May 5, 2013
Guests: Kathleen Frydl, William H. Murphy, Eugene Jarecki, Michael
Steinberg, Ange-Marie Hancock, Jelani Cobb, Matt Welch, Kai Wright, Martina
Navratilova, Wade Davis, Bryonn Bain
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, does coming
out still matter?
Plus, the good and bad of public shaming.
And, the shocking police practice of dumping the homeless.
But first, is this the beginning of the end of the war on drugs?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We are going to get to all of the stories I just promised you. But first,
an update from the Middle East where there are reports of Israeli airplanes
striking areas around the Syrian capital of Damascus. The targets believed
to be shipments of Iranian-made missiles on the way to Lebanon`s Hezbollah.
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is reporting from Turkey
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, according to
a witness we spoke to in Damascus this morning, it began around 2:00 a.m.
there was a huge explosion and giant fireball that lit up the sky. People
said they could see this fireball and feel the shockwaves all across the
city. Then, just moments later, there were a series of secondary
explosions. Witnesses said they heard fighter jets in the sky, they
couldn`t tell what exactly had been hit. But that the targets were all
roughly in the same area, in the Kassioun Mountains.
The Kassioun Mountains are just on the edge of Damascus and this is a
military area. According to rebels in Damascus, there were at least nine
different targets including a weapons depot, Republican guard base, a
research center that`s been used in the past by Hezbollah, by Iranian
revolutionary guards and by the elite forces still loyal to President
Bashar Al Assad.
There has been a reaction from the Syrian government. Syria said that it
was an Israeli strike. That was aim to back the rebels, rebels the Syrian
government calls terrorists and U.S. officials confirmed that this was in
fact an Israeli strike. Israel, of course, has not confirmed it. This
would be the third attack is attributed to Israel inside Syria and Israel
has remained very tight-lipped about all of them. But Israel has been
bracing for some sort of retaliation. Israel officials said this morning
that they mobilized the iron dome defense system around the cities of Hipa
and Svat in northern Israel.
Richard Engel, NBC News, Antakya.
HARRIS-PERRY: With explosions lighting up the night sky in Damascus, I`m
reminded of the classic (INAUDIBLE) lyrics, war, what is it good for,
But that isn`t quite right. I mean, in our national past, war has at times
been good for some things. Take 1861 when confederate soldiers attacked
Fort Sumter in South Carolina. In spite of President Abraham Lincoln`s
best attempts to maintain the union peacefully, those shots made war
inevitable. And although the civil war was agonizing and bloody, they were
about after all good for something. I mean, it was to ensure that this
nation of the people by the people and for the people would not perish from
War came again in 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany and
Italy declared war on the United States. World War II was hell. But
engaging in it was gad for something. America emerged as a world super
power and helped end the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime.
There`s even a war but different kind that has been good for something. In
1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in his first
state of the union address. He addressed the deep inequality our country,
in our country that`s undermined the American dream. But, out of this war,
how come things like head start, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and even
if they haven`t solved inequality permanently, these programs crafted the
crucial social safety net that lifted millions from poverty.
And then came 1971, the year that forever changed the way in which we use
the term war. In June of 1971, President Richard Nixon declared the war on
drugs. This was a brand new front in a brand new kind of war. No foreign
enemy, no deep injustice. The war on drugs is actually a war on the very
people it should have helped which led to a whole arsenal of new war
tactics which to quote Edmund Starr (ph) "are good for absolutely nothing."
The country had a momentary respite in the proverbial war on drugs when
President Jimmy Carter then campaigned on the platform of marijuana
decriminalization, a sentiment he still holds today. But no, President
Jimmy had bigger problems than the war on drugs during his presidency. And
it wasn`t a lot of traction.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan took the war on drugs up a notch when he
declared illegal drugs to be a threat to U.S. national security. And along
with his chick Nancy by his side, the just say no campaign was born.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Not long ago when
Oakland, California, I was asked by a group of children what to do if they
were offered drugs. And I answered, just say no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, of course, kids should say no to drugs, Nancy. But
should it have made grown adults who drinks can just say no in spite cool-
aid do this?
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right. Wow. Wow. In this war.
But the war on drugs wasn`t championed by Republicans alone. 1996,
president Bill Clinton named general Barry McCaffrey, a current NBC
military analyst as the drugs war when he was chosen to head the office of
national control policy. Did you catch that? Not a doctor, not a lawyer.
He appointed a general.
I mean, this is what happens when we define a set of public policies as
war. And just what has this war yielded? In the past 40 years, the war on
drugs has cost this country $1 trillion and 45 million people who have been
arrested. Yet, the war continues and no the ball is in President Obama`s
More recently, the president unveiled his 2013 national drug control
strategy, which is focuses the war on the science of addiction. That`s a
step in the right direction. But statements like the one made in Mexico on
Friday still leave us feeling directionless on this battlefield.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve been asked and I
honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer. But I do
believe that a comprehensive approach, not just law enforcement but
education and prevention and treatment, that`s what we have to do. And we
are going to have to stay at it because the lives of our children and the
future of our nations depend on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The comprehensive approach is commendable that this
president is taking this approach that rejects the false choice between an
enforcement centric war on drugs and drug legalization. He said that. I
mean, finally, someone who realizes that this is not a war. Because I have
to ask, what exactly are we fighting for?
At the table, William H. "Billy" Murphy, a former circuit court judge for
the city of Baltimore and current criminal defense attorney. Matt Welch,
editor in chief of "Reason" magazine, Eugene Jarecki, director of the
documentary "the house I live in" which looks at a failure of America`s
drug was and Kathleen Frydl, author of the upcoming book, "the drug wars in
America, 1940 to 1973. "
So Eugene I want to start with you. I`m suggesting that, in fact, this
drug war yielded nothing. Has it yielded something? What has it
EUGENE JARECKI, FILMMAKER: Well, it depends how you look at it. For the
people who are proponents of it, you know, of course, its -- they will
claim that it`s had an impact on crime or violent crime and the rest.
Those two which is not borne out by evidence. Just sounds good to voters.
The reality on the table is that, you know, we have been at this as it said
for 40 years plus, 45 million drug arrests. We have spent a trillion
dollars over that time. And for what? We have 2.3 million people behind
bars, the largest prison population in the world in hard numbers. And
drugs are cheaper, purer and more available than ever before. And they are
used by younger and younger people. It`s a record not object failure. So,
it hasn`t achieved nothing. It`s achieved catastrophe right handily.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, in this sense, I want to ask, should we be
excited about what we`re hearing from President Obama? If we have been in
a war that has accomplished so little, is this a substantive new approach
that we are seeing?
KATHLEEN FRYDL, AUTHOR: Yes. When I read the national drug control policy
document, I was cheered by certain things. But I was incredibly
disheartened when I realized that the language and the framework that
President Obama is putting forward in this document is eerily similar, in
fact, in some ways the exact same language as the Kennedy commission in
1963 put forward when Jack Kennedy was looking for a whole new approach to
And that language is, we want to be softer on the addict or the person with
the substance use disorder, but we don`t want an all-out militant drug war.
But as long as you are supporting a regime of prohibition, the kinds of
promises that we`re getting from the Obama administration and that we got
from Jack Kennedy are very fast seal promises and can`t be delivered upon.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, it is interesting. I want to play this for you,
Matt, and get your response to. This is President Obama in Mexico
recognizing the kind of market relationship and international market
relationship. Let`s take a listen and I`ll have you respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Then the United States, we recognize our responsibilities. We
understand that much of the root cause of violence that has been happening
here in Mexico for which so many Mexicans has suffered is the demand for
illegal drugs in the United States. And so, we have got to continue to
make progress on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So what do you think?
MATT WELCH, EDITOR IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: I think he mispronounced
prohibition of demand for prohibition of these two very important --
importantly different categories. I mean, the president has not -- don`t
look at his actions. I mean, he said for two or three years now, we are no
longer using the terminology war on drugs. Well, great. I don`t like
terminology war. I believe in what Wilco said, there`s a war on war.
Let`s do it that way.
