June 15, 2014
Guest: Barbara Lee, Earl Catagnus, Isabel Coleman, Marcellus McRae, Randi
Weingarten, Beth Karas, Dean Obeidallah, Stanley Nelson
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, where were
you 20 years ago when all eyes were trained on O.J. Simpson`s bronco?
Plus, Iraq on the brink of coming undone.
And acclaimed film maker Stanley Nelson comes to Nerdland with the story of
But first, taking on teachers by targeting tenure.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
I want you to think back to your most special teacher, the one who made an
indelible impact on your life. Maybe it was in elementary school, but the
teacher who taught you to love reading, or in high school, the teacher who
encouraged you to apply for college. A teacher who not only imparted
wisdom and encouraged your love of learning, but who made you feel valuable
as a person, who taught you to dream bigger and helped you take the steps
to get there.
For me, that teacher was Mrs. Erickson, my 7th grade English teacher. She
introduced me to Bilbo Baggins, the process of literate criticism and the
belief I have something important to share. The value of a great teacher
is indisputable. But there is substantial disagreement about how we get
great teachers in front of the students who need them most. How do we
attract the best teachers to the profession and equally important, how do
we keep them in the classroom? Some of the biggest names in U.S. politics
have made their position clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it came to our schools, we eliminated teacher
tenure to improve education for our children.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: To get tenure in Louisiana out you have
to be ranked in the top 10 percent for five years.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: We now have teacher tenure reform in
New Jersey for the first time in 105 years with tenure can be taken from
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I first stood before you in 2011, I said the
single most important factor in student learning is the quality of
teaching. Since that time, we eliminated teacher tenure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, tenure took center stage in a big way, when
California Judge Rolf Treu released his decision in a case of Vergara
versus California, a decision declaring five California statutes that
protect job stability for teachers unconstitutional.
Those statutes included a permanent employment statute, dismissal statutes
setting the procedure administrators must follow to dismiss a teacher and
the last in, first out statute which bases layoffs on seniority.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of nine California students who claimed
those rules deprived students of decent teachers especially in low income
communities of color. The judge sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that
those statutes impose quote, "a real an appreciable impact on students`
fundamental rights to the quality of education. That they impose a
disproportion of burden on poor and minority students."
The decision draws a comparison between a junior and efficient teacher and
a senior incompetent teacher, saying the statutes force schools to keep the
senior teachers in place and let go or not hire at all the junior efficient
But it`s somewhat of a reductive comparison. It assumes there are scores
of junior efficient teachers available in schools, especially low income
schools, in communities of color. It assumes those teachers will remain in
those schools instead of gaining experience and moving on to better
resourced schools that offer better pay and fewer challenges. But that
presumption is not necessarily empirically played out.
You see Berkley economic and public policy professor Jesse Rothstein wrote
in the "New York times" op-ed this week, the lack of effective teachers in
impoverished schools contributes to that gap but tenure isn`t the cause.
Teaching in those schools is a hard job and many teachers prefer slightly
easier jobs in less troubled settings. That leads to high turnover and
difficulty in filling positions. Left with a dwindling pool of teachers,
principals are unlikely to dismiss them whether they have tenure or not.
But you don`t have to take his word for it. Last November, the department
of education released the results of a study in which they offered bonuses
for the highest performing teachers to move into schools serving
disadvantaged students. Teachers ranking in the top 20 percent in their
subject and grade were offered $20,000 to transfer into and stay at schools
with low test scores. But of the more than 1500 teachers identified, only
22 percent applied for the program.
To be clear, tenure for teachers in k through 12 is not a guarantee of
perpetual employment. Education expert Dana Goldstein joined my colleague
Chris Hayes on "All In" Thursday and explained this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: What is tenure?
DANA GOLDSTEIN, EDUCATION EXPERT: Great first question. It`s a promise of
due process. So once a teacher earns tenure rights, if a principal or
school wants to get rid of them, want to fire them, they have to make the
case. They have to bring it before a neutral arbitrator, they have to
present evidence for why this teacher is bad at their job, and the teacher
importantly has the right to representation in that hearing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The California teachers association announced it will appeal
the decision. And according to the "Los Angeles Times" those appeals could
go on for years. And so could the repercussions of the ruling. According
to the "New York Times" lawyers in the case have said they may bring
similar lawsuits in at least six other states.
Joining me now is lead co-counsel in the case, Marcellus McRae, who joins
us from Los Angeles, California. Also with us in long island, New York is
Randi Weingarten, president of the American federation for teachers.
It is so nice to have you both here.
MARCELLUS MCRAE, LEAD CO-COUNSEL, VERGARA VERSUS CALIFORNIA CASE: Thank
you. Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me begin with you, Mr. McRae. It`s been reported there
is likely to be a lengthy appeal process. Is that also your understanding,
and how do you see this case moving forward in that case?
MCRAE: Well, I think in the next couple weeks, what we`re going to see is
a finalization of the judge`s decision and as far as the appeal process,
that could obviously take anywhere from months to years, but obviously,
we`re going to do everything in our power in order to expedite that
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, Mr. McRae. Let me suggest that as I read both the
ruling of the judge as well as the initial lawsuit, it seems kind of clear;
no one of good faith could argue that there isn`t a problem of inequality
in education and in educational outcomes and opportunities.
I`m wondering, though, why this case links that inequality to the issue of
due process for teacher employment.
MCRAE: Well, I think that there`s a couple things you have to consider.
First of all, the statutes that were challenged here, the dismissal
statutes, go far beyond due process. Due process is a notice and an
opportunity to be heard. We never challenged that teachers should have due
process with respect to continued employment. In fact, we are hugely in
favor of that.
The problem with these statutes is that they were so expensive, so time-
consuming, so burdensome, that as the court noted, it makes it illusurate
(ph) that you can actually dismiss a grossly ineffective teacher in
Look at the statistics. There are 275,000 teachers on average in
California per year. Only 2.2, that is 2.2 out of 275,000, are dismissed
for unsatisfactory performance every year. That`s obviously not reflective
of the number of grossly ineffective teachers.
Even if you can take the numbers that were conceded by the experts on the
other side in this case, the number of grossly ineffective teachers is
about one percent to three percent. Taking those numbers, that means
you`re having a devastating impact on huge numbers of children.
What we saw from expert testimony in our case is that per every ineffective
teacher, grossly ineffective teacher, kids lose in a classroom about
$50,000 per kid in lifetime earnings. If you have 25 kids in a class, and
you do the math, you end up realizing that you`re talking about $11.6
billion in lost lifetime earnings per annum as a result of exposure to
grossly ineffective teachers.
And as you pointed out, there`s a disparate impact on black and brown kids
and low income kids where these grossly ineffective teachers tend to be
concentrated. So we saw this as a pro teacher and pro kid case.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Thank you, Mr. McRae. Hold for me just one second.
Don`t go away.
But I do want to turn now to Randi.
And Randi, I think you have heard here the case and -- you know, the fact
is that part of what is interesting about this story to me or about this
issue to me is that it doesn`t fall neatly along partisan lines, it doesn`t
fall neatly along an ideological spectrum. There`s a really serious set of
questions of people of good will on both sides who want good educational
But when I listen to Mr. McRae, I have almost a visceral reaction to the
repetition of the language of grossly ineffective teachers as the primary
cause for the educational inequalities. Again, I think everybody in this
case recognizes it exists. So make the claim for me about why you think
there`s another set of causes.
RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, THE AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR TEACHERS: So
first, can I just say for all the fathers today, happy father`s day. Thank
you for letting me do this from long island so I could be with my dad,
WEINGARTEN: So this is -- so look, no one wants somebody who can`t teach
in a classroom. And that`s something that we all share and in fact, in
terms of my union, and I don`t feel like -- I feel like I have to say this,
that since 2010, we have worked with a lot of states to change their tenure
laws to make sure that it is not a job for life, it`s not a shield of
incompetence and it`s not an excuse for managers not to manage.
Having said that, what we need to do is actually for kids in high need
schools and for poor kids and minority kids, we have to make sure that we
get them great teachers who stay, and that`s the biggest problem. Half the
teachers in the United States of America leave within five years. There
are fewer and fewer people who are actually going into teaching because
it`s a really hard job.
