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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 12/30/21

Guests: Brittny Mejia, Lipi Roy, Ro Khanna, Barbara McQuade, Joyce Vance, Michael Eric Dyson


On the eve of New Year`s Eve, the United States has shattered its coronavirus case count. Interview with Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. COVID disproportionately affects communities of color. The economy bounces back under President Biden despite GOP attacks. Plus, the January 6 Committee weighs a criminal referral for Donald Trump. Michael Eric Dyson discusses the need for "restorative justice."




What a powerful way to end the show tonight. A really terrific commentary on your part and a nice setup for the discussion I`m going to have with Michael Eric Dyson later on in the show. We both wrote about Governor Northam and the black face scandal from a couple of years ago, so you just set things up for us nicely.

Ayman, happy New Year.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, my friend. Happy New Year to you as well.

CAPEHART: And on the eve of New Year`s Eve, the United States has shattered its coronavirus case count. Nearly half a million cases yesterday, and today, one tracker shows today`s case count was just shy of 600,000 cases. Florida set yet another new record level of more than 58,000 new cases on Wednesday.

And despite all of this people are still planning travel, parties and events for New Year`s Eve even as experts predict infection rates will continue to grow. The pre-omicron record high for average daily cases was 251,000 setback in January 2021, before vaccines were widely available. More than 85,000 people are hospitalized with COVID with some hospitals overwhelmed.

Northeast Ohio hospitals issued a plea in Sunday`s edition of "The Cleveland Plain Dealer."

Help. We need your help. We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before, and the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated. This is preventable. The best way to avoid serious illness is the vaccine, so get vaccinated and get your booster.

We didn`t expect to be here nearly two years later with vaccines free and available to all, and we have talked a lot about the political refusers, the Trump allies who lie while people die.

But the truth is more complicated. For two years, we have all lived with COVID, but we have not lived equally. No one worked from home picking fruit or delivering groceries. Black people make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, but black children, they make up one quarter of children orphaned by COVID.

In California, Latinos make up 39 percent of the population but 46 percent of the state`s COVID deaths. Some of them are members of Brittny Mejia`s family. She tells their story in a powerful new piece in "The Los Angeles Times".

COVID is what tore through my family, infecting nearly 30 relatives here in and in Mexico just on my mom`s side. It`s what led me to drive my cousins to say good-bye to their father who was on a ventilator. It`s also what divided my family. This year, I thought hope had come in the form of the vaccine. But I had family members who didn`t trust it, others with excuses for why they didn`t need it.

And joining us now is Brittny Mejia, metro reporter for "The Los Angeles Times". And Dr. Lipi Roy, an internal medicine physician.

Brittny, let me start with you. And, first, one, congratulate you might sound weird but congratulate you on a beautiful piece of writing, but also my condolences to you and your family and for the pain that you shared with readers.

For many, COVID-19 is -- what you wrote in your article. For many COVID-19 is what forced them to stay home and wear a mask to keep others safe. The virus existed largely in the abstract. The virus has had a very real impact on your family, hasn`t it?

BRITTNY MEJIA, METRO REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes. Thank you so much for having me on, Jonathan.

Yes, the virus has had a huge impact on my family. You know, nearly 30 relatives testing positive for COVID, family members who passed away in Mexico, and then most recently losing my grandmother to COVID.


So it`s definitely come to define these last two years for me.

CAPEHART: You also write about your efforts to get your family vaccinated, saying I worked hard to convince family members to get vaccinated and was able to get at least ten of them the shot, but I couldn`t convince everyone.

Brittny, what made it difficult to convince your family to get vaccinated?

MEJIA: I think there was a lot of misinformation, disinformation. My family members who kind of rely on YouTube to get their news, and it was kind of difficult to try and make the case for why they should get vaccinated. It was a lot of conversations even with my own mom. She`d gotten a flu shot and gotten sick, and so we had many conversations about it.

And so it was just a variety of factors. I think I have some family members who are just anti-vax but others who are just scared -- scared and think they`re going to have an allergic reaction, scared of things they`re reading about, and so it`s taken a lot of conversations.

