June 9, 2013
Guests: Laura Wexler, William Murphy, Carl Hart, John Nichols, Carl Hart, Michael Skolnik, Tim Reid, Tananarive Due, Baratunde Thurston, Ava DuVernay
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, how much do
you really know about drugs?
Plus, how Republicans are stomping on dreams.
And black folks on the big screen and behind the cameras.
But first, the power of a picture, weighed against the priority of privacy.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Connecticut lawmakers made a pivotal move this paths week on the last day
of the state`s legislative session. On Wednesday, both the statehouse and
Senate approved a bill preventing the release of crime scene photos and
video evidence from the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting to the
public. The law also put a one-year moratorium on audio recordings with
the exception of 911 calls that describe the condition of any of the
Connecticut governor Dan Malloy was quick to sign the bill into law only
hours after the bill was passed. The bill`s passage was applauded by
family members of the 20 children and six adults that were killed on the
morning of December 14, 2012.
Several family members had demanded the law, even starting a change.org
petition which garnered more than 108,000 signatures. The families were
clear about why they didn`t want the pictures released. They said in
writing, for the sake of the surviving children and families, it`s
important to keep this information private. Other gruesome scenes have
been kept private like the scene around congresswoman shooting and the dale
foster`s accident. It should be afforded the same treatment.
Those victims` families were sending the message they didn`t want the
photos of their slain children used for the purpose of political gain. But
that`s a long history of the impact that photos have had on public policy.
A key example has been when we`ve been as a nation at war. Some of the
most indelible images come from the Vietnam war. Images of a 9-year-old
girl whose clothes and layers of skin were melted after a Nate pomade act
or that of South Vietnamese general (INAUDIBLE) executing a Vietcong
officer by shooting him in the head.
These help to change the American public`s opinion to disdain our
military`s involvement in what was called America`s most unpopular war. In
2009, when the Pentagon lifted the military`s 18-year ban against
photographing Americans who are dead, it showed the public the reality of
military casualties from both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photograph
depicting tragedy and horror can be powerful tools that can change public
perception and culture.
For showing those photos are not decisions that should be taken lightly.
When Preside Obama initially chose in 2009 not to release the photos of
prisoners tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. military, like the
images that we have seen from the Abu Ghraib (ph) prisoners, forced to wear
collar or hoods or masks, people were quick to jumped to the conclusion
that he was trying to hide something. The president saw it this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most direct consequence
of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American
opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So it`s a tough choice. And when it comes to choosing to
show the image, the slain child, it`s a decision no parent should be faced
with having to make. But it is a decision that made me to mobily (ph) he
did make, in the case when her son Emmett Till was killed in 1955. Instead
of having a reserved low-key private family funeral, may me decided to open
the casket to make the funeral a public experience, to show how killers,
Lynchers, J.W. Milan and Roy Bryant, brutalized and tortured her 14-year-
old son to death.
Her decision to show the world the battered body and unrecognizable face of
her son Emmitt served as a spark for the civil rights movement. Till`s
example might lead all of us to Newtown parents to release those pictures,
be as brave as Mamie Till was. But sometimes gruesome photos can be used
in deeply troubling political ways.
As a reproductive rights advocate, I have sometimes helped women to walk
the gauntlet past rabid anti-choice demonstrators. And not only do they
shout, they hold up ghoulish frightening images. The pictures are
unrepresentative of the vast majority of abortions and they are not,
however, strictly speaking, inaccurate. I mean, certainly anti-choice
advocates believe the photos occur could and should immediately stop a
practice that they define as evil and torturous.
But I find the photos unduly upsetting for women already facing painful,
difficult and deeply personal decisions and difficult decisions. What
should we as a public ask of the Newtown families? They want their
children`s short lives to belong to them. to be more than just a tool in
the gun control debate. Who are we to tell them they`re wrong?
At the table Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies at Yale
University, who is also the director of the photographic memory workshop.
Billy Murray, one of favorites here at Nerdland and a former circuit court
judge for the city of Baltimore who works now as a criminal defense
attorney. John Nichols Washington correspondent for "the Nation" magazine
and author of the new book "Dollarocracy." And also Michael Skolnik,
another Nerdland favorite who is editor in chief of globalgrind.com and
political director to Russell Simmons.
Thanks to all of you for being here.
Professor Wexler, I want to start with you because your work is around the
power of photographs and images. We in the Nerdland production staff have
been seriously wrestling with this. We`ve got two produce who are like we
got to see the photos, they could really change the whole Newtown
conversation, the gun conversation. And on the one hand, I was like yes.
That is to made me to mobily (ph). And on the other hand, I understand not
wanting to show the pictures of your slain kids.
LAURA WEXLER, PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: Yes. Well, the two questions
about a common interest in seeing them and an individual interested in
privacy are already very complicated. But I think the question is made
more complex by a kind of wish that the photographs themselves would serve
as a magic bullet. If we could only see them, it would change the
conversation and perhaps be the finishing off of the stalling on gun
And I know, as a historian of photography, that actually is not so. And it
most likely won`t happen. It`s not true that a photograph by itself
changes the politics. So we know this from many examples. You gave some.
I would add in my own life, the massacre, to the girl being napalmed and
Mamie Till`s decision to show the open coffin of her son, Emmett.
But, you know, when Mamie Till showed that image, that image didn`t travel
around the world alone. There were a lot of people who were working on
telling a particular story. What does that image actually mean? And that
story had to be controlled. It`s the story along with the image.
And just about coincident in time with that image was the fact that there
were lynching all over the country and there were photographs made of them
turned into postcards that were sent all over the country.
WEXLER: That didn`t spread civil rights and freedom. That spread terror
and a sense of impugn at this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, the image of having enter into a social movement
and it feels to me like part of what`s happened in our gun`s conversation.
And another aspect is that, if the images just enter, they`re just
gruesome, then they just become basically pornographic rather, right, than
part of activating a movement.
JOHN NICHOLS, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: That`s exactly right.
And look, one thing to understand is this is a very different point in
history than the late 1950s, early 1960s. We don`t have three TV networks
that come on at, you know, 6:30 or 5:30, depending on where you live. We
don`t have a handful of daily newspapers that really are definitional. The
truth of the civil rights movement is, when we started showing pictures,
not just of Emmett Till but Bull Connor with the fire hoses, that did have
an impact. But that was in a very different time. Today, we are siloed
(ph). Today we have so many ways that we get information. I can tell you
that if those pictures were released and I`m not a fan of limiting release
of photos, but I tell you if they were released, you would have some
sectors of our political discourse condemning the use of the pictures for
political purposes. You would end up with a debate about the pictures
rather than about the issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it is interesting, as much as I am obviously a
part of point of view news, right, that is really I`m not a reporter, I`m
not a journalist, I don`t make any claims to be. What we are doing here is
always meant to be analytic and have a point of view. But your point is an
important one because if the lack of that, of the one person or one network
that could sort of --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walter Cronkite.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Walter Cronkite who could put it out and you wouldn`t
feel it was being used in that way. Is it about the siloing (ph) of our
informational sources or I wonder, Michael, if it`s also that we`ve gotten
to a point that the images of violence are ordinary for us, right? We see
them in popular culture so regularly.
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Let me tell you what
was unordinary about what happened in Newtown. I was just -- my
grandmother lives in Newtown. I just took my three-month-old son to see my
grandfather for the last week. And I stopped by Sandy Hook. You can`t go
to the school but you can go to the street to have my son and pay our
respects to the families.
This is a young boy, Noah Pozner, the youngest to die in Newtown. He was
6-years-old and a Jewish faith. And his mother, Veronique, wanted to give
him a traditional Jewish burial in his coffin. And she wanted to put two
stones, angel stones in his hands. She wanted put one stone in his right
hand and closed the hand at the other stone in the left hand and there was
no hand to put the stone in.
So, I think, you know, out of respect to these families, she made the
governor of Connecticut, Governor Malloy, look at her son before she closed
that casket. So, she was courageous. She did do the moment with the
However, I think that for Americans, we have to see these images. This is
not about politics. This is about lifting the consciousness of our nation.
We have to know, yes, these were angels that went to heaven, but this was a
brutal, brutal attack on children whose hands were blown off, whose faces
were blown off and torsos were blown off. This is not just about
glamorizing or sensationalizing what happed in Newtown. This was horror.
