'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, April 4th, 2015
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: April 4, 2015
Guest: David Zirin, David S. Cohen, Rich Tafel, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Ali
Arouzi, Angela Johnson, Robert Rubin, Glenn Martin, Rich Tafel, David
Cohen, Karla Holloway, Henry Washington, Beverly Bond, Sage Adams, Kathie
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, why do some
folks have a problem with the simple fact that black girls rock?
Plus a Justice Department delayed could mean justice denied. And response
to the noose found on a tree at Duke University.
But first, the political evolution that seems to have caught Republicans by
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And today is one of the biggest
days in college sports, the Final Four. Today in Indianapolis the final
four teams in the men`s NCAA basketball tournament face-off to determine
who will compete in the championship game on Monday. This is huge. Those
office bracket pools, they add up. Americans will gamble more than $2
billion on March Madness this year. The NCAA makes more than 90 percent of
its annual revenue, nearly a billion dollars from this tournament alone.
Last year, 53 million people watched the final game of the tournament on TV
and online. And thousands of fans of Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin and
Kentucky are flooding Indianapolis today to watch the games in person.
Will be a welcome relief for many in Indiana to have the spotlights on the
big games instead of on the state house because all this week Indiana found
itself the target of a nationwide public shaming thanks to the so-called
Religious Freedom Restoration Act the governor Mike Pence signed last
Thursday. The law allows for-profit business to use their religious
beliefs as a legal defense when sued by the government or another private
party. The original bill made no explicit reference to LGBT folk, or a
same-sex marriage, but religious freedom bills like Indiana`s or Arkansas`s
or Arizona`s last year are designed to protect Christian business owners
from discrimination suits if they refuse to provide services for same sex
The outcry that followed was deafening. The CEOs of Fortune 500 companies,
LGBT groups, the NCAA and several other state governments decried the law.
Some banned their employees from traveling to Indiana at all. Mr. Pence
and his Republican colleagues seemed shocked at this turn of events and
they did not waste much time before back pedaling.
Legislative leaders quickly huddled with business interest to write new
language for the bill and by Thursday Pence had signed the new language
into law. Governor Pence, however, stood by his law even as he called for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was
about religious liberty, not about discrimination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Indiana`s Religious Freedom Restoration Act includes
provisions explicitly banning the law from being used to deny services on
the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some of Pence`s critics backed down. Executives of Eli Lilly and
Salesforce, which had both opposed the original RFRA, or RFRA, even stood
with Republican leaders when they unveiled the new language. But the
question remains, is this really a win? Joining me now Aisha Moodie-Mills,
president and CEO of Victory Fund and Institute. Dave Zirin, sports editor
at "The Nation" magazine. Rich Tafel, founder of the Log Cabin Republicans
and David S. Cohen, law professor at Drexel University and co-author of the
forthcoming book "Living in the Crosshairs: the Untold Stories of anti-
Abortion Terrorism." All right. Aisha, is this a win?
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, PRES. & CEO, VICTORY FUND & INSTITUTE: Certainly not a
win. And this thing is certainly not a fix. So essentially what happened
in Indiana after all the crazy like, you know, down fall that the governor
experienced is that they said, OK, what we`re going to do is we`re going to
kind of resend what we`re trying to do to make sure that the non-
discrimination laws that are currently on the books in some of the cities
around the state essentially are not going to be trumped. Right? So what
they did is they said originally the bill said that we`re going to make
sure that anybody - you know, is protected under religious liberty. Now
they are backpedaling, they are saying, OK, well, places like Indianapolis
and South bend already have some law on the book that protects sexual
orientation and gender identity from discrimination so we`re not going to
create a piece of legislation that usurps that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see. All right. So, that`s interesting because my
original reading of this Indiana revision of the text says this chapter
does not authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide service,
facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment or housing to
any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color,
religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual
orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service." I was like, wait a
minute. Did we just actually get an expansion of rights?
RICH TAFEL, FOUNDER LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: No. The key words are the
first two words there. This chapter. So, this law can`t be used as the
basis of discrimination, but the backdrop of Indiana law, just like the law
throughout almost 30 states in the country and federal law, is that
discrimination based on sexual orientation is perfectly lawful. The
problem is that there hasn`t been the affirmative step of adding sexual
orientation into the state-wide antidiscrimination law and that`s true
around most of the country and that`s the real shame of the coverage and
the outcry this past week is that people have missed that fact.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. And I mean that idea there, I think marriage
has been the kind of central, defining kind of argument at the forefront of
the public conscientiousness, but it certainly is neither the most
important or central civil right on this issue.
DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION MAGAZINE: Yeah. I mean I think
people have to understand that a huge lie has been told in the media this
week. And that`s that this bill in Indiana is really no different from the
`93 federal bill that Bill Clinton signed and Ted Kennedy submitted. The
Indiana bill is like the Frankenstein`s monster child of that `93 bill.
People, I think, that`s been so lost this week, is that the `93 bill came
forward religious freedom, because a Native American man took peyote as
part of a religious ritual and failed the drug test and he said he should
have the right to keep his job, because it was part of a religious ritual.
This Indiana bill is a corporations are people, my friend bill. I mean it
specifically goes through that corporations are people and therefore
corporations have the right to say you violate my religion and that`s so
different from what `93 was.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, this is also interesting to me in part because as
soon as you say corporations are people, then that also draws up for me a
whole set of concerns about citizens united that isn`t really at least -
about civil rights per se, but is about this idea of - I think we saw the
Hobby Lobby as well. Right, this idea of corporations having religious
TAFEL: I would disagree with the guest here saying that, OK, I think it`s
a huge victory for the gay and lesbian community nationally. I think it`s
really - we can look at the laws and laws are changing. The laws are
really just reflections of the culture. And what we heard from the culture
this week is, if you`re going to be anti-gay and that`s how it was
interpreted by the public, so I realize we are getting - the public was
saying that`s wrong. And a Republican conservative, one of the most
conservatives in Republican Party, did an about face in a week. That`s
huge. That`s a huge victory. So I realize in a legal issues, we will
fight and we will see how it plays out and I agree that it`s not the deal
we wanted, but we weren`t going to have any time soon a law in Indiana
protecting gays and lesbians, but the fact that sexual orientation is
mentioned in this bill, do I realize it, is not a traditional law - it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: No, right, And I think your point is well made that there
are important questions about the actual law, the kind of in the weeds
policy here. But there`s also just this idea that we have - that the world
has shifted so much on its access that in the - I mean, look, my favorite
thing that happened this week was actually in North Dakota around a very
different kind of law. It was legislators actually trying to take away a
protection law and a coffee shop in Fargo, North Dakota, was like, well,
I`ll tell you what, if you vote down the anti-discrimination bill, we won`t
serve you in our coffee shop.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m like, wait a minute, Fargo is a center of LGBT
rights at this point?
DAVID S. COHEN, AUTHOR, "LIVING IN THE CROSSHAIRS": Yeah, and that`s the
thing. But the shame of it was that no one was focusing on North Dakota
when the vote was happening. People were focusing on Indiana and Arkansas.
And the focus on those two states took away the focus from a state that
could have actually been protecting LGBT people in that state. All of the
attention this week, which was wonderful, and I agree that it was a bit of
a victory, but all of that attention should have been focused on North
Dakota. Because if the same companies that said they were going to boycott
Indiana said they were going to boycott North Dakota or Microsoft, which is
a big employer there.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think they might already .
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean part of the problem is .
COHEN: Microsoft is a big employer.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I got you. All right.
COHEN: They could have come out and said that we`re going to feel the same
way about North Dakota that Angie`s List is feeling about Indiana.
MOODIE-MILLS: But that`s - those same corporations, it will be great and
it`s wonderful that they have a defensive posture, where they stand up and
they say, no, you can`t do this. We are going to defend the LGBT
community`s rights, if you will. Because there are people who shop with
us. At the same time I`m in love for those same corporations to actually
be proactive and going to all these different states and saying why don`t
you have a statewide comprehensive non-discrimination policy on the books
already? We do this in our businesses. That`s what`s missing.
ZIRIN: Yeah, and I`d love for Walmart to care as much about child labor as
they do about whether or not and sign this thing. It`s very interesting
the selective morality on behalf of some of these corporate interest. But
to me like, do you think this week, which was like I`m going - going to
remember as Asa Hutchinson not saying for Arkansas, the governor of
Arkansas, saying he wasn`t going to sign the legislation not because
Walmart uses him as a meat puppet and you have to do what Walmart says in
Arkansas, but because he said my son said I shouldn`t do it. There`s a
generational revolt against these laws that is about LGBT and about
straight kids who grew up in an atmosphere where the LGBT groups in their
high schools and they are just like, how can you legislate discrimination
against my friends?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Stick with us. Up next, we`re going to let Dave
Zirin go all the way in on the power of sports.
