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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/03/14

Guests: Letitia James, Paul Butler

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man. CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for being with us at this hour. These are the live images that we`ve got right now of protests that are continuing to spark in New York City. You`re looking here, I believe, you`re looking at the island of Manhattan. I thought this was going to be Times Square, but that doesn`t look like Times Square to me. Control room, can you tell me if that`s Times Square? I think that looks like the West Side Highway, but we`ll try to -- it is West Side Highway in Manhattan. This is a shot of Times Square. These crowds have grown pretty substantially in the last couple of hours and are continuing to grow here in New York both at static locations like around Rockefeller Center, the building from which we broadcast here in midtown Manhattan, but also roving throughout the city. We`ve got images also -- I think we`ve got images from Union Square in Manhattan. Some large crowds gathered earlier in Union Square in downtown Manhattan tonight. This is the scene at the tree lighting ceremony in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, earlier this evening. You can see there`s chanting, carrying signs at that city`s big holiday event. This is a nice composition here with the dancers and then the stop killer cops sign in the foreground. These signs here, this is from Washington, D.C., protesters at Dupont Circle in D.C. chanting and holding signs. People saying, "Black lives matter", saying, "I can`t breathe". Protesters were also stopping traffic tonight in New Orleans. This is an image from New Orleans. Again, people holding signs saying, "Black lives matter." This is what it looks like on the street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, tonight. On the West Coast tonight, it looks like from early images we have that protesters are beginning to coalesce in Los Angeles, online organizers have been using the #latonyc. This is St. Louis, Missouri, tonight where there were protests and arrests outside the courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. If you`re having a hard time right now telling the difference between the protests over the killing of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri, and the protests today and tonight over the killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island, I have to tell you that`s not an unreasonable thing to be confused about. This right here is one of the protests over Eric Garner. But if this reminds you of what the protests look over Michael Brown, that overlap is real, that confusion is understandable. These protests that you`re looking at here tonight again are going on about Eric Garner in New York City and in other cities around the country. They`re happening at the same time that the protests about Ferguson, Missouri`s Michael Brown are still happening as well. For example, these were images from Union Station, from the big train station in Washington, D.C., just yesterday. We also have images from the campus of American University, also in Washington, D.C. These were just earlier today. These were the protests about the killing of Michael Brown. But these protests took place hours before the grand jury announcement was made about the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. And so, part of what you are seeing tonight in New York and elsewhere is a direct response to the Eric Garner killing and nobody being charged for having killed Eric Garner in Staten Island this past July. But part of what you`re seeing in these protests right now is a cumulative thing. I mean, each of these cases is different. Each has its own and stands on its own terms and is a tragedy. But hard to see them as stand- alone incidents when they are a pattern of similar deaths, similar cases that keep happening in all different parts of the country. I mean, one of the things that happened today in addition to the continuing Ferguson protests about Michael Brown, in addition to the new Eric Garner protests about the grand jury announcement regarding the Eric Garner case, one of the things that happened in addition to that today was also the funeral of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio, 12 days ago. Tamir Rice`s middle school teacher spoke today at his funeral. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TAMIR RICE`S TEACHER, CLEVELAND, OHIO: Tamir enjoyed life. It just exuded from his very being. He loved to joke around and compete against other students. Tamir talked often of his mother and was very protective of his mother. Tamir consistently -- came to school every single day. He didn`t miss a day. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He didn`t miss a day. The funeral for 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by Cleveland police in a park ten days ago, that 12-year-old boy`s funeral was held this morning in Ohio. Then, just after 2:00 this afternoon Eastern Time, word came down from a grand jury in Staten Island, New York, that they would be bringing no charges against any New York City police officer for the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner. Eric Garner died while police were trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes for 50 cents a piece near the Staten Island ferry terminal. That`s what they thought he was doing. That`s what they thought they were trying to arrest him for and he died in custody. The grand jury`s decision was leaked first. It was announced then in early