HARRIS-PERRY: And of course, the reason that that kind of horror could
happen to those bodies is because of the technology that was used to kill
them, right. In the case of Emmett Till, I don`t know any other word, it
is the evil of the lynchers who go so far to do that to a teenage boy. In
this case, it is certainly the evil of the shooter, but it`s also the fact
that he`s working with a weapon that can do this kind of damage.
WILLIAM MURPHY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: Before I answer, my mother`s mad
at you for calling me Murray.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sorry.
MURPHY: Here`s the deal. We can`t predict how impactful these photographs
will be in a political or nonpolitical consequence. Legislation
prohibiting them seeks to do just that. It says in all cases. Except the
exceptional ones which God knows who will determine to carry these
photographs. (INAUDIBLE). The photographs are going to have to run their
course and we are going to have to see contextually how they play.
All of us have had photographs impact us so dramatically that they have
almost changed our politics and in some cases have changed our politics.
And photographs are a break on the evil of government. They`re a break on
the evil of individuals. And we can`t give them up because a few people
are justifiably upset in their personal lives about them. This is a much
HARRIS-PERRY: Judge Murphy, which I`m going to get that right now, we`re
going to come right back --
MURPHY: I wasn`t mad.
HARRIS-PERRY: But your mom was.
We`re going to come right back and talk more about this issue of
photographs and the power they have in our right to know as we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The fight for gun control policy has come to a point where
it seems like all of the things we think will sway the gun debate, don`t.
Because the shootings and gun violence continue unabated. On Friday, yet
another gunman went on a rampage terrorizing the city of Santa Monica
California. When he was done, he killed four people and injured five
others before being shot to death by the police in a gun battle. According
to police, he had 1300 rounds of ammunition on him.
When it comes t solving gun violence, there is no magic bullet that will
serve, sorry, to bring the two sides together to come up with a solution
instead of waiting on elected officials, the momentum for change has to
come from a cultural shift among the American people when we`re finally no
longer willing to accept rampant gun violence.
You or anybody who follows you on twitter, Michael, knows you were right on
this Santa Monica story, as you have been on all the gun violence stuff,
you know, immediately saying, let`s pay attention, let`s focus on this.
And yet, it had this sort of undercurrent in the news on that day. And
even in the days since, it hasn`t captured our attention. It`s like we`re
just sort of inured to it.
SKOLNIK: If we couldn`t get a water downed background check bill passed
after Newtown and Democrats and Republicans alike, we have a long fight
ahead of us. And what happened on Friday in Santa Monica, you`re
absolutely right. People just didn`t pay attention. And again, it was an
AR-15, right. It tore apart people. This isn`t a weapon you shoot deer
with. This is the weapon that you tear things apart with it.
So, I think that we all have to do things better. We all have to, you
know, to the mothers and fathers in Newtown and Sandy Hook, we have to
fight for them, for the mothers and fathers in Chicago who are losing their
children on a daily basis. We had 24 shootings in 48 hours in New York
city just last weekend. An 11-year-old was shot in the neck and paralyzed
in Brooklyn. And we have to stand up for young people like that and
continue the fight. I`m not going to give up you`re going to follow me on
twitter, but I`m not going to give up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it think people I keep saying, right, I mean, we were
looking at the mass shooters` weapons from 1982 to 2012. Of those weapons,
143 weapons used in mass shootings and 71 of them are in fact semiautomatic
hand guns, right? So, when people say, these policies wouldn`t make any
difference. In fact, they would. When we look at how many of them were
illegally obtained, this is data from mother Jones, 49 of them out of the
62 were illegally obtained. So, it in fact, would make a difference to
have these kinds of policies. And yet, I wonder about this photos
question. You guys got to talk about the Osama bin Laden photos during the
break. There was another instance where the public doesn`t to have a right
to know. We didn`t ever get to see those.
NICHOLS: This is the problem, you know. And I really understand -- I have
a 9-year-old daughter, so I really understand where folks are coming from
in Connecticut. I respect that. But the fact is, when we start pursing
out what you can see, as has been suggested by wise folks on this panel,
you end up assuming the impact will be this or will be that. And we take
the people out of the process. You know, we were talking in our break here
about how members of Congress get to see certain photos, get to see certain
things. We make them a priestly class, a group of high priests. They are
better than us. They can look at the photos but we can`t.
But with all due respect, I can name you a number of members of Congress
who I don`t think will respond as maturely or as well as the average
American. So, why do we take the average American out of the process?
That`s my concern.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I mean, I think part of it --
MURPHY: Because it makes it easier to get it done. If you had stuff and
then you stand behind, well, I told your representatives and 99 percent of
the American public still don`t know, you`ve accomplished your political
purpose of keeping it secret.
NICHOLS: Exactly. Those representatives --
MURPHY: This is the kind of censorship that we cannot abide.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, I hear you on the ordinary Americans and yet, like
we had a cheerios commercial with a beautiful interracial baby and the
white mama and the black daddy and the ordinary Americans lost their minds.
So, there`s a part of me like sometimes, yes, ordinary Americans should
know and then sometimes, I`m like, ordinary Americans.
NICHOLS: Melissa Harris-Perry, you know a little more because of that
HARRIS-PERRY: About the world.
NICHOLS: And so can we -- if we are to evolve as human beings.
NICHOLS: I think information is useful in that process.
WEXLER: It`s not actually just information. I believe we do need to see
in order to know. I really think we can`t imagine what this is. We need
to see it. But I don`t think that seeing is sufficient to knowing. And so
that`s why I actually respect the bill that governor Malloy put in place
even though I myself as a historian of photography want people to see. But
I respect it because it has a sunset provision. It`s saying that we have a
moratorium for a year, which is really asking us to have this discussion.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, brings down the emotional piece.
WEXLER: Yes. Let us have the discussion and we can`t guarantee what the
end of the discussion will be. But we can bring not the priestly class but
the whole public into this discussion.
MURPHY: By the time we have this discussion --
SKOLNIK: That`s right.
MURPHY: -- the emotion that`s necessary and proper to move the ball
forward is gone.
WEXLER: Well, you know, we thought after the killings that emotion, that
was going to do it, right? We just thought that would do it. But that --
MURPHY: It takes another incident and another incident and another
incident and more and more deaths. And so here is a clear case, I think,
of where censorship is playing right into the hands of gun proponents.
Playing right against the interests of the people who want these
photographs to be private.
NICHOLS: Can I say something else that plays into t just a quick one. It
is the -- and I know this is a tough one. Because if I was one of these
parents, I would want to not have this discussion. But, there`s an
immediate rush in to say let`s not politicize this event. Let`s have a
decent period where we don`t talk about it --
HARRIS-PERRY: We want to politicize it.
NICHOLS: Whether you want to or not, the bottom line is that when we shut
the dialog down and when we slow the process down, that benefits the status
quo. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of people are watching it are
like why is the NRA so silent? Why are they holding back? Well, I can
tell you why.
No, no, no. They`re silent and they were holding back because they want to
dial that conversation down.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
NICHOLS: If you want change, you want to dial that conversation up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of dialing the conversation up, especially on the
issues of information and who has a right to know, we`re going to turn the
conversation just a bit in terms of talking about protecting privacy to the
NSA conversation. Can we really protect and liberate the information at
the same time?
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. We are going to get to NSA in just one second. But
before we can get there, there`s too much happening at the table that I
need -- there were a couple of really important things that showed up in
the commercial that I just want to bring our viewers for.
The first was this conversation about Rodney King and the Rodney King video
and the idea that that Rodney King video was definitive.
So, I want to ask you this, judge. Because, obviously, the video was
insufficient for conviction, right? You would think -- I mean, so it was
sufficient for a kind of urban uprising, right? It made people feel like
they knew what had happened. But the jury in seeing it doesn`t make a
conviction despite seeing this video. Talk to me then about why you still
see the video as so critical to what happens.
MURPHY: Well, the video is what got the federal government involved in the
second prosecution. Remember how it went. First the video. Second
MURPHY: Third, cry for prosecution. Fourth, outrage about the acquittal
in state court. Fourth, federal prosecution, conviction end of story. So
the video, without it, it would have been an urban tale. It would have
just been a story where the police are given the benefit of the doubt by
white folks and indicted once again by black folks. The video brought the
SKOLNIK: If I can jump on top of that for a minute. For most white
people, we didn`t think black folks got it this bad by the police. And
once we saw that, for the past 25 years, now it`s a combination of police
brutality and we believe it. (INAUDIBLE). We believed that is police
brutality. So, that changed the whole consciousness.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s like the Bull Connor video. Once you see the images,
it makes it real.
