'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, May 9th, 2015
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: May 9, 2015
Guest: Thomas Sugrue, Bryce Covert, Jelani Cobb, Janai Nelson, Jonah
Newman, Krysten Sonnon, David S. Cohen, Juan Manuel Benitez, Kenneth
Montgomery, Deborah Jiang-Stein
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning more than ten years after
he first came to the national stage, we`re still asking is President Obama
Plus, the Mississippi school kids left without education money and Attorney
General Loretta Lynch is on the case. But first, if you want to understand
American inequality, the answer is in your own backyard, literally.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And on Friday, Attorney General
Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil
rights investigation into the policies and practices of the Baltimore
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This investigation will begin
immediately and will focus on allegations that Baltimore police department
officers used excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful
searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested the DOJ
launch the investigation. And it also has the support of the Baltimore
police union. On Friday, the six officers charged in the case of Freddie
Gray, who died of injuries sustained while in police custody, asked a judge
to dismiss the charges against them. The back drop to the days of protests
in Baltimore over Gray`s death looked like this. Boarded up windows,
vacant lots, struggling communities. But not all of Baltimore looks that
way. Some of it looks, you know, different. Like tree-lined streets,
green lawns, and big brick houses. We used Google Street View to check out
some of the streets in north Baltimore, Guilford neighborhoods of
Baltimore. And there are most households who bring in more than $75,000 a
year. And the unemployment rate is seven percent. Most people own the
homes they live in. Three miles to the south is Sandtown, Winchester, the
neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived.
There the majority of children live in poverty. More than a third of the
residential properties are vacant and abandoned. And the unemployment rate
is 23 percent. Now, compare Sandtown. The people in north Baltimore live
longer than the folks in Sandtown. They get better prenatal care. They
have a much lower rate of infant mortality. They are more likely to go to
college, they are much less likely to be the victims of violent crime. 75
percent of north Baltimore`s residents are white. 97 percent of Sandtown`s
Now, Baltimore is among the most segregated cities in the country. And
neither the segregation nor the problems that attended are accidental. The
problems also are not solely the result of decisions made long ago by
people long dead. They have been reaffirmed and compounded again, and
again, and again into the present moment. In the early 1900s, sections of
what was a fast growing city of Baltimore had become slums. Some were
populated by African-Americans. Others by recent immigrants from Europe.
And both suffer from many of the same problems: overcrowding, lack of
sanitation that led to the rampant spread of diseases like tuberculosis.
Those who could afford to, black and white, moved away from the slums. But
when black families tried to move into formerly all-white neighborhoods,
some of those white neighbors started objecting. And in 1910 Baltimore
passed a city law instituting residential segregation. Making it illegal
for a black person to move into a majority white block and vice versa. It
was the first such law in the country. And it was sold in part as a way to
contain the problems of the slums to the slums, blaming the people in these
areas instead of the living conditions themselves.
Of course, forcing African-Americans into increasingly crowded spaces by
limiting where they could live and made their living conditions worse and
neither germs, nor crime, nor uprisings could be contained by the lines on
And with demand high and supply limited, even as conditions worsen, the
rents went up. But Baltimore didn`t end its experiment in segregation.
Even after the Supreme Court struck down residential segregation laws, the
city kept enforcing segregation by other means. City police inspectors
threatened code violations against property owners who rented or sold homes
in white neighborhoods to African-Americans. City officials and the real
estate industry worked together to impose contracts on the sale of homes in
white neighborhoods, contracts that prohibited the home from ever being
sold to African-American buyers.
And the city was no rogue actor. In the 1930s, the federal government
reinforced the boundaries of segregation in Baltimore and elsewhere. New
federal agencies were formed to insure cheaper, more stable mortgages to
help homeowners who were struggling through the Great Depression. But they
wouldn`t insure just any mortgage. Lenders were discouraged from making
mortgages in the riskier areas. Those with down buildings or high poverty
or "undesirable population."
The federal agencies drew maps, dividing cities into sections rated by risk
to the banks. And those riskiest areas, often with a high African-American
population were marked in red. Here`s one such map of Baltimore from 1937
created by the federal home owner loan corporation. Now, this red and
yellow area, that`s present day Sandtown. Excuse me, Sandtown-Winchester.
In other words, Freddie Gray`s neighborhood. Yellow means the area will
likely be infiltrated by the undesirable population from a red area. The
search of green up here, marking one of the best sections to make loans,
well, that`s north Baltimore, Guilford. Marking the black areas in red,
known as red lining. Put the weight of the federal government behind the
de facto segregation in Baltimore and cities across the country.
The federal loan guarantees made it more affordable for certain families,
usually white families, to own homes. But such benefits didn`t extend to
African-American communities. The neighborhoods where our banks wouldn`t
lend and where black families were forced to live. Today, most of the
wealth of middle class families in this country is the direct result of
home ownership. And that wealth, or the lack of it, passes from generation
to generation. And so denying African-Americans the ability to buy homes
in the 1930s, while making it easier for whites to do so affected their
children, and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren.
But the segregation and inequality and poverty we see in Baltimore and
elsewhere is not only due to kind of a ripple effect from misguided
policies instituted 80 years ago. Black and other poor communities have
been decimated again and again decade after decade right up until now. By
housing policies at every level of government. In the 1940s and `50s the
federal government backed the so called Urban Renewal projects in which
cities demolished whole neighborhoods, mostly in inner cities and built
By 1957, 125,000 families nationwide have been displaced. 58 percent of
them nonwhite. In the 1970s, cities experimented with eliminating the
services from certain neighborhoods. New York City closed 50 fire
stations, mostly in poor overcrowded neighborhoods. Home to minority
residents. Civilian deaths in fires doubled. People fled their burning
neighborhoods. Entire neighborhoods were lost to fire and abandoned, that
was in a decade.
In the 1990s, the federal government started encouraging cities to tear
down public housing projects and replace them with mixed income
developments. The cities do not have to replace each unit one to one,
meaning thousands of poor families have been displaced.
And then came the subprime mortgage crisis. Banks targeting African-
American borrowers for some prime mortgages - different had higher interest
rates and fees because ostensibly, the borrower was a higher credit risk.
But according to the Justice Department, banks like Wells Fargo, pushed
African-American borrowers, especially women. And to subprime mortgages,
even when they qualified for the better prime mortgages. Baltimore, ground
The city claimed in a 2008 lawsuit that Wells Fargo foreclosed on 400 homes
financed by mortgages that were designed to fail. Eventually Wells Fargo
paid $175 million to settle the discrimination claims in Baltimore and
elsewhere, including money for down payments for people who lost their
homes, but the bank did not even admit to any wrongdoing. As people
defaulted and the subprime bubble burst, home values plummeted and almost
overnight so much of that home equity, that household wealth was wiped out.
The median net worth of families, all families dropped almost 40 percent.
But although the wealth of white families has leveled off, even growing
slightly in recent years, African-American families have continued to lose
wealth. From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of black households dropped
by a third. And this is supposed to be the recovery. The gap between
white and black wealth is now the highest it`s been in 30 years.
So, when we look at Baltimore, when we look at Freddie Gray`s neighborhood
and so many like it, we have to remember how decades of local and federal
policy made it what it is today. To quote the report from the presidential
current commission to explain the riots of 1964, what white Americans have
never fully understood, but what the Negro can never forget is that white
society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it.
White institutions maintain it. And white society condones it. And what
are we going to do about it? We`ll talk about that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: More than 100 years of housing policy from segregation laws
to restrictive covenants to urban renewal to the subprime mortgage crisis
have created a Baltimore that is segregated and deeply unequal to this day.
A new study of economic mobility by Harvard researchers found that poor
children who grow up in Baltimore face the worst odds in the country for
Joining me now Bryce Covert, economic policy editor for Think Progress and
contributor for "The Nation". Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the
University of Connecticut and a contributor for TheNewYorker.com. Thomas
Sugrue who is professor of history and sociology at the University of
Pennsylvania and Janai Nelson, associate director and council for the NAACP
legal defense fund. So, you guys heard the long story that I told before
the break. What is I miss? Are there - are there things in this or
specificities around Baltimore that we really need to understand.
And the legal defense fund. You heard the long story before the break.
