PoliticsNation, Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Read the transcript from the Thursday show
Show: POLITICS NATION
Date: March 19, 2015
Guest: Marcus Martin, Eugene O`Donnell, John Burris
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you for tuning in. I`m live
tonight in Chicago.
Breaking news tonight. We are awaiting a statement from the attorney for
20-year-old Martice Johnson. Johnson is the 20-year-old University of
Virginia student whose arrest is making national headlines. It was this
picture that went viral, showing his face bloodied while handcuffed this
week. And is triggering protests around UVA and renewing questions about
policing in this country.
The incident occurring early Wednesday morning outside a bar near campus.
Two agents from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control made an
arrest, handcuffing Johnson and bringing him to the ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTICE JOHNSON, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA STUDENT: I go to UVA. I go to
UVA. I go to UVA. How is this happening? How did this happen you racist?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ABC OFFICER: They were just like, yo --
JOHNSON: How did this happen?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Johnson is charged on two counts, obstruction of justice without
force, and public swearing or intoxication.
The arrest report describes Johnson as, quote, "very agitated and
belligerent," but a friend who shot the video says Johnson wasn`t being
aggressive at all, and the images from the incident triggered immediate
protests with over 1,000 protesters on the streets of UVA last night.
After getting stitches in the hospital, Johnson himself spoke, urging
protesters to remain calm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I want to remain of the students up here to be able to share
their opinions and share their feelings, so I beg for you guys, regardless
of your personal opinions and the way you feel about subjects, so please
respect everyone here. We`re all part of one community, and we deserve to
respect each other, especially in times like this. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Fellow students say Johnson is well known on campus. He`s a
vice chair for the school`s honor committee. The two agents who made the
arrest have been assigned to administrative work pending the investigation.
The agencies released a statement, quote -- "a determination was made by
the agents to further detain the individual based on their observation and
further questioning. In the course of an arrest being made the arrested
individual sustained injuries. The individual received treatment for his
injuries at a local hospital and was released."
There`s still a lot we don`t know, and there`s a criminal investigation
under way, trying to answer what exactly happen. And how did Martice
Johnson end up like this? Again, any minute now, we`ll see Johnson with
Joining me is Dr. Marcus Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Equity at
UVA, Eugene O`Donnell, professor of Law and Police Study at John Jay
College and Criminal Justice and Criminal Defense Attorney John Burris.
Thank you all for being here.
EUGENE O`DONNELL, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROFESSOR: Thank
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
DR. MARCUS MARTIN, UVA VP DIVERSITY AND EQUITY: Hi, Revered. Thank you.
Thank you for inviting us.
SHARPTON: Dr. Martin, let me go to you first.
SHARPTON: You spoken to Martice Johnson. What has he told you about what
MARTIN: That`s correct. Revered, let me put in perspective what I`ll do.
And I`ll answer that question because I want to make sure people know where
I`m getting my information. I am a professor of emergency medicine, I
served as the chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine here at UVA for
over ten years and -- I`ve been in emergency position for over 30 years.
I`m also an administrator, as you said, vice president and chief officers
for Diversity and Equity as well if I could remember I change students to
research with them and so forth. For I have three children who graduated
here from University of Virginia. I`ve been on this committee for 20
So I spoke with Martice and some other students who -- another student who
was here on the corner, the night of the incident and other student
leaders. And the information that I received from him was that he was not
intoxicated. There was a breathalyzer test that was done, once he was
arrested. He was not physically obstructing the officers from arresting
him. And he had a valid I.D.
What I understand escalated the situation was when he was asked for his
I.D., he showed his I.D. and the officers asked him about his zip code and
he gave the zip code of his new address in Illinois, but the I.D. that he
has, which is current, with his current age of 20 had a different zip and
so therefore the officer evidently thought he had a fake I.D. or he was,
you know, falsifying the information.
Well, I think he was taken to another ABC officers, who asked some other
questions, he reached to get his I.D. then it escalated from there. And
according to Martice, the officer pushed his neck down on to the hard
surface, and that`s where he sustained the laceration as his forehead
requiring ten stitches.
SHARPTON: Now Dr. Martin, you`re saying a breathalyzer was taken and you
were saying he was not intoxicated.
MARTIN: That`s correct. Again now, I don`t have access to his medical
record. I don`t have access to the police record. But he told me the
breathalyzer test indicated that he was not intoxicated. That`s correct.
