomes valuable in parts of the GOP. And
let me straight - to this question. Is it that he`s valuable to the GOP in
part because he`s an African-American with such a strong critique of the
president? And, you know, it`s not to say that he`s not standing on his
own merits, but I guess I`m wondering sort of then what the value of that
particular critique is to the party.
BERNARD: So, here`s my vantage point on it. And I say this as someone who
deeply admires him as a physician and his pull up – you know, pull
yourself up by the boot straps story. The Jamaican mother. You know, I
have to always throw that in there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Because we share.
BERNARD: Exactly. That everything - for everything that he has
accomplished, Ben Carson, as a Republican presidential candidate, I have
found it mind-boggling at his success. And the only conclusion I can come
to is he does not help the Republican Party because he is an African-
American man. He is helpful to certain elements of the Republican Party
because he is an absolutely nonthreatening black man. From 2008 through
2012, it was always the discussion, is Barack Obama an angry black man.
And Republicans, they love Ben Carson. They loved Herman Cain. He`s
quiet, he`s affable, he`s meek, he doesn`t fight back with people, doesn`t
have much to say on policy. And I think that is why he, frankly, is doing
so well in the Republican Party.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet Ben said when you look at that GOP stage two Latino
candidates, an African-American candidate and a woman running. It just
does actually look better than the Democratic Party whose base is in fact
much more diverse.
PACE: One of the things that Republicans still have to figure out – it
goes back to Sarah Palin, actually, when she was running – the vice
presidential choice for McCain. Being a woman doesn`t necessarily mean
that women will vote for you.
PACE: Being African-American does not mean that African-Americans will
vote for you. It does come down to your policy.
HARRIS-PERRY: But - what it - sure - it does not - those voters, what it
does do is say if someone wants to level a charge of racism against the
party, they can say, excuse me, your candidate slate is actually less
diverse. And so, it`s not so much it helps with those marginal voters, but
that because there are many white Americans who don`t want to be seen as
understood as racist, it kind of allows you to say this is not a party with
a race problem.
BERNARD: He thinks like we do.
BERNARD: He believes Michael Ferguson, you know, deserved what he got.
DIONNE: There are two things. I think one is precisely what you`re
talking about, will probably increase pressure on Democrats to put a Latino
or even an African-American on the ticket. I think it`s a factor they are
going to have to think about. Second, Ben Carson, actually, stands I think
in a long historical tradition that conservatives in our country, whether
back in the day when they were even segregationist Democrats, have always
liked the up from your boot straps self-help argument. It goes back to
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, he got to go to the White House - and - it`s the turn
of the century.
DIONNE: In Washington, and you know, I don`t want to be unfair to Booker
T. It was a complicated person. But they liked that. People liked Tim
Scott. People liked J.C. Watts who were successful Republican …
BERNARD: Look at the principal - the reaction – I`m sorry, I`ll shut up,
but the reaction to Colin Powell. The reaction to Condoleezza Rice. They
are very different in their persona. You know, and they have been strong.
Colin Powell has been adamant about his, you know, his admiration for
Barack Obama and that makes him as a black man in the Republican Party
LEE: When the Republican Party realizes that Dr. Carson has no support in
the African-American community, it`s going to be interesting how they see
him as being valuable to the party.
LEE: Believe you me, in the African-American community, we get it in terms
of pulling yourself up by your boot straps. But we also get it in terms of
opportunities. And the federal government providing that basis for us to
achieve equality and a just society for us and our people. And Dr. Carson
certainly is not speaking to justice and equality and opportunity for
African-Americans or people of color. So, when they see the black
community doesn`t support him - they`ll - forget it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although he did speak to the fact that vaccines are safe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Julie Pace and to Michelle Bernard. Very nice
to be in D.C. and have a chance to have you on the set. A quick update to
the breaking news we`ve been following on MSNBC. Police in Phoenix have
made an arrest in a recent string of shootings along an Interstate there.
21-year-old Lesley Allen Merritt Jr. is in custody this morning after being
arrested last night at a Walmart. His father insists he is innocent.
Detectives say they linked his gun to the first of four shootings that
occurred last month. Investigators are still investigating the shootings
that have followed as they think those were acts by copycats. No one has
been seriously hurt. But the seemingly random shooting of vehicles along
the interstate has drivers on the edge. Stay with MSNBC for the latest.
And still to come, Ta-Nehisi Coates joins us from Paris.
HARRIS-PERRY: When the White House released President Obama`s summer
reading list is here, one book on the list of six was of particular note.
It was Ta-Nehisi Coates` “New York Times” bestselling “Between the World
and Me.” A noticeable picking part, because Coates has been publicly
critical of the president in the past. But the selection by President
Obama only goes to illustrate the particular role that Coates has come to
occupy in this country`s public discourse. In praise of “Between the World
and Me,” author Toni Morrison wrote, “I`ve been wondering who might fill
the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly
it`s Ta-Nehisi Coates.” This week, Coates` book was announced as one of
ten finalists for the National Book Award for non-fiction. And in June of
2014, Coates wrote a cover story for “The Atlantic Magazine” called “The
Case for Reparations.” That piece won the George Palk Award for
Commentary. And as “New York Magazine” points out, was probably the most
discussed magazine piece of the Obama era.
Such is the power of Ta-Nehisi`s pen. When he writes, people listen. The
president listens. Literally, “Times” listen, the main stream media
listens. And they all want to know what this 39-year-old raised in
northwest Baltimore thinks. It`s a rare space in the public discourse for
any writer to occupy, and Coates at times seems to do so with some
hesitation. But now, he has a new story to tell. And he`ll join us live
from Paris next.
HARRIS-PERRY: “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Is
writer Ta-Nehisi Coates` latest - for “The Atlantic Magazine” on the cost
of institutionalized white supremacy for generations of African-American
people. Coates reaches back to the earliest days of American history to
tie mass incarceration as a system of control to centuries` old perceptions
of African-Americans as subhuman and pathologically criminal.
As Coates writes of U.S. policy informed by these perceptions, quote, “One
does not build a safety net for a race of predators. One builds a cage.”
Coates traces the thread of this notion that African-Americans are a
problem in need of social control instead of social support through the
last five decades of criminal justice policy. At its end, millions of
people, disproportionate number of them African-American, behind bars,
comprising the planet`s biggest population of prisoners.