What did I miss? Are there things in this or specificities in Baltimore
that we really need to understand?
BRYCE COVERT, THINK PROGRESS: Well, there is one thing that is related to
housing, and it`s literally the houses in Baltimore are full of lead paint.
You know, there was a lawsuit that Freddie Gray`s family actually brought
about, the high level, sky high levels of lead poisoning in their veins.
And we know what that does to children`s development. So, it`s I think one
more layer of the ways they have been discriminated against by the very
houses they live in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, these communities - if you think about it, if
you`re poor and then you are trapped and you are trying to raise your
family, you`re trying to make the thing - choices all families make, but
the very housing that you`re living in poisoning your children in those
faces. I guess here`s my one word whenever I tell a story like that. It
makes it feel as though these communities have no resources, no assets.
It`s always like - you know, on the one hand, I want to tell the story of
massive inequality but I also want to tell the story about vibrant
communities living even in the context of this poverty.
JANAI NELSON, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE: Yeah, I mean if you think about
Baltimore, it has produced some of the nation`s, you know, greatest
African-Americans. Thurgood Marshall who is the founder of the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund came out of Baltimore.
HARRIS-PERRY: The same - as Freddie Gray.
NELSON: Yes, exactly. So, there are people who can transcend that
concentration of poverty, that hyper-segregation, but there are so many
more who cannot for all the reasons that you just explained. And it is not
simply integration for integration sake that people are talking about.
What we`re talking about is keeping poverty in these concentrated places
that winds up having a cyclical effect for generations. And that`s a
denial of wealth, that`s a denial of adequate education, that`s a denial of
housing and a denial of health.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this wealth piece feels important to me. We talk a lot
about income and we talk about the idea of growing up and getting a good
job. But I don`t know that we are as clear about the ways that wealth is -
- that it compounds over the years and becomes basically an impossibility
to close in a generation.
THOMAS SUGRUE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: The wealth gap is
enormous. African-Americans have about four percent of the household
wealth of whites today. And that`s the consequence of generations of
systemic housing and segregation. We own most of our assets in the form of
our real estate. We pass it down to our kids. We take loans off of it to
pay for college, to pay for medical emergencies. We pass it down to our
children and grandchildren in the form of inheritances. But in places like
Sandtown housing value is nil. If you own your own home, you don`t have
those resources to fall on when you have a hard time.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is not a small point. That part of what happens
with the segregation. So, if you do the thing that Americans are meant to
do and you own your own home, so even if it is a home that is dilapidated,
that has troubles - if you own your own home, this is supposed to be the
thing that builds value. But this is part where I never can figure out how
to get around, Jelani. If blackness actually drops housing values because
of the nature of how blackness is understood. Then your very ownership of
the thing makes it less valuable.
COBB: Right. And so, this is the kind of crucial point about Baltimore.
When we talked about that 1910 segregation ordinance, it was in direct
response to an African-American attorney who had purchased the home in a
HARRIS-PERRY: Yale educated.
COBB: Right, Yale educated. And then "The Baltimore Sun" started saying
that he is single-handedly creating a depreciation of housing values, just
by the physical body that he inhabited. And so, this is not so much a
question of real estate and housing just the kind of object lesson in the
value associate, monetary value associated with whiteness. And that`s what
we`re actually talking about here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because, you know, location, location, location. It
just has to do with our belief about what is desirable, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we know that inner city - you know, inner city land
values can rise or shrink depending on whether or not living close to the
city, the urban center is considered valuable and hip or whether or not you
are wanting to exit and to move to the suburbs, right? That idea then,
again, it feels so overwhelming and deep and entrenched, that there is a
part of me that thinks do I - so, that just make people go well, then never
mind. I mean if your solution was to pull up my pants and stop listening
to hip hop music, I could do that. But what in the world am I supposed to
do about this level of policy problem?
NELSON: Well, you need to change in government policy. Right? It`s not
just that black people are in neighborhoods and just somehow through some,
you know, crazy circumstance property values go down. But government
places a certain value on black neighborhoods and properties. And will not
give loans in certain neighborhoods. I mean they`ve created the
devaluation of these neighborhoods by saying that if you buy, you are less
likely to get a loan or your loan terms will be less favorable.
So, we have government policies that have done this. This is not just
happenstance or random circumstance. It is deliberate policy. And as you
said, the current commission set it. And it`s as true today as it was in
1968. That we are condoning this as a society. We have institutions that
maintain it and support it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Bryce, what are the policy solutions if the government
has created this or governments have created this? What do they need to do
to un-do it?
COVERT: Well, we also have to remember that cities are not being invested
in, right? I mean that Harvard study on escaping poverty talked a lot
about your chances go up so much if you move to a better neighborhood. But
you can`t just move everybody to the better neighborhoods, right? You need
to get ...
HARRIS-PERRY: You have to make the neighborhoods where people are.
COVERT: Right. Like where we all live. And then also, you know, if
blackness depreciates value and then all the black people move in, all the
white people will move elsewhere and we keep going. So, we need to invest
where people are. We need to give them affordable housing and we need to
make sure that they have access to loans. But also access to things like a
school that is not completely underfunded and jobs that will pay them a
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I keep wondering, you know, we have seen obviously
the roiling of the question of policing. But I also keep wondering if
we`re not telling the side of the story that is a disinvestment in cities,
in municipalities, those municipalities paying less, right, having longer -
- so this is not as a meaning to excuse what`s happening, but to help
understand these police officers, the municipal workers operating in a
space where we have in fact stopped investing.
COBB: And this is the institution, the one institution you can reliably
expect to have contact with. In these instances, physical contact. And so
with kind of being very cautious with the implications of my words, in some
ways police have been given an unfair share of this burden. And I have
talked to police officers who said this. That people are disinvested in
schools, they are disinvested in communities, disinvested in all of these
other services. And I`ve talked to African-American officers who said,
look, we understand exactly why we`re here and the purposes that we`re
serving, but you never see the policy people who put us in this position.
And so we are kind of the front line of conflict for all these other
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. For everything from mental health to environmental
justice and then lead poisoning to disinvestment in schools. What`s the
one set of government workers we end up in contact with?
HARRIS-PERRY: Police. Who are what? Armed and meant to be doing law
enforcement, not social service work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, what happens when you get read of low income
housing and replace it with mixed income housing. Does what Bryce just say
happens if they just move out? We are going to go to Chicago and find out.
HARRIS-PERRY: One big target of housing reform over the past 20 years has
been the large public housing projects that for many are symbol of urban
poverty and crime. The federal government has spent billions of dollars
supporting efforts to replace public housing with mixed income
developments. But the results can sometimes be mixed themselves. A recent
article in the Chicago reporter takes a close look at the 1995 demolition
of one of Chicago`s infamous public housing projects the Towers at the
Henry Forner (ph) homes. 20 years later, the revamped development now
includes middle-class residents and homeowners. But how much has really
changed for the low income families living there?
Joining me now is the author of the article Jonah Newman. Who`s data
reporter for "The Chicago Reporter." Jonah, what did you find in your
JONAH NEWMAN, "THE CHICAGO REPORTER.": First of all, thanks so much for
having me, Melissa. It`s an honor to be here. What I found was exactly
what you said. The results are mixed. Henry Horner was really one of the
first sort of social experiments of replacing public housing with mixed
income developments. And it`s a concept that has spread rapidly around the
country from Chicago`s plan for transformation, which was sort of spread it
citywide, to other similar initiatives in cities all over the country. But
what the researchers who have been looking at this have found is that a lot
of the theorized social games that were supposed to come from de-
concentrating poverty in this way haven`t necessarily materialized.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask. When we talk about mixed income housing you
end up with a level of economic integration. But are these communities
also racially integrated? Or do we find that there are still vastly
predominantly people of color living there?
NEWMAN: I think it`s mixed, certainly. White home owners. One of the
problems that I found when I was doing my reporting about the former Henry
Horner homes is that the new development sort of came online just before
the housing bubble burst. And so people who had bought in, you know, right
sort of at the peak of the housing bubble then found themselves either in
foreclosure, a lot of them, or, you know, with a house or a condo that was
now worth a lot less than what they paid for it. And so, you did see
people either moving out or turning around and renting it out to students
who, you know, are mixed race, but obviously, don`t actually bring the same
kind of economic integration that you might be hoping for.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, hold on for me, Jonah. Don`t go away. I do want to
come to the table here, though. Joining - there is a quote by Jamie
Calvin, who`s journalist and activist. Jonah talks about it in the piece.