CAPEHART: One more question, Brittny. Was Spanish disinformation an issue in your family?

MEJIA: Yes, it definitely is. And I think from what I found even when I looked up disinformation for a piece I wanted to do I was seeing more often than not the Spanish language news I was seeing shared with the video and the disinformation, there was no disclaimer on it that I could find so it was being allowed to kind of circulate even more.

CAPEHART: Dr. Roy, how concerned are you about continuing misinformation and disinformation about the virus and the vaccine?

DR. LIPI ROY, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Jonathan, good to be with you. Let me first convey my deepest condolences to Brittny, her family and her loved ones.

You know, what`s really frustrating to me and my fellow medical professionals Brittny`s story is sadly not unique. There are millions of families suffering unnecessarily from a disease that we know is really preventable. We knew from the beginning through masking and distancing you could prevent it, but now we have all these other tools.

We need to do more testing, but we now have really excellent vaccines, multiple vaccines. We know it can save lives. But like Brittny`s family, like many of my patients and millions of other Americans that still remain unvaccinated, this pandemic continues.

We know what needs to happen. And unfortunately, as Brittny pointed out there`s still a lot of misinformation. My own patients say, oh, no, doc, I hear the virus has worsened, I`ve been doing my research.

And mostly it`s through social media and certain YouTube videos and channels that are really conveying misinformation. I also want to point out certain states like Alabama and Wyoming that are only 47 percent vaccinated we need -- we in the medical profession that are really burning out, we need local and state officials in those states to really convey that vaccines are the -- the right thing to do. It`s the patriotic thing to do to protect you, your family and your neighbor. It`s the right thing and the patriotic thing to do, Jonathan.

CAPEHART: Real quickly, Dr. Roy, the positivity rate in New York City is almost 20 percent right now. What do you expect in the next week or so?

ROY: I`ve been getting texts from my colleagues, friends all over New York almost every day this week saying, oh, I just tested positive, oh, one of my patients tested positive.

What we need are several things. We need widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and masking. I`m telling everyone to double mask. And if you have access to K95 or N95 please wear it. In the meantime a cloth mask isn`t sufficient. Wear a surgical mask and a cloth mask on top of it.

As you point out in your opening, Jonathan, we really can`t afford to gather in groups of 50, 60 people indoors. That`s just a recipe for disaster as far as the virus. Avoid large crowds, practice safety, get tested and practice other mitigation measures including vaccinations and boosters, Jonathan.

CAPEHART: Brittny, let me end with you real quickly. Is the wild spread of omicron more or less convincing your unvaccinated family to get vaccinated?

MEJIA: Yeah, I`m actually in palm desert now because my sister is getting her vaccine dose tomorrow. I came out here to be with her. You know, she`s really -- a variety of factors including my grandmother passing away and a lot of conversations.

So I think the big thing I would say is continue having conversations with family. I think it`s better late than never, and I think it`s important to take away those extra steps. I mean, I setup that appointment for my sister. If there are ways we can remove barriers, I think it`s important to do it.


CAPEHART: Brittny Mejia, Dr. Lipi Roy, thank you both for joining us tonight. And again, Brittny, our condolences to you and your family.

MEJIA: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Eighty-nine million Americans are unvaccinated tonight even though most of them are eligible. The CDC says a person who is unvaccinated is 20 times more likely to die from COVID.

Donald Trump delivered that message vaccination can save your life to supporters in a right-wing media interview before Christmas, and the right- wing media stars are going ballistic, with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones telling his supporters to, quote, move on from Trump and threatening to, quote, dish all the dirt on Donald Trump to get back at the ex-president over his endorsement of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Joining me now are Juanita Tolliver, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst, and Errin Haines, editor at large at "The 19th" and an MSNBC contributor.

Errin, right-wing drivers of disinformation hurt their own supporters, but what about the impact this entrenched anti-vax minority is having on all of us including people of color?