But, let`s look at what he has actually done. He spends more money
prosecuting the war on drugs. He has busted up more medical marijuana
dispensaries by a lot than George W. Bush had. They are spending more
money on drug (INAUDIBLE), in Latin America than George W. Bush did. So,
it doesn`t matter. You can say --
HARRIS-PERRY: Why? I mean, so tell me why. I mean, if the rhetoric is
look, we recognize that there is a market-based problem here. We
recognized that prohibition or the demand for illegal drugs generates more
violence, then why is this an administration that has taken this particular
WELCH: We don`t really know. But there`s two pockets. One is just
political cowardice. They are the ones ready to make that lead right now
especially president who when he was running for president was a lot more
circumstance about the war on drugs. He talked about that it`s kind of a
policy failure and these kind of things but he is afraid to stick his neck
out. But also, there`s institutions that have been built up over the last
40 years, even beyond 40 years. And those institutions don`t want these
things to add because it is kind of (INAUDIBLE) to a lot of people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They run structurally no matter sort of who. I have
this -- I`m looking at your face, judge, and wondering are we getting
something wrong here? Are we missing some aspect?
WILLIAM H. "BILLY" MURPHY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. We are missing
the entire point. This prohibition that is causing the problem. And if we
don`t end prohibition, we are going to have this problem over and over year
by year by year. And to make matters worse, all of the institutions
charged with enforcing prohibition are now addicted to the war on drugs.
MURPHY: And so, they have this huge prison complex which grows. The
prisons even lobby for increased sentences, how perverse can that be?
MURPHY: And so, we have all kinds of economic interests, the police
departments are bigger and more powerful. The courts are bigger and more
powerful. The prosecutors are bigger and more powerful and this part of
the war on drugs is going to be one of the most difficult things to scale
MURPHY: But if don`t confront prohibition head on, this is all just talkie
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, is that something -- it is one of the war on
drugs, it is a job creator, right? It creates jobs in generating money for
the police departments, generating money for the prison industrial complex
taking a group of young men and women out of the labor market by putting
them into prison, right? So, there is a way in which we might imagine that
I might be getting that wrong. We are going to come back and talk exactly
about these questions of policies and how race is also implicated in them
when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think the signing of today`s bill into
law represents the hard work of Democrats and Republicans coming -- this is
a good example of coming together and making progress on something that
people had identified as a glaring blight on the wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was former White House press secretary and current
MSNBC contributor, Robert Gibbs.
In 2010, on the day President Obama signed the fair sentencing act, the
act`s purpose was to reduce a sentencing disparity from 100 to one to 118
to one. So, there is still a disparity but it gone from 118 for crack and
powder cocaine offenses.
In 2011, the U.S. sentencing commission voted to retroactively apply the
act that gave 12,000 prisoners, 85 percent African-American the chance to
have sentences reviewed and possibly reduced.
In spite of that good news, the numbers of those incarcerated for drug
offenses remains staggering. Of the 2.3 million people in prison in the
United States, 25 percent of them are there for drug offenses. Seventy
billion dollars is spent yearly on corrections and incarceration by you,
And while 14 million white Americans and 2.6 million African-Americans
report using illegal drugs, 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses
are African-American. And on average, black Americans spend almost as much
time in prison for drug offenses as white criminals do for violent
With numbers like these, we have a long way to change the drug sentencing
system which is why I want to come to you, judge. These disparities feel
to me like a central part of the argument for ending this so called war on
MURPHY: Let me give you the example. In my city, Baltimore, where we have
weak political leadership or nonexistent political leadership on this
issue, 98 percent of all of the arrests, investigations, sentences, you
name it, are of black people and more and more are of brown people.
Now, this is typical of every major city where there is a substantial black
population. And so, the war on drugs in Baltimore, Cleveland, New York,
Los Angeles, you name it, is a war against black and brown people using
HARRIS-PERRY: At poor people.
MURPHY: And poor white people don`t get caught up in the net too much
because there`s almost no law enforcement effort at stopping white drug use
anywhere in the country. Now, there are packets of methamphetamine
restriction, but that`s the exception that proves the rule.
And so, whites have to be stupid to get arrested for drugs. But black
people are criminalized routinely. And it`s a hangover from the alcohol
model in the white community, AANA. You can get treatment. You can get
help. There`s a three strikes in our policy. On the job, it`s all
confidential. But blacks get criminalized.
And so, the problem then becomes, they become unemployable. Their families
are destroyed. The children are no longer ready for education. Age rates
go up and the beat goes on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And I mean, and in part because of the federal
policies that have been part of this, right? So, if you have one of these
federal offenses, you can never live in public housing again. You can
never get a federal student loan again.
MURPHY: If it`s a federal offense.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. But I mean, but what we know, I guess in part, I`m
trying to think through what the Obama administration can do. They can`t
intervene necessarily what`s going on in the state. But they could make
changes in some of these sort of -- the x that remains on your back after
the end of imprisonment.
JARECKI: That`s called the bay on the box where you are -- there is this
box unemployment form you have to tick for the rest of your life. That
basically is a death sentence for you to enter the mainstream economy. So,
what happens to young people is a kid makes a mistake, just like we all do.
But there`s no margin of error for a young African-American kid who is in
the inner city and makes that mistake.
Now, all of the sudden, you get a strike on his record, has to tick that
box. He can no longer end up in the mainstream, so he goes to where, the
underground economy which is the only one that will have him.
And then, we step back and wonder why it goes that way. And we say pull
yourself up by your boot straps. I mean, here in New York City, we have a
stop and frisk epidemic right? And it has become a national embarrassment
and thankfully, it`s getting the attention in the courts that it deserves.
Stop and frisk is a program where we stop 700,000 young people, 700,000
people on the streets every year. Eighty-seven percent of them are young
blacks and will tan owes, 87 percent. You`re nine times as likely to get
stopped on the streets of New York, just like the cops really knowing if
you`re African-American or Latino.
Now, of that, we frisk half. It is about 350,000 people a year. We only
find that in 10 percent of cases is there anything actually wrong, does it
lead to an arrest. In 90 percent of cases, the cop says oh, you can go
now. After you have denigrated this young person from there that he was
humiliated them in front of their school, their church, their housing
project, et cetera. And then we wonder, pull yourself up by your booed
straps while we kneecap you every 45 seconds.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it gives great lie to the idea that this is a war on
drugs. Because, you know, like you want to find drugs, I encourage all
local police departments to go to the local college campus, right, because
there will students there doing drugs. But, we don`t think of going to
police privileged children in privileged circumstances, right. We just
sort of say as you pointed out, those are young people making mistakes.
They are going to get over it. And we know, we don`t want to criminalize
them. And yet, if you are making those mistakes in urban communities in a
black and brown body, then suddenly it`s fine to criminalize you.
FRYDL: Exactly. And I think it`s important that we be clear on this point
which is our incarceration rates reflect they are artifacts of enforcement
strategies. And something that my book traces is how drugs came from
something that was policed to drug enforcement being a way to police.
Right? There`s all kinds much ways in which our government is addicted to
the drug war. And I keep calling for an intervention and one of the most
specific kinds of intervention you can make is calling on new ways for our
police to conduct themselves, especially in the city.
JARECKI: It`s also bad for public safety. I mean, if you think about it,
if you pre occupy a police officer with sitting in his patrol car and
racking cheap, easy nonviolent drug arrests. Well, that`s out the driver`s
side window and he can rack those up a month and at least, to more
overtime, more pay, almost half a police officer`s pay come from that kind
of mischief. Well, out the passenger side window, there may be a young
person with a mental problem who is going to do something terribly grave in
the society. And that`s right goes completely unnoticed because there`s no
profit in it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because we are solely focus.
The other kind of profit, I wanted it to play, this is from your film "the
house I live in." Because the other kind of profit is a political profit.
This idea that not only are institutions addicted to it, but the
politicians are. That they don`t want to be the one first person to jump
out. So, I want to listen and then ask you your response, Matt. Let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody can afford to be the first guy to say, wait a
minute, we can`t afford what we`re doing, let`s do something different.
