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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 5/13/21

Guests: Jemele Hill, Howard Dean, Melissa Murray, Dave Aronberg


The CDC says vaccinated Americans can go without a mask in most places, including indoors. Bombshell legal developments hit the investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz. The rules that give police officers special immunity are examined. Jemele Hill discusses police reform and the state of the country.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you for that and thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

We have a very busy show, including bombshell legal news, which could truly rock MAGA Congressman Matt Gaetz. That`s our top story.

But later night: The CDC says vaccinated Americans can go without a mask in most places, including indoors, a lot of people cheering that as a turning point, as good news tonight. We have a special guest on that later.

And something that I want to share with you, one of our special reports on justice in America. This is about the rules that give police a lot of immunity, whether they should change.

It`s my special report. We have been working hard on it here on THE BEAT. And that`s also in tonight`s program.

I hope you will stay with us for that.

We begin, though, with a major bombshell legal development. This is bad news for Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. How bad, we don`t know yet. But he is being investigated for possible sex trafficking and sex with a minor.

And the news tonight is that Gaetz`s indicted ally, Joel Greenberg, who we have told you about -- it was his case that first led to Gaetz being ensnared in this probe in the first place, has now formally issued the preparations to change his plea to guilty. I repeat, he will plead guilty, according to the filings we have.

That means the signs very clearly point to potential cooperation. Now, the new filing we have, I want to be very clear, it does not yet stipulate, meaning we don`t know tonight -- in fact, nobody knows -- which crimes Greenberg will plead guilty to.

We would not expect, according to precedent, for it to be all of them, because it`s a plea, he must be getting something. And he faces an indictment with 33 federal charges. And under the law, a judge has to approve any final deal.

Why is it bad news for Matt Gaetz? Well, Greenberg may be in a position, as he has basically appeared to leak that he is in this position, to give these federal prosecutors hard evidence they might use in court against Congressman Gaetz, or to prove allegations that he purportedly made in that explosive letter obtained by The Daily Beast, where he said Gaetz "paid for sex with multiple women, as well as a girl who was 17 at the time" -- end quote.

If you watch THE BEAT, you know I will tell you what I always tell you when we mention that reporting. NBC News has not obtained that letter. So, NBC cannot verify its authenticity.

Now, last month, Greenberg`s lawyer did kick up quite a whirlwind by suggesting that all of this makes Gaetz uncomfortable.



See, I thought, if I kept on talking and talking, I would avoid these questions and not to say -- I`m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.


MELBER: As for Matt Gaetz, he has denied all allegations of criminal or misconduct or paying for sex or sex with a minor, and he has not been charged with any crime.

This is a very big development in a story we have been following.

So, I want to get right to our legal experts, NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray, and state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, Dave Aronberg.

Dave, you spoke on air and your analysis for us about why this day would come. It has come. What do we know about what it means that this individual will be pleading guilty to something?


We knew this day would come, but it`s still pretty important news, because this keeps the child sex trafficking charged in play for Matt Gaetz. If there was no deal with Joel Greenberg, I don`t believe that the feds could have charged Matt Gaetz with child sex trafficking, because Joel Greenberg was in the room when it happens.

He knows where all the bodies are buried. He is the key witness. And it`s a matter of his credibility, because he is a walking criminal enterprise. And unless he has corroboration, the feds are not going to cut a deal with him.

But the devil is in the details. We will know on Monday more whether the feds believe he has credibility enough to testify before a grand jury and to testify at trial.

MELBER: Right.

So, you`re the Florida lawyer here. No disrespect. A Florida lawyer could mean any number of things. But, in this case, you`re the Florida lawyer with Florida legal expertise.

What will happen on Monday exactly?

ARONBERG: Well, Ari, also, the professor here, I believe, is also born in Florida. So we`re everywhere.


ARONBERG: So, on Monday...

MELBER: Hold on. Let the professor in.

Is this -- do you want to respond?

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: I was raised in Florida, not born in Florida.

MELBER: Go ahead, Dave.

ARONBERG: I guess you can`t believe everything Wikipedia says. OK.

So, we`re going to know on Monday. If he is given the opportunity to plead to something substantially less than he is facing, that`s an indication that they believe he has some credibility.

Also, look for the words substantial assistance inside the plea deal, because it doesn`t have to be in there, but, if it`s in there, that means that the feds think he has enough corroboration that he`s going to provide them evidence, not only to help with current prosecutions, but for future prosecutions, and that could very well mean Matt Gaetz.