ERRIN HAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, absolutely. And, Jonathan, let me also just thank you and thank Brittny for illustrating the human toll of misinformation, and good on Brittny for not giving up on her love ones. Her sister getting vaccinated is huge.

It`s good to be with you and Juanita. People like Alex Jones who are still committed to misinformation about COVID-19 are not going to let facts or President Trump get in the way. And, you know, we know who that is harming. You mentioned some of the groups that is harming at the top of the show, you know, people of color who we know continue to be disproportionately impacted by this pandemic which has been unequal from the start whether we`re talking about testing and whether we`re talking about vaccines and also the economic toll this has taken on people.

What we know is that former President Trump doesn`t need to be in office for his rhetoric or style or tone to live on. It has proved politically useful, and it continues to be useful even if didn`t quite work for him in the election, obviously. But remember he still got almost 75 million votes in defeat, which means there`s still an audience for this.

CAPEHART: Right, and 12 million more votes than he got in 2016.

You know, Juanita looking at a map, blue states highly vaxxed, red states not so much. So, Juanita, I was going to -- how have Republicans found themselves on the side of death? Or more importantly, do they care that they are on the side of death?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I saw a recent NPR map similar to the one you just put up, Jonathan, that it showed that Trump held counties and Trump held districts that voted for him overwhelmingly in 2020 are facing death rates three times higher than the national average, and that`s not changing their minds. On top of that facing death not being vaccinated as we heard the CDC say you`re 20 times more likely to die from COVID if you`re not vaccinated, that`s not changing their minds. Because according to polling research, you still have 75 percent of unvaccinated Trump voters saying they have no intention of being vaccinated.

That includes people who have lost loved ones. That includes people who have lost people close to them, neighbors and family members and have been impacted by COVID. And it`s still not changing their mind.

Honestly when I see this reaction from folks like Alex Jones and others booing Trump from stage for saying he`s been boosted or showing they`re going to release dirt on Trump, all that show me is Trump created a monster when all the lies and conspiracy theories he delivered right from the White House briefing room at the start of this pandemic and now he has no control over. And politically, that`s dangerous for him because we know his reach and his base is the only political currency he has. It`s what`s keeping him in control of the GOP at this point.

So don`t be surprised if this backlash continues, Trump might as well back pedal to make sure he stays in the graces of his base. Without them, he doesn`t have any political gain here.

CAPEHART: Right. He`ll end up doing something or saying something to work his way back into the fold.

You know, Errin, one Florida mayor, Jeremy Deming, who`s also the husband of Congresswoman Val Demings, who`s also running for governor, but he has said Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is MIA and people are waiting in line for five hours for testing. He says we`ve not received any assistance from the state of Florida at our testing sites. Local governments have been left to figure it out and respond on our own.

Errin, the number of people waiting to get tested suggests they have not tuned out on COVID. Will there be a political backlash to let it rip on Republicans?


HAINES: Yeah, I mean, you`re exactly right. We`ve seen those images of long lines of people trying to get tested for COVID especially coming out of the holidays and headed into New Year`s Eve, into next year we`re probably still going to see those long lines as people -- newspapers around the state are trying to provide that information. Florida is in the midst of the largest single multi-day increase of newly reported cases since the pandemic began, and the state has consistently been in this top 10 for most cases per day.

You mentioned MIA, well, MIA as in Miami-Dade County and also in the top ten. So, what does that mean? That means parents are wondering what`s going to happen with schools. That means that fans are wondering whether they should go to sporting events that are happening in Florida, travelers are considering whether to go on that cruise leaving from Florida. They may not listen to a CDC or Dr. Fauci but they would listen to somebody like a Governor DeSantis.

These are the kinds of issues the governor could address. And the press is right to wonder where he is in this moment. He could be encouraging people to get vaccinated, to get boosted, encouraging them to take precautions in public. But sadly, because the pandemic is partisan, I don`t know he`s going to change course even though the former president appears to be singing a different tune out of office in this moment.

But folks like Brittny Mejia, for example, could use the help of their elected leaders to convince people who are skeptical or even resistant in their lives to protect themselves or others. Like that matters.

