Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY Date: January 2, 2016 Guest: Samaria Rice, Jonathan Abady, Lucia McBath, Jon Shane, Marquez Claxton, Jelani Cobb, Jonathan Metzl, Monica Dennis, Kimbriell Kelly, Jason Page, Jamil Smith, Dave Zirin
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. Why are we looking to LeBron for answers? Plus, my letter to Oprah. And the president`s bold move on gun violence. But first, grieving and fighting for Tamir.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. It`s been 13 months since 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police in a Cleveland park. That day, Officer Timothy Loehmann and Officer Frank Garmback were responding to this 911 report of a man with a gun at a recreation center.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a guy in here with a pistol, you know, it`s probably fake, but he`s pointing it at everybody.
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HARRIS-PERRY: Now, the caller went on to say that the person with the gun was probably a juvenile, but neither that information, nor the caller`s observation that the pistol was probably fake were related to the officers. When the officers arrived on the scene, the police cruiser slid on the muddy ground as it pulled up to the gazebo in the park. Tamir Rice was standing there with a nonlethal air pistol that shoots plastic pellets tucked to the waistband of his pants. Officer Loehmann would later say in a statement that, quote, "I started to open the door and yelled continuously, "Show me your hands as loud as I could. Officer Garmback was also yelling show me your hands." A video released four days after the shooting shows Officer Loehmann opening fire within two seconds of the police car arriving on the scene. Tamir Rice was taken to the hospital where after undergoing surgery he died the following day.
And the Cuyahoga County sheriff`s department conducted a three-month investigation into the case and turned its findings over to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty. But it would be another seven months after the shooting before McGinty indicated that he would convene a grand jury to review the case and decide whether the officers would face charges in the shooting. And as McGinty prepared to present the case before the grand jury, he released expert reports that essentially called the shooting tragic, but reasonable. Given the officer`s belief in this case that he was armed. Now McGinty said he publicized the reports in the interest of transparency, but his decision drew criticism from Tamir`s family who questioned McGinty`s commitment to securing an indictment and called for him to step down from the case.
After hearing evidence in the case since October, the grand jury reached the decision that was announced on Monday. Officer Timothy Loehmann will face no criminal charges in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Prosecutor McGinty said in the announcement that Loehmann`s partner, Officer Garmback will also face no charges. McGinty indicated that the grand jury`s decision was consistent with his own recommendation in the case. And said of enhanced video that he says shows Rice reaching into his waistband, it`s likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and had been warned his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over or show them that it wasn`t a real gun, but there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw the events unfolding rapidly from a very different perspective.
Following the decision, Tamir`s mother Samaria Rice called for federal officials to intervene and pursue civil rights charges in the case. And with the criminal investigation now officially over, her family`s pending wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Cleveland and the officers involved is expected to move forward.
Miss Rice is joining me now, along with her attorney, Jonathan Abady. Thank you for being here.
Can you talk to me about the emotions that you and that your family had when you discovered -- when you learned, as the rest of us did, that there would be no indictment?
SAMARIA RICE, MOTHER OF TAMIR RICE: Well. I`m mad as hell. I was laying in my bed when Timothy -- prosecutor McGinty called my house and told me that the grand jury was not going to file any charges towards Officer Timothy Loehmann. I told him that was unacceptable. And I requested to have a meeting with him face-to-face. Due to the corrupt system, I have a dead child. It`s excruciating pain. I feel like breath has been taken out of my body once again. And it`s a struggle.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you have -- in Tamir you have a child who`s gone, who was taken at 12 years old. Tamir also has a 14-year-old sister who you are still parenting and who months after we saw the initial video of the shooting death of Tamir, we saw the extended video, in which your daughter was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police cruiser and learned your story of basically having to make a choice between your two children on the playground that day. How is your daughter doing?
RICE: Well, it`s a struggle for Tajai to lose a sibling. Tamir and Tajai was two peas in a bucket, so you wouldn`t see one without the other. My daughter struggles with weight loss and just being normal. It`s hard for her. I`m her main support.
HARRIS-PERRY: You talked about prosecutor McGinty calling. You all have minced no words about the idea that that prosecutor in your world view is not doing -- did not stand up for Tamir. That instead, I think the language you used was, is acting as a defense attorney for the police. Is there any possibility in this case of some kind of justice relative to this prosecutor?
JONATHAN ABADY, ATTORNEY FOR THE FAMILY OF TAMIR RICE: Well, I think it`s important for us to emphasize the point that you just made. Which was that we did enter this process with every expectation of cooperating. And with the hope that the prosecutor would address this in a fair and impartial manner. And unfortunately, it became clear to us very early on that that that was not the case. And that the prosecutor abdicated his responsibility and obligation to advocate for the victim and the victim`s family and really did become a defense lawyer for the police in this case. And that`s a function of a long-standing problem in this country. I mean there`s a historical issue with prosecutors being unable to police and prosecute their own because of the alliance that developed between police and prosecutors.
And so, this was the case where unfortunately the worst tendencies and patterns of that conflict became illustrated. I mean I think people are familiar with an old adage, which is that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he or she wanted. And that`s a function of the reality that prosecutors have tremendous influence and control over what happens in grand jury proceeding. It`s a secret proceeding. It`s a proceeding with tremendous discretion. And all of that discretion was exercised to distort and manipulate this process.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that language of distortion started long before we were even talking about grand jury testimony. I remember thinking that some of the hardest moments I was experiencing, and I am not Tamir`s family, I`m not his mother, was listening to this 12-year-old boy get blamed over and over again for his own death. That somehow the choices he made. And then also that your own personal history in the first couple of months got drawn in. And I`m wondering how you were responding in those moments when there was this -- and even this week. That somehow Tamir did something wrong in this case.
RICE: No, Tamir could never do nothing wrong in this case. I don`t know how can you diminish (ph) a 12-year-old`s character. What they need to be looking at is how Officer Loehmann failed to do his duties in Independence, Ohio. And I don`t even know how he became a Cleveland police officer. He is very unstable with his mental stability and failed to, I guess, use his gun, failed to use his gun properly. So this is the things that I`ve been hearing and some of the things that I read. That`s what they need to be looking at.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you read the coverage?
RICE: Sometimes. Sometimes I do. Not everything. I cannot read everything. But some things I do.
HARRIS-PERRY: We also heard that some months after the shooting, while you`re still waiting even for the grand jury to convene, that you`re still living in the apartment that overlooked where Tamir was shot and ultimately spent some time in and out of homeless shelters because it was just too hard to live there. How are you doing now?
RICE: I`m doing OK today. Me and Tajai does have stable living. We are doing okay today.
ABADY: I think, you know, it`s really helpful to be focusing on this aspect of the case, which is the human dimension of what occurred here. I think we sometimes get lost and thinking about the policy implications and all the political issues, which are very important. But I mean in response, I can say that having been close to Samaria now for a long time, it`s excruciating. This is the greatest loss that any person could suffer, to lose a child at this age. And I know that Samaria has spoken very eloquently about what it was like to be at home, have her child go out on what she thought was a routine activity that every kid is involved in and for him not to come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: And with his sister, right? They go out to the playground. This ought to be the most basic thing that you can have your kids do. Stay with us. Don`t leave, Samaria. When we come back, I want to talk about exactly that - the human aspect. The idea that it`s almost become as though it is normal for us to expect black children to die and for black mothers to grieve, rather than expecting it to be normal for black children and mothers to grow up to live long lives together. Thank you for joining us. And when we come back, Jordan Davis` mother will join the table.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the year since Tamir Rice was killed by Cleveland police, his mother Samaria Rice has been one of the most vocal and visible proponents calling for justice on his behalf. Samaria Rice`s unrelenting advocacy for her son has put her in the company of other mothers who in recent years have found something like empowerment, even in the concepts of their grief. All of them lost children in high profile cases that highlighted the ways the misperception of young black men can leave them vulnerable to violence. Among those mothers is Lucia McBath who became the national spokesperson for moms demand action for gun sense in America after her son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012 by 47-year-old Michael Dunn following an argument about loud music at a Jacksonville gas station. Lucy McBath is here with us today.
You are one of the few mothers who has had some measure of justice. But is it enough?