WEXLER: Another important aspect of this is that the photographs can
actually also backfire. So, they can show that someone is a victim. They
can show the impunity of the violence and the perpetrators. You have to
control how the story around the photograph is used.
NICHOLS: There`s a great example from another place of the killing of a
number of Jesuit priest this is El Salvador in 1989. And there were photos
release and it was horrific. And I was shocked at the time by the
response. I remember it very well. A lot of people saying well, that`s
how it is in El Salvador. It wasn`t the United States government has ties
to people that are doing horrible things. It is, horrible things happen
And so, again, you were so wise in your argument that we must put these in
context. No, they have to come in context. And again, if we circle
ourselves around, I think that this gun debate is alive at this point. And
so, these questions, the context is there to some extent.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is.
But I think this point matters to me a lot I think because we see often
gruesome images happening to all kinds of bodies. But if we think those
are the kinds of bodies that deserve those tortures or that that just
happens, great. So, you were talking about the -- just the up close
beautiful smiling image of Hadiya Pendleton, right, and the sense of, this
is the girl this shouldn`t happen to. But for many folks, you know, the
weeping black mother on an urban street corner, it`s like well, that`s what
black moms do. Their kids get killed and they cry on TV. And it becomes
an ordinary part of our assumptions about what kinds -- it`s part of where
the Newtown power could come. Those changes are not supposed to be the
SKOLNIK: That`s right. That`s why Newtown changed the conversation
because they were white.
HARRIS-PERRY: And they were in school and they were so young. They were
WEXLER: That`s really important because showing is always a matter of
power. Who is shown, who shows and what is shown, that`s not what was
expected and that`s where the power of these come in.
MURPHY: We can`t miss the basic point that we don`t really have control in
the first instance of how people are going to react to what they see.
MURPHY: And so, that`s why the government wants censorship. And that`s
why we have to fight against it. Because in many, many cases the people`s
reaction is correct. In many, many cases their emotional reaction causes
politics to change. And so, we must not let the pictures be censored.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love this. We will pause here. We will come back on
NSA because this question of how the people respond, the people definitely
responded this week to the sense that maybe we`re living in a government
where people are reading our e-mails when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So while we`re debating over whether the public should be
allowed access to the horrific images from Newtown, there`s a whole bunch
of other information as being accessed of which we know very little about.
According to the digital-based newsroom, "the Guardian," a court order
shows that the national security agency, NSA, is collecting the phone
records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers. On top of that, recently
obtained top secret documents show beau the NSA and the FBI are data mining
for nine of the leading U.S. internet companies. That data that they are
mining, according to the "Washington Post," includes audio, video, chat,
photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs.
Here`s what national intelligence director James Clapper had to say to
NBC`s Andrea Mitchell yesterday in an exclusive interview with NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: The notion that we`re
throwing to everyone`s e-mails and phone boy, we are strictly reading them
or listening to everyone`s phone calls is on its face absurd. We couldn`t
do it even if we wanted to. And I assure you we don`t want to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So John, James is like, we don`t want to read your e-mails.
Keep your e-mails. We`re trying to find terrorists. (INAUDIBLE).
NICHOLS: Well, boy, the second he used the word voyeuristically looking, I
thought to myself, God, it opened up this new notion of, you know, a board
NSA person at 2:00 a.m. might in fact be voyeuristically looking through e-
mails, right? I hadn`t thought of it that way.
Look, here is the bottom line on this issue. This is the huge issue. But,
it is a huge issue being addressed at this point, completely out of
context. The fact of the matter is, in 2006, 2007, Russ Feingold, the
chair of the constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee
said they`re taking our e-mails, they`re data mining this stuff, they`re
listening in. He was talking about all of this. If you go back and look
at the articles from 2006, I wrote them. And they`re talking about the
So what we`ve got now is confirmation. I think it upsets some people that
Barack Obama is doing some of the same things that George Bush did and we
thought that he would be very, very different.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who thought that presidents would be different than
presidents? I mean, I got to tell you like if you thought that, you`re
bad. Presidents are Democrat, Republican, black, white, Chicago, Midwest,
south, presidents really like control over --
NICHOLS: I wrote that at the time.
NICHOLS: But here`s one thing that is really vital to put it in context.
And I spent in this new book, we`ve spent a lot of time looking at the
digitalization of politics. And one thing people should be very, very
conscious of is if they think the NSA is trolling through their data, you
should look at what political candidates and political parties are doing
and you should look at what corporations are doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, actually if the corporations that actually
make me most -- I guess part of what I find interesting about the outrage
is sure, I understand the outrage around the NSA. I also recognize them as
part of a democratically elected government which at least in theory is
responsive. Google and facebook and twitter and all of these to whom I
giveaway my information are corporations that aren`t -- there`s no even
imagination that they would be responsive. And we tend to give this
information away to them.
MURPHY: Well, I`m suing Google and facebook right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I know this.
MURPHY: Because they have tracked their users and in some cases they`re
non-signed up users, internet serving habits. They can tell what articles
you`ve read. They can tell what your politics are. They can tell what you
buy. And the danger of that is obvious. Nobody should know that much
about you. And there ought to be transparent privacy policies that let
people opt out of these services rather than you having to go through one
page after another and read fine print and ultimately be confused about
suing them because we believe they violated the wiretap act.
Now, let`s take it a step further. We always believed that one of the
reasons we ought to stop this corporate data mining is because the
government was going to get it. And the government can get it very easily
on top o the table and now we find that they`re getting it under the table.
And this is a vast data mining project unlike anything in the history of
the world. There is nobody that knows more about us as individuals today
than ever before. That includes soviet Russia, that includes China, that
includes all of the nations of the world. So this is big-time stuff. This
isn`t stuff to sneeze at and big brother has arrived.
And you know how he arrived? With the best of intentions. We were always
afraid he would. We would always wonder whether or not Americans are going
to say security trumps everything and that`s how dictatorships get started.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m obsessed with adolescent distaupic (ph) novels. I read
them as my sort of airplane reading. It`s always about these authoritarian
societies that begin with the best of intentions for the purpose of making
people safe and happy and secure. In both the Newtown photos case and in
this case, it`s a part of question about individual liberties and how much
we`re willing to take even the negative aspects that come with individual
liberties because we see liberties itself as such a value.
NICHOLS: But, it`s a bigger question. It`s a bigger question. Because
this is changing our politics and our lives. The fact of the matter is,
and I know we`re talking about the corporations, being concerned about the
corporations. Understand this. When political parties and candidates rely
on data mining to determine how they communicate and who they reach out to,
they begin the game of piecing together a narrow coalition instead of those
visionary statements that might build the governing coalition that could
actually do something. We are narrowing our discourse.
HARRIS-PERRY: They sell us a government instead of --
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s not healthy.
SKOLNIK: My concern with that argument is that yes, the political
campaigns and yes corporations are a problem. They might lead to a mailer,
to a phone call. But NSA leads to an arrest. It leads to a lifetime --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s the power of the state.
NICHOLS: Diminish that at all, but it is to say that we need to understand
that I mean, we actually still think the word propaganda as an unsettling
WEXLER: There`s another problem about it as well. Which is that there`s a
predictive quality to it. So, all of the big data and all of the data
mining and the pattern of our lives that they can put together from that
can be used to predict, for instance, that you are profiled as the kind of
person that is likely to commit a crime.
WEXLER: So you can be detained --
NICHOLS: Tom Cruise did a movie about that.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. This is now landed for real.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in fact, actually, I will make a claim that we already
do that and we just do it on less predictive data like skin color.
I just want to say thank you so much professor Wexler for you for joining
us. The rest of the panel are staying around for more.
Up next, downward dog and the devil? Wow. Seriously?
HARRIS-PERRY: Every week the nerds down in Nerdland come across all kinds
of stories we want to discuss with you. But some of those stories are just
so absurd that all we can say is wow, seriously?
First up this week, I know we talked about Mitt Romney during the segment
last week, but honestly, the guy keeps dropping gems of obliviousness.