afternoon. And these protests you see springing up in Manhattan at first sprang up organically in response to that. In response to that announcement, I should tell you that more protests in more places are planned for tomorrow and nobody knows how big those protests will be or what their overall character will be. But the Eric Garner case in Staten Island is not a case in which any of the protests and upset around that case have been violent or riotous in the past. This is an interesting distinction. A big part of the reason the story of Michael Brown became a touchstone about race and civil rights and policing and violence is because the local community in Ferguson, Missouri, after that killing reacted so angrily and with so much vehemence after young Michael Brown was shot. The rioting, the police response to the rioting, those huge at times violent confrontations in the streets around suburban St. Louis, around that Michael Brown case, that was what turned that case into such a huge point of national conversation and national anger. The Eric Garner case has not like that before now. And it`s an important distinction to make. I mean, what happened in the Eric Garner case was this. July 17th, Eric Garner was approached by police on the street in Staten Island, again near the Staten Island ferry terminal. Reportedly, police approached him because he was illegally selling untaxed, individual cigarettes. So, you don`t want the buy a whole pack, this guy on the street will sell you a cigarette for 50 cents. Technically, yes, that is a crime. It is not the world`s worst crime. While plainclothes police officers were trying to arrest Eric Garner, one officer grabbed him by the neck from behind. Mr. Garner stumbled. He fell to the ground. At least three other officers converged on him, held him down forcibly. And he died there on the street. This video of the incident was posted online several hours after the incident happened. It was posted online by the "New York Daily News." The video was taken by a bystander on a cell phone that very clearly shows this very disturbing scene on that street in Staten Island in July. It clearly shows the one officer grabbing Mr. Garner by the neck and then others holding hit head down by force, jamming him into the pavement. The tape also clearly captured Eric Garner saying what turned out to be his dying words, saying, "I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe", saying it at least eight times. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIC GARNER: Don`t touch me. Do not touch me. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn, man. (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s down. He`s down. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands, buddy. (CROSSTALK) GARNER: I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe", over and over again. Eric Garner was killed in that incident, killed by police on July 17th. That night, "The New York Daily News", as I said, posted this very disturbing video online. A few days later, there was a small protest in Staten Island by people who were upset about the Eric Garner killing. But that protest in Staten Island, it was not like what had happened in the streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed. It wasn`t until August. In August, the results of the autopsy performed on Eric Garner`s body were released and the autopsy results were very stark and very blunt and very upsetting to a lot of people. "The New York Daily News" report the day that the medical examiner`s report was released, their article about it started with these words, "It was a homicide and the chokehold killed him." It was a very blunt report from the New York City medical examiner. It said Eric Garner was killed in a homicide, and what killed him was a compression of his neck and chest by those police officers who everybody saw doing exactly that in that very disturbing video. Medical examiner`s report was released in August. And then there was the huge protest that New York City saw over the killing of Eric Garner. Saturday, August 23rd, thousands participated in a protest over Eric Garner`s death. It was -- it was very large and therefore it was disruptive in the fact that it had traffic routed around it and it brought up a large police presence. But that protest was entirely peaceful, that giant August protest against the killing of Eric Garner. This Eric Garner case is not one that people have been worried about nationwide, but there`s been rioting about it already, there`s been violence in the streets about it already. There hasn`t been, at all. There`s been only peaceful protest about the Eric Garner case since it happened. The only reason this case has been a source of national upset and national concern and national worry about what the response might be if a decision was made that nobody should be charged in this death, the reason in this case that there`s been a cause for national concern is because of this video. It`s not because people have behaved badly in their anger over what happened to Eric Garner, it`s because of this video which shows what happened, which is very hard at a laymen`s level to square with the idea that when this man died, it was nobody`s fault. In section 203-11 of the New York Police Department`s patrol guide it`s made very clear that police officers are not allowed to choke people. Quote, "Members of the New York City Police Department will not use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include but is not limited to any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air." Police officers are not supposed to use chokeholds. Very clearly