LUCIA MCBATH, MOTHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: Absolutely it is not enough. In the climate that we have with the gun culture in this country, I believe that the gun violence that we see particularly happening in urban communities is the single most important social justice problem that we have in this country. And because I did receive some sense of justice and closure, it`s not enough because there`s so many more babies dying in the streets and people dying in the streets that will never receive justice. And so now it is not enough. We have a lot more work to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think for me one of the hardest things that I`ve heard you say in this week or rather that I read that you wrote is you said, I don`t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored. What does justice look like for you? What recognizing that in the -- conviction is never enough, it`s never - it doesn`t bring your boy back. But what would begin to look like justice for Tamir?
RICE: Well, the Department of Justice, Loretta Lynch, asking for her to come in and not only just investigate how Officer Timothy Loehmann and Officer Frank Garmback accounted both for my son`s murder, it could start right there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lucy, Jordan was killed in November of 2012. Two years later, Tamir was killed, November of 2014. What did we fail to do as a nation in those two years that we could have done that might have made some kind of difference in this moment?
MCBATH: Well, I think that definitely we continue to see this human tragedies because as a nation we have refused to take action on gun violence and the gun culture in this country. And specifically, we know that the first most important way that we can begin to change the tide of this gun culture is background check legislation. Specifically speaking because that ties into making sure that our legislators, politicians, law enforcement, are accountable in the ways, in which, you know, guns are being used in the country. So we know that definitely expanding and beginning to really change the laws, tightening the loopholes in the laws, this is the single most effective way that we can begin to change what we see happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is the muse part why I wanted you all together. Because it`s - this is the difficulty. On the one hand, I hear you talking about changing the laws. And I think that seems right. On the other hand who enforces the laws, but the police? And in this case, it`s the police that came in, took your child`s life. And this - the very idea that at the moment there`s not even a criminal indictment, that the law basically protects police. Wondering if there are also legal changes that you imagine here, if you`re still focused on just trying to get some kind of accountability for Tamir, Samaria?
RICE: Well, I just think that starting with the government and the law enforcements, there needs to be some reforming change across this nation because if not, America`s going to be in trouble.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have two children and I cannot imagine, and so, Lucy, I`m wondering, because I have no advice to give in this moment. I have only - and I try not to be too emotional, because I feel like it`s self-indulgent for me to be emotional and go home to my two living healthy children. But I wonder if there is something that you have learned over those three years since the loss of your son that might be helpful to Samaria.
MCBATH: What I have learned is that we are definitely all accountable and responsible for one another. And simply because I have received justice, there`s far more social injustice in the fact that you didn`t receive justice. And so that each of us can play a role in our part in changing the gun culture, in changing what we see happening in the country. And they`re all responsible in some way, shape or form. And so, you know, I offer you tremendous support and encouragement. Because you are a part of the change. You are a part of the culture. And, you know, we have to continue to graft other individuals in this fight as well. Otherwise, as you said, you know, we`re in a sad state of affairs in this nation. When this is the most important social justice, critical problem that we have.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do we all need to know about Tamir other than the way that he died?
RICE: Well, he was my bright and shining star and he just was full of love, and full of life and laughter. Tamir had the potential to be anything in the world. Officer Timothy Loehmann, Officer Frank Garmback didn`t even give him a chance.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to Samaria Rice, to Lucia McBath. Stay with us. We have so much more to talk about. I`m going to bring in my panel to this discussion when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Following a Cleveland grand jury`s decision not to indict the officers involved in the death of Tamir Rice, "The New Yorker`s" Jelani Cobb wrote, "Timothy McGinty, the prosecutor in Cleveland, referred to Rice`s death as a perfect storm of human error, but this presumes that the circumstances which led to the 12-year old`s death are rare. It`s more accurate to think of them as a kind of default setting." As he considers Tamir Rice`s death alongside last year`s police shooting of John Crawford while he was holding an air rifle at an Ohio Walmart. Cobb goes on to write, "It`s easy to think of these circumstances as matters of policing. But in both cases the police were acting on the perceptions of callers who saw armed black men and deduced to criminal threat. The police became simply the final and mostly lethal vectors for much broader public suspicion."
Jelani Cobb, staff writer for "The New Yorker" and associate professor of the University of Connecticut is here with me today. Also, here with me is Monica Dennis, regional coordinator for Black Lives Matter, New York City. And Jon Shane, associate professor of criminal justice with a concentration in police policy and practice at John Jay College, and a retired captain from the Newark Police Department.
Joining us also from Columbia, South Carolina is Marquez Claxton, director of Black Law Enforcement Alliance and a retired New York police department detective. Mr. Claxton, nice to see you this morning. When you look at the video and when you hear about the indictment, I know you`ve been talking a bit about this, from a policing perspective, is there something wrong with what happened in that space?
MARQUEZ CLAXTON, DIR., BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT ALLIANCE: Well, along with, you know, the desperate need to reform our criminal justice system in general, law enforcement, policing, specifically, is in desperate need of alteration and change. Listen, you can`t continue to operate effectively and expect the public confidence and trust. All of the public confidence and trust when you are operating out of - over aggressive, over-militarized numbers driven, data driven law enforcement model. It is outdated. And it places a significant number of the community, in particular, blacks and Latinos, at increased risk of danger. Unfortunately, at the hands of law enforcement, of police. And we can`t continue to continue this mode of operation and expect different results. As offensive as things have been. As disgusting as some of the decisions by different prosecutors` offices, it is highly expected and it will continue until we decide to evolve away from the current policing model.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jelani, that is not unlike precisely the point that you`re making in "The New Yorker" piece. Although, you`re moving us away from the policing and talking about it as a default model in our politics and our social life more generally.
JELANI COBB, ASSOC. PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF CONNECTICUT: It is, because if you look in both of those circumstances, we talked about John Crawford III and we talked about Tamir Rice. How did the police even enter the equation? They`re in an open carry state. And there two people you see African Americans who have firearms. And automatically this went from a person who is exercising a constitutional right to do thing that this person is a criminal threat and the police actions followed that. And so, when we talk about this idea that there`s a split between the public policy we have and then what actually the sentiments that are in people`s hearts. But those two things go together. The sentiments in people`s hearts determine how the public policy is enacted.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean I also want to - there`s just a consumer story, just in the case of just these two cases, we apparently make and sell in, you know, your local Walmart, and your toy store, something that apparently looks like a threatening weapon to police officers. I just want to pause and point out that they`re not open carrying. Neither one of them are carrying the kinds of - I mean John Crawford`s walking around the Walmart with an item that is sold in the Walmart. I mean how many times have you picked it up in the store and walked around with an item that`s sold in the store, right? And so we make -- we make and produce and make profit from things that look scary, right, to police officers.
And John, that sort of question of looking scary to police officers is precisely where this non-indictment turns. The idea that they were reasonably in fear of their life. It`s just -- it`s so hard for me, I guess. Because, you know, I have seen many a 12-year-old with a toy gun and not -- and if I`d shot, I wouldn`t be protected by that same ...
JON SHANE, ASSOC. PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: Well, it follows this baseline application in law enforcement. Police officers have to have probable cause to use deadly force to protect themselves or a third person, that`s number one. And they are the ones who get to interpret what probable cause is. And the second thing that we operate on in this framework is that the police can be mistaken about the facts, but they must be right about the law. And when circumstances like this, albeit extraordinarily tragic, and I have an 11-year-old son myself and I think about this a lot, what does a police officer do when a set of circumstances unfolds in a few seconds. Even if -- even if some of those circumstances were created by the officers themselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because I want to come to Mark on this. I`d like - maybe back and forth, because you are both former officers. Mark, what I`ve heard you say is, it`s not like Tamir walked up on them. Right? They drive up on to him.
CLAXTON: It`s officer created jeopardy. And I`m sure Mr. Shane is aware that we have too many situations where the officers create the situation where they then become justified for using deadly physical force. If you disregard tactics, common sense, training, law and put yourself in a position as close - Tamir Rice`s case is a perfect example of officer created jeopardy. That officer inserted himself directly next to Mr. Rice and then said he was justified because he was afraid. He was afraid -- in essence, he was afraid. It`s officer created jeopardy.
SHANE: He`s right. No, I agree with that. It`s called state created danger. And the reality is that`s not necessarily criminal. It`s definitely a civil action. I think they`ll prevail in the civil suit, but it doesn`t amount to a criminal action. And we ...
CLAXTON: And that points to the need for reform.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Right. So right. So, what I would say -- for me, I guess - it is -- that is distressing to me. That makes me feel not safe in the world.
SHANE: What are we going to reform, though? We are going to reform that the police officer finds somebody with a handgun and says, well, I need to find out more information before that guy actually pulls the gun out and shoots me?