Watch what he told CNN this week about hurricane Sandy`s effect on the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish the hurricane
hadn`t of happened when it did because it gave the president a chance to be
presidential and to be out showing sympathy for folks. That`s one of the
advantages of incumbency. But you know, you don`t look back and worry
about each little thing and how could that have been different. You look
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Mitt. Don`t sweat the small stuff. It was just a
super storm that disabled the New York City metropolitan area for days,
killed more than 150 people and caused more than $50 billion in damage.
Also, displacing three quarters of a million people, tens of thousands of
whom who are still homeless. Yes, that hurricane really screwed you,
Now, to someone who might actually have the chance to win an election, the
Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, E.W. or as I like
to call him EW Jackson. Excerpts from Jackson`s 2008 book, ten
commandments to an extraordinary life were reported this week.
Boy, oh, boy wow seriously, among other things, Jackson warned this against
for his readers, he warned them against the dangers of meditation.
According to "the National Review," he wrote quote "when one hears the word
meditation, it conjures the image of maharishi yoga, talking about finding
a mantra and striving for nirvana. The purpose of such meditation is to
empty one`s self. Satan is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul
and possess it. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty
yourselves. You`ll end up filled with something you probably don`t want."
Yes, much like when you don`t vote, you can end up with a lieutenant
governor and that seat filled by someone you don`t want.
Next, we have house Republicans. This week almost every Republican
congressman along with three Democrats voted undo the president`s executive
order that defers deportation for undocumented immigrants brought into this
country as children. The same policy known as the dream act that lawmakers
are trying to include in their bipartisan immigration reform bill. In
other words, the Republicans voted to deport the dreamers. And they were
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is adopted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow. How is that rebrand going for you GOP. Winning over
any of the Latino voters yet? And seriously, this vote happened on the
same day that house speaker Republican John Boehner had an op-ed on the
Spanish language news site making the claim that Republicans are better for
Latinos. The title of the op-ed, protecting the American dream.
Seriously? It`s like you guys are trying to make this segment every week.
Up next, everything you thought you knew about drugs in America could be
HARRIS-PERRY: Remember stories like this from the late 1980s?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In New York, Tracy Watson, who is six months pregnant,
smokes crack cocaine, usually 20 vials, $120 a day. She knows the risk to
TRACY WATSON, PREGNANT: Chances that the baby could come out premature,
deformed, really is the health where it can come out addicted too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That w the grim future predicted for the so-called crack
babies born to drug addicted mothers. Infants thought to be doomed for
life with developmental and physical disabilities, destined to drop out of
school or commit crimes.
But that turned out not to be quite true. According to Maureen Black, a
professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Maryland
school of medicine, the crack baby scare was overstated and not
substantiated. She was the lead author of a new review of 27 studies
covering 5,000 children. The research found only subtle differences in the
behavior of kids exposed to cocaine in the womb and those who weren`t. In
fact, some studies say the cultural assumptions about the crack babies,
they do more harm than the drug itself.
For a closer look at the real impact of drugs on our society, I`m joined by
Carl Hart, associate professor of neuroscience and psychology at Columbia
University and the author of "high price, a neuroscientists journey of
self-discovery, the challenge of everything you know about drugs in
society." Back with me are also former judge and criminal defense attorney
William Murphy, Washington Correspondent for "the Nation" magazine John
Nichols and editor in-chief of globalgrind.com. Michael Skolnik.
So, I want to start with you, Carl, because this book was really, in fact,
quite intense to read. In part because of moments like challenging our
fundamental assumptions like the crack baby narrative about what drugs do
and don`t do to us. What are the big myths we have about drugs?
CARL HART, AUTHOR, HIGH PRICE: There are multiple myths. I guess one of
the biggest is that the majority of people who use drugs like crack,
heroine, that (INAUDIBLE) are addicted when in fact, they are not. The
vast majority of people who use drugs, for example, 85 percent or so do so
without a problem. But yet most of our attention is focused on this small
pathological numbers of users.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when you say addiction, the way defined in the text, you
say addiction is not just about regular use, right, that`s just a pattern
of behavior. Addiction is when it creates problems in your family life, in
your work life, in your sense of self. And so, you are saying that for 85
percent of drug users, that is not the circumstance.
HART: That`s right. One of the things that people will help people think
about this more reasonably is think about alcohol. We know people who use
alcohol on a daily basis, a glass of wine.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I live in New Orleans.
NICHOLS: That`s not even an indictment.
HARRIS-PERRY: No. Not at all.
SKOLNIK: Problem if you don`t.
MURPHY: That`s right.
HART: So when we think about how we use alcohol in this society, there are
people who use cocaine in that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, I want to be clear. No one is suggesting it`s a good
idea to do cocaine or smoke crack while you are pregnant right, any more
than we would suggest it is great idea to smoke or to drink while pregnant,
right? But it is --
HART: Or not to eat well or not to exercise. All of those things.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. And yet, there is a way in which the social
norms, the stereotypes that were -- that came as part of this moral panic
around it created real policy. In fact, in some cities, the desire and the
ability and the laws to lock up women who were found with traces of cocaine
in their system, they could be incarcerated if they were pregnant.
HART: You are a historian, you`re a political scientist but you know
history. So, if we go back to the turn of the 20th century, early 1900s.
These sorts of things were done with powder cocaine in terms of black
people. There was a 1914 article in "The New York Times" called the negro
cocaine is a southern menace in which it was described that black people on
cocaine are more murderous, they are unaffected by bullets, they rape white
women. A wide range of things. So, drugs have always been used as an
excellent scapegoat to go after those groups in which we don`t like in the
HARRIS-PERRY: No. One of the things I love most about the book is the way
in which you talked about what happened to rats, right? So, a lot of what
we know about how brains respond to drugs has to do with what we know from
animal studies. The idea that rats, when kept in lonely cages, solitary
without social supports, without other things to do, without sex do a lot
of drugs all the way to the point of death, but if they have, you know, a
girl rat with them and they got some friends and family and something to
run around on, they do less drugs.
HART: Yes. It`s just like us. If we have alternatives, some things that
compete with drugs, somebody you like or some other activity, the
likelihood of you using drugs certainly to a pathological point is
decreased. And we know this and we have known this. But the problem is,
that hasn`t been emphasized in part because drugs are great escape goats.
They increase the budgets the not only law enforcement but researchers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I actually love your research where you are -- I
want to ask one last question. And then, we will start to pull other folks
in here because we are going to keep going on this.
I had a couple amen moments reading the book. We will talk about some of
it as we go forward. But one of the issue is this, that data showed that
teens who are either not caught or are given noncustodial sentences for
their crimes related to drugs do better in terms of employment, education
and reduced recidivism than those incarcerated or otherwise removed. What
that suggests to me, right, what those see to suggest to me is that the
problem isn`t the drug use, the problem is being -- so if you use drugs but
never caught, i.e., if you`re from a privileged community.
MURPHY: In other words, if you`re white.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. White and privileged. If you`re a college student
doing the drugs between classes, that the real problem, the loss of
employment, the loss of educational opportunities, the loss of social
standing comes from the incarceration from the arrest, not from the drugs.
HART: One of the things I tried to do in my book was to show -- use myself
as an example. So if you look at me, I certainly did drugs as a youth. I
certainly engaged in pretty crime. There were friends of mine who did the
same thing but they got caught. They got caught up. They are currently,
their lives are currently destroyed. I`m a professor, a tenured professor
at Columbia. So, I mean, that`s the sort of anecdote that supports the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, our last three presidents, I mean, President
Obama has admitted to having recreational drug uses use, President Clinton,
to somewhat recreational drug being aware around this.
SKOLNIK: Touching it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, touching it.
SKOLNIK: But not inhaling.
HARRIS-PERRY: But not inhaling. And of course, a president who had an
HART: Also marijuana at the frat house.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m bringing everybody else in as soon as we get back from
the commercial. Because we`re just getting started. This book is setting
the table for us. We`re talking about the drug war in black and white when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
This is a new report. It`s a big one released just this week from
the American Civil Liberties Union. It unequivocally lays bear the truth
of the drug policy.
And the truth of that policy is this, it`s biased, it`s broken and it
is costing us billions.
The ACLU`s analysis took an in-depth look at the enforcement of
marijuana possession laws. And here`s what they found: when it comes to
marijuana, use rates among black and white Americans are nearly equal.
Every year in 2001 to 2010, more white blacks than black votes between the
ages of 18 and 25 reported using marijuana in the previous year.
