David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
Guest Host: Susan Page
It’s been two months since a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed, African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury is considering whether to bring charges against officer Darren Wilson. And last week, an off-duty police officer fatally shot a black teenager in the Shaw neighborhood of Saint Louis. This past weekend, thousands of protestors staged the largest and most organized demonstrations yet. They are calling for a change in police tactics and racial equity nationwide. Voter registrations are up in Saint Louis, but so far, the movement hasn’t led to national policy changes. An update on the civil rights protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and their political implications.
- Emanuele Berry race and culture reporter, St. Louis Public radio
- Ashley Yates co-founder, Millennial Activists United
- David Harris professor of law, University of Pittsburgh
- Michelle Bernard president, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy; author of "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013."
- Clarence Page syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit to WCPN in Cleveland. Last week, protests reignited in Ferguson, Missouri, over the shooting of teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer. Dozens were arrested in the largest demonstrations in the two months since that happened.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to talk about the new round of protests and what they might mean for civil rights and national politics, Michelle Bernard of The Bernard Center For Women, Politics and Public Policy and Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribute. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDThank you.
MR. CLARENCE PAGEThank you, Susan.
PAGEAnd joining us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is David Harris of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Thanks or being with us.
MR. DAVID HARRISA pleasure. Thank you.
PAGEWe're gonna invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. First, we're joined from St. Louis by Emanuele Berry. She's the race and culture reporter for St. Louis Public Radio at member station KWMU. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. EMANUELE BERRYThanks for having me.
PAGEI know you've been covering these protests. What about this latest round of protests? How widespread were they?
BERRYThis latest round of protests was a little bit different than what we've typically been seeing. Initially, right after the death of Michael Brown, we saw very heavy protest presence, numbers wise, pretty consistent and people have been consistently still be protesting just in smaller numbers since then, not as big a crowds, not as many people essentially.
BERRYBut what happened this past weekend is a lot of activists groups formed following the death of Michael Brown and the ones already in place really took up Michael Brown's death as a cause so there was a national call for people from all over the country to come for what they called "A Weekend of Resistance" or "Ferguson October."
BERNARDSo the entire weekend, starting on Friday through this Monday, we saw rallies, protests, these big kind of events that weren't just in Ferguson, but events that were taking place in downtown St. Louis in the city of Clayton, which is nearby. So really, more widespread and more numbers and people coming from all over to participate. I think organizers were expecting around 6,000 people to come.
BERNARDUnder 3,000 people were at the largest event, but still, I met people who had come from California, Massachusetts, Florida, driven, taken planes from all over to be there for this weekend of protest.
PAGEYou had some bad weather, too, right? It was reporters in the rain. That can have an effect on numbers. Dozens of people were arrested. You had some celebrity protesters there this time. Who did you see?
BERRYCornel West was here. Jesse Williams from the show "Grey's Anatomy" was around. There was also a hip-hop concert, which was kind of included in events and several big names, such as Dead Prez, were there. So yeah, lots of people coming out for the cause, not just -- yeah, lots of celebrities, well known people coming out.
BERRYAnd I guess another part that's important to mention for this weekend is that on Monday, the day of these protests, was called "Moral Monday" and it was a day of civil disobedience and that's when a lot of arrests took place. So what happened is starting from the morning until late in the evening, there were, I guess, what I would call popup protests happening everywhere throughout the city.
BERRYSo there were protests at the Rams game that night were people had banners that they put up during the game. There were protests at City Hall during the day. Steve Stenger, who is running for St. Louis County executive was having a fundraiser that night. There were protests outside of that. There were protests at the Wal-Mart, kind of a call to John Crawford, who was killed by a police officer in a Wal-Mart in Ohio at a fancy shopping mall in the St. Louis area.
BERRYSo really everywhere became fair game on that Monday for acts of civil disobedience and a total of 49 different people were arrested according to the county records. The only people who are still in jail are those who have outstanding warrants.
PAGEAnd bring us briefly up to speed on the status of that grand jury investigation into Michael Brown's death.
BERRYSo currently, the case is before the grand jury. The estimate for when there might be some kind of decision handed down is November, the first couple weeks of November. But that's not a set-in-stone date. And it's kind of looming here, I would say. I think everyone in St. Louis is kind of waiting and holding their breath first to see what the decision is, but then to see what happens based on that decision in November as it's expected.
PAGEDo you think there'll be more protests this next weekend?