So how do we actually create the conditions, the working conditions that
work for teachers but more importantly, that work for kids? Collaborative
safe environments so that kids thrive and teachers will stay at those
schools, and that`s one of the reasons why people have said that this case
is actually going to take us back ten years, because what`s happened is
that the polarization and vitriol has been on overdrive because the
decisions or at least the people who are promoting the decision seem to say
that for kids to win, teachers have to lose and that`s not the case. What
we need -- I`m sorry.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, one of the things I want to just make clear here is
when we are defining effectiveness or ineffectiveness, sort of what the
measures are, that are being used, because the language of grossly
ineffective teacher, I think makes us all think yes, well, no one wants
that in the classroom, but aren`t we talking about test scores?
MCRAE: Are you asking -- are you addressing it to me?
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask Randi first, then I will let you respond, Mr.
MCRAE: Certainly. Thank you.
WEINGARTEN: So, this is what -- look, the case in California, it will be
appealed, we will see what happens there. That the issue I have is that
every principal I know who is a good principal, you know who is a grossly
ineffective teacher. Any teacher knows who`s a grossly ineffective
teacher. So the issue is if something is going on that people who can`t
teach shouldn`t be there, then we have to change that. And some of that
may be changing and reforming the tenure laws in California like we`ve done
in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois and other places, and some of
it may be other things. But ultimately, we need to make sure that teachers
can be treated fairly enough so that they can take risks in classrooms, so
they don`t feel retribution if they actually do something on behalf of
students. That`s what`s going on here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m really appreciative of that argument of tenure.
Because obviously, as a tenured professor that`s how we think about how
tenure operates for us which is a different kind of tenure. We only have
about 30 seconds. Let me allow you to respond to my testing question.
MCRAE: Well, I want to respond to that. Basically, what we`re talking
about is it`s not the case that all school districts know who the grossly
ineffective teachers are, at least in California, because you only have 16
months under that statute to try to make a decision about whether or not
somebody can achieve learning gains. That`s highly problematic. And as
the court found, it basically results in a quality-blind determination that
by default, has grossly ineffective teachers in classrooms and disparately
in black and brown and low income communities.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m just asking, I just really want to ask, is the empirical
measure of effectiveness, I need you to clarify this for me. Whether it
happens at 16 or 18 months or four years or ten years, is the measure
student test scores?
MCRAE: The measure is a combination of factors and it`s important that it
be objective evidence of learning, which can include student surveys,
obviously standardized test scores because they`re required to be
administered, and its objective data you can obviously use. But it`s not
the only factor.
But it would be folly not to use that empirical data at your disposal. And
so, what you have is you have a synthesis of data, not solely relying on
test scores, but using them because they are there, because again, you need
to be able to effect equal educational opportunity for all people and it
has to be based on objective evidence of learning.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is so much more. Unfortunately, I do have to let you
both go or else this will be all that happens.
WEINGARTEN: Right now, it`s based upon test scores. And that`s what the
California case was based on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I think we are going to have to revisit this. I do
appreciate you both being here so much.
I want to thank Randi Weingarten in Long Island, New York and to Marcellus
McRae in Los Angeles, California.
Stay right there.
Up next, big news for little girls everywhere even in a galaxy far, far
HARRIS-PERRY: And now we bring you some good news, a victory for the lady
nerds of the galaxy. The battle began a long time ago. Well, in May,
really, when a British film executive and mother noticed that Disney which
is producing the next "Star Wars" trilogy has been selling action figures
of Hans Solo and Luke Skywalter and (INAUDIBLE) at its stores but there was
no princess Leah in sight. Princess Leah, the butt-killing rebellion
leading brilliant smack-talking princess not to mention style icon who we
all love and on the Disney store shelves, she was nowhere to be seen.
The film executive Natalie Rayford whose daughter wanted the Leah doll
asked the Disney store why there wasn`t one and the response was this.
Currently there are no plans for Leah products in Disney stores. Natalie,
have a wonderful day.
To paraphrase Princess Leah, I guess Disney doesn`t know everything about
women yet. The twitter outrage was swift and loud. The nerds cried out,
why forsake your female fans. We can nerd out just as much as the boys.
Well, clearly, Disney didn`t want to look like some stuck-up half-witted
scruffy looking nerd haters. The company has now announced that Princess
Leah toys will, in the coming months, be available at the Disney store.
Good work, lady nerds. You are, after all, our only hope.
There is more MHP after this.
HARRIS-PERRY: As the unfolding crisis in Iraq teeters towards the brink of
sectarian war, defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced yesterday that the
"USS George H. W. Bush" is moving from the north Arabian Sea into the
Arabian Gulf. According to a Pentagon spokesman, this move will provide
additional flexibility for the commander in chief if military operations
are required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq.
And that ship will be accompanied by the guided missile cruiser "USS
Philippine Sea" and the guided missile destroyer "the USS Truxton." This
move comes on the heels of this statement from president Obama on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not be sending U.S.
troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team
to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq security
forces. The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a
military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives
us some assurance that they`re prepared to work together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, in Iraq, chaos continues with reports of
suicide bombing in Baghdad that has killed at least nine people and wounded
20 more. But it has not been linked to the group known as the Islamic
state in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
That group reportedly has been temporarily halted by the Iraqi army and
Shiite militias 60 miles north of the capital city of Baghdad. A city that
ISIS leader has claimed his forces would soon take over.
This pause comes after the militant group spread across Syria, overrunning
and capturing Mosul and on Tuesday, parts of Tikrit on Wednesday from Iraq
Shiites lead government.
Now, President Obama continues to weigh the options over whether to grant
the request of the Iraqi government and intervene with air strikes, it is
clear that Iraq is in a situation that threatens to spiral out of control.
As government forces flee from the onslaught by ISIS and only one third of
the Iraqi parliament showed up on Thursday to vote on a measure for
emergency powers. And there are signs that some Americans in Iraq are not
waiting on the White House to act as U.S. citizens working for contractors
like Lockheed Martin evacuate the country, though U.S. diplomatic officials
remain in the country for the moment.
The latest on how the White House is responding to this developing crisis,
I want to bring in NBC news White House correspondent Kristen Welker who
joins me from Palm Spring, California where she is currently traveling with
Nice to see you this morning.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Melissa. Nice to
see you. Sorry -- Go ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to ask, what`s the latest?
WALKER: Well, President Obama spoke with his national security advisor
Susan Rice on Friday and again yesterday, Melissa, as he and his national
security team continue to weigh their options in Iraq.
Among the options they are considering, air strikes which you mentioned,
but also targeted drone strikes. And it appears as though right now, those
targeted drone strikes are the more likely option, in part because the risk
of collateral damage is much higher with the air strikes.
One of the challenges for the Obama administration right now is getting
credible intelligence. As one senior administration official told me, the
U.S. cannot simply rely on the intelligence of the Iraqi government so
right now, the U.S. is trying to gather its own intelligence, as President
Obama tries to make a determination about how to proceed.
Now, on Friday, President Obama had very strong words for Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki, saying that ultimately it is up to him to bring the
situation under control and that he needs to create a more inclusive
That`s a message that secretary of state John Kerry reiterated when he
spoke with the Iraqi foreign minister yesterday, Melissa. So that is the
message that the U.S. is sending to Iraq. And I can tell you, when
President Obama does make his announcement, he is going to talk about some
short-term but also some long-term steps that the U.S. is going to take.
Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. NBC News` Kristen Walker in Palm Springs,
Now, I want to bring in two guests here. Earl Catagnus junior and
assistance professor of history and security Valley Forge Military College
who is also an Iraq war veteran and Isabel Coleman who is a senior fellow
at the council on Foreign Relations.
Now, we just heard Kristen talking about the issue of intelligence. And
Senator Manchin was just on "Meet the Press." I want to listen to him
talking about it. And then I will get your response, Earl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), VIRGINIA: I think our intelligence has failed us
miserably for not being aware of the threat that we faced and how this
could unfold as quickly as it has. This has been planned for quite some
time. My first thing to recommend to the president is get your
intelligence group back on track, making sure that we have the Intel we
need for whatever options we have that are going to be accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Last time you were here, you had a critique of this group of
EARL CATAGNUS, PROFESSOR, VALLEY FORGE MILITARY COLLEGE: I think the
senator is misinformed. This has been predicted since 2003 after the
invasion, and this is a missed opportunity for the president to come out
and really show a strong executive leader, where if he would have -- how is
it that his national security team didn`t have contingency plans already in
place and that he immediately enacts them depending and tweaking them
within the situation developing on the ground. And instead -- it doesn`t
mean he has to immediately do air strikes or it doesn`t mean you have to do
anything, but he immediately takes action and shows the strength of a
leader which would also show strength and resolve in the region and maybe
give more credibility back to him after the Syria red line debacle.