But when the ACLU looked at who our justice system condemns to
criminality because of that use, the analysis found a vast inequality.
Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than white
people who light up at the same rates. Between 2001 and 2010, most of
these arrests, 88 percent of them were for simple possession. Not people
like the suburban mom charged with running this $3 million pot operation.
The vast majority of people whose lives become ensnared in the
criminal justice system after a marijuana arrest were found with just
enough for personal use. Those cases where someone was busted for simple
possession account for nearly half of all drug arrests.
The ACLU calculated one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds in 2010.
That`s every 37 seconds that you should imagine money flying out of your
pocket because the price tag for enforcing the marijuana possession laws
that enable those arrests is $3.6 billion of your taxpayer dollars.
In exchange for your money, here`s what you get from drug policy: a
complete failure to decrease the availability or use of marijuana and
hundreds of people disproportionately African-American whose lives are
often irrevocably changed by entering the criminal justice system.
Here with me now is Carl Hart, associate professor of neuroscience
and psychology at Columbia University. He`s also served on the National
Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and he`s author of "High Price."
Judge Billy Murphy, a criminal defense attorney and former circuit
court judge for the city of Baltimore.
John Nichols, Washington correspondent for "The Nation" and author of
And Michael Skolnik, editor in chief of GlobalGrind.com, and
political director for Russell Simmons.
All right. Is there anything in there that we didn`t already know?
JOHN NICHOLS, THE NATION: No, there`s nothing in it that we didn`t
know, if we were paying attention.
NICHOLS: But it is still very important.
In a way, it`s like the NSA stuff we were talking about before. We
know a lot of stuff. To have it confirmed, to have the data, to have it
come out and to force this conversation we`re having here, it comes in
context, because there`s something I happen to think of as very positive
going on in this country.
Across this country, people are voting to strike down these laws
against marijuana. We have statewide referendums across this country,
local moves to decriminalize, even to legalize. And that is -- that`s so
vital because the fact of the matter is, everything this study shows tells
us that the only way we`re going to begin to address this is with removing
those laws. You cannot change --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. What this report com down to is you have to
legalize it for 21 and above. You have to create certain kinds of rules
around with saying whether we have it with alcohol. But you can`t -- you
just can`t expect an enforcement that isn`t biased as long as it`s illegal.
CARL HART, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Melissa, I don`t know if we need to
legalize marijuana. As I delineated in my book, I think the first thing we
need to do is to decriminalize it. So, it means it`s still illegal, but
people can get a criminal record for it. So, I think that`s the first
And then the second step we need --
HARRIS-PERRY: Help people who are listening to understand the
difference. Give me something in this world that is illegal but not
HART: OK. Let`s think about driving. When you have a driving
infraction, instead of sending you to jail, you pay a civil fine. That`s
HART: That`s what I argue for in terms of marijuana and all drugs in
But in terms of the legalization, one of the things that concerns me
is that the country is like adolescents. They`re infants when it comes to
drug education. There are so many myths and misunderstandings that people
will get in trouble, if you do have a widespread or wide availability.
So, criminalization for me is an intermediary step and where we can
have in a corresponding amount of education that goes along.
Then, if we want to reevaluate and think about legalization, that`s
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s possible.
JUDGE BILL MURPHY, FORMER CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE: Why do you say all
drugs should be decriminalized?
HART: That`s a great point. I say that all drugs should be
decriminalized, because drugs are just like automobiles in this simple
fact. Just like automobiles, they`re potentially dangerous. But we know
how to minimize the harms associated with automobiles. We can do the same
thing with drugs.
But you, the American public, has been misled to believe that drugs
are so dangerous that they cause these extreme brain changes. Simply not
true. That`s supported by the weight of the evidence.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it not true that drugs -- are you making the claim
that illicit or illegal drugs are simply not that different that we get via
prescription or over the counter, or are you saying that drugs really don`t
impact our brain chemistry? Because I`m just thinking, you know, people
going through everything from cancer treatment to infertility treatment
recognize when you put a substance in your body, it can make an enormous
HART: You make a good point. When we think about a drug like
methamphetamine for example, and do you know Adderall is the attention
deficit disorder drug.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which we hand out to kids.
HART: They are the same drug. My research shows and other people`s
research show they`re the same drug.
When we think of drugs like morphine, which we use for pain, exact
same drug as heroin.
MURPHY: Or OxyContin
HART: Or OxyContin, and the rest of this.
That`s not to say people can`t get in trouble with these drugs. It`s
simply to say we know how to decrease harm and we know how to use these
NICHOLS: Carl, doesn`t that take us to the issue of self-medication?
We have a lot of people who in a broken health care system are looking for
something to ease the pain and we have a lot of our drug problems in this
country are legal drugs, right?
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, GLOBAL GRIND: If I could just -- back to the ACLU
report for a moment if I could. The challenges, the ramifications of the
racial bias over drug policy, right? Stop and frisk here in New York. We
have more marijuana arrests under stop and frisk than gun arrests, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So for guns, not so bad with --
SKOLNIK: A 14-year-old kid gets picked up for possession. He goes
to jail for a night, just one night. He goes to jail and says judge I
could do this. I can do a night.
The next weekend he`s picked up, got to wait until Monday, he does
the weekend. I can do a weekend. I can do six months, I can do 18 months,
I can do 36, I can do six years, I can 55 years. I`m 65 years old and
dying in jail.
So, it`s conditioning young black and brown people of a life in
MURPHY: On the streets, there is a saying: you`re not a man unless
you`ve done some time. Can`t get any worse than that?
My God, this is black men persuading other black men that a rite of
passage is going to jail.
MURPHY: Give me a break.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that said, we`ve had kids at the table here. We
try to often bring in young people, who have said to us that it`s less that
sort of pressure from other young African-Americans and more not just the -
- well, I can do that, but the dehumanizing experience of walking down the
street and finding yourself suddenly pushed against the wall, having your
pockets turned out., right?
And that says that if you are a citizen of a country, if you are --
if your mom is a taxpayer, she`s a school teacher, you`re walking down the
street, but your body becomes always assumed to be criminalized. The
impact that that has, but not just -- just not sort of like emotionally, if
you get the arrests, sometimes it means no more student loans, no more
public housing, right? No more opportunity for certain kinds -- in many
places in the country, no more ability to vote, right? We actually --
HART: Can we -- let`s talk about some of the assumptions related to
the way we legislate these drugs. One of the major assumptions is that
drugs are so dangerous. Marijuana is so dangerous, so we have to go after
it with all of this force.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a gateway.
HART: It`s a gateway, it`s dangerous. One of the things I`ve
learned in my years of research that drug effects are predictable.
Increase the dose, you can get some toxic effects.
The other thing I`ve learned from my research and also from living,
is that black boys and black men interactions with police are not
predictable. That`s why you`ve got Ramarley Graham up in the Bronx, the
kid killed because they thought he had marijuana. That`s why you had
Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman thought that he was under the influence of
That sort of belief, those assumptions are even more harmful when
those kind of things happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was -- it was useful as I was reading the text that
part of what`s going on here, you say that when we talk about drug use,
it`s not just an individual physiological experience. It`s a collective
You say one of the big myths of drugs is the idea that crack
destroyed black communities. That crack is the thing that came in and
destroyed the communities.
I`m just thinking, Michael, we`re around the same age, maybe you`re a
tad younger, but I mean -- all of those films, sort of from that moment
that said from "New Jack City" to --
HART: "Jungle Fever" --
HARRIS-PERRY: The whole deal, that crack was killing our
SKOLNIK: Yes, it was just -- a bombardment of media. That black
people are bad and bad and bad and we bought it. We bought it hook line and
HART: We bough it. And not only, we see it in hip hop. Even today,
there are people who are saying how awful crack cocaine is, on the one.
And on the other hand, they`re lamenting the laws that punishes crack
NICHOLS: It`s such a convenient target, such a convenient thing to
talk about. What do we have in the parallel of that period? We have the
deindustrialization of our urban areas. If you want to look at the history
of the last 25 years, really, district, you`re going to see factory after
factory after factory closing.
UNIDENTIFIED: That`s right.
