July 20, 2013
Guests: Val Nicholas, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Tim Wise, Nina Turner,
Corrine Brown, Tim Wise, Christina Swarns, John Phillips, Ron Davis, Ryan
Haygood, Khalil Muhammad
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question: is it time to
repeal stand your ground laws?
Plus, a letter to the woman who s inspired me all week.
And, the surprise comment from the president that has serious
implications for voting.
But first, the sentence that said it all. Trayvon Martin could have been
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Yesterday, President Obama
shocked everyone when he appeared unannounced in the White House briefing
room to speak about Trayvon Martin and his own experiences as a black man
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You know,
when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my
son. Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin could have been me,
35 years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Powerful words from the most powerful man in America.
The president went on to say how, despite the office he holds today, he has
been seen by strangers as a potential thief, a violent criminal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There are very few African-American men in this country who
haven`t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a
department store. That includes me. There are certainly very few African-
American men who haven`t had the experience of walking across the street
and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at
least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who
haven`t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching
her purse nervously, and holding her breath until she had a chance to get
off. That happens often.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president did not announce a major new
legislative agenda yesterday. He did not launch a new presidential
commission. But what he did was groundbreaking. And let me offer why.
Democracy is an entirely unique way of governing. It relies not on the raw
power of the state to enforce and maintain order, but on the consent of the
government. Democracy begins with the assumption that the reason
governments exist, the only legitimate basis on which they can exist, is
for the good of the people. The promise of democracy is that the people,
all of us, will be seen and recognized as unique individuals, not as stigma
or stereotypes, but as people. Recognition is a promise unfulfilled for
African-Americans. And that is what the president argued in such clear and
personal terms yesterday. To be a black man is to be misrecognized as a
criminal, as a threat, as a danger. When perhaps you`re just a worker, a
father, a kid on the way home with a bag of candy. More than a hundred
years ago, W.E.B. Dubois called misrecognition ". a peculiar sensation,
this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one`s self
through the eyes of others, of measuring one`s soul by the tape of a world
that looks on in amused contempt and pity."
So on Friday, when America`s first black president stood at the
podium of the White House press briefing room and spoke both as president
of the United States and as a black man, at the same time, he knit together
that double consciousness. He did something that no other president has
ever done so fully. He saw us and he demanded that the rest of the country
recognize the black experience as valid, as real, and as worthy of
recognition and discussion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When you think about why, in the African-American community,
at least, there`s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it`s
important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at
this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn`t
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: These experiences are real, he said. This happens,
and it hurts. And here`s the breathtaking part. It matters that black
people hurt. When we fail to see, we corrode the very basis of democracy.
On Friday, President Obama told America, Trayvon Martin could have been me
35 years ago, but what went unsaid is this. Perhaps in 35 years, Trayvon
Martin could have been President Obama. But we will never know, because
Trayvon was misrecognized, assumed to be a criminal, when he was just a kid
trying to get home.
Joining me now, Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner, NBC News Vice
President Val Nicholas, who this week wrote a column for msnbc.com on his
own experiences as an African-American man. Tim Wise, an educator and
author of "Dear White America," and Khalil Muhammad of the Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture. But I actually want to start with you.
Because when I heard the president say, Trayvon Martin could have been me,
I thought, of course, immediately, of your piece that you wrote this week,
saying, I could have been Trayvon Martin.
VAL NICHOLAS, NBC NEWS VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, he`s always stealing
NICHOLAS: Yeah, the interesting thing about that, the trial, was
those incidents where I faced police guns as a teenager were buried. I had
forgotten all about them, and for years and years, decades. And as this
trial came up, it was like, oh, you know what, I remember that.
NICHOLAS: I remember twice looking down barrels of police guns only
because, you know, somebody thought I was suspicious. And it was a life-
defining experience, because what I realized at that point was that the
color of my skin was not only going to invite racism and other things, but
it could actually get me killed or jailed. And that was an interesting
realization at 17, 18 years old.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point, I thought, Khalil, was the thread that
President Obama was trying to weave into this story, to talk about the
daily slights, the not getting a cab, the sense of lack of belonging, can
sometimes be seen as just racial grievance. Like, well, you know,
everybody`s got problems, get over yourself. But when you connect it to
the life-and-death consequences, when you connect it to the Trayvon Martin,
suddenly it becomes something bigger.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK
CULTURE: Well, I think, not only is that the key thread here, but I think
this reference to these micro-aggressions also work in two ways. They work
from the standpoint of eliciting this kind of backlash, oh, stop whining.
MUHAMMAD: But they also function a way that it`s a kind of like,
well, black people get what they deserve, because they put themselves in a
position to live poor lives, to perform less well in school, to live in
dangerous neighborhoods. And ultimately, it essentially says, we have no
responsibility for even the slights .
MUHAMMAD: . because the slights are reasonable.
MUHAMMAD: One of the things that`s most telling about this moment, and we
keep hearing so much about how post racialism isn`t the era of the Obama
age, that we`re not in a post-race age, is that a hundred years ago when
Dubois was writing that, one of the things that he was writing against in
that zeitgeist, in that particular moment was this tense (ph) that whites
had said, we`ve done everything that we can do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We`re talking - we`re talking turn of the 20th
MUHAMMAD: That`s right. We`ve passed civil rights amendments in the 13th,
14th and 15th amendments, we have solved the problem of race in America.
Now the states are back to doing what they`re .
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re 50 years past slavery, what are y`all whining
MUHAMMAD: So Dubois is actually bringing to bear a response to an
earlier post-racial zeitgeist .
MUHAMMAD: . that is trying to unravel the complexities of being
black in America.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, this point for me is so critical. Because it
is a reminder that this isn`t just post-Jim Crow, post-civil rights
movement, right? That this is always the response back. Tim, I`m going to
ask you, because part of what I found fascinating about this response, was
the ways in which it was quite different than 2008. I want to listen to a
moment in the 2008 race speech in Philadelphia, where the president talks
about racial profiling, but he talks about it in the context of his white
grandmother. Let`s listen for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown my white
grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and
again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this
world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her
by on the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So it feels to me, in a way, part of what he was
trying to do in that scripted, sort of save the campaign speech, was to
talk about the black experience, but also the white one. And to give - and
this time, it was just all, let me explain to you how this feels.
TIM WISE, AUTHOR "DEAR WHITE AMERICA": Right. Right. Well, I
think the difference is, there`s a tragedy that precipitated the need for
this answer. So it`s got to be more heartfelt. It`s not a political
damage control speech, which the Philadelphia speech, for all of its
supposed grandeur, was. I think what we as white folks have got to deal
with in this, is it can`t be for President Obama to call out these
realities alone. We have got to begin to be honest, finally. Because not
only is white America in denial, I think, by and large, with exceptions
dually noted about racism in 2013. As we just said, they were in denial
during Dubois` day in the early `60s, I`ve mentioned it on your show
before, even before civil rights laws were passed, 80, 90 percent of white
Americans said there was no problem, black folks are treated equally, what
are you complaining about.
If we are unable to see black reality for what it is, then we`re not
going to be able to move forward. It`s one thing to disagree about a
WISE: It`s quite another to look at black people .
WISE: . and say, you know that thing you think is happening? It`s
not. You`re crazy!
WISE: You`re hallucinating. That`s fundamentally arrogant. And to
the extent it has a racial element to it, it`s fundamentally racist.
HARRIS-PERRY: To me, that`s so useful. This is an acknowledgement
of the black experience does not mean agreement on the verdict, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: It means an agreement about the ability to speak to
your own experience. Nina, I just have to ask you before we go to this
break, the president talked about things that had happened to him in the
past. He said, before I was a senator, I experienced these micro-
aggressions. But, also, this is the president who was asked to show his
birth certificate. Who was asked - who basically experienced that sense
of, what are you doing here, kid? Show me, boy, that you belong here. And
I wonder if he sees it that way, or, like, certainly, it came to mind for
me, that birtherism.
ST. SEN. NINA TURNER (D) OHIO: Yeah, and it`s true and the
president really captured the essence of what it means to be black in
America. And although he is the president of the United States, he can
have a flashback about his journey as an African-American boy and now an
African-American man. I have a son who`s 23 years old. He could have been
Trayvon. Can you imagine birthing a child in the world and knowing from
the moment, when I experience pleasure because he was healthy .
TURNER: But at the same time, in that birthing room, saying that my
son is going to have to carry the burden of his blackness.