SHARPTON: Do you, Dr. Martin, consider this excessive force?
MARTIN: I certainly do. I think this could have been de-escalated. I
don`t think the force was necessary to get to the information that the
officers needed. I think, they could have just ask him to leave or
escorted him away from the scene. And that`s corroborated by other
students who I have spoken with as well.
And again, as an emergency physician to see Martice`s -- I`ve seen him a
couple times in the last few days, I saw the images of the blood on his
face and on his clothes. I actually, you know, examined his wounds and
could see where the ten stitches were placed forehead up into his scalp,
and that shouldn`t happen. I mean, in my 30 years of emergency medicine,
this is an unusual treatment in this particular situation.
I`ve taken gunshot wounds, and stabbings, into bated students who are
breathing four times a minute from too much alcohol, ankle sprain and so
forth and so on. But the way this was described to me, I believe the force
SHARPTON: Eugene, what`s your take on this incident? I mean, what
questions do you have?
O`DONNELL: This is a recipe for disaster. You have uniformed of agents in
the midst of kids that are exhume rant, they may be drinking, they`re
challenging these kids. As there no other way to get this enforcement done
but to do that, this is an agency that apparently has a track record of
this issues that has had actually redevelop their protocols to de-escalate
and disengage, which is obviously called for. But you can`t think of a
worst scenario than creating these frontal conversations between kids and
armed law enforcement people.
So once again, what`s the mission here? What is the agency doing? Where`s
the legislature to define it and control it? What are the alternatives
that if you`re go after underage drinking, which indeed you should, how do
you make this kind of confrontation the absolute, absolute minimum
possibility. That adds the question. And unlike Ferguson, you know, you
can`t help but -- you know, they spend their time doing jay-walking
enforcement -- obviously, there`s something to do enforcement but to be
doing this full frontal custodial arrest of young people, gosh, that this
seems like a very bad idea.
SHARPTON: We`re waiting any moment now. He`s lawyer and Martice will be
holding a press conference, we`ll go it any moment. John Burris, what are
state investigators looking at right now?
JOHN BURRIS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, certainly investigators
should be looking at how did this event start. The witnesses that support
the police officers statement because that`s what they really need to know
or not. If there no witnesses to support the police officers statement and
they are people contrary to them and the police should be in a position of
saying I don`t think there`s a legitimate police activity, I think what
other people have said and frankly, this was a situation that have de-
escalation, this was not a bad kid at the front. The kid was saying that
basically, I did not -- would not belligerent (ph). The term that the
police officers use are pretty standard terms to use. I view them as kind
of covert, covert chart and I`ve seen this in many, many cases.
This obstruction of justice, being belligerent, these are things that they
associate basically with alcohol, whether it`s true or not, so these were
standard languages. So what the police have to do in turning to
investigators is to see if there`s really independent corroboration for
what the officers have said. If not, then these charges really should be
dismissed and they should not be, they should not go forward. It`s clear
civil rights violation from my point of view. As a fact, as civil right
lawyer, I can see very clearly do the force and then a violation and use
of excessive force.
But I think training is the big issue here. And I think the mission that
was said to clearly, are we really in a business of hassling kid around
this particular night. These options should have back off once they
realized they have the right identification and he wasn`t drunk. They
should have left this kid alone. And unfortunately, that doesn`t happen in
a lot of occasion when you have police officers, particularly who are not
really that well trained. If you say dealing with everyday police
business. That`s what you see but I see what the problem here.
SHARPTON: Dr. Martin.
MARTIN: Yes sir.
SHARPTON: What is vibe? What is the feeling around campus today? Because
Martice Johnson is junior UVA, majoring in Italian and media, he`s the vice
chair of community relations of the school`s honor committee and he`s an
executive board member of the black student alliance so he`s a part of this
community. There`s skill can connections on campus.
MARTIN: Absolutely. He`s a one of the young man, he`s contributed in a
number of ways. He`s a peer mentor adviser in the office of African-
American affairs. He`s worked as an orientation leader for new student
rivals. I met him when he first arrived here as a first year student and
kind of follow his progress. He`s a immediate contributor. We work very
hard to make the University of Virginia a welcoming and inclusive
environment community for everyone. And this type of activity shouldn`t
happen to anyone. This type of aggression shouldn`t be brought upon
anyone. And Martice in my opinion, hopefully will have these charges of
obstructing justice dropped and we`ll also have the charge of intoxicated
in public dropped. He doesn`t deserve this.