At its beginning, a 1965 government report that diagnosed the persistent
problems in the African-American community as originating in its heart, the
black family. The Negro family. The case for national action, was
compiled in 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan during his time as an adviser
to President Richard Nixon. In Moynihan`s view, African-American families
broken under the weight of centuries of racial oppression suffered from a
structural deformity that denied black man their rightful place as heads of
households and that mired their race in a culture of pathology. He writes
in the report, “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a
matriarchal structure. Which because it is so out of line with the rest of
American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole.
And imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and in consequence, on a
great many Negro women as well.”
While Moynihan believed there was a space for government policy to address
myriads of social and economic problems, faced by impoverished African-
Americans, Coates argued that ultimately, the state invested in mass
incarceration as its solution to them all. Coates finds strains of
Moynihan`s beliefs even in President Obama`s rhetoric about African-
American families and underlying the policies of President Clinton who
presided over a larger increase in the prison population than any previous
president. He says of the consequences that, quote, “There`s very little
evidence that it brought down crime and abundant evidence that it hindered
employment for black men and accelerated the kind of family breakdown that
Clinton and Moynihan both lamented.”
In the final paragraphs of the piece, Coates begins to offer his take on
what meaningful systemic reform might look like, with the suggestion that
his latest story is, in fact, a continuation of his original argument in
his 2014 piece, “The Case for Reparations.” Coates writes, “The experience
of mass incarceration, the warehousing and deprivation of whole swaths of
our country. The transformation of that deprivation into wealth
transmitted to a government jobs and private investment. The pursuit of
the war on drugs on nakedly racist grounds have only intensified the
ancient American dilemmas white hot core. The problem of past unequal
treatment. The difficulty of damages. And the question of reparations.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates joins me now live from Paris, France. Nice to have you.
TA-NEHISI COATES, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE ATLANTIC”: Thanks for
having me, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m sorry, actually Moynihan report is not under Nixon,
it`s actually under Johnson. I got that wrong as I was saying it there,
but I`m interested in why begin with the Moynihan report? For
understanding how we should construct this kind of intersection between
race and criminality?
COATES: Well, that was one of the last moments where somebody looked at a
myriad problems in the African-American community and suggested a broad
swath of benevolent investments to deal with them. Now, unfortunately, the
suggestion of those investments are not in the report. You know, and that
was a political calculation made by Moynihan himself. He decided not to –
it wasn`t like he didn`t know what to do. He knew very much what to do.
And one of the things that he talked about doing was unequal treatment, you
know. As I - at the end of the piece, in fact, reparations to make up for
past unequal treatment. As he put. He had a suite of solutions. You
know, increased access to birth control. Really wild ideas like Saturday
postal service to increase employment for black men. But I think the
reasons why the country did not adopt that kind of benevolent investment
and instead adopted malevolent investment to deal with other problems in
the African-American community, are actually within the Korea of Moynihan
himself and within the report unfortunately.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to push a little bit on this choice to use
Moynihan primarily to think about incarceration and especially around black
men`s bodies. Part of what you don`t spend a lot of time doing in the
piece is teasing out the extraordinary influence of this report on gendered
notions of the American social welfare policy. Ta-Nehisi is gone. Bye-
bye. He`s blown away from - Are you still there?
COATES: I`m there. I`m there. I`m here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Great. Good. I`m sorry, we lost you for a second.
COATES: Hello, I`m here.
HARRIS-PERRY: But talk to me a little bit about the gender piece.
COATES: Well, I mean, one of the - you know, probably the most wrong
aspect. It obviously exists in these two things. I think, you know, the
whole lens of looking at the problems in the African-American community
through the notion of family and strictly through the notion of family, the
idea that that`s the best way to understand, is severely limited. I think
it doesn`t take into account the fact of community, the families live
around other families. That policy that is directed towards neighborhoods
has effects. And you can`t just address that by having a father and a
mother in a home. I don`t think that`s sufficient. In addition to that,
you know, one of the reasons why I think that report, you know, ultimately,
you know, failed, you know, from mastering benevolent investment, is that
it trafficked in very old ideas within the field of sociology at that time
about what black families were.
This notion of a matriarchy, which is not, you know, merely the notion that
black, you know, women are – that black women occupy space in a single
family household, but that they`re somehow a part of the problem. The
notion that, you know, because, you know, a black woman is going out
working a job and also being a mother to her kids, that that actually is
part of the problem. And Moynihan in some of these memos pushes much
further than he does in the report and goes so far as to say if we have to
push black women out of jobs to employ black men, we should do that. You
know, talking about GI`s coming home from Vietnam. Saying the first thing
he would do is get them a list of real estate listings and a wife who
looked like Diane Carol (ph). I think that sort of rendering of black
families indicates, you know, first of all that he can`t see black women,
but that you can`t actually see black communities and black families as
fully functioning units in which human beings actually occupy. And I
actually think that kind of dehumanization is part of the story for why we
ended up with an investment through incarceration and not the kind of
solutions that he wanted.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, let`s go to that dehumanizing piece for a moment.
You write, in part, “When the doors finally close and one finds oneself
facing banishment to the carceral state, the years, the walls, the rules,
the guards, the inmates` reactions vary. Some experience an intense
sickening feeling. Others a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide.
A deep shame or rage directed towards guards and other inmates. Utter
disbelief.” For those who believe that the criminal justice system is
locking up the bad guys, why should they care that that`s how people
COATES: Well, I mean, I don`t know what the term “bad guy” necessarily
means. The criminal justice system is certainly locking up people who have
committed acts of violence. That seems to be definitely true. The
question for me is we had a serious dramatic, dramatic increase in the
population of our jails and prisons. The question is, does the crime wave
that we experienced in the late `60s, into the `70s, through the early
`90s, does it actually explain that? And the fact of the matter is when we
look at this internationally, and when we look at other countries, we find
that other countries had a similar crime rise and a similar fall. Only the
United States of America adopted a policy of mass incarceration. And one
of the tasks I set out with this piece was to understand why did it do
And my argument is just to take this back to the report, when you have
these dehumanizing notions of people already, it makes it a lot easier to
do certain things. You know, and in the article, I go beyond just the
report in terms of the things that Moynihan said. You know, when you get
into, say, the Nixon White House, and he`s sending memos, saying
effectively that the black middle class is using lower class blacks to
exploit things from white people, that lower class blacks are becoming
increasingly violent, that they are extraordinarily self-damaging, it
becomes very, very easy to pass policy that locks people up. When you
think about folks, these folks are not human. They`re extraordinarily
self-damaging in Moynihan`s own words. You know, I sell in this noting
that I think Moynihan was benevolent, that`s the benevolent side of -
that`s not the malevolent side. That`s the, you know, people in their
heart who are trying to help you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Ta-Nehisi, as always, your piece is rich and
textured and long to get through. And a valuable contribution to our
COATES: I`m sorry.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, it`s great, we love it. High Nerdland. Thank you to
COATES: Next time, I`m just going to tweet.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is terrible. Thanks, Ta-Nehisi for joining us from
Paris. When we come back, a scathing new report showing who actually bears
the cost of incarceration.