And he says, "it`s fundamentally disrespectful" in the way that he is
talking about public housing here. "This is a community like any other
community, with the full spectrum of everything human beings are capable
of. But that is so far removed from our cartoonish public discourse about
public housing community. So, this idea that the only thing to do with
poor people is to destroy the houses and send them off somewhere, rather
than again, having an assets-based understanding that, yes, there`s poverty
here, but there`s also value. There`s also community.
COBB: Right. The same idea goes with as opposed to investing in our
schools, they just shut them down. It`s the same kind of logic when you
are dealing with poor people, we are just kind of like - And for the same
kind of flaws. As opposed to actually gaining an understanding of this
community. And so I`ve been in lots of poor communities in my life, some
of which I actually grew up in. And what I have always known is that the
story is much more complicated. There is always a social network that may
be hidden that keeps the community intact. There are people who were
there, who have been in these communities forever, can tell you how things
operate there and so on. And they never seem to be taken into account on a
macro level of policy and planning. And that`s what we see the same kind
of problems pop up again and again and again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bryce, it`s also interesting to me that Jonah`s piece is so
much about the Cisneros era, which is, you know, the era of a Democratic
president. And yet this discourse that public housing, which really is for
- housing for people on the precipice of homelessness is the thing that we
ought to be taking down rather than building more of, that is still the
discourse through Republican and (INAUDIBLE) presidents. Can we ever get
to a place when we imagine thing? You know what? We need to put more
units online for poor people.
COVERT: Well, right. I mean it`s from both parties that we get this,
misunderstanding that you just need to clear it out and somehow integrate
them. Then housing that you end up building is not for the most needy.
It`s usually, you know, in New York, there`s a building with a poor door
and you have to make at least $30,000 a year to get a poor door apartment.
You know, we`re not building the housing that`s for the people who are the
most vulnerable. And we just haven`t funded the thing that could. We have
funds set up at the federal level that could build this kind of housing.
And we just don`t put money into them, we just don`t invest in that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jonah, let me come back to you and ask this question.
If I were to go to the people who were removed from those homes right now
as you did and say, was this a success, what`s then their response?
NEWMAN: So, again, I think it`s mixed. Certainly there`s no question that
the circumstances of the former Henry Horner homes when they were still
standing were dire. You only need to read Alex Kotlowitz "There Are No
Children Here" to just get a really visceral sense of how terrible it was
to grow up there. But exactly, like you said, there was a community. And
I think that people kind of pine for that. They miss it. The ability to
go upstairs and borrow some flour from a neighbor or go down the hall and
pick up a game of cards or something. Right? Like there is a sociologist
that I spoke with in Northwestern, Mary Pattillo, talks about, you know,
why don`t we invest in this neighborhoods as-is? Why do we feel we need to
bring in higher income, mostly white people in order to make it a
neighborhood worth investing in? And I think people there feel that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Jonah Newman in Chicago, Illinois and anybody
who quotes Mary Pattillo here in Nerdland, he`s welcome back any time. So
thank you, Jonah.
NEWMAN: Thank you so much for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the question becomes, is there anyone with a plan to fix
all of this? You know the New York City thinks it has the answer. We`ll
tell you what Mayor Bill de Blasio is all about next.
HARRIS-PERRY: According to a report in the "New York Times" this week, New
York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for an overhaul of housing
programs and tax incentives to spur the construction of tens of thousands
of apartments for poor New Yorkers, as well as teachers, firefighters, and
other workers who increasingly find themselves priced out of a booming real
estate market in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. It approved by the New
York State legislature. "The Times" reports the mayor`s plan would be -
that developers reserve 25 to 30 percent of a building`s apartments for
poor and working class residents in order to get city tax breaks. De
Blasio also has plans for a mansion tax to target so called poor doors, the
separate entrances for residents or high-end and affordable units. The
dramatic proposal, and the question I want to put out to my panel is, is it
too late? I mean, is New York at this point so unequal economically that
this kind of kind of tax incentive can even work?
COVERT: I don`t think it is too late but I think it is tinkering around
the edges a bit. I mean the housing activists in New York are sort of
saying why do we have this credit for builders anyway? We lost a billion
dollars in revenue to this credit last year. Why don`t we get rid of it?
It was instituted in the `70s to spur construction. We don`t need to spur
construction in New York. People know that this is a valuable place to
build. What we need is to build, have the government build in places that
are actually affordable to live in.
NELSON: And we say affordable, it has to be affordable for the wages that
we are paying people in New York, not relative to this over - this outsized
New York market. The rents here are so far beyond what one would imagine
could be possibly affordable for a family. We have to ensure that when
this housing is set aside for families that it really reflects the income
that they actually make, that most poor people in New York make, and $2,800
unit, two bedroom unit is not going to be affordable for the average poor
family in New York by any stretch.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I wonder if that kind of disconnect between our notion
about who working class people are, if that has always been a problem of
government policy or this is something new. I wanted to listen to
President Obama talking about his grandfather who actually was able to take
advantage of an FHA loan post World War II. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And when my
grandfather came back from World War II, this country game him the chance
to buy his first home with a loan from the FHA. For folks like him, a home
was proof that America was a place where if you worked hard, if you`re
responsible, it was rewarded.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I just don`t want - don`t want to miss the point that in
this case that home becomes intergenerational wealth. It helps to provide
for the educational basis that becomes President Obama. It actually
matters. And I wonder is it that once there was racial integration of
affordability that we actually got away from affordability.
SUGRUE: Yeah, we - I mean Obama`s reflection on his grandfather is a
reminder of the ways that federal housing policy made it possible for
working class Americans to get a hold of the wealth that accumulated in
real estate. To use it as a basis for upward mobility, to pass it on to
their kids and grandkids. And it was part of the public policies that we
are racially exclusionary, profoundly so, it was after all, his white
SUGRUE: But at the same time.
HARRIS-PERRY: (INAUDIBLE) with the Kenyan grandfather.
SUGRUE: I know.
NELSON: We understand.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t open it. But I`m with you. But I`m with you.
SUGRUE: That`s going to be used right now. But Obama`s reflection on this
is a reminder of the ways that public policy made it possible for a
significant segment of working class Americans to live comfortably near
where they worked. And today we have the question of a working class
SUGRUE: In metropolitan New York many folks end up living out in the
periphery and second hand suburbs and the old industrial cities in New
Jersey and Long Island because they simply can`t afford to live closer to
the places they work in the center of New York. They have to pay extra
transportation costs. They`ve got to find them reliable cars. And so, we
are looking at - an accumulation of disadvantage that comes from the gross
inequities and the housing market today.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, take it beyond New York. I mean, you know, this happens
in media that we get real D.C., and New York, you know, Baltimore and New
York focused in the world. And so maybe folks are thinking, well, y`all
think that Manhattan is a valuable place to live, but that looks crazy to
me. Thank goodness I live in some place that is more open, that has more
space, that has more land. And surely we don`t have these same kinds of
COVERT: Well, let`s first remembering back when Obama`s grandfather was
getting a house, we had a surplus of affordable housing. Today we have 5.5
million unit ...
COVERT: The deficit. And so, again, that ...
HARRIS-PERRY: That we made in part by taking down ...
COVERT: Right. We have taken down the ones that are affordable. When we
build it back up, we don`t make as much. And that`s true in cities like
New York, but that`s true across the country. I mean suburban poverty has
been climbing maybe even higher than urban poverty. You know, it`s
unaffordable to live in a lot of places in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean it will always be this kind of gut punch to me that
one of the first things that New Orleans City council did after Katrina,
after so many homes were impacted, was to take down many, many of the
public housing units there in New Orleans, as though it just had been sort
of waiting. That`s part of why it seems to be that the discourse about how
we talk about poverty in poor communities matters. Because then when the
disaster comes, people see it as just an opportunity to remove and to get
Thank you to Bryce Covert and to Janai Nelson. Jelani and Thomas are going
to be back in our next hour.
But up next, we`re going to go to the ground in Texas where residents are
preparing for potential deadly weather later today.