SHARPTON: What is the mood on campus? What are the students saying?
MARTIN: Yes. There was a rally last night in the Amphitheater here at
University of Virginia about 1,500 students or so. And the students spoke
on their minds, very emotional. I chair the Diversity council, we have
about 35 members of that council, including staff, students and faculty.
And we had a meeting today, our regular meeting, individuals were quite
emotional, they were tearful, not only students but staff and faculty.
They just don`t want to see this type of thing happen here. You know, we
are all worked very hard to make this a wonderful community, which it is
it`s a wonderful university, outstanding university.
President Sullivan has asked for independent investigation of the
governor`s office. And that will be moving forward. She`s a wonderful
leader, has her heart in the right place. And you know, just -- we don`t
want to see these types of things happen here. So what we worked so hard
to built here, it took one, two or three individuals from the ABC agency to
come in and to tear it apart.
SHARPTON: We`re waiting for the lawyer and Martice to appear to the press
conference. Let me ask you, Eugene. The governor of Virginia, Terry
McAuliffe, is demanding answers, listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: Just to see the photos, I can tell
you as a parent, you know, I have a son about the same age in college. I
have a daughter in college, so I was very disturbed by the pictures I saw
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: There are -- the state has launched an administrative as well as
criminal investigation, Eugene. These are the steps toward the things that
you say that the state ought to be looking into at this point.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and in Ferguson -- dynamic here, political leadership. So
they should be investigating themselves. Also how do you have these
agencies thrown in to be full frontally confrontational with the kids. The
university could leverage its resources. We could go after the (INAUDIBLE)
of the alcohol, we should be absolutely minimizing the police -- the law
enforcement footprint, and there`s clear evidence in that state, this is an
agency that`s had the issue before, because the mission is a little screwed
up, actually to be putting them out, confronting kids that are exuberant.
This is like the rite of passage, you got armed police people there. We
don`t -- we need to minimize those kind of interactions.
SHARPTON: Dr. Marcus Martin, thank you for your time tonight. Eugene
O`Donnell and John Burris, please stay with us. We`ll be right back. We
are awaiting the press conference in Virginia of from Martice Johnson and
SHARPTON: We are going live now, this is the attorney for Martice Johnson,
Daniel Watkins, live holding the press conference with Martice Johnson.
DANIEL WATKINS, MARTICE JOHNSON`S ATTORNEY: Excuse me. His mother works
at the night shift with social services and was just able to fly in today
from Chicago to be here and to support Martice during this trying time.
At approximately 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Martice was standing on
the sidewalk near Trinity Irish Pub in Charlottesville. An employee of
this establishment approached him and asked him for identification.
Martice presented a valid Illinois state identification card issued in
2011. The employee then asked Martice for zip code. And he resided his
mother`s Chicago`s city zip code and her current address which is
difference from the Chicago City zip code on the identification card that
was printed almost four years ago.
At no time throughout the encounter did Martice present as -- excuse me.
At no time throughout the encounter, did Martice present, as it has been
reported by some of the media a fake I.D. Nevertheless, Virginia ABC
officers, who are present on the scene, questioned my client about being in
possession of false identification.
The conversation resulted in my client being thrown to the ground, his head
heating the pavement, the officer`s knees pressed into his back, his face
and skull bleeding and needing surgery. All of this over two alleged
offenses. One a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice without
force, and, two, profane swearing and/or public intoxication, which upon
conviction requires only the payment of a fine.
Martice Johnson is an upstanding man with a bright future. He grew up on
the south side of Chicago, raised by a single mother, and he`s now in his
third year at the University of Virginia, on a full scholarship based on
financial need. He is worked hard to become a law-respected leader on
campus, and to make a difference in this community. Martice is a member of
the UVA honor committee and has no criminal record whatsoever. Martice is
worked hard to ensure his bright future. And we intend to fight the
criminal charges against him with the utmost vigor.
Our primary goals are make certain he receives due process under the law
and to protect his good name. This afternoon, Martice and I spoke briefly
with Virginia state police as part of its investigation into this incident.
Martice, his family and I also met with the University of Virginia
President Teresa Sullivan, and the conversation was very productive.