they do. The civilian complaint review board for the New York Police Department says over the past four years, they`ve received more than a thousand citizen complaints of police officers using chokeholds. And out of over 1,000 complaints about police officers using chokeholds, precisely nine officers have been disciplined over that same time period for using chokeholds. Of those nine officers who were disciplined for using chokeholds, none were given a harsher sanction than the loss of some vacation days. And it`s not just statistical information about this. We`ve also got some disturbing anecdotal information about this, like the video of Eric Garner being choked to death. Like this video showing police officers seeming to put a kid in a pretty brutal chokehold for the alleged crime of jumping the turnstile at a subway station to beat the fare. The last time a New York City police officer was charged with killing one using chokehold was 20 years ago in 1994. It was a young man named Anthony Baez. He was killed in the Bronx by a police officer who choked him after a football that Anthony Baez was playing with bounced off the officer`s patrol car. In that case, a grand jury did decide that the officer should be put on trial for killing Anthony Baez by choking him to death. But at trial, that officer was acquitted. Then, that same officer was brought up on charges again in federal court. And in federal court, the officer was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. That`s the last time a New York police officer was charged for choking someone. In the Eric Garner case, the police officer who put Eric Garner in a choke hold before he died is till on the police force. Although while the grand jury was investigating this case, he was put on desk duty. He was not carrying his gun. It`s still unclear whether the NYPD will keep on the force, or will discipline in any way for his involvement in this incident, now that we know that local charges will not be brought against that officer. It`s also unclear whether or not federal charges might be brought in this case as well, like they were in the Anthony Baez case 20 years ago. Late tonight, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the just department has opened a federal probe into the death of Eric Garner. If the local federal prosecutor, local U.S. attorney does decide to bring charges in this case, it`s worth noting that the local U.S. prosecutor here, the local U.S. attorney in this jurisdiction is this woman. She`s named Loretta Lynch. And she has just been nominated by President Obama to succeed Eric Holder as the next attorney general of the United States. She`s got jurisdiction here. Joining us from Staten Island live is Trymaine Lee, national reporter for MSNBC. Trymaine, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate your time. TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So, Trymaine, in terms of the reaction in Staten Island, it seems like the protests tonight have been centered in Manhattan, and we`re starting to see reports about protests in a lot of other major cities as well. What`s been the reaction in Staten Island tonight? LEE: So, I`m standing just several yards from where Eric Garner died in that June -- that July day. And unlike some of the other protest, it hasn`t been raucous here. It hasn`t been overly angry, but there`s a feeling that there`s a weight and a kind of hopelessness. Folks who had not necessarily expected that there would be an indictment but there was always hope that there would be an indictment. And few minutes ago, over in the corner not far from here, I spoke to a young man named Aaron who looked me in the eye and said, where do we go from here? What can we do? Even when it`s on video, he said, and an officer is seen choking a man, we can`t get justice there. If not here, then when? And so, that`s the sense. When you talk to folks on the ground, there`s kind of a confusion. They don`t understand, one, how this officer in this situation could not be indicted but then couple that with the Mike Brown situation, the John Crawford situation, the young man who was -- 12-year- old shot with a toy gun. And it all comes together in that kind of sense of do black lives matter? That kind of familiar chant we`ve heard over and over again, do black lives matter? And so, in this case, of course, there hasn`t been the leaks that we saw in the Ferguson case so we don`t know exactly how the grand jury came to this conclusion, but absent of that, folks here on the ground see that video over and over again, those gut wrenching pleas from Eric Garner saying I can`t breathe. And so, that`s the feeling here on Staten Island where he was from. It`s not anger. It`s not outrage necessarily, but just on the surface, it`s a lot of hurt, frustration and now, folks are trying to figure out where they move from here. MADDOW: Trymaine Lee, national reporter for MSNBC, at the site of Eric Garner`s death in Staten Island tonight -- Trymaine, thank you. I know we`ll be checking back with you. Appreciate it. I want to go now to Anne Thompson. She`s in midtown Manhattan. She`s actually walking with some of the protesters who have been essentially doing a roving protest around parts of midtown. Anne, can you tell us where you are and what`s going on right now in the protest? ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CORRESONDENT: Rachel, we`re on Broadway. We just turned down off of 51st Street. This is a march that began at 49th and Fifth and move around. There are now hundreds of protesters who have taken over Broadway. They`re crying for justice. Right now, they`re chanting, "I can`t breathe." Those are the words that Eric Garner spoke on that video that people have seen as he was being held down by the police. (CHANTING) THOMPSON: Another (INAUDIBLE) cry for justice. I asked protesters and I said, what is justice after the grand jury decided not to indict the police officer? They said they lost in local court. They want to go to federal court because they believe this is a case that demands a trial and they want to see a trial -- Rachel. MADDOW: Anne Thompson in midtown Manhattan with protesters. Anne, we`ll be checking back in with you. Thank you. As Anne Thompson said there, she`s in midtown Manhattan. Part of the reason that there`s been a lot of focus in midtown is because the tree lighting ceremony happened at Rockefeller Center which is located quite near to where Anne was and where our studios are. One of the other main locuses (ph) of protest tonight has been on one of the main north south arteries in Manhattan, the West Side Highway. Our RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producer Kate Osborn has been out in the street with some of the marchers for several hours now. And I understand, Kate, that you`re close to the West Side Highway or on the west side with protesters. Where are you now and what`s going on? KATE OSBORN, MSNBC PRODUCER (via telephone): Hi, Rachel, I`m on 12th Avenue which is the West Side Highway and 57th Street. Right now, protesters have shut down both sides of the highway, north and south. A majority of them are sitting down and peacefully protesting and blocking the intersection. A lot have stopped chanting and are just lying down and holding their signs. The police have them blocked in so there isn`t much movement at this point. MADDOW: Kate, in terms of the way the protesters have been interacting with police and the way police have been treating them, obviously, it`s a big deal in terms of disruption to the city to block a major artery particularly both directions like that, and we`ve seen that in roving protests tonight. How confrontational is it between police and protesters and what`s the attitude of the police toward the protesters? OSBORN: Well, it`s been interesting because I followed them from midtown all the way west, and when we are in midtown closer to Rockefeller Center, where the celebration was happening with the tree lighting, the police were a lot more -- it seemed heated. There was a moment, a bit of violence where a barricade got knocked over. And as we moved away from that area, there was less and less tension and for the most part, it`s been guiding as the protesters move, the police move with them. Occasionally, they set up extreme blockades people with motorcycles and so forth. But as of right now, they`re staying with them and there`s a huge police presence, but they`re allowing them to freely move. MADDOW: All right. RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producer Kate Osborn, we`re looking at a live shot right now from your location. Kate, thanks. I know we`ll be checking back in with you again. Trymaine Lee that we just spoke to, was in Staten Island, which, of course, is where the death of Eric Garner happened, where Mr. Garner and his family are from. And as we saw, with talking to Trymaine, things are quiet tonight in Staten Island. Things are not quiet in Manhattan, in midtown Manhattan. The Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony has been under way for a couple of years. That always brings thousands of people to midtown. In addition to those people coming to celebrate that event tonight, there were people other people tonight coming here specifically to that event because it was such a locus of attention in New York city to protest the death of Eric Garner, but the protests have been all over the city, in Union Square, in Times Square, and as we heard from our producer Kate Osborn, along the West Side Highway blocking both lanes of traffic. If that continues, we can probably expect arrests in terms of police not allowing those blockades to last very long. We have heard police say they would give protesters room to let themselves known. But we`re going to be watching this closely over the course of the night. Much more to come with us. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you may have heard, there was a decision that came out today by a grand jury not to indict police officers who had interacted with an individual named Eric Garner in New York City. I just got off the phone with my attorney general, Eric Holder. He will have more specific comments about the case in New York, but I want everybody to know here, as well as everybody who may be viewing my remarks here today -- we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement. When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that`s a problem. And it`s my job as president to help solve it. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking earlier tonight about the grand jury decision in Staten Island to not indict the New York City police officer involved in the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner this summer. Look at this picture. This is Eric Garner`s mother and his widow watching President Obama make those remarks today. As they`re watching, you see who is there with them. He`s standing alongside Reverend Al Sharpton. Reverend Al has been at the center of this case in response to it for months ever since Eric Garner`s death in July, he`s held rallies with the Garner family here in New York City as the legal process has been unfolding. Earlier this month, he also spoke at Eric Garner`s funeral. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: When you can, in broad daylight, choke one of God`s children, God expects us to stand up and demand justice and fairness and quit acting like that`s just one of those things. This is not just one of those things. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Reverend Sharpton has been meeting with the Garner family late tonight. He also spoke with the Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after this grand jury decision was announced today. Late tonight, as you`ve heard, Attorney General Eric Holder also announced that the federal Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation into Eric Garner`s death. Joining us now live is Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and host "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC. Rev. Al, thanks very much for being here. I know it`s a busy time for you. SHARPTON: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: I know you`ve been with Eric Garner`s family tonight. How are they doing and what`s their reaction to this news today? SHARPTON: Well, they are absolutely outraged, but not surprised. We had said from the beginning when this happened in July that we wanted federal intervention. There was no confidence in a local state grand jury in Staten Island. And around the country, there is an intrinsic conflict with local prosecutors dealing with local police because they work together hand in glove in terms of cases. A prosecutor depends on the local police for all of their cases, all of their evidence, which is why you need someone outside of that arrangement, outside of that politics because local prosecutors run for office, police unions are involved in either supporting or not supporting. A lot of different conflicting things that really makes people much more comfortable and the results more fair when you have outside people involved. That`s why we call for federal prosecutor here, as well as in Ferguson, as well as in other cases. A week ago tonight, Rachel, I talked to you from right here in National Action Network where the parents of Eric Garner and his wife stood on this stage with the parents of Michael Brown from Ferguson and the young lady from -- the young man Gurley who was killed at a housing project in Brooklyn saying that we would stand together for federal prosecution. A week later, another grand jury`s come out now in New York. This is a national crisis. It is a national problem. A few of us in the civil rights leadership meant with the president and the vice president on this on Monday. We cannot just go from episode to episode, city to city. There must be a national response. The federal government must come in and intervene on the issues of criminal justice and policing just as the federal government had to come in 45 and 50 years ago and deal with situations in the south. We no longer can have faith on the state to take care of these kinds of matters, no matter -- regardless as to whether the state is Missouri or New York or Cleveland, Ohio, where 12-year-old young man was funeralized today killed by police who shot him in two seconds with a pellet gun. MADDOW: Rev, while we`re talking to you, we`re showing live images of some of the protests that are happening in New York City. They`re not just happening in New York. There`s been some protests around the country tonight. The New York protests, though, are big and they`re disruptive. Including the images we`re just showing, including the shutdown in both directions of the West Side Highway. There are big protests. People are upset. What do you see as the role of protests in terms of trying to get justice here? Obviously, a lot of people are worried about the disruption, worried about the potential for violence, worried about divisiveness. How do you think public protests plays a role in this from here on out? SHARPTON: I think that public protests that are peaceful are doing America a great service. I think the true patriots are the people that are trying to correct what continues to happen. When you see this pattern in various cities of police abuse and all the public is asking for are trials, all the grand jury is set up for is probable cause. If you have a video showing a man being choked and the chokehold is illegal in New York, a man saying 11 times on the video once he`s down and helpless being held down by other police saying. "I can`t breathe" and the policeman continues to choke him and that`s not probable cause to go to trial, then we know that the system is broken. And all we`re saying is: follow the law. The grand jury is not there to set up whether or not one is innocent or guilty but whether there`s probable cause to proceed. And I think it`s important we say this, Rachel, in other areas where people have questioned juries, no one called them rabble-rouser or agitators. Many Americans questioned the jury in the O.J. Simpson trial. They were considered people that have a right to their opinion. Why when we question grand juries are we all of these names? We have the same right to question the process as anyone else does. And in this case where you have a videotape, we have an obligation to stand up and question it. MADDOW: Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, host of "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC -- Rev Al, thank you for talking us through your role in this. SHARPTON: Thank you. MADDOW: It`s good to have you here, sir. All right. We`ve got much more ahead as we continue to monitor these live protests in New York City and elsewhere around the country, responding to the grand jury decision to not indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner who was choked to death on the