Because if you even made a noise like you were going to be soft on crime in
any way, you would be out of a job.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You will be put away
and put away for good. Three strikes and you are out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. That`s the guy who grew the prison industrial
complex in this country, in part, because of this fear of being soft on
MURPHY: Nobody would ever be harder on crime than him. Go ahead.
WELCH: But those -- that era of politics it over if you think about it.
For Bill Clinton it was a third way Democrat. I`m not like these old soft
on crime Democrats.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am not Jimmy Carter.
WELCH: We don`t have that need for differentiation right now. There isn`t
a big tough on crime groundswell happening. If anything, it`s kind of the
opposite, right. If you see 18 states now have medical marijuana regime.
This is historically popular in this country. Polls at 70 and 75 percent,
right. We just have Colorado and Washington, just legalized recreational
pot. We now have a majority of the country believes that marijuana should
be legal. And the war on drugs is a war on marijuana. That is the drug
that people use, right? And so you have all of this happening this way and
you don`t really have this impetus to show you`re bona fides any more. So
now, it is a question of courage.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, we are going to come to exactly that. I`ll let
you jump in just because I want to talk about this idea of distinctive
laboratories as soon as we get back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: But the problem is that the media landscape is changing so rapidly.
You can`t keep up with it. I mean, I remember when buzz feed was something
I did in college around 2:00 a.m.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama at last week`s White House
correspondent`s dinner joking about his past pot smoking. While federal
officials are still deciding what they will do, state level officials in
places like Colorado and Washington, two states that legalized their
recreational use of marijuana in 2012, continue to lead the decriminalizing
On Thursday, Maryland governor Martin O`Malley find a bill that makes
Maryland the 19th state is with a bill legalizing medical marijuana.
So, we have the kind of state of laboratory, but we also have international
examples of what might work here.
FRYDL: Yes. My eyebrows kind shot up when I looked at the document this
week. Because it begins by talking about Sweden`s unsuccessful experiment
with drug legalization in 1965, but leaves out the giant he will phone in
the room which is Portugal is very successful with decriminalization which
is (INAUDIBLE) from legalization. It`s very successful experiment going on
in Portugal right now with decriminalization. And the results there show
experimentation with drugs did go up. But addiction and substance use
disorders in population of special concern like young people, prisoners or
already known addicts went down. So, it`s a successful experiment under
way and we should take more seriously because the world is taking that
experiment very seriously.
WELCH: And that`s also hard drugs, by the way. That`s heroin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is isn`t just a marijuana. But explain, I
mean, this report -- the difference between legalization and
JARECKI: Sure. Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized, meaning they took
the criminal penalties out for possession of all drugs across the board up
to a certain point. But the hardest drugs you can imagine, those are no
longer illegal in that country. All the way up to a certain point. This
was a decade ago.
Beyond that point, you have enough quantity. You`re probably a dealer,
special laws for you. But, for the massive of population, those in this
country overfilling our jails, they said we are going to stop arresting and
putting these people away. And instead, what we`re going to do is have a
huge savings by dropping our criminal justice workload and we will take
just a portion of that savings to institute one of the most row best
treatment systems in the world. The results have been aids rates went
down, drug use among the young went down, violence rates went down. And of
course, that criminal justice workload is such a huge savings for the
country. In hard economic times, it would speak volumes in this country
where we need to move from prohibition, which is a failed idea. Remember,
we failed it once before.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We had to repeal that amendment.
JARECKI: Right. Kind of looked like your high school yearbook picture.
It is a tragedy. So, we don`t go back. We now look ahead and we think to
ourselves what would we do better. And the answer is what do we do with
alcohol? We tax and regulate. It is imperfect system. But it is a
controlled substance. A child cannot be sold it. The grownup has used it
responsibly, the government has an ongoing role. I don`t like
legalization, frankly, because I think it gives a kind of get out of jail
The government has botched this and destroyed communities for 40 years,
ruined the lives of people. It has a job to protect as an actually
responsible figure in a public health crisis, which is the crisis of
addiction. He talked earlier --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. To affirmatively engage. Right. So, not just take
your hands off of, but to affirmatively engage. You brought up the point
about money. I think the few, so, let`s look at what the drug control
strategy money this 2013 drug control strategy money looks like. So this
is from WhiteHouse.gov. And they say the administration is doing its part
to further the principles both at home and abroad. They have rebalanced
the national drug control policy to reflect the complexity of drug use as
both a public health and public safety issue. That`s all great.
But then, look at this part. Dedicating more than $10.5 billion to
prevention and treatment compared to $9.6 billion for domestic law
enforcement. These are huge numbers. We talk about the sequester and this
deficit all the time but we`re spending billions.
WELCH: Yes. And treatment, that treatment number also means drug courts.
Drug courts aren`t necessarily here let`s make you feel better. It is
here. Let`s give you random drug tests for a really long time. And if you
don`t show up for that random drug test, you are going to go to jail.
It`s a lot more harsh than it initially sounds. And you are right. We are
spending this much money. We`re committed to it. Joe Biden invented the
concept of the drug czar. I mean, we have this built kind of system here.
And we need to, right now, say there are experiments happening in two
states here. Let`s let them experiment right now. Instead of continuing
to enforce this. And it requires the same kind of courage as actually Joe
Biden and the president had on gay marriage one year ago. Right?
WELCH: They went out a little bit further than they were comfortable in
going and suddenly the world opened up for them and said cool.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s kind of stunning, right? And I`m wondering, judge, if
one of the ways this can happen is you start getting cover from other
folks. So part of how don`t ask don`t tell for example occurs is that you
end up with the general saying, actually, ending this policy would be good
for the U.S. military.
So, I`m wondering, judge, if there`s a way in which on the one hand you
have Americans, 53 percent saying that they would support the legalization
of marijuana, but also if we need the term of orders of police, if we need
judges in the courts to give cover in order to generate some courage for
our public officials.
MURPHY: The problem is that most of the police chiefs in America are
appointed by the very elected officials who don`t want to talk about the
problem because they have their eye on higher office. And the perception
is that this is a black problem. The perception is that blacks are the
violent ones. The perception is that we`ve got to control these blacks in
the inner cities. And until we de-racialized this problem, we won`t make
progress. There will be lots of white folks not affected by incarceration.
They would be happy about the marijuana prohibition being ended. But, that
doesn`t translate into black folks getting out of jail and having their
problem treated as a medical one rather than an incarceration one. And so,
they term the pan to really in this room as race.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because this is predisposition to already seeing
black and brown bodies as criminal.
MURPHY: And violence.
HARRIS-PERRY: And violent. Right.
MURPHY: And you see the justification that everyone uses in the black
community for fighting this so-called war on drugs, which is really a war
against black people and brown people with drugs, is violence.
And you see, violence comes from the difference in market strategy in the
black community compared to the white community. Blacks sell drugs by the
dose. That creates territorial fights because it has to be done on street
corners. Can`t be done in stores. And so, when you have competition, it`s
visible, it`s notorious. And the only response that is capable of making
it then in the competition is a violent response.
And so, here we have these desperately poor people in the black community
who can only go out and buy one bag at a time, one pill at a time who do it
in the streets, and then that becomes the violent arena.
HARRIS-PERRY: They are going to make me go. I think this is a critically
important issue. You have to come back because unfortunately, I have to go
to commercial which I hate. I`ve got to stop with this commercial pain
with the TV show situation.
But thank you to judge Murphy and Eugene Jarecki and to Kathleen. Matt is
going to stay around for more.
But up next, we are going to shift a little bit to a shockingly different
kind of war on the nation`s homeless.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about the long drawn-out war on drugs.
But another war is being waged that you may know nothing about. The war
against the homeless.
On April 18th, the ACLU sent a letter to both the department of justice and
the Detroit police department urging that the practice of dumping the
homeless be stopped. A year-long ACLU investigation claims the following.
Detroit police officers stopped people perceived to be homeless in tourist
area of Greek Town in Detroit. They forced them into vans, took them for a
ride and deserted them miles away. The sad truth, Detroit isn`t the only
city that treats the homeless this way.
Joining me now from DETROIT is Michael Steinberg, legal director of the
ACLU of Michigan. Nice to have you, Michael.