MELBER: Professor?

MURRAY: Well, I mean, this is a federal situation.

So, state law is really not the issue here. This would be the same if he were in some other district court in some other federal jurisdiction. And the question here for Matt Gaetz is, what happens when your wingman starts singing to the feds and cooperating with the feds?

I think "Top Gun" would suggest that you are definitely on a highway to the danger zone at this point. And it can`t be very comfortable for him.

The one solace in all of this, I think, is that, if there was enough information for Matt Gaetz to be charged with some kind of crime stemming from this investigation, and he were to go to trial, Joel Greenberg would make a pretty poor witness for the prosecution...

MELBER: Right.

MURRAY: ... because there are so many opportunities to impeach his credibility.

MELBER: Both great points.

First, on the danger zone, Matt Gaetz disagrees with your musical inspiration, Professor. He`s going more Billy Joel. Take a look.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The allegations that have been anonymously made about me and then endlessly repeated by the America last media are false.

Innocent people are often eager to share that they are innocent. I don`t know if you`re a Billy Joel fan, but I feel like I have been singing the chorus of Billy Joel. I am an innocent man. And I want to sing it from the rooftop.


MELBER: Everybody feeling musically inspired. It`s his right to mount his defense. And it`s his right, Professor, of course, to quote whatever bars he wants.

On the more serious side of this, though, you make a fair point about what is an available potential defense if Monday involves what our other lawyer reminded us, which is potential substantial cooperation.

So we have got reporting here about that defense. Gaetz`s ally says he will plead guilty in a federal case, but "Washington Post" notes Gaetz attorneys would seek to cast this individual, Greenberg, as -- quote -- "a liar who made up allegations against the congressman to reduce his own significant legal exposure. Prosecutors would not be likely to rely on his testimony, unless it was corroborated by other evidence."

That "Post" reporting from those sources matches something we have discussed on the show, Professor, which is that, in this instance, as you just reminded us, words alone from this individual are not enough.

MURRAY: Yes, that`s exactly right.

And Joel Greenberg, the charges that he`s already been indicted on are charges that really go to the question of credibility and veracity. He`s been charged with fabricating charges against another individual and fraud.

And all of these things go to the question of whether this is someone who is truthful that you can believe when he`s on the witness stand. So, that`s good news for Matt Gaetz. But, again, I don`t know that I would be singing "An Innocent Man" when there`s the prospect of for the longest time ahead of you at this point.

So, we can all sing Billy Joel today.

MELBER: I mean, Dave, do you have a "Piano Man" reference you want to get in here, or does this Florida-raised lawyer beat you on the Billy Joel?

ARONBERG: She wins. I waved the white flag. I was trying to think of a good Billy Joel title, but that was amazing.

Well done, Professor.

MURRAY: Thank you.

MELBER: Well, Dave, we didn`t start the fire. Obviously, it`s been burning for some time in this case.

Let me play some of the Daily Beast reporting. We have obviously credited them a lot because they have been out front. One of their reporters reading from the alleged letter. Take a listen.


JOSE PAGLIERY, THE DAILY BEAST: "On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida`s First Congressional District and myself. From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18."


MELBER: The voice is the reporter, the words allegedly Mr. Greenberg.

Would those kind of receipts come out if there is, as you put it, cooperation on Monday, Dave?

ARONBERG: Yes, well, you would expect they would have corroboration, because his words mean nothing. He can just say all he wants and implicate Matt Gaetz.

But, remember, in his past, the reason why this whole investigation started was that he made a false investigation against a political rival that that person was a pedophile. So, Gaetz has just to say, like, this is Joel being Joel, he`s at it again.

And so you need to have the goods. You have got to have Venmo receipts. And you have got to have e-mails and text messages. I think it will be really damning for Matt Gaetz if the feds announced that the ex-girlfriend that we have heard about is cooperating, because it`s easy to attack Joel Greenberg. It`s even easy to attack the alleged 17-year-old who`s at the heart of this investigation, because, reportedly, she`s now an adult film star.

But it is harder to attack the ex-girlfriend of Matt Gaetz, who now works for the Florida state government and has no axe to grind against Matt Gaetz.

MELBER: I hate to say this, Professor.