TURNER: God, please bless him.
TURNER: And that -- that piece?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pains. And all the -- he was asking was, this pain
HARRIS-PERRY: Just acknowledge .
HARRIS-PERRY: . acknowledge that it exists. We`ll be back on this
topic in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American
boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there`s no
context for it. And that context is being denied. And that all
contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in
the same kind of scenario, that from top to bottom, both the outcome and
the aftermath might have been different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, it`s just a little bit more of President Obama`s
unexpected and deeply personal remarks given yesterday in the White House
briefing room. So what are the primary barriers to having the kind of
conversations that the president was calling for yesterday?
WISE: Well, I can only speak to the barriers for white folks, because
that`s my people.
WISE: What is wrong with .
WISE: We speak for all .
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right, right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Chris was on fire this week.
WISE: But here`s the thing, you know. I think one of the barriers
is that we`re not willing to reflect on our own experience. Even as we
talk about racism, we talk about it as a black issue, as a Latino issue.
Here is the reality. We have to be honest that what the president just
said about it, it might have been different. Oh, I can tell you, it would
have been different, and I can tell you from my own experience. So, in New
Orleans, I am 23, I just graduated from Tulane, you will either appreciate
this or recognize the story, at least, being in New Orleans. I was - I
locked myself out of my car. I had to get a coat hanger to break in. Keys
are in there. I`m out there, I`m in a t-shirt, cutoff shorts, flip-flops,
or what, I`m trying to break in, with a coat hanger. NOPD, New York Police
Officer, comes up, sees me, trying to break into a vehicle, but he does not
know if it is my vehicle. He doesn`t ask me for a license, he doesn`t ask
me for proof that it`s my car. In fact, he proceeds to say, you`re doing
TURNER: Son, let me help you.
WISE: I said - well, he did. He said, you`re breaking into that
car the wrong way. Let me show you the right way. So he then proceeds to
try to get in, he couldn`t, because apparently the 1988 Toyota Tercel is
the hardest car in the world to steal.
WISE: Not that anybody would want one, but it`s very hard to steal.
So he then looks at me and says, you know, we ought to just throw a brick
through it. So I have a police officer offering to help me, as far as he
know, steal a vehicle. Now anyone who thinks that a 23-year old black male
in New Orleans or anywhere else in this country would have had that
experience is so deluded that we cannot have a conversation about probably
anything like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west .
WISE: . because that is just so obvious. So, that is .
WISE: We can`t just talk about the downside of racism for those of
color, which is quite real. We`ve got to be open to - we`ve got to talk
about the advantage, the upside for people who don`t have to ever ask
themselves, could I have been that young man, because we wouldn`t be.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the - this is the - if President Obama can
say, Trayvon Martin could have been me, this is the point that, in fact,
Trayvon Martin could -- I am not Trayvon Martin if I am in another kind of
WISE: Right, George Zimmerman .
WISE: . could have been me .
WISE: . or a lot of other white folks.
MUHAMMAD: And I want to add to this point, because it has really deep
historical roots. So, the president makes reference in this speech too,
statistically, Trayvon Martin was more likely to be killed by a peer than
by George Zimmerman, which is his way of sort of grounding it in a way that
he doesn`t go too far off the reservation, right? But the larger history
that this relies upon is essentially that statistically, Trayvon`s not
likely to be the president. So statistically, we should treat Trayvon like
the potential suspect that he is, rather than him being like the president.
And essentially, the violence of the racial quantification of black life.
MUHAMMAD: This way, in which we essentially say, we don`t have to
use the "N" word anymore.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: All we have to simply is young black male, 14 to 21 .
MUHAMMAD: . likely suspect, and they craft the whole set of
policies around that to statistically predict that most of them are likely
to be in trouble, so not likely to be president.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and the other side of the story, and this is
the part - so it is true that statistically, he is more likely to have been
shot by a peer. It`s also, however, statistically, likely, much more
likely that George Zimmerman would have been shot by a peer. Violence is
TURNER: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Intra - R, A, for all groups, right? So the violence
against white people is typically white on white violence.
TURNER: That`s right.
MUHAMMAD: But the history of it -- here`s where the history
matters. So a hundred years ago, those statistics really didn`t exist.
MUHAMMAD: So the statistics come into use a hundred years ago to
separate out deserving and undeserving .
MUHAMMAD: . worthy and unworthy. And essentially, a hundred years
ago, one of the leading racial demographers in America said, when black men
come into competition with white men, they have two roads out of their
dilemma, the road to prison or the road to an early grave. 1896. So, in
other words, we have set up history, so when President Obama talks about
MUHAMMAD: . a history we don`t know very well .
MUHAMMAD: . essentially, we have stacked the deck .
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, that`s right.
MUHAMMAD: . to end up with statistical proof .
MUHAMMAD: . to reinforce a lie from the very beginning, that black
men are likely to end up in prison or dead, and so why should we bother
creating pathways of opportunity .
HARRIS-PERRY: For anything else?
MUHAMMAD: . for them to be president.
HARRIS-PERRY: State Senator Turner, I want to read quickly what
Trayvon Martin`s parents said in response to President Obama, and then have
you play off of that and also anything else here. Let`s just take a look
for a moment. Because they wrote, "President Obama sees himself in Trayvon
and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy.
Trayvon`s life was cut short, but we hope that his legacy will make our
communities a better place for generations to come. We applaud the
president`s call to action, to bring communities together and encourage an
open and difficult dialogue."
TURNER: And that`s what it`s going to take. But the pain of losing
a child, then to have to go out on public display and grieve, and then to
say what the president has said about our son is a tribute. I wish that
Trayvon Martin was alive, so that that tribute could be given to him. You
know, and even on the cover of the "Daily News" right here, I mean to see
the juxtaposition of the president .
TURNER: . the young Barack Obama, next to Trayvon Martin.
HARRIS-PERRY: And "Drudge" made a picture .
TURNER: I mean .
HARRIS-PERRY: So "Drudge" immediately, last night .
HARRIS-PERRY: . made an image where they put young President
Obama`s face onto -- onto Trayvon Martin in that hoodie picture.
TURNER: But a point I want to follow up, remember, Ice Cube had
some lyrics that said, my skin is my sin. We need to understand that. And
to Tim`s point, dealing with racism or bigotry or -- see, we`ve all been
socialized, whether we`re black, white, Latino, Asian, it doesn`t matter
what our ethnicity -- we have all been socialized in a society that says
that black life is less. And not only does it say it, it follows it
through in laws in this country. It follows it through in deeds. So what
Ice Cube had to say, there`s something profound and eerie about saying to
the world, my skin is my sin. We`ve got to deal with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just existing.
TURNER: Just existing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us. We`re going to come back. Because I also
want to talk about just how extraordinary the moment in the White House
briefing room was in the first place. When we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody .
OBAMA: That`s so - that`s so disappointing, man. Jay, is this kind
- the kind of respect that you get?
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama surprising the White House
press corps yesterday, when he suddenly emerged to talk about Trayvon
Martin and race. So surprising that, in fact, if you look at the
transcript of the remarks on "The Washington Post`s" website, the very
first word of the transcript is from reporters in the briefing room simply
saying, "Whoa!" The White House press corps didn`t see this coming, it was
unannounced and apparently unscripted. The president caught us all off
guard. So what led up to this. What happened nearly a week after the
verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman that spurred President Obama to
speak at length about race in America at that particular moment? And for
that answer, we go to the White House and NBC`s Kristen Welker. Nice to
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you, Melissa. You
know, I think this president is so deliberative, as you know. And so he,
according to White House officials, has been watching - carefully watching
and monitoring the reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict, ever since it
came down last weekend. Both within the African-American community, but
also sort of throughout the country. And because there were such strong
emotions on both sides, he felt the need to speak out, as the nation`s
first African-American president. This is a decision that he discussed
with his family. And then I`m told that on Thursday, he called senior
advisers into his office and he told them, this is what he was thinking of
doing. Some of them were skeptical, I am told. But once he talked about
his thoughts and what he wanted to say to the nation, there was sort of a
unanimous agreement that he should, in fact, address the nation.
So that is what happened on Friday. You talked about the element of
surprise, Melissa. That was by design. The president wanted this to be
unscripted. And the White House didn`t want reporters sitting around,
thinking about what he was going to say and start to speculate about what
he was going to say. They wanted the focus to be on his remarks. And
that`s really what happened. And I can tell you, it was so striking I`ve
covered this beat for more than two years. We usually do get a heads up.