President Sullivan expressed her remorse regarding this terrible situation
and told Martice that he has her support.
To that end, Martice has received an outpouring of encouragement and
remorse from professors, administrators, university officials, students,
community members, even perfect strangers.
Walking on the ground with him this afternoon, we were amazed and touched
as people approached Martice numerous times and offered pats on the back
and well wishes. Martice and his family -- excise me. Martice and his
family intend to take the next few days to continue to recover, and
thoughtful prayer and contemplation. I will close with the statement that
Martice is prepared.
JOHNSON: I`ll read it. I`ll read it.
I`ll stand here today as a member of the University of Virginia in
Charlottesville communities. I`m shocked that my face was slammed into the
brick pavement just across the street from where I attend school. Three
officers then pinned me to the ground, pressing their knees in my back
while blood flowed freely from the gash to my head. As the officers held
me down, one thought raced through my mind -- how could this happen?
My head lay bloody, but unbowed. I still believe in our community. I know
this community will support me during this time. I trust that the scars on
my face and head will one day heal, but the trauma from what the ABC
officers did yesterday will stay with me forever. I believe we are a
community are better than this. We cannot allow the actions of a few
officers -- excuse me -- we cannot allow the actions of a few officers to
ruin the community of trust we`ve worked so hard to built. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Why didn`t you let him speak?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martice, do you misbehave --
SHARPTON: We have just heard from the attorney of for Martice Johnson,
Attorney Watkins, and Martice did not speak, but he read a statement from
him. And clearly, this young man has taken the high road, saying that
though he has been bloodied, he remains unbowed and that his scars will
heal, the trauma will not, but that these are a few bad incidents, a few
bad officers, possibly. It should not reflect on a community that has
worked so hard to come together, taking a very positive and a very high
tone for this young man who seems to have an outstanding background there,
as we have said in our first segment, and as his attorney reflected.
Back with me now are Eugene O`Donnell, professor of law and police study at
John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Criminal Defense, and Attorney
John Burris. John, this young man seems to be in a -- an exemplary
student, and really setting a high tone, despite the fact that many feel
he`s been wrongfully treated.
BURRIS: I was very impressive. I mean just to take that kind of position.
And most people if that what happened to them, they would be very vengeful
at this moment in time. I think the most impressive thing to me was the
fact that he is so willingly talked to not only the president, but to the
state police. Generally, if you`ve talked you`ve done something wrong but
you`ve done something and you want to cover for it, you wouldn`t talk to
the police and you certainly wouldn`t talk to the president.
So what you have is a person who strongly feels in his innocence, he`s
carries himself like he`s innocent, and I think that at the end of the day,
he will be vindicated and that no charges will really go forward.
And what I would only say about charge, the more serious aspect of this,
once African-American male gets a charge like this, and even convicted, if
that happened, it could have a very negative impact on his future
employment and future life. So this is more significant than just this
here -- that event now. It has long-term ramifications. And so when I see
cases like this, it`s very important to not only to get try to dismissed,
but to getting finding of innocence, to have these charges exonerated
totally so it does not show up on your record.
SHARPTON: Eugene, going broader than the particulars of this case, when
you see this young man and this video in the context of the chokehold case
in Staten Island, New York, and the situation in Ferguson, and in
Wisconsin, Cleveland, isn`t it understandable why many of us are raising
the question of how we deal with policing in this country? Granted, all of
these situations may not pale out to be concluded that the way that many
feel, but there`s not a mass hallucination going here where you have all of
these situations seeming to beg for a review of how we deal with policing.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And these whole -- there`s nothing to see here mentality
is really being laid -- again, we`re looking at the fundamentals here. We
don`t have to get into the facts here. If you put police people at every
bar -- worst endings repeatedly, is there nobody in authority. Is there
nobody elected? And to prosecutor? Where are they in terms of saying
these things can only almost -- they`re going to end badly. Where is the
review of this? So there`s a lot to see this, there`s a lot of questions
to ask, and really disturbing answers.
You would think that it would be some foreseeable look-see at these things
before they occur, but all too often, when talking about Ferguson, you
seeing damaging policies, disconnected leadership of agencies and the --
wrong at all. And so, yes --
SHARPTON: Well John, isn`t that the point, that a lot of us in the civil
rights community, you and the legal community are raising that we`ve got to
deal with accountability and transparency, and yes, at the same time we
cannot indict all law enforcement or even most, but clearly there needs to
be some kind of measures of reform that builds the trust and builds
accountability on all sides?