HARRIS-PERRY: A new study looks beyond the tally of prison populations and
taxpayer dollars to take stock of the human cost of mass incarceration.
Over the course of a year, researchers from the Ella Baker Center for Human
Rights forward together and research action design worked with 20 community
organizations to interview hundreds of formerly incarcerated persons.
Their families and their employers. Their findings compiled in a report
titled “Who pays? The true cost of incarceration on families.” show that
the consequences of criminal justice policies extend far beyond the
incarcerated individual and past the end of a sentence. To reverberate
with long-term harms throughout their families and communities. The
researchers learned the loss of a family member to the prison system
exacerbates economic, emotional and physical vulnerabilities and that those
burdens fall most heavily on low-income women of color.
Back with me is Representative Barbara Lee from California. MSNBC
contributor E.J. Dionne, and joining us now is also Wade Henderson,
president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
And Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. And Mark, I
want to start with you. Basically, just to get to this question that is
the report, who bears the cost of incarceration?
MARC MAUER, EXEC. DIR. THE SENTENCING PROJECT: Well, you know, we often
forget, the day that a person is sentenced in the courtroom, it`s not only
that person, but his or her entire family is bearing some of that burden.
If person goes away for a few years. In most states, most prisoners come
from urban communities. Most prisons are built in rural communities often
hundreds of miles away from home. So now we say well it`s very important
for people in prison to keep up ties with their family. And yet we make it
very difficult for them to do that. So, if you want to go and visit your
loved one in prison, you need a good car to get there, you probably have to
pay for a hotel. If you want to get a phone call home, prisoners have to
call collect. At exorbitant rates. So, you`re constantly balancing, do I
buy milk and groceries for kids or do I take a call from my husband in
prison? And that`s a terrible choice they have to make.
HARRIS-PERRY: That idea that people who are incarcerated come from poor
communities and families most frequently and then those poor communities
and families end up also bearing those costs. And so part of what`s
happened in this kind of shift around our incarceration language has been
an economic discourse. So, I remember, if you were a criminal justice
reformer 15 years ago, it was the prison industrial complex and how there
was big money to be made in the system. And now we`re hearing it`s just a
bad investment for localities. And so, I guess, I have a little bit of a
hard time balancing any of this as an economic rather than an ethical
WADE HENDERSON, PRES. & CEO, THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: Well, there is an
extraordinary economic underpinning to the prison industrial complex. But
I think Ta-Nehisi`s article as well as the Ella Baker report really
underscore three things. One, there`s consequence at the intersection of
policy on criminal justice reform, as well as unconscious bias and a
structural inequality. Secondly, there is a huge issue with respect to the
voting participation of individuals in their communities. Unless we
restore the Voting Rights Act, the idea of seeking reform as I think these
articles emphasize is going to be difficult to achieve.
And then thirdly, every member of Congress from the Judiciary Committee
should be required to read these articles and this report. Because I
really think they paint a picture that is both powerful and compelling.
And provides insight on how the unintended consequences of mass
incarceration really undercut the ability to achieve meaningful reform in
the communities which are affected by it.
HARRIS-PERRY: The way you`ve sort of put these two together, Coates` piece
and this Ella Baker piece feel to me very much like the Ferguson report of
kind of our national incarceration story. Because we can see 63 percent of
family members who are paying the cost of conviction, 83 percent of those
are women. We see that families go into debt. One in 3 families go into
debt because of the phone calls and visits you were just talking about.
Like the Ferguson report that talks about policing kind of these
interactions in a narrow sense, but then a much broader kind of economic
consequence of how this whole system is built on poor folks, that just
feels to me like, well, now Coates and Ella Baker report have shown us how
this is true nationally.
MAUER: One of the most interesting things I thought about Ta-Nahisi
Coates` piece is the way he used the Moynihan report. Because there are a
lot of us who believes that family structure matters and that you need to
help the people put the family back together. If you care about equality,
you got to care about the family. If you care about the family, you got to
care about equality.
But what this piece shows us is, all right, to everybody who says what I
just said, to everybody who talks about the family, would you please look
at what the impact of our incarceration policies have on families. If you
care about families, you got to worry about the overincarceration of
The other thing about the report and this piece is you got to see this in
the context of whole communities. And the problems facing whole
communities. And, you know, I`m a family guy, but I know it`s not just the
family. So I think putting these things together really advances the
discussion we`re having of overincarceration in the country.
LEE: Let me give first a shoutout to Ella Baker–
LEE: They`re located in California and they do phenomenal work. Secondly,
I think what Ta-Nehisi has said makes the case for what he wrote about in
his first piece, the case for reparations, okay. Secondly, let me put a
couple of things in context in terms of public policy in terms of our
incarceration rates. First, formerly incarcerated individuals who are out
now who were incarcerated for a drug conviction are denied Pell grants. We
have legislation trying to unravel that. That`s wrong. Secondly,
ineligible for life, drug offenses. For food stamps. SNAP benefits.
Thirdly, ineligible for public housing. What Michelle Alexander titled her
book, “The New Jim Crow,” we see policies now that are re-segregating
people who had been incarcerated, especially for nonviolent drug offenses.
It`s wrong. It`s morally wrong. It`s destroying many, many families.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s exactly where we`re going to go. When we come back,
we`re going to dig into those sets of policies and what this administration
might, might be prepared to do differently. My guests are coming back in
the next hour. But coming up, President Obama weighs in, yesterday, at the
White House, on prison reform. And Batman meets Black Lives Matter.