This is the first time that we didn`t. So it really was stunning for that
But also, Melissa, because he was so personal. He talked about the
fact that he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, as you`ve been
discussing throughout your show. It was really, to some extent, a bookend
WELKER: . to the speech that he gave back in 2008, when he was a
candidate. But this was a very different tone. As a president, I think he
was more deeply personal and freer with his thoughts.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so funny that you say that about, that maybe it
was about making sure that reporters weren`t sort of overthinking it before
it happened. Because, you know, we were all sitting around upstairs in
Nerdland, prepping for today`s show. And one of the producers said, oh,
you know, the president`s on. And I was like, oh, no, maybe he`s going to
talk about Detroit. And then when he said, I`m here to talk about Trayvon
Martin, I just - I mean we were all just speechless in that moment.
WELKER: So, I think that that is exactly what happened here at the
White House. When we saw him come out, we immediately started to say,
well, what is he going to talk about? It must be Detroit. And a lot of
people thought that this White House had moved on from the issue of Trayvon
Martin, because, remember, he did release a paper statement last week.
WELKER: He called for national calm in the wake of this verdict,
which, by the way, both in his written statement and in his remarks
yesterday, he said that the nation should respect the verdict and said that
the judge had handled the case professionally. But I think you`re
absolutely right. The fact that he started speaking about Trayvon Martin,
no one saw it coming. And it really allowed the nation to focus, I think,
on his words and to really listen to what he was saying.
I think it was a message to the African-American community, but
really to all Americans, to say, you know, this reaction that we are seeing
comes within an historic context, that we need to remember. It is not
going away. And I think that that was sort of the power of his remarks.
And also his call to action moving forward, in terms of restarting a
national conversation about race relations.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was, in fact, a very powerful moment. Now,
Kristen, just before I let you go, I do want to just mention the news, that
veteran journalist and longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas has
passed away at the age of 92. For so many years, she was a staple there in
the front row of the White House briefing room, where this historic thing
occurred yesterday. Speak to me for just a moment about what kind of
figure Helen Thomas was.
WELKER: Well, I think that every journalist and correspondent who
has worked inside this briefing room has been inspired by Helen Thomas.
Certainly, I have. Just the other day, I was looking at her front row seat
in the briefing room and saying, I wish I could have been there when she
occupied that seat. She was a pathfinder, she was a first in so many ways.
Of course, she retired in 2010 after making some controversial comments
about the Middle East peace situation. But, Melissa, she has covered every
president from Eisenhower, through the first two years of President Obama.
And just a point about the first, she was the first female president of the
National Press Club, the first female president and member of the White
House Correspondents Association, and the first female member of the
Gridiron Club. And I`m going to give the final word to another pioneer in
this industry, Andrea Mitchell, who`s, of course, our colleague. She
tweeted out, "Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed,
women pioneer journalist broke barriers, died today, would have been 93
next month, rest in peace.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. And certainly we were reminded this
week of how important it can be when bodies that are normally shut out of
spaces, in fact, find themselves there. So, it`s quite a bookend on this
HARRIS-PERRY: Kristen Welker at the White House, thank you so much.
WELKER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, we will continue on this conversation. I`ll
bring back my panel. Because I want to talk about the president`s message
to the Trayvon Martins around the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This isn`t to say that the African-American community is
naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately
involved in the criminal justice system, that they`re disproportionately
both victims and perpetrators of violence. It`s not to make excuses for
that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a
historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes
place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very
violent past in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama on Friday, explaining that
in African-American communities, we are well aware that much of the
violence experienced by African-American men comes at the hands of other
black men. But he went on to point out that some of that violence is the
result of the country`s difficult and violent history. The president was,
perhaps, responding to claims that those who expressed frustration over the
not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial were not sufficiently
outraged by the everyday murders of African-Americans by African-Americans.
What do you make, not so much of the president here, but of the
critique, somehow that our outrage over the Zimmerman verdict meant that we
didn`t care that Hadiya Pendleton, for example, had been killed, or other
NICHOLAS: One of the things that I think, causes all of this, it`s
kind of the root of all of this kind of turmoil on this stuff is the idea
and particularly with Barack Obama, that suddenly, we need to be a color
blind nation. That Barack Obama, since he`s been elected, now everything`s
color blind. And I think the idea of color blindness separates us even
more. Even in this trial when we`re talking about it, we won`t talk about
racial profiling, we won`t talk about this, we won`t talk about that. When
race was the elephant in the room. And I think as long as we keep striving
to be color blind, I`m a black man.
NICHOLAS: When you look at me, I`m a black man. He`s a white man.
When you look at him, he`s a white man. And I -- color blindness says to
me that you`re going to treat me like a white person.
NICHOLAS: And I don`t need or want that.
NICHOLAS: You know, I wanted - all I need to be treated is like the
black, Asian, Native American (inaudible) mutt that I am.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. And so, I want to ask you a little bit about
this - so we went back, because it occurs to me, that this is not the first
president to talk about race and to talk about it personally. So we went
back to look at LBJ when he was trying to pass civil rights legislation.
And as he spoke about it, he says, "As a man whose roots go deeply into
southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are." So planting
Then we took a look at Bill Clinton, also a southern white man, who
also in his conversations about race in 1997, when he called for a
conversation on race said, but back home, I went to segregated schools,
swam in segregated public pools, sat in all-white sections at the movies.
He went on to say, and traveled through small towns in my state that still
mark restrooms and water fountains, white and colored.
And then the bottom one, the one that really tripped me out, this was -
this was President Carter. He was asked during a town hall, "If you fell
in love with a colored woman, would you be willing to marry her?" And he
says, "As far as intermarriages are concerned, I have never been in love
with any woman other than my wife, but I would hope that in the true spirit
of equality and in an absence of racial prejudice, that I would not let the
color of a woman`s skin interfere with my love for her if I felt that way
and marriage, of course, would be part of the relationship if the
circumstances should permit."
HARRIS-PERRY: So, and then we have at least three presidents, all of them
southern white men .
HARRIS-PERRY: Who all spoke about race .
HARRIS-PERRY: In this personal .
WISE: But only - in this country, for a lot of white folks, only when
people of color speak about that issue are they divisive. Now, so if a
black man speaks to black truth, then that`s divisive. If white folks deny
black truth, that`s uniting.
WISE: And it`s whole deflection to black on black crime. First of all, we
shouldn`t call it that .
WISE: . because we don`t wall white on white crime that, even though it`s
two and a half times more prevalent numerically.
So, until we racialize what white folks do to each other .
WISE: Than we need to stop doing that .
HARRIS-PERRY: And what`s wrong with you people! (Inaudible) white
WISE: And finally, you know, to bash civil rights folks, for not
sufficiently, in their mind, because, in fact, they do talk about these
issues, but not sufficiently talking about violence in black urban
communities is like blaming Mothers Against Drunk Driving for not having an
adequate campaign to deal with folks who die on the road for not wearing
WISE: They are both good issues, more people die from not wearing a
seat belt than drunk driving, but that doesn`t mean it isn`t legitimate to
deal with drunk driving. This is a classic deflection technique by people
who do not want to deal with the reality of racism and had never wanted to
deal with the reality of racism and resent the fact that the targets of
racism insist that we continue to deal with it.
TURNER: I mean and Tim is absolutely correct on this. We come from
a place and a space in this country. We need to acknowledge it and do
something about it. And this goes beyond conversation. We need policies.
I mean, disproportionately, African-American men, for example, have the
highest unemployment rate. Did they create that unemployment rate? You
know, I haven`t met any child, whether they be black or white, but we`re
talking about black children right now, who say, and especially black boys,
who say, when I grow up, I want to go to prison.
TURNER: I`m looking forward to that. I want that to be my
experience. I want to be racially profiled. You know, my husband was a
former police officer, and he talked to me coming home from work about
ladies clicking their doors, or .
TURNER: Now, this is a law enforcement officer, that if you needed
help, would be there to help you, but because of his skin color, you
automatically assume that he is somehow a criminal. From birth, African-
American people, children, male and female, particularly males, they carry
that burden every single day.
