August 16, 2014
Guest: Jelani Cobb, Seema Iyer, Phillip Atiba Goff, Marquez Claxton, Amy
Farrell, Marva Robinson, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Jonathan Metzl, Phillip
Agnew, Jamelle Bouie, Jamie Kilstein
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, why do police
officers in the suburbs wear camouflage? Plus, a personal reflection on
Robin Williams from a close friend.
And, drastic measures being taken in Western Africa. But first, all eyes
are on Ferguson, Missouri.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Right now there is quiet in
Ferguson, Missouri, the morning after a standoff between police and
demonstrators outraged over the shooting death of Michael Brown reignited
tensions in this community overnight. Last night starting around midnight
a peaceful protest of more than 100 people escalated into a clash with
police. The demonstration gave way to unrest as heavily armed police fired
tear gas to disperse a crowd. A small group of people took advantage of
the chaos to loot nearby businesses, but were blocked by members of the
community who stepped in to stand guard and protect the stores. The
renewed unrest comes following a day of calm after the Missouri highway
patrol, under the leadership of Ferguson native son Captain Ron Johnson,
took over security for the demonstrations from the town`s local
authorities. But anger in the community flared again yesterday after
Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson during a news conference identifying
officer Darren Wilson as Michael Brown`s killer released this convenience
store surveillance footage showing a man police suspected to be Brown
stealing a box of cigars and assaulting a clerk. Community members and
reporters were stunned again when only hours later Chief Jackson held
another news conference where he said that the incident shown in the video
had nothing to do with the reason officer Wilson initially stopped Brown on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS JACKSON: His initial contact was not related to the robbery.
REPORTER: What are you saying, chief? Did he know that he was a suspect
in the case or did he not know?
JACKSON: No, he didn`t. He was walking .
REPORTER: It had nothing to do with the stop?
JACKSON: It had nothing to do with the stop.
REPORTER: Then why release the video?
REPORTER: At this point, at this point, why did he stop Michael Brown?
JACKSON: Because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to go now live to Jelani Cobb who is on the ground of
Ferguson where he`s been reporting all week for "The New Yorker Magazine."
Nice to see you this morning, Jelani.
JELANI COBB, NEWYORKER.COM: Hi, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know you were up quite late last night. You were present
at the demonstrations. What did you see?
COBB: So, the best way of describing this is that the mood here has really
fluctuated. You know, so Wednesday night it was intense, you know, with
this kind of extreme, foreboding quality to the environment where you knew
there was going to be a confrontation between the police - that was the
night that they had the military style vehicles out here. And sure enough
things did, you know, devolve quickly after that. Thursday night the
environment was kind of much more staid and relaxed. Almost celebratory
kind of climate that people were saying that the officer`s name was going
to be released and so on. And then last night was different because there
were people who were upset once again about the release of the video. Very
many people thought that the person who was in the video might not have
actually been Michael Brown. Those who did think that it was Mr. Brown
were concerned that they were trying to taint his name in order to justify
what they still believed to be excessive use of police force. And then
underlying all of this was one thing that I have to say which has been a
theme, which is an extreme degree of concern among the protesters, among
the residents of Ferguson, among the people in the surrounding areas that I
spoke to, an extreme degree of concern that rioting and looting would
really stain the efforts that they have here to try to commemorate what
happened to Mr. Brown`s life and to prevent it from happening again.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, so, Jelani, Jelani.
COBB: And so, I`m all surprised .
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you a bit more about exactly that. Because
for me some of the most intense images that I saw late last night in this
morning are those of largely young men standing in the door of local shops
basically blocking those who seem to be taking advantage of these protests
that are motivated by the police killing an unarmed teenager during the
day, right? So, if what we`re seeing here is a sustained mobilization,
during the day are we seeing mass meetings? Have you been experiencing any
kind of strategic training for the young people who are engaging or even
for other citizens who are engaging in these protests so that come evening
when the protests tend to take to the streets there is some sense of sort
of how we`re going to manage this?
COBB: Some of that has happened. But I was talking with a young woman who
is a Ferguson native who is leaving -- actually she had moved away and then
stopped here on her way to law school. She`s studying at Harvard Law
School in the fall and it just happened to coincide with everything that`s
happened here. And I talked with her. And she said that the organizing
efforts here have not really been centrally coordinated. So, there are
people who are trying to do this. To give people ideas, the tactics that
they can use. They do have some that are on the spot, you know, workshops
about organizing, if you will, out by the quick trip gas station that was
burned down. There are people who were talking about the importance of
remaining calm, of remaining nonviolence and so on. Then, you know, of
course, the rapper Nellie is from here. He was on the radio, he`s been on
the radio consistently urging people to remain calm about this, and - but
at the same time there is a feel that maybe those things are not as
centrally organized as perhaps they could be.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, stay with us, Jelani. I don`t want you to go
away. Especially since you are on the ground there. But I do also want to
bring in Philip Atiba Goff, who`s a victim scholar at the Harvard Kennedy
School. Associate professor of social psychology, UCLA, and president of
the center for policing equity in Los Angeles. So, stay with us, Jelani.
I asked that question specifically to Jelani about the extent to which
protesters have training in part because these encounters with the police
can be extraordinarily dangerous for civilians. But now let me turn the
question around and ask you, you know something about at least the St.
Louis County police. Tell us what you know about the county police and
tell us whether or not there is reason for civilians to be concerned about
their interactions with the police officers they are going to be
encountering in these events.
PHILLIP ATIBA GOFF, PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY UCLA: Well, the first
thing I want to say is that when they`re having interactions with law
enforcement in the Ferguson protest area in particular, they`re not just
dealing with St. Louis County police department, they`re not just dealing
with Ferguson police department . They`re dealing with law enforcement
from all over the St. Louis County region. Pretty much everybody except
for St. Louis metro PD officers. So, though, it all seems like it`s the
same law enforcement, they could have pretty different kinds of trainings
walking into an officer on one corner versus another corner.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stop, give me a local policing 101 about what that means, so
when you say St. Louis County, if I`m not from Missouri, what does that
mean and what kinds of communities are deploying officers in this moment?
GOFF: Right, so when there`s a critical incident or when there`s a large
scale protest in a small area, they usually won`t have the size of a police
force to be able to staff that. Like to keep everybody safe. So it`s very
normal for them to reach out to one of the local neighboring police
departments or several of them to make sure there`s enough officers. What
that means is that everybody around the ring of St. Louis metro, the city
itself, that means St. Louis County, the smaller places that are, you know,
ten police officers, five police officers, 20 officers, many of them are
being asked to come in and put in overtime helping out in Ferguson. So you
don`t know necessarily unless you look very closely on that badge or on
that shoulder patch where the officer is, where they are from when you`re
encountering them nor what kind of training they`ve had before they show
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, speaking of training, let me -- I want to listen one
more time to what we heard at the very end before I turned to Jelani Cobb,
in that presser where Kevin Jackson says, oh, he wasn`t stopped because of
being a suspect. I want to listen to that one more time.
GOFF: All right, we .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. Ron JOHNSON: And this is clearly my community and my home and,
therefore, it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of
violence, that we ease the tension, and build trust showing the utmost
respect for every interaction with every citizen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, I`m sorry. That was Captain Johnson. That`s not
the sound bite I wanted to hear. That`s Captain Johnson who`s taken over
and was really doing quite a lovely job. But part of what I`d like to see
is that in contrast to the moment where they have released the images of
the potential Michael Brown and we heard from Jelani Cobb that that was
part of reigniting this. Is the Ferguson police department the most inept
local police department in the country, or is this par for the course?
GOFF: You have got to know that`s a loaded question for someone who deals
with law enforcement all the time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. I think this is stunning, right?
GOFF: It is absolutely stunning. I have to say there are many -- as you
heard Captain Johnson came on afterwards and was troubled by the release of
the Michael Brown footage. There are others in law enforcement that were
troubled by it, especially because, as we just heard, the officer who ended
up shooting and killing Michael Brown didn`t have that information in his
head as the reason for the stop.