But that`s where his national security team is failing him. If it is true
that they do not have any plans, then they need to be fired. If it isn`t
true, then why is the president not stepping up and saying this is what
we`re going to do, this is how we`re going to do it and these are the plans
we have in place.
HARRIS-PERRY: This has long been our set of plans.
CATAGNUS: This is not something that came out of nowhere. This has been
written about in journal after journal, even in newspapers since 2003. So,
how he can say let`s wait until the weekend. And there`s two other points.
I think ISIS, their success is their biggest downfall because nobody really
wants them to succeed in the region. There are many players in there that
want to use them to destabilize certain enemies that they see as enemies.
But because they are being so successful, I think this will lead to their
HARRIS-PERRY: So, hold on for one second because I want to follow up on
exactly that point for one moment.
So Isabel, you know, one of the things I think that I`m most surprised at
in all of this back and forth has been the position of Iran in this. An
Iran that was both very active in making sure that we did not leave
residual forces in Iraq, that the U.S. did not leave residual forces in
Iraq, is now making a claim towards partnership with the United States in
removing ISIS or in combating ISIS. How should we read Iran`s position
ISABEL COLEMAN, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I wouldn`t go
quite so far to say partnership. They certainly have aligned interests in
that neither the United States nor Iran wants to see ISIS succeed. But I
wouldn`t go quite so far as partnership.
You know, this has been pitched very much in sectarian terms. And so, you
have ISIS which is a radical extremist Sunni group which is threatening
using very sectarian language the demolition of the holy cities of
(INAUDIBLE). It`s really a call to sectarian war.
And of course, Iran, a Shiite country, is backing the Maliki government and
has made it clear they will not allow that to happen. That is a red line
for them. They have put, by many accounts, several battalions of
revolutionary guards in Iraq to bolster the Iraqi army and security forces
there. And you will see I think digging in on this and absolute both
intelligence and boots on the ground and military assets deployed against
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I know they`re using sectarian language, but I have
a little bit of a (INAUDIBLE) suspicion that this is really about religion
and not about something else.
And Earl, help me to think about that. You obviously fought in the region.
Is this fundamentally about religious identity?
CATAGNUS: Yes and no. Right now, the way we view it as a Sunni/Shiite
fight, there are tribal affiliations being played here. ISIS has now
become the center for really the region and the Sunni pushback against
Baghdad. It was their only form or way to push back against Maliki`s
At the same time, what you haven`t heard in Fallujah and Ramadi, two of the
biggest region that we made a big deal out of this is when they fell to the
Al Qaeda type insurgents that tribal leaders are allowing this to happen
because again, it`s speaking about interests, certain interests are
aligned. Once those interests become out of alignment, you will see tribal
leadership step up and Iranian and Iraqis are different ethnicities. One
is Persian, one is Arab. That is stronger and Mohammad himself had to deal
with these tribal affiliations and ethnic --
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us. So complicated and there is so much more.
We are going to take a quick break. You will stay here with us.
Up next, one of the earliest and strongest opponents of the Iraq war,
California congresswoman Barbara Lee is going to join us live. Do not go
HARRIS-PERRY: As Iraq faces what looks like the brink of civil war, many
wonder about the possibility of involving U.S. troops again. Our last
hooray into Iraq cost the lives of more than 4,000 Americans and wounded an
additional 32,000 plus military service members. Though President Obama
tried to alleviate fears about the possibility of U.S. military
intervention, one elected official seeks to ensure that will not happen by
working next week as a U.S. house considers the defense bill to quote,
"repeal the 2002 Iraqi war authorization as well as the 2001 AUMF, which
has led to perpetual state of endless war."
This elected leader is the same person who is the only member of Congress
to vote against the AUMF or the authorization to use military force after
9/11 in Afghanistan, was critical of the Iraq war from the beginning,
sponsored legislation in 2003 to repeal congressional authorization of the
war and demanded last year that the administration seek authorization from
Congress before taking any action against Syria.
I`m joined by the democratic leader, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of
It is so nice to have you here.
SEN. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure. Good to be with you,
HARRIS-PERRY: So in your response to President Obama this week, you urged
him to lean on his own doctrine articulated recently at West point
commencement and to avoid further military entanglement. How confident are
you that this administration is going to practice restraint in this case?
LEE: I think the president has been very clear, first of all, that he does
not intend to send our brave young men and women into combat operations.
Having said that, movement of our military assets into the region concerns
me for many reasons.
One is if, in fact, air strikes are conducted, we don`t know what the
unintended consequences could be. We saw back when President Bush
authorized -- well, when Congress authorized and President Bush engaged in
"shock and awe" what happened. As you said earlier, many of our brave
young men and women died. Many have come back now. We have to really
address their health and mental health and job issues and security.
And so, this is a very difficult decision. But I think the president has
been very careful. He is looking at the alternatives and I`m confident
that he will do the right thing. This is an issue of sectarian warfare, as
you said earlier.
This has been going on for generations, Melissa. There is no military
solution. And in fact, we need to encourage a political solution led by
the Iraqis and the United States should not get embroiled in this sectarian
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, Congresswoman, let me ask this. At the
point at which you were initially in opposition to U.S. presence in Iraq, I
fundamentally understand, and as you and I have talked about, respected
that position so much. We are now more than a decade past that and have
had -- we are implicated in this because of our decade of engagement and of
course, because as we have just talked about, the sacrifices of our troops.
Does it put us now more than a decade in a different position as we are
making a decision about whether or not to be entangled in terms of boots on
the ground, military forces as well as assets? In other words, does that
ten years change how we ought to make this decision?
LEE: We need to bring first of all our intelligence current which we are
doing, but I think we need to go back to the drawing board and have a
congressional debate. When we debated the resolution to use force in Iraq,
this was based upon weapons of mass destruction. We were told there were
weapons of mass destruction and there were immediate threats. That
resolution was passed by Congress. I offered an alternative that said
look, before we use force, let us just complete the inspections process,
allow the United Nations to make a determination as to whether or not there
are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were none.
And so, I believe now, you know, we have to go back, we have to have
another congressional debate and make some determinations. The American
people deserve to have their members of Congress put out all the options,
debate this, and go back to the drawing board to determine our future
And I tell you, Melissa, I`m urging the public to work with us to raise
their voices through stop endlesswar.com. We are urging members of the
public to please let your members know that we need a debate on this,
whatever the outcome, because there is no military solution. This is a
very defining moment for us and we need to be very serious and very prudent
in how we move forward. I think the president is doing that. We need the
public to support a very cautious approach and support a political and
HARRIS-PERRY: Representative Barbara Lee in San Francisco, California, as
always, thank you for joining us.
LEE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, the blame game is in full swing already.
HARRIS-PERRY: Republicans are not wasting any time politicizing the
developing crisis in Iraq. According to two key GOP leaders, the blame for
what is going on right now, well, all of that belongs to President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The fact is, we had the conflict won and we
had a stable government and a residual force such as we have left behind,
we even have forces in Bosnia, Korea, Germany, Japan, where we could have,
but the president wanted out and now we are paying a very heavy price, and
I predicted it in 2011. You can go back and look at the quotes.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It`s not like we haven`t
seen this problem coming for over a year. And it`s not like we haven`t
seen over the last five or six months these terrorists moving in, taking
control of western Iraq. Now they have taken control of Mosul. They are
100 miles from Baghdad. And what`s the president doing? Taking a nap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining my panel now is Michael Eric Dyson, MSNBC political
analyst and professor at Georgetown University and Dorian Warren, and MSNBC
contributor and an associate professor of political science and
international and public affairs at Columbia University.
I pull everybody in, but before I do, I just want to ask you, Earl, for a
response, the same question that I asked the congresswoman about our
responsibilities to those of you who served as we are looking at the
possibility of Baghdad falling.