TURNER: We have got to do something about that in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, your point here is so key. And I`m thinking about
the president in that moment thinking, we`ve got to wring bias out of
HARRIS-PERRY: And also your point about color blindness. And we`ve
just -- we`re just in the midst of this amazing moment around LGBT issues,
HARRIS-PERRY: This amazing moment when we are seeing for the first
time, our friends and our loved ones, who are gay and lesbian, and we are
beginning to change policies -- like, and it is one of the most
extraordinary stories of this epic of American history. And that we could,
at the same time, be beginning, just beginning, to do the work of
recognition there. And then failing, continuing to fail, on the
recognition on the other side. No one wants blindness, right? The whole
point is to see, not to be blind. Thank you to Val Nicholas. And I want
to let viewers know that they can read your full column right now online at
Up next, we`ve got more. But we`re going to switch gears a little
bit. As activists prepare to hold vigils in a hundred cities around the
country today, President Obama says it is time to take a stand on stand
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the death of Trayvon Martin became a national story,
stand your ground had already become a big deal. First passed in Florida
in 2005, the law is now on the books in some two dozen states. If you have
followed the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story at all, by now you know
that stand your ground reinterprets self-defense to allow a citizen to use
force, even deadly force, when that citizen feels threatened. But this is
important. George Zimmerman`s lawyers did not use stand your ground as
part of their case. Before the case even went to trial, there was so much
talk about stand your ground that this detail may have been lost. But, in
fact, Zimmerman`s lawyers chose not to argue stand your ground. And they
didn`t have to. Florida circuit court judge, Debra Nelson, essentially did
it for them. Listen to the instructions she gave the six-member jury ahead
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, SEMINOLE COUNTY COURT: If George Zimmerman was
not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he
had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his
ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably
believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily
harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday, President Obama made it clear that he
feels stand your ground laws need to be reconsidered and re-examined here
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: And for those who resist that idea, that we should think
about something like these stand your ground laws, I just ask people to
consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his
ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been
justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because
he felt threatened?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: More about other stand your ground cases also in
Florida, after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: The not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has
sparked new discussions about and protests of the stand your ground law
that originated in Florida in 2005. Since then, the stand your ground law
has been invoked in more than 200 cases in Florida, where charges were
dismissed or defendants were acquitted or not even charged at all. One
case that doesn`t fit that description is Marissa Alexander. She is the
32-year-old Jacksonville, Florida mother, who in 2010 fired a single bullet
that lodged in her kitchen ceiling. Alexander says that she fired a
warning shot to scare off her husband, who was confronting her in a rage
over some text messages on her phone. Her husband later admitted to
previous domestic violence against Alexander, but no matter. Despite
claiming that she stood her ground and acted in self-defense, Alexander
received a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence in May of last year, for
shooting a ceiling. Joining us from Jacksonville, is Democratic
Congresswoman Corrine Brown, representative of Florida`s 5th district, and
one of Alexander`s most vocal supporters. Joining our panel here in New
York is MSNBC host and attorney Ari Melber and Christina Swarns of the
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Representative Brown, I want to start with you. You have been such
a fierce advocate for Marissa Alexander. Tell me in your words why this
case is so important.
REP. CORRINE BROWN, (D) FLORIDA: First of all, I want to tell you
that your father is correct. 50 years later, each one of us still have to
continue to work to make things better.
BROWN: I mean so the fight goes on. First of all, this female, a
warning shot, the day that it happened, the day that it happened, it was a
restraining order against her husband.
BROWN: She was beaten when she was pregnant and put in the hospital
by her husband.
BROWN: I mean and the way stand your ground works, the officer
write it up, and so the judge decide. And so if you have an officer
writing it up, that`s not trained, it`s a problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask .
BROWN: And let me tell you, though, the week before, someone was
convicted of murder, got 15 years.
BROWN: So, I mean, the disparity and the discretion there on how
the prosecutor charged is totally unacceptable.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. And so, that`s exactly what I wanted to ask you about,
Representative Brown. Because it`s not just some prosecutor out in this
world, it is Angela Corey, the exact same prosecutor who made a decision,
despite the fact that there were six women on the Zimmerman jury, to not
even bother to prosecute Zimmerman herself, to send the other folks, that`s
you talking there with Miss Cory, but she aggressively went after Marissa
Alexander. Why the disparity?
BROWN: I cannot tell you that. But if you look at Jacksonville, we have a
50 percent direct filing of youth -- direct filing. That means we are
filing them as felons. That is the new slavery. They will never be able
to get a decent job. The person that was the prosecutor before, Harry
Shorstein, he had a program that we worked with youth in our community.
And this is what happens when people do not go to the ballot box .
BROWN: . clearly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me .
BROWN: You need to ask the right questions and make sure that you
are electing people that are going to work with the community.
HARRIS-PERRY: Representative Brown, hold for me for one moment.
Because I want to ask you a question. Why would Marissa Alexander have
even needed stand your ground? She was in her home, which is Castle
Doctrine, which is law in all 50 states, right? Why - why does she even
need stand your ground?
CHRISTINA SWARNS, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Well, I`m not sure
whether she needs stand your ground or not, but I do know, that what it
seems to have happened in this case, is that judge says, based on her
behavior around the time she fires the shots, it doesn`t seem like she was
afraid. It doesn`t seem like she was acting in fear for her life. And
what I think is lost in that conversation is, aside from the issues of
race, is this history of abuse.
SWARNS: . of this woman, right?
BROWN: And the baby was eight days old!
SWARNS: Right, right. Right. And that`s what I`m saying. And the
president yesterday said, we have to understand context.
SWARNS: And we have to look at a situation in the context of
history. Marissa Alexander`s judgment in that moment .
HARRIS-PERRY: Was that abused woman .
SWARNS: . has to be viewed through the lens of the abuse she
sustained, through the course of that relationship. And I don`t know Miss
Alexander, but I don`t know whether there`s a family history of abuse. So
she`s making a judgment, from a history of abuse from this man, as to
whether or not she was in mortal danger. That was just completely absent
from the analysis of what happened here. And that was a mistake.
HARRIS-PERRY: Representative Brown, yes.
BROWN: Let me say, she had a master`s degree. She worked her way
BROWN: She had no priors. So it was - this was her first offense.
And we have sent this woman to jail for 20 years. And you said it, but I
don`t want the audience to miss it. When all of this happened, when this
man who has admitted that he has abused this woman .
BROWN: This woman as well as others.
HARRIS-PERRY: And others.
BROWN: This woman and four others.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. That there was an eight - her eight-day old
baby in that home.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we have decided to send her away for 20 years!
BROWN: That`s right. But what was offered to her was, we will give you
three years, you become a felon, and you give up the custody of your child.
Help me, somebody!
HARRIS-PERRY: That was - that was her plea bargain option?
BROWN: That was her plea bargain. And so when I had mentioned it to her,
she said, well, I offered her three years. I said, three years is not
mercy and 20 years is not justice.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I want to bring Nina Turner in here. In part of those
church (ph) going on .
HARRIS-PERRY: I want Nerdland to be part of it. But when
Representative Brown said, you must vote, you know, I heard you respond to
that. And it does feel like -- I keep feeling like, if Angela Corey
running for office? And does she think that there`s a reason why the
prosecution of Marissa Alexander and not the prosecution of George
Zimmerman is the right thing to do?
TURNER: I mean Representative Brown is dead on about, we have to
elect people, better people, people who understand that these types of laws
are not the way we should go in this country. We all have the power in
that case. And that`s what I don`t want us to lose here. That if we ever
want to do something about the proliferation of these stand your ground
laws and other laws, whether it`s voter suppression or whatever it is, we
have to elect people who have a consciousness. For her to have to prove
her worth as a human being, there`s not an American who doesn`t -- who
couldn`t understand that concept. That you have a group of people who are
purely American, born in this country, that have to prove their worth,
generation after generation, in this country. How -- rapists get less than
what`s this mother who was trying to protect her life and her child got.
You know, this is a Dr. Martin Luther King moment, professor. And it is
injustice anywhere .
TURNER: . is a threat to justice everywhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Representative Brown, that is Congressman Brown this is
part of why your advocacy on this has been so important. Thank you so much
for joining us from Florida.
BROWN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, the next major test for the stand your ground
law. We`re going to talk to the father of slain teenager, Jordan Davis.
And also, my letter to the woman who inspired me and so many others this
week. But first, a quick programming note. This week, the legendary
Stevie Wonder announced that he will not perform in Florida until it
abolishes the stand your ground law, or in any state where the law exists.