CAPEHART: Right. Maybe he`s on break. You know, real quick, Juanita, can we talk about anti-mandate, anti-mitigation Republicans trying to blame Biden for the persistent of the pandemic? Come on.

TOLLIVER: Look, DeSantis is a prime member of that group to the point where the president has called him out on more than one occasion to get out of the way. DeSantis has banned masks, K-12 schools, he`s banned mandates for private employers, and he`s not doing anything to help the state. He`s MIA right. I feel that falls in line with the other destructive behavior he`s demonstrated for the state of Florida throughout this pandemic.

And you better believe voters are going to keep that in mind. They`re going to keep the desperation they feel in mind in the mid-terms as well as 2024 if he seeks higher office.

CAPEHART: Juanita Tolliver, Errin Haines, thank you both for your time tonight. Pre-happy New Year.

HAINES: You, too.


CAPEHART: Coming up, Republicans predicted economic disaster under President Biden. The opposite has happened, but that hasn`t stopped them from attacking this White House. Congressman Ro Khanna will offer his rebuttal next.

And later, Donald Trump is trying yet again to keep White House documents from the January 6th select committee, two of our legal experts Barbara McQuade and Joyce Vance will break down the legal defense of America`s most notorious Florida man.



CAPEHART: As Republicans head into the 2022 mid-term elections, they`re blaming President Joe Biden for everything, from inflation to the omicron variant. But while Republicans try to cast the rise in COVID cases as President Biden`s failure to end the pandemic, the party of Trump has fought against masks and vaccine mandates across the country.

Some members of the party have even boasted about being unvaccinated and discouraged others from getting the lifesaving inoculations even as the unvaccinated keep overwhelming hospitals. Republicans make up 60 percent of Americans who are unvaccinated in the latest numbers available.

And you heard Juanita Tolliver mention this earlier. NPR reports people who live in pro-Trump counties are at least three times as more likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in counties that went for Joe Biden in 2020.

And quote, counties with an even higher share of vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates. This is in large part due to misinformation often spread by Republicans. Republicans are also playing the blame game when it comes to the economy despite the fact that the Biden White House is ending the year with great economic news.

According to "Bloomberg", America`s economy improved more in Joe Biden`s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years. I`m going to say that again. Biden`s first year in office had the greatest economic bounce since the start of the Reagan administration. Unemployment claims have dropped to 198,000 ending 2021 back at levels not seen since before the pandemic started despite the omicron surge.

The Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs, and the Christmas Republicans kept predicting, you know, the one where consumers kept their wallets closed, well, that didn`t happen either. Those Republicans waiting to blame President Biden for a Christmas disaster were pretty quiet when MasterCard spending polls reported holiday sales had risen 8.5 percent from a year earlier.

The biggest annual gain in 17 years. Bah humbug? More like ho, ho, ho.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He`s a member of the House Oversight Committee and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Congressman Khanna, forgive my levity there. But come on, how could you not be excited by numbers like that?

But, anyway, enough about my enthusiasm here. In October, the Republican committee sent a member to Republican members urging them to, quote, explain to the American people what the grinches at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue did to ruin Christmas.

But Christmas wasn`t ruined, Congressman. So how do Democrats overcome that messaging when it comes to President Biden`s approval ratings on the economy?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, Jonathan, thank you for getting the facts out there because this is not a grinch economy. It`s a thriving economy.

Let`s look at the facts. Biden came in 6.7 percent unemployment. We passed the American Rescue Plan. The Republicans said unemployment is going to go higher, people aren`t going to work. They`re going to take those unemployment benefits.

Guess what? They were wrong. The president has an unemployment rate at about 4.2 percent under his leadership because of his policies.

The labor market is tight. What does that mean? Working class, middle class Americans are getting raises for the first time. They have volition in what job they want to do. This is great for working and middle class Americans.

And then people are betting on the economy and on growth, and that is why you see the stock market doing as well as it is.

Frankly, the only thing that we need to do to keep this going as Goldman Sachs has said is pass build back better. If we don`t pass it we won`t have as much economic growth. The point is President Biden has been right on his economic instincts from a perspective of working and middle class and economic growth.