HARRIS-PERRY: I think for me the reform would be - and we can keep talking about it. It`s a good question, right? I think for me the reform would be that if you believe, if you truly believe someone has a gun, then driving up directly in front of them and then shooting them because you believe they have a gun is -- is so far beyond the pale of sort of - you know, if I think someone - if I reasonably think someone has a gun, my first response is not to drive directly in front of them unless I`m looking for that kind of -- we`re going to take a break. We`re going to take a break. We`re going to come back. I want to say thank you to Marquez Claxton in Columbia, South Carolina. Get all the rest of the voices in including John`s voice back in response, because when we come back, we`re going to talk about another police shooting. Another attempt at reform in Chicago.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a series of short-term reforms for the city`s police department, including the expanded use of tasers. And more training to de-escalate situations before they become violent.
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RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF CHICAGO: There`s a difference between whether someone can use a gun and when they should use a gun. And we as a city must train for that difference. We want to assure that our officers are not just operating in either first gear or fifth gear, but to recognize the degrees in between so they can respond appropriately to each individual situation. Where force can be the last option, not the first choice.
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HARRIS-PERRY: The mayor spoke days after Chicago police shot and killed Antonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old who, according to his family, was dealing with mental health problems and a neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones. Chicago P.D. admits that the Jones` shooting was accidental, but the cop says that -- the cops say, excuse me, that LeGrier was combative with officers. His family says he was no threat and that the shooting was unreasonable.
Joining us now from Miami is Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director at the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University and research director for the Save Tennessee Project.
So, of course, I thought of you immediately when I heard that there had been a shooting of a civilian whose family called the police, in this case, not because there was fear, but, rather, because there was a need for assistance and the young man is shot and killed by the police. What is your response?
JONATHAN METZL, DR. CTR. FOR MEDICAL HEALTH & SOCIETY VANDERBILT: Absolutely, that`s right. I mean this tragic situation just yet again, just proves the myth that we hear in the aftermath of many shootings, which is that people with mental illness are threats that need, you know, we need to go take away all the guns from the people with mental illness. In fact, in the real world, people with mental illness are far, far more likely to be the victims of shootings by the police or increasingly by armed civilians. And the reason that`s the case is because in moments of tense encounter, people fall back on stereotypes. Stereotypes of race, of class, but also of mental illness, and they misperceive symptoms of mental illness as threats. And we`ve seen this again and again in the police context. One example would be in Albuquerque, for example where untrained police officers not only unduly shot people, but over 50 percent of their shootings, the victims were people with mental illness. And I worry, again, what`s going to happen as we increasingly ask armed civilians to kind of intervene in conflicts. Because I think we`re setting ourselves up for more of this. I think the last point about this, as I think we learn in the history of these shootings, in Albuquerque and Chicago and other places, is it`s not just enough to train officers to understand mental illness.
METZL: That mental illness stigma intersects with a bunch of other stigmatizations. There`s stigmatizations of race, there`s not enough handgun training. And so, if we`re really going to intervene into this particular problem, we need to not only address training officers to be more sensitive to symptoms of mental illness, but also of, you know, inherent racism and handgun training and other issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Monica, I want to come to you on this. In part because this Chicago shooting felt to me initially in its response the way that so many of us responded when Tamir Rice was killed which is, you know, remember when Nick Kristof tweeted that the movement should have focused not on Michael Brown, but instead on Tamir Rice as though there is consensus that - if a 55-year-old grandmother is accidentally shot in her living room, we can all agree that`s wrong. But that is also what we`ve initially said about Tamir Rice. And now no indictment. And so, I keep wondering where the crazy is. Like, you know, we hear this is a mental health question. We are asking, Jon, like, is this a question of whether or not the police are basically, you know, gun crazy? Are they behaving -- I also wonder, like, if the craziness at a certain point, that we keep acting like there could be some difference by marginal reforms?
MONICA DENNIS, REGIONAL COORDINATOR, BLACK LIVES MATTER: Absolutely not. The crazy is not people who are resisting violence that is being enacted upon us by the police or by any form of the state, right? The craziest is structural racism then that perpetuates and generates other determinants of mental health, right? And so, if we`re talking about what`s the reform, part of the reform has to be looking at implicit bias, right, that embedded in how we operate in the United States as to see black bodies as hyper criminal, hyper immoral, hyper violent. And so when police are enacting with us, that is the first response is to shoot, right? And then how that implicit violence, you were saying, then connects to policies that are being made. And then all of this pressure. I often think about just watching the two parents that were here. A lot of our organizers here in New York City are actually meeting with families during this difficult holiday time. What is the impact of all of this stress, right, is having on families? The mental stress? The depression? The isolation? The anxiety. That people are afraid -- well, we are afraid for our children, afraid for ourselves. And we don`t have responses. And so, I think it`s pretty much unacceptable from - to say that we`re following the letter of the law, but people keep ending up dead or harmed, or assaulted and that really Rahm Emanuel is no authority on what should be the next level of policing in the city of Chicago.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jon, I want to ask you a little bit about the - I just made here, because - and I think it`s also in part what Jelani was saying earlier. So, I think we generally as a society believe, accept and repeat the kind of, you know, officers as they walk out in the morning, they kiss their family good-bye, not knowing whether or not they`re going to return, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And that - I think that`s part of how we understand what policing is, and in moments like 9/11, you know, we see that manifest. But from a purely statistical point of view, that idea of kissing your family and walking out and not knowing if you`re coming home is actually more the reality of young African-Americans. And yet we don`t have a separate kind of legal construction to address the violence that they might perpetrate in the world because they`re living under this kind of mental constant threat and belief of death. Not even primarily at the hands of police, but at the hands of guns generally.
SHANE: Well, look, I think it`s an extremely important social question. It`s just that. I think it`s a broader social question that needs to be answered. But it doesn`t necessarily drive the tactics and strategies of policing. If we`re talking about how we`re going to address the immediate circumstance of any police officer who confronts somebody with a gun, I don`t think we`re going to get at it by tapping things like education and housing and these other broad implications. We have to look at how police officers are hired, how they were trained. And I think perhaps most importantly from my perspective as a researcher, is good quality data. I was asked to present my perspective on that in April of last year to the U.S. Department of Justice at a civil rights panel that we held at John Jay College, and I approached the issue of police community interaction from one of a failed data standpoint.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, we don`t even know what all the stories are. OK, we`re going to stay on this, Jonathan, stay with us. Because when we come back, we`re going to talk about the fact that the president has some anticipated action on guns. I want to ask you about that, Jonathan, and I also want to get you back and Jelani.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We know we can`t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one? What if Congress did something, anything, to protect our kids from gun violence? A few months ago, I directed my team at the White House to look into any new actions I can take to help reduce gun violence. And on Monday, I`ll meet with our Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss our options. Because I get too many letters from parents and teachers and kids to sit around and do nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama in his New Year`s address announcing that he is close to taking executive action on gun control. And he will reportedly act as early as next week. And his orders could include narrowing the gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without submitting to a background check. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Grassley was one the first legislatures to criticize the planned action tweeting, "So Obama will soon issue executive orders on gun control. None of ideas put forth would have stopped mass murders of several years, do mental issues." So, Jonathan, should we be doing mental issues instead?
METZL: Well, you know, I think that the association is inherently false. Which is that if we`re going to close background check loopholes, which impacts not only gun shows, but also high volume weapons, sellers and also online sites like armslist.com and closed Facebook sites, where people can very easily buy guns, and not just people, but also people with criminal histories. People who are on the no fly list. Issues like that. That in a way, that`s the issue we`re going to close. And I think what research shows looking at background checks is that states that enact background checks on average have about a 40 percent less lower rate than other states. Not of mass shootings, but of everyday crimes. So, apropos of our earlier conversation, cops killed by guns. Women killed by their partners. Guns suicides. Gun trafficking. It`s really that every day violence. That`s an epidemic. I mean two-thirds of gun violence in the United States is by gun suicide.
I think the other issue, I think it`s important to address is that I think the NRA is trying to perpetuate this issue, that Americans are hopelessly divided on the issue of background checks, but in fact, that`s really - false. In my home state of Tennessee, people were shocked by a survey that showed that over 70 percent of Tennessee residents, a very red state, supported gun - supported background checks. And so, even Republicans, even Tea Party people. I think this is an issue where there`s a tremendous amount of consensus. This is not to say that people`s Second Amendment rights are going to be violated. Everybody who doesn`t have a history can get a gun, but I do think that really it`s time just like we had in earlier generations of cars and cigarettes, it`s time to say that there`s too much preventable and predictable death happening in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, I want to let you in on this. In part, because sort of getting the guns is one part of the story. But so much of what we talked about is that intersection with these other issues.