So for the next hour, you`re going to be hearing all Stevie throughout our
show. More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
One week after the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict and one day after
President Obama`s extraordinary comments on the case, we are bracing for
yet another racially charged test of "Stand Your Ground" as a law. Soon,
we`re going to have another trial of a white shooter in Florida, claiming
self-defense in killing an unarmed 17-year-old black boy. Seriously, I`m
not kidding. It is already scheduled for late September.
That`s when this man, Michael David Dunn, will go on trial, alleging he was
on standing his ground when he shot to death a young man who was sitting in
the backseat of an SUV with three of his friends. Jordan Davis and his
buddies were parked in a Jacksonville parking lot last November when Dunn
got into a fight with them over the volume of the hip hop music they were
playing in their SUV.
After an exchange of words, Dunn allegedly fired his weapon eight or nine
times at close range, striking only Jordan two times, fatally. Davis died
that -- excuse me, yes, Jordan Davis died that night, and Dunn now faces
charges, first-degree murder and attempted murder, to which he has pled not
guilty. He claims he opened fire after one of the teens pulled out a
shotgun. No weapons were ever recovered from the scene.
Joining me now from Jacksonville, Florida, are Ron Davis, Jordan`s father,
and his family`s attorney, John Phillips. They`re going to -- they`re
going to be with us in just a moment. But let me come out first to the
panel and ask this question, should we be expecting to see similar
reactions in the Jordan Davis case, as we have seen in the Trayvon Martin
ST. SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: I think so. I mean, this righteous
indignation about what`s going on -- I mean, the notion of "Stand Your
Ground", even if the ground is soiled with blood, we need to come to grips
with that in this country.
TIM WISE, ANTI-RACIST WRITER & EDUCATOR: And you`re going to have white
folks do the same thing too. They`re going to say, well, he felt
threatened. Because apparently even if you`re black and don`t have a gun,
the mere fact you might have a gun and you`re black is sufficient to fear
And there`s research on this -- there are studies on this, that when you
show white evacuates a video and it`s a black person with something
ambiguous in their hand, they`re more likely to think it`s a gun, even
though, oh, it`s a cell phone, Amadou Diallo, oh, it`s a wallet.
So, in that sense, this case needs to be understood, not as only
representing this shooter, but as the large psyche of an awful lot of folks
in this country who just see a young black man, assume there`s a gun, open
fire, and then claim, I was afraid.
And there are going to be people who are going to defend that fear. I have
no doubt about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think part of, Ari, over what`s been stunning for me,
over what`s happened post-Zimmerman verdict is the sense that we now still
need to sort of decimate the character of Trayvon Martin.
So, I think that there are very reasonable positions on which one can
disagree about the verdict. But the idea that we now need to go back and
take this kid`s character apart, and I`m just -- I mean, I`m sitting here,
kind of just, oh! The idea that they`re going to do this again to Jordan
Davis, that somehow sitting and listening to hip hop music when all of this
is going to happen.
ARI MELBER, "THE CYCLE": I think you`re sitting and listening to something
very deep. That we listen to stories, but we get confused by only looking
at individual stories. So we have a very special moment where the
president of the United States has very personally inserted himself into
the story. People who work in civil rights and law and black people know
exactly what that`s about, if I could speak directly here in MHP.
There`s a lot of parts of the country that don`t know exactly what that`s
about. Some of them will turn it off, but the power is that some will
listen and hear something. So when we talk about Trayvon Martin or Jordan
Davis or Marissa Alexander or Sean Bell, or Amadou Diallo -- every one of
them is a story.
MELBER: Now, some of those trials may be resolved on evidentiary issues,
that don`t go directly to systemic racism, even as we document it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Exactly.
MELBER: But you stack up the stories and you get statistics, right? So,
what the president did was insert himself in those statistics. When he
talks about being profiled as a black man, before he was in the senator,
he`s talking as a black man who was a Harvard Law-educated, university of
Chicago professor, published author --
HARRIS-PERRY: Married, father of two.
MELBER: Father of two -- all of that, upstanding member of the community,
he`s talking that way. So, he`s talking about having a level of success
and being profiled, which doesn`t even speak to people like Trayvon Martin,
who are systematically disappeared at every step of the process. That`s
why you go from the story to the statistics, that`s why people talking
about a teachable moment, it`s more than a teachable moment, it is a larger
chance to actually understand where these stories fit in.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to listen to the president talking about the "Stand
Your Ground" laws for just a second and then ask you about one part of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And for those who resist
that idea that we should think about something like the "Stand Your Ground"
laws, I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and
armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually
think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had
followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Christina, I`m going to ask you about that justification in
just one moment. But we do now have, joining us from Jacksonville,
Florida, Ron Davis, Jordan`s father, and his family`s attorney, John
Mr. Davis, I want to start with you, because I assume that the Zimmerman
verdict is something that is especially impactful for you. Can you tell me
how you`ve been responding this past week?
RON DAVIS, FATHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: It was very heartbreaking when I heard,
and I texted Sybrina and Tracy and my heart goes out to the family. And
I`ve been following it very closely.
And I just think that, you know, the way the law is set up, that I just
can`t believe that the jury instruction was enough to humanize Trayvon, to
let them know, and let them have a connect, because I heard one of the jury
member say that they had a misconnect with Trayvon, they didn`t know who he
was. And that should have been the first thing that they did, was make
sure that we knew who Trayvon Martin was.
And it was too much Zimmerman this and Zimmerman that. And they knew who
he was, but they didn`t know who Trayvon was.
HARRIS-PERRY: Attorney Phillips, this is actually such a lovely point, and
a hard one, undoubtedly, given that Mr. Davis is now facing a trial where
his own son will either be know or not known. Should we expect a similar
kind of demonization of Jordan Davis to occur that we have seen and
continue to see around Trayvon Martin? Or are there reasons you think this
will be quiet different?
JOHN PHILLIPS, DAVIS FAMILY ATTORNEY: It will be quite different. The
difference is, and absolutely, my heart goes out to Sybrina. And I mean no
disrespect. But the difference is, at least there was interaction between
Trayvon and Michael -- and George Zimmerman. Michael Dunn, you know, what
Jordan was doing before this, Jordan`s character has nothing to do, because
he was just sitting in a car and got ten rounds unloaded on him.
So, there`s really no past that`s any relevance, whatsoever, to this
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you, Christina, is -- so that`s the most
hopeful reading of this that I can imagine, but then I just, you know,
defense attorneys put on a vigorous defense for their clients, as the
system says they should, and when I hear my president say, hey, ask
yourself, would this kid have been allowed to stand his ground, I worry
that, in fact, we will see, despite the legal irrelevance, this kind of
discourse about Jordan Davis as well.
CHRISTINA SWARNS, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: You know, it almost doesn`t
matter what the discourse is, because what we know is that there is an
extraordinary link in the country`s psyche between race and criminality,
right? No matter what Jordan did, no matter what Trayvon did, when you
look at a young black teenager, 17 years old, doing nothing wrong, the
automatic instinct is that that person is a criminal.
And when you look at a white guy like Mr. Dunn, the automatic assumption is
that he`s not. And those judgments come into a courtroom whether or not
there`s evidence put on or not.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the "Stand Your Ground" heightened that in many ways.
Part of what I`m asking here, is if tomorrow we could wave our magic
progressive wand, make ALEC go away and take with them all of their laws
and one of them would be "Stand Your Ground", would that change the
dynamics of what is occurring in this courtroom? Or are these like
embedded racial psychic moments, so powerful that it wouldn`t change what a
jury sees and does?
SWARNS: You know, I think there`s a lot in there. Mr. Dunn -- you know,
it`s almost shocking that he would claim self-defense under these
circumstances. Let`s just begin at the beginning, right?
I mean, this guy unloads a gun on a car load of teenagers. He leaves the
scene, right? He doesn`t call 911. He does exactly nothing that is
reflective and expected from a person who has acted in self-defense. This
guy is at home, sitting on his couch, watching TV, after he`s killed a
child. You know?
And so the hubris of that is stunning and it`s hard to not think that in
that is there`s this empowerment, right? That the "Stand Your Ground" law
says, I can shoot someone and I can walk away, because I have the right to
do that. Whether I invoke the defense or not, that`s in my head, right?
Because I`ve been told, I can meet force for force.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Davis, yes, Mr. Davis, I want to --
PHILLIPS: To take that point further, in concealed weapons permit classes,
you sit in there for four hours, pay $170, have to shoot one bullet in your
lifetime. Most of that four hours is teaching the gray area of "Stand Your
Ground" and how to get away with situations where you kill somebody.