MICHAEL STEINBERG, DIRECTOR, ACLU: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me, what does your investigation show that the
police were doing to folks who are experiencing homelessness in Detroit?
STEINBERG: Essentially, what the police were doing were kidnapping
individuals off the streets of tourist friendly areas of Detroit, putting
them in handcuffs, throwing them in the back of a wagon or police car and
transporting them either outside the city or to deserted parts of the city
and abandoning them. They then tell the individuals that they weren`t
welcome back to Greek town or other tourist friendly areas. Sometimes they
would make it difficult for them to return by making them throw their money
down a storm drain. And the problem, of course, is that the lifeline for
many of these individuals is in Greek town. There are warming centers,
food and churches and other services. So they`d have to walk sometimes
throughout middle of Michigan winter. One person had a blood clot in his
leg and it took him over three hours to get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, I want to take a moment and listen to some of the
men talking about their own experiences and then I`ll have you respond to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude asked me to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked him if I was free to go. He told me no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Took like maybe a 15-minute ride.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t know where you`re going or ending up. Maybe when
you get there, you`re abused in some way. What would that feel like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took us almost five hours to get back. Walking, it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So Michael, have the Detroit police department or the
department of justice addressed these concerns?
STEINBERG: Well, we had the quickest response time in Detroit by the
police in history, I think. As soon as we sent our letter, they sent over
two members of internal affairs saying they wanted to investigate it. They
have met with some of the individuals that we`ve spoken to and we hope they
will put an end to it. We have also reported it to the department of
justice because we believe that the practice violates the consent, judgment
that was entered into between the DOJ and the Detroit police department.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Michael, part of what we`ve been talking about this
morning is criminalizing drugs. But, there is also this kind of impact of
criminalizing homelessness and we were looking not only in Detroit but all
over the country. Municipalities doing things like making it illegal to
sleep or sit in a store or in personal buildings, laws punishing people for
begging or panhandling. Enforcement of quality of life ordinances. Tell
me is there a war on the homeless?
STEINBERG: You can definitely appropriately characterize it as a war on
the homeless. We`re challenging a state law in Michigan that makes it a
crime to beg in public. We have represented individuals who have been
charged with trespass who are sleeping on public land. Essentially
criminalizing the status of being homeless.
Society, if we want to stop seeing homeless people on the streets, we as a
society have to treat the problem as a social problem, not a criminal
justice problem. We have to provide mental health services to those who
need it. We have to provide drug treatment programs for those who need it
in public housing. We can`t make it a crime to be homelessness. It is not
-- homelessness is not going to go away by making it illegal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael Steinberg, I so appreciate that point. It dovetails
to what we were talking about in terms of drugs. We have a set of social
responsibilities, epidemiologically problems here. It is not solve in
criminalizing. Thank you for your work.
STEINBERG: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, I received a special plea for help after last
week`s segment on rape culture on campus. That story is coming up.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, I received an e-mail from a student at Spelman
College in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1881, it`s our country`s oldest
and historically black college exclusively for women students. And you
might its campus from 1990 sitcom, "a different world." The mythical
Hillman (ph) college was actually Spelman.
The message I received was from a Spelman woman reaching out to me
distressed about what`s going on, on her campus. And here is the story.
Three basketball players at Morehouse College, the historically black all
male college jut across the street from Spelman are accused of sexually
assaulting a Spelman student. A Morehouse football player has also been
charged in a separate rape case.
In the case involving the Morehouse basketball players, the alleged victim
says that she was held against her will in a room on campus. But lawyers
for the accused men say it was a drug and alcohol fueled night as if the
sex was consensual. One attorney said this was a case where a young lady
used very bad judgment by being high on Mali, which is a form of powdered
The student e-mailed me is distressed with the reaction she`s seen from the
young women on her campus. She wrote, some of my fellow Spelman sisters
are so concerned about Morehouse`s reputation being tainted. They`re not
focused on the true issues here involving humanity, the sacredness of a
woman`s body and the fact that we are our sister`s keeper.
I get a lot of mail. But this letter stopped me in my tracks because I
visited Spelman in February to deliver (INAUDIBLE) lecture. Ida Wells-
Barnett was an African-American newspaper editor, an anti-lynching advocate
whose empirical work at the turn of the century debunks the myth that
lynching was primarily a punishment for black men who raped white woman.
Wells used pain is taking sociological evidence and deep investigative
journalism to show how the myth of the black male rapist was a convenient
lie used to justify brutal extra legal terror by lynch mobs.
And it is this is this legacy of lynching and of black male vulnerability
in the face of the criminal justice system, the two often portrays in the
sexual predators that can silence black women rape victims. Unwilling to
contribute to the historic vilifications f the brothers, survivors stay
silent and when they do speak, they often find that their sisters are more
willing to characterize them as fast or loose or just plain dumb.
But Ida Wells-Barnett would have wanted us to ask about the facts. She
would have warned against stereotypes. She would have railed against
shaming the victims or the accused. I loved meeting the women of Spelman
in February and my heart aches to know how the campus is now being affected
by these alleged assaults.
So when we come back, I`ve got a couple guests here to help me answer
HARRIS-PERRY: On the 19th of this month, President Obama will deliver the
commencement address at the prestigious historically black all male black
college, Morehouse. The allegations that three Morehouse students sexually
assaulted a female students from neighboring Spelman College will
potentially cast a fall of shame over the otherwise joyous occasion.
Here to help me respond to a letter from a Spelman student asking how to
deal with the shame and sadness of campus sexual assault allegations are
Jelani Cobb, professor of African-American studies at the University of
Connecticut and former faculty member at Spellman, and Ange-Marie Hancock,
an associate professor teaching gender studies at the University of
Southern California. She`s the author of "Solidarity, Politics for
millenials, a guide to ending the oppression Olympics."
So Jelani, you were at Spelman. What would you say to this young woman?
JELANI COBB, PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF
CONNECTICUT: One, I would say this that, you know of course, it is
complicated dynamics, and you know, there is a presumption of innocence and
you don`t want to jump to conclusions. With my own experience and my time,
I spent ten years teaching at Spelman where there were young women who did
confide in me in both instances of domestic violence and sexual assaults.
And in almost universally, there was a concern that they would be doing
something that would cause a young man to lose his scholarship or tear down
black men in a way that echoed stereotypes or even concerned about putting
more black men in prison.
And I had to say to a young woman, I said very explicitly, I said I do not
w to see any more black men in jail. But even more than that, I don`t want
to see any young black men do anything that warrant them being in jail.
And if in fact, someone has committed an act of violence or a sexual
assault against you, then this person does need to be reported. They do
need to be charged and the legal system needs to be brought in to bear.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this feels to me, I mean, Ange, we have been talking
about campus sexual assault on this show. But part of the reason I want to
pause here is because race complicates this for exactly these reasons.
When it is intra racial assault and you`re a woman of color who has to
accuse a black man, this could be extremely difficult.
ANGE-MARIE HANCOCK, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:
Absolutely. And you know, I`m not one to say that black men and black
women have competing oppressions under any circumstances.
But there is this pitting of racial loyalty versus healing from the trauma
that can be caused in black heterosexual relationships. Forty to 60
percent of black women before the age of 18 have suffered a form of abuse.
And that a major risk factor for them than being re-victimize for sexual
assaults as adults.
And so, this is a real problem in our community and the area of dirty
laundry kind of defense really makes it hard for black women to be seen and
HARRIS-PERRY: And I also on this shaming piece, I mean, I part of what --
where the shaming is coming from, apparently, at least according to the
student who wrote to me, is from other black women on campus who are saying
well, you shouldn`t have been high, you shouldn`t -- we heard it in the
Mike Tyson case. I mean, just this idea over and over again, that black
women are easily defined as loose and available and if something bad
happens, it`s their fault.
HANCOCK: Absolutely. There is this a cultural construction that of course
dates back to slavery, black women in particular are sexually available for
any form of sexual intercourse and has no right really to say no. And so,
that continues. And what`s really sad about it is when black women do it
to other black women. And instead of talking to black men about how not to
get in situations where you feel you have to force yourself o n a woman,
they are instead talking to women saying well, you know, you can`t control
men so you need to control yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Jelani, men are good point, we don`t know whether these
young men who have been accused are guilty or not. That is a different
issue. But, there is the issue of rape culture on n campuses which can be
true regardless of whether or not this particular incident is true. How
does a student address that kind of rape culture?