NICHOLS: And one of the fundamental realities is that you`ve taken
areas where often people were invited to, come to the south to the more
enlightened north, come and live in the neighborhoods. And then, you have
ripped the economic core out of them, right, and you say -- well, it must
be the drugs that are the problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: As soon as we come back, I want to talk about
alternatives to this and -- because I want to be clear, parents, we`re not
encouraging you and your children to all like smoke crack together. That`s
not what`s going on here.
But we do want to bring down, tamp down the anxiety so that we can a
serious look at what actually needs to be done. What are the real
problems, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The city of New York stop and frisk policy is an epic
fail when it comes to goal of recovering illegal guns. But it`s been more
successful at something else: the city`s very own version of marijuana drug
policy. According to the New York ACLU, of the more than 500,000 stops
conducted last year, nine of every 10 of them resulted in in no arrest and
no summons. But stop and frisk resulted in more than 5,000 arrests for
In fact, it was the cause of more stop and frisk arrest than any
other offense. And, of course, the primary targets of those arrests were
the 87 percent of black and Latino New Yorkers who were stopped and frisked
Confronted with the rules of this biased system, Nerdland friend and
host of "This Week in Blackness", Elon James White, got together with a few
other Nerdland familiar faces and came up with a new -- with a few stop and
frisk rules of his own. Then, inspired by the Notorious BIG "Ten Crack
Commandments", he put them together in a hip hop track called the "Ten
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining our conversation from Salt Lake City, Utah,
and I know he`s never had an intro like that before is the city`s police
chief, Christopher Burbank, a national expert on reducing racial bias in
policing, immigration policy and using social science to ensure police
It`s so nice to have you, Chief.
CHRISTOPHER BURBANK, CHIEF, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: Thank you for
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me just on a very basic level. How do you
train a police force to police without profiling?
BURBANK: Well, difficult challenge, because we all come with
inherent biases, things that we`ve learned throughout our growing up years.
But the focus always needs to be on behavior. Never on what a person looks
like but what is their behavior. What can we articulate? And that`s the
rule -- when you look at reasonable suspension and probable cause,
standards of law, that`s what they`re based on.
How does a person look is not an indicator of criminal activity. But
their behavior absolutely is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you a question, because we were talking
just a few moments ago about decriminalizing marijuana and other illicit
drugs. What would happen to your police force, to your -- to the way that
you use resources if you were not having to make arrests for drugs? Would
it shrink your resources because you get resources from the federal
government, or would it grow your resources, freeing you up to do other
kinds of criminal investigations?
BURBANK: Again, as I`ve listened to the debate that has gone on
before, the idea, the notion that we no longer jail or imprison people for
use or possession, frees up resources, no question about it. But we always
have to look. If there`s criminal behavior going on and the root cause may
be some sort of addiction or problem with either drugs or alcohol, we need
to treat that.
And we`ve shown time and time again in this country, that simply
putting people in jail does not solve this problem. In fact, we are better
when we have alternative toss incarceration, we utilize those programs,
recidivism drops off and we avoid some of the negative impact that comes.
As an administrator, if you send people out and say enforce certain
rules and regulations and we`re going to hit these hard and have a zero
tolerance policy, you absolutely impact people of color negatively.
HARRIS-PERRY: So talk to me about this notion of alternatives to
incarceration, because I saw you make sort of a face about it. That`s one
of the standard things we talk about, alternatives to incarceration, but I
saw you going, oh, not sure.
HART: One of the things I want to make absolutely clear is that
there has been a misguided focus on either jails or treatment. You have
such small numbers of people who are addicted. What about the vast
majority who are not addicted. That`s where the focus should be.
Clearly, if people are addicted, we want to help them. And
oftentimes, their addiction has a lot more to do with other things than a
pharmacology of drugs. But we have focused on drugs as if that`s the real
problem. That`s a mistake.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, living in isolated circumstances,
HART: Living in isolated circumstances, unemployment, not knowing
about responsibilities, not having any skills -- a wide range of things
that we know how to deal with.
MURPHY: And I love what the chief is trying to do. But it`s going
to be a dismal failure for a couple of reasons.
Number one, where you police is something that is decided on a level
higher than his pay grade. That`s true everywhere.
And decisions have been made all over the country that you don`t
police in the white community for drugs. You don`t do it.
And so, the overwhelming number of arrests for drugs are because the
police emphasis is almost strictly in the black community.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Chief, what do you say to that? That`s what we
call the drunkard search, where does the drunk look for his keys. He looks
under the light because that`s where the light is. Not because that`s
where he most likely dropped them. Similarly, if police are only policing
in communities where they expect to find drugs, inner city, black, brown
communities doesn`t simply create a circumstance where you don`t bother to
look in the other places.
BURBANK: Absolutely. That`s a valid concern. The thing I take
exception too as a police chief, I have no -- it is contingent upon me as
an administrator to do what`s right to say no I`m not going to do this. No
matter what the pressure comes from. If we start looking at arrest rates
and we`re simply rewarded for the number of people we arrest and put into
jail for no matter what the circumstances, but especially for drug arrests,
then we`re not doing the right thing.
And so, as a police administrator, I need to stand up and say this is
how we`re going to police Salt Lake City. I`m not doing my job in order to
keep my job tomorrow, but I`m actually telling the mayor, the city council
that this is a better way to do business. In fact, this is going to have
MUPRHY: You are not -- you are not coming up with proportionate
numbers of arrests for whites as you are for every other ethnic group.
Your policy has failed. We know whites use the same number of illegal
drugs as blacks do.
So are you telling me in Salt Lake City, 90 percent of your drug
arrests are white? I doubt it. And so, there is a racialism implicit in
your policy that, until you treat everybody the same under the law, you`re
not going to get rid of.
Are you telling me that the number of open investigations for drug
dealing networks are nine times as high in the white community because you
got nine times the illegal drug use and distribution from the white
community? I doubt it.
And so, what are we really talking about here? I think it`s a great
NICHOLS: Before we jump in here. I respect what the judge is
I also want to say, I cover a lot of communities across this country.
And one of the things that strikes me is that there is a genuine -- I don`t
want to say revolt -- there is a genuine uprising among enlightened police
chiefs and enlightened sheriffs. More and more are stepping up and saying
that we have to do this thing differently.
NICHOLS: Now the judge`s insight becomes useful because it is a
pressure to keep going that way. But I really think that it is a vital
thing to recognize it is police chiefs and sheriffs in the lead of --
MURPHY: I don`t want everybody patting themselves on the back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me say this. Particularly to the Chief Burbank in
Salt Lake City, I mean, the dance that I would do to hear my police chief
in New Orleans say anything like the sentences that you have said, to even
acknowledge the ways in which the policing is in fact occurring in a
racially biased way.
So, I actually, Judge Murphy, I appreciate this.
I also appreciate, Chief Burbank, that you have an acknowledgment of
what`s happening here. And it`s clear to me that this is not an easily
solve issue. But we will need police chiefs like you as part of this
But also, we are always going to need the moral conscience of people
like Judge Murphy, the research of people like Carl Hart, and, of course,
the writing of people like John Nichols. Thank you all for being here.
Michael is going to stay with me, because we`re going to lighten up a
little bit. It`s Sunday morning.
MURPHY: You like Michael.
HARRIS-PERRY: We like Michael. We`re going to the movies next. It
is summertime. It`s movie time. I`m going to ask the question, is this
the breakout year for black filmmakers?
Actor and director Tim Reid joins a stellar panel here in Nerdland,
HARRIS-PERRY: Summertime is movie time. But for African-American
audiences, the simple enjoyment of blockbuster films can be harmed by the
limited and stereotypical roles often reserved for black actors.
And, there`s nothing wrong with slapstick comedy or good chick flick
or car races loosely bound with dialogue, sometimes you want a movie that
For many people of color, it can be tough to find a theater screening
of the stories of love and humanity and struggle that reflect the fullness
of our experiences. But a new story in "The New York Times" suggests we`re
about to see a new group of talented black filmmakers flip the script and
bring new stories to the silver screen, a resurgence.
"The Times" reports that at least 10 new black films by and about
African-Americans will be released this year, including several award
contenders from both independent and major distributors.
One of the films, "Fruitvale Station" is based on the real life
shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area
transit officer in 2009, just one of the movies getting a lot of buzz right
Are we seeing a renaissance in filmmaking by and about African-
Americans? Or is it just a little too early and maybe too late to
Joining me now to discuss this is Tim Reid, famed actor, director and
producer and co-founder of New Millennium Studios, an independent film
production studio in Virginia.