HARRIS-PERRY: A major push for Indiana to revise its religious freedom law
came from an unlikely source, the NCAA. The NCAA is a local business
headquartered in Indianapolis and employing some 500 people, which explains
part of the pull. But the College Sports Association also decides where to
hold the men`s basketball tournament games, which means big business for
whatever cities get chosen. Especially when it gets down to the men`s
Final Four. Last year the Final Four was held in Arlington, Texas, and the
region claimed that the games bring in $276 million in economic activity.
This year the men`s Final Four is in Indianapolis. It will be back in
2021. And the women`s Final Four is playing for Indianapolis next year.
In fact, an agreement between the NCAA and the city has Final Four games
set in Indianapolis once every five years. And when the NCAA threatened to
cancel those future moneymakers, it was a major reason why the religious
freedom law got changed. Was it odd for you, Dave, to be on the same side
with the NCAA this week?
DAVE ZIRIN: Was it odd for me to be on the same side as the NCAA?
ZIRIN: NASCAR and Charles Barkley?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. That doesn`t happen every week of your life.
ZIRIN: No, this has been a very discomforting week for myself. But to me,
I was thinking about it. And said, if that`s happening, if NASCAR, the
NCAA, Charles Barkley and myself, all agree on the same thing, that must
mean this legislation must truly be monstrous. This must go so beyond
advocacy and exchanged opinions that people actually see this for what it
is, which is corporations are people, my friend. We have the right to
discriminate law. And they don`t even want to be associated with any kind
of stink related to it. Now, the NCAA presents a tricky proposition,
though, because their headquarters that you mentioned are in Indianapolis.
They got some $80 million headquarters. $80 million building for 500
people. I mean it is the Taj Mahal that unpaid labor built. And so, you
are getting these weird situations we talked about Walmart in the last
segment. We have an institution like the NCAA, which makes billions of
dollars on the basis of the - I`ve said this on your show before, the
organized theft of both black and youth wealth, that`s how it makes its
money. Tom Izzo, who`s in the Final Four, God bless him, he just got a
$25,000 check directly from Nike for making the Final Four. Last I saw, he
wasn`t wearing Nike sneakers, but he gets that check. And the NCAA,
though, gets to play high and mighty and sanctimonious about this law. And
I think as activists, as people who care about this stuff, we have to
thread this needle kind of carefully .
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
ZIRIN: And say it is great that you`re on this side, but what are you
going to do next?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean this is a tough one, right? Because this
really is about this idea - I guess part of what I find fascinating here
from the respect of the Republican Party is threading that needle around
business, economic development and this question. And all of it, of
course, happening in a presidential primary season, which we`ll talk a bit
more about now. But like that idea of the NCAA finding itself against a
Republican governor just - and with Dave Zirin struck me as shocking this
TAFEL: I have been working with corporations for years on the whole idea
of inclusion and that the gay community was a great talent and you should
hire us. And that, we have won that war. I think in the corporate world.
I have to say my jaw dropped when the NCAA, even I kind of - was so close
on this issue for so long, I was stunned because that is a machismo, male
oriented sport and when I`m seeing the military, when I`m seeing the sports
community come around, that`s why I think it`s important for us not to look
as the perfect is the enemy of the good. When something good happens, we
should applaud it, whether it`s the NCAA or it`s Walmart, or it`s .
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you think it`s the youth thing? I mean all I kept
thinking around this, is it`s in part the idea that NCAA is about young
people and there`s this generational shift on the question.
TAFEL: There`s some - there`s two things, I think. One, I think, in the
corporate world, they have come to understand that the only competitive
advantage we have as a nation is our creative class. The ability to think
of new things. And they have discovered that diversity far from being
something that should be forced on a company is an asset. It`s our only
competitive asset globally. And so when you live in the Midwest, if you
don`t have that, your kids grow up in Indiana and they bolt to the coast to
live in a creative class community. Indiana has spent millions of dollars
to stop the brain drain of that state. So, that`s why Indianapolis freaked
out when that happened. Because for a generation, kids will be leaving the
state gets branded as a place that`s not creative.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, part of what I want to - having told you what the table
- on this so, is the reason, in which it still feels -- and maybe to the
good of the overall movement, but I think worth asking about, that the
presumption here is in part about the consumption power and the class where
LGBT people live, in part because so much of the movement has been about
marriage equality and has been represented in the bodies of white men,
white gay men who have disposable income, right? And one could say, good
job using that as the kind of central front runners because people will
respond, but I know that you have written so frequently and now as part of
the Victory Fund, about that intersection of race and LGBT status and
gender and poverty that in fact many LGBT people are not in that class,
right? And so the protections needed are quite different.
MOODIE-MILLS: Oh, absolutely, and I have been talking about this from the
idea like you said of race and class for a long time. But I think that
what we`re seeing bubble up now is this idea of live the quality versus
legal equality and how those two things are going to be interact or don`t.
And what people are realizing is that even when you have favorable rulings
around marriage, right, which creates this lived equality that class of
people you mention, cared so deeply about, and invested in, they are
realizing that there are other areas in their lives that are going to be
tapped away at, right? Their civil rights aren`t exactly one, just because
there`s marriage equality. And I think that LGBT community has gotten a
real great awakening as we see this happening here that we`re going to have
to keep saying, vigilant and fighting for our rights.
COHEN: Yeah, I mean when hopefully, and I`m pretty confident about it,
when the Supreme Court rules that there`s marriage equality for the whole
MOODIE-MILLS: It`s going to happen. Yes.
COHEN: At the end of June.
COHEN: Looking forward to it - that in a lot of states, the couple who
gets married on Sunday can come into work on Monday and put a picture on
their desk and be fired for putting a picture on their desk of a man with
his husband or a woman with her wife, because there`s no protection for
that. So marriage equality is a huge victory, but it`s a victory for
certain groups of people who want to access marriage and not for people who
need the protections against employers, public accommodations, schools and
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me. Because we want to go deep into the politics
here, because up next, Jeb Bush and the religious freedom laws. Where he
stands may depend on when you ask him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Indiana Governor Mike Pence says he did not see the backlash
coming when he signed his state`s religious freedom law. But boy, was it
backlash. But if Governor Pence was caught off guard, that`s nothing
compared to the Republican presidential contenders who suddenly found
themselves forced to take a stand on that issue that divides big business
on one side and social conservatives on the other.
Exhibit A. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, here`s what he had to say on
Monday to a conservative radio host, listened to by more than 1 million
people a week, many of them likely GOP primary voters.
"I think Governor Pence has done the right thing, I think once the facts
are established, people aren`t going to see this as discriminatory at all."
OK, to be cleared, that was Governor Bush speaking before Indiana provided
this so called fix to the law. And here`s what Mr. Bush reportedly had to
say just two days later at a fundraiser in Silicon Valley, home base to the
tech companies like Apple that have been some of the strongest voices
against Indiana`s law. According to "The New York Times," he took a
somewhat more measured stance saying "By the end of the week, I think
Indiana will be in the right place. We need in a big diverse country like
America, we need to have space for the people to act on their conscience.
It is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our
country. We shouldn`t discriminate based on sexual orientation."
So, here what? I mean Apple, Silicon Valley, you know, coastal brain
drain, there it was playing out right in the presidential primary.
TAFEL: We`re seeing the candidates evolve in real time on the issue,
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s nice. OK.
TAFEL: Well, I mean look at the president and Hillary Clinton and look how
they have evolved on the issue because the politics changed in their party.
And so, the Republicans who tried to engage that, they have got two
primaries going on right now. One is, places like Iowa and South Carolina,
which is the whacky wing of the Republican Party that almost dooms you for
general election. But there`s also an invisible primary of donors. And
this actually opens an amazing opportunity for people to ask the
Republicans candidates for president why company Walmart are giving to a
candidate that says this anti-gay thing. So, we actually have opened up a
really interesting new lobbying mode to candidates to question where are
you getting your money and why did that company give to that anti-gay Ted
Cruz, I won`t buy your product. So, it`s an interesting opportunity.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is - I so appreciate that you pointed out that there
was a similar evolution, although perhaps not as swiftly, on the Democratic
side as well. And I mean I think there`s a part of us that kind of last -
but no, for real DOMA is, you know, lives in the Clinton White House,
right? And it is President Obama saying, right, I`m - I`m shifting, you
know, I have evolved on this issue. And in both cases, it has to do with
the presumption about Republican voters. Right? So in this case, you have
got to go get those Republican voters in the primary. For Clinton and for
President Obama, there was this - we have got to get those Republican
voters in the general election. Has everybody miscalculated about how
bigoted Republican voters are? Like - No, I`m serious, like I wonder if in
fact they are underestimating their own voters at this point.