streets of Staten Island this past July. Stay with us. More ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Looking at a feed right now from the streets of New York City. This I think is -- this is along the West Side Highway, one of the main northwest arteries on the West Side of Manhattan Island. Today in New York, hours before the grand jury announced its verdict in the Eric Garner case, the verdict that`s brought out all these protesters, before that announcement today, New York City announced they`d be moving up the initial deployment of body cameras for New York City police officers to wear while on duty. This is something that had been in the works in New York for a while, but it wasn`t actually expected to go into effect for another month. But then, today, the day of the Eric Garner announcement, they moved up the body cams announcement basically to now. In the Ferguson, Missouri, case after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Michael Brown`s family asked people to support their call for police officers across the country to be required to wear body cameras. There was no video evidence of what happened in the shooting of Michael Brown in part because Ferguson police did not regularly use cameras. Well, on Monday of this week, President Obama announced that he would ask Congress for $263 million to cover the cost of 50,000 new body cameras, plus training on the use of those cameras for police officers across the country. In the Eric Garner case, though, the Staten Island case, there was video, right? What appeared to many people to be quite damning video of the encounter Eric Garner had with the police which resulted in his death by choking, there was video in this case. And the video wasn`t shot by police cameras. It was shot by a bystander whose commentary made clear he didn`t approve of the way police officers were handling that -- interaction with Eric Garner. But in this case, in this death, the existence of this video showing the killing was not enough to convince a grand jury that there was any need for a trial in this case. When the widow of Eric Garner was first told of the grand jury`s decision today, the decision to not charge anyone in the death of her husband, her first words in response were, oh, my God, are you serious? She then said, you can see in the video that the police officer was dead wrong. Esaw Garner is her name. She`s Eric Garner`s widow. She told "The New York Daily News" right after she heard about the grand jury announcement today, quote, "The grand jury kept interviewing witnesses. But you didn`t need witnesses. You can be a witness for yourself," she said. Oh, my God. You can be a witness for yourself when there is video evidence. But video evidence is no magic bullet, right? It adds to what we know but it does not necessarily determine what happens next. Joining us now is Letitia James. She`s the public advocate for the city of New York. It`s an unusual job title but it`s a really important one in the nation`s largest city. Leticia James is the second in command under Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York. She`s also been an active proponent of the body camera program for the NYPD. Ms. James, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate your time. LETITIA JAMES, PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE NYC: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me. MADDOW: So, first of all, I just have to ask -- your decision, your reaction as a public advocate to this decision by the grand jury today that there will not be an indictment in Mr. Garner`s death? JAMES: So, obviously, I`m very, very disappointed, and my prayer and my condolences go out to the Garner family. But my office has been really focusing on reforms, which is why since July, we`ve been pressing the de Blasio administration and Bratton administration to implement body cameras for members of the NYPD. We wanted to make sure that we have an objective recording of every street encounter. And so, earlier, before the decision was made, we stood with the mayor and the police commissioner to announce this pilot program for cameras going forward. Now, we recognize that cameras are not the be-all, and we recognize that cameras are not the panacea. They`re just one part of a plan for progressive change in the city of New York as it relates to aggressive policing in the city of New York. I`m also calling upon the governor of the state of New York, Governor Cuomo, to appoint a special prosecutor in cases of egregious police misconduct, so that there is an independent prosecutor. We all know that, you know, local prosecutors rely upon the police department for their re- elections. We also know there`s an inherent conflict with police officers. That`s why we need an independent special prosecutor to prosecute cases of police misconduct. And last but not least in New York state, we need sunshine particularly as it relates to the grand jury proceeding. So, I`m asking District Attorney Donovan to release not part, not some but all the grand jury proceedings in this case so that the Garner family will know why they did not get an indictment. America will not know why we did not get an indictment in this particular case, because we all saw the video. The video did not lie. Our eyes did not lie and the video speaks for itself. It was unreasonable. It was excessive force. And clearly, justice is not perfect. And clearly, justice will be served either on the federal level, in a civil level or in some form in the future. So, I urge everyone to protest because I recognize that protest is our strongest instrument at this time. And I applaud the young