Plus, the authors of the new book "Living in the Crosshairs: the Untold
Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism."
HARRIS-PERRY: Tens of millions of people are bracing for severe weather
this weekend. Much of it across the plain states. Late Friday, part of
Oklahoma saw golf ball-sized hail and deadly floods. And there were
preliminary reports of three tornadoes touching down in Texas overnight.
Joining me from Wichita Falls, Texas is NBC News correspondent Sandra
Dallof. Sarah, what kind of damage did last night storm leave behind and
how are people preparing for another round tonight?
SANDRA DALLOF, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Melissa. It is
deja vu for residents here who are gearing up for yet another day and night
of extreme weather including hail, high winds and the possibility of
tornadoes. The good news here we have had rain on and off this morning.
That it lowered the temperature, which in turn is lessening the risk of
seeing tornadoes later today. Now, last night we were under a tornado
watch. Video captured one funnel cloud forming in the skies in
Hainesville, that`s about 30 minutes from here. There was no major
structural damage reported, however, the conditions were extreme enough to
down some trees, snap some power lines. They are working to get everything
back up and cleared today.
The area was also under a flash flood warning. Ironically, this area is in
the midst of a severe drought. They desperately need this water people say
they just don`t need so much so quickly. And they certainly don`t need the
conditions, the lightning, the hail, the winds, that have come with the
rains. Now, meanwhile here, daily life is going ahead as scheduled. They
have several festivals in the area today. Officials keeping a close eye on
the weather. They want people to go out and enjoy themselves, but they
want them, Melissa, obviously, to be safe at the same time. Back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: That must be a scary time. I hope everyone there stays
safe. Thank you to Sarah Dallof in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Still to come this morning, does President Obama talk about race the way
you want him to? And first, the new authors of a new book that outlines a
vicious kind of ongoing domestic terrorism.
HARRIS-PERRY: Viability is a complicated medical concept that determines
when a fetus can survive outside the womb. It is the point after which
states may restrict abortion as ruled by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade
in 1973 and reaffirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Now,
viability is the constitutional basis for laws, limiting abortion in 21
states, which most medical experts consider to be 24 weeks. The new study
published in "The New England Journal of Medicine" Thursday found that some
infants born at 22 weeks can survive after receiving aggressive medical
intervention. The findings could further complicate the country`s long and
often emotional debate over reproductive rights, which in some of its
ugliest moments has boiled over into violence against abortion providers.
Over the years, some have been victims of arson, vandalism, stalking, even
murdered, all for just trying to do their jobs. Shielding these health
workers and their patients can be difficult. It depends on the cooperation
of local law enforcement who may or may not be willing, giving the nature
of the work. Some broader approaches like Massachusetts abortion clinic
buffer zone law has been blocked by the courts and often the burden of
protection falls to the workers themselves. Joining me now, our law
professor David S. Cohen and attorney Krysten Connon who chronicled the
daily obstacles abortion providers face in their new book, "Living in the
Crosshairs: the Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." So if these
are the untold stories, what do we need to know? What are the stories we
ought to be telling?
DAVID S. COHEN, "LIVING IN THE CROSSHAIRS": We ought to be talking about
the fact that this is an ongoing problem for abortion providers across the
country, in red states, and blue states alike. And that people are living
with -- in fear of having people come to their home to be picketed, their
children being stalked at schools, death threats through the mail, on the
phone, being followed to and from work. That this is the reality. Not for
every abortion provider around the country, but for a lot of abortion
providers around the country, this is their day to day life that they have
to live with
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder if technology makes it worse in part. I have a
colleague and friend right now who is dealing with someone having printed
his address on Twitter, and so, you know, and he`s not abortion provider,
but just even in - just ideological disagreement leading to that sense of
KRYSTEN CONNON, "LIVING IN THE CROSSHAIRS". Right. Absolutely. We have
heard countless stories of anti-abortion activists who target providers
through all sorts of media. Through, as you mentioned, publishing
addresses. They dig up personal information about providers and publish
them on social media sites. Some has published books. Some have Web sites
dedicated solely to a specific provider or a specific clinic. And again,
as David mentioned, this type of personalized targeting goes just - goes
beyond what`s happening outside of abortion clinics. This is when the
protesters follow providers home and learn all of this personal information
and use almost any type of media they can in order to further their
intimidation and harassment of providers.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you`ve used the language of intimidation, of harassment,
of stalking but in the book you also used the language of "terrorism." And
I just want to read this. You say, "targeted harassment of abortion
providers fits basic understandings of terrorism. Because the people who
engage in it face the predicament that most terrorists do, how to
accomplish the desire to change when legitimate avenues have failed and
popular opinion has not moved towards your position." So that`s why it is
COHEN: Right, because ultimately for the extremists, they want complete
abolition of abortion. And that hasn`t happened. As much as Roe v. Wade
is threatened, in a lot of different ways, and we don`t want to diminish
that. Abortion is still legal in this country, and the extremists ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Inaccessible, but legal.
COHEN: Right, exactly. The extremists want to get rid of it entirely.
They have failed at that. And public opinion has not moved with them in
that regard. So, they are trying these extra legal means and these
intimidation means to try to accomplish what they can`t in the political
arena. And that is one of the definitions of terrorism. People trying to
instill fear, fear of violence, because they draw on the past murders and
they draw on that sense that you cannot be safe to instill this fear in
people and try to accomplish what they can`t otherwise.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because that does sound like the other aspect of it that is
terrorizing, is that idea that it is both directed at the individual, but
also at the whole collective, which always leaves me wondering, so why stay
in the business. I want to also read this, this is from Warren Hern (ph)
answering that question in your book on page 269 where -"I could have been
a dermatologist and nobody would care. I didn`t choose this because I
wanted controversy. I thought this was the right thing to do. It matters
for the health of the woman. It matters for the health of her family. It
matters for the health of our society, and now it matters for freedom."
CONNON: Absolutely. Abortion providers experiencing this type of anti-
abortion terrorism. In our study and the people we interviewed were so
committed to the work that they do and so committed to the patients that
they didn`t let their day-to-day experiences deter them. Not ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s pretty stunning. I mean to do your job to face -
and for your children to also face this.
CONNON: Absolutely. Providers talked (ph) extensively to the extent to
which their children were affected by the protesters tactics. We heard
countless stories of children being followed to school, of protests at back
to school nights or PTO meetings, things like that. We have heard stories
involving provider`s parents` nursing homes and protesters intruding the
nursing home facility. And all of this collectively, as you said, instills
a great sense of fear and uncertainty in providers across the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there a class bias here? So, part of what I`m wondering
is, there are termination services provided in private hospitals when a
woman walks in and man walks in. Everybody is walking in, some people are
getting leg surgery, and some people are getting cancer treatments and some
people are having their pregnancies terminated. But then really it`s only
those who are providing these services for the poorest, for the
marginalized, for those without insurance who can be targeted. Because we
know what they`re doing when they walk into the hospital.
COHEN: Right. I mean for people who go to hospitals and people who work
in hospitals and provide abortion services they have the protection of an
institution, they have the protection of a building that doesn`t just do
abortion services. But clinics, which exist separate from hospitals for
feminist reasons and for good reasons, but it also sets them up to be a
target. Because you can identify it. The people going in here are here
for reproductive health services. Not always abortion ...
COHEN: But sometimes abortion. And we know that the people who work here
are the people we are going to target. And that`s the mindset of the anti-
HARRIS-PERRY: That makes me wonder if - because I understand why the free-
standing clinics. But it does then also make me wonder if in part what we
have to do is create some level of it - because the thing about terrorists,
I mean we`ve learned that you can`t just - there is no fighting the
terrorists in a way that necessarily pushes it back forever. And so, I
wonder if there`s a way to create structural safety for these communities.
What are the things we ought to be doing?