CAPEHART: Well, we talk about these big numbers, the Dow, the S&P, unemployment, but what are you hearing from your constituents that could be potential obstacles for Democrats in the 2022 mid-terms?

KHANNA: Jonathan, I think we can`t sugar-coat everything. People still are hurting. They`re anxious about omicron. They`re anxious about COVID, so we have to make sure that our first priority is tackling COVID.

And the president is doing that. He`s doing that with a plan to actually have free testing out there. We should have had that in the last administration. I`m glad we finally have free testing.

He has done that by mobilizing around Pfizer`s new pill that can be a therapeutic for COVID. And I`m hoping that within months we can increase production on that. And second, people still are concerned about prices and inflation. The cost of gas is still high. The cost of groceries are still high, and the president is taking a number of actions to help alleviate those costs including investing in our infrastructure, in our supply chains.

As you alluded to, we didn`t have the delays in Christmas that were expected, and that is in part because of this president`s policies.

CAPEHART: Congressman Khanna, you mentioned earlier the need for Build Back Better to get passed. Are you hopeful that the Build Back Better Act will pass the Senate next month? Next month. Not later on in the year but next month.

KHANNA: I am, Jonathan. I`m hopeful because it`s a policy that makes sense. It`s a policy about economic growth as Wall Street itself says, and it`s a policy about helping put more money in the pockets of the working class as a time of rising prices.

Now, do I think it`s going to be the bill we voted out of the House? No. Do I think it`s going to be the exact framework that President Biden had? No. I`m a realist.

And here`s the point -- we in the House stand ready to compromise. We want to get something done. So, what we need the 50 senators to tell us is what are you for and the president and the House will work to get something done in a compromise necessary for the American public.

CAPEHART: This is -- Congressman Khanna, what you just said there you may have been saying it, and I haven`t heard you. But you just said that you and the House stand ready to compromise, that the bill that comes out of the Senate most likely won`t look like the one you guys passed out of the House I think it was before Thanksgiving.

So this to me anyway says there could be some movement, but we`ll have to save that conversation for another time.

Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you very much for being with us. Pre-happy New Year to you.

KHANNA: Happy New Year, Jonathan. Always a pleasure.

CAPEHART: Donald Trump`s attorneys are still trying to keep his White House documents a secret. And their latest trick, telling the Supreme Court to read the newspaper. No, really. We`ll explain that next.



CAPEHART: Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to read my paper, The Washington Post. In his latest appeal to prevent the National Archives from handing over documents to the January 6 Select Committee, Trump`s lawyers submitted a new filing to the Supreme Court complaining about an interview by Chairman Thompson.

In this interview with the Post, Chairman Thompson says the Committee is seeking information that could determine if they will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department. Trump`s lawyers argue that Chairman Thompson`s comments show the committee is trying to establish a criminal complaint against Trump, something they argue lacks a legitimate legislative purpose and should be blocked.

Today, the January 6 Select Committee responded asking the Supreme Court to reject the Trump request for an appeal hearing and acknowledging that the investigation does have legislative intent, quote, the records could inform numerous pieces of potential legislation and enhance the legal consequences for a refusal by the executive branch to timely and appropriately respond to attacks on congressional proceedings.

The question now, will at least four justices agree to hear the case? Or will they refuse effectively ending Trump`s legal options?

Joining me now Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney in Michigan and a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Joyce Vance, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and a professor at the University of Alabama Law School. They are both MSNBC legal contributors and co-hosts of the podcast hashtag Sisters in Law. Barbara and Joyce, great to see you both.


Barbara, I`m going to start with you. Will the Supreme Court even take up this appeal case by the Trump legal team?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I think it`s very unlikely, Jonathan. I think that the decision that the Court of Appeals made, which affirmed the trial court in this case, really got it right and had a very lengthy and well-reasoned opinion.