people for protesting all throughout the city today because young people have been in the forefront of change in the history of this country. If we`re going to get change, it`s going to be the result of a peacefully protesting in this city and in this nation for reform. MADDOW: Ms. James, let me ask you about one point you just made, which is about the prosecution of what you called egregious police misconduct cases. We heard actually from the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is my colleague here at MSNBC and obviously involved in this in his civil rights work as well, and as an advocate for the Garner family, he essentially made the same point that you did there, that there`s an inherent conflict of interest between local prosecutors trying to get justice for victims of police misconduct when their work as prosecutors is so intertwined with the police on a daily basis in all the other types of prosecutions they bring. Do you think that it is possible that there could be special prosecutors brought in specifically to prosecute police misconduct? JAMES: There are flaws in the system. I`m an attorney, a former criminal defense attorney. And I do know that prosecutors work with the police department each and every day. They rely upon them for evidence. They work with them in getting their cases and prosecuting their cases. That inherent conflict does not inure to the benefits of individuals who are seeking justice, particularly when the defendant is a police officer. And so, what we`re asking is for fundamental fairness. What we`re asking is for justice, and what we`re asking for is an independent prosecutor in cases where there`s egregious police misconduct. MADDOW: Letitia James, New York City public advocate, which is the number two elected position in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ms. James, thank you very much for your time. It`s a pleasure to have you here. I appreciate you taking the time. JAMES: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Letitia James joining us tonight from the streets of Staten Island, from the site very near where Eric Garner was killed in July of this year. Again, these protests that you`re seeing in the streets of New York tonight, including some pretty disruptive protests down some pretty big traffic avenues, these protests are in response to the grand jury decision that there would be no charges brought against the New York City police officer who effectively killed Mr. Garner by putting him what appeared to be a chokehold on the video that`s been distributed so widely since that day. The big question now is whether or not any other charges will be brought, even though local prosecutors are not bringing charges? Could there be federal charges brought in that case? The person who would be very involved in that decision is a woman who has just been nominated by President Obama to be the next attorney general of the United States. She is the federal prosecutor who would have local jurisdiction geographically in this case, and we`ve got more on that ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Since Mr. Garner`s death, the United States attorney`s office for the eastern district of New York, the civil rights division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring the local case closely while allowing the local investigation led by the district attorney`s office in Staten Island to proceed first. Earlier today, the grand jury declined to return an indictment in this case. Now that the local investigation has concluded, I`m here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner`s death. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Attorney General Eric Holder speaking just a couple of hours ago this evening. The last time a New York City police officer was charged with killing someone with a chokehold, it was 20 years ago in the case of Anthony Baez who was killed in the Bronx. In that case, the officer whose chokehold killed him was charged at the local level, unlike the Eric Garner case. But in the Anthony Baez case, the officer was found not guilty at trial. Then, after that acquittal, the officer was then charged in federal court by federal prosecutors, and in the federal case, the officer was convicted and was sentenced to seven years behind bars. Now, in the Eric Garner case, nobody knows if federal charges will ultimately be brought against the officer in the Eric Garner case, but the federal prosecutor with jurisdiction for where this happened, remarkably, is this prosecutor. It`s Loretta Lynch, who has just been nominated by President Obama to become the next attorney general of the United States. How does that factor into this decision? Joining us now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, now a professor at Georgetown Law. Mr. Butler, thank you very much for being with us. PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN LAW: It`s great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: Now that we`ve heard from the attorney general that federal investigators are looking into the death of Eric Garner, they`ve launched a formal investigation, what are they looking for? What do they need to find to make a decision to bring federal charges in a case like this? BUTLER: The standard is whether the police officer willfully and purposefully violated Mr. Garner`s rights under collar of state law. Now, that`s fancy legal language. What it usually means is that the police had some kind of racial animus or they were biased against Mr. Baez because of his sexual orientation or religion or gender, then that`s a federal crime. If it`s just an ordinary homicide, it`s