CATAGNUS: Well, one thing, when this all volunteer military, all of us
joined to be patriots, or for most of us, especially the infantrymen who
are doing the fighting. They volunteered twice, once to get into the army
or Marine Corps and then a second time to get into the infantry, so it`s --
and they know what they`re getting into, the fighting.
So just that being said, the idea is that the interests of the United
States have to be advanced for any military action or any action in
general. And anything that is misaligned for whatever reason outside of
those interests, then that does not fulfill the mission to the all
volunteer force or even a draftee force we had prior or during the `70s.
So just because we fought there doesn`t mean we continue to fight there.
If the president comes out and articulates well the interests, and I think
we do have a national interest to maintain that stable government in Iraq.
But if he does come out and articulates that in a well thought-out plan
which should have already been in place, then I think we should take
whatever action he comes up with his national security team.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your basis is that there has to be an articulation of
continuing interests rather than rhetoric of what we have done in the past.
So let me come to you then, Dorian, on the politics here, in part, the
domestic politics here. Because you know, I hate the idea that things are
unprecedented. I hear oh, never in history, but is it unprecedented to see
the speed with which this became a partisan politicized issue even as we
are still trying to protect interests in Iraq?
DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely not. This is an example of
the Republican Party on the one hand trying to bury the legacy of the Iraqi
misadventure. On the other hand, finding anything they can to place all of
the blame on President Obama and away from President Bush.
So everything that is happening in terms of not just Iraq but Syria and
Iran is now laid at the foot of the president, as if his decision to
campaign on withdrawing and then to actually withdraw and not go back, that
is being pushed by the Republican Party. And this is -- we have seen this
pattern before, whether it`s Vietnam or other conflicts, of partisan
conflict and trying to place the blame of a war on the mantle of one party
and not taking any responsibility.
HARRIS-PERRY: but that said, if a volunteer army recognizes that it is
going into war, then a president who volunteers and runs while we are at
wartime is also in a certain way volunteering for -- once you sit at the
big desk, it`s your responsibility.
COLEMAN: Well, Obama has been president now for years and he is commander
in chief and in control of foreign policy. But I think to move beyond the
blame game, the question is now what should we be doing. And I don`t think
either side actually has a good answer to that. You`re not seeing
Republicans calling for boots on the ground. You`re not seeing even air
strikes. What are we going to strike? This isn`t a state with command and
control structures that we can identify and say we are going to take that
out. This is a loose group of several thousand fighters who are dispersed
across the region and we don`t really know what we should be even
HARRIS-PERRY: Follow up on that a little bit. Because as I saw the
president speak on Friday about waiting until Monday, my first thought was
OK, I understand that strategy in the context of a nation state. I
understand why you would say to a nation state hey, do you really want to
mess with us, because we are still the United States of America, maybe you
want to think about your role in the world, maybe you want to think about
the protection of your people. I`m going to give you 48 hours.
But what I couldn`t figure out is in the context of this kind of group, not
a nation state, whether or not he was playing a game that wasn`t true,
whether he was -- like, do you have any insights into that moment?
COLEMAN: What we understand is that these ISIS fighters, and as I said,
there are probably several thousand of them, they have infiltrated into the
community. They are imbedded with civilians. It`s very unclear where we
should be targeting and even if we should be targeting. The potential to
do more harm than good right now is pretty great.
I mean, what we do know is that they have stolen hundreds of millions of
dollars from the banks and they have stolen a lot of American weaponry that
had been with the Iraqi troops. And you know, that drags us into it
incidentally and also makes this group stronger than they were a few days
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, hold for me, Michael, as soon as we get back, I
will get you in. I got three questions for you. And I want to play a
little sound for you and get you to react as soon as we come back. We will
stay on this issue because this is a fundamental issue to our nation`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: But what has happened in
Iraq and what we`re seeing right now with ISIS a good deal predictable by
virtue of the president`s failure to act appropriately and at the
extraordinary time that was presented a couple years ago in Syria, and also
his failure to achieve a status of forces agreement so that we could have
an ongoing presence in Iraq. Bad things happen as a result of inaction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who
appeared earlier this morning on NBC`s "Meet the Press."
Michael, you have a response?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know it`s
interesting that the Bush administration practices or practiced a doctrine
of preemption. But it seems when it comes to responsibility, it`s ex post
facto. So, after the fact, we are going to reassign who was responsible
and who wasn`t.
You know, I worked in construction as a young man. And you could do stuff
then that not until 20 years later would the asbestos exposure begin to
reveal the disease there. And so, stuff that Obama is being blamed for the
pre-existed his presidency has to be acknowledged, number one.
Number two, what he does in light of your conversation I think was
instructive with Congresswoman Lee, the reality is we are in a different
situation now ten years in than we were before. So he can`t close his eyes
and put his head in the sand like supposedly an ostrich does. He`s got to
reckon with those forces.
But two things, I think, as you were saying earlier, why jump in when you
don`t know what the situation really is on the ground and number two, you
are underestimating the force of the Kurds, Shiites and Sunni`s going at
each other. It is an Islamist greatest, you know, victory. Oh, my God,
Islamic on Islamic crime, so to speak, and hatred. But we can`t determine
what the ground forces will do. We can`t even calculate collateral damage
until we understand who`s in control, who is going after what, and what the
consequences will be of their decimating forces on each other? I think
it`s wise, that kind of restraint.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Earl, I want you to come in on this. Because this
question of sort of what we know, our intelligence on the ground, but also,
what Mr. Romney suggested there was specifically about status of forces
CATAGNUS: Right. And as we discussed earlier during the break, that began
under the Bush administration and Maliki would never ever sign off on the
SOFA agreement. And also, I do want to bring up this once again, and bring
back to the national security discussions about action and how it has to
require a level of sophistication well above what we are talking about
right here, it`s constantly back to air strikes, back to what do we do
militarily. We need to engage this holistically. Possibility with air
strikes but with air strikes, air support, you need individual special
operators on the ground to control that air at the end. That`s where it
could be effective, whether or not they should do that is a whole different
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, would a SOFA agreement, had it come to some kind of
agreement under President Bush or if by some miracle it had happened under
President Obama even though you had said to me earlier that just never was
going to happen given where it stood. But if we had residual forces there,
would that have provided for the intelligence gathering and the support for
air strikes, if we had a SOFA?
COLEMAN: Well, a SOFA would have allowed us to keep troops there and I
think what you saw is not that ISIS was so strong. It`s that the Iraqi
governing forces, the army, just fell so quickly. These guys took off
their uniforms, put down their weapons and left.
HARRIS-PERRY: Weren`t we meant to have trained them to not do that?
COLEMAN: We were. And we have also spent $15 billion doing that and
supplying them with equipment. So I think it`s not that we blocked the
Intel on this. We have known about ISIS for year. I think the only thing
that we lacked was understandings of how quickly those troops would fold.
And again, it is related to what we are talking about. There is more going
on here. A lot of them, it`s not that they are scared and they don`t want
to fight. It`s that that they don`t like their own government and they are
bargaining that in fact, they are better off with ISIS than they are with
their sectarian government.
CATAGNUS: One thing we have to understand is the troops that deserted were
garrison troops and they have -- and they are a lot of the police
battalions that were trained so they had a level of training less than the
maneuver divisions that you see engaging right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that`s why we`re having a stronger pushback now?
CATAGNUS: You will see, this is traditionally been the problem with
garrison troops anywhere. But on specifically in Iraq, when you have
people in static posts that don`t have the support and there`s the
corruption that occurs there at the lower level and they see their officers
that care about themselves, where this is very different than maneuver
divisions where they actually. This is where the American influence is
rubber meets the road. But the problem is you have all of that equipment
in the hands now of ISIS as you brought up.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, Earl, every time you are here, I think to myself I
need to sign up for your class. Because there are these very clear ways
you help me understand what is going on. Thank you for being here.
And to Isabel, thank you so much for being here.