I`m also out of time, but if Dave is right, and there are multiple witnesses making those kinds of accusations, that could give you a heart attack, ack, ack, ack, ack.


MURRAY: Very nicely done.

Again, that kind of corroboration would go a long way. And, obviously, if this were to go to trial, and if Matt Gaetz were charged with something, it would make Joel Greenberg`s testimony less weighty.

So, again, a lot hangs in the balance here what this treasure trove of cooperation evidence actually is.

MELBER: And I want to remind viewers who may have joined us at any point as we start the hour, on a serious note, Mr. Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.

And on a lighter note, Mr. Gaetz started the Billy Joel references. He started it.

Melissa and Dave, thanks to both of you.

We have our shortest break, just 30 seconds, but coming up tonight, the pandemic milestone, as the CDC says, if you`re vaccinated, forget your mask in most places, including indoors.

Doctor, Governor Howard Dean -- when we`re back in 30 seconds.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you`re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you`ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world, greeting others with a smile.



MELBER: The president putting a direct and literal smile on the big news today.

I`m joined by physician and a former governor, Howard Dean.

The CDC and the president making it clear that their safest view, because they tend to err on the side of safety, is now, if you`re vaccinated, you don`t need a mask, you can return to a lot of normal activities. There`s some details there.

But, big picture, what does this mean for what we have all been going through? What does today mean, Doctor?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, it means we will (AUDIO GAP) we have hoped it`s meant for the last month, which is that we are coming out of the pandemic.

And as long as people keep getting vaccinated who are vulnerable, particularly now the younger age group, we go down to 12 now, as a result of the CDC -- or the FDA`s emergency authorization.

If people keep getting vaccinated, this is going to keep getting better and better and better.

MELBER: CDC director also making it official. Let`s take a quick look at that.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.


MELBER: You`re a doctor, but you`re also versed in politics. And the politics is about how we feel, what we understand, what our common language and facts are.

What do you see in this new era, which is also the Biden era, that might put some of what had become a very symbolic safety requirement of the pandemic, putting that behind us? What does that do?

DEAN: I think it`s important. I think the fewer sort of symbolic clashes that we have and what is in, for me, the most divisive era of my lifetime, the better.

Now, look, I probably won`t go on the New York subway without a mask because there will be some people who are unvaccinated on that subway. But, basically, we can start to think about returning to completely normally.

The airlines are not yet ready to allow large numbers of people on their airplanes without masks. But these are -- this is getting better and better.

And I give Biden a lot of credit for not trying to do too much too fast. He`s been logical about this. He`s been methodical about this. He`s hired real people to run the health care systems and take their advice, rather than telling them what to do, as Trump did.

So, this is just good news, Ari. And there`s no way -- and it`s going to get better. So, I`m very optimistic. And I just hope Americans keep doing the right thing, which, for the most part, they are.

MELBER: Yes. I think it`s really exciting. It`s positive. It allows people to step back from the politics that sometimes suffuse these issues, as you just alluded to.

Now, the president spoke about this as well, because we all lived through some of the protests and stuff. And I have had people on this program from a lot of different perspectives, Doctor. We had small business owners who felt they tried to follow the rules, and were still unduly punished by certain state rules.

And I think there is room for reasonable debate of all this stuff. Having said that, the president went out of his way to say, hey, let`s not heckle each other over people who, like you just said, might still be in a mask. Let`s take one look at that.


BIDEN: So if you`re someone with a mask -- you see them, please treat them with kindness and respect. We`ve had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much politicization of this issue about wearing masks. Let`s put it to rest.


DEAN: And there probably are, Ari, some people who should continue to wear masks.

If -- and, again, I don`t want to contradict the CDC or this FDA, because they are run by real smart people, as opposed to what it was like before Biden became president.

But I think they`re going to be people who are going to wear masks, because, if they`re highly vulnerable, if they have immunological problems, and so forth and so on, I think masks will be with us for a long, long time.

But I appreciated what the president said about let`s not heckle people.

One of the -- our governor, Phil Scott, who is a Republican, basically was very, very effective, partly because he said don`t hassle people who don`t wear masks. We don`t need to shame them. They will mostly do the right thing. And most of them did. There were a few that didn`t, but a lot of them did.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate you referencing that, because there`s actually some common ground between the Republican governor you mentioned and this Democratic president, which is a more Mister Rogers` approach of let`s all try to do the right thing. And, also, let`s not resort immediately to yelling at or heckling strangers, whichever reason they`re in.