COHEN: I mean I sure hope so because we saw in 2004 that when marriage
equality was on the ballots in a lot of states, a lot of people came out to
vote against it. I don`t think we`ll see that same thing in 2016. I think
this is going to be for voters in the general election a non-issue because
people are past the idea that this is something that discrimination is OK.
But we need to see the politicians saying that and we need to see the
legislators enacting laws that do the same thing that I believe the people
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, you know who is not past it? Cardinal Dolan. I just
want to listen to him for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARDINAL DOLAN: So, we are saying, wait a minute, without questioning the
rights of the gay community, we also have to make sure that the rights of
the religious community are protected. I just wish we could do that in a
temperate civil way instead of screaming at each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZIRIN: It`s so ridiculous. Like once again, the misinformation about the
Indiana law, how is a factory a religious community? How is a coffee shop
a religious community? How is a bakery a religious community?
HARRIS-PERRY: And how is the gay community on one hand and the religious
communities on the other hand and they never even - you know, many of the
religious people are also the gay people at the same time.
ZIRIN: Yeah, they are gay - they are people who don`t have the luxury of
being in one camp or the other, because they happen to be gay and believe
ZIRIN: But I did want to speak to something you said because I think
you`re right about the presidential race if the Democrats lack the coverage
- the courage, I`m sorry, to put it front and center and say, why did you
say this in the primary and actually putting it front and center. Because
I think if the Democratic Party is bold, courageous and aggressive, and I
don`t think those adjectives usually go with the Democratic Party, and say
this is a civil rights issue of our time. Which side are you on? There`s
a black transwoman in Washington D.C. who risks life every day by getting
out of bed. Do you stand with protecting this person or not? And see what
the Republican says. And I think the public would be on the side of the
person who is bold.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to point out. Ted Cruz, though. I don`t want
to miss this. So, Ted Cruz in his first official campaign stop in Iowa
said the Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay
marriage agenda over religious liberty to say we will persecute a Christian
pastor, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi. So, just, you know, this is the
guy - this is the one guy not in the shadow primary. This is the one guy
who`s like no, really, I`m running, and is still using - so, I just want us
to be careful about, oh, it`s all over. This guy is running for the
MOODIE-MILLS: That`s the thing and you just said it so eloquently. He has
actually got to run and try to win through the primary, right? And what we
know is that politicians across the board often miscalculate what motivates
theirs base to come out, right? So, you see a lot of the time the people
who are showing up in the primaries most vigorously who can always be
relied upon, are going to be a little bit more extreme on both sides,
right? And I think that part of the challenge is making sure that we have
politicians who are running, but actually speaking to the needs and the
interests of a broader electorate than the couple that they think they have
to pander to the win because what will happen, is you`ll get more people
motivated to come out. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an op-ed and just said
this week around Indiana, he`s like the problem with in this case, you
know, his party, the Republicans, endorsing crazy laws like this is that
they are isolating the electorate of the future, which we know are going to
be minorities, are going to be a lot more women who are coming out and it`s
going to be a lot of young people who come out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, but if you`re Ted Cruz, you`re not running in the
future. You`re running right now and you`re hoping that there`s still - I
mean, you know, you are trying to get to the right of Bush, right? Because
this is - this is where you think you can pick up primary voters. You can
actually see more of that interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan on "Meet
the Press" tomorrow on NBC.
But when we come back, the woman not running for president weighs in on
religious freedom, I`m not talking about Hillary Clinton. Although I might
talk about Hillary Clinton.
HARRIS-PERRY: Among the class of 2016 running - not running potential
candidates on the Republican side, so far there`s a lone woman. Her name
is Carly Fiorina. Now, she`s the former chief executive of Hewlett
Packard. In 2008, she served as a high profile surrogate to the McCain
presidential campaign and in 2010 she lost in her race for the U.S. Senate
to Barbara Boxer. Speaking to Fox News this week, Ms. Fiorina said there
is a more than 90 percent chance that she will run for president. Viewed
as a likely long shot, Fiorina would stand out in the Republican primary
not just for being a woman in a field of men, but also for being a private
sector business executive in a field largely made up of career politicians.
So when Fiorina weighed in this week speaking to "USA Today" on Indiana`s
religious freedom law, she went directly at the private sector calling out
business leaders for what she says is their hypocrisy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLY FIORINA: It`s interesting to me that there isn`t the same outrage in
the Twitter verse about the subjugation of the rights of women and gays in
many countries, in which these companies do business. Where is the outrage
about that? Where`s the outrage about how gays are treated in Iran, for
example? Where is the outrage about how women are treated in Algeria?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know what Twitter verse she hangs out in, but my
Twitter verse is outraged about that kind of thing all the - outraged about
it right now. It was - I mean is this a reasonable critique? The kind of
like, how dare you be mad at Indiana when you do business in Algeria?
ZIRIN: I really think this line of critique, which you`re hearing from
other Republicans as well, where they are saying like, why is everybody
going after Indiana when, say, Apple does business in these other states,
that have similar laws, I think they are going to get hoisted with their
own petard if to use an old expression, because it`s like - you turn around
and say, oh, do we really want to talk about this? But let`s talk about
the Bush family`s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Do you really want to
have that conversation? Do we really want to have a conversation about
other states? Or are we going to? Let`s educate people about what other
states have these laws. So, there`s a way in which by trying to deflect or
protect Mike Pence, that I think they are actually going to start a brush
fire, which is going to make this something that`s a much bigger discussion
than they want it to be.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I just keep thinking, like is it a good strategy to
run against big business in the Republican primary? I mean that seems like
a bad strategy.
TAFEL: I actually thought what she was doing, and this is just me coded, I
thought she was actually going after Hillary Clinton as another woman in
the race saying the Clinton Foundation has funded all these foreign
government, they`ve taken all these money, it`s going to be a huge issue in
the campaign. She`s very cozy at Wall Street. So, I thought that was ..
TAFEL: She realized it. And the Republican Party has a weird affirmative
action policy, with Judge Thomas maybe being an example of it. Or Sarah
Palin, where it says, we know we need diversity, so we`ll just pick
someone. So, she actually has more potential in this race than people
think because she`s the only woman.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Yeah, I don`t think for the top of the ticket, but I
certainly think if Hillary Clinton ends up the Democratic nominee, that
there will be a scramble to look for a woman on the VP side for the GOP.
Although, my picks and I`ve said it many times, are Nikki Haley and Susana
Martinez, because they are women of color and they are South and Southwest.
So, they do .
COHEN: And they are governors.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. And they are governors. And they do a certain kind
TAFEL: And they are competent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. One may disagree with them, but they - You
know, I think .
ZIRIN: Another business executive. She was a bad business executive. It
did not go well.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the idea that she`s jabbing at Hillary is an interesting
one. You know I just asked my producer, oh, you know, so what has Clinton
said at this moment? Like if you`re a Democrat who`s also in your own
shadow primary, which is - only Hillary Clinton, like are you thrilled by
what the Republicans are doing right now? And she did tweet this week - or
excuse me, last week, "sad that this new Indiana law can happen in America
today. We shouldn`t discriminate against people because of who they love.
#lgbt." So, you know .
ZIRIN: Look at that side .
HARRIS-PERRY: Hashtag DOMA. But you know, OK. Sure, why not? I`m sorry,
I need to pull myself together a little bit on that one. But I do wonder
if there`s a point here about accountability, right? Because that`s your
point about, maybe they don`t really want to go down this road. But is
there something to be said about business accountability around civil
rights and human rights questions, both domestically and globally?
COHEN: I mean I think businesses has played a huge role. We see this in
the Supreme Court. The businesses submit amicus briefs to the court on
these major issues. They helped save affirmative action, even just in a
little piece, in 2003 when that before the Supreme Court. They helped
defeat DOMA. And they are writing briefs to the Supreme Court about
marriage equality right now. And I think they are going to help defeat
that. Businesses can play a huge role in this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, but then Hobby Lobby sitting there around reproductive
rights. So, I guess I`m not quite ready to welcome corporations into this
because I feel like there`s a moment when we`re in kind of ideological
agreement and then many moments when we`re not. And it feels to me at
least as fraught as the relationship with religious identity, whether or
not you want a moral religious discourse in your politics or not.
MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah, we want everything to be all or nothing, right? And
it`s just not - it`s a lot more complicated than that. One of the
interesting thing about the businesses, though, in this conversation about
LGBT rights generally is that there are larger companies in this country
like, say, the Fortune 500 have been way ahead of the curve, they have been
kind of at the front of the cultural shift in understanding the meaning of
diversity, the power of diversity. They have had their own comprehensive
non-discrimination policies internally, even as all these states have like
hesitated to do so, and that is something to be said for employers who are
employing a lot of people in these states, right? But I think that it is
very dangerous and we try to give political will to corporations. Hobby
Lobby was a complete disaster in many ways for that reason of trying to
make corporations people. Though a lot of the folks who are leading the
charge are much larger than the people who are in Hobby Lobby.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let me ask one more Republican question here. I have
wondered since the initiation of the Tea Party whether or not we`re going
to see a durable realignment of the American political party system.
Whether or not the folks that represent the Log Cabin Republicans and other
economic conservatives, maybe even socially conservatives on some sets of
topics, but not on others will ultimately break away or whether or not
we`re just so trapped in what our current sort of distributions are that
this is the only Democrat Republican Party we can imagine. They have
shifted places in the past.
TAFEL: May have shifted places, of course. It was the Southern Democrats
and the Republican governor and the president had to go on to a Democratic
governor to desegregate the South. And so - so the parties have shifted
back and forth between the two names. I think there will be a conservative
liberal party. The question for me about as a Republican right now is
demographics cannot remain the same. Because we are a white party, we are
an old party and there`s death. And so, that`s just a fact. The country
is becoming diverse. It`s becoming multicultural and more secular. So,
the country is changing. You don`t change into that market.
Now how long does it take you to learn that lesson? To the point we made
earlier in the conversation, I think they are running a primary from the
past. And they don`t realize that there`s a lot of young people who are
doing startups. They love to be Republican. They know more about cap
tables and equity than any business person in my generation, but they can`t
because of the discrimination.
TAFEL: So, it`s going to - It will - a new conservative party.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it will be fascinating to watch that play out over
this election, but then over the next couple of months as well. Thanks to
Aisha Moodie-Mills and to Dave Zirin. Rich and David are actually going to
be back in my next hour.
But still to come this morning, the long, long wait of Loretta Lynch and
one of the men standing in her way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now look at news making headlines this morning. Incredible
video is emerging from Kentucky where two days of torrential rain triggered
massive flooding. In Oklahoma, a huge chunk of road collapsed and the
asphalt washed away by the current below. Officials say more than 160
water rescues took place during the worst of the storm. And two new
developments this morning in Thursday`s terror attack on Garissa University
in Kenya. The Kenya Red Cross confirms a 19-year-old woman was found alive
this morning inside a dorm at the school. She was hiding in a crawl space
in the ceiling. In the meantime, five more arrests have been made and
security has increased in the area. Kenyan officials say 148 people were
killed when gunmen stormed the college campus. And, of course, reaction to
Thursday`s big breakthrough when Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers
reached a preliminary nuclear agreement. While no deal has been signed
yet, the framework includes Iran`s agreement to stop making weapon`s grade
plutonium and enrich less uranium and yield to international inspections.
In exchange, world powers agreed to lift debilitating economic sanctions.
NBC News Tehran bureau chief Ali Arouzi has reaction there from the ground
in Iran, but first, I want to go to John Yang in Washington, D.C. for more
on the domestic politics perspective. John, how is Congress receiving the
details of this framework outlined by the administration?
JOHN YANG, NBC NEWS, WASHINGTON D.C.: Well, Melissa, if you think the
administration had a tough time getting this agreement with the Iranians,
they are going to have perhaps even a tougher time preserving it. Keeping
Congress from what they fear, what the administration fears will be
derailing it. In a couple of weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
is going to take up a bill that would require congressional approval for
any final agreement. Now the challenge to the administration, it`s
probably going to go through because Republicans control both Houses, but
the challenge for the administration is to keep enough Democrats off the
bill so that they don`t have a veto-proof majority. Why would Democrats
oppose this? Some of them legitimately have concerns about the Iranians,
whether the Iranians will keep their promises. A lot of them are allies of
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is against this in a big,
big way. There`s some who just believe that constitutionally this is not
something the president should do alone. This is something that Congress
should also have a say in. Now the administration knows they are in for a
tough fight. It is all hands on deck for this selling of it. The
president talked about it this morning in his weekly address. They have
got Vice President Biden making calls. They have got chief of staff, Denis
McDonough, Susan Rice, the national security adviser, they know they have
got a fight on their hands. Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: John, thank you for that update. And I want to bring in now
NBC News`s Tehran bureau chief. Ali Arouzi who joins us by phone. Ali,
how have Iran`s clerics, those powerful religious establishment there,
reacted to the details of the framework?
ALI AROUZI: Well, Melissa, the most powerful man in the country the
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has remained quiet. But a litmus
test of what he`s thinking is Friday clerics there, which was yesterday.
Clerics who present the Friday usually speaking on his behalf. They are
delivering messages that he`s approved. And throughout the country, most
of the clerics who delivered their sermon promoted this deal. They said
this was a good deal for Iran and that we should standby it, obviously.
There is some political uncertainty of how this would pan out with Congress
and everything, but they largely told the government - this was a good
deal. . The President Rouhani came on television selling the deal as a
huge step forward for Iran saying that this wasn`t just good for Iran, but
it benefits everybody in the world. He said that he would stretch his hand
to friendship out to other people. So, for the most part here, people are
saying it`s a good deal, but that`s not to say it`s not without its
detractors. A very vocal hardliner, who`s the editor in chief of a major
newspaper here and also, oddly enough, is an adviser to the supreme leader,
was very critical of the deal. He came out yesterday and said that this
was a good deal for the West and a bad deal for Iran, making the analogy
that Iran gave up a ready to go sad old racehorse and received a torn
bridle instead. While other people, members of a hard line militia here
that have been allowed in the past to organize rallies and demonstrations
against a nuclear deal tweeted as soon as they found out that Iran was only
allowed to keep 5,000 centrifuges tweeted we`ll have enough centrifuges
left to make carrot juice. So there`s obviously a lot of detractors here.
I think over the coming days and weeks, that we`ll hear more from
hardliners in Iran as details of this deal become more relevant. Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I want to go back to John for a moment. Because
I`m wondering if these images of the celebrations in terms of the reception
of the Iranian negotiator actually make it more difficult to do that sale -
that selling job to Congress, whether or not we presume that if Iran likes
it, it is necessarily bad for the U.S.
YANG: I think it does the optics over, though, do complicate things. It
is this heroes` welcome that the negotiators got in Tehran. I think will
bolster the argument of some people, some of the opponents to this that the
United States gave up too much, that the president gave up too much. He
was so eager to get an agreement he gave away too much. It`s interesting,
though, that some Iranians, the hardliners in Iran are saying that they
didn`t get enough in this. So I think this is a complicated issue in the
days ahead, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course, in the case of negotiation, if the fringes of
both parties are mad, it probably means you found a good middle. Thank you
to NBC News Tehran bureau chief Ali Arouzi in Tehran.
And NBC News correspondent John Yang in Washington D.C.
And up next, my letter of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: We learned something important from a member of the United
States Senate this week. On Thursday Illinois Senator Mark Kirk announced
that he will vote to confirm attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. This
makes him the fifth Republican to back the A.G. Nominee. Meaning that if
all the Senate Democrats and Independents support her, Loretta Lynch will
have enough votes to secure confirmation. But Mark Kirk can only vote for
Loretta Lynch if someone calls for a vote, and that has not happened yet.
Lynch remains in limbo as a result of one of the longest confirmation
delays in modern history. As of today, she has waited 147 days to be
confirmed and that is why my letter today is to the man who has the power
to end the wait by calling for a vote.
Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell. "Dear Senator Mitch McConnell,
it`s me, Melissa, and I`m writing to say one thing, set the date. Back in
November President Obama officially nominated Loretta Lynch to serve as the
next attorney general of the United States. She is respected, she`s
qualified, she is standing on the precipice of making history as the first
African-American woman to serve as attorney general. But Mr. McConnell,
you are standing in the way of one kind of history while making another.
Starting tomorrow, Loretta Lynch will have waited longer than any cabinet
nominee, period, in the past three administrations. All we`re asking for
is a vote. So Senator, set the date. Janet Reno took 29 days. John
Ashcroft, 42. Alberto Gonzales, he took 46. Michael Mukasey, 53, Eric
So why, as of today, is Loretta Lynch`s wait time a whopping 147 days? And
what exactly has Lynch done with all that time? Well, a hell of a lot.
First off, she sailed through her Senate judiciary committee in a
confirmation hearing and she made the rounds on the hill. She secured the
majority vote she needs for confirmation while you, on the other hand, have
spent these 140 days crafting a labyrinth of delays. First, you held up
her confirmation over objections to her support of President Obama`s
executive actions on immigration.
Now, you`re so busy sparring with Democrats about abortion language of a
human trafficking bill that you just can`t make time to vote on who will
become the nation`s highest law enforcement officer. Here`s the thing.