Seriously. Plus the intergenerational struggle continues. There is more
MHP at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We`ve been talking this morning about the cover story of the October issue
of “The Atlantic”, the black family in the age of mass incarceration. The
piece, written by “The Atlantic`s” national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates,
takes a deep dive into the devastating and pervasive impact of U.S.
criminal justice policy on the African-American community.
Coates` cover story follows elected officials across decades, calling for
increased sentencing and arrest like President Nixon saying in 1968, quote,
“Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do far more to cure
crime in America than quadrupling the funds for the war on poverty.”
Over the next 45 years, incarceration increased sevenfold and poverty rates
rose even as the crime rate peaked and began to fall. Yet, presidents and
policymakers continued to tout tough on crime rhetoric as the merits and
the merits of severe sentencing requirements.
But it isn`t until yesterday, when President Obama took the extraordinary
step of using his bully pulpit not to chastise offenders, but instead to
critique the system of incarceration that has discarded the lives and
talents of so many.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These young people didn`t
have any margin for error. And that notion that as a consequence of
youthful mistakes, they could end up in a life long cycle of crime to where
the prospect of them being able to recover and re-enter society with
gainful employment and the ability to be part of their children`s lives and
to be citizens appeared remote, the notion that that`s how we think our
criminal justice system should work, that that should be the end result,
there`s something un-American about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Just days ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, which will
include a two-day stop in Philadelphia and a meeting with about 100
prisoners and their families, including violent offenders, the president
shown an honest, if unflattering light, on the reality that the United
States is the global leader in incarceration.
And then the president did something very important and far too rare. He
referred to incarcerated Americans as citizens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The people in these prisons are deserving of our attention.
They`re human beings. With hopes and dreams who in many cases have made
profound mistakes but are American citizens nonetheless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president has made criminal justice reform an
increasingly central part of his policy focus as the administration
approaches its final year. When he visited Oklahoma`s El Reno federal
penitentiary in July, he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit a
prison. His trip was filmed by Vice for a documentary special airing next
week on HBO.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It was a strong political incentive I think to continually be tough
on drugs. The thing just kept on getting ratcheted up. We think it`s
somehow normal for a black youth or Latino youth to be going through the
system in this way. It`s not normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And the focus on criminal justice reform has been evident
across the administration. Just hours before the president called our
nation`s incarceration practices un-American, Attorney General Loretta
Lynch delivered a substantive address at the congressional black caucus`
convention. Speaking at length about the consequences of over-
incarceration for our nation`s citizens and placing the full citizenship of
formally incarcerated persons at the center of a narrative about the arc of
progress of our nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We`re also focusing on re-entry,
because as we work out ways –
As we work out ways for these young people to return home, some of them
will not be so young when they get out, but as we work out ways for them to
return home, we have to also work out ways for them to rebuild a home. We
have to work out ways for them to return to not just their families and
their communities, but to society.
The ultimate participation in the American experiment called democracy is,
of course, the right to vote. And that is why the Department of Justice
continues to call for all states to revisit the issue of felon
disenfranchisement. Let them vote. Let them vote.
We are talking about our country`s most sacred right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So even as “The Atlantic`s” Ta-Nehisi Coates mapped the
tingle of inequity caused by decades of aggressive incarceration practices,
President Obama and attorney general lynch appear set to chart a new
course. But is there enough time and political will left to make it
Joining me now is Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California,
E.J. Dionne, an MSNBC contributor and “Washington Post” columnist and
senior fellow at the Brookings Institutions, Wade Henderson, president and
CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Marc Mauer,
executive director of The Sentencing Project.
And joining me from New York is Glen Martin, president and founder of Just
Glenn, you and I were both in the room at the White House yesterday for
that announcement by the president. What did you take away from the
president and his administration on this issue?
GLENN MARTIN, JUST LEADERSHIP USA: You know, what I took away is the
administration is poised to continue to bang away on this issue, that they
have decided that this issue is what advocates have been seeing for many,
many years. The civil rights issue of our day.
And they`re not just talking. I mean, there`s evidence of them actually
doing something. If you look at the Pell Grant site initiative they
launched a few weeks ago in a federal – in a prison in Maryland, I was
there with the Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
And essentially, what they did is decided, you know, if Congress is going
to be paralyzed on some of this stuff, they`re going to see what they can
do within the executive powers. In that case, what they did was brought
college education back to the criminal justice system for thousands of
people who are serving time.
And as someone who earned a two-year liberal arts degree while I was
serving six years in prison, I understand the value of education as a tool
for people to really turn their lives around.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Glenn, I know before the – just moments before the
president made his remarks, you had a few moments alone with him. And I`m
wondering what the two of you said to one another.
MARTIN: So, I had a chance to talk to the president before he came out on
stage. What I said to him was, first of all, thank you for having so much
courage on this issue. Because I think using the bully pulpit to help
Americans understand the ramifications of 45 years of what has amounted to
good politics and bad policy. So, I really thanked him for his leadership.
But I also said to him, there`s so much more work to be done. I talked
about some of the things he can possibly do, including signing an executive
order to ban the box. Not just for positions within the federal government
but to pull in people who contract with the federal government, which would
mean be hundreds of thousand of jobs around the country would suddenly give
a chance for qualified job seekers with a criminal record to compete for
employment and then I mentioned a few other things he could do within his
HARRIS-PERRY: Glenn, stay with us. I want to come out to you, Mark. Is -
- I mean, it was such an exciting moment, particularly. Attorney General
Lynch just dropped the whole – everything was broken after that. She
says, “Let them vote. Let them vote.”
Education returning to the jailhouse, and in this case also some proposals
around employment possibilities on the back end with banning the box. Is
this an exciting moment?
MAUER: It`s a very exciting moment. I`ve been doing this work for several
decades now. It`s been a real battle. We`ve had political sound bites
have governed policy rather than research, evidence and compassion.
And we see now in the last five years or so, both sides of the aisle, in
Congress, many state legislatures, we`re having a different conversation.
It`s focused more on how do we really produce public safety? Does mass
incarceration contribute to that. I think there`s a growing consensus
we`re well past the point of diminishing returns and any public safety
And actually, we`re having counterproductive problems that come out of
this. Too many people in prison, come back, can`t re-enter in any
meaningful way now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Lee, is there bipartisan consensus? I kept
hearing that yesterday, oh, now we`re in the land of bipartisan consensus.