COBB: Right. Where would the narrative be here if we were not talking about mass shootings, but instead we were talking about the 1980s, 1990s, we were talking about out of control gangs and gangster rap and all these other kinds of things. And we`re saying there are too many crips and bloods who have access to guns and we need to do background checks. Would you have that same level of congressional opposition to this? Were this issue framed in the same way? And if you had 70 percent of people in Tennessee say they`re in favor. I`m not saying that we should use racism here, but I`m just ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I was like, that`s interesting there. Right.
COBB: Pointing out the disparity between how this issue would be perceived.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`m interested in particularly where officers in part stand on this, because it seems to me that part of what happened in each of these cases is -- and the question of fear. Is it in part because we live in a country where really anybody at any moment might, in fact, have a gun. Again, I keep thinking about Antoni`s father in Chicago calling for help for his son, calling the police, and his son ends up shot and killed by the police. I don`t know exactly what happened. We will be learning more. But I presume that some part of it is that these police officers think that this kid might be armed because we think everybody might be armed. Shouldn`t officers be the number one folks behind gun control?
SHANE: Well, you do have a lot of Second Amendment officers. I mean I have been in favor of carrying a gun myself. I don`t think there`s much wrong with it. The reality is that how are we going to keep the illegal guns away from people? We can - it`s a very easy thing to do to keep guns ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But a lot of people shoot their wives with perfectly legal guns.
HARRIS-PERRY: So they wouldn`t if they did not have them. So, so ...
SHANE: But we`re not going to take guns away from people. We`re just going to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to get them.
COBB: Isn`t that kind of a false argument? Because we are looking at suicide - when people say the guns are not the problem, people are the problem but we see that very many times when people commit suicide, as Jonathan said, two-thirds of the gun fatalities is suicides, this is an impulse thing. We know that if someone has access to mental health, they have access to the counseling, it`s very different than the finality of something where you have an impulse and then you react to it. And the same thing when we were talking about spousal homicide and so on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us. Stick with us. Dr. Jonathan Metzl in Miami, thank you for joining us. We`ve got more.
Up next, the critical report by "The Washington Post." Don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve often seen those federal Department of Justice step in when there`s been an outcry over police shooting. And it`s a sign of hope, hoping the police department in question will be held accountable and made better by the DOJ`s involvement. A hope that stems in part from the days of the civil rights movement when the federal government got involved and often did get better whether it was investigating the murders of civil rights workers or ensuring the right to vote for African-Americans. Most recently, the DOJ opened an investigation of the Chicago police last month. After a video showing the shooting death of Laquan McDonald was released. In March, a DOJ investigation found that the Ferguson Missouri police department functions as a revenue stream for the city at the expense of its black residents. And Cleveland police department is under a court enforced agreement with DOJ to reform its use of force policies. Including training on de-escalation techniques. As well as the medical care for people subjected to police force. People like Tamir Rice. So, what really happens when the DOJ intervenes? Joining us now from Washington, D.C. is Kimbriell Kelly, a "Washington Post" investigative reporter who has dug deep into the impact of the DOJ`s police investigations. Would it have made a difference if the DOJ consent order had been in place in Cleveland before Tamir was killed?
KIMBRIELL KELLY, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: That`s a good question. And what we see is even after their agreements the Department of Justice comes in, it doesn`t make the police department a perfect department. So you will continue to have use of force and excessive use of force complaints with officers. You`ll continue to have shootings. You`ll continue to have deaths. The goal and hope is that you`ll have fewer of those. And what we found in our investigation, we took a look at the 20 years of agreements that the Department of Justice had had with police departments. And what you see is that at the end of those agreements, some departments actually had more use of force than less. And in other cases, there were fewer cases and fewer complaints. But these agreements aren`t always a panacea for these problems.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, stick with us. So then what does that mean? What it going to - and asks for? Because right now, obviously, part of what`s happening in Cleveland is a request for the Department of Justice to come in.
DENNIS: Right. So, I think we have to continue to ask for oversight and accountability, right? Because right now as you - as we were talking in the previous segment, that there isn`t any data. But also, that we are demanding that there has to be a shift in the way that police is responding. So eventually we`re hoping that the DOJ can make - can make - help to make the case for us. But also, we`ve got to be looking on every local, every federal - I think, a municipal level about what the law actually says, right? So, otherwise, we`ll end up - police are actually following the letter of the law, but yet and still we are still having the same outcome. So right now, the DOJ is simply a tracking mechanism to help us to record the data.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kim, the other piece of this question is just in general, sort of the role of the federal government, over the issue of local policing. Which let`s be honest, is a post reconstruction question, right? I mean it really is a question about whether or not after the civil war we thought that the federal government should be in charge of whether or not local, mostly Jim Crowing communities, ought to be allowed to police their own folks or not? And yet here we are all these many years later, and it feels like not unlike some of those concerns.
KELLY: Well, essentially what you have is the federal government is really setting the standard. The goal is to police these departments. But essentially you have more than 15,000 police departments across the country. And in the last 20 years, they`ve had about 67 investigations. So, what that tells you is, they want to set the standard. They want to create policies that are constitutional and essentially have those policies replicated within those local police departments. So, you know, some of the local police departments that we talked to basically say while we look at the departments that were under consent to create whether it`s New Orleans, whether it`s Seattle or Los Angeles, and they clearly have good policies because the Department of Justice influenced those policies. We want to adopt those policies within other police departments. So that the Department of Justice doesn`t come knocking on our door. So, what you see is sort of a trickle down effect in terms of the departments that the DOJ has looked at, and implementing those policies in the multitude of other police departments across the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, is the faith in the federal government, and DOJ in particular, still ...
COBB: I mean, it does. I mean there`s about to be a consent decree announced in Newark that`s coming up. And, you know, one of the things that we also talk about that`s going to be a distinction with the reconstruction thing, and it kind of makes it, you know, more frustrating question, that many of these are places that have been under black control for 30 or 40 years.
HARRIS-PERRY: But what you mean like mayoral control?
COBB: Mayoral control, city council`s, and so on. And I think the thing is that, you know, the DOJ is important and when you look at kind of broader things. If you talking about corruption or patterns of people refusing to even allow people to file complaints. And those kinds of really egregious violations, you can see DOJ monitoring is going to be influential. And kind of curbing that kind of behavior, but all the mechanics and dynamics that go into someone being shot, it`s part of the equation, but there`s so many other things that have to be dealt with that. I don`t think that`s going to be one solution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, they`re a bit too far removed from that civilian police interaction. I want to say thank you to Kimbriell Kelly in Washington, D.C. And here in New York. Thank you to Jelani Cobb and Jon Shane. Monica Dennis is going to be back with us in the next hour. Because control we`re going to talk about the fact that activists have put the full-court press on LeBron.
Also, my letter to Oprah. More MHP show on top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. President Obama has officially entered his final year in the Oval Office. And in the spirit of the New Year, we`ve been reflecting a bit about the president`s game. We know President Obama loves hoops and not only because he`s the world`s most famous Bull`s fan, his love for basketball is firmly cemented within his public persona. The part of him that feels humanized, relatable, the part that plays pickup games and coaches his daughter, Sasha`s, youth league basketball team. The part that is, quite simply, a fan.
But beyond fandom and play, no other president is as identified with a sport as something that took shape before he was even elected. During his first run, the then senator challenged Republican efforts to paint him as un-American while draining a three pointer on the first try while visiting troops in Kuwait. It was a move that also showcased his youth and vigor and kind of effortless down to earth cool, characteristics that helped him become the leader he set out to become.
In the new book, The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama, "Sports Illustrated" writer Alexander Wolff asserts President Obama has used basketball "more often and more effectively than any previous president has used any sports." And it`s through sports that the president has connected with millions of Americans, while filling out his NCAA March Madness bracket and then leveraging that connection to tout the Affordable Care Act or initiatives like My Brother`s Keeper.