They`re empowering these people in these classes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that`s part of what we heard, actually, come out in trial
about Mr. Zimmerman, was this idea that he had an awareness of this.
Mr. Jordan, one of the things that has been, I think, hardest and most
compelling for so many of us who have been watchers of the Zimmerman case,
is the parents that you talk about as your friends, as Sybrina and Tracy,
Mr. Martin and Ms. Fulton.
What have you all talked about as parents, about the legacy of your
children, no matter how these individual cases go?
DAVIS: Well, the first thing I want the panel to realize, when you go on
all these shows, you know, and I do welcome the discussions, but people
that call on the show, they have to be mindful that sometimes the
discussion, when they start tearing apart the victim, tearing apart the
children, that sometimes it`s even worse than the trial. And I want
everyone to be mindful of that.
That, you know, to you, as a panelist, it might be part of the show or
whatever the case may be and part of the discussion of the discourse, but
you have to understand, behind that, the parents are looking at you, the
sisters and brothers, the aunts and nieces of that victim.
They`re looking at you on that show. And I want you to be mindful of that
that sometimes you tear apart the family member and it hurts worse than the
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Davis, that is a compelling and important point. And I
thank you for making it. And I also thank you for joining us. And we will
all have our eyes and our hearts with you as you move forward on this
DAVIS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: To Mr. Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, and Davis` family
attorney, John Phillips. Everybody else, stay right here, because up next,
there are a hundred vigils expected to take place across the country a
little later today.
There`s one demonstration already well underway -- the Florida students
taking a stand against "Stand Your Ground" right outside the governor`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Florida is where "Stand Your Ground" laws began eight years
ago. And right now a group called the Dream Defenders wants "Stand Your
Ground" to end in Florida. Specifically, in Republican Governor Rick
At this moment, the group consisting of young and old, hailing from all
over the state, is continuing its lengthy sit-in that began this week
inside the Florida capital. Earlier, they were demanding to meet with
Governor Scott, historically a supporter of the state`s "Stand Your Ground"
law, and Scott actually did take time to meet with the group on Thursday
night, the third day of the protest. He still backs "Stand Your Ground",
but called for tomorrow, Sunday, to be a day of prayer for unity throughout
The governor can meet the Dream Defenders of the Florida capital to pray,
because it`s clear that those folks aren`t going anywhere.
So, Nina Turner, you said to me, in the break, you were like, oh, yes, it
didn`t quite start in Florida. Actually, ALEC brought it to Ohio first.
TURNER: Oh, yes, the bill was just introduced in the Ohio House a couple
of weeks ago, stand your the ground, in Ohio. And it just baffles my mind
that you have members who are elected to serve the people and create
avenues of opportunity, but they use all of that political power to
introduce bills like this. It is just gut-wrenching.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I just want to show the audience the map, Ari, of where
"Stand Your Ground" is right now. Because, you know, we were just talking
about Stevie wonder choosing not to play in these states. And soon, he
will be just like hanging out in --
MELBER: In Duluth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. In Toronto.
Ari, when you look at this and when you see sort of this catching fire,
what does this tell you about where we are right now?
MELBER: I think it tells you, number one, we have a fascination with guns,
elevated well beyond anything that makes sense in our traditional criminal
code. Some members of the Republican caucus were talking about the verdict
in this week`s discussion, in the context of gun rights.
There is a right to bear arms, according to the Supreme Court, whether you
like it or not. You also could argue that you have a right to liberty and
to move around and drive a car. The right to drive a car is not a right to
vehicular homicide. It`s pretty basic.
So, the right to have a gun in your home, particularly if someone comes at
you or harms you or does great bodily harm to your family is quite
different than running around the streets, with a gun, looking for action,
looking for fights. And we do know, just in the domestic violence context,
the presence of that gun, more often than not, creates more severe violence
rather than repels it.
There is not a great deal of evidence, particularly outside the context of
rural home invasion, which, with all due respect to the rural areas and
their own needs, is not the majority. Outside of that context, there isn`t
a lot of evidence of people on the streets using guns to positive ends to
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, this point is something an important one, because you
started with sort of our American national obsession with guns. It
extends, so many people are gun -- again, I live in Louisiana, guns are
MELBER: I grew up in a gun owner house.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, totally ubiquitous, but it`s also the other piece, the
obsession with fear, and the fear that this is group, an identifiable group
that`s going to come after us, in our property, in our home.
WISE: I think "Stand Your Ground" would be problematic, even if there was
no racism or history of racism in the country. But when you attach fear to
color and race, then all of a sudden, that gets ramped up even more.
So, now, people who already had biases, maybe conscious, maybe
subconscious, about black folks and particularly young black men, now have
a legal avenue above regular self-defense, which already existed, Castle
Doctrine, et cetera, they have another avenue now by which to say, I was
really, really afraid. And you have to ratify my fear, because the law
says, I have the right to do this, really, if I perceive that you pose a
significant threat to me. Objective facts don`t matter, subjective
That would always be scary. But when you have a country where fear is so
connected to race, it makes --
HARRIS-PERRY: And it substantiates that fear. It allows a jury to
actually say, your fear is the relevant fear here.
MELBER: Yes, and that goes to how the legal framework of that works in
most context. You can have a judge finding at the beginning of immunity,
for those who "Stand Your Ground". But then it comes back in into jury
instructions, potentially, right? And that is where you are having a jury
being told, here`s whether you can assess whether this was a justified
killing. And I think the second-degree murder charge was always difficult
because of the mens rea, the mental elements you have to prove.
The general, you know, manslaughter charge, not as difficult, doesn`t go as
much to mental state. But, what you had was the jury assessing, as a
subjective standard, whether this individual felt in his mind or heart that
he was under the kind of danger that necessitated force and didn`t involve
running away. Most people, and especially as we`ve been discussing in
police interactions, most black men, feel the desire to run away from the
threat of violence. This is an instruction to a jury in these states
And jury instructions can be altered, so I`m generalizing, but it`s a jury
instruction that often results in the jury going, huh, well, did he feel
threatened? Which is very different. So one area is to say, you need some
kind of judicial finding at an objective level of what works, right?
Because, obviously, as you`ve been reporting, for Marissa Alexander, her
level of threat, it seems to me, at a minimum, you could incorporate, as a
legal standard, the notion of the prior threats from the aggressor in the
HARRIS-PERRY: The existing stay-away order.
MELBER: So that goes beyond these individual cases and says, huh, if you
have a woman who has been attacked repeatedly, that might be a judicial
finding, which is different than a child who`s never met this adult before,
and the child is unarmed and the adult has a weapon.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask one last question here. Part of what the
president did in his discussion was to say, I`m not suggesting a big
federal program. So, if we look at that map, we see these are state laws,
"Stand Your Ground" has been moving across the state.
But -- I guess I wonder, is there a role in this moment for the federal
government? Maybe not in the Zimmerman -- I mean, the DOJ is going to
decide about that, but is there a role for the federal government on the
question of "Stand Your Ground" laws, or is this just such a state and
local, that we`re never going to get there with the federal standard.
SWARNS: Right. The laws are state-based, that is clearly the case. But I
do think there is something more here, right? What we have, I find it
hard, I guess, to accept that we can show these numbers, we can show these
disparities, and we can say, oh, well, right? That we can say, there`s no
accountability. We owe nothing to this, that there`s nothing that can be
done to respond or correct this, right?
And the president also talked about engaging about how the federal
government and training of local law enforcement, right, in talking and
engaging sort of the federal law enforcement with local law enforcement
around issues of race, implicit bias, right, and all these things. And I
think that`s critical and the federal government absolutely needs to do
that. And I think it has to go, though, beyond training, to
It`s not enough to say, we taught you how to do this, right? We have to
have something that says, if we taught you to do it right, and you`re still
doing it wrong, then you`re accountable.
HARRIS-PERRY: Then you`re accountable.
SWARNS: Then there`s accountability. And you have to be held accountable
for that. And when only black men are being killed and are not being
allowed to assert their right as citizens in this country to self-defense,
then there`s something wrong and we have to hold them accountable. There
has to be accountability.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much, Christina. And also thank you to Tim,
who`s going to come back and join us tomorrow.
Up next, my letter of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s been 18 months since Trayvon Martin went from a Florida
teenager, just trying to get home from the store on a rainy night, to one
of the most recognizable faces in America. Right alongside him, almost
from the very beginning, was another face, with whom we have recently
become intimately familiar. Front and center, the regular presence at
George Zimmerman`s trial.