There are ways to encourage or cultivate rule-following. But yelling at strangers isn`t generally the best way to start a conversation.

I mention Mister Rogers because it`s a basic point, but one that we need to remember.

I have to fit in a break, so I`m going to say thank you, Doctor and Governor Howard Dean.

DEAN: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

Let me tell you what we`re going to do next. There is a discussion about policing that`s still going in this country. There`s actually changes that could change everything in the way police are protected and sometimes immunized from basic accountability.

Our special report on justice and American police immunity -- next.


MELBER: The American justice system is not perfect or flawless. Few would claim otherwise, especially these days.

But one hallmark of our justice system is this idea that people get their day in court. We may disagree on the outcome. But, unlike dictatorships, our government system requires both sides are heard, pressed on their claims, publicly and transparently.

That`s why so many crime shows build on those dramatic courtroom scenes. It`s why even controversial outcomes, like O.J. Simpson`s acquittal for murder, arrive in a public process, where everyone can see the evidence and the verdict.

It was a memorable one for O.J.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder, one or more crimes of murder of the first or second degree to be not true.

LANCE ITO, LOS ANGELES JUDGE: Do you waive reading of the verdict as recorded, Ms. Clark?


ITO: Thank you.


MELBER: That O.J. verdict is infamous for many to this day.

And O.J. did not just get that day in court. While many recall the not guilty verdict in that criminal murder trial, what some may not remember is, under our system, O.J. faced another day in court, where he was found guilty for the same incident and allegations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was 12-0. It was a unanimous verdict all the way around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O.J. Simpson`s lawyers arrived at court in a foul mood, having lost their case

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "We assess punitive damages against defendant Orenthal James Simpson in favor of the plaintiff, Frederick Goldman, as follows, $12.5 million."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this civil trial, the plaintiffs only had to prove Simpson was probably the killer, not that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

FRED GOLDMAN, FATHER OF RON GOLDMAN: Our family is grateful for a verdict of responsibility, which is all we ever wanted.


MELBER: How was O.J. found guilty of those killings in one valid American courtroom and not guilty in the other?

The reason is important. It brings us to our special report right now.

The U.S. system intentionally provides two avenues for accountability. Door number one is the most severe, a criminal trial that sends guilty people to jail. Door number two is that civil trial, which punishes guilty people through fines and civil penalties that do not involve jail. Only the government can send you through door number one, where you can lose your liberty.

Any person can try to send you through door number two. And like other checks on power, this feature of our government system was designed so that courts could be used for accountability by both the government, through prosecutors, and by regular citizens.

And that actually works in many areas. If a doctor attacks patients while they`re unconscious, the government can prosecute the doctor, and those patients can sue the doctor.

But you know where the evidence shows this doesn`t work? It`s one of the areas of American life where our vaunted system often blocks people`s day in court through both door number one and door number two.

I`m talking about American policing, because door number one is usually closed completely. The prosecutors who work with police to build all their cases and do their jobs, they don`t like to typically turn around and indict their close police friends and colleagues.

In cases of illegal searches and battery and even in the severe case of killings, door number one is usually closed. We have data on this over 15 years. With thousands of police killings in America, you can see there was not a single murder conviction of an officer on the left side there of all those years.

And then, in those final few more recent years, you have one or two a year among thousands of killings. So, we know that door number one is mostly closed.

That`s why one of the main calls for change by protesters for police reform recently has been to deal with this. It`s why the criminal conviction of former Officer Chauvin for murdering George Floyd was so rare. You just saw zero or one a year.

Now, what about door number two? Even if officers almost never face that accountability in criminal court, which is a separate issue, can`t regular citizens sue them in civil court to at least seek some accountability and some deterrence for misconduct?

Well, it turns out that door is only slightly cracked, because, unlike doctors or barbers or corporations, police are automatically immune from many of these suits. The reason is not that voters chose to give them immunity or even that legislators passed a law in Congress.

It`s a made-up protection, which we will get to.

But, first, let me show you how it works in practice, because this is so important.

Police kill a person. Take 23-year-old Luke Stewart, who was unarmed in his car with a cigarette. When police escalated a stop, he tried to drive off. He was killed. Officers tried giving him CPR after killing him, but he was dead on the scene.