Lynch has nothing to do with this partisan fight, I know this might be a
shock, but the Senate can do more than one thing at a time. You can fight
with the Democrats and schedule a vote. So senator, set the date. What is
it that worries you about Lynch? The fact that she`s a double Harvard
grad? That she`s an experienced top federal prosecutor, that she handles
cases that include cybercrime and corruption, financial fraud and organized
crime and terrorism?
Maybe that she led one of the highest profile police brutality cases in the
1990s against the NYPD and still has the respect of former New York Mayor
Republican Rudy Giuliani.
Senator McConnell, set the date. But Melissa, if you refuse to set the
date, well, that`s all good too. Because after all, the longer you wait,
the longer Eric Holder remains attorney general and while we are all ready
to see our sister A.G. assume the leadership of the DOJ, in the meantime,
we`ll certainly enjoy watching Holder continue to enact aggressive civil
rights protections and policing reform.
More Holder, that`s just what your GOP congressional colleagues have been
clamoring for, isn`t it, senator?
So, Senator McConnell, you just don`t get it, a Justice Department delayed
is justice denied. So set the date. Sincerely, Melissa.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And it was a dramatic scene in an Atlanta courtroom on Wednesday. Eleven
people led away in handcuffs facing up to 20 years in prison, convicted of
racketeering. The same charge used to go after mobsters like the Gambino
crime family. But these were not any real life Sopranos -- they were
educators -- convicted in one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S.
history. The verdicts capped a seven-month-long trial and years of
allegations that teachers and administrators orchestrated widespread
cheating on standardized tests, in the Atlanta public schools.
A state investigation found that cheating had occurred in at least 44
institutions, nearly 80 percent of all Atlanta schools and involved nearly
180 educators. At the trial prosecutors claimed the educators falsified
test results in an effort to earn bonuses or keep their jobs.
Former school superintendent Beverly Hall, who died last month of breast
cancer, was accused of pressuring teachers to inflate scores so schools
could meet federal benchmarks and receive additional funding. Hall always
denied the charges but during the trial, some teachers testified about the
pressure that they faced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER TEACHER: It was pressure to get scores by any means necessary.
FORMER TEACHER: We were changing answers on test documents. I erased, and
PROSECUTOR: And, is that what each of your colleagues was doing?
FORMER TEACHER: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Students also testified about the toll the cheating scandal
has taken on their education.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STUDENT: I`m not in high school reading. I`m still in middle school
reading, I think it`s the 6th grade reading level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: After the guilty verdicts, despite the objections of several
defense attorney, the judge ordered all but one of the educators to be
jailed immediately, while they await sentencing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE: I don`t like to send anybody to jail. It`s not one of the things I
get a kick out of, but they have made their bed and they are going to have
to lie in it. It starts today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most appalling decision I have ever seen.
I don`t see how you send educators to prison.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The possible penalties are stunning, when you consider that
seven years after a much larger cheating scandal the mortgage meltdown that
nearly brought down the U.S. economy only one top Wall Street executive
went to prison, and he was sentenced to less than three years.
The Atlanta case not only tarnished the reputation of the school system
with some 50,000 students, it`s also raised questions about the role of
high stakes testing in education, and whether the entire system is putting
teachers in a no-win situation.
If the stakes are so high and the rule so rigid, is cheating really so
unexpected? It`s a feeling some parents frustrated with underperforming
schools and their communities may share.
Parents like Tanya McDowell of Connecticut, who in 2012 was arrested and
charged with larceny for enrolling her son in the wrong school district.
Or the Ohio mom who in 2011 was sentenced to 10 days in prison for lying
about her residency, to give her daughters into a better school district.
And now, we have educators facing up to 20 years in prison for cheating to
try and meet federal testing standards, knowing that their jobs and the
future of their schools may depend on it. It all raises the question of
whether this is about failing schools and teachers or failing system.
Joining me now from Atlanta: Attorneys Angela Johnson and Robert Rubin,
whose clients are among those educators awaiting sentencing and facing up
to 20 years behind bars.
So nice to have you both with us this morning.
When you look at what has happened, do these convictions represent justice
being served from your perspectives?
ROBERT RUBIN, ATTORNEY: Go ahead, Angela.
ANGELA JOHNSON, ATTORNEY: From my perspective, no, Melissa, my client Pam
served the Atlanta public schools for 27 years. She was a first grade
teacher. First grade scores did not count towards bonuses and she didn`t
receive any bonus money. She didn`t have any financial incentive to cheat,
so I think it`s a little different than the narrative that`s kind of been
spread in what most people think.
HARRIS-PERRY: So help me to understand what you see as different. I mean,
I think -- you know, the discourse we have heard is that there were
financial incentives here that these teachers were under a great deal of
pressure, they made changes to these test scores, but you`re suggesting
something else is going on here. Just help me understand that.
RUBIN: Melissa, I would reject that very basis premise that teachers were
pressured to cheat. At least in the school that I`m familiar with, my
client was the principal of an elementary school, that cheating occurred
before she ever got there, and teacher after teacher testified that the
principal, my client, did not pressure them to cheat.
I think the cheating occurred because people made individual choices to
take shortcuts, to be lazy, to not believe in the children. But the
testimony does not bare out that people cheated because of pressure to get
JOHNSON: That`s true.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right. So this is fascinating to me.
Stay with me. I want to come out to my table. I`ve got some folks here
that I also would love to have weigh in on this.
So, let me -- let me start with my panel first. Glenn Martin, president
and founder of JustLeadership USA, Dafna Linzer, who is managing editor at
MSNBC.com, Rich Tafel, who was with us earlier was founder of Log Cabin
Republicans, and David S. Cohen, who`s a law professor at Drexel
So, Glenn, this is interesting, it`s a little different than what I was
expecting to happen here because part of what I have been outraged about is
there was a structure that encouraged bad behavior. Now I`m hearing the
attorneys say, no, this is about individuals who may have made bad choices,
even if my client isn`t the person who did it.
GLENN MARTIN, PRES. & FOUNDER, JUSTLEADERSHIP USA: You know, what stands
out for me is the severe punishment these folks are facing in the
situation. If we were as addicted to education as we are to punishment,
we`d be so much better off. But why would be surprised when years ago, we
decided to move our education dollars into the criminal justice system that
now our response to a situation like this is harsh punishment?
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me, Dafna, also like a part of a big story we`ve
told about the criminalization of -- we have talked about it as a school to
prison pipeline. We have talked about the criminalization of kind of bad
acts of kids, so you have kindergartners getting arrested for things that
are just school violations. And so, while I don`t think this is a good set
of behaviors for educators, watching them be taken away in handcuffs is
just stunning to me.
DAFNA LINZER, MSNBC.COM MANAGING EDITOR: Yes, this is the saddest story
from beginning to end. Just as you said, from kids who didn`t get the
education that their parents hoped they would get, to the teachers who felt
under enormous pressure to a system that was rewarding them for getting
test scores, which they probably did not have the resources to get, to
seeing teachers being taken away in handcuffs.
I find it stunning that the judge decided that they needed to stay in
prison until sentencing unless they were severe flight risks and you can
always take away a passport. I just don`t understand what the point is.
And also for the governor to come out so aggressively, to make it look like
he`s so great on education that he`s sending the teachers away, it`s just -
- it`s heartbreaking.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Angela and Robert, let me come back to you on that.
This decision to have these teachers jailed while they are waiting
sentencing, were you surprised by that decision?
JOHNSON: I was very surprised. It was heartbreaking. And even though you
tray to prepare your clients for the worst, I think just the whole way that
you saw them being treated in the process, it was r heartbreaking. I would
like to clarify also that Pam is looking at possible 30 years, 20 for
racketeering and 5 years each on the false statements charges, and that she
was convicted on the testimony of two women who admitted to lying several
times under oath to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other parties.
One got immunity and one got a misdemeanor plea deal and was under
investigation at the time that she participated in the CRCT for cheating on
a test the month before. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: I know you all are attorneys who are representing
individuals who are still facing sentencing, so I know you have
HARRIS-PERRY: But you got to help me understand -- and we have no time,
but still -- this is just tough for me. What is the motivation? What is
going on here? What are we not understanding from sitting up here in a New
York television studio about what is happening in Atlanta right now?
RUBIN: Well, there`s a couple things going on. Number one, there are
politicians out to make names for themselves and how they deal with
education, despite the fact they cut the budget for education probably
almost in half 10 years ago. This is what you get as a result, schools
without resources. There`s a judge who wants to send a message to the
community, whatever that is, that`s why he put the educators in jail right
after the verdict.
And there`s the focus on how to you fix education, which no one is talking
about. Talk about the trial and the drama of a criminal trial, but no one
is talking about fixing the education for these Title I children.