GOFF: Right? And it is the case that sometimes smaller departments
haven`t dealt with these larger scale issues and are not connected to
agencies and training that prepares them for something like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jelani, let me come back to you on this because, as much
as I absolutely appreciate the idea that potentially smaller departments
aren`t always coping with, you know, something that feels big, on the other
hand part of what we have consistently seen is an inability to even use
active voice in conversations about what the police have, in fact, actively
done here. So we keep hearing passive voice, a shooting occurred, an
officer was involved, rather than Mr. Wilson shot Mr. Brown and now Mr.
Brown is dead. That kind of very clear language. What do you think is at
the core of that? Is that about, Jelani, trying to just push off
responsibility, do you think, or do you think that there`s just sort of
generally been an experience of a lack of being held accountable?
COBB: Actually, when I talk with people about the way that policing is
handled here, you know, the thing that I`ve gotten back from people is was
that it`s not simply Ferguson, but it is a problem with the municipalities,
93 municipalities in St. Louis County and they say that this is kind of -
it`s something that cuts across very many of them. Now in Ferguson
specifically it`s hard to think other than these are people who do not have
a great degree of accountability or are not accustomed to accountability
and that goes from everything from how they`ve addressed the media to the
antagonistic way, goes so far as to arrest journalist which seems
unconscionable, to the way in which people have interacted with the
community. Certainly it looks like - you know, I can`t say what`s going on
inside the inner workings of the department, but it looks like they`ve
circled the wagons around the police officer and people are having serious
questions about whether or not this department is even capable of
investigating this incident objectively and seeing whether or not there was
a legitimate excessive use of force in the circumstances that led to
Michael Brown`s death.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani Cobb in Ferguson, Missouri, thank you so much. There
is much more to come this morning in this story out of Ferguson, Missouri.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I should be celebrating. We all should be
celebrating my son`s graduation and going on to college, but we`re planning
a funeral - little Mike-Mike. Oh, little Mike Mike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JAY NIXON (D) MISSOURI: You`ve got parallel processes going on here,
you`ve got this - a local one and the Department Of Justice. Those need to
be accurate. They need to be clear. They need to be thorough. And before
conclusions are reached they need to be complete. The focal point here
remains from, you know, to figure out how and why Michael Brown was killed
and to get justice as appropriate in that situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was Missouri Governor Jay Nixon speaking yesterday at a
press conference in Ferguson. Still with me is Phillip Atiba Goff,
president of the Center for Policing Equity in Los Angeles, and joining us
now is Seema Iyer, a criminal defense attorney and a former prosecutor at
the Bronx D.A.`s office, Amy Farrell, who is associate professor of
criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University and Marquez
Claxton, who is director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance and retired
NYPD detective who served for 20 years. So I want to play one more time --
I want to listen to Captain Johnson who has come in, who has taken over and
who before the clashes last night felt like, OK, this may be the solution.
And then I have a question for you, Marquez.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I grew up here and this is currently my community and my home.
And therefore, it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of
violence, diffuse the tension and build trust, showing the utmost respect
for every interaction with every citizen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I am so torn because I watch Captain Johnson and on the one
hand I think he gets it, he gets the optics, he gets the way that you talk
to people. He is from the community. And then there`s this little part of
me that grew up in the `80s and then was a teen in the `90s and still hears
black cop, black cop singing in the back of my head about the ways in which
African-American bodies and faces and terminology gets deployed by police
departments to simply kind of quell the violence and not bring justice.
How do I know whether or not we ought to actually be following Captain
Johnson? What are the signals as you tell me, whether or not this is
MARQUEZ CLAXTON, BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT ALLIANCE: Well, let me just say,
first off, the same suspicions, the same concerns that you have, I have,
also, as a retired police officer. So I`ve dealt and interacted with other
police officers in that same manner because that was based on my life
experience. I think the significance of what Captain Johnson was able to
do initially - because we have to wait and let everyone`s work speak for
themselves. So, we have to observe and be clear about and honest about the
work that he has done and I think the first couple of days at least and I
think even last night, because we can fully expect that there will be
provocateurs, there will be criminal opportunities at every event, so, and
that - it is not necessarily a reflection of the work that Captain Johnson
is doing and has done and we really have to judge him based on his actions
and thus far it seems to be overwhelmingly positive and his outreach cannot
be denied. I think the reaction from people to him tells us a lot about
who he is and what he brings to the table. What`s interesting is where was
HARRIS-PERRY: That question feels to me so key. And I guess part then,
also, of what I want to know is, so, then who brought him? Phillip, who is
it - because I asked you earlier, is this the most inept department. Who
is it who noticed how badly this was going and said we are going to need
Captain Johnson in here?
GOFF: So, what I understand is that at the press conference the governor
said this is the person who is going to be taking over. Now that`s in
consultation with many in local law enforcement around there, but it`s the
governor that made that decision.
HARRIS-PERRY: But as much as he`s taking over, I do want to be clear, he`s
taking over the question of the control of demonstrators and protests .
HARRIS-PERRY: But the key issue here for me, Seema, and clearly what
reignited these protests was the sense about the investigation .
SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: And whether or not there are going to be charges brought
against this officer whose name we have only just recently had an
opportunity to learn.
IYER: Which is shocking. Because nowhere else, then retired detective,
you can tell us the same thing. If this happened in New York we get the
name of the officer from the jump. That doesn`t happen. But my other
question is, and it goes back to what you were saying about Captain
Johnson, black cop, black cop, is he just now becoming the face that`s
going to quell the violence and the turmoil or is he actually the
appropriate department? That is my question, Dr. Phil. You would know.
IYER: He`s highway.
GOFF: That`s right.
IYER: So, my question is, is he even the appropriate department that would
respond to this looting, violence, riots?
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, OK, well, but you just did the thing there at the end.
Seema, I was with you and then you said the looting, violence, riots, and I
think this is part for me of the angst about what we think is occurring.
And, you know, I`ve got to be completely honest, I have not, myself, been
on the ground in Ferguson, right? And I think all of us who are sitting in
the relative comfort of studios need to acknowledge that. But what I see,
at least what I think I see, is the perpetuation of this form, a kind of
emotive, angry, you have killed the son of our community and we are going
to stand here in this place and say that is unacceptable to moving it into
where there`s where it feels like violent action is at least partly about
controlling the police, not about controlling the crowds.
AMY FARRELL, ASSOC. PROF. NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: Right. So one of the
cornerstones of policing in a Democratic society is the notion that police
are transparent, that police are accountable to the public. And when the
police are not accountable to the public, the public responds. And in this
case, the public seems to have serious questions about the legitimacy and
their trust and confidence in the Ferguson police and the county police,
probably in police in a much larger scope to handle the investigation
appropriately, to release information transparently. I mean some of what
we saw last night, was clearly a response to - we thought things were
heading in the right track. But now we`ve had this seeming like bait and
switch where we had a video released and we`ve had something that looks
like a smearing of a young man who was murdered`s name. And we don`t trust
again. You know, we are angry again. And if, you know, it may be very
quick to come to the surface because of long histories of failures to trust
the police because of police actions.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you say there was a theory in the Democratic society
that policing is about transparency, I guess it seems to me there are
multiple theories about what policing is about, and that we actually saw a
kind of neoliberal attempt to reassert that what policing about is control.
GOFF: That`s exactly right. I think, Amy, you bring up an incredibly
important point with regards to trust in the community. Because there are
really two things going on on the ground both from everything that I`m
seeing on television and from everything I`m hearing from people who are
there. There`s one, which is a community that is outraged, that`s hurt,
that has also felt like they`ve been occupied for some time. And then
there are people who are intent to do ill, that are intent to take
advantage of this. To do violence, and grab stuff from stores when they
can. Now there`s some overlap. Some of the outrage and the hurt is
leading to protests in the form of stealing and in the form of violence.
But how do we deal with public safety at the same time we have to deal with
the crisis of mistrust and because they`re happening in the same space,
it`s been really difficult, I think, for law enforcement on the ground to
figure out that you attack violence by building trust at the same time.