BERRYI'm not sure. I think that from what we saw this weekend, this idea that, you know, any place and anywhere and anyone is kind of fair game for a protest. I think we've consistently, since Michael Brown's death, seen protests, they just haven't always been as big. So I think maybe it goes back to smaller numbers for us here in St. Louis who've been covering it and maybe the crowds aren't as big, but I think the protests continue in some small form regardless of there not being as many people or there's not this national weekend of action.
PAGEEmanuele Berry, thanks so much for joining us.
BERRYNo problem. Have a good one.
PAGEShe's the race and culture reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, member station KWMU. Well, Michelle Bernard, do these protests this last weekend seem different to you? Do you think they'll be different or more effective than the protests that we've seen in the past two months?
BERNARDThey feel different in the sense that the national media attention to what is happening in Ferguson seems to have dissipated since August. They are a little bit different also in feeling in that, you know, there was a "Moral Monday" and people, celebrities like Cornel West, who's also an academic, were arrested.
BERNARDWhat I find troubling in terms the public's reaction to the tone and tenor of the protests is that with each day that passes, it seems that we seem to be losing sight of what happened and what's really important and in terms of having a national discussion on race and how we handle these issues. I wish that we were seeing a lot more of it.
PAGEClarence Page, I should mention that you're my friend, but not my relative.
PAGEThat's right. We always have to issue that disclaimer whenever we interview.
PAGESo what do you think about the protests? Do you think they're having an effect or do you think, like Michelle, that we've kind of gotten away from what actually the focus ought to be?
PAGEWell, you know, I'm reminded, Susan, of the 1980s and the anti-apartheid protests here in Washington. At that time, that started slow. I think Randall Robinson and some other folks wanted to meet with the ambassador and he wasn't available and they wound up getting arrested. And it suddenly became a thing, a nation thing for celebrities and other folks to come to Washington, to go to the embassy and get arrested.
PAGEAnd it had the impact of galvanizing the left that was somewhat dispirited in those days, near the end of the Reagan administration. These days, now I see the Michael Brown case in Ferguson as having a galvanizing effect on the left to the left of Barack Obama. Cornel West is emblematic of that. Al Sharpton was the big speaker there, much to Obama's relief because he didn't have to issue that strong of a statement to the African-Americans of that community because he had Eric Holder and Al Sharpton to do it for him.
PAGEAnd what we're seeing now, I think there's a new phase in the protest. I loved to hear Emanuele Berry talk about this, but I think there's a new phase in the protests of people that are more organized movement people as opposed to local Ferguson residents and that this has become emblematic now of a national conflict between African-American communities and the police.
PAGEDavid Harris, how does it look to you?
HARRISWell, I think this has the potential to be a turning point and I'll tell you why. What you saw was a presence of people from both inside the St. Louis and Ferguson area and nationally, as you pointed out. And that denotes that we're going to get much more interest in this, even if, as Clarence says, that we start small. The other thing that I saw was that the protesters made a very direct effort to go where people are who might not consider themselves involved in this issue.
HARRISSo you saw the protest at the Rams game, the protest at the Symphony and the protest at the St. Louis Cardinals playoff game as well. And I saw some video of that with -- included some pretty ugly scenes, I have to say. But the point is, they're not going to allow people who don't consider themselves involved to just get comfortable and say, well, that's not about me.
HARRISThey are telling the people in the larger St. Louis area and through that to the nation that this is an issue for everybody, not just black people and not just leftists. It's for everybody and we have to have, as Michelle said, a broad national conversation about the relationship between African-Americans, other minorities and police.
PAGEMichelle, do you see a broad national conversation starting? 'Cause you certainly see it among people who care about this issue deeply. I'm not sure I've seen it on a broader stage, at least not yet.
BERNARDNo, not yet and that's what, to me, is so bothersome. I am thrilled by the fact that people are galvanizing and have never had any doubt that we were going to continue to see protests from people inside and outside of the community. The question is, when do we see people who can actually do something about this engage in those conversations.
BERNARDWe need to have a national conversation on the fact that black lives matter. You know, if you watch any of the television programs or look in the newspapers, you'll see people, some of the protesters, holding signs that say "Black lives matter." But they're the only ones who are saying it. You know, it was great to have Eric Holder there.
BERNARDIt was great to have the -- I guess it was the police chief who was walking around and talking to the community. But, you know, we haven't been able to have a national discussion really about gun control and we're certainly not seeing that in terms of what feels like, to a black mother, as the slaughter of innocent black boys.