And yet even though the president may be the most powerful basketball fan on the planet, it`s actually the world`s most famous basketball player who`s being called on to take a stand or rather, a sit out because of the Tamir Rice case. This week, using the hashtag no justice, no LeBron, activists called on the Cleveland Cav star to put his season on hold in response to a grand jury declining on Monday to press charges against the police officers responsible for the shooting death of the 12-year-old. Activist Tariq Toure tweeted to James, "It`s more than a game and you know it."
Now, this call by activists highlights a kind of particular reality of our political moment, a resurgence of the activist athlete. Harkening back to moments like the 1968 Mexico City Olympics where John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black-gloved fists in protest of continuing realities of American racial inequality.
The new activist athlete also uses their visibility to draw and increase attention to the political, social and critically to the racial issues of the moment. The Miami Heat in the wake of George Zimmerman`s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Clippers players after the racist remarks of team owner Don Sterling. The St. Louis Rams after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Derrick Rose after the non-indictment of officers involved in the choking death of Eric Garner.
And just this fall, athlete activism extending out of the pros and on to the collegiate playing field when dozens of football players of University of Missouri refused to play and forced the resignation of the school`s chancellor on the campus racial protest.
And in this new generation, no player has more fully embodied this new engagement with the politics of inequality than king LeBron James. When LeBron made the decision to return to Cleveland to play for the Cavaliers whose public rationale was only barely about basketball. It was far more about community. And he said, for responsibility to that community, he said, "I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have responsibility to lead. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize there`s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get." That was in July of 2014.
Less than six months later, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death by police on a Cleveland playground. More than a year later, the final year of the Obama administration begins and a president who embraced basketball as central to his identity and core to his connection with communities. It`s the attorney general of his administration who can make a decision to pursue further action in the case of Tamir Rice. But it`s not to him who the activists turned. It`s to LeBron. The question this raises for me is why.
Joining me now is Jason Page, host of Up Late with Jason Page on NBC Sports Radio. Monica Dennis, regional coordinator for Black Lives Matter, New York City. Jamil Smith, who is senior editor, The New Republic and host of the Intersection podcast. And joining me from Washington, D.C. because it`s sports race in the New Year, Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation Magazine and host The Edge of Sports podcast. So, that`s my question, Dave, why, why LeBron?"
DAVE ZIRIN, HOST, EDGE OF SPORTS PODCAST: Why turn to LeBron? Well, first of all, so much of Cleveland at this point is like a LeBron-based economy. I mean, he is a person who transcends politics, let alone transcends sports in terms of his public stature. So let`s be clear about a couple of things when we say why LeBron.
First and foremost, this is not new historically. Throughout the civil rights movement, if you go back, you look at the black press in particular in the 1960s, you see demand after demand made on people like Willie Mays, like Henry Aaron, to stand up with the civil rights movement, to say this is bigger than sports. You have public stature. And everybody with public stature needs to stand up and be counted right now. So this is part of a tradition in this country of that kind of outside pressure on athletes to stand up.
The second point, and you mentioned this, Melissa, but I don`t think this could be said enough, particularly people who are criticizing the #no justice no LeBron thing. Is that LeBron is not just another athlete. He has asked for this weight. He has said explicitly, I want to be the Ali of my generation. His latest commercial has "Welcome to the Terrordome" by Public Enemy playing in the background. And to me, there`s nothing inappropriate about saying, OK, you`re going to play "Welcome to the Terrordome, well, where do you stand on Tamir Rice? Are you going to stand up?
And I agree that it`s completely perverse that we`re, like, asking LeBron something and not asking Loretta Lynch the same question. But that`s part of our culture at this point. We know that LeBron can get this issue in front of white eyes in particular and puncture the privilege that so many white families have to not seeing Tamir Rice and I think that`s what people hope for.
PERRY: OK. So, Dave, so you went there in a space that you don`t want to bring you in on because I guess that`s my consistent question. So, what is it we think LeBron can do, right? Because, you know, we consider to debate whether or not he should or shouldn`t. But more, far more interesting to me is the idea of like, OK, so what`s the play here? Is it the president will listen to LeBron because we know the president loves basketball? Is it white folks will listen because we know LeBron -- is it there`s money involved and we saw it happen at Mizzou. And so if you bring down the money, you`ll get a response? What do you think the strategy suggested?
JAMIL SMITH, SR. EDITOR, NEW REPUBLIC: Well, I think it really is a cultural impact that he can have. It`s really not a local impact. We got to address those in two separate spheres. First, the cultural impact is that he could definitely bring this to another level of visibility. Tamir Rice is already an international story. But you have to, you know, realize that like, you know, after these cases are adjudicated, after it`s decided that there`s no indictment, those stories tend to fade from the headlines. And so, he could definitely play a role in keeping this visible.
That said, on a local level, I mean, if you`re asking LeBron James to boycott games until Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback are put in jail, you`re basically asking him to retire, because that is exactly what would happen. No pressure is going to be brought to bear on the local Cleveland government or especially the local Cleveland police department, to make changes in light of LeBron`s absence. In fact, I think it might anger locals more than it actually.
SMITH: . you know, creates a freeze (ph) problem.
JASON PAGE, HOST UP LATE WITH JASON PAGE, NBC SPORTS RADIO: And the reality is, I hate to say this, because it`s the unfortunate truth there. More people in Ohio care about the Cleveland Cavaliers winning an NBA title in this title starved city than they do about Tamir Rice. Sorry, but that`s the reality.
PERRY: Right. I think that`s precisely what the movement`s saying, right?
PAGE: Of this idea that LeBron should sit out for any amount of time to me, it`s absurd because it`s not going to happen.
ZIRIN: But that`s not what they`re asking.
ZIRIN: I mean, can I just.
PERRY: Dave, yeah, yeah.
ZIRIN: Just because I think it`s a bit of a straw man to say that Tariq Toure was saying he needs to sit out indefinitely until there`s justice for Tamir Rice. Of course that`s an absurd thing. That`s what they said explicitly with him sitting out and trying to get other players on Martin Luther King Day, which would be a beautiful powerful symbolic act to say that he does take that idea seriously, that he has a leadership role in the city of Cleveland. And it`s hard to imagine a big backlash for him to sit out one game to say wait a minute, the death of a 12-year-old matters more than hoops on this one day where we celebrate the memory of Dr. King.
PERRY: So a little bit, Monica, I want to bring you in here because this for me is fascinating. Even, Jason, your assertion, and I think it`s an assertion that the activists recognize that more people care about a title than about a 12-year-old killed by police. But is the fact that activists are going to LeBron an indication of the utter powerlessness of black folks in this country? Like is one of -- does it mean in the end like -- because you just -- you sort of feel like when white folks want something done, they don`t really call Tom Brady or Tim Tebow but not like, you know, please, take justice for us, right?
DENNIS: I think it`s what we`re calling for is a strategy -- it`s so disheartening to hear LeBron`s lack of response or the response because he actually would be Tamir Rice, right? Like when you think about how he presents physically, right, being a large person, a large black boy growing up in this community. So, it`s so disheartening for him to not be able to respond and to take part in this.
And what we`re calling for is not out of our powerlessness but actually tapping into the power that we know he has, right. That there is actually a connection between the businesses that the economy that he`s creating in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and actually how policing actually happens, right. So, it`s not this random request for just -- to sit out in some symbolic view of solidarity, but it`s also connected to economic justice, to policing, to all of that.
PERRY: What about a little bit, can we have just one piece of that in a very specific way, how the LeBron economy is connected?
DENNIS: Absolutely. So, many of -- just if we look at any athletic store that is selling LeBron paraphernalia, right, a lot of those stores actually use racial profiling to be able to profile and stop and frisk young black people that are coming in to that, right?
And so, what if LeBron was to actually take a stand and say, actually, you`re not allowed to do this in my name because these people are my people. These people look like me, I reflect them and in such, you`re going to have to shift policy. Because we know there`s a connection between where we shop, what we`re doing and how profiling is actually happening. So there is a direct connection there.
PAGE: So what Dave is saying that, well, it`s a straw man argument. Well, people want LeBron to do something than say specifically what it is you want him to do. It`s like the person who says, well, I don`t like this. Well, what do you want to do to change it? I don`t know.
PERRY: No, I think they did.
PAGE: Well, not.
PERRY: I think they made a.
PAGE: I think people need to be very specific as to what they want. But at the same time, if LeBron James doesn`t want to sit out a game, there are a lot of ways he can have an impact on this topic without sitting out a game costing his team a game. To me.
PERRY: But this is interesting though.
DENNIS: Exactly that`s the problem.