CONNON: Well, I think first and foremost, thank you for having us here. I
think it`s important that we`re talking about these issues and
understanding, and conceptualizing what`s going on as terrorists. I mean
that as we understand and highlight what providers go through day to day,
any legal - more evenly followed, but police understand what`s happening to
providers and are more able to understand. There are all sorts of other
legal forms that could be effective. We as we mentioned, defining this as
terrorism, thinking of this as terrorism. Law enforcement in communities
often establish task forces related to helping providers. And providers
that live in those communities reflected really positively on those
HARRIS-PERRY: So they end up with a relationship with the police. The
police - look at that. It`s not unlike some of the other things we talk
about on this show, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: In order to get effective law enforcement, you have to have
a relationship with law enforcement. Thank you for the book. It is - I do
think it`s important for us to frame this. Think of this - Have a robust
public debate on a meaningful public policy issue. Terrorism is not OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to David S. Cohen and to Krysten Cannon. Once
again, the book is "Living in the Crosshairs, the Untold Stories of Anti-
And coming up next, when the president talks about race, who is mad about
it? Who is happy about it? How brave does he have to be? And does he do
it often enough?
And the teachers who are spending their own money on students because well,
their local government won`t do it. There`s more "NERDLAND" at the top of
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
In 2004, Barack Obama became only the third African-American to be elected
by popular vote to the U.S. Senate. When he won, be black senators and
governors were so rare that every student of American politics could recite
the conclusions of Professor Raphael Sonenshein`s foundational article,
"Can black candidates win statewide elections?"
Scholars and astute observers came to the same conclusion, black candidates
could win statewide, but they had to follow a strategy of deracialization.
Unlike African-American mayors vying to lead majority black cities or
powerful symbolic campaigns of civil rights leaders and presidential
primaries, serious black candidates who wanted to win a big stage needed to
deemphasize race. Be black, sure -- but not too black. This advice must
have been echoing in Senator Obama`s ears when he announced his
presidential bid that frigid day in Springville, Illinois.
Sure, he had been elected statewide. But his opponent in the 2004 race was
also African-American. This time, the stage was far bigger and the
competition much stiffer.
Inevitable was still the adjective that media used to describe Hillary
Clinton`s campaign in those days. And so, Senator Obama began his campaign
as political advisers must have told him to, by deemphasizing race as an
issue, by telling his own in exclusively triumphant terms and by focusing
on the exceptionalism of America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: You came here because you believe in
what this country can be.
In the face of war, you believe there can be peace.
In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And he won in Iowa. I mean, he lost with such style in New
Hampshire that it seemed like a win. When race showed up in South
Carolina, it wasn`t candidate Obama who evoked it. He would remain above
the racial fray and keep on winning -- until this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PASTOR: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) America. It`s in the Bible
for killing innocent people. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) America for treating our
citizens as less than human.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When Reverend Jeremiah Wright`s sermons became the dominant
story of a very long news cycle, Senator Obama faced a choice. Should he
follow decades of received wisdom that a black candidate must at all cost
avoid race talk, or should he do this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore
right now. The fact is that the comments that have been made and the
issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities
of race in this country that we have never really worked through, a part of
our Union that we have not yet made clear. And if we walk away now, if we
simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come
together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need
to find good jobs for every American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And that March 2008 race speech in Philadelphia worked. The
advice had been wrong. It was OK to talk about race frankly.
A shaken campaign regained its footing and it went on to make history that
few would have imagined possible a few months earlier. President Obama has
never quite spoken about race in the same way again. Yes, there have been
well-timed punch line, dotting the correspondent`s dinners in recent years.
And, yes, Mr. Obama is still unique among presidents in his insistence on
locating black struggle at the center of American stories. And yes, he has
even settled on My Brother`s Keeper, an initiative for boys and young men
of color as his legacy project.
But nothing is quite like what he did in Philadelphia. Not when he
assessed that Cambridge police acted stupidly for arresting Harvard
Professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home. Or when he observed that if
he had a son, that son would have looked like Trayvon Martin, not even when
so many took to the streets after a grand jury declined to indict the
officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, and the president said that
being deeply disappointed, even angry was an understandable reaction.
In each of those moments, President Obama was talking about policing, or
the personal experience of public grief, or national underpinning of the
rule of law. Race sat maybe just below the surface. But the president
hasn`t gotten quite so close to the fire of scorching race talk as he ever
as he did in March of 2008.
But maybe now it`s time. In his second term, he has nothing to lose and
only a legacy to build. Or maybe looking to a president is the wrong way
to direct the national gaze. Perhaps President Obama has already done his
part and only we can do the work of truly addressing what is left.
Joining me now, Juan Manuel Benitez who is political reporter and host of
"Pura Politica" on New York 1. Jelani Cobb, who is associate professor of
African studies at the University of Connecticut, and a contributor for
NewYorker.com. And Thomas Sugrue, who is professor of sociology at the
University of Pennsylvania.
I know not everybody likes the Philly race speech. But I always felt it
was one of those leave it all on the floor, even if we lose, it`s going to
be OK, because I wasn`t supposed to win anyway. He has never quite done
And I`m wondering, do we feel like he even needs to or has already done
what he needs to do.
JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ, NEW YORK 1: Do we need Obama to talk about race
again? I think American public is sort of like fascinated with the topic
of race. And also, the American press, it`s the best story about conflict.
But do we need him to talk about it again? He`s an executive. He`s the
president of the United States. Enough with the talk, we need policies. A
talk -- another beautiful speech is going to inspire people. Maybe he`s
going to show empathy to families of these teenagers or young men that are
dying in many places in the country.
But at the same time, that`s not going to change the policy. We`re going
to keep seeing over and over that things are going to repeat because the
system is not going to change.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I feel you. I mean, I -- you know, 99 percent of the
time I sit on this show and I say we need policy, we need structural
But, Jelani, again, I know not everyone is a fan, but I went back and I was
reading it carefully again, and remind and I was like, all right, he wasn`t
just like -- he actually took the pen away from his speech writers. He
wrote it himself. It was all like professor Obama up in there.
And there is something about as fascinated we are with it, how poorly we do
it. It really was a display of like at least a smart way to do it, even if
one doesn`t agree with everything that was said.
JELANI COBB, NEWYORKER.COM: What I took from that speech was that he was a
better writer than the people writing about him, which is the position too
that he`s going to be in, kind of an enviable position.
Now, that said, I think even if that speech as he was leaving it on the
floor was a harbinger of the kind of constraints that you would see coming
down the line.
COBB: So, there have been points in which he has hinted at some things.
When people talked about in the instance of Trayvon Martin when he was
killed, and the refrain on the right is what about black on black violence.
And he said, do you think these two things are unrelated? He was like, the
black on black violence, so-called black on black violence that we see is
directly connected to this devaluation of black lives that we have seen
I thought that was insightful and that that was profound. At the same time
in the race speech, he gives a kind of false even-handedness. He did this
in 2004. There`s no black America or white America, there`s a United
States of America. That`s completely untrue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, I buy it in `04, and know people -- I know there
is a critique that that `08 speech isn`t equivocating like, white folks are
angry because of this and black folks are angry because of this. But I
think it does matter it also felt not political in the sense that it felt
And I guess that`s part of why I`m wondering, is there -- if not President
Obama, do we need a way when we`re talking about these big policy changes.
Like for example, the question of policing. Do we need some kind of
vocabulary to also have a race talk while we do it? And I guess part of
what I was going to get is, is it that resentment anger language help to go
provide with a vocabulary.
SUGRUE: Obama was really cautious, and in that speech in 2008, as well as
many of the speeches on race, he talks about reconciliation. He talks
about changing the hearts and minds of white Americans. He talks about
race really as a problem in the heart that needs to be overcome.
That`s uplifting. It`s important. It`s a message we need to hear. But
it`s not a message that easily translates into public policy initiatives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me push back. Let me say then he gets elected, and he
spends all of his social capital to pass the Affordable Care Act initially.
That is not a race-targeted policy but nonetheless has extremely important
implications for undergirding racial inequality, that if life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness are inalienable, the ACA starts to get at the life
SUGRUE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, Obama could not spend political capital
in his first term, or even in the second term for grounding race specific,
or race targeted public policies. There would be political dead ends. It
was hard enough to get the ACA crew.
But they do have a consequence for working class Americans of all races in
terms of improving the life circumstances, giving them access to health
care that they didn`t have before. And this is a good thing. But there
are larger issues in the United States that ACA or the stimulus package or
other programs have not adequately been able to deal with. And we are
looking at African-American rates that are twice that of white Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: But they have always been that.