PAGEClarence, you wrote a column about the importance of elections.
PAGEIs this issue gonna have an impact on the election now just three weeks away?
PAGEWell, let me say, as far as general impact on elections, it better because this is what communities do when they feel dissatisfied with their local government and they've had a low voter turnout. The most effective way to make change is to get a higher voter turnout so the community can decide. That's how our system works. And so I was excited with the initial reports that voter registration in Ferguson had soared after the Michael Brown shooting.
PAGEThen, it turned out they had miscounted or they had misreported. They had reported people who had reregistered to change their address and that sort of thing. So also, this is not the municipal election coming up. That won't be until the spring time. But I do expect to see a higher voter turnout out there.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation and we'll go to the phones. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio Clarence Page is syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and Michelle Bernard. She's president of the Bernard Center for Women Politics and Public Policy. And we're joined from Pittsburgh by David Harris. He's a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies, writes and teaches about police behavior.
PAGEAnd David Harris, let me ask you, what about -- we've talked about the concerns of protestors in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson. What about the concerns of the police? Has there been an impact either in Ferguson or elsewhere on police tactics in the wake of this shooting?
HARRISI think there will be an impact on police tactics. It has not shown up yet necessarily except the realization that this overwhelming militarization and sort of shock and awe approach is the wrong way to go. Everybody kind of realizes that and I don't expect to see that sort of thing again, at least not for quite a while.
HARRISThe thing that is going to happen, and I hear happening in my conversations with chiefs of police and others nationwide, is that there is a great concern in all police departments that they could be the next Ferguson. If I've heard that phrase once in the last two months, I've heard it 100 times.
HARRISWe have a new police chief here in Pittsburgh and one of the things he said in one of his very first public media appearances was that he had tasked his command staff, he had said to them, will we be, could we be the next Ferguson and what will we do if something like that erupts? That conversation is taking place within law enforcement and it's long overdue.
HARRISNow, of course they have to go the next step and say, how can we prevent this in the first place? And of course that's about building relationships, which is something that not only lacked in Ferguson but in many police departments nationwide. When you have no real relationships with the people you serve, the effectiveness of your police force goes down. But when catastrophe strikes is when it really shows and you have nowhere to go.
PAGEWell, what does it mean to be the next Ferguson? What are they referring to?
HARRISWell, what they're referring to is it's kind of an old saw among police chiefs that you're never one -- you could be one bad shooting away from a riot. And now I think there's a real sense that that's not some kind of an inside joke. It can happen and it can happen anywhere that there could be a crisis that comes from a bad shooting, that comes from a bad arrest, that people are really tired of it, they've seen the examples of it over and over and over. And they're not going to stand for it. And I think there is a real awakening among law enforcement executives that this can happen anywhere.
PAGEAnd is it clear to you at this point, whatever the Grand Jury decides, that this was in fact a bad shooting?
HARRISNo, it's not, as far as what the Grand Jury will decide.
PAGENo. In terms of what we know about the shooting, is it clear that this shooting should not have happened?
HARRISWell, there's no question it should not have happened because you have an unarmed person using physical force at best, and perhaps even backing away with his hands up. The Grand Jury will resolve the question of whether the police officer is charged with a crime. But we can all agree, this was a terrible mistake that should not have happened. There's no sense here that the officer's life was threatened in a way that would cause him to shoot somebody with their hands up, if that's what the facts show.
PAGEYeah, I just want to interject that 50 years ago in 1964 in Harlem, N.Y. and '65 in Watts, Calif. we began a period of about five years of urban riots. There were about over 300 across the country. And we had the Kerner Commission report and almost all of these uprisings, if you will, occurred after a bad police incident.
HARRISThat's exactly right.
PAGE...Michelle, you've told us about -- maybe you've written about this, about what happened to your brother in South Carolina.
PAGETell us that story.
BERNARDYeah, so he was driving through the state on his way to a golf tournament and was pulled over by police officers, asked for ID which he provided. Never ever made it clear to him why he was being pulled over and was actually told that there really wasn't a recent that he was pulled over. But the police officer followed him all the way across the state. And the only thing that we could point to was that he was an African American male driving through the State of South Carolina with tags from out of state.
BERNARDIt's frightening, to say the least. And also it's happened more than one time. It's happened in South Carolina, it has happened in Florida. And the only thing that we can say is that he is guilty of driving while black and being male. It's a problem.