BURRIS: Absolutely. You know, I haven`t been involved in kind a of reform
efforts. I know what a challenge it is, but a leadership within a
department and leadership within the city are really the focal points of
how this can occur. The city, like this president, has taken a leadership
here at the university, but nationally we see all these particular cases,
and fortunately for a lot of these, now we have videos that show a real
direct light on it. So you don`t have to have so many witnesses in the
past, so I think we are at a point now, not only with Ferguson, but all
other cases that happen around the country, where real reform can take
place, but there has to be a political will to do this. There have to be a
commitment on applied to command staff within the departments, and to some
extend the black community has to show them the way as well. Because we
need the police, absolutely, but at the same time we don`t want to be
abused by them. And so that ultimately means, but now that we have a
critical time, where we all these energy around that we can in fact at a
localized way to look at these issues in a way that`s personal to a
particular department. And bring about the kind of reform that`s
necessary, but the mayor, the police chief, the city administrators and the
command staff have to be on board to hold officers accountable.
SHARPTON: And I think Eugene, it takes the leadership, the political
leadership to respond in a responsible and immediate way, as we`re seeing
at UVA apparently, as we saw in Wisconsin and I think that addresses the
concerns. And it means that the leadership when the communities must stand
up and say, wait a minute, we must do this in a peaceful way toward reform.
An example of that was this young man who`s standing there with stitches in
his head. With saying, wait a minute, we still must continue to have a
community built on trust. This is not about revenge, just is about doing
BURRIS: And yes and collaboration is key. I mean, that`s really what
we`re talking about. It`s the kid doing what kid do sometimes and they
need to be treated that way not in some sort of desperado. That the
university can leverage its resources, you can go after the a new zoning
other things that go after the sellers of alcohol but to criminalize this
young person in this situation is silly, and so systematically do this is a
recipe for anybody in professor to be shocked in this kind a things that`s
happened. With this underlying policies, it`s a very bad idea, needless to
SHARPTON: Well we must continue moving forward. Eugene O`Donnell and John
Burris, thank you both for your time this evening.
BURRIS: Thanks, Rev.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Revered.
SHARPTON: We`re also following developing stories tonight including the
Secret Service under fire for surveillance tapes that were erased. How did
the Secret Service head respond to that today? And there will be no vote
on Loretta Lynch`s confirmation this week. And it might be drag on for
weeks. Today tempers flared on the Senate floor. Please stay with us.
SHARPTON: The tension over Loretta Lynch`s confirmation to become our
next Attorney General is at a boiling point. And today we learned the
Senate will not vote on Loretta Lynch this week. And according to
Politico, it could go even further. Senior republicans are privately
warning it could be held up until at least mid-April. It comes as a war of
words erupts on the Senate floor. It started with an explosive accusation
from Illinois democrat Dick Durbin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Loretta Lynch, the first African-
American woman nominated to be Attorney General, is asked to sit at the
back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair. It
is unjust. It`s beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Today Senator John McCain is firing right back, calling
Durbin`s words offensive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What is beneath the decorum and
dignity of the United States Senate, I would say to the senator from
Illinois, is for him to come to this floor and use that imagery and suggest
that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch`s confirmation
vote. It was offensive and unnecessary, and I think he owes this body, Ms.
Lynch, and all Americans an apology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: President Obama nominated Lynch 131 days ago. I`m keeping
count. And that`s longer than any other recent attorney general. It seems
every time republicans are ready to schedule a vote, they find it no reason
to push it back, what is the holdup? Why are we waiting until mid-April
Joining me now are Clarence Page from "The Chicago Tribune" and Marcy
Stech from Emily`s List. Thank you both for being here.
CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Thank you, Reverend.
MARCY STECH, EMILY`S LIST: Thanks to be here.
SHARPTON: Clarence, this is building. Democrats are getting louder,
John McCain is demanding apologies. Bottom-line, what is taking so long?
PAGE: Well, the whole argument has gotten kind of sidetrack in a
weird kind of way. Not the nomination of Loretta Lynch has been held up
now because Senator McConnell, the republican leader in the Senate wants to
pass this trafficking bill first, which democrats don`t like because it has
the Hyde amendment. It`s got a provision that would bar funding for
abortions, and this is something that democrats will not tolerate and
republicans won`t tolerate removing it, and McConnell is going to hold up
Loretta Lynch`s nomination to what happens. That`s why Dick Durbin stepped
forth and pulled up the imagery of Rosa Parks in saying that Lynch`s
nomination is being held up, it`s like pushing her to the back of the bus.