PERRY: Because it does feel to me like the point is to impose the cost, right?
PERRY: And I think about these kids in Missouri. And, you know, and I have not had an opportunity to interview any of the actual ball players. But at some point, these are kids, I mean, these are kids risking athletic scholarships, right? We know about the vulnerability of these NCAA players.
Dave has written about it, you`ve written about it, Jamil, and yet they got to some kind of breaking point. And as far as I know, there was no 12- year-old killed by campus boy. But even they were like, OK, yo, for real? It is only would we extract the cost that a thing happens.
More on this, I promise. So much more on this. Stay right with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN CURRY, NBA STAR: I heard about a shooting involving a three-year- old girl over the summer. My daughter Riley is that age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a point when I felt I was going to die.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My parents just always say a bullet don`t have a name on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone put a bullet in the back of my 14-year-old son`s head.
CARMELO ANTHONY, NBA STAR: A gun should never been an option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: That is part of the public service announcement on guns featuring NBA superstars like Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony. The NBA team up with the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety for the ad campaign that made its debut during the high-profile games on Christmas day. Because this mean basketball is ready to embrace politics in a new way.
Jamil, when it comes to you on that, I mean on when we were having this conversation about LeBron and what I heard you saying, in part, you also, Jason, is the idea that, well, if he stops playing, it actually removes his power, right? And so, we see here players who are playing who are using their voice. We`ve seen -- you know, I mean even in his Instagram feed and Twitter feed, LeBron used his voice. But is there something about his fulcrum of power that could go further in this case?
SMITH: Yes. I don`t think that necessarily this particular tactic is the way to go but I don`t necessarily think that he should altogether forgo activism. I think that there`s certainly some things that he could do to make his voice heard namely, work with other players to do something visible on the court. Not to boycott the games and have their absence speak for them but to do something on the court. Say, wear a shirt with Tamir`s face on it.
Now granted, I`m a journalist, I don`t -- I`m not an activist, I don`t want to give advice necessarily as to what they should do but I definitely feel like that would be more effective in at least, you know, advocating cultural change and cultural awareness of the Tamir Rice case. You know, if not actually pushing for solutions on a local level.
PERRY: Right. So, Dave, let me come to you on that. I mean, so the John Carlos/Tommie Smith moment, right?
PERRY: Initially, they discussed boycotting the `68 games, right? That was the first kind of piece. And then made a decision to go ahead, to go to the games, to win, right, those medals, and then to stand on the medal stand. Is there a medal stand strategy here that is possible that isn`t about boycotting but instead about using that moment?
ZIRIN: No question about it. In those 1968 games, one player who signed up for the boycott and didn`t go to the Olympics was Lew Alcindor who later became known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And we forget that Lew Alcindor did that. Would we have forgotten if all seven foot three inch Lew Alcindor had raised his fist on a metal stand? No. We`d be talking about that for decades to come. So there`s no question that there are different ways for athletes to leverage their cultural capital to be heard.
And I`m for all tactics. Like this is a part of the -- if you go back and look at what they were writing in the 1960s in the black press about athletes being part of the civil rights movement, it was like, we`re all in. We want to ask Willie Mays. We also want to ask the guy on the corner. We want to ask the governor. Everybody has to be asked. Because this is one of those red phone moments, if you will, that, you know, Tamir Rice is dead. This is our country. We all should have something to say about it.
So it`s like if you want to boycott, you should boycott. If you want to wear a shirt, you should wear a shirt. You want to challenge power, challenge power because the alternative is the status quo. And I think that`s what so many people are finding unbearable at this moment.
PERRY: So, Jason, I want to ask.
PERRY: . for me, part of the challenge is of course you go to LeBron. LeBron have said, I want to be an activist. So of course you go to him. But is there also responsibility to not ask exclusively players of color to be responsible for activism around this? In other words, to ask of the entire NBA or the entire NFL to be part of what we saw begin to happen, for example, in the Dawn Sterling case, where there was such consensus that what had happened there was problematic and also very personal to those Clippers players themselves.
PAGE: Yes, but at the same time you have to understand that not everybody may subscribe to the same theories that you, me, Jamil, Monica.
PERRY: The world does not agree with us?
PERRY: What is this world.
PAGE: You`re asking an entire league to join in on something. And the idea as Dave mentioned before, all in, go all, you know, black athletes have to go all in, well, Willie Mays wasn`t making eight figures. None of these guys are making seven figures. And it`s also something to tell that I was making.
PERRY: But should -- but -- OK, but.
PAGE: . minimum wage in the NBA which may seem like a lot to us.
PERRY: No, I`m with you.
PAGE: But a finite time to make money in your career. You`re cuttable. You`re extendible. All these guys could be let go at a moment`s notice.
PERRY: Look, I hear you, and I.
PAGE: And that`s why it matters.
PERRY: I hear you and I feel you on a personal level there, right. Like the number of times people have said, oh, the company for which you work is doing some terrible thing, stop doing your job. And I`m like, sir. And then I will go buy my groceries tomorrow, right? So don`t get me wrong. I feel on a personal level precisely what you`re talking about. On the other hand, it`s also a little odd to make the argument that because they are wealthier, they are somehow more vulnerable than they were when they were less wealthy relative to the overall population.
DENNIS: Correct. And also that the protection of the NBA doesn`t protect those -- the children of those players, right? And so, I could be actually on the court making these decisions, being part of a team or being part of a winning franchise and my child or their children can actually be killed, snatched up by the police, right? And so it`s not.
PERRY: Which is what Stephen was saying when he says my daughter is that age, it is that sense of, you know, that vulnerability is not covered by.
DENNIS: Absolutely. And at some point we have to -- we`re calling for people to take a stand, right? And so, as Dave was saying, this has been, we`ve demonstrated over the last year and a half, this has been a multi- prong strategy, right? And so calling LeBron forth, like I said earlier, I wish he was taking a little bit out of Serena Williams` playbook about speaking directly to some of the issues of race, right? And so, this is part of a long history of needing black athletes who have this visibility to stand up not only for those of us in communities but quite frankly for themselves.
PERRY: So whether.
PERRY: Everybody`s staying with us. Everybody`s staying with us but I`m going to take a quick break. Because whether or not NBA players should stand up, I think we`re all in agreement that presidents ought to, in fact, take positions on political issues. And guess what, the president is stepping up to the line the latest and the possible executive action on guns when we come back.
PERRY: President Obama is starting the New Year with new resolve on gun control. He`s set to meet with attorney general, Loretta Lynch, Monday to talk about what he can do on his own in the executive action without involving Congress. The president made guns the focus of his new year`s address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: The tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have been mowed down by gun violence, tens of thousands. Each time, we`re told that commonsense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre or the one before that so we shouldn`t do anything. We know we can`t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: For more on this, let`s bring in NBC News correspondent, Ron Allen, who`s in Hawaii where the first family`s on vacation. Ron, what can you tell us about the type of measures the president is considering?
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that the administration has been talking about now for several weeks or months. They`ve been working on it very carefully because they know that this is something that`s going to meet a lot of opposition. They have -- the president has issued executive orders about gun issues before in the past following Newtown. But what he`s talking about now we think is something much more sweeping, much more fundamental.
And as you heard in his remarks here, the New Year`s address, the focus seems to be on this matter of background checks, expanding who is subject to background checks. We`ve heard a lot about so called gun show loophole, the online loophole, which allows purchases to happen in those forms without background checks being conducted by the sellers on the buyers. Unclear exactly how many sales will be affected. Probably thousands. Perhaps more. It`s something that there are not precise records on. But that seems to be one of the areas, the big area, if you will, of focus for the president on executive action. Unclear, though.
The president started this process with a team, a task force, after the shooting at the community college in Oregon several weeks ago where ten were killed, including the gunman. And they`ve been very secretive about it. They have not spelled out exactly what the president wants to do but we know that this issue of stopping gun violence, of running mass shootings is what the president has called the biggest frustration of his presidency in his time in office, his inability to do more to stop these mass shootings.
He`s spoken to the nation, consulted the nation more than a dozen times during his time in office. Each time, you can see the anguish, the frustration, the emotion on his face as he tries to do this and deal with this issue that he just sees fundamentally different from his opponents. He thinks that the country should do more, should do something as he, again, said in his remarks. But each time he`s tried to pass major legislation, the Congress has blocked it. And there`s no indication that Congress is going to do anything going forward, so the president is trying to take matters into his own hands.