And essentially what they said is, it is the incumbent president, President Joe Biden, who gets to decide whether there is a privilege that should be asserted, because executive privilege is a qualified one. And while a former president can give his input and his advice, ultimately, the decision belongs to the current president. I think that`s a very sound decision. It`s based on Supreme Court precedent. And so it seems to me very unlikely that they`ll take it up, but as its Congress has requested, if the court does decide to take it up, at least do it quickly.

CAPEHART: Joyce, do you see anything more than a political benefit to Trump`s lawyers, arguing that the committee doesn`t have the authority to seek a criminal referral?

JOYCE VANCE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: Like so many other times, Jonathan, we`re seeing Trump`s lawyers yet again, arguing to an audience of one and I`m sure he`s very pleased with their pleadings. But like, Barb, I don`t think the Supreme Court will see much to this.

You know, it has to be the case that Congress has the ability to investigate January 6, if not, democracy might just as well pack it up and call it a day. If Congress can`t legitimately look into an insurrection and determine how to prevent the -- a repeat of what we all saw take place at the earliest part of this year.

So, two lower courts have determined that there was legitimate purpose here. There`s no reason Congress can`t make a referral if evidence comes into its possession. It believes DOJ should see there`s no reason that that in any way vitiates Congress`s legitimate purpose here.

CAPEHART: So, Barbara, by honing in on the criminal referral in the court of public opinion, is the Trump team making the case so partisan, that the committee will drop it, or at least they hope.

MCQUADE: Well, I think they are, you know, trying this case, not only in the courts, but also, as you say, in the courts of public opinion. So it gives talking points to their advocates and their supporters to say see, this is all just a political crusade to take us down. This is not about legislation. This is about gotcha of Donald Trump so that he can be referred for a criminal case.

And I don`t think that`s going to resonate whatsoever with the court. Courts have repeatedly held that Congress may investigate anything over which they may legislate. And as the Court of Appeals judge who wrote the opinion in the case, well, she said, it`s hard to imagine anything more in Congress`s wheelhouse than an attack on its own house.

And so it seems very clear that this is certainly within the scope of its investigation. I will agree with one thing that was said in Trump`s legal pleadings. And that is we all ought to read the Washington Post.

CAPEHART: You know what, I agree with you on that. But Joyce, in all seriousness, what about the DOJ? What about the Department of Justice? Are they completely immune to the politics on something like this, as they`re meant to be?

VANCE: You know, DOJ stock in trade, is their immunity to the politics. Sure people try to influence the Justice Department. And typically, once you`re inside of that building on Pennsylvania Avenue, you`re pretty much tone deaf to what`s going on, on the outside.

Congress can certainly make a referral. If DOJ thinks it`s merited, they`ll pursue it. If they don`t, they`ll simply ignore it. Because as a prosecutor, that`s your job. Your job is to follow the law, and to follow the evidence, and the politics simply doesn`t enter into it.

That was one of the biggest flaws in Trump`s administration was their willingness to subvert DOJ purposes for political gain. That`s why Merrick Garland to you know, so many people are disappointed in him. But that`s why he has made such a rigid practice of not caving into what`s political.

So look, there`s absolutely nothing wrong with Congress referring a case over to DO. DOJ makes referrals to Congress every year saying Congress, we wish you would pass some new laws for us. It`s a practice that DOJ has engaged in for many years. It`s not DOJ`s job to make law, but they certainly give advice to Congress when they see something they`d like Congress to do.

Here, Congress is returning the favor. There`s nothing improper and no reason that the Supreme Court should hear this case or do anything other than send these papers on a speedy path from the National Archives over to the congressional committee.

CAPEHART: You know, the speedy is the operative word here, Barbara. Barbara McQuade, Joyce Vance, thank you for joining us tonight. Happy New Year.

MCQUADE: Thanks. Thank you, Jonathan.


CAPEHART: Coming up, in 2021 juries convicted the killers of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Daunte Wright. But the act of justice is not yet achieved. Michael Eric Dyson will join us next.


CAPEHART: 2020 In the wake of the police murder of George Floyd under a president who said there were very fine people on both sides of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi protests, what`s described as America`s year of racial reckoning. As 2021 draws to a close with the killers of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Daunte Wright, all black men convicted by juries of their peers and in prison.