Also, what`s the emergency, right? So if there is violence or the
allegation of it or unrest in the community, what is most important at that
moment in time and that is safety. Safety is going to trump ..
HARRIS-PERRY: But when you say the word violence, so looting is one thing.
That`s a property crime. But as far as I know, the only act that has led
to the death of an individual over the course of the past week in Ferguson
was a police officer - it`s like - I mean, I may be wrong and I am prepared
to be fact-checked in the commercial, but I worry when we say that stealing
liquor is violence .
HARRIS-PERRY: And we don`t sort of keep saying, no, the thing that is
violent is shooting at unarmed teen. Up next, speaking of which, armor
tanks, grenade launchers and assault rifles all for free. How and why your
neighborhood police are looking more and more like the neighborhood
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER HOOKS, JENNINGS, MISSOURI RESIDENT: We`re used to these excuses.
You know, every time there`s an incident with a young, black man losing his
life there`s always an excuse of why he was on drugs or he was a suspect or
-- we`re never taken into custody, questioned in the proper manner.
HARRIS-PERRY: At times the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri this
week made it hard to tell you we`re watching a protest in a small
Midwestern suburb, not coverage of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle
East. Because the local police responded the mostly unarmed protesters
like soldiers ready for battle against an enemy combatant. (INAUDIBLE) in
Marine issued camouflage in military great body armor, riding through the
streets of the town in mine-resistant armored vehicles, pointing high
caliber assault rifles and throwing tear gas at citizens. These images of
the small army deployed against protesters in Ferguson exposed a larger
shift for the militarization of American police forces, but this has been
occurring for more than a decade. Since 1996, in response to the war on
drugs the Department Of Defense transferred $4.3 billion in military
equipment to local and state police through a policy known as the 1033
program. After 9/11 the Department Of Homeland Security made additional
equipment available to local law enforcement through federal funds for
terrorism prevention. Nearly every local department in the country has
taken advantage of the Pentagon`s program. It`s unclear how much if any of
the equipment used by police this week in Ferguson came from Justice
Department grants. But according to "The New York Times" grant money from
the Department Of Homeland Security paid for the barricade armored truck on
patrol in Ferguson and federal dollars bought most of the body armor worn
by officers responding to the protests.
When we come back I want to ask my panel, when police on suburban streets
dressed in military-style camouflage, it`s because they`re trying to blend
in or stand out?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TYSON MANKER, FORMER U.S. MARINE: I didn`t go to Iraq to defend Iraqis to
come home and watch my neighbors get brutalized. Responding with tanks and
snipers to a peaceful protest is ridiculous. And we are showing
solidarity. There should be no tanks on U.S. streets. It`s absurd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Those comments from a former U.S. Marine marching along
Thursday alongside protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. So, the last time I
saw tanks in an American city was after Hurricane Katrina. The tanks
rolled in and it took General Honore coming in and telling people to lower
the fights on their weapons away from civilians who they were meant to be
there protecting. Is the problem the resources, the bearcats, or is the
problem who is deploying them and when?
FARRELL: So one of the challenges of this deployment program, the 1033
program, is that we have had this -- so the program has been going on for
quite some time. It`s passed in the 1990s. If we think about what was
happening in the 1990s, the height of our war on crime, the beginning of
the war on - middle of the war on drugs, the belief that this kind of
equipment could help fight a drug war. And it was really intended to help
fuel police attacking drugs in urban neighborhoods. The deployment,
though, the release of this piece of equipment has been slow over time. It
has steadily picked up in the last ten years and so now what we see,
though, is a quite different tactic being used, which is that post-9/11,
this type of equipment, everybody believed they could potentially be a
victim of terrorism, they might some time, maybe, need this kind of
equipment that was available. And so, this sort of ends justified the
means. If it was available, it could be purchased through grant money.
They got the equipment. They weren`t necessarily trained to use it. They
weren`t necessarily trained to use it in the tactical ways that we might
anticipate and these events don`t happen very often. And there are very
serious questions raised about whether or not in a protest situation
tactical military equipment is necessary or if there`s other ways to handle
a protest situation. We handle protest situations prior to this equipment
HARRIS-PERRY: And I hear you on the possibility of terrorism. You know, I
heard the former police officer from Boston saying, hey, you know, when the
Boston bombing happened, we were happy to have these military grade
resources. But really nobody thought that this was a potential terrorism
attack that was about to occur on the night when they first put on the body
armor and deployed these resources. And I keep wondering, I`m wondering if
that feeling of being an encamped people who are at war with your police
is, in fact, accurate and so maybe the good thing about this is now we can
see it. Like that`s what the police think these people in their community
are, not people to be served and protected, but to be at war with.
CLAXTON: Us against them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, exactly.
CLAXTON: The mentality has been and continues to be us against them. And
once you kind of cultivate that thinking in law enforcement strategy. For
example, what law enforcement has done over the past 20 years, well, if you
look at it, it has evolved. It has changed, then going away from a law
enforcement model that was service based, community policing into a show of
force, use of force model. And it incorporated at that time with this war
on drugs. But there`s been a shift over 20 years of going in this
direction, the more militarized, if you will, police departments across the
nation, across the region, and that`s what`s happening now. So, it is us
against them. It is a display that you`re there and we`re here. It is an
actual, physical, touchable, testable sense that the communities have to
face throughout this country not just in Ferguson.
GOFF: And I just want to push back just a little bit on that. Not because
it can`t be on display and not because that`s not how communities are
feeling and how some of law enforcement are thinking about it. You know
better than I. But just to say I think it becomes more visible when its
tanks and camouflage but this is something that`s been around, and I don`t
know that it`s getting worse over time but it`s certainly getting more
HARRIS-PERRY: Stokely Carmichael from Ray (ph) wrote about this in "Black
HARRIS-PERRY: The Black Panther uses this as fundamental basis for
understanding what was different about the experience of racism in the West
and in the urban north as compared to the Jim Crow South. Right, so the
Jim Crow South had that legislative apparatus, the urban North and the West
had this basically militarized police apparatus that provided that same
experience of segregation and that experience of you are not welcome here.
CLAXTON: But there`s a way to regulate what needs to be done here because
there are times and occasion when some of this equipment has a practical
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s true.
CLAXTON: And provides the certain amount of safety not only for police
officers but for civilian population as well. But I think without
increased regulation, without -- listen, there ought to be a reporting
requirement, a monthly reporting requirement, I don`t know, the Department
of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of whoever. There
ought to be a more extensive and detailed application process. You know,
and there ought to be really consideration per capita crime stats because
not every place needs an armored tank.
IYER: But there was no foundation for the deployment.
IYER: That is my issue here is that there was no reasonable basis to bring
out the military equipment.
CLAXTON: Seema, it`s boys and their toys.
CLAXTON: Because if you give it to them, they`re going to use it. And
that`s what we`re realizing now. It`s boys and their toys.
IYER: I think one thing that you bring up that`s really interesting, I
interviewed a detective who went through the academy in the `80s and he`s
saying something very similar to I think what you`re saying. And that is,
so many of law enforcement members now are not past members of the
community. For instance why is Captain Johnson doing so well? This is my
town. It`s my community. My people. I want to serve. And again, back to
what you were saying, that mentality of officers maybe 20 years ago had
that serve and protect mindset.
CLAXTON: The marble was .
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, but I want -- I guess I just want to be careful that
there was no golden age of police in black communities.
CLAXTON: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s no moment but that part of what the military
apparatus does is help us to see what had been an experimental process for
so many. The day after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson there was
another encounter between police and young African Americans in Missouri.