Beside him is filmmaker Tanana -- I messed it up. I just had done it
TANANARIVE DUE, FILMMAKER: Tananarive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tananarive, man, I`ve been practicing. Tananarive
Due, who is also the Cosby Chair of Humanities at Spelman College.
Also, here is comedian, Baratunde Thurston, author of "How to Be
And "Global Grind" editor in chief, Michael Skolnik.
Thank you all so much for being here.
I want to start with you. Do you think we`re seeing a renaissance or
resurgence in black film?
TIM REID, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Let`s see. This is I think my fourth
REID: I`m just glad to see black people working. I`ve used it four
times now. Each decade it seems to happen that this is -- Dickens said it
best -- the best of times, the worst of times. There`s a renaissance in
the sense that more people are working right now in the film business, but
in terms of story and quality of stories, we have yet to come.
I think people in Africa are outdoing us. People in Brazil are
outdoing us. Where is my city of God? Where is my Chico and Rita my Cuba?
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there a reason why the African diaspora might be
doing better than this part of African diaspora than the U.S.?
REID: Simple. They`re better story tellers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Really? It`s not -- you don`t see it as structural?
You don`t see as --
REID: They`re better storytellers and they still love their culture
and their ancestral beginnings. They`re searching in Africa for their new
So, when you go to Nigeria, which is one of the second or third
largest film-producing country in the world, they do it with 2,500 films a
year. Now, not all of them good.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, sure.
REID: But pretty soon they`re going to breakthrough. I predict
within the next five years, a film from Africa is going to win the Academy
They`re telling their stories about tribal differences, the evil and
the Aruba conflicts. They`re telling stories about culture, based in their
We`re still doing, you know, either the history of black folks in the
suffering period or the hip hop world. That in between glory phase like
movies that would be something like Motown`s review that`s happening, where
I sat there and I was immersed in my culture, listening to the music and
dreaming and having --
HARRIS-PERRY: We just had them on Sunday. We had the stars from it.
That is true. I mean, there`s a way in which maybe just the pure
volume is part of what starts to give us quality. When we have a lot, some
will be bad, some will be great. Do we need to just have more black film
or is there something about what`s going on here that might produce the
sort of black film we`re hoping for.
DUE: Well, I`m certainly hoping we can have a role in creating the
film. I think what we have is gatekeepers who aren`t always interested or
worried that it won`t be profitable. To tout our stories the way we
experience our stories that`s why, as a novelist, I decided to make a short
film, fun to get myself, because we had the experience of doing the pitches
and hearing people actually say to your face, do the characters have to be
black? And that`s very discouraging.
I felt like at a certain point, maybe I don`t want a pitch anymore.
With examples like Ava DuVernay, and affirm with her distribution model. I
got inspired. She was my first guest as the Cosby chair at Spelman. She
lit us on fire. We had a big celebration where we saw black films. I
literally thought in days, I can do that with work.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re having both Ava on in just a bit and we`re also
going to talk more about Octavia as we get there.
But I wonder, you know, part of it is, as you start talking about the
idea of telling the stories or having independent distribution of the
films, not having to make the pitches. You know, part of the problem is on
the one hand wanting to see more black images, but then also feeling like
yes, but not that one, God, really. I cannot take one more magical Negro
who shows up with wit and a Southern accent. I don`t want a superhero
who`s going to die in the first 20 minutes. I don`t want one more side
kick like --
BARATUNDE THURSTON, COMEDIAN: Here`s the thing with the accent and I
love what the Smith family has done with the neutral black accent. It`s a
choice. Like it`s vaguely British. That`s nice of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s kind of British --
THURSTON: That`s what I learned from that. I get excited. I come
from Internet and more blogger world. People do it yourself world.
I asked a friend of mine. He runs the black list, which has nothing
to do with racism, but Hollywood scripts that are hot. He said he noticed
over the 10 years of Sundance, 10 years ago he felt like a celebrity
because he was the only one walking around. People assumed he must have
been Mr. Big Shot. Just this past year, there`s only 40 or 50 people at
one dinner, all having films in the festival or financing films themselves
through their own studio employment or relationships.
So, he was much more hopeful about the crop of voices and thought
this renaissance, number four or five or six was bigger and understated
when he was here.
SKOLNIK: I think that there`s not a renaissance in black filmmaking.
It`s a renaissance in America waking up that black films are American
SKOLNIK: So, Oscar Grant is an American young man, not a black young
man. "Fruitvale Station" is an extraordinary film.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just the trailer for making -- maybe because you know
what`s coming. It makes you --
SKOLNIK: And when Dee Reese made "Pariah", which is also an
extraordinary film about the more complicated stories of the black
experience in America, but that was an American young girl who played the
lead in that film, an American young girl who`s going through the trials
and tribulations with her family.
So, I think that actually, America is seeing black films no longer,
at least young Americans. Not just black films but great films.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, maybe the millenials will save us.
We`ve got more, because this -- we will he next, the woman who took
Sundance by storm, but apparently, Spelman College by storm. One of
Hollywood`s a rising young directors, Ava DuVernay joins us live, next.
DuVernay, I suck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to go to a movie this weekend? Don`t tell
me you`re working.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know if you like the same kind of
movies I like.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. What kind of movies you like?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Indy ones. Foreign ones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Movies where a brother`s got to read?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, those.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: All right. I can swing with subtitles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I can swing with subtitles. Who knew that would be so
That was a small piece of the superb film "Middle of Nowhere", which
earned our next guest the U.S. Best Director Award at Sundance last year,
making her the first African-American woman to earn that prize at the famed
Joining me now from Los Angeles is Ava DuVernay, who is the film
writer, screenwriter and jack of many trades in the film industry.
Nice to have you.
AVA DUVERNAY, FILMMAKER: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so thrilled that you`re here. I`m so excited
about "Middle of Nowhere," which is really just a compelling film, a
But I`m interested -- when you think of a story like "Middle of
Nowhere", it`s clearly raced, it`s clearly gendered. But do you think of
it as a race story, as a black story, or as a human story? How do you
connect the race and gender influences within the story as you approach
DUVERNAY: Well, I`m a black woman filmmaker. And I tell stories
about black women. So, whatever description or context people want to put
that in, I invite them to do so.
For me, I`m telling stories that are closed to my heart, stories that
I feel need to be told, in a way that pleases me as the creator of the
story. So, I proudly state I`m black filmmaker, some black filmmakers and
women filmmakers, want to erase those qualifiers just say I`m a filmmaker.
I prefer not to because I feel like it explains the totality of what I`m
HARRIS-PERRY: (INAUDIBLE) talks about if the book that you want to
read is a story that you want to read doesn`t exist, you must write it. It
feels that way watching your films about -- that the thing that you wanted
to see did not exist. And so, you made it.
DUVERNAY: The things that I wanted to see existed, but in a very
small kind of vacuum. You know, beautiful films have en made by black
women filmmakers, by black male filmmakers, you know, "Daughters of the
Dust," (INAUDIBLE), Charles Burnett, I mean, they`ve happened. Part of
discussing a renaissance is really to be clear about what a renaissance is.
It`s a recurring.
So, it has happened before and I have seen them. Not with any
consistency and certainly I think the cadre of filmmakers that I work with
now and work around now, we are looking to kind of rebuild the architecture
that was once there. That kind of is no more. So, that`s the goal.
HARRIS-PERRY: So for folks who aren`t in the industry, when you say
the architecture that was once there, what does that mean? I mean, what
specifically are the kinds of barriers to entry for filmmakers like you,
whether it`s around race or gender or whether it`s around sort of just
stories that we think of as these deeply human stories that aren`t the kind
of -- often aren`t the blockbuster summer movies which need to be made and
which audiences find so compelling?
DUVERNAY: You know, a good friend of mine always reminds me that
we`re working within an industry that was founded upon a film called "The
Birth of a Nation". So, within that context, our stories are not valued by
the industry itself, the business, the politics of this industry do not
serve our storytelling.
So it`s really important and I think when you look and you study
black cinema, the times where we have had the most success are when we
worked from the outside, as opposed to trying to work and trying to get
into the inside. The L.A. rebellion, Burnett, Dash, out of UCLA in the
`60s and `70s, the kind of explosion of films that you had in the `90s, you
look at something like "House Party", "House Party" was at Sundance.