And that unleashed a whole racial anger to the argument now which has
caused tempers to flare even higher.
SHARPTON: Now, Marcy, when you look at the facts, the republicans won
the midterm in November, the nomination Ms. Lynch, it has been 131 days,
which is longer, as I said, than any Attorney General nominee in recent
memory and recent history, recent American history. They first said that
they wanted to deal with the President on his immigration executive action,
now it`s the sex trafficking bill, which now they want to come in with an
abortion part. What is going on here? And why would they use a sex
trafficking bill to try to deal with abortion and use Loretta Lynch`s
nomination as their leverage of saying we`re not going to that until we do
STECH: Absolutely, Rev. It is a new low for this republican
Congress. They took the wheel that`s past January, and they have driven
this Congress into the ground. And they`re stopping at nothing. As you
mentioned, it`s not only this past week withholding up a human trafficking
bill that was bipartisan and looked to serve some of the most vulnerable
women and girls, but they`ve done things like try to past abortion bans --
or defund the Department of Homeland Security. The republicans just don`t
have the right priorities in mind. And the American people don`t trust
them. They`ve been elected to serve the people. To focus on issues that
matter. To make sure that we have someone in that top cop position in
Loretta Lynch with the attorney general nominee, and they just can`t seem
to deliver. They`re losing trust to the American people, that`s for sure.
SHARPTON: Clarence, it seems also that the strange irony here is they
claim to be so against the present Attorney General Eric Holder, yet they
keep prolonging her confirmation in keeping Holder in. It`s sort of like a
contradictory position for the same people denouncing Holder are the ones
holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, who none of them have been
able to say anything negative about her record at all.
PAGE: Right. Here`s a case of you could say negative priorities.
They hate abortion even more than Eric Holder, because the right wing of
the republicans does not want to allow this trafficking to measure to pass
without having the provision that would ban abortion funds or federal money
being used for abortion funds. And they would rather hold that up than to
let Lynch`s appointment go through, even though it means they`ll have Eric
Holder around even longer.
PAGE: That`s why I say this whole thing has gotten stalled in a weird
kind of way.
SHARPTON: Marcy, I`m out of time. But when do you think we will have
a vote, Marcy?
STECH: Well, I hope as soon as possible. And if republicans can take
a look at the headlines and what`s happening, they`re not doing themselves
any favors right now. If they`re smart about it, it will be next week, it
will be as soon as possible, and we`ll have Loretta Lynch confirmed as
SHARPTON: Clarence Page and Marcy Stech, thank you both for your time
STECH: Thank you.
PAGE: Thank you, Reverend.
SHARPTON: Coming up, over 17 million people tuned into the "Empire"
season finale last night. We`ll talk to one of the show`s stars, ahead.
SHARPTON: Time now for "Conversation Nation." Joining me tonight,
Zerlina Maxwell, Jason Johnson, and Victoria Defrancesco-Soto.
First up, more questions for the secret service. After allegations,
two agents drove their government car into a White House barricade after a
night of drinking, now we`re learning, the agency taped over surveillance
video of the incident. Today at a Senate hearing, the Secret Service
director tried to explain they only hold tape for 72 hours. Victoria, does
this pass the smell test to you?
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO-SOTO, CENTER FOR POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE: Not at
all, Reverend. When I first heard about the story, I said, wait, are these
18-year-old college frat boys we`re talking about? Oh, no-no, it`s the
secret service. You know, what is so troubling about this is that we`re
seeing the director trying to soften it saying well, it wasn`t that bad
because they were drunk, because they were driving slow, and yes they did
this, and we had the tape but it`s regulation that the tape is erased. So,
you look at all of the different levels at which this is wrong. It`s so
disturbing to know that these are the folks that are protecting our
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: First off, to me, is it
1992? When is the last time that somebody taped over anything? That`s
ridiculous. Okay. So, on a practical level, it doesn`t make any sense
that they can`t archive almost any video that she might need for
presidential protection. But if you look at it Rev, you know, there was a
story out on Slate this week. There have been 37 instances of alcohol-
related penalties within the secret service, 26 of which resulted in people
losing social security clearance over the last nine years. This is a
problem. The agency has a drinking problem, and the erasing of this tape
isn`t going to high the bigger stink that they`re dealing with.