And this will be a continuing story. Dorian and Michael are sticking
around in part because up next, we will take a sharp turn, 20 years after
O.J. Simpson`s infamous ride, the lessons of the so-called trial of the
And also, the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights movement
There, as always, more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: All week long, old news has been new again as media outlets
have covered the anniversary of the day 20 years ago this Tuesday that this
white Ford Bronco rolling along Los Angeles freeways at a leisurely 35
miles an hour, kept Americans riveted to their televisions for nearly an
But we pay attention to our diverse demographic here in Nerdland and it
occurred to us mostly by talking to our very young production assistants
that what for some of us is the moment we will never forget, for some of
our millennial viewers could be a moment they never remembered in the first
Here`s how to tell which group you belong to. What`s your earliest memory
of the name Kardashian? If it has anything to do with the reality show
star whose names all begin with K, please allow me to enlighten you. Come
back with me two decades.
O.J. Simpson at that time was arguably the most famous person to have
accusations of murder play out entirely on television. We are talking
about someone who was a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most
celebrated NFL rookies in history when he was selected by the Buffalo Bills
in the 1969 draft.
He went on to become a pro football Hall of Famer and one of the greatest
running backs in football history, and parlayed his good looks and winning
personality into a Hollywood celebrity as second career as an actor and
Some of our more seasoned viewers may remember fondly O.J. running through
the airports to the rental counter in the commercials from the `70s. Trust
me when I tell you, O.J. Simpson was the original American idol.
So, on June 17th, 1994, when news broke that Simpson under a prearranged
agreement, was supposed to have turned himself over to Los Angeles police
after being charged with a double murder, it was a big deal. Simpson stood
accused in the brutal stabbing death of his wife, 35-year-old Nicole Brown
Simpson and her friend, 25-year-old Ron Goldman.
Only instead of the expected shot of Simpson perp walking himself into the
police department, the video image from that day captivated not only the
media but also the entire country and it was this. His white Ford Bronco
driven by his friend Al Cowlings, O.J. hadn`t shown up in the police
department but was in the back seat of the truck purportedly with a gun to
his head, followed in a low speed chase by at least 20 squad cars along the
freeways of Los Angeles.
It was the opening scene of an extended drama that would reach its climax
with a spectacular inescapable trial and evolve into a national obsession
that captured the attention of the viewing public like no other criminal
case ever had before this moment, that single shot of the white truck at
the head of the police caravan kept a nation of more than 90 million
viewers riveted to their televisions, live television, not DVR, before O.J.
finally surrendered. When the chase ended at his arrest in a home -- in
his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles.
From that moment on, Americans stayed thirsty for the juice. We stayed
glued to our televisions for the next 16 months, absorbing and opining
every lurid detail and ensuring -- the ensuing trial all the way up the
divisive verdict that drew in an estimated 150 million viewers.
When Judge Lance Ito made the decision to allow cameras in the courtroom,
his reasoning as "The New York Times" reported was rather than encourage
irresponsible reporting, cameras could both check and correct it and that
was crucial to public faith in courts and television was essential.
As it turned out, the presence of cameras in the courtroom exposed the deep
divide the American public`s faith in the court and what`s more, turned
what was intended to be a lesson on the inner workings of the U.S. justice
system into a spectacle that revealed as much about the viewing audience as
it did about the trial participants.
Joining me today, Beth Karas, who`s a legal analyst and former New York
district attorney. Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at
Georgetown University, author of "Debating Race". Dean Obeidallah who is a
columnist for `The Daily Beast" and a former trial lawyer. And Dorian
Warren, associate professor of political science in international and
public affairs, Columbia University and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.
You were there.
BETH KARAS, LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I started at Court TV, just two weeks --
10 weeks after the Bronco chase. I started on June 27th, having just left
the D.A.`s office after eight years. I walked into a newsroom that was
actually skeptical about his guilt and thought, what`s the big deal here?
It seemed from what little we knew already that the evidence was
overwhelming. So, October 3rd, 1995, I was quite surprised with the
HARRIS-PERRY: That moment of you walking in and saying we are skeptical
and then this -- I mean, I really was trying to explain to millennials who
work for us, you know, one of our interns was like my mom was pregnant with
me during the chase. I was like what? Yes, I know. It gives you a
But as we were trying to explain the enormity of this, how this captured
the American imagination in that moment.
DYSON: You are absolutely right. It interrupted the finals, the NBA
Finals. I was looking at Houston, then I`m saying, O.J., you`re in the
wrong sport. Ralph Ellison said you had slithering greats but you can`t
slide in here.
It was -- look, it was before Instagram, because back in our day, Instagram
was the way to do drugs and how immediately you will get them. Not mine.
Facebook, instant Twitter, none of that.
We had television was the great mediator. And O.J. Simpson had already
made a spectacle on television and now, he was doing it again but he was
doing it for a different purpose. I`ll tell you what, that`s the last time
a guy of his race, we can talk about that later, got that slow ride down
the freeway that didn`t get either destroyed, killed or murdered. It was a
seminal moment because America had to come to grips with a guy they saw as
a hero, beyond race, an American hero now falling so far, so fast from
grace and the mountain of evidence that we thought was available wasn`t yet
going to be played out until the spectacle --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love your point. That this was a person on a pinnacle
who falls. I`m wondering if that`s exactly the thing we have generated an
appetite for that puts us in a post-O.J. world.
I want to listen for a second here, Dorian, and have you respond. This is
Robert Kardashian -- this is my joke about the Kardashians earlier, Robert
Kardashian, who was friend and attorney, reading a letter from O.J. Simpson
on the day of the Bronco chase that sounds like a potential suicide note.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT KARDASHIAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Don`t feel sorry for me. I have had
a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this
lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours.
Peace and love, O.J.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That made us think we were watching a car where at the end
of it, this person who might in fact take their own life. I mean, people
are like -- watching this.
WARREN: This moment was the beginning of reality TV before it was
HARRIS-PERRY: And a Kardashian was there for it.
WARREN: Except that it was live. There was no editing after the fact. It
was live. We did not know, the uncertainty was very high from everybody.
We did not know how this was going to end. We were all so glued to the TV
because we had never experienced anything like this before.
DYSON: I was obsessed. I`m going to tell you, I will confess on national
TV, my wife and I went to the site, oh, yes. We wanted to see it. I drove
and timed myself going from O.J.`s house to Nicole`s house. I got lost and
it took me eight minutes. The scene itself was so narrow --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, Michael Eric Dyson, you might want to hold that
DEAN OBEIDALLAH, THE DAILY BEAST: It was. It was the ultimate celebrity
reality show, not the first one. Nothing will ever come close to this.
Not Lindsey Lohan hearings, which people do watch that. This is before
celebrity fit club or any of those -- we didn`t see the world of
celebrities except for what they wanted to show to us.
This was a guy not only football star, a guy who hosts "Saturday Night
Live" in this building, who was in "Naked Gun" movies being funny, who ran
through airports. I dreamed one day to be able to run through airports.
WARREN: And rent a car.
OBEIDALLAH: And rent a car.
At the time, they talk about the ratings of the verdict, 91 percent of TVs
at the time listened to Judge Ito`s revealing a not guilty verdict. It
brought us together. It was before MSNBC, if you can imagine a world
without MSNBC, before FOX News. (INAUDIBLE) that`s what unified us. It
was a common universal experience and everyone had an opinion.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is so interesting, this notion that there was
potentially more control in celebrity culture so part of what happens is as
we are watching this fall from grace or from celebrity, we get to see his
experience as a domestic batterer, we get to see all kinds of things on the
internal part of his life and I`m wondering if it actually generates a
hunger then, because our world now is knowing all the dirt, knowing all of
the everything of one another.
Do you think -- clearly it follows the O.J. case -- but is it causal?
KARAS: Maybe so. I continue to cover trials around the country for 19
years after that trial, and I did see changes in the courtroom. I mean,
first of all, cameras didn`t cause the spectacle. It was who O.J. was,
that caused it. And everybody got to see it and it was very new.
We got a little bit jaded as Americans. We got a little more used to the
justice system. And while there was always an appetite to see a trial
unfolding, it was never the same. Maybe when Michael Jackson was tried for
child molestation, there was a zoo outside the courtroom, the tent city,
but there were no cameras in the courtroom.
So, I did see more sophistication among viewers, cynicism also about the
system, but cameras did not cause that.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, let me ask, because I like this idea. I want to
listen to Mr. Cochran and ask whether or not you think that is an argument
being made to the jury or an argument being made to a broader audience.