HARRIS-PERRY: Angela Johnson and Robert Rubin in Atlanta, with a tough,
tough story that we will continue to follow -- thank you for your time this
RUBIN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, OK, the Iranian deal may have grabbed the most headline
this week, but there was another announcement from the Obama administration
this week that could have an enormous and immediate impact for thousands of
people right here at home. That story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: In August of 2010, President Obama signed the Fair
Sentencing Act, an historic piece of legislation that reduced the disparity
in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Previous U.S. drug policy
mandated a 100 to 1 sentencing gap, which meant the sentencing trigger for
crack cocaine required 100 times the amount of powder to invoke the same
Despite the similarities between the two forms of the drug, that law helped
create a racial disparity that left a disproportionate number of African-
Americans serving terms in federal prison for low level drug crimes.
So, the president`s 2010 legislation was intended to decrease that
disparity by narrowing the sentence gap from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. But it
didn`t apply to the nearly 30,000 people already in federal prisons who,
according to the sentencing commission, would have been eligible for a
reduced sentence were the law applied retroactively.
Last year, the Justice Department offered a second chance to those
offenders when it announced new rules expanding President Obama`s
discretion to pardon or reduce their time in a prison. And the president
exercised that power on Tuesday, offering clemency to 22 low level drug
offenders, eight of whom had been sentenced to life sentences and would
otherwise have died in jail, which brings all the president`s commutations
to 43, 40 of them for drug-related sentences.
It`s a number that`s earned him criticism by criminal justice advocates who
say that with 35,000 inmates still waiting for clemency applications to be
considered, he`s not moving fast enough.
In a recent interview with "The Huffington Post", the president explained
why the process has been slow going and why we can expect him to pick up
the pace very soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first year, the way the
system worked was the Department of Justice recommended, there was an
office that would recommend the pardons. Most were legitimate but they
didn`t address the broader issues that we face, particularly around
nonviolent drug offenses. So, we have revamped now the DOJ office. We`re
now getting much more representative applicants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: With the way clear for the names of federal drug offenders
to reach his desk, the president says he will be using his pardon and
clemency power more aggressively.
Joining me now, Glenn Martin, president and founder of JustLeadership USA,
Dafna Linzer, managing editor at MSNBC, who has done extensive reporting on
the Obama administration`s pardon and commutation policies, Richard Tafel,
who is founder of the Log Cabin Republicans, and now, president of the
consulting firm, The Public Squared, and David Cohen, constitutional lawyer
from Drexel University.
So, Glenn, celebration or not enough, or both? OK
MARTIN: We have an attorney general that says that we have far too many
people in prison for far too for no good law enforcement reasons.
Communities that are heavily impacted by the criminal justice system, poor
whites, people of color, hear that as declaration of the end of a war on
drugs. And when you have an end of a war, particularly a war that you`ve
lost, you have a responsibility to turn back and figure out what to do with
the prisoners of that war.
And 35,000 people are languishing in prison, their families are broken
apart, their communities are broken apart, waiting for something for a
response that matches the scope of the problem. And in the president`s
defense, the commutation power is a blunt instrument --
MARTIN: -- in a situation where everyone`s case is highly individualized.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
MARTIN: So, this really is the president responding to the shortcoming of
HARRIS-PERRY: In part, Dafna, this ought to be probably dealt with
legislative action were just probably not forthcoming. And it would
probably be a bad for the president to let out 35,000 drug offenders, like
I could see that going badly for him.
LINZER: Yes, I could see that going badly, look, I waited four years to
hear the president say we revamped that office. And there are changes that
have been made and I can feel more comfortable exercising my one big
unfettered power there. That`s a good thing.
Twenty-two people, that`s about as many as Reagan and George H.W. Bush
combined over 16 years. So, 22 people, that`s a really, really low number.
And there`s about 5,000 of the 35,000 who immediately could have been
released had had the legislation been retroactive.
So, even if it`s kind of individualized cases, and I understand that,
that`s really what the pardon power is for. And, you know, I think I would
not want to see the president wait until very late in his presidency as
President Clinton did where all of a sudden, at the very end, you`re
releasing huge numbers of people. There`s very little time for
accountability and there`s also just enough time to come after him for
having done huge amount of commutations with little oversight. I mean, I
like to him --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, do it now while there can still be political?
LINZER: He can do hundreds every month now.
So, I get it, I mean, I do. Particularly as someone who wants to e see
that drug war come down, wants to see it over and a sense of justice. On
the other hand, if you were for, instance, Darrel Hayden (ph), and you were
sentenced to life in prison for growing marijuana in 2002 -- I mean,
sentenced to life in prison -- this is the madness of where we have gotten
to. Twenty-two people, if you were the one starfish who gets to go back
into the water, like, you`re happy if you`re Francis Hayden.
DAVID S. COHEN, DREXEL UNIVERSITY: For the 22 people, it`s wonderful. But
the president`s power is so limited. The court`s powers are very limited
here. They are not going. To do anything. This is up to legislators and
the states too. We can`t forget about the prisoners in state prison who
also have the same problems of racial disparities and same problems with
low-level drug offenders.
And so, state legislatures need to jump in and do something about this too,
and state commutations, putting all the focus on President Obama, he can
certainly do more, but this is a legislative, political problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just don`t want to miss. So, I get your point on the
state, but I don`t want to miss what`s happened around the federal. I
mean, if we look at federal inmates by the offense committed, we`re talking
about nearly half, 48.7 percent are in there for drug offenses, the vast
majority of those being very low level. I mean, that line, that`s just
kind of everybody.
It also happens in a particular moment. So, if you look again at that
federal population in 1980 to 2013, it`s going along with some increase and
crime is not associated with that, like crime does not do that same thing.
RICH TAFEL, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Yes, well, what`s happened is there was
a high crime period. We saw the crime rate drop. But yet, the crime rate
has continued to drop over the last decade but we have seen the prison
population dramatically increase. And the reason I think comes back to the
story we saw in the school system in Atlanta, which is we have incentivized
at every level putting people in prison.
Politicians -- many of our politicians have made their careers as district
attorneys, so they have dramatically increased the number of people they
have sentenced. That`s good. They then -- police departments have metric,
how many people they can put in jail, that`s a new metric for us.
And we have turned our prisons over to for-profit institutions who are on
the profit system of how many people they keep and how many people they
keep coming back. If we change the incentives, particularly at the
prisons, if we said to prisons, we will pay you bonuses for people who do
not come back, we would see a whole shift in how we treat prisoners. But
right now, I think this is a very easy bipartisan issue. It`s amazing how
well it polls, Republicans and Koch Foundation have spent a lot of money in
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve got to take a break, but that`s exactly what I want to
talk about when we come back is this bipartisan coalition that has emerged
on bringing down the drug war. Who would have thought it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What`s been encouraging is
this is a rare area where we`re seeing significant bipartisan interest. I
-- some of the most conservative members of the Republican Party either
because of libertarian reasons or because they are concerned about the
costs of --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Rick Perry.
OBAMA: Rick Perry in Texas, you know, we`re seeing an interest in reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama in the recent interview with "The
Huffington Post" discussing the unlikely political alliances that have
formed to address the country`s problem with over incarceration. The issue
has brought together partnerships like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who teamed up last year on a bill to reform the
juvenile justice system and criminal background checks.
And last week, Washington was unbelievably the site of political unity when
a criminal justice summit had blue state and red state officials and Tea
Party benefactors, community advocates and right wing conservative
Christians all agreeing that now is the time for reform.
So, Glenn, is this the moment that you and other folks have been waiting
for? Or are you nervous? Sometimes when it gets bipartisan, I think, uh-
oh, maybe I shouldn`t be in this coalition.
MARTIN: When you look at our mental health institutions and what we did
back in the late `60s and early `70s, that was also a bipartisan effort to
get people out of those institutions that were damaging people and families
and communities. Look what we ended up with. Those people ended up with
our criminal justice system.
So, my concern is, whenever you have this really top-down approach to
reform where I believe that we need to do a better job of getting Americans
to understand that this entire system is not working, I worry that systems
of oppression are durable and they tend to reinvent themselves. And so, if
the premise of our criminal system is punishment and it stays that way and
we don`t think about redemption and transformation and those things, that
we get some sort of reform, maybe less people in prison. But some other
system of punishment that creates an underclass of citizenship in America.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although I like -- so, I hear you on the notion of
punishment being the underlying aspect of how we think about what is
happening, but I also am really appreciative of the idea that it`s a set of
financial incentives that could be simply taken away. If we look again at
that same time period, 1980 to 2014 on the cost of operating the federal
prison system, you`ll see, the kind of you, you know, it`s going along, all
of a sudden it`s going to spike up and that spike is all in buildings and
facilities, right? So that red line on the bottom there is what people
actually make for working in the federal prison system, right? Wages stay
low but, man, building up a prison becomes the way to do construction in
LINZER: But, you know what? It`s also killing the budget of the Justice
LINZER: It is taking up -- the Bureau of Prisons is taking up such a huge
chunk of that budget that even the Justice Department realizes this is too
hard. We have too much on our plate and cannot let this amount of money go
to building these kinds of facilities.