It seems this was the year of accountability, or even a version of justice. But no one would dare say racial justice has been achieved. It is work that can`t be achieved through only discrete events a jury returning a conviction or Election Day 2008.


It is a longer term project and a broader one, one that encompasses not just the neo Nazi who murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, but all the people who marched with hate in their hearts. The president who defended them with his both sides equivocation, the people who put that president in office, and let`s be clear, racial injustice is a wrong done to all of us.

But how is that wrong ride (ph) it? Has it repaired? I found myself thinking about this after a meeting with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam before Christmas. My new column in the Washington Post is all about the blackface scandal, Northam was embroiled in two years ago, and what he did to educate himself and make amends.

Michael Eric Dyson has also been thinking about this, sparked by the death of apartheid fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu the day after Christmas. In a New York Times column, Dyson writes about a notion of restorative justice that includes but extends beyond punishment.

If racists are willing to admit they`re wrong and do the work, the community is made stronger by their literal or symbolic return. Punishment may feel cathartic to those harmed by a wrong action, but it may not achieve real justice. The moral intent of restoration is to create a flourishing community that acknowledges the wrong done holds wrongdoers accountable and invites them back into the community from which their offense estranged them. Thus, Black activists may gain an ally in the effort to combat racism. If White people forgiven their errors are welcomed back, the burden on black people is by that measure lessened.

Joining me now is Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished professor of African American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and author of the new book, "Entertaining Race, Performing Blackness in America." Professor Dyson, thank you very much for coming to THE LAST WORD.

Your piece in the Times starts in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, the husband of one of the nine Bible study members at Mother Emanuel, who were shot to death by a white supremacist said, I forgive you and my family forgives you. Talk about the power of that gesture.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, ENTERTAINING RACE" AUTHOR: Yes, sir. Well, thank you so much for having me. Always great to be on here. And your column is so poignant and so powerful. Yes, I believe that Reverend Thompson represented a strain and strain of African American theology. That is about the politics of forgiveness. It`s about an existential affirmation that it is the right thing to do. It`s a theological certainty among certain of the religious figures in black communities, that forgiveness is critical to our own survival.

But it`s also a way of speaking back to suffering by saying that unmerited, you know, grace and favor that is bestowed upon someone through forgiveness, has a political calculus has an effect upon them, that can relieve the poison of, you know, bitterness and anger and resentment of the figures who have been wronged, but also provides an opportunity where the community can heal by not engaging in vengeful acts, thoughts and behaviors, but about restoring calm and compensate the community, but also making sure that the people who are engaging in such nefarious activities are engaged as well.

CAPEHART: You know, we in both our columns, we both talk about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and our and our meeting, I was struck by something he told us in a Editorial Board meeting before Christmas, his quote, still rings in my ears, the eyes can`t see what the brain doesn`t know.

And this was something he used as a lesson as a doctor, you know, teaching medical students and residents. But he used that lesson to help him see and know why what he was accused of doing was so painful. What do you make of his efforts of Governor Northam his efforts at restoration at reconciliation in Virginia?

DYSON: Yes, you brilliantly deconstructed that in your fine essay in The Washington Post. And here`s the thing. It was it was powerful for Ralph Northam to do that, for Governor Northam to do that, but let`s be real. I told when black folk called me up who were politicians from the state and said, Hey, do you think we should pursue this? Or do you think we should offer forgiveness or should we find a different path? I said deal with the forgiveness because there`s nothing better than a white guy who understands that he`s done the wrong thing with power in his hands. And that is discretion can do something much more serious and powerful to make amends for what he did that was wrong.


And I think Governor Ralph Northam is the perfect example of a guy who was concerned about black maternity about, you know, taking down the Robert E. Lee`s statue, about restoring the rights of 10,000 felons a sizable number of whom were black, and on and on, he made good his promise to go in wrestle with racial equity for the rest of his own term there.