Now, prosecutors closed door number one with no charges. So, Stewart`s mother turned to door number two, suing police over that killing. And a judge found the police department used a tasteless and -- quote -- "irresponsible approach" to policing, but granted the officers immunity from the suit.

Ms. Stewart never got her day in court for her son`s death.

Now, that`s the norm. Most instances of alleged police brutality never lead to a case in the first place. But for those that do, most never get to trial, because judges dismiss them by just giving the police immunity, no trial needed.

There`s a recent Reuters count that found judges grant police immunity the majority of the time this even comes up, 57 percent of the cases tossed before trial. That translates to tens of thousands of cases stopped in their tracks.

And in some of the Southern states, which actually have worse police brutality allegations, federal judges were tossing cases in favor of police immunity at this higher rate you see there, 64 percent. A judge applied that immunity to deny a trial to the family of Tony Timpa, who called the police because he needed help.

He told them he had schizophrenia and he was off his medication. He was unarmed, but police escalated the situation, restraining him for 14 minutes, a killing caught on a disturbing video.


TONY TIMPA, DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY: You`re going to kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to kill you.

TIMPA: You`re going to kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Tony, what did you take?

Yes, he took something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was making sure he was still breathing, because his nose is buried in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s asleep.



Tony, back to school. Wake up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t want to go to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We bought you new shoes for the first day of school. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made breakfast. Scrambled eggs, your favorite.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn`t just die down there, did he? I hope I didn`t kill him.


MELBER: But you did kill him. A lot of laughing before they killed him.

Now, door number one to court was closed, when, even despite that video, prosecutors dismissed what were even minor charges against the officers. Door number two in that case slammed shut for this police immunity.

It was the same for David Collie, who was walking away from Texas police when they shot him, paralyzing him from the waist down, in an incident caught on dashcam video. Collie`s case never got to trial either because the judges granted police immunity.

Now he says it`s unfair that the system didn`t even let him make his case to a jury, considering he is innocent, and the police put him in -- quote - - "a nursing home, ruining everything," saddling him with pain and cost he can`t afford, while they won`t even admit the mistake.


DAVID COLLIE, INJURED BY POLICE: OK, moving me forward is a fact that I`m still alive. They painted a dirty picture that is not the truth.

Let`s just acknowledge the fact that we made a mistake, and I`m -- for me, I can move forward, I can accept it.


MELBER: These incidents of police causing lifelong injuries do make a very strong case for legal compensation. But courts apply that immunity shield just the same.

There`s another case of Texas police paralyzing a man they shot, Ricardo Salazar, judges blocking his day in court the same way. Now, he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to even order a basic trial to find the facts.

Instead, Justice Alito writing an opinion that defended this broad automatic police immunity that I`m telling you about.

Now, in dissent, Justice Sotomayor and the late RBG did question how the immunity has become an absolute shield for officers that eliminates accountability. Sotomayor has actually written several dissents warning about this immunity, noting that, when police are shielded from any fact- finding or trials, then the government takes the word of one party over another.

She calls it a -- quote -- "disturbing trend," where courts blindly side with officers before getting the facts. She notes it also fosters a climate of no consequences, where more officers "shoot first and think later."

And that does capture the approach of some officers, who attend trainings that often encourage a warrior mentality with no legal consequences.

Let me show you a working police trainer who tells trainees -- quote -- "Killing is not a big deal." And I`m showing this to you right now because it`s actually true that, with this police immunity, many judges do treat it like it`s not a big deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Killing is just not that big of a deal. For a mature warrior who is killing somebody that represents a clear and present danger to others, it`s just not that big a deal.

Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defense of innocent lives? If you can`t make that decision, you need to find another job.


MELBER: The officer who shot Philando Castile to death attended trainings by that instructor. That officer was acquitted at one of those rare criminal trials I mentioned.

So, that`s how this works. Where did it come from? This is also important. Police immunity is made up. Let me repeat that tonight. Police immunity in American civil courtrooms is made up. This is not in the Constitution. It`s not in a written federal law.

It grew out of a series of cases where courts were trying to limit how much people could use what I`m telling you about, door number two, to sue government officials. It began back with a 1960s lawsuit by civil rights advocates and priests who were challenging segregation.

They were arrested for allegedly breaching the peace. You can see all the pastors there. The charges, though, were thrown out. So they sued the police. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which found that, even though the arrest was wrong, that all those priests you see shouldn`t have been charged, the suit would still be tossed without a trial. Otherwise a policeman`s lot would be so unhappy, they`d be hit with financial damages for an honest mistake in an arrest.