The one thing that was interesting to me in what the president said is he
specifically used the word interest instead of action.
So, there`s bipartisan interest and that`s true. We have good people on
both sides who are taking an interest in the issue. Rick Perry aside who
are had the ability to make changes in his state, it`s not enough.
So, it`s great that we have Senator Booker and Senator Rand Paul, who are
interested in this kind of bill -- they need to build a broader coalition
in the Senate to have action. I think that`s really the test and the
president sees it.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it at least appear that in 2016, we`re not going to be
running on law and order platforms that are about locking up more people as
a way of gaining votes. That said, I also want to go back to a point you
made about recidivism. The president wrote a relatively brief letter to
the folks who sentences he commuted, and then part of it, he says, you
know, the power to grant pardons is one of the most profound authorities.
He says, I`m granting your application because you demonstrated the
potential to turn your life around.
Now, it`s up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be
easy. You will confront many who will doubt people with criminal records
can change, perhaps even you. And then he goes, you have the capacity to
make good choices.
I get it. It`s a lovely letter. But I also think, well, if you ban the
box and people would -- you know, there`s in other words a set of
structural things that aren`t addressed as fantastic as this letter is.
TAFEL: Yes, I have had the opportunity to work at a homeless shelter and a
third of the people that would come in would be from the prison system and
say I was literally dropped off in Washington with $10 in my pocket. I
have my -- I now have a record. I don`t even have my birth certificate so
I can`t get a driver`s license to get a job.
There`s a very --
HARRIS-PERRY: Or to vote --
TAFEL: Or to vote. And so, they would say, point blank, you know what, I
had three meals a day. I just don`t know what else to do. And my family
is embarrassed by me. I can`t go back on the couch anymore. So, now what?
You tell me what to do.
So, it was a really horrible situation. It was by -- I`m telling, any of
us put in that situation, the incentives would drive us back into a system
that would make money off of this process.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s hard to make good choices when the choices are so
constrained in that way.
TAFEL: It`s really immoral.
Glenn, you want to weigh in on that?
MARTIN: No, I`m sitting here, I`m listening -- when I came out of prison,
I served six years in prison, and earned a college degree while I was on
the inside, which really doesn`t exist the way it used after Pell Grant
eligibility was taken away of.
But I went to 50 different employers looking for a job, almost every single
one turning me down almost immediately after they learned that I had a
criminal record, without allowing me to compete for the job like anyone
else, like take the criminal record into account, look and see if there`s a
relationship, public safety is an issue. Beyond that, people with criminal
records need the chance to be able to compete to get back into the labor
market. And we create all of these obstacles.
And yet, while the person is on supervision, we tell them -- you need to
find a job, you need to find stable housing, you need to become a citizen
and that we put all these barriers in the way of that happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, again, your point about public safety is a
critically important one, but we`re talking about many activities which are
now legal in many states so the idea that there`s a clear public safety
problem when we`re looking at low level drug offenses I think just doesn`t
My thanks to Glenn Martin and Dafna Linzer, to Richard Tafel, who keeps
trying to claim he`s a Republican, but I`m not sure, and to David Cohen.
Up next, reaction from those on campus to a noose found in a tree at Duke
HARRIS-PERRY: The men`s final four happening today in Indianapolis,
Indiana, should be the big duke university story of the week. Duke`s men`s
basketball team last won the whole thing back in 2010. This year it could
be a return to glory.
Around 6:00 p.m., sports fans will be on the Duke Blue Devils taking the
court against Michigan State Spartans. This is the game, this is the event
that could have the whole country talking about Duke. Or so the university
might want to believe.
In reality, there`s one piece of news currently eclipsing the Final Four
faceoff and it was summed up by this photograph. A photo that shows a
yellow rope tied in a noose and the noose was found hanging from a tree in
the middle of campus early Wednesday morning. Police removed it by 2:45
Duke university police have been investigating since Wednesday and have
since identified a duke student who has admitted to hanging the noose on
the tree. The university is discussing possible criminal charges with
state and federal officials, but Duke officials are still investigating
allegations about another incident of racial intimidation that occurred
about two weeks ago when a black student reported that a group of white men
chanted a racist song at her.
It was the same song heard in a video that went viral last month. The
video shows former University of Oklahoma students and Sigma Alpha Epsilon
members chanting racial slurs and making references to lynching.
Joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina, to discuss the investigation
and the current climate at Duke University are Karla Holloway, professor of
English, law and African-American studies at Duke University, and the
author of the new book, "Legal Fictions." And Henry Washington, vice
president of the Duke University Black Student Alliance.
Henry, let me start with you. How are students, particularly students of
color feeling on campus right now?
HENRY WASHINGTON, BLACK STUDENT ALLIANCE, DUKE: You know, I think students
are feeling exhausted. I think the thing that sometimes people forget is
that these huge events like a noose being hung from a tree are not things
that happen every day but the kind of micro-aggressions, the things that
happen every day, for instance, my intellectual legitimacy being called
into question. Those kinds of things happen on a daily basis.
So, I think we have to remember that, you know, the noose incident is
indicative of a campus culture that`s built around issues of race, class
and gender that`s problematic.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Henry, listening to you talk -- Karla, obviously, you
know I`m a Duke alum at the graduate level. You were one of my advisers
when I was working on my PhD.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we have -- you know, we`ve talked often about the
challenge that occurs when there`s a single incident that becomes the
opening point for conversation about issues of race on campus. So, we
don`t yet know what this noose incident is, right? We know there was a
noose. We don`t know who hung it or what their motivations were.
Again, I worry, as we know has happened in the case of campus issues
before, that when the conversation about those racial aggressions rest on
this one moment, like I keep being nervous about how we need to enter into
KARLA HOLLOWAY, DUKE UNIVERSITY: We need to enter much more courageously
than the university has in the past and to understand that the consistent -
- the repetition of students feeling like Henry Washington feels and other
black students I have talked to, the fact that this keeps happening at Duke
is evidence of a structural problem we haven`t yet addressed. And until we
address that problem, we can anticipate an isolated event resurrecting
these other issues that are ongoing in the lives of black faculty staff and
students at Duke.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Henry, clearly, when you talk about that sense of
exhaustion -- you know, I mean, this is where you are a student, but it`s
not just Duke. We have seen cases of this around the country. The SAE
chant at Oklahoma, the case of Martese at the University of Virginia, who
experienced the kind of being roughed up by police of the ABC board.
So, are Duke students seeing this as a specific Duke moment as tied to a
larger set of campus concerns in the country?
WASHINGTON: I think that`s where we would like the conversation to shift.
I think it`s difficult to have the conversation shift in that direction. I
think a lot of students would like to say that this is an isolated incident
and that, you know, the hatred or the recklessness of one student doesn`t
necessarily give a commentary about what the campus culture is like, but I
mean, I think that`s just not true.
I think that we are, for instance, the black student alliance has released
a set of four action points for the administration to consider. So, we`re
hoping that this arouses the discussion around the entirety of the campus
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me just say this, Karla, while you are talking, we are
watching a video of campus protests at Duke after this happened. And just
from looking, and not that you can tell everything from looking, but man,
that`s a multicultural crowd, a lot of white students, faculty and staff,
you can see students there across racial backgrounds.
I`m wondering if that is the story we ought to be telling rather than what
at least at the moment is a relatively isolated incident. How do we put
HOLLOWAY: I think we put them together, I think that we understand that
our audiences are broad and diverse and that the institution has to
understand that when something happens that seems to address a black issue,
the campus community is involved.
And so, the complexity of our allies is an important part of this
discussion, and the institutions taking responsibility not for isolating
this as being about black students or black student feelings only, that
they are outraged as well.
And so, one of the things that that debate, that protest did was to give a
wonderful visible indication of how many are ready to stand up and stand
against this kind of aggression on campus, and not just the aggressions
that come from this symbolic foolishness, but the aggressions that come
from everyday life at Duke.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to professor Karla Holloway, and also to Henry
Washington, I`m particularly, has a four-point action plan. That`s -- you
just do that political organizing. Just make it happen.
Thank you and keep fighting for Duke. It is my alma mater in important
ways and I want to see it --
HOLLOWAY: Absolutely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, a very special on this day.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1928, a baby girl was born. Her name,
Marguerite Annie Johnson. She was born poor and black nearly four decades
before American law even began to recognize African-Americans as full
She spent much of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, where the ravages of
the Great Depression and Jim Crow shackled black folk to grinding
inequality. At just eight years old, she survived rape, but became moot
after her attacker was killed, casting herself into silence she believed
her own voice was responsible for the death of a man.