And I think by far, it was a better choice to leave him in as a wounded healer is the Henri Nouwen said that a person who would have been pure and clean and therefore put out because he had made a racial mistake. I think it was extremely important for him to remain to do the things that he did, and only a forgiven man has that kind of attitude and disposition to do aggressively.

CAPEHART: You should also point out that he ended the death penalty, raise the felony larceny limit, and also stopped the suspension of driver`s license for not paying court fees. But Professor Dyson, you understand the exhaustion of educating?

DYSON: Absolutely, there`s no question about it. Trying to reach out and, you know, engage people and, you know, my students say, Hey, I`m not here to educate you. I joke once in my class. Hey, I`m not here to educate. Oh, yes, I am. I`m a professor. That`s what I do.

But we have to continually engage in the process of that kind of education, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ida Wells-Barnett, Ella Baker, Joanne Robinson, James Baldwin, have all been involved in a long distance race, passing the baton from one to the other. And it is our ultimate responsibility to engage in the enlightenment and education of those around us.

CAPEHART: You know, the thousands of people from all corners of America who marched after George Floyd was killed. What can they do now? What is the role of the collective in restorative justice?

DYSON: Well, that`s a great point. I think that what they have to do is to do what Northam did. If the, you know, the eyes can`t see what the brain doesn`t know, then know some more stuff. Read Jonathan Capehart, read, you know, Kicole Hannah Jones, read Ta-Nehisi Coates, you know, read Bell Hooks (ph), read people who can inform you, James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, I would recommend every American read that book to grapple with the powerful articulation of the politics of grief that have besieged black people, the traumas we`ve endured, but the overcoming power of love to remake American society. Without black forgiveness, America wouldn`t be what it is today.

CAPEHART: Oh, well, that`s for -- that is for damn sure. Real quickly, Professor Dyson, what role does Washington have to play, lawmakers up the street here have to play in this conversation that we`re having?

DYSON: Well, it`s extremely important, first of all, the bitter bickering, the futile feuding, and the nastiness and the resistance to trying to engage the other. Now I`m not pretending that one side is not more responsible than the other for what we see now. The malaise that we`re confronting is mostly all made up of those on the right who refuse to examine themselves through a prism of self-reflection, and decency and humility.

So what the politicians need to do is to practice some of that religious discourse. They`re constantly piping in American media and understand the politics of humility, and the grace and forgiveness and mercy that should motivate all of us. Don`t over incarcerate people of color. Don`t kick kids out of school earlier than they should be. Don`t punish people through over policing, find ways to forgive human frailty. Allow holding those in power responsible and accountable for the things that they do.

CAPEHART: Michael Eric Dyson, Professor Dyson, thank you so much for your time tonight. Also, thank you very much for your kind words about my column. Thank you.

DYSON: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.




NOEL BRENNAN, 9NEWS: And smoke is still filling the air out here. We keep waiting for those winds to die down to give folks out here some type of relief. But it is not letting up. I can only imagine what these fire crews have ahead of them with these winds right now that are just unrelenting. I don`t even know where you begin to tackle something like this.


CAPEHART: That was reported Noel Brennan with our NBC affiliate in Denver KUSA covering the out of control wildfires outside the city. Wind gusts as high as 100 miles per hour caused the flames to spread incredibly fast, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. The officials say at least 580 homes have already been destroyed, along with a shopping center and a hotel.

Governor Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency in the area. Officials say this began when power lines toppled outside of town of Boulder around 11:00 a.m. local time this morning starting a grass fire. The Boulder County sheriff said the fire began consuming football size areas quote in seconds.

When climate science has told NBC News quote, it`s genuinely hard to believe this is happening in late December in Boulder. The area is densely populated with subdivisions and stores. But so far, just one injury has been reported.

And as you saw in Noel Brennan`s report, just how densely populated that area is with those houses in the distance. We are thinking and praying for the folks there in Boulder. That is tonight`s LAST WORD.


You can catch me again on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on the Sunday show that`s right here on MSNBC. Until then have a Happy New Year Until. And thank you so much for watching. "THE 11TH HOUR" starts now.