SUGRUE: They have.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean -- so, you know, there are a lot of things we can
blame him for, but not for the things that have been (INAUDIBLE)
BENITEZ: It`s a trap to ask Obama to talk about race.
BENITEZ: Whenever we talk about race and we want to talk honestly about
it, then you`re going to get into the divisiveness reaction in the public.
White people want Obama to talk about race so you can say something to
them. Or black people want Obama to talk about race so he can say
something to them, to the other people, to the people basic that are
basically punishing them.
But at the same time, if you remember the 2008 race speech, there was a lot
of backlash after that speech --
BENITEZ: -- because Obama talked about how his ailing grandmother
sometimes felt --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, clutched her purse.
BENITEZ: She was fearful. They said Obama threw his ailing grandmother
under the bus, in the same way with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when
he honestly spoke about race, and he talked about him, how he and his wife
had trained their son Dante, a biracial son, to deal with the police. And
then, the NYPD said, you threw us under the bus.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I think that`s OK. So, I don`t see that as a trap. I
see it as precisely what race talk ought to do. It ought to provoke it so
that we can see -- so, if we don`t talk about it, there`s never
provocation. But if we go ahead and provoke it, right, then we can allow
and see what that provocation uncovers for the thing that is race.
Hold on for me. We`ve got more to do. We got to take the race talk and
switch it just a little bit around public policy here, because up next,
just a couple weeks into her job as the nation`s attorney general, Loretta
Lynch makes clear on Friday that she is on the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNE GENERAL: Today, the Department of Justice is
opening an investigation into whether the Baltimore Police Department has
engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or
federal law. This investigation will begin immediately and will focus on
allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers used excessive force,
including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests and
engage in discriminatory policing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Friday,
announcing that the Department of Justice is launching a federal
investigation into the Baltimore police to determine whether the department
violated the Constitution and the community`s civil rights. Less than two
weeks into the job, and Attorney General Lynch is already out front and
center, having visited Baltimore this week to help address the unrest that
erupted following the death of Freddie Gray.
So, I`m fascinated in this in part because Eric Holder was sort of the --
he was like the racial doppelganger for the Obama administration at various
point, and it wasn`t at all clear to me that A.G. Lynch was interested in
this role, but -- you know, when they`re having riots on the day that you
get sworn into office, then this is the role you end up playing.
So, I`m just -- I`m wondering how this -- can the relationship between race
and community and policing works out in the Obama administration?
COBB: I think it`s interesting. I hesitate to say what will come out of
this, because, you know, this is not exactly the same dynamic as Ferguson.
It`s a little bit more complicated. And at the same time, it is not at all
surprising that in the first black presidency, the point, the flashpoint
has consistently been the attorney general`s office around these issues,
around legal -- these issues around law enforcement.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a little bit fascinating, Thomas, from a historical
perspective, when we -- MSNBC was covering the 50th anniversary of the
march on Washington. Then, Attorney General Eric Holder walks out and you
get this huge round of applause. The lead law enforcement official just
got a standing ovation at the march on Washington? It certainly a thing
that would not have been true 50 years prior?
SUGRUE: It certainly wouldn`t have been true 50 years prior. Robert F.
Kennedy was attorney general in 1963, and he was only reluctantly moving
toward supporting civil rights legislation. He faced a lot of pressure,
And one of the lessons of 1963, and a lesson for now is, these issues don`t
come up on to the national stage unless there`s pressure, protest,
disruption or the threat of disruption. And Attorney General Lynch had to
deal with this in her first week in office because folks took to the
streets and raise this to an issue of national importance.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think black communities have also come to see Lynch`s
position as a kind of -- it became a racial cause, right, in part because
of the long delay in her confirmation process. It wasn`t like an easy
transition. Now, there`s a sense that there was activism to get her
confirmed and therefore that has to be repaid.
So, let me ask this, on this question of how we want to think about race.
So, for somebody like Lynch, who is in a position to enforce laws, to bring
new policy, to develop a report like what we saw in Ferguson, should it be
a conversation about policing or conversation about race? And I`m setting
it up as a dichotomy that`s not quite accurate. But I`m wondering how we
see an effective approach occurring.
BENITEZ: I think it should be about policing. Also, I don`t want to be
negative, but what`s going to be the result of this investigation of the
police department. We are reacting to something that happened. Why not be
proactive? Why not investigate how policing is handled all over the
country before any other tragedy occurs?
So that goes back to the policy change. And I wanted to go back to My
Brother`s Keeper Initiative.
BENITEZ: It is such a beautiful initiative. It makes everybody feel good
HARRIS-PERRY: I think so.
BENITEZ: And private companies are participating, putting in money.
But it`s a question out there to see those same companies that are putting
money on this goodwill initiative, are they putting it on congressional
campaigns and Senate campaigns, races out there, that are going to support
candidates, are going to bring about change in policy?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m with -- any time you want to make a critique of My
Brother`s Keeper, you may have the floor to do so. I am not a fan of My
Brother`s Keeper for exactly these reasons. I mean, the corporate piece is
part of it, although I understand once you`re in office you have to find
some place in institutionalize. But more because I worry that there`s kind
of politics and respectability that in order to fix it, instead of trying
to fix the inequalities, you try to fix the young men who themselves are
being victimized by the inequalities.
COBB: Try to retrofit them into a narrow set of slots, right?
COBB: So, this can`t bring institutional and systemic change. And so, one
of the most staggering, depressing statistics that came out of Baltimore is
that last year, there were 211 homicides in the city of Baltimore, 189 of
them were black males. So the entire -- every other demographic in the
city of Baltimore accounted for just 22 homicide victims.
And so, when you look at those kind of numbers; that a problem of My
Brother`s Keeper? No, it doesn`t go too far to this same field. It
doesn`t get to the heart of the multiple systemic and institutional
failures that culminate in that kind of disparity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I`m not a fan of fix the folks who are themselves
But also, you brought us to an interesting place there, by making that
point, because, of course, the vast majority of those 189 black men who
were killed were not killed, for example, by police officers or in police
So, when we come back, we`re going to kind of dig into that question of who
should be seen as a victim in these questions. Because millions have seen
the Shmoney dance, but what do we really know about the Bobby Shmurdas of
HARRIS-PERRY: He`s Bobby Shmurda on stage, Ackquille Pollard on paper.
And he`s a young Internet sensation from East Flat Bush who signed a seven-
figure multi-album deal with Epic after his hit song went viral.
The video for that song known in the censored version as "Hot Boy" debuted
the Shmoney dance, spawning a craze popularized by Beyonce and Rihanna.
I`ve been trying to get my 15-month-old to do it. And it became an instant
rap hit of midsummer.
Today, Pollard sits in a jail cell in Rikers on charges that include to
commit second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree assault.
He faces 25 years in prison. In December, Pollard was arraigned in state
Supreme Court in Manhattan, along with other alleged members of the GS9
group accused of operating a street gang linked to a murder and several
shootings. He has pled not guilty. His bail is $2 million.
Now, Pollard`s name isn`t lumped in with other names that have dominated
the Black Lives Matter movement, names like Eric Garner or Michael Brown or
Freddie Gray, reasonably in some ways. But we want to ask, why is he not a
widespread symbol of social injustice in this country? Some believe that
it is the Ackquille Pollards of the world that need to be part of the
conversation that we`re now have.
Joining my panel now is Kenneth Montgomery, the criminal defense and civil
rights attorney and a lawyer for Ackquille Pollard.
So, Kenneth, thank you for joining us.
KENNETH MONTGOMERY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE AND CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Thank you
for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, on the one hand, I mean, it obviously makes sense that
he is not in a conversation with young men whose lives are gone, right?
But you want to suggest that actually there`s ways in which his life has
been so constrained that we do need to understand the connection.
MONTGOMERY: I think its` pretty clear. When you look at these
communities, Ferguson Brownsville, Compton, Gary, Indiana, these are all
communities that were constructed through state and federal policy, through
racist real estate policies, through de facto segregation, through a number
And it has created an urban landscape where these kids are under siege
against each other and against the state. And it`s pretty clear that if
you look at it only in that limited way of, oh, well, well, let`s just only
discuss the guys who got shot by the police, I think it`s very short sided
and probably part of the problem why most of these neighborhoods -- I grew
up in Brownsville.