COBB: So, one of the things I think that we have to teach our young men is
this idea of simply respecting the personhood of young women, of their
female peers. And you know, I was saying to someone back when you had the
discussion about Maxwell and how she made a very basic statement that men
have to be taught not to rape and he was thought what rape is and people
reacted so negatively to it. If you spent any time on a college campus,
you know there are young men who come to campus every fall, a new crop of
young men who are unclear about what exactly consent is. They`re not --
they don`t understand that even if a person is intoxicated, that does not
mean that you can have sex with them and this doesn`t qualify as some kind
of legal assault. It is something that we have to teach. It`s our basic,
it may sound frustrating or ridiculous, but this is something that has to
HARRIS-PERRY: Both of you guys stay with me, because we are going to talk
about shame and politics. Remember, Nerdland is a two-hour show.
So, we are going to come back at the top of the hour and take a closer look
at public shaming, when it works and when it doesn`t. And does it still
matter these days to come out? I`m going to talk to tennis legend Martina
There will be more at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
It was hard to imagine a feeling lower than the disbelief and wrenching
sorrow we all experienced the day that the news broke with the horrific
details of what happened inside Sandy Hook elementary school in December.
But that bit of despair subsequently descended into a spiral of shame as an
event that was initially met with the promise of actionable policy was
instead responded to with political inertia.
Shame as the opportunity for meaningful solutions to the problem of gun
violence effectively ended when one by one all of the measures that could
have made a difference met their demise in the chambers of Congress.
Devoid of any of the change which we`d hoped, we`re left with just this
gnawing shame, characterized by useless emotions, frustration,
powerlessness, regret, remorse.
But what if shame could be put to good use? What if there`s some activist
value to be found in a kind of shame that disrupts politics to push for
progressive policy? This week, we got an answer to that question and a
glimpse of what that kind of shaming looks like in action, from one of the
people whose lives was irrevocably changed that day in Newtown.
On Tuesday, a small, New England town hall meeting was the scene of a big
lesson in public accountability from Erica Lafferty, daughter of Sandy Hook
elementary school principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the
Lafferty left Connecticut at 6:00 in the morning, to make the drive to New
Hampshire to ask Senator Kelly Ayotte, the same question she already posed
to the senator privately the day after Ayotte voted against expanding
background checks for gun sales. Only this time, the cameras were rolling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERICA LAFFERTY, SANDY HOOK VICTIM`S DAUGHTER: You had mentioned that day
you voted, owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would
harm. I`m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in
the halls of her elementary school isn`t as important as that. Why is that
not something that could be supported?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There was little surprise for Lafferty in Senator Ayotte`s
response to that question. It was the same answer that she`d given when
they met alone in her office a few weeks ago.
But although Lafferty`s question may have been mostly rhetorical, the
consequences have been very real. That video has since gone viral and as
part of a backlash against Ayotte from constituents who join Lafferty in
feeling betrayed by a vote that disregarded the 75 percent of New Hampshire
voters who support background checks. The senator who won her seat in 2010
by a 23-point margin saw her disapproval ratings jump by 11 points after
her no vote.
And 50 percent of New Hampshire voters polled say Ayotte`s stance on the
issue has made them less likely to support her in a future election. Proof
positive that there is power in public shaming.
But here`s -- here`s my worry. That power has also been put to use to
exposing to public scrutiny the lives of those left powerful. Last month,
Kansas Senator Brownback signed into law a bill that requires a drug test
for recipients of both welfare and unemployment benefits in the state.
Kansas joins at least seven other states that have passed similar
legislation and it is among 29 states whose lawmakers have baked shame into
policy proposals in ways that punish people for being poor.
In a decision upholding a lower court`s decision to halt Florida`s welfare
drug testing law, the federal appeals court wrote, quote, "There is nothing
inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the
conclusion that there`s a concrete danger that improvised individuals are
prone to drug use," which leaves us with a legislative trend that amounts
to shame for shame`s sake, instead of shame for the sake of good policy.
And that is a shame.
With me at the table: Jelani Cobb, associate professor of African-American
studies at University of Connecticut; Ange-Marie Hancock, an associate
professor teaching gender studies at the University of Southern California.
She`s also the author of "The Politics of Disgust and the Public Identity
of the Welfare Queen"; Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of "Reason" magazine;
and Kai Wright is a writer exploring the politics of sex, race and health.
He is the editorial director of Colorlines.com and a fellow at The Nation
Thanks to you all for being here.
So, I want to start with you, Ange-Marie, because so much of your work has
been around policy and shaming. When we see shame in the public sphere,
should we be happy about that? You know, Lafferty or, should we be
concerned about as in the drug testing of those who get welfare and
HANCOCK: Well, I think it`s really the reason we need to look at race and
gender together as we explore the impacts of shame are. So for example, I
don`t think it`s an accident that people have picked on Kelly Ayotte as
opposed to Jeff Flake in terms of the no vote that was cast against
universal background checks.
Voters expect women elected officials to be more compassionate. They want
them to be that person who is not corruptible by special interests in a way
they don`t expect of male elected officials. On the other hand, that
gender and race coming together then impoverishes the discussions around
whether or not shame should be used as part of public policy.
So, using it as a strategy for getting the policy is a good thing when it
can actually lead to better policy. But using it baked into, as you said,
public policy as a part of regulating or legislating women`s behavior has
not shown all of the statistics for 20 years have shown it`s not
particularly effective in rooting out fraud or anything else.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that you suggest that the senator might in
part be targeted because of her gender.
You know, I`ve sort of railed previously about these Bloomberg teenage
pregnancy ads, Kai, where the mayor who has a pretty good record on sort of
sex ed in the schools and that kind of thing has this ads where there`s
young children apparently talking to their mom saying, things like, you
know, honestly, mom, chances are he won`t stay with you. What happens to
There`s another one. I`m twice as likely not to graduate from high school
because you had me as a teen. These are clearly sort of shaming to try to
address teenage pregnancy.
KAI WRIGHT, COLORLINES. COM: Yes. I mean, there`s a couple of things you
got to pull apart. In the world of public health and the world of how
benefit policies, it is -- it is plain. The research has plain and plenty
of it that shame is not a driver of behavior.
So, there`s nothing going on there in terms much actual outcome. But with
the relationship between the political culture and public policy, that is -
- there`s a dynamic there where culture is driving policy and policy is
driving culture, and a lot of it you see. And so, to me, it`s value
neutral on this. It is. There is a relationship and shame is part of it.
So when you stand up in the public square and say shame on you for casting
this vote, you`re driving not just a conversation about the policy but a
conversation amongst all of us about what is appropriate behavior. And
similarly when they pass these bills at the state legislature, they`re not
really just talking about benefit recipients. They`re trying to establish
a conversation about poverty largely.
WRIGHT: And what, when, how we should understand poverty. So, it`s this
relationship between culture and public policy, I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is tough. I want us to be ashamed in a certain way. I
was listening again to the Gabby Giffords January testimony which I want to
listen to for a moment. This is like a moment in which I do want us as
Americans to feel ashamed. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER REP. GABBY GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA: Speaking is difficult, but I need
to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children
are dying. Too many children.
You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Her courage. I feel like should begin to shame us for not
taking action, Matt.
WELCH: If you believe that the action taken would have had any impact on
Newtown or making us safer in general. But that`s --
HARRIS-PERRY: But you don`t buy about the background checks?
WELCH: I don`t. I mean if we`re going to elevate the testimony of people
who are grieving because they lost loved ones, we`re going to use this as
you start at the top. This is the impetus to finally do something.
Then that calls into question, OK is the something going to have an effect
on the underlying event. Having expanded background checks would have done
nothing to prevent Adam Lanza. Nothing. Nothing. He got his guns from
his mom and probably would have passed a background check because he hadn`t
shown up on a database yet and committed a drug offense and those types of
So, yes, you can use shame in this and you should always use personal
testimony and you should always hold government officials accountable.