not a federal crime. And the issue there is, again, if it`s a federal civil rights claim, there`s got to be purposeful intent. Negligence or recklessness would be good enough for a homicide in a state case but not for a federal case. So, it`s a much higher bar. MADDOW: In this case, the officer who put what appears to be in chokehold on Mr. Garner before he died, has had a couple of complaints, lawsuits, civil lawsuits brought against him just over the past couple of years from three different people alleging that he made essentially racially charged decisions to treat them improperly as a police officer. Would that sort of evidence factor into a decision by federal prosecutors in this or would they be looking only at the interaction that happened between the man who was killed and the officer in this one instance? BUTLER: Federal prosecutors, like state prosecutors, have an extraordinary amount of discretion. So, their main question will be, is there some kind of miscarriage of justice that happened at the state level that means that we need to intervene? In the case that you brought up earlier, Anthony Baez, the trial judge at the state level said there had been a miscarriage of justice. He said the police out and out lied on the stand. So, there was a lot of pressure for a federal prosecution. If there`s similar pressure here, again, this was an incident that was caught on tape. The police officers ruled -- the medical examiner ruled that the death was a homicide, Mr. Garner`s crime was selling a loose tobacco cigarette, it was caught on tape and he was saying, I can`t breathe. And if all of those rise in the eyes of the attorney general and the presumptive next attorney general, Loretta Lynch, if that rises to a miscarriage of justice, then surely, there`s a law they can find to charge him with. MADDOW: Paul Butler, Georgetown University law professor, former federal prosecutor -- thanks for your insight in helping us understand these dynamics. I really appreciate your time tonight, sir. All right. We`ve got much more ahead as we continue to look at live shots and almost live shots of protests happening in Washington, D.C. and in New York City and in Philadelphia and some other cities around the country. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We continue to monitor live shots in vantage points around New York City and other cities where there are significant sized protests tonight after a Staten Island grand jury announced that there would be no charges brought against a New York City police officer for a death caused by choking a 43-year-old Staten Island man named Eric Garner earlier this summer. Protests in New York in particular have not been particularly static. They`ve been moving around the city. They`ve been to varying degrees disruptive, including to traffic and the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting ceremony, there have been no reports of significant violence or difficulties between police and protester, but the protests continue. We`re keeping on eye on it. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting was tonight, which always brings thousands of people to Rockefeller center in Midtown Manhattan. Tonight, in addition to that regular throng of thousands of people celebrating the tree, there have also been a large number of protesters converging at the same spot. The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his own planned appearance at the tree lighting ceremony at Rock Center to instead go to Staten Island, to meet with community leaders there and to talk with members of Eric Garner`s family after the grand jury announced there`d be no charges in the death of Mr. Garner. One thing to know about Mayor de Blasio -- and I don`t mean to be weird -- one thing you should know about him is he`s big. He`s large physically. He`s about 6`6". Mayor De Blasio`s life is named Chirlane McCray. She`s African-American. The De Blasios have two children. They have a son and a daughter. And I mention race as it relates to the de Blasio family and also Mayor De Blasio`s height, specifically because the mayor talked tonight about some real emotion about what it`s like to have a high school aged African- American son who is a big guy in the context of these recent police killings of unarmed African-American men in our country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day and the president of the United States turned to me and he met Dante a few months ago and he said Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. And I said to him, I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. Good, young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of the history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we`ve had to literally train him as families have all over this city for decades in how to take special care in any encounter he has with police officers who are there to protect him. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: New York Mayor Bill De Blasio tonight talking about the grand jury decision to not bring any charges in the killing of Eric Garner by New York City police. The mayor speaking about it tonight in personal terms, talking about his own family. The Justice Department has announced a federal investigation into the Garner case now that this grand jury decision has come down. And right now, the protests continue in the streets of New York City. Stay with us as our live coverage continues right now on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Good evening, Lawrence. END THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. 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