And I was like, are we really? I just want to know.
LEE: Listening to the president once again, I`m so proud of what he has
done. One of the reasons I endorsed him early in the primary first time
around, because I knew he got it. And so, to see this now move forward on
criminal justice reform, I`m very proud of what he`s doing and thankful.
Secondly, with regard to ban the box, I led the House letter. We have over
72 members on that letter regarding federal contractors to ban the box.
We`re asking the president to issue an executive order to do that. Senator
Booker led it in the Senate. I think we had 20-something senators sign
And so, I`m hopeful that we can do this on a bipartisan way. I think on
some of the issues, when you see criminal justice reform and how it`s
emerging and evolving, Congressman Bobby Scott, Senator Booker and others
have really put together some bipartisan support for some of this
legislation that I think is going to, you know, move forward under this
HARRIS-PERRY: Glenn, let me come back to you for this last moment here.
One of the distinctions that keeps getting made around criminal justice
reform though is violent versus nonviolent offenders. You have just a
minute. Can you speak to that though?
MARTIN: Sure. I mean, you can do one or the other. You can either say
we`re going to strictly focus on nonviolent drug offenders and see what we
can do to get those folks out of the system and to stop them from coming in
for such long periods of time, or you can end mass incarceration.
You`re not going to end mass incarceration unless you also look at the
lengthy sentences that people who have been convicted of violent crimes in
this country are serving now and continue to serve. It costs $80 billion a
year to run our prison system. That`s not going to go away unless we look
at the fact that we also have given long sentences to people convicted of
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Glenn Martin in New York.
And up next, a criminal justice crisis. Why public defenders are pleading
But before we go to break, we want to take you to the critical primary
state of New Hampshire where Hillary Clinton is addressing the convention
of the state`s Democratic Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And he had to really work
hard. Under his leadership and thanks to the sacrifice of so many
Americans, we pulled back from brink of depression, saved the auto
industry, curbed Wall Street abuses, and provided health care to 16 million
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: As public and political will pushes state and federal
governments towards reducing the prison population, Louisiana stands apart
in its steadfast resistance against this trend. It has the highest
incarceration rate of any state in the country.
According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, as incarceration rates
remained steady, in most all other states and even declined in some,
Louisiana`s rate has only risen, approaching 900 inmates for every 100,000
people in the state. And no city in Louisiana houses a larger proportion
by population of those inmates than New Orleans, which has the highest
incarceration rate not only in the state, but of any city in the United
For most of those prisoners, the responsibility for ensuring their right to
a robust defense falls squarely on the shoulders of the Orleans public
defenders. In a recent editorial for “The Washington Post,” one of those
lawyers says the small organization represents 85 percent of the people
charged with crimes in Orleans parish, on an annual budget, a third the
size of the district attorney`s. And now, facing a $1 million deficit
because of statewide budget cuts, the already overburdened office will have
to do even more with even less.
For the attorneys, avoiding layoffs will mean four weeks of unpaid
furloughs, a heavier case load, a hiring freeze and for many of their
clients, the denial of their constitutional right to representation.
Joining us now from New Orleans, Louisiana, is Derwyn Bunton, who is chief
district defender for Orleans parish.
What in the world is going on in my city?
DERWYN BUNTON, CHIEF DEFENDER, ORLEANS PARISH: Well, thank you for having
me on the show.
One of the things that`s going on in the city is we are illustrating what
has become a growing trend across the country. And that is a user pay
criminal justice system that is inadequate, unpredictable and unreliable
when it comes to resources. And so, that has come home to roost, as we`ve
seen state budgets decline and our own revenues go down.
HARRIS-PERRY: Explain the user pay piece. Folks may not understand where
the money for the public defender`s office comes from there.
BUNTON: Well, statewide, two-thirds of public defender budgets rely on
court costs, fines and fees. That is what is paid by our clients, the
people going through the system. So, the system depends in an inordinate
way on the fines and fees of people moving through it for its operation.
And that yields some wild results.
And when you have a system that is aimed at the most vulnerable and poorest
in our community, to depend on those poor and vulnerable to actually fund
its operation provides the results that we are decrying right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, one more piece on this because I find whenever we do
work around prisons and criminal justice, the response is sometimes are
like, well, why should I care? Aren`t these people criminals? What`s the
constitutional issue at stake here?
BUNTON: Well, the constitutional issue at stake here is the Sixth
Amendment. Everyone has a right to a lawyer. Everyone has a right to a
defense, when the government is prosecuting you.
And what we have right now is a system here in New Orleans and across the
country that is so disparate and so overwhelming. If you`re looking at
criminal justice reform, then you`re wondering why we have so many people
in prison. You need only look at public defense and then you know you have
to reform that as part of the system.
We have checks and balances in our government. We don`t have checks and
balances in our criminal justice system. That is the role of public
defenders. And it has gone lacking over these past few years.
We have a budget a third the size of our D.A. They have 30 investigators.
We have 8. They have 90 lawyers. We have 40. And they have a $135
million police force investigating their cases for them.
And when you look at that, you understand that there`s just, in Louisiana,
about 1 percent to 2 percent of the funding goes to make sure someone is
represented, that they`re represented appropriately and their rights are
protected. The rest is to catch, secure and convict.
HARRIS-PERRY: Derwyn, stick with us, don`t go away. But, E.J., I wanted
to give you a chance to weigh both on these and the other issues we`ve been
E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, a couple things, just to go
back to ban the box. Getting rid of that box where people have to say they
have a criminal record. That could make an enormous difference in at least
opening the first round of possibility for people. And it`s very important
the federal government encourage everybody to do that.
Secondly, on this issue of bipartisanship on criminal justice reform. Up
to this point, there have been a lot of promising signs. There were a
bunch of conservative groups like right on crime who has come to criminal
justice reform because they don`t like the government to spend a lot of
money and they realize the government is spending a lot of money on
prisons. Some of them are libertarians who actually care about this.