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon`s mother, was the very picture of grace and poise
as she shared her quiet grief with the nation. So, this week, I wanted to
address my letter to her. Both the public figure who has been a conduit
for a community in mourning and the private person, a mother surviving
after her own personal loss.
Dear Sybrina, it`s me, Melissa.
Thursday night, you and Trayvon`s father sat down with Reverend Sharpton to
talk about your thoughts and feelings in response to the trial of the man
who killed your son.
And when I saw that you were here on 30 Rock, I immediately went to the
studio where you were being interviewed, because I wanted to be in the room
Over the past year and a half, I have written and spoken so much about your
son. I have thought about a questioned and analyzed the issues raised by
the way he died, the events that followed his death, and what it all says
about how our nation failed your boy.
The ongoing interest and attention that I -- that all of us, really, have
paid to your son`s story are due in large part to your tireless efforts and
advocacy on his behalf. When you were cast into the part no woman wants to
play, the grieving mother seeking justice for her child, you took on your
You stepped on to the national stage, alongside the women who came before
you, carrying our collective sorrow on their shoulders. Coretta after she
lost Martin, Myrlie after Medgar was taken away. Mamie, who like you, was
robbed of a beloved son when she lost Emmett.
When we were overwhelmed by our emotions, the sadness, the anger, the
helplessness, they, you, were what we needed you to be -- a symbol of
strength and endurance, a sign that you and we could carry on.
But, Sybrina, I want you to know that I see you, not the symbol or the
sign, but the human being, the mother who lost her son, the woman knitting
herself back together during every commercial break on Thursday night,
steeling herself to go on, who when asked by reverend Sharpton what you
would say to George Zimmerman, found the faith that you have turned to so
often and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN`S MOTHER: I would tell him my favorite
bible words, which is Proverbs 3, 5, and 6. And I would tell him how I
felt, which is, you shed innocent blood and you`re going to have to account
for that. And I would pray for him. I really would.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I looked up your favorite verse, Proverbs, Chapter 3,
Verses 5 and 6, which reads, "Trust in the lord with all your heart and
lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and
he shall direct your path."
Sybrina, the grace you showed with your message to George Zimmerman is
beyond anything I can imagine. But what I can comprehend, what I can
conjure when I look into the face of my own precious child, is just some
idea of how it would feel in those private moments, when the cameras aren`t
on, when you have taken an entire movement off your shoulders, where there
is just you in that little room next to the courtroom where you retreated
in those moments when it all got to be too much, when you needed to let go
of your composure and just cry, or fall on the floor or scream or shout, or
rage against the injustice of it all.
And I want you to know, Sybrina, it is OK. And I want you to know that
when you go by yourself into that private place, you do not go alone,
because all of our love goes with you. And I have no doubt that you will
some day hear the words of Matthew 25:21, "Well done, my good and faithful
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking all morning about President Obama`s
unscripted moment yesterday. But I want to turn now to another unscripted
moment. But I want to turn now to another unscripted moment he had last
year on election night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to thank every American who participated in this election.
Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long
time. By the way, we have to fix that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. See, we`re going to have to fix that.
The need to fix our electoral system became even more urgent when the
Supreme Court justices took a hatchet to the Voting Rights Act, and in
their decision, told the U.S. Congress, you need to fix that. This week,
both the Senate and the House got to work doing just that. Both houses of
Congress held hearings to begin figuring out how, if at all, to update the
formula to determine which states need federal preclearance before changing
their voting laws.
Still here is Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who is one of the vocal
opponents of voter ID laws advanced in her state. And Ari Melber, co-host
of MSNBC`s "THE CYCLE," who has been covering those hearings all week in
Joining us at the table and Ryan Haygood, director of the political
participation group for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And also back with
us, Khalil Mohammad, director the Shamburg Center for Research and Black
Ari, I loved the piece you wrote, where you made a decision about how to
fix this. It`s "Your Two Strikes and You`re In."
MELBER: Two strikes and you`re in is a piece I wrote for "Reuters" that
looks at the situation we have.
John Roberts says some of this data is old and that`s not fair to the
states. We are going to put aside for the moment whether the states are
more important than the people, according to the 14th and 15th Amendment,
which say it is the people and not the states, because that`s what the
reconstruction amendments were about. We`re going to take the law
seriously and say, OK, what we need to do is have a formula that can keep
eligibility for this kind of voter supervision over the whole country, if
necessary, and nowhere if merited (ph).
So my idea was to look at local judicial findings of discrimination, which
come in under section two, and use those as a trigger. If you see, say,
two of those over a certain amount of time, you bring those areas into the
If they`re in Shelby County, and, by the way, we know they are from the
data, then Shelby County will be covered. But if they`re in New York or
Alaska or Oregon --
HARRIS-PERRY: Or Ohio.
MELBER: -- Ohio, because there are some very important states that are at
the table, that have these problems, and that weren`t part of the original
Section 4 formula, has defined by literacy tests, and some of those other
indicia, then they come in. And that is something that I think the
Lawyer`s Committee for Human Rights, which I worked for this week on one
project and some other groups are open two. There`s more than one way to
But I think what we should do, and the essence of this, and by the way, on
a personal note, it`s an honor to be at a table with people and
organizations that work on this, forever, since the beginning of this
fight. But I think that we have to do is exactly what the civil rights
movement did, which is to take the Constitution more seriously than the
judges of the time.
So, when people say to me, and I`ll close on this, because so much to hear
from other people -- when people say, well, this isn`t going to happen
because I don`t trust John Roberts or the Republicans, that`s not the
MELBER: Martin Luther King talked about a promissory note that we would
make America on, OK? We have to take it seriously. We have to look at
what John Roberts said. He tried to call out Congress. We have to get
Congress to call him out and punch this through.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of calling out Congress, what I appreciate is the
sort of, all hope is not lost. So we actually saw Congress actually doing
something this week. And John Lewis testified, before the Senate Judiciary
Hearing, and I want to play this and ask you about what is left of the VRA.
So let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (R), GEORGIA: Section 4 and 5 are the heart and soul of
the Voting Rights Act. The day of the Supreme Court decision broke my
heart. It made me want to cry. The burden cannot be on those citizens
whose rights were or will be violated.
It is the duty and the responsibility of Congress to restore the life and
soul of the Voting Rights Act. And we must do it and we must do it now.
We must act. And we must act now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, 4 and 5, he says, are gutted, but what`s left? Two is
left. What else are left?
RYAN HAYGOOD, NAACP: There are a few provisions that remain of the Voting
Rights Act. There`s Section 2, which is a provision that allows for
private litigants and for the Department of Justice to pursue
discriminatory changes to methods of elections, and the hosts of other
discriminatory voting measures as a provision that allows for jurisdictions
that have intensely discriminated to be bailed in to coverage, where they
have to submit their voting changes for approval.
But I like the point that Congressman Lewis made about how the Supreme
Court`s devastating, and really, disgraceful decision broke his heart. And
to Ari`s point, I think there`s a moment now where Congress can recognize
the way in which its heart has also been broken. You know, Congress in
2006, when it sought to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, did its
homework. It held more than 20 hearings over 10 months, heard from 90
witnesses and amassed a 15,000 page record, which spoke to the persistent
nature of voting discrimination in the places where Section 5 operated.
And so, as we receive the outrage in this moment, as we recognize the place
where we are celebrating many milestones, the 50th anniversary of the march
on Washington, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evans,
the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and two years
of the Voting Rights Act, it`s a moment for us to recognize that those
watershed moments are ones that fundamentally changed the course of
America, influenced the way we live today, but at the same time, the core
provisions to the protection of our voting rights, like Section 5, are now
So, Congress should receive in this moment the challenge that is presented
to it, as it has this week, to fix what the Supreme Court did in Shelby
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to appropriate a legal question just a little bit
more. So two strikes and you`re in. So if we see some violations, you do
it twice, you`re in on the preclearance, no matter where you do it in the
country. And your point about the capacity of Section 2, to continue to
serve as a basis for litigation.
So, let me ask this. How do I know a discriminatory voting policy, when I
see one? Is desperate impact enough? Or like the Zimmerman case, do I
have to have in my head, as I`m writing this law, that I want to keep black
people from the polls?