It happened on the very next day. But I bet it`s a story that you don`t
know yet. I`m going to tell you when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OVAL MILLER, FLORENCE MISSOURI RESIDENT: If there was a suspicion of a
robbery, they would have had some information of what the guy looked like,
what was going on with him, and just to stop him randomly, all the
witnesses say he stopped him randomly. He wasn`t trying to arrest him when
he was pulling him back and forth in that car. You know, that`s not the
way you stop and interrogate somebody. Not in my lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The day after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson,
Missouri, on the other side of the state in Kansas City there was another
encounter between police and young African Americans in the street, only
this encounter showed how different it can be. This is a story of what
happens when Officer James Krebs and his partner stopped their patrol car
upon coming across a group of young people. No commands were barked, no
shots were fired. Instead, they danced. In this video shot by a neighbor
Officer Krebs performs what he calls the octopus. And then after a counter
from one of the kids, a b-boy backspin on the cement. Now why embarrass
himself like that? Well, afterwards Officer Krebs boiled it down in an
interview with NBC affiliate KSHB.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OFFICER KREBS: So, when I went through the academy and when I first got
hired on I told them how I wanted to interact with the community and start
building some rapport with the citizens. So, I feel like if we build
rapport with them then they`re more likely to call us when they need us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Contrast that approach with what witnesses Dorian Johnson
told MSNBC about Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson`s interaction with
Brown while he was in the street last Saturday before shooting him to
death. We contrast it with what we saw later in Ferguson when a
militarized presence used tear gas, stunned grenades and rubber bullets to
repel protesters, at least until Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron
Johnson was put in charge on Thursday. As Officer Krebs and Captain
Johnson show, community policing isn`t impossible and you can know how to
do it and do it right if you don`t dress for war. Joining me now from
Ferguson, Missouri, is Marva Robinson, she`s a licensed psychologist and
president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Association of Black
Psychologists. It`s very nice to have you this morning.
MARVA ROBINSON, LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you were part of a group that came out immediately after
the death of Mr. Brown and set up some counseling opportunities for people
in the community experiencing a kind of PTSD? Tell me about that.
ROBINSON: Yeah. We felt it was very important that we showed the
community that we were here. We understand the psychological traumas that
they may have been experiencing, so we simply walk the streets up and down
the apartment complex engaging the youth, the parents, grandparents, anyone
that was willing to talk to us to let them know that we were here and ready
HARRIS-PERRY: What are parents and grandparents and young people telling
you about their experience over the course of the past week in terms of the
militarization of the police presence there in Ferguson?
ROBINSON: Our children are hurt. They are afraid. They`re very sad. A
lot of them no longer trust law enforcement, which is unfortunate. Some
children have not been able to sleep. Parents are afraid that their child
may be next. So it`s been very frightening. They no longer see law
enforcement as a group that`s here to protect and serve but someone to cage
them in, someone that is pointing guns at them, and someone who they can`t
HARRIS-PERRY: Marva, when you say language like this, they`re sad, they`re
hurt, they`re afraid, I feel like we almost never use that language when we
talk about particularly young black people living in cities. What would
happen if we started thinking of them as people who have experiences of
trauma and sadness?
ROBINSON: I think that`s a very good point. What research has shown is
that we tend to dehumanize African-American communities, especially
African-American men. And so it`s important that when I`m engaging with
residents, that they know that I see them as humans first, that I know that
they have wounds and scars just like everyone else. And I think that`s the
message that has to be publicized the most, is that these are children.
These are adolescents. These are innocent babies that are caught in the
middle of this and that they are experiencing some of the symptoms and
traumas and it`s happening every day, it`s happening every night.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we`ve talked a little bit about those problems
associated with the police. There`s one piece of the story that I`ve heard
reported I want to confirm it a least a bit with you. But is it true that
the body of Mr. Brown was, in fact, publicly visible for hours after his
shooting death and that many in the community saw it?
ROBINSON: Yes, I`ve engaged a number of residents that actually, literally
saw his body lying in the street. Some say it was over four hours. And
then to see him, by some reports, shoved in the back of an SUV with no
care, with no caution, with no concern, for the fact that this was
someone`s child and someone`s grandchild. To see his blood on the streets,
to see the way his body was positioned, these are the images that our
children and parents see every night and these are the images that have
kept them from being able to sleep at night.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. One final question then on that. Am I
overstepping when I say if there`s a body that is left available for public
view and there is a kind of militarized presence, that that constitutes a
kind of terror in that community?
ROBINSON: Absolutely. It creates trauma, terror, fear, all of the alike.
I think every step since he was shot has created more layers of trauma.
And you only get one childhood. And unfortunately, we have really impaired
that ability for our children. This has left scars that children and
residents will have to deal with for years beyond after this case is done.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marva Robinson in Ferguson, Missouri, thank you for your
work and thank you for joining us this morning.
ROBINSON: Thank you. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, connecting with the community in unrest. More on
the new man at the helm of security operations in Ferguson. Next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All these municipalities treat us like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillsdale treats us like this. (INAUDIBLE) Hills
treats us like this. Here they all treats us like this. They all do that.
It`s not just Ferguson. It`s all of them treats us like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: The people of our community need to hear what I`m saying.
They`ve got questions and I invited them here. This isn`t about Ron
Johnson. This isn`t about the highway county. This isn`t about St. Louis
Country, St. Louis City. It is about the people that live in our
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.
JOHNSON: When this day is over, a lot of people will be gone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
JOHNSON: The people behind you will be here and I will be here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol
speaking at a press conference Friday afternoon explaining to a disgruntled
media why he was going to step away from the microphone at the podium and
wave deeper into the crowd of citizens gathered to speak directly to them.
I want to point out the part of the anger here has to do with when this
shooting happens in the arc of the death of black men in this country and
that, of course, we have been just dealing with right here in New York
City, the chokehold death of Eric Garner. MSNBC`s own host and president
of National Action Network, the Reverend Al Sharpton, is in Harlem, he was
in Harlem this morning speaking about planned protests, about Mr. Garner`s
death. I want to take a quick listen there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: We will march to the site where
Eric was choked and lost his life unjustly and then to the district
attorney`s office where we`re calling on him to hand the case to the
federal government and have a rally there next week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a reason that Reverend Sharpton is talking about the
federal government and that is because African-American communities have
demonstrated for decades, really basically since the Civil War, more
support and trust in federal authorities than in local police. Is it time
for both the New York district attorney and for folks in Missouri to hand
this over to the Justice Department?
IYER: There`s always room for both, Melissa, and I think that folks in the
black community tend to gravitate towards the Feds because of the civil
rights movement, because we have this nationally recognized statute for
civil rights violations. However, and just to be clear, so Eric Garner,
that would be the Richmond County, Staten Island, district attorney`s
office. Staten Island the problem is it is majority white folks. So a
grand jury, in my opinion, is less probable to indict the officers. That
is my opinion. I think it could be like a for show situation which we see
a lot of times in New York City where if the officer testifies and then the
members of the grand jury see that the officer had reasonable cause that --
and this is according to the PBA president Lynch who says it wasn`t a
chokehold, so he`s putting it out there that it wasn`t a chokehold where I
think the majority of human folks who watch TV and who have vision can see
that it was a chokehold. But if you get in front of the grand jury, we may
not be looking at charges. Still, we can go forward with federal criminal
charges and federal civil charges as well as state civil charges, so there
is many avenues of recourse.