I am very worried that we may be entering another and more destructive
phase where a lot of the constructive work that`s gone on over the last
several years to try to get us to the point where we can reform this system
may get caught right back up into 1960s, early `70s style politics. You
have Donald Trump talking about the silent majority, talking about law and
order. In some cities, you`re seeing an increase in the murder rate. I`m
worried, you know, the low crime rates relative to the past have opened up
this opportunity and I hope we don`t lose it.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, even as you`re talking about the economic
piece, you know, Derwyn is saying here, OK, fine, spend less money on
prisons, but maybe we should spend more on criminal defense also of the
MAUER: The whole system is just starved for resources. And just shameful
the way we process cases through the courts, as if it`s an assembly line or
so. So, it just reinforces why we need to end mass incarceration. There
are other legitimate needs in the criminal justice system. There are
legitimate needs in the communities that those prisoners come from.
And one of the main ways we can deal with that is to cut back on the $80
million we`re spending on corrections every year. We`re not going to
abolish prisons tomorrow. Nobody`s calling for that. But we could have a
substantial reduction that would ensure when people are charged with a
crime, they would get a real defense and have a chance to present their
case in court, not just be one of a number of people –
HARRIS-PERRY: Derwyn, I want to come to you, just real quick before we
head out, because the other thing going on in New Orleans, I just don`t
want to miss this, is that Sheriff Gusman, who opened his new prison this
week, has also moved more than 200 inmates to far flung parishes, making it
harder, even harder for you all to even represent your clients. We have
like no time, but I just at least wanted to also get that on the table
here. That that`s another thing you guys are dealing with.
BUNTON: Absolutely. What that – what that did essentially is make our
clients incommunicado. That made it impossible for them to affect their
constitutional rights, access to courts and right to counsel. Also
increase courts. I think what people don`t understand, there`s been
studies by the Justice Policy Institute and others that shows a robust
criminal justice system with a well-funded public defenders office actually
We can control length of stay by properly presenting cases to the courts
and arguing for release and the appropriate amount of time for the
HARRIS-PERRY: I got to tell you, Derwyn Bunton, in New Orleans, it is hmm
– just keep fighting good fight down there.
BUNTON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here in Washington, I want to say thank you to E.J. Dionne
and to Marc Mauer.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Wade Henderson are going to be back with us.
But still to come, Batman versus police brutality.
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, Pope Francis began his much anticipated ten-
day trip to Cuba and the United States. He departed from Rome`s
international airport and is expected to arrive in Havana`s international
airport this afternoon.
After giving the homily during mass tomorrow at Havana`s Revolution Square,
Pope Francis is expected to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro who has
publicly thanked the pope for his role in reviving the relationship between
the United States and Cuba.
Joining me now from Havana is NBC correspondent Claudio Lavanga.
Claudio, what else can we expect from the pope`s visit to Cuba this
CLAUDIO LAVANGA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Melissa, as usually happens
with the pope during his trips abroad, the most interesting events or
moments, the key moments will come off the schedule because of his
impromptu decisions. Now, we have heard, the Vatican has hinted to
everybody that the Pope may meet Fidel Castro. It`s not on the schedule,
but they said it`s possible if Fidel – if Castro feels well enough.
And the only time we can see that, if we think, may be later on today,
because after he arrived today, after walking ceremony in the airport, he -
- there`s no other – anything else in his schedule. So that`s the only
time when we think that may happen.
So, watch out. Later on, the pope may meet Fidel Castro and that will make
one historic moment, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely be an historic moment. It feels like everything
this pope does is a little extraordinary and historic. We`ll be watching
Thank you so much to Claudio Lavanga in Havana.
And up next, the importance of an intergenerational movement.
And later, Batman confronts police brutality.
HARRIS-PERRY: You might have noticed we`re in D.C., and that`s because
this weekend, Washington, D.C. is hosting the 45th annual legislative
conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Much more than just a conference, the annual CBC weekend, as it is known,
is a substantive convening of elected officials, activists, policy makers,
journalists and academics from across the country, the call to Washington
to respond to the most pressing issues facing black communities and to
offer analyses and solutions. Every high-ranking official interested in
having his or her voice heard among black Americans is sure to make an
appearance. Yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke to a crowded
room about criminal justice reform and voting rights.
This morning, Vice President Joe Biden is attending the annual prayer
breakfast. And this evening, President Obama will address the awards
dinner. Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to be in attendance, right at
the table of Congressmen Rangel and Conyers.
Which is why it`s worth noting the recurring theme of this weekend centered
on a group of activists who had not yet even been born when the CBC
Foundation held its first gathering, because this year, the dominating idea
of the conference is quite simply – Black Lives Matter.
Still with me, Representative Barbara Lee, and the Leadership Conference`s
Wade Henderson. Joining us is Ifeoma Ike, who is attorney and co-creator
of Black and Brown People Vote, and D. Watkins, Salon.com columnist and
English professor at Gouger College and author of the new book of essays,
“The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America.”
Thank you, guys, for being here.
Ifeoma, talk to me a little bit about how you think Black Lives Matter is
starting to transform the political landscape, and particularly like the
black political agenda.
IFEOMA IKE, ESQU, CO-CREATOR, BLACKANDBROWNPEOPLEVOTE: Well, first of all,
I`m glad that I`m here with what I would consider intergenerational allies.
That`s one thing I think is great about this movement. It`s a continuation
of activism that has been going on within our community literally since
slavery. I mean, we`ve always had individuals that have said we have to
step outside of the status quo to create change. As Frederick Douglass
conceded, you know, power is nothing without a struggle.
So, what we`re seeing is this generation is defining for themselves how we
deal with that struggle and what we`re also seeing as a response from
elected officials of all races and colors, especially black leaders that
are also saying the time is now to not only listen but let young people
lead. How we change and how we define that struggle.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m been fascinating by that, because, Congresswoman, I`ve
been impressed at the CBC, over the course of this weekend, really taking
up Black Lives Matter not in a – oh, aren`t they cute kind of way, but,
like, actively engaging, and at a time when the discourse on the right has
shifted to Black Lives Matter are terrorists, we shouldn`t be taken
LEE: Well, first of all, Black Lives Matter is a movement that we all must
listen to and connect with. Once again, I`m proud of my district out in
California, where we have so many young leaders in the Black Lives
Movement, this challenging candidates our public policy issues, which have
to do with institutional and systematic biases and racism. And so, it`s so
important that young people, continue this movement.
But those of us in Congress listen to them because our movement and the
wind beneath our wings and the push of course has to be from a democratic
movement from the outside. I mean, that`s how democracy works. That`s
what they`re with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: There are some members of CBC that I am just here for. I so
appreciate that. I moderated a panel at the request of Representative
Lewis who put together a panel that had activists along with Black Lives
Matter and Justice League activists. I saw him lean in and engage those
young people and say, you remind me of what we were doing. But no need to
act like everybody feels that way.