PERRY: It`s going to be fascinating to watch the way that the president makes choices in this final year, you know, to the extent that he -- that he believes that Congress is not going to act and the ways that he, you know, clearly is frustrated on the question of guns.
Thank you to NBC`s Ron Allen in Honolulu, Hawaii where it is still quite early. Thank you for getting up and joining us this morning.
And before we go to break, a few words on the passing of singer Natalie Cole. She was born into music royalty. Her father, Nat King Cole, was a jazz legend and cast a very long shadow but Natalie was able to make her name for herself, with a voice all her own. Winning nine Grammys with songs like "This Will Be" and "I`ve Got Love On My Mind."
Her career suffered a setback as she struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in 1970s, but by 1991, she was back on top with the album "Unforgettable" with love. She teamed up electronically with her late father`s voice and it truly was unforgettable in every way. She got a Grammy for that, too, and gave us all the gift of that song for generations to follow. Natalie Cole died Thursday. She was 65.
PERRY: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returned to the New York Giants this week after a one-game suspension over multiple violations of the league safety rules. One of those violations involves a direct helmet blow against Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman in a game on December 20th.
Now Beckham`s apologized for his actions but since his suspension reports have emerged that panthers players had taunted Beckham before the game with anti-gay slurs and that some players were holding baseball bats in a menacing fashion during pre-game warmups and motioning with them towards Beckham.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera has denied the use of homophobic slurs by his players. But according to Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, Beckham is the subject of homophobic taunts throughout the season and from nearly every team. When asked about reports of slurs, Beckham simply responded, words are words.
So Jason, this space for me was an interesting one happening at the same time, in part because the calls for sports as a space for social activism are sometimes about race but also sometimes about other marginal identities and this feels like one of them. I really love that Beckham`s response was not I am not gay. Like, I mean, I have no idea actually what Beckham`s sexuality is. But whatever it is, that he didn`t feel some great need to distance. And yet I`m a little astonished that these young people are still using "you`re gay" as a slur -- like are you -- that`s a creative (inaudible)?
PAGE: That`s what athletes do though. It`s all about the mental game and trying to get inside your head. And what was disappointing to me and Ron Rivera`s comments from the Panthers` perspective was the comments post-game on the record from his players, Josh Norman and Cortland Finnegan were clearly pointing in a very roundabout way to Odell Beckham Jr.`s sexuality.
So the fact that he`s sitting there saying, well, there`s no way they could have possibly -- by the way, how does he know? He wasn`t anywhere near these conversations. So he has no idea if his players were making homophobic comments before the game started.
And if you don`t think something like those comments could set off somebody, I don`t know if Odell Beckham Jr. is gay or not. But i know the one time in my life that I ever had a violent moment where I almost hurt somebody really bad, and it`s not something I`m proud of was a time where I was at a competition. I`m not going to go into what. But I was at a competition and somebody called me a fag. And I went after this person.
If I had gotten to then, I`d be in jail.
PERRY: Right. Much less if you`re playing a game where your actual job is to hit one another.
PAGE: You`re already going a hundred miles an hour. It wouldn`t shock me if whether Odell Beckham Jr. is gay or not, that sort of directive towards him or whatever it may be could have set him off.
PERRY: So Dave, let me ask you about this, because I think there`s a point here to be made that like trash talking is like the core reality of sports in spades, like you didn`t really don`t have a game (inaudible) worth about somebody trash talking. But is this -- you know, is this going beyond trash talking to a kind of hate speech?
ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, in the NFL an LGBT issues, I mean, they`re less progressive than the Flintstones. And they`re antediluvian on this stuff. And any effort they try to say otherwise is ridiculous. They don`t do any kind of training, any kind of talk. They don`t do anything frankly that the NBA does to try to say to its players, wait a minute, gayness is not trash talk. You cannot do that.
And I`ll tell you another side of the story which is disturbing, but it`s part of the sports story of this is the very next week Josh Norman was absolutely torched by Julio Jones of the Falcons. And a lot of his teammates said that his mind was out of the game because of how Odell Beckham responded at the end of that Giants game by hitting Josh Norman with his helmet and then catching a tying touchdown.
So in NFL circles and some players I`ve talked to, Odell Beckham`s violent response has been valorized which has its own odd feel to it, because it`s, like, how do you best respond to homophobia, with violence. And if you do that, then that violence is valorized. And the last thing we need in the NFL is more valorized violence.
DENNIS: Right. So maybe he`s gay but at least he is appropriately violent. Yeah.
SMITH: Right. I mean, I was actually at that game with (inaudible) this Giants` game. And I mean, very -- I mean, it`s almost the third play that you saw those two fighting and going after it. And granted, first of all, look, the refs should have stopped it, number one.
But two is the fact that this really has to do with the fact that, you know, this isn`t so much about homophobia as it is about hating women and about hating female "female behavior." I mean, I was there as a guest of the You Can Play Team. This is, you know, Wade Davis` group that seeks to eradicate homophobian sports.
And, you know, at the heart of the home phobia, especially on athletic level, is a hatred of women, or at least it`s toxic, especially toxic black masculinity, which we espouse -- where we can`t be seen looking happy, we can`t smile. It`s like, you know, we got to look like this.
And that`s manhood to us. And the idea that you see Odell Beckham on Instagram being a carefree black man is a relief. And I think there was an excellent article in slate that addressed this issue. The fact that Odell Beckham is not engaging, at least, rhetorically (ph) with that homophobia is a relief. But at the same time, you know, I wonder if by his violent reaction he is inviting more attacks.
PAGE: Another aspect of the story by the way, too, Ron Rivera`s son, coach of the Panthers, is gay, so his reaction to this, even more so, was somewhat disturbing to me.
DENNIS: But it just -- I would completely agree, that we know homo phobia is rooted in a hatred of women, right. And so the ways in which in a larger society, right, the NFL is just a microcosm of what is happening in larger society and yet we just continue to endorse the violence that is sanctioned against our queer folks across the country, trans folks across the country, and women and it is all completely intercepted and to reward people for it and if there`s license to do it in the NFL.
PERRY: And this question of violence, I mean, what I want to turn to next is exactly the cost being extracted of that violence on the players themselves who up next, "Concussion", the movie and the reality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL SMITH AS DR. BENNET OMALU AT THE MOVIE CONCUSION: You know what history does to people, trained physicians who ignore science.
ALBERT BROOKS AS DR. CYRIL WECHT AT THE MOVIE CONCUSION: Oh, wow.
OMALU: I am not done. History laughs. If you continue to deny my work, the world will deny my work. But men, your men, continue to die. Their families left in ruins. Tell the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: That`s the now Golden Globe Nominee, Will Smith in the new movie "Concussion" where he plays the real life Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist whose findings of CTE of football-related brain trauma rocked the league. Now, real life players are weighing in after seeing the movie.
Former Cleveland Browns quarterback, Bernie Kosar, tweeted "At the movie `Concussion` words can`t describe the range of emotions. Former Saint Louis quarterback, Kurt Warner, tweeted, "Took my boys to `Concussion` last night, important movie for all those involved in the game. As we know more we must do more." Current Seattle cornerback, Richard Sherman says "He didn`t need to see the film because he, quote, sees a concussion movie every Sunday for free. Love that baby. NFL Commissioner Goodell told reporters the league is not focused on a movie but on making continuing progress and preventing injuries. Citing rule changes and continued research.
But beyond players and league, fans must also come to terms with the implications of the film. My guess, Dave Zirin, writes in the Nation, "We live in a time when the NFL is the most popular cultural product this nation produces. In a time of more channels, more choices, more website, more podcasts, the more options, the NFL`S ratings and reach have only increased and entrenched. The league as pure power, but demonstrably built on a foundation of broken lives.
Dave, we have been talking about the ways that athletes might be used and their position -- they might use their own position to highlight these questions of kind of social inequity. But you know, we`ve talked about the NCAA and their labor rights. We`ve talked about, you know, here now, "Concussion" and the pro-players in the NFL. Can they even act on their own behalf?
ZIRIN: To do so, they will have to do what Will Smith said. And that`s tell the truth. And sorry, that was a bad idea.
PERRY: that was bad, Dave, yes, OK.
ZIRIN: It`s all right. I do a better Will Smith as Ali but that would be for another show. But in this particular case, the telling the truth part is really important. What separates the NFL from every other profession in this country is that is it`s the -- it is the only industry with 100 percent injury rate. And for players to tell that truth is also a cautionary tale away from the sport itself.