HAYGOOD: Right. And so I think one of the real things that we lost in
section 4 is the ability to come to know of voting changes when they are
proposed by a jurisdiction. So, for example, the way that section 5 really
operated, most forcefully, was in those local and those city and local
jurisdictions, where a jurisdiction, for example, would propose to move a
polling place in advance of an election or change from district voting, at
And we now are relying on folks in impacted places to tell us about changes
as they come available. So, for example, a quick story about Kilmichael,
Mississippi. It`s a small city, a remote city in Mississippi, about 1,000
In 2000, the census showed that African-Americans there had become a
majority of the city, and they were poised for the first time in history to
elect their candidates of choice to the city council, which had previously
been all white.
HAYGOOD: But instead of holding the election in which African-Americans
would likely exercise their political will, the city canceled the
elections. And because it was then covered by section 5, right, it`s
TURNER: You`ve got to raise the game.
HAYGOOD: This is 2000, what is a recent example.
HARRIS-PERRY: They`re like, you know what, we`re not going to have
elections. No, we`re done. That democracy situation, not so much. Wow.
HAYGOOD: But because then they were covered by section 5 of the Voting
Rights Act, the Department of Justice said, actually, you have to submit
that for preclearance to ensure it`s not discriminatory in advance before
it takes root. And, of course, then the election was held, in which, of
course, African-Americans exercised their political will, elected for the
first time in history, an African-American mayor, and several members of
the city council. So now --
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an amazing story.
HAYGOOD: In this moment, people in Mississippi are vulnerable to go back
HARRIS-PERRY: That is a stunning story. We come back, it is all me and
Nina Turner, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you need a reminder of the ongoing need for the Voting
Rights Act protection, look no further than this lovely lady. Regular
watchers of this week in voter suppression will remember 93-year-old
Philadelphian and great-great-grandmother, Yvette Applewhite. She has
voted in nearly every election for the last 53 years.
But Ms. Applewhite is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the state
of Pennsylvania that don`t have the documents that according to the state`s
voter ID law that person must have in order to vote. Last October, a judge
temporarily blocked the law from going into effect, just a few weeks before
But on Monday, Pennsylvania`s voter ID law went on trial before another
judge who may be deciding its permanent fate and the fate of Ms.
Applewhite. She is the lead plaintiff.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, not covered under Section 5.
TURNER: No, and that`s why Ari`s two strikes and you`re in works for me.
I mean, we have a proliferation of these types of laws or bills being
introduced throughout this country. And it should cause all of us pause.
One of the things we hold dear as Americans is we don`t like the game to be
HARRIS-PERRY: They may --
TURNER: Right. But let`s play head to head in all fairness. But what you
find in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, if they don`t like the outcome,
they try to rig the game. And that happened in Ohio. The very laws that
were there, with early voting and all of the things that went right in
2008, under a Democratic secretary of state, all of a sudden, after the
election of President Barack Obama were no longer what Ohioans needed.
So trying to rig the game in the middle, we have two great equalizers in
this country, as I see them. One is access to a high-quality education for
all of our children, no matter where they hail from, who their parents are,
or not. But the second one is the ballot box. Because it says, one woman,
one man, one vote, and your social economic status doesn`t matter. You
have access to the ballot. And to the extent that we have people elected,
particularly on the state levels of government, that want to try to take
away that most fundamental point to our democracy, something is wrong, and
we should all be outraged.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, you know, I would be less outraged if this was the
great idea of the people who were elected. If they ran on it and they were
elected, as outrageous as it would be, I would be like, well, sometimes
people in democracies have bad ideas. But these laws are important. I
think it`s so important, what you just said about education and the vote.
And given everything we just talked about, "Stand Your Ground", because
there`s actually a little group that is exporting education laws that are
limiting our public education access, that are exporting these voter ID
laws, and that are exporting these "Stand Your Ground" laws. And it`s all
TURNER: But in Ohio in our budget, thank God it came out in the Senate, in
a bipartisan way, the House Republicans actually put a provision in our
budget that would create a perverse relationship between college students
and universities, saying that if a college, if a university gives an out of
state student the documentation that they need to then go register to vote
in Ohio, you would have to lower their tuition. That would have cost Ohio
universities upwards of $370 million.
And then when they were questioned, they had the pure, unmitigated gall to
say it was about lowering tuition, when we know in fact that was about
HARRIS-PERRY: Come on.
And our current chief election officer, when asked, do you think this is
about voter suppression? Oh, no, it`s about tuition. Something is wrong
with that. When you want to try to rig the game that so certain people,
whether they`re young, whether they`re older, whether they`re African-
American, Hispanic, whether they`re working class people, do not have
unfettered access to the ballot. Our democracy cannot stand for that
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, AUTHOR: Let`s just be honest. We are in a third
moment of needing a reconstruction period, right. We`ve already arrived at
the second reconstruction, which is the civil rights movement. We are in a
We are fighting over the future of this country. And as much as we all, at
this table want to agree, what we believe America stands for, we talk about
democracy and we talk about education, which is not guaranteed by the
Constitution, frankly. And two, we talk about voting rights, which we had
to fight for, which is enshrined in the original amendments of the
Constitution as property of white men, this is a work in progress.
MUHAMMAD: And this work in progress moves backwards at times. We are in a
moment of moving backwards.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate your point that we are in a nadir. It helps
me to understand why I feel bad. And actually gives me some sense, then,
that we can climb back out.
State Senator Nina Turner, Ari Melber, Ryan Haygood, and Khalil Muhammad,
thank you so much.
After the break, if only this black teenager`s story got as much attention.
Our foot soldier is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s every parent`s worst nightmare. Your child goes
missing. Just ask the Rojas family of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Last week
it happened to them.
Their 5-year-old daughter was playing in the front yard and then she was
gone. All that remained in the yard was the little toy she`d been playing
with. Neighbors began scouring the area, searching for the girl asking
passersby if anyone knew where she was. One of the people the neighbors
spoke to is this week`s foot soldier, a 15-year-old young man named Temar
Along with a few friends, Temar was helping an elderly neighbor move a
couch when the group was approached by the search party. Tamar and his
friends didn`t think twice. Without hesitation they jumped on their bikes
and began a 30-minute search around the neighborhood for the 5-year-old
They returned empty handed and found the neighborhood swarming with police
and television crews. And then, Temar said he had a gut feeling that he
was going to find this little girl. So, he and his friend Chris Garcia
jumped back on their bikes and decided to ride around some more.
Temar noticed a maroon car driving in a way that made him suspicious. The
car quickly turned around when nearing a group of police officers and began
driving around the neighborhood on to and out of side streets.
Here is how Temar described it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TEMAR BOGGS, TEENAGER: Every time I went down the street he would turn
back around and then go back. We`d follow him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Temar pedaled hard for 15 minutes trying to get a close
look at the passengers in the car. He saw an older man and little girl
matching the description of the missing child. Temar and his friend
continued to follow the car. Police speculate that the boys on their bikes
scared the kidnapper because then this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOGGS: He stopped at the end of the hill and let her out and she ran to me
and said she needed her mom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks to Temar and his friends the little girl is back safe
with her family, and the suspect is under arrest. Tamar didn`t even see
himself as a hero. He told reporters, quote, "I`m just a normal person who
did a thing anybody else would do."
The next time you see an African-American teenager hanging around your
neighborhood, will you see a potential criminal or someone who could save a
life? For jumping on his bike and riding to the rescue and reminding us
that true heroes walk and sometimes bike among us, Temar Boggs is our foot
soldier of the week.
And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
Tomorrow, we have another packed program.
Please be sure to join our segment growing up Trayvon and much more on race
But there is one last thing before we go today. It`s a personal note. For
the past 18 months, every time you welcomed my voice into your homes on
weekend mornings, I hear one voice in particular. It`s the voice of our
senior broadcast producer, Moshe Arencine (ph). There is Moshe.
Moshe has been the steady voice that guides the live program that is the
MHP show week in and week out and, sadly, today is his last day with us.
Moshe and his family, hey, they have decided to embark on an exciting new
adventure. They`re moving abroad. So, on behalf of everyone in nerd land,
we are wishing Moshe and his family well.
Just so this moment doesn`t get too serious allow me to share with you how
we celebrated Moshe`s ten years at MSNBC on Thursday night. Here he is on
the mechanical bull. I still -- I can hear him telling me, wrap, wrap!
Wrap! Moshe, we are going to miss you.
I`ll see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Now it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." Hi, Alex.
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