Don`t get me wrong about this. But know that for the people`s ears who are
persuadable here, sometimes, this kind of sense much moral outrage, if you
don`t share it in terms that policy is going to make us safer, it starts to
tune you out.
It`s interesting to note that in the gun debate specifically, you have
polls showing this, 90 percent of Americans think background checks are a
good idea. But only something like 45, 47 percent of Americans were
disappointed that Manchin-Toomey didn`t pass. What is that? Partly
because of that moral emotional assault on people turned people off.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is not -- it could be that we don`t want the victims`
families to be the ones pressing policy, right? It could be that in fact
we need to be more sober, less emotional.
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: I`m not sure it`s that though. I
have to take issue, Matt. Since when does Congress base policy on what is
COBB: People pass laws -- people pass laws based upon what interest group
they feel they can least afford to offend. And so, the laws that we have
on the books don`t work.
WELCH: But this is --
COBB: People are defending the status quo. The status quo is what allowed
Newtown to happen. So, the conversation was not that background checks
won`t affect this. Having fewer guns, having regulations on the gun
manufacturers, they never said in place of this let`s do something that
will actually work, which will be more difficult.
So, what it says to me, this was simply a matter of not wanting to offend
the pipeline through which dollars are coming and that is from gun
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. I think we`re in a interesting point of
tension. We`re going to take a break and come right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back.
We`ve been talking about the issue of shame. I want to show you an image.
It`s a cover of "Economist" magazine that came out right after hurricane
Katrina in 2005. You see there an image of an African-American woman who
survived the storm and the title there is "The Shaming of America."
I`ve always found this to be a problematic cover because here`s this woman
-- I mean, how many black woman have appeared on the cover of "The
Economist", right? We don`t know this woman`s name. It`s simply her
experience that has been meant to shame America.
But then to your point, it doesn`t lead us to a set of policies that
actually fix the fundamental issues that ought to have been shameful to us.
WRIGHT: Yes, but -- I mean, the specific policy debate, I think it`s
important to set aside from the broader political cultural debate, which
then shapes the policy solutions we have, right? So universal background
checks is about the lowest entry bar you can come up with for gun control.
It is -- it could not work, that`s because our political cultural
conversation about guns is so radical that we can`t get to policy. And so,
the public shaming that`s happening around Congress and guns is about
shifting the political culture such that we can discuss a different set of
And the public shaming around poverty is about shifting the set of the
political culture such that it is not considered abhorrent to cut people
off from benefits in the middle of this crisis.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because, Ange-Marie, the whole point of shame,
right, or disgust that you write about, that it has to be public and has to
be a violation of what we assume is right, right? So I assume that the
shaming of America in the moment of Katrina is about our assumption that
women and children should not be left to die in an American city, right?
But in this case, the fact that we apparently are not ashamed, for example
of refusing to engage in gun legislation, is the problem.
HANCOCK: I think you`re right. I think what`s going on is we have this
purpose for shame. But then that purpose for shame has run squarely up
against what I would call and other folks have called compass deficit
disorder. Meaning, they see that cover of "The Economist", they see these
There was a great piece on "60 Minutes" about the families of Sandy Hook
standing outside the statehouse with their pictures of their loved ones and
you watch legislator after legislator, some stopped, some talked, but so
many just walked right by.
Again, there`s this real failure of compassion when the victims either look
a certain way or when we`re so far to the right in our discussions that we
cannot have a meaningful conversation about how can we get back to the
middle. How can we have something that works and common sense?
WELCH: See, I just don`t agree with that. I don`t think that it`s fair.
You heard this a lot in the gun debate. You heard this from President
Obama, that the people on the other side somehow don`t care about kids
getting shot and killed.
That is -- that is an expression of you`re losing an argument and you want
to register you`re unhappiness with it. There`s nobody in America who
wants to see a dead kid, for crying out loud. People have different ideas
about what you can do.
I`m a libertarian so, A, I`m strange. B, I wake up every day thinking
there`s shame all around in all parties who talk about the drug war for
half an hour this morning. You talk about a single policy that has led to
more gun deaths than anything, probably, it`s this. This prohibition.
So, I could wake up and say you`ve got blood on your hands -- everybody,
shame, shame, shame on everybody. You got to dole it out in different
COBB: I think we`d be in a better position if in fact, you know, we`re not
people who behave cynically. We know this. We do know there`s a shame as
a dynamic in our politics.
What`s inverted, you know, maybe from 1950s, 1960s, where we felt the
capacity to shame someone elected and they were accountable to us, is that
we now by and large behave as if we are accountable to the people we elect.
And that`s why we have an idea that you can say, OK, are you using drugs,
whether or not you can get unemployment based upon your personal behavior.
But I remember, I wasn`t born then, I remember reading the discussion
surrounding when Norman Morrison went to the Pentagon and set himself on
fire, self-immolated, to protest Robert McNamara`s war policy in Vietnam.
When McNamara said all along, they knew that these are policies they were
pursuing were not going to work. So, I think that there is this idea that
you do sometimes have to confront people with --
WELCH: I totally agree. I totally agree.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the insight I think in part from Guffman (ph) around
shame, right? So, shaming us, holding accountable our elected leaders or
shaming up those with relatively more power in the social hierarchy is a
very different kind of project politically, intellectually than shaming
So, if you are in the powerless category and you point out to those above,
you are failing and you should be ashamed of yourself, that`s very
different than the shaming that goes down, you person who doesn`t meet my
standard for sexuality or, you know, the life choices you`re making. So, I
always feel like libertarians are worried about shaming down that happens,
right, from the powerful, down to the votes, the powerless.
WELCH: Yes, including this ridiculous drug testing of welfare recipients
and that kind of thing which to my mind is not shame. That`s punitive
action right there.
And we see a lot more of this in law enforcement too. The use of shame,
things like -- if you`re arrested for prostitution charge or not even
arrested but sort of stopped for it, they`ll put you on John TV up or put
you up on a billboard. This kind of thing is happening a lot more.
Judges are sentencing people to stand by the road holding a sign saying
"I`m an idiot". This is happening in America. That`s a use of shame and
its power against less powerful. That is shameful.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And you brought up the stop and frisk. "The Grio" has
a great report this week about how much more humiliating shaming is often
for women because of the sexual nature of how the touching and the frisking
ends up happening. And again, that`s the relatively powerful down to the
We`re going to stay on some of these issues because we`re going to talk a
little bit about the notion of coming out, which I think is also about this
anti-shame strategy, right? The idea that if I come out, then you cannot
shame because I have already taken hold of the identity that you want to
claim is shameful.
So, up next, tennis legend Martina Navratilova joins us live to discuss the
Jason Collins story. And we`re going to ask, does coming out still matter?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARVEY MILK, COUNTY SUPERVISOR: The day Nixon invaded Cambodia was a day I
had to speak out against war-profiteers, large corporations and so forth.
So, I got rid of my Wall Street career, which is the Montgomery Street
here, and when I walked through that door, I kept walking and announced
that also I was gay. And there was like taking a huge burden off my back.
I no longer had to live a double standard, double life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the late former San Francisco supervisor Harvey
Milk being interviewed in 1978 explaining his experience as the first
openly gay officer in the city`s history. Being the first to come out as
gay in any public space takes courage, which brings us to the biggest story
in the sports world this week. NBA player Jason Collins revealing his
sexual orientation on the cover of this month`s "Sports Illustrated".
On Monday, he became the first male athlete to do so while still playing in
a major U.S. team sport.
Joining me now from Miami is tennis icon, Martina Navratilova, who is a
trailblazer when she first came out in 1981. Thank you for being here.
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA, TENNIS ICON: Thanks for having me, Melissa. I`m a
fan of the show.
HARRIS-PERRY: I greatly appreciate that.
You congratulated Jason and said that his move is going to save lives.
Tell me how exactly.
NAVRATILOVA: Well, there`s no doubt in my mind this day and age, we still
have a third of teenage suicides are due to their sexual orientation.
They`re so terrified of coming out as gay that they take their own life.