So, you know, I`m aware of the obstacles that are there. And, you know,
it`s a very complicated thing. And it`s something that unfortunately as
our society has evolved, no one is concerned about drawing it back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So -- yes, Jelani?
COBB: I think that`s true, right? I grew up in south queens. And the era
of the boom bash crew, the crack era.
COBB: That`s right. The fact of the matter is even as we have people who
are dealing with public policy, dealing with racism, dealing with
systematic problems, we do have people who are in the community who are not
facilitating the benefit of these communities. I think we have to be very
clear about that. Like morally speaking --
MONTGOMERY: What do you mean, specifically, politicians?
COBB: There are people in my community dangerous to other people in my
MONTGOMERY: Oh, I don`t -- absolutely. That`s always the case.
I think if you read "The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon, he talks
of the phenomenon of what happens when you take a people under siege and
put them in a place where there`s no job, bad schools, bad health, heavily
policed and then there`s an injection of drugs and guns.
You have a president who is celebrated who said, hey, I take my part in the
mass incarceration problem that exists now in these communities.
Obviously, you have to police. Obviously, there are dangers.
But for us to take children -- what we`re doing -- and I`m also a former
prosecutor, and I`ve been doing this defense for a very long time. Police
officers if you want apples, you go to an apple orchard. If you want rest
arrests, you go to Baltimore, you go to Brownsville, you go to East New
There are kids are honed in on simply because of who they are and where
they live. And that environment -- and also when you live in an
environment where we don`t celebrate young men who have somehow luckily got
out of this. We celebrate young men who pop culture and celebrity culture
puts on the pedestal and say, hey, be like that.
So we can tell these kids all day, hey, go to school, do this. But when
the president`s favorite playlist includes Young Jeezy and 50 Cents, what
do you think these kids who are going to school where you have books that
are from 1955, and you have teachers who are reluctant to teach there, what
do you think they`re going to look at?
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, I think you lay out extremely complicated
set of questions. On the one hand, we want to -- and much of the first
hour, we talked about this. We want to talk how the structural
inequalities you`re talking about right now impact people`s lives in a
material, psychological, emotional, in a constraint of the choice, that
kind of way. On the other hand, we also don`t want to make a claim that to
live in this space is determinative of every possible life outcome, only in
part because at least one set of people will therefore understand the
solution to be simply extermination, right?
So, if once you`ve lived in the space, there isn`t any other thing that you
can ever be, then we have to funnel in all people in this space into
prison, funnel all the people into this space --
MONTGOMERY: I totally agree. I don`t think -- to be quite honest with
you, I think what needs to happen is a renaissance in these communities
that no one else cares about, where you have mentoring or apprenticeship
programs, in other words --
HARRIS-PERRY: That does sound like My Brother`s Keeper, which we were just
MONTGOMERY: No, not at all. No, no. I`m talking about people who live
there. I`m not about some politician who is lining his pockets or doing a
press op. I`m talking about these young kids who have all of this vibrant
energy, who the labels are looking for the Bobby Shmurdas because he
captures the essence of young black youth that everyone has a problem with,
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you think we like to consume the version of blackness
that is this but then we also want to punish.
MONTGOMERY: We will paint the narrative. Everyone in America is
uncomfortable with black men painting their own narrative if it does not
fit in the systematic the way in which people are used to seeing us. If
young black men totally turned their backs on celebrity and pop culture,
and they got with the older people and people with different perspectives,
and they began reflecting the hard truths and realities of which they live,
you`re talking about a group of people who are essentially has been blocked
out of the private sector where all the money is made.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. This will keep going on in the commercial, but
I`m going to go pay my bills.
Thank you, Juan Manuel Benitez, and to Jelani Cobb, Thomas Sugrue, who`s
book is "Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race". Thanks also
to Attorney Kenneth Montgomery.
Still to come this morning, an MSNBC original report on teachers in
Mississippi, digging into their own pockets to give their students a
But first, as we go to break, I do want to listen to Senator Obama talk
about the fact that it is just going to take longer than just one election
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is where we are right now. It`s a racial stalemate we have
been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics,
black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get
beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Millions of people still reeling from a string of deadly
tornados earlier in the week, bracing for more severe weather today. The
first round created more than 50 tornados, golf ball-sized hail and
torrential rain. And while the wind and flash flooding is still a major
concern, today, the good news is, the threat of tornadoes appears somewhat
less likely, at least in some areas.
Joining me now, meteorologist Steve Sosna.
Steve, what are you seeing on the map that tells you that something in this
area is going to be lowering the tornado threat?
STEVEN SOSNA, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Good question, Melissa.
These storms that you see right now are the answers to that question. The
storms here this morning are kind of robbing the energy, stealing the show
from the afternoon. Normally, if you want a severe weather outbreak, you
need sunshine. That`s one key ingredient to the equation here and we just
don`t have it. So, a lot of these clouds, these thunderstorms this morning
are actually preventing a widespread outbreak this afternoon.
But still, we have threats out there. We have to cover the heavy rain
potential. Just north of Dallas, look at the lightning show that`s going
on right now. A lot of lightning strikes there. Also in North Texas, and
there is still is a severe weather threat here this afternoon.
But the primary threat will be heavy rain, strong gusty winds and some
large hail stones. So you see an enhanced risk for severe weather. That`s
the mid-scale range here, a high threat no longer in place. So, we`re just
looking at some gusty winds, some hailstones, some heavy rain, just kind of
a nuisance of a Saturday, because these spots have been pummeled with heavy
rain day after day.
We really do need a break. It looks like by the time we get into Monday,
we`ll start to see a break.
Mom`s day tomorrow, of course. A lot of you heading out to brunch and to
enjoy day with mom. Look out for weather, though, across the middle part
of the country. Severe storms possible there. East and West Coast, your
best here. And, of course, last but not least, tropical storm Ana. She`s
pushing off to the northwest, winds at 60 miles per hour. Looks like a
soaking rain for the coastal Carolinas this weekend.
So, if you have plans with mom, keep her off the beach this weekend and
keep her inside. It looks like it will be a wet day -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was just in Manhattan, Kansas, and saw these crazy flash
floods on Monday. I live over in North Carolina. I can`t go over the
beach right now. So, it`s like --
SOSNA: You get away from it.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- weather news, it`s not my life (ph).
Thank you to MSNBC`s Steve Sosna. Thanks for being here this morning.
Up next, an MSNBC original report, why educators in Mississippi are
practically begging their state for funds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEL DUNN, KINDERGARTEN TEACHER: Nice to the teachers before the school
year is out. We pay for paper, ink for printers out of our own pockets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Because they work in dangerous conditions, miners took
canaries into the mines with them. The birds have small, vulnerable
respiratory systems. And if deadly carbon monoxide leaked into a mine, the
canary would be overcome first, giving the men time to get out.
Children are the miner`s canary of our still fragile economy. While there
are some signs of recovery, the most vulnerable among us find that they are
still exposed to the noxious gas of inequality. Today, at least 30 states
spend less per student in their public schools than they did before the
Great Recession began.
Among the state`s investing the least in their school children is
Mississippi. For their poultry investment, Mississippi has ripped
remarkably low academic outcomes.
A report from the Education Week Research Center gave Mississippi a grade
of "F" for achievement in grades K-12.
So, what do educators do when they see the canaries threatened with the
deadly gas of under investment? No, they don`t try to save themselves.
They try to clear the air for the kids, digging into their own pockets to
try to make up for the most vulnerable.
MSNBC`s Seema Iyer hosts of "The Docket" on Shift went to the community of
Carroll County, Mississippi.
SEEMA IYER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): Since 2009, Mississippi public
schools have been underfunded by $1.5 billion, according to the Mississippi
Association of Educators. As state lawmakers debate the future of
education, local districts like Carroll County have been forced to do more
Assistant superintendent Rana Mitchell sees every facet of the public
school system suffering.
RANA MITCHELL, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, CARROLL COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Mississippi schools are hurting now. There are so many schools who do not
have textbooks, do not have basic infrastructure that is conducive for
learning. We actually in our elementary school have some leaky classrooms.
The roof has not been replaced in almost 30 years.
Some of our buses travel up to 70 miles a day. We have to replace them
often. And so, when you have a general fund that includes every expense,
things like that are priority.