Let`s listen for a classic moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNNIE COCHRAN, SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I want you to remember these
words. Like the defining moment in this trial, the day Mr. Darden asked M.
Simpson to try on those gloves and the gloves didn`t fit, remember these
words. If it doesn`t fit, you must acquit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that a jury argument or is that --
OBEIDALLAH: He has to be playing to the jury. Even though we see it at
home, his client`s life and liberty is on the line, so that`s who he`s
playing to. It just happens to work for us as well. Sometimes you get
politicians say certain things, you know they are playing for the audience.
That`s not it.
When you are a trial lawyer, I tried a few cases, and not well, that`s why
I left doing it -- everything, all you care about is doing well for your
client. If their liberty is on the line, that`s the most pressure you can
I agree with Beth. I think cameras should be everywhere. I think the
United States Supreme Court should allow cameras to see oral arguments.
Federal courts, they still don`t allow it in federal trials. I don`t think
it`s inherently prejudicial. It`s transparency.
DYSON: Look, it`s both. I think he is exactly playing to the jury but he
understood the jury was beyond those 12 men and women, or how many were
there. He understood that the nature of the case involved millions of
people who felt that their lives were at stake as well. So, he`s playing
directly to them but he understands he`s got a mass cloud of witnesses out
there who are hanging on his every word and Johnny Cochran was the supreme
manipulator of American theater and a great rhetorician.
And you saw that brilliance coming through there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us, because as we talk about this question, the
language you use, I don`t think I have ever heard someone use it to talk
about the O.J. Simpson trial, which is to say it unified us.
It is true that it was this mass cultural experience but it was also one
that deeply revealed our divisions. And those are some of the divisions I
want to talk about when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury in the above entitled action find the
defendant Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder in
violation of penal code section 187A, felony upon Nicole Brown Simpson, a
human being, as charged in count one of the information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That moment, October 3rd, 1995, the day the verdict was
delivered in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Network and cable channels
went wall-to-wall with coverage. According to Nielsen numbers from that
day, an astounding 91 percent of all home TVs were tuned in to the verdict.
That`s not including the uncounted numbers who watched the verdict on
televisions in schools and offices and hotels and other public places, and
yet, although it`s clear we were all watching, it`s also clear we were not
all seeing the same thing.
In the days following the not guilty verdict, Gallup asked Americans
whether they believed the jury reached the right decision, 78 percent of
black people polled agreed with the jury`s decision, while only 42 percent
of white respondents were in agreement.
Race became the story of this trial. In the break, you said to me that his
-- that Mr. Simpson`s current incarceration you think is still connected to
a set of beliefs about his guilt.
KARAS: No question about it. I covered his road rage trial in the fall of
2001. Nobody was there. It was right after 9/11, just the locals and me.
But he took the stand and I got to know O.J. then. I covered his Las Vegas
robbery kidnapping case in 2008, also got to know him a little bit just
talking to him in the halls there. He was kind of a broken man by then.
There`s no question that he is being punished now for getting away with
murder before, to me. The cops were caught saying when they were searching
the hotel room where the memorabilia was, where the robbery kidnapping
happened, California couldn`t get him but we will.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: That -- the very fact you say that, that there`s this
language about what the police officers use, is, Michael, where I want to
come to you. That statistic about the number of African-Americans,
percentage of African-Americans who believed the jury reached the right
verdict has often been misconstrued that a number of African-Americans
believing that O.J. Simpson was not guilty of the crime. They are quite
different things to say I think he should have gotten off versus that I
think he was not guilty.
DYSON: Most black people didn`t believe O.J. he was innocent, they just
didn`t believe he was guilty by legal standards. And if there was some
kind of compensatory justice, it was the fact that hey, what telling us for
years, like it ain`t the moral truth, it`s the legal truth. What can be
proved in a court of law?
Don`t get mad at Johnny Cochran because he out-lawyered you. Don`t get mad
because he was smoother and more seductive and had rhymes before Busta
Rhymes and he could tell the truth if the glove doesn`t fit, you must
acquit. Johnny Cochran epitomized for black America what it means to have
your back against the wall and no matter how famous you are, remember
"Time" magazine darkened O.J.`s face.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, the "Time" versus "Newsweek" covers of O.J. Simpson,
that plus, as you were talking about what the police officers and, Mr.
Fuhrman and the use of the N-word and not being honest about it, those two
things set a kind of tone -- racial tone for this trial.
DYSON: Absolutely. Racial truth, I would say this, racial truth is
simultaneous. Not successive, like things can be true at the same time.
You can be a man guilty of murder and a police cop who is bad can try to
frame a guilty man.
WARREN: One more piece of context especially for millennials to
understand. Just a couple years before --
HARRIS-PERRY: Gather round, children.
WARREN: In L.A., a couple of years before, it was the Rodney King beating,
and the riots in L.A.
HARRIS-PERRY: The uprising.
WARREN: Thank you, the uprising. So, that`s an important piece of context
that shaped especially black Americans` views of this trial, just a couple
DYSON: That`s a great point.
HARRIS-PERRY: Actually, so let`s think about that for a second. If you
have the filmed spectacle of the beating of Rodney King, then you have the
uprisings and the result of that trial, then you have the election of Bill
Clinton who is discursively talked about as the first black president, then
O.J. Simpson is acquitted, does it feel in `95 like we are entering this
post-racial -- seriously, part of the reason I ask this is because this way
in which these moments end up standing in for much bigger things than what
they are actually about.
OBEIDALLAH: Oddly for me, when the O.J. Simpson verdict happened, I was a
HARRIS-PERRY: White, because 9/11 happened, so you were still white.
OBEIDALLAH: I watched the O.J. verdict as a white lawyer and tried to be
objective and when the verdict came out, I said -- I didn`t watch every
piece of evidence that went in, this jury said he`s not guilty, that`s
fine. Flash forward to Trayvon Martin, I`m a minority after 9/11, frankly.
I had a vested interest. When that verdict came out I was organically
angry at the verdict because things had changed for me.
I think about America changing on race, there was a poll --
HARRIS-PERRY: Wait, I don`t want to leave this for a second. We talk
about the social construction of race all the time, but you being able to
put it in that language that before 9/11, your identity is socially
constructed as white lawyer watching this, and so you have one set of
understandings about where you fit, but in a post-9/11 world, watching the
Zimmerman verdict, you watch as someone who could potentially be profiled
which is part of the understanding --
OBEIDALLAH: We were. Muslim American communities being profiled, was
being profiled at that time in New York. I had anger, not anger anger
towards the police, I didn`t view them as the enemy but I had questions
viewing them as friends. You know, my perspective had changed.
So, I could understand now looking back at O.J., why people in the African-
American community would have questions about the police. And Mark
Fuhrman, and a racist, and did he frame it and being reasonable doubt going
I think this guy`s a racist and playing to the club. That could have
DYSON: Despite evidence, right? Because, look, the thing about the Rodney
King trial is this. Finally we got it on tape. You can`t even deny that.
Black people go oh, even the evidence is not sufficient so when it comes to
O.J., all of your evidence, your mountain of evidence doesn`t mean a hill
of beans because you have manipulated so much so that the visual images
that really can ascribe guilt to one particular person have been erased,
all bets are off.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Let me come into the sexual identity question.
Simultaneously, this whole thing about race, this also seemed to be a case
about someone who had domestically -- let me take out the domestic, that`s
not really relevant -- who had abused his wife, that 911 call, the fear,
the sound in her voice, there was this kind of astonishing aspect to which
women of color, particularly black women, became part of the O.J. Simpson
team and not the Nicole Brown -- in fact, her suffering, her death became
almost a sideline to the spectacle of race that was emerging.
And I -- that feels like we haven`t moved on much from, Dorian.
WARREN: I don`t think -- I don`t think we have actually interrogated that
in terms of how white women felt about Nicole being married to a prominent
black man or black women and women of color feeling -- I feel like O.J. had
become white and then became black again in some ways, because -- and I
remember my mother and all the anger of the black women around me towards
O.J. for so many years until that trial, where he became black again and
needed protection again, and any of Nicole`s pain and identity was totally
ignored in that moment.