SHARPTON: Zerlina, watching the director today, what did you think?
Did it help or hurt?
ZERLINA MAXWELL, ESSENCE MAGAZINE: I think it hurt a lot actually.
Because I think that, you know, part of the problem here is that they`re
trying to diminish what happened. He tried to at every turn sort of
diminish what happened. Oh, they weren`t drinking that much, they were
going very slow, they didn`t in fact knock over a barrier, but the alarming
thing about the story to me was the fact that they drove through an active
crime scene, an act of crime scene, a suspicious package that they hadn`t
yet determined was not dangerous. And so, this could have turned out a lot
MAXWELL: And I think the secret service needs to take responsibility
and hold these folks accountable when they`re violating, not only the rules
of decorum for their particular agency but also just professionalism, and
ethics in terms of, you know, being professionals in all walks of their
daily lives, because their task is to protect the President. And so, they
need to be examples to the rest of us.
SHARPTON: Yes. Now, let me go to the next point. Should Americans
be required to vote? It`s an idea President Obama floated.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: In Australia and some other
countries there`s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if
everybody voted. The people who tend not to vote are young, they`re lower
income, they`re skewed mo heavily towards immigrant groups and minority
groups. There`s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the
polls. We should want to get them into the polls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Mandatory voting would have a major impact on our politics.
In 2014, just 36 percent of the voting eligible -- eligible population cast
ballots. And even in the presidential year of 2012. It was on to 60
Zerlina, the right-wing blogs are screaming, saying he`s forcing
people to vote. He`s making a point. If everyone voted, it would be
transformative. What do you think? Is it a good idea?
MAXWELL: Yes Rev, I think that this is an excellent idea. I actually
joked in the past that the entire country would change for the better if we
mandated voting and therapy, so people could work on their trauma and
they`re not legislating, you know, away my rights because of something that
happened to them when they were young. So, I think that mandatory voting
would be an excellent idea because it helps us all self-determined.
JOHNSON: I disagree. Look, I`m a bit of a libertarian when it comes
to this. It would be great if everybody did turned out the vote, it would
be great if we had more access to voting, but I don`t believe if you want
to be dumb and have leaders that you didn`t have any influence over, fine,
don`t vote. But I don`t think people should be compelled to vote. It
works great for Australia, not for us.
SHARPTON: All right. What do you think, Ms. Soto?
DEFRANCESCO-SOTO: You know, I agree with Jason on this one. I do not
think we should have mandatory voting. But what I do think we should do is
do away with the barriers to voting. So, let`s do away with the
registration barriers, let`s do away to the voting day barriers. I mean,
look here in Texas, how hard they have made voting with the new voter I.D.
So, I think we need to look at that. Also, re-enfranchising felons and get
at the issue of voting from the other way instead of making it mandatory.
SHARPTON: Well, I`m with Victoria on this one. Thank you, Victoria,
Zerlina and Jason, thank you all for your and for joining "Conversation
We`ll be right back with "Empire" star Malik Yoba on that shocking
season finale. Please stay with us.
SHARPTON: The stunning turn of events on last night`s season finale
of "Empire." We`ll to star Malik Yoba, next.
SHARPTON: The hip-hop TV drama "Empire" is the breakout hit of 2015.
With last night`s season finale drawing 17.6 million viewers. And if you
didn`t see it yet, now might be a good time to step out of the room,
because there`s some major spoilers ahead. The show follows music mogul
Lucious Lyon and his family as they wrestle for control over his family and
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Listen to me, your father killed Bunky, he
killed Bunky, do you hear me?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Jerome?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Lucious killed Bunky. Get your hands off of
me. He killed your cousin, he`ll kill anybody, watch your back, baby.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Like you watched mine? You see, son, sometimes
you have to be willing to sacrifice your queen in order to win the game.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: The show was created by producer and Director Lee Daniels,
tackling issues like race, mental health and homophobia. In last night`s
finale, a key character Vernon Turner came to a shocking and sudden death.
Joining me now is Malik Yoba, who plays Vernon Turner, Lucious`
longtime friend and business partner and chairman of Empire Entertainment.
Thank you very much for being here.