Later cases involving Nixon aides and police fortified this immunity to shield officials from liability in most cases. So, unelected judges made up this rule. And the Supreme Court has been doubling down on it in the majority opinion, shielding police from that day in court that I told you about that so many Americans imagine is a part of our system, where you tell your side of the story and you face judgment or vindication by a jury of your peers.

So, when you take some of the real people hurt or killed in each story that I reported tonight, consider how this works. I`m not here telling you that we know they were all correct, or the police who hurt them were all wrong, or that we have the whole story.

That`s what fact-finding in a trial is for. What I`m telling you, what I`m urging you through the TV screen to understand is that this police immunity rule means we never get those facts about what happened. We never get the public trial about what they did, paralyzed or dead, because unelected judges prevent those trials, because they taught these cases before the fact-finding that happens in virtually every other non-police type of case.

That`s unfair to the people who are hurt or killed. And it also risks more violence and more police misconduct in this problem that we have as a nation that we`re trying to deal with, because, as any officer will tell you, real consequences create deterrence.

And when there are no consequences, some people, not all, not all officers, but some people in an environment with zero consequences, well, some people will do the right thing. Others not all, but others, they will see it as a blank check.

Now, since this rule was made up, it can be unmade. Congress can literally just eliminate it, as civil rights leaders have advocated.


REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would end qualified immunity.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Black Lives Matter, that must both be reflected in our policies, which is why we need to end qualified immunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: End qualified immunity. It is a broken legal doctrine that never should have been created in 1967. And it`s time to abolish it now.


MELBER: All those references are to this immunity that I`m telling you about, technically called a qualified immunity.

Now, there are bills in Congress on all kinds of issues that they claim to do something in the title, and then they dilute it in the fine print. They are politicians.

This time, though, I can report House Democrats did abolish this immunity in the George Floyd act, Speaker Pelosi passing that act within a month of inauguration. It is one of the most sweeping proposed reforms to policing in a generation. It will become federal law if the Senate passes it.

But Republicans, they want to strip that immunity reform out of this bill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot be so eager to make major policing reforms on the federal level that we overcorrect and prevent good officers on the street from being able to do their job.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Qualified immunity is extremely important. Imagine you`re thinking about becoming a police officer, and you think you`re going to be personally liable for every fracas you try to break up.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Qualified immunity is off the table. They see that as a poison pill on our side.


MELBER: Republicans say it`s off the table, which is another sign that it is a major change, Republicans more focused on stopping immunity reform than any other part of the bill.

Now, one so-called compromise would still basically protect officers` individual immunity.

But what would happen if this immunity ended, and door number two was cracked open?

We actually have part of the answer for you. Take the recent controversial Colorado police incident, where an unarmed women and children were handcuffed, held at gunpoint, put on the floor in a broad daylight parking lot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want my mother.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I have my sister next to me?


MELBER: Police admitted that was wrong, it was a mistaken identity, it was mistreatment. They apologized. Door number one still quickly shut, no charges.

But door number two is now open this time, because Colorado is one of just four states that have now reformed police immunity at the state level. So, the mother, who you saw there, sued police in civil court alleging mistreatment and discrimination.

I`m not even here to tell you how that case should end. They have to gather the facts and the testimony and the context. I`m here to tell you tonight the only reason she even gets her day in court is because she lives in one of the few places in our whole country that`s finally slightly challenging this longstanding automatic police immunity where there`s no trials.

So, there, they could get a trial. It is actually the first suit filed against police since Colorado made this reform. If you watch THE BEAT, you may remember we reported on that with the lawyer when the news first broke.

So, that is tangibly the difference. It doesn`t hobble or kneecap police from doing their whole jobs. It just means, in that place, the police who are already cleared and have no risk of prison time might actually face a public trial for what they did that day.

So where do we go from here? American policing is often simplified into a pretty false choice between what`s good for police or what`s good for people being policed. And you can come up with some examples that might sort of fit into that frame. But many don`t.

Fair, accountable policing is generally good for everyone. And if no one`s above the law, that`s got to especially include the powerful, the politicians who write these laws and the police who enforce them with guns.