I just want to show “The Washington Post.” There was a piece titled, “I
was a civil rights activist in the 1960s, but it`s hard to get behind Black
Lives Matter”, written by Barbara Reynolds, where she kind of goes through
and does the full respectability politics saying, you can`t tell whether or
not there are mob actors or the protesters.
Just – wait.
HENDERSON: Look, I love Reynolds but I think that analysis is something
I`d have to push back on.
When you meet these young activists, like those we have here. What you
find is they recognize the value of moving forward politically, taking a
social movement, and now turning it into a political movement.
So, by emphasizing the importance of making change, yes, in the broad sense
of raising their voices, but in the specific sense of going to the ballot,
generating new voters and helping to engage in the political process, I
think they can`t help but make change.
That`s why Ta-Nehisi`s report, that`s why the Ella Baker report, I hope
will be a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, because they
point out that systemic inequality, unconscious bias, collude to create a
system that creates a virtual caste of those at the bottom of the economic
and political ladder.
And most of those also caught up in the incarceration, the mass
incarceration movement can`t fend for themselves. And so, when you talked
about bipartisanship, yes, I hope there`s bipartisanship on criminal
justice legislation, but bipartisanship is in the eye of the beholder,
unless you`re talking about casting votes. And it is unclear that the
leadership in both the Republican leadership and the House and Senate will
And one last point, unless they permit a Voting Rights Act bill to come to
the floor and the house and the Senate, all of this becomes hot air with
nothing focused on making change.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. You went straight to voting. I`m not
sure that`s where Black Lives Matter is. It`s not really clear to me.
It`s a catholic, little “C,” movement, full of lots of things.
But where are you guys on voting?
D. WATKINS, AUTHOR, “THE BEAST SIDE”: The key is it`s not one thing. It`s
My hometown of East Baltimore, I`ve never, ever had direct contact with
activists. People engaged in the political process. But since movements
like Black Lives Matter and many others have emerged, you have all these
brand-new activists. There are guys who are taking on coaching. Some guys
who are helping out people with financial literally. Some people like me
who focus on writing and journalism. So, we`re all becoming activists in
our own right.
So, if you push back on Black Lives Matter, then you`re kind of pushing
bacon the progression of black people in America in general. We need these
types of movement and all these different types of activism to take place
if we want to see real change.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s another moment that happened, this intergenerational
moment, that I`m really interested whether you see this as a good thing or
a co-opting thing.
So, Valerie Jarrett met with a couple activists at the White House. But
not only did she meet with them, she then was actively tweeting with them.
So this is Deray and, of course, Shordee DooWhop. And they`re tweeting
with Valerie Jarrett and saying, you know, campaign zero and other topics,
that it was a candid conversation that covered much ground.
And then it got fascinating. Where Jarrett writes back, looking forward to
continuing our dialogue. Shordee DooWhop writes back, I`m looking forward
to talking about using social media in new ways. And then Valerie Jarrett
writes back, “Me, too, you are the experts.”
There is a part of me that`s like, what just happened this is amazing.
Here`s a senior White House adviser tweeting it up with Deray and Shordee
DooWhop. On the other hand, I also wonder, like, did it co-op?
So, that`s the question on the table. When we come back, we`re also going
to talk about Batman and the police. all that`s happening when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: For 76 years, Batman has guarded Gotham, waging his crusade
against the moral decay and criminal underworld. His enemies known as some
of the most notorious custom rogues are entrenched in our imagination, the
Joker, the Penguin, Cat Woman. But in Batman 44, the Dark Knight confronts
something more sinister.
This latest issue of D.C. comic`s flagship “Batman” series tackles the
intersections of police brutality, institutionalized racism, poverty and
gentrification. In the latest example of art imitating life, this story
begins with Batman investigating the death of a black teenager, 15-year-old
Peter Duggio, who was fatally shot in the stomach by a white Gotham police
veteran, Ned Howler. The first image is of a teen wearing a hoody left for
dead in the street.
The flashback issue, written by Scott Snyder and Brian Asaralo (ph) with
art by Jacques, the pen name for Marc Simpson, also confronts the
limitations of Batman himself, a victim of childhood violence who guards
his city from the vantage of race and class privilege.
Spencer Ackerman writes in “The Guardian”, quote, “Comics critics are hard
pressed to remember Batman ever addressing institutional racism as bluntly
as this. White police corruption has long been a feature of Gotham. It is
rarely shown disproportionately to impact black people.
And comics critics Emma (INAUDIBLE) called the issue the most powerful
Batman story in at least a generation.
Look at ya`ll influencing the comics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Go ahead and do that. Let me let you weigh in on some of
something we`re talking about for.
IKE: Well, first, just to note how art is taking on being on a lot more of
– you know, prevalence in social activism that we`re seeing today. First
of all, that`s always been the case. When we think about even the very
great documentary that was done on Nina Simone when you think about, you
know, different ways artists have always tried to use their craft to
highlight the times.
I think what we`re seeing is a shift in how mainstream art is also trying
to recognize or at least make a – just last week at New York Fashion Week,
for example, there were artists implementing some of the Black Lives Matter
themes, as well as evoking some of the names of individuals that have been
passed due to violence, within their art. I want to also just shift a
little bit back to what we`re talking about intergenerationally how – I`m
sitting here next to – I`m literally feeling the Panther vibes –
HARRIS-PERRY: Are there actual Panther vibes?
IKE: I think it`s a thing. There`s a great documentary out that`s
highlighting the Black Panthers movement. And it`s really important
because a lot of times right now as young people we`re told who our heroes
should be, who we should follow, what is the script and the blueprint that
we should really adhere to.
And in a lot of ways it minimizes not only the violence that was really at
that time but it also minimizes when we talk about political education, the
variety of tactics and strategies that actually are on the table. It
doesn`t mean we have to use all them, but there is something. There are
different types of resistance. They`re not at nonviolent.