But she did not stay in silence. Called forth by her beloved brother,
Bailey, this moot girl became a woman with a legendary voice and a name by
which the world came to know her, Dr. Maya Angelou. She performed as an
actor and singer and dancer on the stage in the United States and abroad.
She met with Malcolm X while he visited Ghana, and she went on do become a
northern coordinator in the civil rights movement.
Her birthday was bittersweet throughout her adulthood because it`s also on
this day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In 1969,
Angelou published the brutal and lyrical autobiography, "I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings." It was the first of 36 books she authored.
And in 1993, when fellow Arkansas native Bill Clinton was inaugurated as
president of the United States, he called on Maya Angelou to mark the day
with poetry and she gave us "On the Pulse of Morning".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYA ANGELOU, POET: The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place
new steps of change, here on the pulse of this fine day, you may have the
courage to look up and out and upon me, the rock, the river, the tree, your
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: To know these accomplishments is not enough. To begin to
glimpse her power, you must understand what it meant to encounter Maya
Angelou even for a moment.
First Lady Michelle Obama captured the essence of Angelou`s power with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Maya Angelou knew us. She knew our hope, our
pain, our ambition, our fear, our anger, our shame, and she assured us that
despite it all, in fact, because of it all, we were good. That was Maya
Angelou`s reach. She touched me, all of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed she did, because Dr. Angelou was a teacher. She
joined the faculty of Wake Forest University in 1982, and a decade later, I
took my first course with her as a student at Wake forest. She demanded
that we read widely, discuss openly, that we disagree respectfully and that
we leave her classroom different than when we entered.
"I am not a writer who teaches," she said. "I`m a teacher who writes. But
I had to work at Wake Forest to know that."
She was my teacher, indeed she was the world`s teacher. And on Tuesday,
the United States Postal Service is unveiling the Maya Angelou forever
stamp, a fitting tribute to the girl from Stamps, Arkansas, who became a
woman, who changed the world with her words.
Dr. Angelou made her final transition last May at the age of 86, and she
left us too soon. But today, we rejoice and celebrate the life and gift of
Dr. Maya Angelou who was born this day, April 4th, 1928.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow evening, millions of people are expected to watch
this year`s Black Girls Rock Awards on BET. Now, the award show that is,
quote, "dedicated to honoring exceptional women of color around the world
who stand as inspirational and positive role models."
At the show`s taping, I was honored to have the opportunity to join
extraordinary women, such as Ava DuVernay, Sisley Tyson, Jada Pinkett
Smith, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who had a powerful message for all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: To all the young women here tonight and all across the country, let
me say those words again, Black Girls Rock! We rock.
Let me tell you, I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so
proud of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And although many of us black girls were proud to have the
first lady rocking with us, there was an audible backlash on social media,
questioning why there needed to be an event specifically for black girls,
with some tweeting, using the #whitegirlsrock.
Here to tell us why black girls rock and why it matters, Black Girls Rock
founder and CEO Beverly Bond and her mentees, Sage Adams and Kathie
So, Beverly, why does it matter to have black girls rock as a specific
BEVERLY BOND, FOUNDER, BLACK GIRLS ROCK: Because we are excluded so much
in media. And it was important for us to have this affirmation that`s
missing, you know? It shouldn`t be surprising to people, especially people
tuning in to Black Entertainment Television that there would be a show that
recognizes women of color.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sage and Kathy, I`m so interested in what it meant to you to
hear the first lady say, I`m proud of you, my husband, your president, is
proud of you. I know how I was feeling as a grown-up girl but sort of what
it meant as a young woman to hear those words.
SAGE ADAMS, BLACK GIRLS ROCK, MENTEE: So, for me, representation has never
really been there for people who look like me. So sitting there hearing
her say that, it felt like someone was telling me not only do you rock, but
I know you rock and it`s cool. Affirmation is not just about knowing
something but hearing it from all different places. It was really cool to
hear that from the first lady.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s valuable insight, being able to be seen.
How was your experience?
KATHIE DUPERVAL, BLACK GIRLS ROCK MENTEE: Definitely. I think that
hearing that is so important. I remember the first time I watch the award
show and all the people who were there that year told us over and over and
over again that black girls rock. I know it was just one time. But
hearing that one time was just so important, because you leave there just
feeling so empowered and inspired and feeling like you can take on the
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I loved that and I was so honored to be a part of that
night. But I also want people to know that yes, it is an awards show, but
Black Girls Rock is much bigger than that. Tell me about the bigger
structure that is around this moment.
BOND: Well, you know, when I started black girls rock, I understood, that
there needed -- this affirmation was bigger than me. It was an idea that I
had for a t-shirt. You know what, in that same moment, I was like, this is
way bigger than a t-shirt. This is an affirmation our girls don`t hear.
They don`t see on TV.
They don`t see from everything -- from, you know, selling cosmetics, if
we`re in a cosmetic ad, for example, we`re altering our natural aesthetic.
We don`t play the leading ladies to men who look like us. You know, we`re
missing in the story, our narrative is missing. Or when we do see
ourselves, a lot of times, we`re being degraded, and so -- or demeaned.
I knew there needed to be a counter to that. So, I knew I needed to start
not only the awards show to show what young girls what role models look
like, who they are and to share our accomplishments with the world. But I
also knew it was important to mentor our young girls and to make sure that
they had a place and space to find not only the affirmation of knowing that
they rock but giving them tools to understand how to become better and be
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`d be interested, what are the tools you`ve learned as
being part of black girls rock, in terms of a leadership? What new thing
can you take hold of as you become a young woman leader?
DUPERVAL: Well, deejaying is like the main part of our organization and
deejaying has completely changed my perspective. I think when you`re
behind two turntables, it gives you a certain power in a room. You`re
controlling the music that people listen to, as well as you`re giving the
audience a sort of feel-good.
So, I think it was just important for me to go through that. It really
like opened up the door for me to participate more and speak more and just
HARRIS-PERRY: How about you?
ADAMS: Well, I`m the president of the Book Club. So, for me, it`s like
really cool because I get to bring like Black Girls Rock to my academics,
as well as my sisters.
And so --
HARRIS-PERRY: What have you guys been reading?
ADAMS: We read "The Bluest Eye". We read "Black Like Me". We read
(INAUDIBLE), which is like my favorite.
HARRIS-PERRY: Everyone loves it.
ADAMS: Exactly. And it was cool to do the research, because even though
I`m bringing this information to them and we`re all learning together, I
kind of realized that I hadn`t been taking in a lot of black literature.
So, it was important for me to do that research and bring the books to
them, because in that little two-step process I learned so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting -- both of you, although talking
about literature on one hand and books on one hand and music on the other,
you`re actually talking about the same idea of setting the tone, setting
the music, creating the air that we`re breathing. And this idea of young
women of color doing that, young black girls who are generating the world
we`re now living in.
BOND: Absolutely. It`s funny because they read your book, too, if Emily
was still the president of book club.
BOND: You know? But it`s important for our young leaders to have a space
where they can come together. It`s important for them to be affirmed, and
important for them to understand that discipline, integrity, work ethic,
the importance of service, those are the things that we really emphasize in
Black Girls Rock programs.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder when you encounter negative images of black girls
and black women in popular culture, because there`s a lot, what do you do
to kind of push back and fight back against it?
ADAMS: Well, the whole idea, I have braids right now and there`s this
whole thing that black girls can`t do anything with their hair, like
whatever, whatever. So I think, like, wow, like I could really take this
back, like I could really own this. So I got really bright braids.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m actually -- the level of jealousy I have about your
braids right now is very high. I`ve repeatedly wanted to do red, white and
blue in mine.
ADAMS: Exactly. I feel like reclaiming those images and like making them
your own, and I get a lot of comments from white people from every type of
people on the street, oh, those are really cool, those are really cool.
For me, that`s taking back those negative images and showing people that my
culture is beautiful and just as beautiful as yours.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that. I just love that idea of taking spaces that
are often negative, turning them into a giving and empowering agency to
black girls who undoubtedly rock. And not only I`m a black girl, but I`m a
mom of two black girls. And so, I so appreciate this kind of intervention
in our culture.
Thank you to Beverly Bond and to Sage Adams and to Kathie Duperval. Once
again, 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow evening for First Lady Michelle Obama,
Tracy Ellis Ross, Regina King and more when Black Girls Rock Awards airs on
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. Dorian
Warren is going to be here tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I`m taking
Eastern Sunday off. But he`ll be talking millennials, their vote and their
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" is next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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