GOFF: But I have to say, so it`s true that black communities have trusted
the federal government more than local municipalities but it`s not the case
that the federal government has been this panacea to issues of race by any
stretch of the imagination. I want to make sure that we talk about, you
know, we`ve been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
It was a monumental achievement in American history, but not a year later
the riots in Newark and Watts and then eventually coming out the Kerner
Commission was ignored by the same president that passed that. The Kerner
Commission on civil unrest, on the fact that people are feeling like
they`re occupied in their own communities and that felt like the federal
government says that our children`s lives don`t matter. That this violence
that we`re seeing and the pushback against it doesn`t matter enough. We`ve
done the Civil Rights Act. But when it comes to the rubber meeting the
road in terms of how communities deal with the folks who are supposed to be
keeping them safe, the federal government kind of threw up their hands.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it because - threw up their hands. Is it because police
are a different arm of the government than any - like is there a special
carve out for law enforcement that leads us to not expect the level of
accountability for them that we would for almost any other layer of our
CLAXTON: First of all, let me just that I think - I think black people
don`t have this tremendous amount of trust and faith at any level of
government including any aspect of Justice Department for historical
reasons. I think what happens oftentimes is that people realize that the
fix is in at the local level and the state level. There is an incestuous
relationship between local prosecutors, state prosecutors and police
departments and they`re looking for another option, an option that expands
the possibilities, an option that perhaps gives more serious and severe
penalties if -- if -- you can find that justice. So it really is the
lesser of many different evils for black folk, for people in general when
they make these demands for the feds. The feds have more resources, more
authority, it`s more severe when you can get it. But we have historically
CLAXTON: But there is a carve-out for police officers and that`s part and
parcel of the justice system and that`s why people don`t trust it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just keep feeling like a DOJ put the tanks on the streets
of the neighborhoods and DOJ has a specific responsibility to address the
civil rights violations that may emerge as a result. Thank you to Seema
Iyer, to Amy Farrell and to Marquez Claxton. Phillip is going to be back
in our next hour.
Coming up next, presidential responses to community unrest. What it means
to be a young black man in America. And one of our favorite guests with
like some of his personal connection with Robin Williams. Just more MHP
show at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Last night in
Ferguson, Missouri, hours of peaceful protests gave way to some late night
violence and looting. NBC News reports looters broke into a handful of
stores in Ferguson, but then protesters formed lines to protect the stores
and block the looters. Three police officers were hurt with minor injuries
after protesters threw bottles or rocks. No protesters were hurt or
arrested, according to police. Last night, law enforcement again donned
riot gear, brought out armored trucks and set up a police line in the
standoff with protesters. But they reportedly did not engage with or try
to stop looters.
This morning, the streets appear calm. Joining me now is state Senator
Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes parts of Ferguson. State
Senator, good morning. Let me just begin with this question, given the
kind of week it has been, how is your community doing at this point?
STATE SENATOR MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL, D-MISSOURI: My community is very hurt
and upset right now, Melissa. I have to tell you we`re trying to
demonstrate peacefully. We`re trying to set about some objectives so that
we can not have this kind of situation occur anymore. And so last night as
I was getting phone calls at 3:00 in the morning, many of the protesters
that I`ve been on the front lines with for the last several days, since day
one actually, called me and said that they were trying to protect some of
these businesses. And I have to tell you, these looters are not from the
Ferguson area whatsoever. They`re from outside. That`s what I heard time
and time again at 3:00 this morning as millions of protesters that have
been with me have experienced. So what is important to us is that we
rebuild the Ferguson area. We have to protect these businesses, because
these are the businesses that employ our residents. And so we still have
to have a measure of sustainability. And so it`s unfortunately that we
have this air of people who are coming into our community and taking
advantage of a very serious situation that most impacts young people.
Young people are the victims in this, just like Michael Brown.
HARRIS-PERRY: State Senator Nadal, one of the things that began to
irritate folks in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the extent to
which national media kept getting things about our communities wrong. They
just would not quite understand. Because I recognize that danger, what are
we getting wrong about Ferguson? What do we not understand? Help us to
know something about your community that`s not being reported right now.
CHAPPELLE-NADAL: One of the things that is not being reported is that
black and white people live together. We go to bars together. We go to
movies together. We hang out. This is in many ways not a racial issue
within the community because many of the protesters are black and white and
Asian, but I think the focus here really has to be directed in the
institutional racism that exists in the police department. We know the
majority of stops that are made are African-American, people who are
stopped, and we also know that we have a department that is majority
Caucasian. Not reflective of the community whatsoever. So we have to do a
better job of having a department that is more reflective of the community,
and, secondly or thirdly, we also have to ensure that our police officers
are engaged intimately in the communities they serve. Where individuals do
not feel as though they`re going to be intimidated, but we have to build a
bridge, and we have to establish trust, and that is going to be the first
My residents recognize that not all police officers are bad, but they also
recognize in these isolated events that they have experienced themselves
where they have been intimidated by police officers and others, that they
could have been Michael Brown. We just don`t want this to happen anymore.
So we need to rebuild, we need to have a strategy in place, and that`s what
we have been working on in the last few days. And I think it`s incumbent
for those outsiders who are placing a dark cloud over Ferguson to go away.
Because you`re doing a disservice to all people of Ferguson and St. Louis
County, and it`s unacceptable, and it`s not tolerable any longer.
HARRIS-PERRY: State Senator, I have one last -- we have no time, but I
have one question, I just have to ask you, though. What is the unique
responsibility of black elected officials in this moment?
CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Well, I have got to tell you, I am a black elected
official, and I`ve been on the ground, zero ground or ground zero, since
day one. Unfortunately, I have not seen many of my colleagues but for
Alderman Antonio French, who is a good friend of mine, and he is from the
city of St. Louis. So I`ve been here since day one. I`ve been tear
gassed, not once but twice. Twice. I think it`s unacceptable for that to
happen. But you know what? I believe that we have to follow the same
example of Jesus. Jesus was always among the people. And for any elected
official not to be among the people and to have these press conferences
from afar in other municipalities or from the comfort of their home or
their offices is unacceptable, and it`s really a disgrace.
We need to be with the people who are hurting. We need to listen to them.
When our U.S. Senator came down, Claire McCaskill, she had no security.
And she embraced this young lady who just got out of jail. She didn`t want
to talk to her at all, because she was like, I haven`t taken a shower or
anything. I said, no, you meet your U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. And
what happened as a result, Claire embraced her as she was crying. And
that`s what elected leaders need to do. They need to embrace the people
that are hurting so badly inside, who are angry because of the intimidation
from police officers this week. I mean, it`s unacceptable for us to have
our First Amendment right taken away from us, our freedom of expression and
our freedom to assemble. And what St. Louis County police officers did is
they tear gassed my young people, who didn`t deserve it.
HARRIS-PERRY: State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, in Ferguson, Missouri,
Thursday the president took a break from his vacation to address the
shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
At that point, protests had been going on for four days. Ferguson and St.
Louis County police were facing off with protesters in stunning and often
frightening ways. The president spoke before the state highway patrol and
Captain Ron Johnson came in to take over crowd control, before local police
claimed the same day that he was killed, Michael Brown had stolen from a
local store. In a statement, the president called on both protesters and
the police to hold themselves to a higher standard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard.
Particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly
passionate differences about what has happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: He spoke about the death of Michael Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Of course it`s important to remember how this started. We lost a
young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He
was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciated that the president spoke on this issue, but
for me and many others, his words fell short. Now, let me explain why.
For me when the president describes the shooting of an unarmed teen as a
tragic circumstance, it feels as though he`s not acknowledging that this
death occurs within a larger context, a context that has causes with very
deep roots. On Thursday, what the president did not do was to call for the
nation to address the root causes of police brutality or civil unrest in
the way, for example, that President LBJ did in 1967 following the
uprisings in Newark and Detroit. Those long-simmering uprisings were
sparked by white police violence against black citizens. In Detroit and in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only genuine
long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack mounted at
every level upon the condition that breed despair and breed violence.
Ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: On Thursday, President Obama did not express a sense of keen
presidential obligation in the way that, for example, Dwight Eisenhower did
in 1957 when he announced that federal troops would enforce the integration
of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Eisenhower returned to the
Oval Office from vacation in Newport, Rhode Island, to explain why he must
act to enforce the Supreme Court`s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education,
because he said the very basis of our rights and freedoms depended on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DWIGHT EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: Unless the president did so,
anarchy would result. There would be no security for any, except that
which each one of us could provide for himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now these are vastly different moments in our history. I`m
not equating the protests in Ferguson, Missouri to mobs fighting
integration or urban unrest in the 1960s. The Ferguson protests have not
led to widespread looting or arson or violence at the hands of either black
residents or police in the way we saw in those moments. But I do want to
argue that in a democracy, the response of our elected officials,
especially the single highest elected official in the land, does, indeed,
matter. Joining me now is Dorian Warren, MSNBC contributor and associate
professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. I`m
also not claiming, Dorian, that it`s because he`s a black president that I
need him to say more about this moment. And, look, I have been a critic of
those who are like, oh, he should just speak about everything. But this
one, what feels like this clash between citizens and their police, I just
DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And let me give you yet another example,
another LBJ example from three years earlier from what you just showed in
1967. Almost 60 years to the day, uptown in Harlem, a white police officer
shot a 15-year-old kid named James Brown, and this is what LBJ said in
responding. He said New York officials should have all the help we can
give them, and this includes helping correct the evil social conditions
that breed despair and disorder. So he`s already previewing that Kerner
(ph) Commission speech three years later, in 1964, responding to a
situation almost exactly the same. So this is about presidential
leadership. It has nothing to do with the race of the president
necessarily. It`s about, as you said, the leadership of elected officials.