DYSON: And how he reclaimed his blackness, back against the wall, black
against the wall. That`s the rule.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me, because where you all gone in the social
construction of race, fans love Nerdland. Stick with me because I want to
talk more about that. And we`re going to continue our discussion on the
O.J. Simpson case -- I can`t believe I just said those words, this is weird
-- in just a moment.
But first, we want to take note of the passing of a major figure in
American pop culture. NBC News has confirmed that radio legend Casey Kasem
passed away this morning. Kasem was the voice of American top 40 where he
counted down the most popular songs in the country. The show was a smash
hit and at one point, was broadcast to more than 1,000 radio stations
worldwide. The program launched in 1970 and ran until 1988. Kasem was
also famous for voicing cartoon characters like Shaggy from Scooby-do.
Casey Kasem was 82 years old.
HARRIS-PERRY: The letters O and J weren`t the only ones that earned
household name recognition during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. So, the
letters D, N, and A.
During the trial, the prosecution evidence was introduced that made it
possible for some of the blood near the bodies to be anyone but Simpson`s.
But police mishandling of the evidence and the prosecution`s failure to
explain the forensic science of DNA in language jurors could understand
made the evidence all but useless to help their case. There was, however,
one group of people following the trial who understood one thing for
certain about DNA. If you were wrongly accused prisoner, you could imagine
DNA as being the key to your freedom and in fact, DNA has been the basis of
exoneration in 316 convictions through the Innocence Project, a nonprofit
founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, both of whom were members of
O.J. Simpson`s defense team.
Now, I wanted to talk about DNA in the context of race, because as we were
just talking about, race is a social construct. It is not biological. Yet
in this case, that issue of DNA and like the production of bodily matter
became central to a race story in such a way that it ends up actually
providing justice for hundreds of people of color through the Innocence
Project. Like biology that had always been bad for black folks ended up
DYSON: Exactly right. Even if you believe O.J. was guilty, he was a
sacrificial lamb. Millions -- thousands of others benefited from the
mistake made in his case but because DNA stood for "Denying Negroes
Anything" before O.J., and then when O.J. comes along, there`s a critical
mass of science and understanding of its use, and people were much more
careful about it. You would think the mountain of evidence being used
against O.J. proved again, as you said, something you said that`s very
important, black people`s skepticism about technology, it wasn`t about
technology itself, it`s about technicians. It`s not about science, it`s
It`s the use of it. So when we discovered that oh, yeah, some of that DNA,
we kept it out, didn`t put it in, when questions began to be raised, it
showed them that even science can`t testify on its own. It`s got to always
be put into a larger context. And in that context, race makes a huge
difference in terms of the interpretation of the data.
I think O.J. showed all of that but he did become a critical figure in
releasing a lot of men who were innocent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me -- I want to ask one other kind of evidence, not just
DNA evidence. In this case, witnesses and to the extent to which witnesses
make a difference in a trial. There were two moments, you brought up the
Zimmerman trial. I want to make a comparison because Zimmerman also became
a very racially angst-filled trial.
In the Zimmerman trial, the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, the young woman
who just graduated from high school -- congratulations to Rachel -- but who
was the last person to speak with Trayvon Martin. And she came and was
meant to provide some humanization of Trayvon Martin, to make us think of
him as a young boy on the phone with his friend, but in part because of how
she presented racially, in many ways, it had the opposite effect. Folks
had such negative feelings about her.
I was comparing that to O.J. Simpson`s daughter, Arnelle Simpson, the older
daughter, who when she testified, this beautiful young woman who was so
lovely and articulate and had all these nice things to say about her father
and how her character witness played very different racially. I just
thought this is exactly how that race and witnessing makes for different
kind of evidence.
OBEIDALLAH: I mean, jurors are human beings. They connect with certain
people in different ways. You know, I felt bad for the young lady because
the struggles of being in the Zimmerman trial. We talk about cameras in
the courtroom. I`m all for it.
But sometimes people might say I don`t want to testify if it`s going to be
on TV because I might have to go through that same thing. That`s the only
concern I have in the back of my mind with cameras in the courtroom.
I mean, when you get to race, the one thing I want to say, I don`t want to
take it off-topic, the one thing true for O.J. and Trayvon now, I think
that white Americans didn`t want to talk about race then. After Trayvon,
there was a poll, 80 percent of African-Americans said it`s a good time to
talk about race. Only 25 percent of white America wanted to talk about
And while things have changed in this country, still, there`s a hesitancy
in the white community because they view it as an accusation. And even you
talk about in DNA, say, over 300 people exonerated, over -- almost 300 of
those, almost 200 of 300 are actually African-American, they go that`s just
It`s not. There`s a bigger issue involved.
DYSON: Well, the way you talk about --
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me Beth back in here.
KARAS: Arnelle Simpson, she is the daughter of the sports icon. She was
articulate, more educated. You`re talking about the witness in Trayvon
Martin who, I mean, not her fault, I mean, she just couldn`t articulate
herself. She couldn`t express herself as well. People didn`t -- people
thought she was probably wasn`t being totally truthful. She had an
attitude on the stand.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I guess what I`m asking, if that reading of her as less
articulate or having an attitude was also racialized in that sense. In
other words, she is very discernible to me. I know, like when I say I know
her, I don`t mean I know her personally but I know young women like that.
I didn`t necessarily read her as dishonest or defensive. I read her as
familiar. But for many folks, I think she was not familiar.
KARAS: I blame the prosecution for not preparing her better. I think that
they didn`t prepare her well enough. Maybe they did as much as they could
with her but I doubt it.
DYSON: But, look, I think the point that Melissa is making is brilliant
because the preparation is not just for the prosecution, but the country
for a woman like that. When you say familiar, that`s how people get jobs.
You look familiar to me. A new study from a woman at Rutgers says it`s not
the stuff that white people do against black people or other minorities
that`s the problem. It`s the hookups they give to each other that
constitutes an advantage. When we talk about Rachel, she looks dishonest.
This woman speaks three languages, so she`s technically much more superior
linguistically to O.J.`s daughter. She is capable of switching in between
idioms and also is darker and not lighter, she`s heavier and not lighter.
And so, all of that plays into our Constitution of what`s intelligent,
what`s acceptable, what`s beautiful and what`s desirable and therefore who
is telling the truth. I think in that sense you are absolutely right.
Rachel Jeantel signified for every black woman that people had encountered
they thought was diffident or insolent or incapable of being nice and what
she was doing was being protective because she knew she was already being
judged. The reason she didn`t want to get on that stand because they are
going to treat me the very way I knew she would be treated.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, in fact, was treated that way.
I mean, I remember quite well the extent to which Arnelle Simpson became --
I mean, we didn`t have memes then for millennials. Had we had memes, she
was a little bit of like oh, my God, look at this beautiful young woman and
I get what you`re saying about sort of her capacity for discourse but I
also think it`s the code switching. It`s a particular kind of discourse
she was good at.
WARREN: This gets at your broader point about intersectionality because
this is also about class in addition to race and gender, and how we view
class and O.J.`s daughter obviously is of a very different class than
Rachel. That shades people`s perceptions of trustworthiness, of honesty.
So, it`s class, it`s gender, it`s race, it`s also skin color, she was a
DYSON: All of it together.
WARREN: All of it together.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, maybe we did learn something about ourselves. I really
appreciate it. 20 years ago, I never thought I would be on TV talking
about it. You did, because you were on TV talking about it 20 years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: Trust me. We are all old compared to my interns. I want to
thank my guests, Beth and Michael, and Dean, and Dorian for being here.
And up next, Freedom Summer turns 50.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE COBB: The need for the volunteers and presence of the volunteers
represented our inability after three years, to make significant inroads
into changing Mississippi. So, we had to reach out to this larger group
which was predominantly white.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And many of us were still not entirely comfortable with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Fifty-one years ago this past Thursday, June 12th, 1963,
civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway in Jackson,
Mississippi. He was the NAACP`s first field secretary in Mississippi and
organized its voting registration efforts.
The next summer, 1,000 volunteers, black and white, organized by the
Student Nonviolent Communicating Committee, fanned out across the state in
the effort to register black citizens who had been disenfranchised for
nearly a century. Their efforts are known as Freedom Summer.
On the 50th anniversary of that bold and dangerous summer, a new
documentary by Stanley Nelson will premiere on PBS June 24th.