So the NFL is working overtime right now. Roger Goodell is working overtime on public relations. Working very interestingly with mom`s groups that they`re setting up, this kind of AstroTurf group to say that this sport can be safe for your child. And it`s simply not true. Science is not the NFL`S friend.
And tragically, the Nfl, you know, using people like Ari Fleischer who worked with Bush, and Frank Luntz who -- long-time Republican pollster is trying to turn football into a kind of red-state, blue-state global warming issue where you choose not to believe the science as almost like a totem of your independence instead of actually looking clearly what`s in the best interest of our kids, what`s in the best interest of their brains, what`s in the best interest of our country.
PERRY: So Jamil, this one is hard for me. I mean, some folks they know you were a producer on this show before, you know, going off and blowing up. And -- But you and I would constantly talked football because both of us -- I mean, I watched basketball, you know, Wake Forest taught me to love basketball. But football is my heart. It`s my sport. And yet every time we would do these (inaudible) it was just like -- is it -- is it even OK to watch the sport, you know.
SMITH: Right. I mean, I often had the dilemma. I work NFL films as you remember, as a producer prior to working here. And my dilemma with the game certainly lies in the fact that, you know, inevitably, you know, like Dave said, someone is going to get hurt pretty much on every play.
But I mean, you know, the game, you know, there`s 32 cathedrals built to this sport in every major city in the country and with Los Angeles soon to come. So you have here, you know, an entrenched sport that we have to figure out how we`re going to address or fix.
And frankly, the NFL still remains -- I mean, this dates back to when i was working for them. They still remain absolutely, you know, in a different world, on a different planet when it comes to this stuff. Because, you know, I don`t understand where on earth that they think that they can get away with just saying that, you know, youth football, you know, we have safer helmets. You know, we teach them proper tackling techniques that their games are going to be safe.
I mean, the Dr. Bennet Omalu wrote in New York Times op-ed recently stating that there should be an age limit, and I agree with him. I think that you have here a sport that reflects I think our nature as a nation. It reflects all the good stuff, all the pageantry, all the beauty and the wonderful acrobatics. And we also.
PAGE: What bad things do.
PERRY: . asked the president what sport politics was, you know, again, just assuming he was going to say basketball, because that`s what (inaudible) for every thing he`s like, football. And then he try to claim was about like finding a hole and being able to go forward. But I`m thinking no, he means getting beat up, right, blood sport.
PAGE: Yeah. Here`s the reality. They obviously have to make the game safer. But where I come from on this is different than a lot of people and that my sympathy quotient has waned over the years. Twenty-five years ago, nobody understood the effect of concussions. Now, you`re going in you know the score.
PERRY: So you see the choice.
PAGE: If you choose -- it`s absolutely a choice. Nobody is forced to work in the NFL! Nobody is forced to play the game. It`s the same thing with NASCAR. If you want to drive around an oval track three-wide at 200 miles an hour and you get killed, yeah, it`s sad, but it`s an occupational hazard. And that`s what this is now in the NFL. It`s an occupational hazard.
DENNIS. I would say it`s more than an occupational hazard. So if you look at the makeup of the NFL and many of those players actually coming from some of the communities we`ve been talking about in previous segments, right, from the Akron Ohio`s and places all throughout the country where people feel like this is their -- this is their only way out. And so to say that it`s an occupational hazard, again, this is why we need to have.
PAGE: Create other ways out.
DENNIS: Create -- absolutely create a way out and if people are choosing to opt-in or feeling like that`s the only way to opt-in, where`s our where`s our responsibility to making sure that it`s as safe as possible if that`s even a reality.
PERRY: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, it`s interesting to me talk about your quotient sort of waning. I guess for me it`s almost like the level of passion that all of us can have, not (inaudible) but as a country about head injuries, about concussion, and yet we`re still, right, trying to work up that level of passion about, right, the death of unarmed children often in these communities.
And so I think there`s also a question about how connected we are to certain kinds of outcomes. And what kind of bodies we think are supposed to be OK and which ones we don`t think are supposed to be OK.
Jason, thank you for being here and thanks for taking all that Twitter hate in order bring us.
PAGE: I still love you guys even though you`re telling me on my phone right now.
PERRY: Dave Zirin, as always, Happy New Year. Thank you for joining us today. And here in New York, thank you to also Monica Dennis and Jamil Smith.
Up next, it`s my first letter of the year and it`s to Oprah Winfrey.
PERRY: It`s the start of a new year. And topping the resolutions of millions of Americans is the goal of slimming down in 2016. Predictable new year, new you efforts mean that gym-goers have long weights for the e elliptical, and the weight loss industry has bigger profits for the quarter.
The commercial weight-loss industry is hoping for a very big 2016, because even though the Americans to lose weight supports of $60 billion industry, revenues of traditional staples like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem have tumbled in recent years as consumers increasingly turn to smarphone apps and personal fitness trackers.
Basically, insider reports have been showing weight-loss industry profits flatter than Jillian Michael`s abs until Oprah. In October, she acquired a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers for a cool $43.2 million. And since Oprah bought in shares for Weight Watchers are up 235 percent.
Now the latest boosts for the company have come in the past week on the heels of Oprah`s new T.V. commercial where she asked women to join her on a personal weight loss journey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be. Many times, you look in the mirror, and you don`t even recognize your own self, because you have gotten lost, buried in the weight that you carry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: There is no denying the power of Oprah to shape national discourse and move entire segments of the economy. So whether or not she personally drops any pounds, this partnership with Weight Watchers is likely to succeed. But when I saw the commercial, I could not help but feel a little distress and that`s why my letter of the week is to Oprah Winfrey.
Dear Oprah, it`s me Melissa. Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best and much success in all of your endeavors this year including dropping some weight if that`s one of the goals.
But after watching your recent commercial for Weight Watchers, I wanted to let you know that even if you never shed a pound, girl, you are still everything. I mean, I know that your struggle with weight has been long and often personally painful.
And having spent my 30`s gaining and losing a few dress sizes more than a few times, I get it. And I empathize with the particular stress and shame that could go on with managing on a grown woman figure under the harsh light of public scrutiny in studio lightning, but ma`am, you are Oprah Winfrey.
I mean, from surviving childhood poverty and sexual abuse, you have become one of the most influential humans on the planet. You have Emmys and awards and honors, oh, too numerous to count. You not only are first American and only black American woman to make the Forbes billionaire list you consistently ranked among the most generous philanthropist in world. Since that you make the wealth and you share it, like no other black woman ever has.
With a nod, you can generate a bestseller, you launch a career, even help elect a president. And in just the past few years, you`ve delivered commencement addresses Harvard and Stanford and Howard and Spelman, later this month, you will turn 62, and you don`t seem to show any signs of slowing down as you continue to make T.V., make money, and make a difference for many around the world. You are a genuine, singular, unprecedented, and may I say flawless boss.
So when you say this in your new commercial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WINFREY: Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Well, I`m thinking to myself, but, oh, you are already precisely the woman so many are striving to be. Who you are, what you have accomplish, how you have influenced and altered the world is all so much important than your dress size. There is not one thing that you have done that would have been more extraordinary if you had done it with the 25 inch waist.
Now, maybe I`m taking it personally, because my teen daughter happens to shares your birthday, January 29th. And I regularly remind her that sharing a birthday with you means she`s especially obligated to strive towards greatness. And I worry as a mom and as a woman about the messages our daughters receive if they think a woman as phenomenal as you is still not enough unless she is thin.
Oprah, May 2016 be a definitive for you and for all of us who struggle to be fit and healthy and self-accepting. But let me just emphasize that you are a remarkable woman. And I for one don`t care if you never reach a goal weight, because you have already achieved such weighty goals.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at for watching. I`ll see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re going to talk about the president`s final year in office, and his promise to leave it all on the field.
And now it`s a time for preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT", but, Francis Rivera is sitting in. Hey, Frances.
FRANCES RIVERA, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Melissa. Happy New Year to you.
PERRY: Thank you.
RIVERA: And as we start this morning we will have reaction to the Tamir Rice decision. We`ll hear from the family attorney about why two police officers were not charged in the shooting of a 12-year-old. It is less than one month ago before the Iowa caucus says who win and how will the others hang on?
Also the weather system that brought the country flooding, tornadoes and warm weather is sticking around, but just how long will it last?
Keep it right here. We`ll be right back.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END