And as the state senator pointed out, on some level for 30 or 40 years, our
black officials have failed us because there is this silence violence of
poverty, broken schools, unemployment that have at least stayed the same if
not gotten worse over the last 30, 40 years, of black political
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me back up for a second. Is it possible that
Eisenhower, that Johnson could be more forthright and forward in their
discourse because they were white presidents? Not that anyone had seen
anything but a white president at that moment, but part of what occurs
whenever President Obama speaks about this kind of violence against black
men is that he begins to try to equivocate because of how we have trained
the president about how he will be attacked if he uses unequivocal
WARREN: That might be true, but again, to go back to the Johnson example,
Johnson is running for a hard - he is running for re-election in 1964 when
he makes that statement. And later on -- now the president now is a lame
duck president. Midterms are coming up, but I think if there were any
moment, this would have been the moment to actually say something more,
because we know in other contexts, he said -- he`s used very strong
language around protecting children.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, just last week when the president made the decision
to return to air strikes in Iraq, he used absolutely unequivocal language
about the Yazidi and about our responsibility to protect innocent children,
women, young people, who were being targeted by a state for violence. Are
we being unrealistic that he could say the same thing about his own state,
in that sense?
WARREN: Maybe. But I can`t remember if you said it or someone else, yes,
he`s in an impossible position, and I am going to hope he`s playing good
cop here and maybe the attorney general or someone else will play the bad
HARRIS-PERRY: I was looking for the Holder bad cop -- by which I actually
mean good cop.
WARREN: So there is an investigation happening by the Justice Department
into this matter. And we will see what the outcome is. It`s still not too
late. The president at some point could address this theme of the killings
and murders of unarmed black people over the last month of this summer.
HARRIS-PERRY: If he did, would it make things worse or better?
WARREN: I`m not sure. It depends on what the policy substance is attached
to that. Words at some level don`t matter as much as the policy and the
actual structural reforms to fix this problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think there`s a part of me -- I`m struggling here because
what I want in this moment is what we just heard the state senator saying
about the presence, about Claire McCaskill standing there, and I think part
of what was valuable hearing her say that, is I asked her about black
elected officials, and she told me about U.S. Senator McCaskill, which is a
reminder that it is not just a question about black officials but about
elected officials. So I want them standing there.
WARREN: And the responsiveness of exactly, elected officials, in a
democracy to the abuses of the government, of the state against its own
citizens. That`s not --
HARRIS-PERRY: That is what democracy is supposed to protect us from in a
way that authoritarianism can`t.
WARREN: And democracy also - it is about representation, but it`s also
about the right to oppose your government. And that`s not what we saw this
week as well. We saw the government, the state taking an innocent life,
and then when people stood up to oppose that very government in the form of
policing in particular, then we saw them attacked, including journalists.
So we need people to stand up in a democracy, and we need a democracy to be
responsive to all Americans, and in this moment especially to black
HARRIS-PERRY: MSNBC contributor Dorian Warren, thank you so much for being
WARREN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. We have so much more to discuss this hour
on the still evolving story in Ferguson, Missouri. I`m going to take a
break and also tell you a bit about a tribute to the late Robin Williams
unlike anything you have seen yet.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have much more on the still unfolding story in Ferguson,
Missouri, still ahead on this program. But I`m going to take a moment to
bring you important new information about the catastrophic Ebola outbreak
in West Africa. The deadly virus continues to spread with at least 1,145
dead. The World Health Organization reports that just between Tuesday and
Wednesday of this week, there were 152 new cases of the disease, and now
the governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are taking drastic
measuring. Those countries have resorted to cordoning off entire
geographic sections from which no one is allowed to leave. This strategy
of effective internment is a relic from medieval times when countries
frequently cordoned off victims of the black plague from the rest of
society. It has not been used in the modern era since 1918. Here in the
United States, Dr. Kent Brantly, one of two Americans with Ebola, released
a new statement Friday saying he is recovering and hopes to one day be
reunited with his wife and children. American and Canadian drug
manufacturers are scrambling to get experimental drugs approved for usage.
And earlier this week, between 10 and 12 doses of an experimental drug,
known as Zmapp, were given directly to the Liberian foreign minister
himself, who carried them from the United States to West Africa on a
commercial Delta flight. Doctors Without Borders warns it will take six
more months to bring the epidemic under control.
HARRIS-PERRY: Three days after Oscar winning film great Robin Williams
passed away on Monday at the age of 63, his wife, Susan Schneider,
announced that Williams, who had battled depression and addiction in the
past, was sober at the time of his death, and was suffering from the early
stages of Parkinson`s disease. On Thursday, Schneider released this
statement about her husband`s passing. "Robin spent so much of his life
helping others, whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film, or
television, our troops on the front lines, or comforting a sick child,
Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid. It is our hope in the
wake of Robin`s tragic passing that others will find the strength to seek
the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so
they may feel less afraid." Family, friends, and fans still mourn the loss
of Robin Williams, as does one person in particular, whom you may be
familiar with from this program. Jamie Kilstein, writer, standup comic and
co-host of Citizens Radio, is a frequent guest on this program. And what
we did not know until this week is that he had a deep and enduring
friendship with Williams.
He shared some of his memories in an essay for People.com. "How Robin
Williams helped me out of my depression." Jamie also shared some of that
story with us.
JAMIE KILSTEIN, COMEDIAN: I was doing a show in San Francisco, which is
where he lived. He went out to see the show and he sat in the audience and
I could hear him. He was literally starting the applause breaks. He was
like whooing in the back row. It was crazy. And I felt like I was
performing for him.
I grew up associating laughter with Robin Williams, and that was all that
mattered to me. I just want to make Robin Williams laugh. He came
backstage afterwards. We hung out, and we ate, and we`ve just been really
close ever since. He was definitely known as like a mainstream comic, and
the stuff he liked, the jokes he quoted back to me, the e-mails he wrote to
me, were all about radicalism and challenging the establishment.
There were times when we needed money when we were struggling but I still
turned down money from him, because he was so generous. There was a period
where my partner and I, Allison Kilkenny, who co-hosts Citizen Radio, we
lived out of our car for years. We created the show when we were homeless.
He called all sorts of industry and told them about me. There was a period
of almost a year where it was Citizen Radio brought to you by Robin
Williams, and no one knew that. It wouldn`t be a show without him. He
talked me out of quitting comedy more times than I can count. He was like
an AA sponsor, except for sad comedians. And every time I wanted to quit,
yes, I would call him, he would just tell me that everything was going to
be OK and that not to quit. What stood out to me was just this gentle man,
who has been through so much, telling me that it`s going to be okay and me
He tried for so long and was probably sad for so long that, you know, I`m
glad and fortunate enough that he was around long enough to have affected
so many good people.
I will never delete the e-mails where he said that, you know, I made him
laugh. I mean, I`ll have those forever. And if that bought him another 30
seconds, then I`m good with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: With me at the table now is professor of psychiatry at
Vanderbilt University, Dr. Jonathan Metzl. One of the things that`s
emerged in the wake of the apparent suicide death of Robin Williams is the
concern about suicide contagion. What is that?