So, I want to tell you this, because the jargon and the terms and the heated rhetoric, it can occlude what we`re actually living through and why some of these things are things we can improve and fix and address, if we want to.

The basic right to your day in court and trial is not some benefit to be given out by unelected judges to Americans or to Americans hurt by police, or, as you saw here, the diverse range of people hurt by police. I showed you multiple stories, but, statistically, it`s not something to be given out to black Americans disproportionately hurt by police.

It is your constitutional right. It`s a right everyone should have. It is a right that, as you saw tonight, was taken away by unelected judges, and which can really be restored any time our nation decides to do so.

We`re going to fit in a break.

Jemele Hill is our special guest making her BEAT debut -- next.


MELBER: Welcome back.

I`m joined by award-winning journalist Jemele Hill, widely acclaimed reporter and observer of sports, culture, politics and civil rights. She`s the host of the podcast "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered."

Thanks for being here.

JEMELE HILL, JOURNALIST: Yes, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

MELBER: First, your thoughts on this police reform battle ahead of us, as Americans really learn more about how this really works and consider what could be sweeping changes in the Congress.

HILL: Well, I`m glad that you approached the story that you -- the way that you did, in showing what can be the toll and the cost of giving people unchecked authority.

But I hope people look at it from this way as well, from a fiscal standpoint. You look at some of the major cities and the amount of money that they have paid out in police civil suits. I mean, I believe, in New York, it`s like over a billion dollars over the course of the last five or 10 years. That`s a lot of money.

So you`re talking about city governments that are being completely drowned by police misconduct. And the default position can`t be because they`re the police or giving them this sort of deity status is like -- I understand that police officers have a tough job. And certainly not all of them are bad. And this is not in an attempt to indict them all.

But it is to say that you need some checks and balances. And really considering that the police expect the public to have checks and balances, they expect us to live up to a certain standard, they expect us to follow the rules, it seems a little hypocritical that they don`t want any.

So, to me, one of the tell signs is when you see the police and the authorities, as they continue to talk about this issue, the fact that they just feel like they should be able to do what they want to do. I think that`s just in bad faith. And that`s a way to quickly erode public trust.

And next up, we`re going to have to have a conversation about police unions. But that`s for a whole `nother show.


MELBER: Well, fair.

I mean, you mentioned the other aspect of this that is -- was not in the report we just did tonight, because it`s the spillover, which is the individual accountability isn`t there, so people aren`t personally liable. You don`t get the court fact-finding, et cetera.

You mentioned, at the government level, they pay out these fines, right? And I think people can relate to that at your own work. If there`s a rule where the company pays a fine because you park in the wrong spot, just at a basic level, that feels different than if you pay that fine.

And the question with all these things is are any of these -- quote, unquote -- "consequences" supposed to deter behavior? So, I think you raise a really important point there.

Because I have you on tonight, we did want to ask you about the way that sports and culture and civil rights are rising. And one sign of it is that it seems to be upsetting certain people who have certain ideas about what sport should be. Either it should agree -- sports and the people playing it should agree with them or -- quote, unquote -- "be quiet."

Take a look at Sean Hannity.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Elites in Hollywood, famous professional athletes, other woke social justice warriors now constantly ramming their political beliefs into every single aspect of your life.

Last season`s NBA ratings were the lowest in history. The politically charged finals featuring a very woke LeBron James averaged only 7.5 million viewers. Americans are fed up. They`re sick and tired of the ignorant lectures from this country`s pious celebrities.


MELBER: Jemele?

HILL: Well, what I would say to that is not surprisingly that that particular network doesn`t paint the full picture and that they`re a little absent on facts.

So, here`s the thing. You know what else was down? The PGA major golf championships, those were all down. The Kentucky Derby, last year`s Kentucky Derby was down 40 percent. The U.S. Open was down 40 percent. Last time I checked, horses weren`t woke.

So, I don`t know. And, by the way, we need to ban that word, because all the wrong people are using it in all the wrong ways. It`s the late cutest little buzzword. It`s like a moms on Facebook thing. I get it. You learn a new term that used to be cool, and you have completely ruined it. So, stop using the word woke.

MELBER: Kind of like on fleek.

HILL: Yes, exactly.


HILL: No -- like, nobody -- nobody says on fleek anymore. I will permit your usage, though. You used it in the proper way, right?

But here`s the thing, is that a lot of major sports were down in 2020, because, I don`t know, people were dealing with a deadly pandemic. They were trying to just kind of stay afloat in their own lives.