PAGELet's go to our phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We'll start with Ben. He's calling us from Berryville, Va. Ben, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
BENWell, thank you. I think that the protests need a very, very simple message, something that would also draw in the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, such as cameras on every police officer, tapes available within 24 hours. Just a very simple straightforward message, this is what we want to encourage the best behavior for all parties concerned. It's in the best interest of, you know, the good police officers. It's in the best interest of the citizens, you know. But it has to be those two things together. You know, cameras on every officer, tapes available within 24 hours.
PAGEBen, that's such an interesting idea. You know, it's interesting how the technology that enables you to see some of these incidents really fuels protests. But it also provides what some people think would be a real step toward a solution. David Harris, what is happening now with the idea of putting cameras on police officers?
HARRISWell, we've got a sort of national rush to do this among small, medium and big departments. It is, as Ben observes, this is sort of the moment for body wearable cameras by police. They've been around for six or eight years, first field tested in the UK, now being tested in some departments in the United States. I certainly agree with Ben that these can be a good technology for both, serving police purposes, things like gathering evidence, but also for accountability purposes to make sure that if police misconduct does occur, there is a good solid recorded record.
HARRISI disagree with him about the idea of tapes available in 24 hours. These things are capable of making very good recordings but they should not be released until and unless there is an incident, a complaint, a crime committed. And it should be used for justice system purposes. We have privacy concerns with this. I mean, police -- recording people out in public areas, none of that's private but police end up in homes, they end up in businesses. We have to be somewhat careful.
HARRISI think these are great. I don't think they're a silver bullet. No piece of technology is. But as I said yesterday in my piece in the Open Standard, I think they'd be a huge step forward. And I see a lot of police agencies headed in this direction.
PAGEMichelle, what do you think?
BERNARDI absolutely love the idea. I think that, you know, the equipment we -- I would want to know that the equipment works at all times but I think it is a great monitoring device for evidentiary purposes. I think that these types of tapes need to be available as soon as somebody believes that something improper has occurred. It is the only way I believe that we can protect citizens and also protect police officers who might be or might not be engaging in proper conduct.
PAGELet's talk to Rick. He's calling us from Little Rock, Ark. Hi, Rick, you're on the air.
RICKHow you doing? All right. The issue has been totally off here. This is not a race war. This is not about police abusing blacks, white or -- blacks, whatever. The problem is class. These are bullies. These police are nothing but bully gangs who go after the weakest people, the people who are less likely able to defend themselves legally. That's our problem here. It has nothing -- and it's always been thrown off as the police are going after the minorities. Police are going after the blacks. Police are going after the browns and Latinos. No, it has nothing to do with color. It is all about class.
RICKThe poorer you are the less likely you are to defend. And the only way, the only way to do anything about this is to hold police accountable for their actions. Not a slap on the wrist, not to have them fired but to have them facing prison sentences for every time they abuse the law. (unintelligible) section 241...
PAGEOkay. Rick, thanks so much for your call. I want to give Michelle a chance to respond.
BERNARDYeah, I mean, I just -- I completely disagree. If there were police officers going around the country on a random basis gunning down white males, there would be a national discussion about this problem. What we see with -- and not just police officers either, but people like Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in Florida and George Zimmerman's behavior since he was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin leads me to believe that that sentence was probably incorrect.
BERNARDThere is a huge problem with the way people see black boys and see black men. They view them as threats. They view them as threatening. If you go on the internet and you look at comments that have been made since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, comments that people have made about the state of black America and the state of black boys and black men, you have no doubt that many Americans fear black men and black boys as soon as they see them. And sometimes bad things happen, as they did with Michael Brown in Ferguson.
BERNARDThis is -- it just absolutely -- if it's not -- if the intent is not I'm going to kill you because you're black, the problem then might actually be one of, I see a black man, I am threatened, therefore I'm going to act under extraordinary circumstances and you might end up dead.
PAGEDavid Harris, what do you think about Rick's point? What does the evidence tell us about whether the police are targeting poor people or are they targeting minorities?
HARRISI believe there's a class element, Susan, but I have to agree with Michelle that it is far more common, whatever class, black men are in and even some black women, that they get this kind of treatment than any other group, and Latino men to a lesser extent but also true. So yes, if you're poor you could be targeted by police in many different ways. But if you're poor and black or even if you're well off and black or even if you have great educational attainments and professional attainments, you can still have this happen to you, which I just don't think happens with white people.