DR. JONATHAN METZL, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, VANDERBILT: Suicide, it`s
kind of a double-edged sword in a way. On one hand, it`s a very isolated
act. It`s the ultimate act of loneliness. And on the other hand, it`s a
community based illness, that in a way people hear about suicide, other
people doing suicide, there is what`s called a cohort effect that when
certain people start committing suicide, it almost becomes contagious in a
certain kind of way. So on the one hand, there is what`s called a cohort
effect in suicide, that it catches on as despair kind of spreads. And then
the other aspect here is that there are communal suicides in the aftermath
sometimes of celebrity suicides, and so we`ve known that from Marilyn
Monroe on down, that also suicide becomes almost like a virus or something
like that, that people really should watch out, in the aftermath of high-
profile suicides like this one.
HARRIS-PERRY: We spent almost the whole show today reporting on the
stress, the sadness, the fear, the anxieties occurring in Ferguson,
Missouri, as a result of the interactions of this community with these
police officers. Then you have right in the midst of all of that a man who
seems to have everything, you know, if you don`t know Robin Williams, if
you are on the outside, he`s funny, he`s wealthy, he`s --
METZL: He has got mental health care.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. He has got health insurance, undoubtedly. Do we
miss - in other words, does wealth, does privilege, does white maleness
mask the like - sort of our ability to see the potential for that kind of
METZL: Well, I think there are two aspects of that, and one is that
especially with performers, we don`t know what`s going on, in a way as we
just heard comedy particularly is a way of projecting and being out in the
world. We didn`t - we never knew what Robin Williams was thinking when he
was not on stage, in a way. The minute he stepped off stage, there was a
very different Robin Williams, and, in a way, that dichotomy was probably
ultimately fatal, that he put all the energy out there, but the demons
remained in his private moments. And then I would also say, I really
appreciate the question because I think there`s a role of kind of what we
assume about stereotypes in a way. It`s certainly something about media
and Ferguson. But in this case just speaking more broadly, white
masculinity is, you know, assumed, oh, that`s the category that people -
METZL: The hegemonic norm or something like that. And in this case, you
know, white men are a huge -- especially older white men, are a huge risk
factor for suicide. It`s gone up dramatically in the last ten years, and
part of why that is, is because white men are terrible at going to the
doctor. As they get older, they don`t form communities. They own
firearms, which is a huge risk factor. Not in this case. So in a way, the
white masculinity, the thing, as you say, that we aspire to, is itself a
risk factor for this kind of suicide.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan Metzl, just as a matter of disclaimer to say that
you are a physician and a psychiatrist, but you did not personally treat
METZL: Yes, of course.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I greatly appreciate your insights, and also to Jamie
for allowing us to see some of his pain, Jamie Kilstein, again is a friend
of the show. And having lost my own mentor, Dr. Maya Angelou, under very
different circumstances, earlier this year, there is something about the
loss of that pillar in your life that is a level of adulthood we don`t
always want to have to encounter right away.
Coming up, more on the still developing story in Ferguson, Missouri,
including a discussion on what it means to be young, black, and trying to
become a man in America.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the past decade alone, January 24, 2004, Timothy
Stansbury, Brooklyn, New York, unarmed. November 25, 2006, Shawn Bell,
queens, New York, unarmed. January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant, Oakland,
California, unarmed. January 29, 2010, Aaron Campbell, Portland, Oregon,
unarmed. July 18, 2011, Alonzo Ashley, Denver, Colorado, unarmed. March
7, 2012, Wendell Allen, New Orleans, Louisiana, unarmed. September 14,
2013, Jonathan Farrell, Charlotte, North Carolina, unarmed. July 17, 2014,
Eric Garner, Staten Island, New York, unarmed. August 9, 2014, Michael
Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, unarmed.
In the past decade alone, these men and hundreds of others have lost their
lives to police. Local police report to the FBI, killing at least 400
people a year. From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black
person at least twice a week in this country. Which brings us back to
Ferguson, Missouri, where according to a report in "The Daily Beast," in
2009 police officers charged a man for property damage because he bled on
their uniforms while they arrested him and allegedly beat him bloody.
Ferguson, Missouri, where it took six days to release the name of an
officer who shot an unarmed teenager to death. Ferguson, Missouri, where
police released images of someone who might be Michael Brown involved in a
store robbery, and then hours later said the robbery had nothing to do with
why Michael Brown was stopped by the police officer who killed him.
Ferguson is just outside St. Louis, Missouri, the place where, as historian
Blair Kelly reminded us this week in the Root, Dred Scott sued for his
freedom on the grounds that he and his wife had for three years, had for
many years lived in a free state. His case eventually went to the Supreme
Court, and in 1857 Chief Justice Roger Tanney declared Scott had no right
to sue, because as a black man he was never intended to be an American.
Speaking on the clause of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are
created equal, Tanney wrote, quote, "it is too clear for dispute that the
enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part
of the people who framed and adopted this declaration." And he went on to
say that black men had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
No rights which the white man was bound to respect. No rights which the
white man was bound to respect. No rights which the white man was bound to
HARRIS-PERRY: Those protesting the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael
Brown are highlighting one of the most troubling aspects of his death, that
he was shot while he was clearly unarmed. Hands up, don`t shoot has become
their chant, and it reflects a lesson so many in black communities find
ourselves passing along to our young men in our lives. Always show the
police that you are not a threat. We have even had that conversation on
this show before with teens, George Nunez (ph), Diallo McLamie (ph) and
C.J. Morrison. These three young men first joined us in March 2012, less
than one month after Trayvon Martin was killed, not by police but by a
member of the Neighborhood Watch. Here C.J. Morrison speaks about one of
two times he was stopped by police, walking home from the park with his
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C.J. MORRISON: The cop rolls by, he slows down, he stops, and he starts
questioning us like, what are you guys doing? Do you have drugs? Asking us
why we`re out so late. It`s just we just came from the park. You can see
behind us, it`s the park. Why are you questioning us in this way?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: For C.J., his daily reality is one where the perceived
threat of danger attributed to him and other young African-American men can
lead to dangerous and sometimes deadly outcomes. These days, C.J. adheres
to certain self-made guidelines when going out. This week he told us,
quote, "when I do go out, I go out with people I trust, people I know won`t
put me in dangerous situations. You have to go out with a plan. Know who
you will leave with and how you will leave." Too often African-American
children are forced to shed the carefree choices of childhood because we
have to talk with them about how to stay safe, not only from unknown
assailants but often from the very people meant to protect them.
At the table, Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry from Vanderbilt
University, Philip Atiba Goff, who is professor of social psychology at
UCLA and visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School, and president of
the Center for Policing Equity in Los Angeles. Jamelle Bouie, a staff
writer at Slate magazine, who is just back from reporting in Ferguson,
Missouri, and joining me from Miami, Phillip Agnew, executive director of
Dream Defenders, an organization working for social change.
Hold for me just a second, Phillip. I do want to come to you first,
Jamelle, because you`re just coming out of Ferguson. Did you talk with
young people there and what are they telling you?
JAMELLE BOUIE, SLATE MAGAZINE: I did talk with young people. I asked
everyone I talked to but especially young people was, what are your
encounters with the police like? And to a person everyone had a story.
Everyone could say I get stopped five or six times a month, I get stopped
nine or ten times a month. I can`t walk to my apartment without police
asking me where I`m going. I can`t really do anything. When I got to
Ferguson, on Wednesday morning, I got to St. Louis (inaudible), the guy at
the counter, who was maybe a little older, a little younger than me, told
me, like yo, I have a Toyota that I can`t drive with the rims that are on
it because the police will stop me. So in this area, it seems that being a
young black person just means the police are part of your daily life in a
very antagonistic way, which I think is so hard for a lot of people, white
Americans, who think -- I grew up in a mostly white area. It was hard for
me to understand sort of that kind of reality, where the police are just
there. If you grew up in a white suburb, the police aren`t there. You
have to call the police for the police to come, and then when they`re done,
they leave, and that`s not the reality for kids in St. Louis, not the
reality for kids in New York, and in a lot of other places.