We`re having to make decisions about student learning based on finances.
But that`s the bind that we`ve been put in.
BILLY JOE FERGUSON, SUPERITENDENT, CARROLL COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: I think
the situation now is worse than it`s ever been, and I started in 1969
before total integration.
IYER: Billy Joe Ferguson is superintendent of the Carroll County School
FERGUSON: I think of what are just a raw deal that we`re getting here in
Mississippi by our leaders. They know we do not have enough money to
operate. It really to me just stinks.
IYER: Superintendent Ferguson wrote a letter to Mississippi Governor Phil
Bryant pleading for additional state funds. He even included that he
slashed his own salary to a mere $18,000. The superintendent tells us his
salary had been over $85,000.
(on camera): When did you write the letter to the governor?
FERGUSON: February of 2015.
IYER: And have you had any response whatsoever from the governor`s office?
IYER (voice-over): Democratic lawmakers in the state say the response from
their Republican colleagues is not surprising.
DAVID BARIA (D), MISSISSIPPI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: In Mississippi, we have
a formula, MAEP, the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan, that sets the
floor, not the ceiling mind you, but the floor. If you fund at this
minimum level it will be an adequate education.
For years and years and years, my Republican colleagues have said we want
to fully fund education. In fact, what they would rather do is establish
voucher programs and take their money and go to a school of their choosing,
a private school of their choosing.
IYER: We received a response from Nathan Wells, chief of staff to House
Speaker Philip Gunn who said the suggestion that the Republican-led House
doesn`t want to fund education is simply false. Wells said there had been
record funding for education the past four legislative sessions and more
money put into MAEP this year than any other year in the history of the
Principal Coretta Vance-Green witnesses the damage caused by a lack of
funding on a daily basis.
(on camera): Tells us about the after-school programs and how that`s
CORETTA VANCE-GREEN, PRINCIPAL, GEORGE MIDDLE SCHOOL: In the beginning, I
can say that there was a grant that we used to order to fund our after-
school programs who intervened with the students who struggled
academically. Once that grant was over we had to survive on our own. We
reduced two teachers working under two days. We were going full fledge
days and Saturdays our test scores were so much better.
IYER (voice-over): To make up for the money they haven`t received from the
state, local teachers like Kristel Dunn and Amber Tucker must dig into
their own pockets.
DUNN: Most of the teachers before the school year is out, we pay for
paper, ink for our printers out of our own pockets. Marshall Elementary is
considered poverty level. And most of the children that come in, probably
90 percent to 95 percent, they have free and reduced lunch. So, I buy
pencils for my students.
AMBER TUCKER, 8TH GRADE TEACHER, GEORGE MIDDLE SCHOOL: A lot of them have
is a mindset that they will do whatever their parents have done in the
past. Well, in some cases, that may not be a good thing.
But if we can take them other places to see what the world actually has to
offer them besides what`s here in Carroll County, I think being able to see
the world would motivate some of them to be great.
HARRIS-PERRY: Seema Iyer joins me now.
Seema, what have you learned since that trip to Mississippi?
IYER: Well, it was only yesterday, Melissa, that we finally got a
statement from the governor`s office, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.
The statement reads in part, "Under Governor Bryant and the Mississippi
legislature, MAEP funding is at its highest level in Mississippi history.
Improving public education has been a priority for Governor Bryant since he
took office. But in order for MAEP to be fully funded each year, there
would have to be draconian cuts to all other state agencies, a tax increase
to hard-working Mississippians or both."
Also, I would like to add --
HARRIS-PERRY: I think a tax increase might be OK to pay for children`s
IYER: I agree with you. And I just want to point out that superintendent
Ferguson still as of last night has not received a response to his letter.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking that case -- part of what is so challenging
about this piece is the idea of these educators taking pay cuts, buying
pencils, buying paper that -- and we know they don`t make very much money.
And there they are trying to do the best for their students.
IYER: That`s correct. They feel like they have no other choice. And it`s
only when you see these teachers, Melissa, do you see how much they care.
Kristel Dunn was the perfect example. When her kids were flooding me with
hugs and kisses, she was in the corner crying. And you know what she said
to me, she said, they don`t get any affection at home sometimes. So, they
come from also problematic background, sometimes single-parent houses,
excuse me, or just having a grandparent take care of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although it is Mother`s Day. Grand mamas are pretty good
about the hugs.
IYER: They are.
HARRIS-PERRY: But we need more than the hugs. We`ve got to have pencils
and paper and functional buses, and all those things that requires -- that
IYER: And some of these kids are commuting two hours a day on buses that
are just not running properly. And listen, it`s a little Saturday morning
perspective in Nerdland, pencils.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, just to have pencils in an American town. Yes.
Thank you to Seema Iyer.
Don`t forget, you can catch Seema on "The Docket", Tuesdays at 11:00 a.m.,
on Shift by MSNBC.
And up next, our foot soldier of the week. She was born into prison. And
now, it`s where she is doing some of her most important work.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow is Mother`s Day, a day filled with flowers, cards,
breakfast in bed, and plenty of hugs between moms and kids. But for some
people who are separated from their loved ones, it can be a difficult
holiday. That is especially true for mothers who are incarcerated.
In the last three decades, the number of women behind bars has increased by
almost 800 percent, due in large part to the war on drugs, and the number
of children with a mother in prison has gone up by 131 percent since the
Our foot soldier this week was herself born in a prison in West Virginia,
and now uses her own personal story to help mothers who are behind bars and
Deborah Jiang-Stein is the founder of the Unprison Project. She joins us
now from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Thank you so much for joining us. Your story is pretty harrowing.
Can you share some of it with us?
DEBORAH JIANG-STEIN, THE UNPRISON PROJECTS: Thanks for having me on,
The parts that I know was my birth mother was a heroin addict. She was
pregnant in one of her sentences. And I was in the wrong place at the
wrong time and born in prison with her.
The unusual part is she got to keep me for a year. But like kids today, I
entered the foster care system. And unlike many kids around age 3, 4, 5
who was adopted into a family that gave me education, books, art. So I had
a new trajectory but a broken beginning.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you talk about that foster care system, I think it`s
important just to remind people we talk about the number of moms in prison,
the impact that that has not just on the moms, not just on the children but
on so many of us.
JIANG-STEIN: Well, and tax dollars. For every kid that goes in it is a
burden on everyone else paying taxes.
And I`d say, if no one is caring about the kids and the moms in prison,
then care about where tax dollars are going. It`s a burden on schools, our
My call for action is to have community treatment and alternatives and not
prison for mothers like mine, birth mothers like mine.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit. Your Unprison Project has that
big goal of moving away from incarceration as a way, as a solution to
public health problems and other issues that are particularly impactful for
women. In the meantime, you have partnered to talk about the possibility
of mothering and parenting by reading. Talk to me about that.
JIANG-STEIN: I have learned -- I have kids myself and one of the early
things we do with kids is read books. Many of the visiting rooms and
nurseries have dog eared books.
So, it`s not rocket science. I partnered with the Children`s Book Council
and they were really nimble. They put together their member publishers.
We have hundreds of books that I hopefully will deliver in person. It`s
bonding for the mother and child. It`s teaching literacy. I think
education is the way out of that rut. That is one of the ways out.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this idea that as we move towards Mother`s Day
tomorrow, that even when separated by realities of incarceration, that moms
can read to their children and they need high quality books to do it.
JIANG-STEIN: For some kids, that will be the only time, the ones that
visit, it will be the only time that they have reading with their mother is
when they come into prison.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I know it can be hard to do that kind of reentry, that
conversation, that reconnecting the kids been gone all week and maybe all
month or longer. And the book gives you a way to break the ice between the
mom and child.
JIANG-STEIN: Exactly. It is something to talk about. Visiting rooms are
vacant with conversation sometimes. What is to talk about? How are you?
What have you done? Well, I have been in here for ten years.
So, a book or a good night moon or something is exactly something to talk
about that is outside of ourselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Deborah Jiang-Stein in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
both for your work with the Unprison Project and specifically for your work
here in this partnership, so the moms and kids can read together.
JIANG-STEIN: Thank you so much. Happy Mother`s Day to every mother in
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. We will send that out along with you.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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