Sports usually is the thing that brings us together, the things that causes us to be distracted from real life. And it couldn`t serve that purpose, because there was just simply too much going on in the country, and not to mention we also had sports being played at different times in the year.

The NBA finals were in October. It`s never in October, all right? It`s usually in June, and usually during a time of year where it`s not competing against other sports. So, across the board, you just saw a lot of falling in ratings.

And I think it had a lot to do with what was going on in the country and the fact that the sports schedule was very disrupted last year. We will see what those ratings look like this year, because I promise you he won`t be able to make the same point.

MELBER: Almost sounds like you`re saying, we will see what`s about to happen next.


HILL: I think that`s a good way to look at it.

I mean, already, we have seen with some of the sporting events that have been this year that the ratings have been up, and a lot of it has to do with the mood in the country has changed. You have more fans being allowed to sporting events, so things look different.

It has nothing to do with politics.


HILL: The NFL is -- even then, they saw some ratings plateaus as well. The Super Bowl was down.


HILL: Usually -- I mean, it`s got 100 million viewers, but it was still down a little bit because of all the things that I mentioned.


And the other thing I want to ask you about is sort of the way that the insurrection is being publicly denied as a part of a Republican rehab. Take a look.


REP. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA): There was no insurrection. And to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie.

Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures. If you didn`t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.


MELBER: So, no, you wouldn`t. I will do my anchor job and say fact-check, that`s false, coming from a Republican member of Congress.

But what I wanted to get your view on, with the civil rights history of the United States, is the way that the establishment and the powerful, which can be often a white establishment, actually doesn`t just want to get away with things -- that is sort of using power -- but it also wants to try to have a monopoly on truth itself.

And there are people who would know better, but, as you and I know, they`re also people who might only get some of that view and start to, in five or 10 years, just like the textbook debates, actually have a false view of what happened that day, which matters with a race-driven uprising.

So, your view on all of that, what we should think through about that as a society?

HILL: Yes, unfortunately, for our country, it`s sadly on brand, because we have seen through a number of historical events how, in the moment, they try to get sanitized, how they get changed, misinterpreted, just to continue to keep the hypocrisy going.

I mean, the truth of the matter is, we have a national problem in facing up to our own stuff. And I really didn`t want to say stuff.

I mean, this goes back throughout the history of slavery, even when you look at the history of civil rights, and even now, with people trying to rewrite what slavery actually was. So, I`m not surprised that this has bled over into the insurrection.

I don`t know too many tours where you see people climbing the outside of the building, or threatening to kill lawmakers, or too many tours where an officer loses his life and many officers get injured, and they`re left with the psychological damage of what was done to them that day.

And it just -- it`s beyond just intellectually dishonest. It`s actually hurtful. It`s hurtful for not just the people who were there that day and tried to defend the Capitol and the authorities and police officers that were put in harm`s way.

It`s offensive and hurtful as a citizen in this country, because this is something that is clearly fundamentally wrong. We have to be able to call a thing the thing. We have to be able to say what is actually true. There is no healing that can come if you`re constantly lying to yourself.

And so looking at how a lot of Republicans, a lot of conservatives are trying to rewrite what happened on January 6, it`s just, frankly, insulting, it`s beneath them, it`s undignified, and it`s just reckless.


HILL: And I`m certainly fed up about it.

I know a lot of other people are. And I just don`t even understand how these people sleep at night. I don`t understand how they live with themselves, knowing that they`re continually perpetuating lies and untruths to people on a daily basis, all in a desperate grab for power.

Maybe, to them, it doesn`t seem like it`s doing any harm, but it`s doing a great deal of harm, because the trust in this nation is completely broken. We are at a very low point in our history.

MELBER: Right.

HILL: And they are helping to contribute to that.


Yes, and I think you lay that out well, especially the historical context, which is important, because what we`re living through, if we`re lucky enough to remain a country and a planet, will someday be history.

Jemele Hill, thank you so much.

HILL: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Up next, the big, great news about why part of the pandemic rules and masks are ending and how people are responding -- when we come back.


MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT.

We had so much show, we`re going to wait until tomorrow to show you more of those highlights of how people are absorbing the great CDC news that you don`t need a mask most of the time.

I will see you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

You can always find me online @AriMelber on social media.

And "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up after this short break.