I think what a lot of people are afraid of is that this movement is
actually in a position to actually engage in a conversation of what are the
different tactics. Which ones are actually going to liberate us? Why
don`t we, you know – why can`t we feel comfortable bearing arms to protect
ourselves, right, and there`s a reason for that, but they`re at least open
to the discussion of that. Sitting next to –
LEE: Well, you know, black lives movement, Black Lives Matter movement is
so important. It`s an important moment in history for us to support it for
many reasons and I want to just go back to Oakland, California, Black
Panthers Party, late `60s, early `70s. Now, I was a revolutionary, big
afro, student at Mills College, on public assistance, trying to raise two
kids, single mom.
I met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. During that time, I met the great
Congressman Ron Dellums my predecessor who I worked for for 11 years. The
Black Panther family had never been involved in voter registration, nor
We worked with the Black Panther Party, myself as a community worker, Ron
as a member of the city council. They registered people to vote, ended up
supporting Shirley Chisolm who ran for president during that period in the
early `70s. We took 10 percent of vote in Alameda County. Subsequent to
that, Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland, got into the runoff. We
changed the face of politics in Oakland, California, which led to the first
African-American mayor and some real political and systemic changes.
So, right on to the Black Lives Matter. You guys know what you`re doing
and continue to stay strong.
HARRIS-PERRY: This goes to the point that you need multiple strategies,
right? Not only there`s a menu of strategies but you`ll be choosing from
various strategies at various point.
WATKINS: Yes, one time I heard that art is the absence of fear. So, as an
artist, it`s my job. I take on the police departments everywhere. Where
this article for “The Guardian”, “Salon”, or whoever I write for, because
it`s my job to call them on the stuff they do.
I`m a servant to the community and I work to the community. So, I`m out
here trying to, you know, play respectability politics and make friends on
both sides, you know, that`s not right, that`s not art. That`s not art in
its truest form.
Again, it plays into this whole idea of what an activist is. You have
activists who is an artist. And television shows like this. It`s art.
It`s power. It`s spreading these ideas in a positive way and help people
become more aware.
HARRIS-PERRY: Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, in
an interview with “The Nation”, says the thing that`s important in this
moment is that our movement doesn`t become an intellectual exercise but
that it`s something that actually happens in practice. Yet she also isn`t
pushing back against – she`s not anti-intellectual. So, I`m wondering
about that connection between the ideas and the practice.
HENDERSON: Well, Harry Belafonte, OK, Harry Belafonte is deeply involved
in the Black Lives Matter movement. Always has been.
Those of us of our generation who are not directly involved should not
presume to lecture to those who are how they have to respond to the
challenges that they face.
But the one element that connects all of us is the recognition that if you
don`t vote, you don`t count. Voting really is the language of democracy.
If you are translating political activity into systemic change, that`s got
to be a part of the arsenal. It`s not the only thing. And I think D. and
Ifeoma have both talked about the importance of organizing where you are,
and I wouldn`t change that for the world.
But if you look at Ferguson today in contrast to Ferguson when Mike Brown
was killed, one thing that has made a difference is the election. And
recognizing that the commission of Ferguson that just issued a very
powerful report that`s worth noting comes up against this reality – you
have a Democratic governor who may want change. You have a Republican
legislature that may or may not support that change. And issues like
expanding Medicaid for the poorest of the poor in those communities can`t
be addressed unless you bring in political –
HARRIS-PERRY: And so what I would say is that come all the way back to our
attorney general making that extraordinary statement because you can`t call
on people to vote if they can`t vote. As our attorney general said, let
Thank you to Congresswoman Barbara Lee and to Ifeoma Ike, to Wade Henderson
and to D. Watkins.
Up next, real-life wonder women saving lives. Our foot soldiers of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Our foot soldiers this morning are two groups of women
making a difference in their communities in very different ways. In
Chicago after a summer with more than 1,600 shootings and 320 homicides,
one woman decided enough was enough when a double shooting in July left one
dead and five injured in the neighborhood where she grew up.
Tamara Manasseh`s idea was not to call the police but to call together some
moms with lawn chairs and grills and hot dogs and form a stakeout on the
very same corner where the shootings took place. Tamara formed the
volunteer group called MASK or Mothers Against Senseless Killings. And
throughout the summer, the moms have watched 75th and Stewart and 75th and
Harvard in Englewood, in an attempt to deter crime, every single day, and
all summer long.
Now, Tamara has two children, and in an interview with the producers she
told us, “I have to save my kids and in the process for fighting for their
lives, I have to save all of their friends` lives, too.
The mothers presence made a difference in many ways. Tamara and her group
brought food daily and baby formula, and diapers and offered yoga,
kickboxing and braided hair in Tamara called a community center without
And while one man lost his life in early August on the mom`s turf,
community members said the group`s affect was substantial and made their
neighborhood much safer. Though their physical presence is ended Labor
Day, the moms are now watching their community online, offering to mediate
between gang feuds and deploying volunteers whenever necessary.
Tamara told us that consistency is the key. We need to just be there.
This is a problem to take all of us to fix. In addition to online
monitoring, Tamara and her group are working on legislation urging schools
to teach the kids in their community gun is safety, anger management and
Now, this story reminded us of another big story this week. This one out
of South Africa, a group of mostly women anti-poachers have been awarded
the Champions of the Earth Award by the United Nations Environmental
Program. And they are known as the Black Mamba anti-poaching unit, a group
of 24 women and two men who patrol the area around a nature reserve in
South Africa, unarmed, to protect the legendary wildlife in their region,
especially the rhinos some nearing extinction.
And since the group`s creation in 2013, they have arrested six poachers,
shutdown five poaching camps, and reduced sneering by 76 percent.
In addition to stopping the poaching, the Mambas strive to create a strong
bonds in their community and educate people in their area about the
importance of preserving nature.
Now, usually, protecting endangered wildlife in this part of the world is
something that is handled by the men, but the mambas are an impressive
exception, 26-year-old Mamba named Luke told the “Huffington Post”,
poaching is very bad and that it is important that animals live, the next
generation must know the rhinos and elephants in life. If poaching is
allowed, they will only see these animals in a picture and this is not
These activists are tens of thousands of miles part, but together they
teach us that the power of organized women who are unafraid in the face of
violence, determined to use their very presence to create the change that
they see as a need in their community.
And for this, Tamara and the Mothers Against Senseless Killing and the
Black Mamba anti-poaching unit, are our joint food soldiers of the week.
Go, mamas and mambas!
And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re going to take
a look at diversity in a new TV season – yes, TV is now very much in
But right now, it`s time for a preview of “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT”.
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