For good reason, many times their parents throw them out. They
aggressively -- they attack them, et cetera. Imagine if you twist it the
other way and say to a straight kid, the worst day of your life will be
when you have to come out to your parents saying, mom, dad, I`m straight.
This is what the kids go through. They kill themselves over this.
And Jason coming out is going to make a difference in some of these kids`
lives. They`re going to say, you know what, it`s OK. This guy is great.
He plays basketball. He`s a great guy.
It`s OK. I`m not alone. It`s going to make a difference. There`s no
doubt in my mind.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, I want to ask a little bit about the time lapse that
has occurred since you came out versus Jason. The president of the United
States called Jason Collins this weekend and congratulated him publicly.
Did Reagan call you?
NAVRATILOVA: You know he didn`t. I was on Piers Morgan and that line just
popped into my head, because back then AIDS just came around in 1980. It
was, I think, about `85 when Ronald Reagan came out and said we have a
problem in this country gay men and AIDS. He ignored that issue. So, I
certainly didn`t expect anything. I mean, being gay was the lowest of the
low that you could get.
So, you know, that`s why people stayed in the closet because it was so
shamed of who you were. Not because of who you thought you were, but what
everybody else thought that people didn`t speak up.
But, again, like I said, for me coming from a communist country, leaving
that country and defecting to America, which gave me a home in 1975, not
knowing whether I was ever going to see my family again, took five years
before my father and my sister, four years before I see my mom, coming out
as gay was no big deal after that.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an interesting point. And I wonder a little bit
about the point you just made previously about sort of kids coming out to
their families and the idea that that is a unique burden that gay children
have relative to their families in a way that, because families just assume
heteronormativity, right? You assume your kid is straight until he or she
tells you otherwise.
Is there a way that, for example, for those of us who are parents can start
thinking about that differently?
NAVRATILOVA: Absolutely. And that`s where, again, because now times are
changing. It`s much more acceptable and the stigma is not nearly as great.
It`s still in the church. You still have a lot of issues in the Bible, et
But overall, the acceptance is much greater. Therefore, I think the
parents are going to have easier time accepting because their neighbors
aren`t going to be speaking badly about them. They need know that their
kids need that support to be themselves, to be happy.
And bottom line, I think in the end of the day, that`s what parents want
for their kids, to be happy. My father had a hard time for me when he
realized that I was gay. I was 25 years old and said, oh, this is
terrible. But then he read some books, educated himself and he realized he
had nothing to do with it. This is who I was.
The more we talk about it, the more people realize this is just who we are.
It`s not a choice. It`s not a lifestyle. This is who we are.
And it`s OK, you know? If they accept us, it`s so much easier for the next
generation to come out. That`s why now, for the young people it doesn`t
seem to be an issue anymore. It`s like who cares? What`s it to you other
than to my partner? It doesn`t really make any difference to anybody else
whether my partner is male or female.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, clearly, you blazed a trail here. Jason Collins calls
you a role model. Any response to that?
NAVRATILOVA: It was terrific. When I used to march on Washington in `93
and 2000, my mom used to tell me, why do you have to carry the flag? And I
said, well, it`s because there`s nobody else picking it up.
So, I`m actively handing it over to Jason Collins. He can carry it. He`s
a lot bigger and he`d get a lot more attention. You know, passing the
baton, paying it forward.
Jason and I exchanged e-mails. It was a surprise. I mean, I got busy. I
got busy last weekend, thanks to Jason. Thanks a lot.
I like to keep a profile but we do need to be visible, because it is still
an issue. As I said before, 29 states in this country can fire us for
being gay or even if they think that we`re gay. It is an issue, people say
oh, I don`t care? Who cares about his sexuality as long as you play good
Well, it is an issue for the people that are gay. We don`t have equal
rights. But one day comes and we have equal rights under the law, equal
protection under law.
We don`t want to talk about it. I don`t want to talk about it. I`d rather
talk about the Knicks, I`d rather talk about the weather, I`d rather talk
about hockey or politics.
NAVARATILOVA: So, that`s what it is. So, as soon as we get those equal
rights, when it`s a nonissue, fabulous.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you`ve taken us where we`re going to come back
after the break.
But thank you so much to Martina Navratilova in Miami. And thank you for
being a fan of Nerdland. You`re part of nerd nation.
NAVRATILOVA: Absolutely. Thanks. I`m a proud nerd. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s much, much more on this when we come back. We`re
going to bring into the conversation a former NFL player who also came out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sometimes in the team here in Nerd Land, we lament when big
new making announcements happen on Monday, because, you know, we`re not on
the air again until the weekend. This was one of those weeks.
But for all the best reasons, when we read these words: "I`m a 34-year-old
NBA center. I`m black and I`m gay", on "Sports Illustrated`s" site this
past Monday. We were pretty well-assured we would have something to say
about it this weekend.
For one, why the words "I`m black" preceded the words "I`m gay" under a big
picture of Jason Collins. I mean, why did he feel the need to bury the
lead? OK. If coming out still does matter, is it possible that coming out
matters more when the lead is "I`m black"? Got it?
I`m black and I`m gay, intersectionality, right? It`s Nerdland. You`re
OK, joining me now in the studio are Jelani Cobb, Ange-Marie Hancock, Matt
Welch and Kai Wright.
And via remote, LGBT activist Wade Davis, who revealed he was gay after his
NF-playing career. And today, Wade is in Chicago.
Nice to you.
There is previewing --
WADE DAVIS, LGBT ACTIVIST: Hi, Melissa. How are you doing?
HARRIS-PERRY: Hi. I know you`re there because you`re previewing the You
Belong Sports and Leadership Initiative for LGBT sports youth camp
launching this July, right?
DAVIS: Yes. Yes, ma`am. It`s something that I`m so passionate about to
give the core youth the opportunity to interact with athletes. It`s
something that the most exciting thing I`ve been a part of in a long time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wade, I`m going to die if you continue to call me ma`am.
So, you can`t do that.
DAVIS: I`m from the South. I`m so sorry.
HARRIS-PERRY: It made me feel very old. But that`s OK. So, talk to me a
little bit about this. How important was this week with Jason coming out?
DAVIS: I can`t think of a time where I`ve been more excited. I remember
the first time I walked into work and I had a young lady, she kind of ran
up to me and she said, oh, my God, oh, my God, have you heard of this guy,
he`s just like you, he`s a sports player, I don`t know what his name is,
but he`s black and he`s gay. You know?
And I thought immediately, that that was something that was very important
for our youth to see someone that looks like them in a sports sphere,
because I think oftentimes, our youth don`t have someone, you know, to
identify as -- expressly in the world of sports.
Kai, I`m going to ask about on the one hand, this point about how important
these visuals are, these symbols. But on the other hand, Martina`s point
that we have serious public policy issues at stake here. Are they starting
to go together or do we get so excited about the Jason Collins moments that
we miss the public policy ones?
WRIGHT: It`s not either/or. You can`t separate them. It goes back to our
last conversation. There`s a dynamic relationship between the political
culture and public policy.
I think actually some of the most important things that happened this week,
you know, wonderful for Jason and great for him and his courage. But you
know, when you come out, when I came out, when individuals come out, it`s
not an individual act. It`s a collective act that you do with your
community and the people who love you.
What we demonstrated this week with all of the people who came out with him
in support of him, that`s a coming out act as well. And the overwhelming
statements that he got are people who came out as I`m an ally, I`m a
supporter. That shapes our political culture that then allows us -- it
shapes our political culture, but it also shapes our just real world,
individuals that we live in culture, you know? Which is really, really
It teaches parents and coaches and teachers and -- it`s OK for me to
support somebody when they come out.
HARRIS-PERRY: But these kinds of moments, Matt, they out the allies, but
also the opponents, which was the other thing we saw this week. There was
a moment in particular.
Let`s listen to Chris Broussard and then I want your response to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS BROUSSARD, ESPN: If you`re openly living that type of lifestyle,
then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that, you know,
that`s a sin. And if you`re openly living in unrepentant sins, whatever it
may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex
between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that`s walking in open
rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Matt, you said there was something politically useful
about that discourse.
WELCH: Yes. I got into trouble from people who work for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. No doubt. Of course.