People don`t know that "House Party" was an independent film before a lot
of these films, "Love Jones", they were independents that became a part of
the studio system.
So I think that we need to learn, you know, what worked in the past
and independence for me is the path I`ve chosen.
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate you bringing us back to "The Birth of a
Nation", because it reminds us of that connection between film and
politics. Of course, "Birth of a Nation" was shown in the White House as
part of no matter whatever happened, I can never be a President Wilson fan.
We`re talking much earlier in the show about the power of images in
conveying political messages, the power of images in impacting our public
policy. I always worried that a bad movie with African-American images and
by bad, I mean bad history, like representing the history inaccurately, it
almost worse than simply no film about it at all. Because the images are
so powerful, people will remember them and respond to them over and above
anything they ever read in a historical text.
REID: You see, that`s why -- Ava, what she`s doing is so important,
to create your own marketing and distribution system. The problem with the
modern-day filmmaker, black filmmaker or independent filmmaker is that we
want to be in the system. The whole idea of joining the system is what we
all work for. Those of us, like myself, 16 years old who left Hollywood at
the top of my game and said, I`m going to build the studio, I know I`m
leaving the system. I don`t expect the system to help me.
I`m so happy to see what she`s done, what Tyler has done. I`m proud
of the progress they have made in not only creating stories, but getting
them to the marketplace, understanding that we`re in a global market.
This is no longer just about 40,000 black Americans. This is about a
diaspora that`s all over the world with stories to be told that must be
told. How do we connect? We connect by building a distribution and
cooping each other and working with each other and try and tell stories
that are broad-based.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to let everybody back on all of this when we
HARRIS-PERRY: Given that there`s a new big budget superhero, science
fiction or fantasy film virtually every weekend in the summertime, you
think Hollywood is giving it, right?
Well, if you think it isn`t, Will Smith, if your name isn`t Will
Smith, you may find it nearly impossible to secure the budget for a sci-fi
film with a black lead actor.
One of my guests here decided to take matters into her own hands and
make her own self-financed new short film, "Danger World".
Tell me about the notion of the Octavia Butler.
DUE: Yes, we had a big Octavia Butler celebration that`s filming in
March. As part of that, it was a black science fiction short film
festival. Watching these shorts and there was one from Kenya, (INAUDIBLE)
I think it`s pronounced, and "Wake" which is a short horror film, and "The
Abandon" which is a web pilot, I`ve realized that my husband and I Steven
Barnes have collaborated on several novels, we`re science fiction horror
We said let`s do it ourselves. We got together with our director,
Luchina Fisher, set up dangerworld.com and literally, we didn`t have time
to go to indie-go go or kick start it. We just started. And our fans,
believers, people who don`t even know our work, but believing what we`re
trying to do, let`s not have the sacrificial Negro. No more T-dog.
"The Walking Dead" has improved with the black characters. We love
the show. That`s why we`re critical. A character like T-dog and
sacrifices himself saving others. We`ve seen that before.
"Danger World" it`s a simple story in the zombie plague by the
grandfather sheltering his granddaughter. Just the imagery of a
grandfather and granddaughter feels groundbreaking. And then you set in
the context of teaching survival skills. How do we teach our children?
What about the grandparents left raising their grandchildren? Maybe it`s
not the zombie plague but it feels like a zombie plague.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. There are communities like, all right.
So, Baratunde, there is -- I wonder if there`s something specific
about this kind of genre, about the idea of as you might say, blacks in the
future or blacks in space or us in the dystopic future that has a
particularly valuable resonance, because it`s imaginary. It forces us to
imagine ourselves in a future space, not extinct somehow.
THURSTON: To be able to do that. Science fiction allows us to make
that leap and have an indirect convent on our own society. People don`t
always want to hear what we have to say. But the story is universal, as
your earlier point, a black woman can be a great film just like any other
group of people can make it. Science fiction should allow to us leap a
I would say to your point, Tim, about distribution, they wrote
(INAUDIBLE) wrote about a survey they just did in the greatest community
dissatisfaction among black people was the lack of entertainment space, the
movie theaters and nightclubs. It was dramatic.
You look at the dollars spent and some of the resonance with Latino
filmmakers, and they represent even more of the spin, but the stories
aren`t quite there. Maybe more actual magical Negroes in the future play
in the same way that we are just to Hollywood tell us how we have.
SKOLNIK: Hollywood is probably the most segregated entertainment
sector in the world. They`re still working on storylines from the 1960s
and 1970s. We need more ownership. We need more distribution. We need
more folks of color at executive levels.
If look at the last three years, Brad Young, who`s one of the
unbelievable cinematographers in the world, has one of the best
cinematographer award twice at Sundance. He should be shooting $60
million, $100 million movies. I mean, he`s African-American.
These folks -- so, we need no just directors and storytellers,
executives, cinematographers, editors.
THURSTON: Why would we do that when we can do "Fast and Furious 12,"
the training wheels.
REID: The filmmaker has a responsibility as well. I mean, we have
to understand we live in a global society now. You have to make your films
ready to trans -- go over boundaries.
One of the problems we have is that our films don`t travel well
internationally, not because they don`t want to see them. It`s because or
stories are so narrow. We deal with the victimization syndrome.
When you see a film come from France, like "Intouchables," this
incredible story. When you see films come from Cuba like "Chico and Rita,"
these are wonderful stories that translate.
We got to understand that there are 250 million people of African
descent that speak one language and that is Portuguese, they were in
Brazil, you know? They are in Angola. They want to see our content.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ava, I want to give you a chance to jump in on exactly
this point. Like are our stories sufficiently universal, maybe even
intergalactic, that they can travel throughout the diaspora?
DUVERNAY: I mean, absolutely. I`ve travelled the world with the
films. I understand their power and the level of interest that they have
in all parts of the country, of the world.
I think to one of the points made earlier about Bradford Young, a
good friend of mine, who also was our cinematographer on "The Middle of
Nowhere," conversations he and my colleagues have quite a bit, not
necessarily wanting to make "Fast and Furious 12" or whatever it is with
the stories we`re telling. I think the assumption is we work in the
independent space with hopes we`ll be let in.
I think what I`m trying to do and people that I work with at a firm,
the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement is to create a
context, cultivate a new audience without kind of questing and thirsting
and wanting to, you know, tell stories that are more contrived. And that
speaks to the whole idea of the black renaissance.
Will this be co-opted? Will everyone all of a sudden kind of go and
try to grab those big dollars at the studios? We`ve seen in the past that
that`s not sustainable. And so, there are a lot of conversations among us
about, you know, how to go about what we`re doing now.
HARRIS-PERRY: To tell new stories, to cultivate new audiences and to
boldly go where no black folks have gone before.
Thank you, Ava, in Los Angeles. And thank you to Tim, and,
Tananarive, here, and, Baratunde, and, Michael, all here in Nerdland.
Up next, an annual nerd land tradition. It`s the summer book reading
HARRIS-PERRY: The official start of summer approaches, and it`s time
for a time-honored nerd tradition -- the summer reading list. Ever since
we were school kids with our first library cards, the nerds of Nerdland
have known summer is the chance to delve deep into great books.
And here are a few of our picks for 2013. In non-fiction politics,
we love Jeremy Scahill`s "Dirty Wars." This impeccably researched text
covers the drone wars and is the basis for a newly released documentary.
Don`t miss "Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic
Revolution" by Doug Fine. It just might convince you that legalizing
marijuana can save our economy.
For memoirs, we recommend Rosie Schaap`s "Drinking with Men", which
is a must-read for independent women blazing their own paths.
Looking for a little self-improvement this summer? You have to pick
up the "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, nerdlicious a peek into how
our brains and behavior shape our lives.
If you have a teen, join her in "The Divergent Series". Adolescent
dystopic novels are my guilty pleasure and this is one of my favorites.
But the best reads of summer are the novels that you never forget.
Nerdland suggests Taiye Selasi`s "Ghana Must Go", which complicates what it
means to be a part of the black diaspora.
And Edward Danticat`s "Claire of the Sea Light," a little girl is
missing and the pain, love, human interconnection that her loss reveals are
And don`t miss Kiese Laymon`s "Long Division," one Mississippi town
with two engaging stories in two very different decades. The sharp humor
and deep humanity make this debut novel unforgettable.
It`s summer. Pour an iced tea, find a chair in the shade and take
some time to read.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. Now,
it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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