MALIK YOBA, ACTOR: Thank you, sir.
SHARPTON: First of all, we have to talk about the bombshell finale
last night. Vernon Turner meets an untimely end. What`s your reaction?
YOBA: Vernon is gone but Malik lives.
YOBA: That`s part of the game.
SHARPTON: You know, I`ve been a fan of yours, a friend of yours for
years. You were a huge hit, many of your shows, episodes, New York
undercover, on and on and on. Explain to me why you think Empire struck
such a chord with America.
YOBA: The music, the fashion, the time, the talent on the show, I
think the vision, the aesthetic. I think it`s a lot of things.
SHARPTON: Well, one of the things that struck me is, it did deal with
some of the social issues. One of the main characters is gay, another
struggles with being bipolar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I know I did something really terrible. Thanks
to you. I was just scared, man. It`s hard enough growing up in this world
as a black man, but then to be -- homosexual on top of that.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Dad, dad -- stop. Stop. I understand. I`m
proud of you, too.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: For what?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Dad, for being able to change your mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: How important was that to break some of the taboos.
Because you and I have talked about this real homophobia.
SHARPTON: And in the African-American community. And I think it took
a little courage for some of "Empire" to come deal with some of this.
YOBA: Yes. I think, you know, people needing to see themselves,
whether they`re bipolar, whether they`re gay, whether, you know, they`re
dealing with ALS or any of the social issues. For me that was one of the
most exciting opportunities I think to look at humanity from all of its
colors and textures, including the melanin and put it out. There`s a human
story and people responding that.
SHARPTON: As the head of the scenes.
YOBA: Yes. Yes.
SHARPTON: Do you think it will open the door to more black cast
dramas on television?
YOBA: I hope so. I hope so. I think that I mean, I know for a fact
that as a result of the success of this show people are looking for the
next thing, because I think people are ready for that. And yes --
SHARPTON: Aside from an exceptional act, you`ve been very much
involved in humanitarian work and community work. In fact you`ll going to
be at our National Action Network convention April 8th through the 11th
here in New York because of that. And as you said, Vernon is gone, but
Malik is alive.
YOBA: Yes, sir.
SHARPTON: Iconic 32, you`re building your own empire. Tell people
what you are doing.
YOBA: So, Iconic 32 is a company founded by myself, Felipe Lopez who
was the first to came in the NBA, Sergio Morales, another partner of ours,
Steve. We essential use pop culture to promote social good. For instance
last night, for the premier, I mean, the finale, we did a screening at a
spot called bounce here in New York, supporting club on 21st, raising money
for the prison to college pipeline program, started by a friend of mine at
John Jay College. We use pop culture to promote social good. Because I`ve
been a part of pop culture for so long. And I`ve always used myself as an
example, going to the prisons, going to schools, helped build a school in
Ethiopia years ago.
YOBA: Just doing the work, doing God`s work, man.
SHARPTON: Always. I mean, for years.
SHARPTON: What was the most important thing to you about doing
YOBA: I think being part of TV history. You know, 20 years ago, in
my opinion we did the blueprint with "New York Undercover" 21 years ago,
and for 20 years later to come back on FOX and be part of something that`s
groundbreaking, and it`s allowed me to, you know, just stay present in
people`s minds, because people do tend to forget that I`ve been here. This
is not a comeback. This is actually my 13th television series.
YOBA: And so to have the first one and this current one be the ones
that have had the most resonance socially, I`m proud of that.
SHARPTON: It`s a great part of the legacy of Malik Yoba. Let me say
we`re proud to have you, and look for you at National Action Network
YOBA: Yes sir, see you soon. Thank you, man.
SHARPTON: All right. Thank you.
SHARPTON: We close tonight with breaking news on the Eric Garner
case. Today a judge refused to release testimony heard by a grand jury
that declined to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric
Garner. The judge said there was no compelling need to make the
information public? But the Garner family lawyer released a statement
saying, quote, "The judge has essentially sanctioned the use of a secret
trial for a very public matter." If this was a normal grand jury process,
they would have had an indictment in five minutes. In a case like this, we
need more transparency, not less. Here`s a case where we saw videotape
where a man being choked by an NYPD officers being held while he said 11
times, "I can`t breathe." And we will not know what was presented to the
grand jury and why that did not reach above an indictment. We can do
better than this, and we must.
Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.
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