Here`s a look at how the film begins.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Spending a summer in Mississippi taught me a lot
about this country. My high school social studies teacher taught me that
we all have rights. Mississippi summer taught me that we didn`t all have
JULIAN BOND: When we began to go to Mississippi, the black people we met
there were not interested in lunch counters. They weren`t interested in
sitting in the front of the bus. There were no lunch counters, there were
They wanted to vote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): It will be carrying registered voters, it
will be carrying registered voters --
PEGGY JEAN CONNOR: I just made up my mind that I was going to be a
registered voter. I never wanted to be a politician. I just wanted the
right to vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t want the Negro as I have learned and contacted
during my lifetime, to control the making of the law that controls me, the
control the government under which I live.
COBB: I don`t think people understand how violent Mississippi was.
Terrorism led black people to the obvious conclusion. If they try and
vote, they`re messing with white folks` business and they can get hurt or
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope to send into Mississippi this summer upwards of
1,000 students from all around the country who will engage in what we are
calling freedom schools, community center programs, voter registration
activity, and in general, a program designed to open up Mississippi to the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The burned-out station wagon in which the three civil
rights workers were last seen has been processed by FBI laboratory
DOROTHY ZELLNER: I knew it was going to be bad. I didn`t dream for a
minute that people would be killed. But it was always in the back of
everybody`s mind that something, that bad things were going to happen.
So, it was terrifying. But if you cared about this country and you cared
about democracy, then you had to go down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The director of "Freedom Summer", Stanley Nelson joins me
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GWENDOLYN ZOHARAH SIMMONS: The things that was done at the orientation was
to instruct the white students, particularly, that you`re going into a
situation where you will have to follow the directions of black people.
You will be living in black homes. You will have to live according to the
way they live. Your life will depend upon you following directions. And,
of course, these white students had never been in a situation like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a scene from the new PBS documentary "Freedom
Summer", airing on June 24th to mark the 50th anniversary of the volunteer
effort to register black voters in Jim Crow Mississippi. The film`s
director, Stanley Nelson, joins me now.
So nice to have you.
STANLEY NELSON, FREEDOM SUMMER: It`s great to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me first about you have been working for a long
time to tell our histories. What is it about this history in particular,
the Freedom Summer story, that we don`t know or that has been lost?
NELSON: Well, I think there`s so much we don`t know. You know, what we
know about the story these days are Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, you
know, the three civil rights workers who were murdered that summer.
But I think we don`t know how Freedom Summer came about. We don`t know
about the courageous history of resistance by the people of Mississippi and
the last third or so of the film tells the story of the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party and their challenge at the Democratic Convention. I think
that`s a story that`s really been lost for most people.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the, of course, is in part the story of Fannie Lou
Hamer. Let`s just take a little -- this is from earlier in the film but
let`s introduce ourselves to Fannie Lou Hammer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the important things about recruiting Fannie was
her ability to move people. Fannie Lou Hamer brought a new kind of spirit
into the movement and she -- I think it kind of rejuvenated all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What was that new spirit she brought into the movement?
NELSON: Well, Fannie Lou Hamer was a little bit different from the people
who had been working in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. A lot of
them were young and they were students, some of them like Bob Moses was
actually from the north. But Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper and she
had tried to register to vote and when she tried to register to vote, she
went back to her house and was immediately kicked off the property and lost
her home and her job, and she became then part of the movement.
And she, like Bob Moses says in the film, she had Mississippi in her blood.
Other people could talk about what it meant to be a Mississippian, what it
meant to be a sharecropper, what it meant to be denied the right to vote.
But Fannie Lou Hamer had experienced it and she could talk about it
HARRIS-PERRY: And the violence. I mean, it wasn`t -- she had been kicked
off her land and also subjected to violence. When she does go with the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, she actually testifies before the DNC
credentials committee about that violence.
NELSON: Yes. One of the most amazing scenes in the film is Fannie Lou
Hamer`s testimony, because Fannie Lou Hamer was kind of the cleanup hitter.
They had Martin Luther King, they had Rita Schwerner, whose husband has
been murdered. But Fannie Lou Hamer was kind of the one of the last ones
up to talk about what was happening in Mississippi and she does it
beautifully. And, of course, it`s all recorded so it`s in the film.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, on that issue of recording, I want to watch another
clip for a moment and talk about what struck me here and ask you a little
bit about this as a film maker. This is really about that violence and
specifically about the rise of the Klan in response to the Mississippi
movement of Freedom Summer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The citizens council had convinced people that the Klan
wasn`t necessary, it was bad publicity, and they could keep schools from
being desegregated, they could keep lunch counters from being integrated.
But in 1964 when they see the volunteers for Freedom Summer, it was clear
they couldn`t. That`s when the Klan starts to ride.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: As I`m watching this film, the moment I was most struck by
in this clip is the child, who is probably under 5 years old. So, we`re at
the 50th anniversary. That means that that child, let`s just say, is a 55-
Black and white consistently -- like the images being black and white,
which is what they are in, makes you feel that happened a long time ago,
oh, that`s way back. That child is CEO age. That child is 55.
How do we keep that sense of urgency and documenting it as a moment of
NELSON: I think one of the things you see in the film, you see so many
people who were there. They are still alive and they`re still talking
about it. I mean, they were there.
I think that`s one of the things that`s really important. One of the early
decisions we made in making this film was to make it without narration
because we thought that there were enough people who were still around who
had experienced this, that they could tell the story, and there are.
And when you see it, you start to think well, wait a minute, this wasn`t so
long ago if these people are talking about it and can remember it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And with full faculties and I am just so appreciative
of this film and of your other work. I know you said that "Freedom Riders"
will be replayed on PBS on just the week before this, and thank you for
NELSON: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stanley Nelson, thank for being here. And for making the
documentary, and once again, "Freedom Summer" debuts on PBS, Tuesday, June
24th. And also, for folks looking to learn more about the events happening
surrounding the 50th anniversary commemoration of Freedom Summer, you might
want to check out the Web site, freedom50.org.
Up next, I`ve got something to say to a man, the man who chaperoned a
birthday party for a dozen tween girls because my flight was delayed by
weather. A father`s day message for my husband is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, I have one more letter for my husband, James.
Dear James, it`s me, Melissa. Happy Father`s Day.
And it goes without saying that I was joyous on our wedding day. And it
waste until later that I realized someone else in the ceremony may have
been even happier than me, Parker. There she is, 8 years old, so
overwhelmed with enthusiasm about our union that she spontaneously took
She was thrilled because our marriage meant that you were officially a dad
to her. You, who took her to father/daughter dances. You, who walked and
talked and traveled with her from the very beginning, you who never tried
to crush her silliness but always nurtured it instead.
On that day, you and she and me became a family. And in one fell swoop,
you embraced the roles of husband and father with compassion and humor and
Then, just four months ago, we became parents again -- expanding our family
and welcoming our miraculous baby girl A.J.
And in these four months, whatever I thought I knew about the man you are,
whatever I believed about your staggering capacity for love, has been
expanded beyond anything I dared imagine -- as you have thrown both arms
around the awesome task of parenting a newborn. There are the morning
snuggles with A.J., she listens intently as you read her story. There are
the hours you lie perfectly still so she can sleep on your chest.
There`s a way that you tolerate -- no, actually I think you encourage her
to put her feet in your mouth. And there are the epic daddy/daughter
selfies that you have perfected.
And there`s a simple fact that both of our girls are yours, that you never
make the distinction in your compassion and attentiveness from the girl you
met at 7 and the one you`ve held since birth. Heck, you`ve even managed to
have the same fun and love you have as a dad in your role as uncle for all
of my nieces and nephews.
James, you are the heart and soul of our family. You are the light of our
days and our guardian of our nights. Though I have loved you from the
first, watching your extraordinary parenting and commitment to our family
simply takes my breath away and deepens my love every day.
And on this Father`s Day, I hope the girls are giving you a chance to catch
a little nap, because you certainly have earned it. Happy Father`s Day.
And that`s our show for today. I also want to say, happy Father`s Day to
our executive producer, Eric Salzman, and his lovely daughter, Lucy.
Thanks to all of you at home for watching. I`m going to see you next
Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with
Happy Father`s Day to you, T.J.
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