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip, are you surprised to hear what Jamelle heard from
the young people in Ferguson?
PHILLIP AGNEW, EXEC. DIRECTOR, DREAM DEFENDERS: Absolutely not. Every day
in this country, police officers, the people in this who are fans of
television, fans of "Cops," are taught young black people, young brown
people, poor people in this country are dirty, have something up their
sleeve, are less than human. And deserve what the treatment that police
officers perpetuate and police departments perpetuate upon them every day.
You have to do this.
I had a story from somebody, one of our organizers, once told that me
whenever his mother would leave the house, she would say don`t open the
door for any strangers, and he would say what if it`s the police? And she
would say, then surely do not open the door. Then surely do not open the
door. So we have got a relationship with the police that has since the
history of police departments has always been antagonistic, and it`s not
because of the people. It`s because we have police forces that have a
license to kill, and they are the only profession in this country that has
a license of such weight that isn`t put through psychological evaluations,
that don`t have the requisite training, that don`t have the requisite
cultural training placed upon them before they assume their profession. So
of course, listen, if you`re young, you are black in this country, you have
to watch your back, and it`s not because of other young black people, it`s
usually because of the police.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold with us -- Jonathan, it occurred to me there`s another
group that has life or death capacity who often don`t have this kind of
training, and that`s physicians. And we see, you know, we see a huge
health disparity in part because of that.
But let me back up from that for a second. Both Jamelle and Phillip have
put their hand on this feeling of I can`t drive a car with rims on it or I
can`t even go out. But this is happening at the same time that we have
seen news reporting across the country of very different kinds of bodies
holding guns, carrying guns, taking enormous weapons into public space,
purposely saying, flaunting it, I have a Second Amendment right to carry
this. And I keep thinking, so if you`re young and black, you put up your
hands and I can see that you are not armed, you will be shot. But it if
you are a white man Second Amendmenter in certain states, walking around
with your machine gun, that`s allowable?
METZL: Social psychologists would call this implicit association bias.
What that means is that, and I`m doing a big project on guns in America,
and what I find is that the image of the white -- the crazy white dude
walking around Chipotle with his semiautomatic tells an individual story in
a way. It`s all about individual rights, and even after mass shootings,
for example, we always say, oh, it`s this individual shooter`s individual
brain when it`s a white shooter. But we know from civil rights protests on
down that when it`s the angry black man, all of a sudden it`s black
culture. It generalizes in this very diffuse way that people who associate
an individual, sometimes there are violent individuals from all
backgrounds, but the association people make is, oh, all black men are
violent. In a way, we just heard about the possibility of a kind of
training. And if there is such a training, I don`t know. Obviously it`s a
bigger cultural story. That it`s that association of a generalization that
we make where we see, again, the white guy in Chipotle, it`s my individual
right, or black culture, and all of a sudden all young black men look the
same to police.
HARRIS-PERRY: Everybody, stay with me. I`m going to get you in as soon as
we come back, because I want to ask you about this question of training,
whether or not it will make a difference. Phillip Agnew, you stay with me
as well, because I worry about the extent to which we as adults want to
protect young people and you as Dream Defenders, black youth project, want
to actually be in the heart of it, and I want to talk about that. So up
next, we`re going to talk about hands up, don`t shoot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a son that`s 27 who has dreads down to here,
and I have to talk to him every day, when you are stopped by the police,
you don`t say a word. You don`t move. We should not have to do that. We
are citizens of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC DAVIS, COUSIN: So whatever that took place there had nothing to do
with the individual getting down on his hands and knees, raising his hands
in the air and saying, don`t shoot, this is a universal call for I
surrender. I can hear my cousin`s voice right now as I speak saying, don`t
shoot. Yet and still the officer stepped to him and shot him is what we`re
hearing from officer, and that is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Eric Davis speaking at a news conference yesterday,
pushing back against the notion that the alleged robbery in Ferguson,
Missouri, had anything to do with the shooting death of his cousin, Michael
Brown. Phillip Atiba Goff, we were looking at research from the black
youth project saying that 66 percent of black youth believe that the police
are there to protect them; 26 percent believe the legal system treats all
groups legally, 60 percent feel that they are full and equal citizens,
meaning that nearly half don`t think they are. How should police change
this, rather than how should they -- how should police change that?
GOFF: So, it has to begin with a different understanding of what breeds
compliance with the law. So there`s this thing in the academy, we call it
deterrence theory. But everybody else calls it spare the rod, spoil the
child theory, that if you make the sentencing severe, if you make the
policing severe, people will comply with that. Compliance with the law
begins with powers of example, not examples of power. Powers of example,
meaning we care about this community, it`s our community, we are keeping
folks safe. So it`s those dialogues first. And then second, I really like
what you said about making stories that generalize. The generalizable
story here, I`m glad we`re paying attention to policing, which is the
racial justice issue of this generation. But we have no national data on
how good or bad any of this is. So we need that national data in order to
have the conversation at the table, so at least we know what`s normal and
HARRIS-PERRY: The only thing I want to push on, and I want to come to you,
Jamelle, on this, because if you grew up in a predominantly white suburb,
you may know this thing I sort of knew, but then really got clearer on as I
had more and more access to privilege. And that is, as much as -- I
appreciate what you`re saying there. I get that idea. But I also think it
presumes that white communities and wealthy communities are compliant with
the law. And I don`t think that`s necessarily true. It may be true and it
may not. But it is not true as a matter of kind of clear empirical
evidence. Consistently what I see is equivalent levels of law breaking
behavior. In fact, every actual law breaking. Like in the regularized way
I`ve ever seen has been around those with the most racial and class
privilege. They just aren`t policed.
BOUIE: I have a big smirk on my face because I just remember growing up
with kids who smoked weed in the woods, who tried to organize a fight club
in the park. Who like drove their cars fast, like 100 miles per hour, down
empty streets. Who like, broke the law in oftentimes flagrant ways on a
HARRIS-PERRY: In college, like destruction of property is what we did
after a basketball win, right?
BOUIE: One of the guys went to the Naval Academy, he is a productive
citizen. I think it`s very much about in addition to different methods of
policing, just a belief and an attitude that black kids are inherently
trouble, and white kids, even if they`re trouble, it`s just, you know, it`s
just being kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s boys. Phillip, I will come to you and give you the
last word today.
AGNEW: Listen, as a black man in this country, it doesn`t matter what I
have in my hands, the police are conditioned to think I am never unarmed.
My skin is black. And so I`m always approached in an antagonistic way. I
think, as I said before, we need from the top levels of government a
commitment to changing the way our police departments are trained. They
have a license to kill. So when you see a young black person run away, and
you see a cop, instead of giving chase, want to shoot him in the back, we
have a fundamental problem in our country. The problem isn`t with the
people. It`s the way that we are policed in our neighborhoods.
And if you want anything to improve, you want the violence to stop, the
police need to fall back, they need to allow communities to heal, and they
need to really re-evaluate the way they police. You come in with tanks and
you come in with riot gear. And then you`re met with a requisite response,
you can`t wonder why it happened. And so if we want to move forward, there
has to be a reevaluation on how we are policed in our communities, and that
has to happen on behalf of the police. The people are doing what human
beings do when one of their own are taken away from them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip and the entire table, we have only 15 seconds. In
one word, what does it mean to be a young black man in America today,
AGNEW: A threat.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does it mean to be a black man in America?
BOUIE: I was going to say a threat too.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does it mean to be a black man in America?
GOFF: Today, hurting.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does it mean to be a black man in America?
METZL: I think a threat, absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip Agnew in Miami, thank you. Here in New York, thank
you to Jonathan Metzl, Phillip Atiba Goff, Jamelle Bouie. It is our show
for today. Thank you at home for watching. Tomorrow, we are still going
to have much more to say about the still developing story out of Ferguson,
Missouri. And of course stay with MSNBC throughout the day for continuing
Now it`s time for "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." Hi, Alex.
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