WELCH: All I mean to say is that I`m glad that this -- that statement
which I find ludicrous was in public. What`s interesting about that,
that`s about the only thing that we heard, right? Negative about this. I
could have missed one over the transit, but that`s basically the only real
criticism of it.
Why it`s important that happened in public on ESPN, a lot of people still
feel this way. They are going to need to work through it. They`re going
to need to have a discussion and get rightfully in this case shouted down
Think about it, six years ago, Tim Hardaway was saying, you know what? I`m
homophobic, I hate gays, sorry. That`s how I roll right now.
Three years later, he`s an activist for the other side. We are changing so
fast and it`s wonderful as a culture first. It`s not politics. It is
culture who is running this. It`s incredible to watch.
And so as part of that, you need to have the conversation and people who
are unafraid to go out and then get shouted down on this, which is what --
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, it is interesting that the politics of shame in this
case, Ange-Marie, did seem to be against Chris, not against Jason, right?
They were how dare you say something like this in public, but I guess I
still worry about the privilege aspect here, right?
So, on the one hand, I agree with you. There has been sort of a shouting
down of those comments, saying that, you know, that`s homophobic, that`s
not what we believe. And yet, you know, the fact is there`s policy,
privileges and cultural privileges that LGBT people do not have.
HANCOCK: I think that`s absolutely true. And the only other kind of
backlash that I`ve seen was an article, again, in the evangelical
community, talking about how Christians are the now minority. So, there`s
an element of movement, backlash where it`s essentially oh, now we`re the
victims, we`re the ones being shouted down and, you know, called hateful
and intolerant, bigots and everything.
I think, you know, again this is where the politics of shame can actually
work, right, because then they need to really be forced to confront the
fact that no, they`re not the minority and there really is this assertion
of privilege from people with power on down to prevent others. So, I do
think that is relevant in this particular conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wade, you had an incredible letter I wanted to read a bit
from and then we`ll take a break and come back. I want to read this
portion of the letter. This was your open letter to Jason Collins this
week that several gay black men signed on to.
In it you write, "Indeed, the sexual lives of black folk, however we`re
identified or expressed ourselves sexually have always been targets of a
fetishized preoccupation with the black body, that you are both black and
lesbian and gay is not your problem.
So, part of what I want us to do as soon as we come back, Wade, is I want
to talk about this idea of what does it mean that you have to be the one
that comes out versus the idea of inviting other folks in. So, we`ll do as
soon as we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re here and we`re discussing that historic announcement
last Monday of the 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins coming out. I want to
ask Wade Davis about that quote. About this idea that some folks are so
quick to dismiss it saying, oh, you know, I just don`t even care.
In your letter, you make the point that actually, no, it does matter.
DAVIS: It matters a lot. You know, I try to reframe the whole idea of
coming out to the idea of inviting in. If someone comes over to your house
and you invite them in and when you actually tell your own story in your
own words, you`re allowed to share with them your struggles, your pain and
your joy of actually being able to live in your true honestly.
I think one of the big jobs that Jason has is to redefine ideas of
masculinity. You know, he and myself have certain privileges that we can
enter and go in spaces and be perceived as heterosexual, and then we have
to actually invite you in and say, you know what, I`m a gay man.
So I think a lot of the work that we`re going to do is to redefine that,
but also create spaces where young kids who may not have their privilege to
present as masculine, can actually have access to sports as well, because
it doesn`t make much sense if only masculine presenting individuals can
play sports. There are plenty of queer kids who may not present as
masculine who also deserve access to sports as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Kai, this feels to me like, you know, this is the
connection to the shame conversation we`ve been having that part of what
happens here is a pushing back of the shame. When you invite in and/or
come out, you say, you know what? You can`t shame me with my identity
because this is my identity and I own it.
DAVIS: That`s right. I mean, you know, the history of gay politics,
excuse me, you know, to think that we went from blackmail, right? That was
the core of it. Remember, Bayard Rustin, one of the original "I`m black
and I`m gay", and he was blackmailed throughout his career as an activist
in the civil rights movement. Not literally but driven to the edges and
asked, you know, either put your sexuality away or get out of the center
stage, you know?
The movement from that, that is the movement. The movement -- to me, that
is at the core of the movement. There`s a movement from that blackmail
place to a place where I`m too proud. You can`t blackmail me.
And then the rest of the culture following that, I think, is important.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ange-Marie, I want to ask you specifically about this point
that Wade made around masculinity in sports. What that does is it ends up
inverting what goes on with women who are coming out. You know, Brittany
(ph) also came out earlier. We see the sort of less attention maybe when
women come out.
I know you have a connection with the WNBA when it was first launching.
Talk to me about how you were navigating this space.
HANCOCK: Yes. I us to work at the NBA and did the business model for the
WNBA. One of the things that we noticed, of course, and we knew this from
other sports too, Martina Navratilova is just one of many examples, that
there was a stereotype about women who were elite athletes and their sexual
orientation that when women came out in those elite sports, it was kind of
a confirmation of a stereotype.
So the attention really wasn`t kind of as homophobic in the same way around
men who were coming out. So you`ve had many women, had several women in
the WNBA, Sheryl Swoopes and others, who have already come out. Brittany
Griner is actually coming out as a longer tradition in history than Jason
Collins has, right? And Jason Collins does have, you know, people were
openly gay but it wasn`t well-known. Didn`t have a coming out process in
kind of an op-ed in sports illustrated. Glenn Burke, being out of them,
who played in the `70s, an out fielder.
You know, so there is a sense that for black men or men who are athletes to
come out is qualitatively different, precisely because the stereotype if
heteronormativity, despite some of the homo eroticism that occurs around
male professional sports.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lay that one on the table before we go to commercial.
WRIGHT: A lot of people were excited about this announcement.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is -- look, the fact is that we are I think as you
point out, Matt, we`re in a place where things are going fast and a lot of
us want to go faster.
Wade, thank you for joining us from Chicago. And thank you for your work
with youth, because it does absolutely make pay difference.
DAVIS: Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And thanks to everybody at the table here, to Jelani and
Ange-Marie and Matt and Kai.
We are not done because I have a footnote that we have all been extremely
excited about in Nerdland. I`m turning my footnote over to an
extraordinary spoken word artist.
HARRIS-PERRY: We started today discussing how the war on drugs has ravaged
American communities and how our policing efforts are sometimes shaming for
so many people. But sometimes words alone are not enough to express the
human cost of mass incarceration in our system.
Unless those words are delivered by an artist and educator as compelling as
Bryonn Bain. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Bryonn was arrested and
briefly detained for a crime he did not commit. But his experiences
inspired the extraordinary spoken word performance "Lyrics from Lockdown."
Joining me now is Bryonn Bain, nice to see you. So, tell me, you went to
Harvard Law School. Why are you an independent artist instead of
practicing law right now?
BRYONN BAIN, SPOKEN WORD ARTIST: They locked me up for something I didn`t
do and it changed my life. And so, I get rhythm from a brother named Nanon
Williams who`s been locked out for over 20 years for a crime he didn`t
commit and then Harry Belafonte and Gina Belafonte said we would like to
produce show about it, so here I am.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`ve had the opportunity to see parts of the show twice,
and I just, both times I thought Nerdland has to see this. So please share
some of the "Lyrics from Lockdown".
BAIN: Thanks. This is for Nanon.
(LYRICS FROM LOCKDOWN)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us in Nerdland.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was incredible. I appreciate you joining us on Nerdland.
It was incredible.
Thank you to Bryonn Bain and also to Jack (ph). Your music was incredible.
Tell me in 15 seconds, what`s your story? How do you end up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My story from Boston, going to school in New York. Met
Bryonn, he`s actually my professor at NYU.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, yes, he put me on his gig.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fantastic. Thanks so much.
Thanks to all of you at home for watching. What we try to do here is bring
you a little bit of the culture, a little bit of the politics. We hope you
enjoyed the mix of what we`re up to. I`m going to see you next Saturday at
10:00 a.m. Eastern.
House Leader Nancy Pelosi is going to come here to Nerdland. She`s not
going to do spoken word for us, but it`s going to be big fun. Be sure to
And up next is "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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