HARRISI mean, my research, the interviews I did over the years, hundreds of people, this happens. This is a universal experience for black men in the United States. If they haven't had it, the father has had it, the uncle, the cousin, the friend. And that's just not true with white people.
PAGEClarence, you're a black man. Is this a universal...
PAGEI'm a black man who's got a young black male son, as you know, and college age. You know, back in the '90s I wrote a book called "Showing My Color: Essays on Race." And I mention that my son was three at the time. Everybody talked about how cute he was. But ten years from now when he's 13 will they be saying that? And some of my white neighbors said, oh, that can't be. He's adorable, blah, blah, blah.
PAGEBut now he's 23, a little over that with dreadlocks. And I want to tell you, you know, the police officers do not see class when they see him. They see a young black male suspicion. And he has been stopped a disproportionate amount of time. He's gotten used to it now. But this is the thing. You know, too much -- too many Americans don't know what it's like to be on the other side of the fence, what it's like to grow up black or grow up white or whatever. And it takes these eruptions unfortunately to get a racial dialogue going.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to talk now for just a few minutes to Ashley Yates. She's joining us on the phone. She's the co-founder of Millennial Activists United, a grassroots protest movement that helped organize those demonstrations in Ferguson last weekend. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show," Ashley.
MS. ASHLEY YATESThank you.
PAGEHow did your organization get started?
YATESWe are actually bred from the frontlines. It was a really organic process, just people who are going out to protest night after night. We bonded, formed a community, started talking to the people that were around us that we were risking our lives with day after day and really asking why people were out there. And as we saw that, you know, a group of us had really similar methodologies that we thought we would take to get to that goal to get some justice, we decided to form an organization. And that's how Millennial Activists United came about.
PAGESo you've been helping to organize these protests. What is that you want to see happen?
YATESWe want justice on a small scale. We want to see Darren Wilson not only arrested, not only indicted but as, you know, a caller said before, held accountable for the murder of Michael Brown. We want to see justice served in a swift manner. I think it's a little bit late for that but we don't want to see it drawn out as far as it can go. We don't want to see a January 7 return on an indictment or a non-indictment.
YATESAnd then beyond that we also want to see on a larger scale the people held responsible for the military police response that everyone saw across the world. We want to see Thomas Jackson, the police chief, removed. He needs to resign or be fired. We want to see the police officers that were caught on tape especially held accountable for their action. We want to see the people who were infringed upon our First Amendment rights brought to -- you know what I mean? We want to see them held accountable.
PAGEAnd are you optimistic that the Grand Jury will return an indictment against the police officer involved, that the police chief will resign? Do you think these things are going to happen?
YATESI am sure that we are going to see results because the people that I'm working with are not going to stop until we see results. We are not asking things that are unreasonable. We are not asking things that shouldn't happen. We're just demanding that the things that should've already happened -- anywhere else if someone were responsible for infringing upon your rights, they would be held accountable. In any other situation if someone were murdered, that person would be held accountable.
YATESSo what we're doing is we're just holding the system accountable as a whole. We're asking it to do its job. So I do believe that if we keep a close eye on them and we keep the pressure on and we keep talking to the people and letting them know that this is not going away, we will see results.
PAGEAnd your group is Millennial Activists United so a younger age group than some traditional civil rights groups are comprised of mostly. How does that -- does that make a difference? And if so, how?
YATESIt does make a difference. That's part of the reason why we founded the organization is because a lot of the organizations that were doing the work on the ground were comprised of, you know, my parents' generation or even a little older. And there is a difference in the way that we do the work. There's a difference in the way that we relate to people.
YATESLike I said, we're bred from the frontlines so we were out night after night after night. And even as the numbers dwindled on the front lines, we were still out there. So we're getting into the community. We're getting to talk to the people in Cainsville. We're getting to talk to the people in West Florissant, the people that spend 12 hours at a time in front of the Ferguson police department. A lot of the other organizations aren't doing that.
YATESWe're also very social media driven. That's how a lot of us got the word out. We became our own media in the first couple of days. When -- before, you know, national media reached Ferguson, we were on media making sure that people knew what was happening in our neighborhood. So there is a difference in the way that we go about doing the work and reaching the people.
PAGEAnd last question, Ashley. Should we expect more protests this next weekend in Ferguson?
YATESYou can expect more protests until justice is served. You can expect more protests until we see this national epidemic recognized. And then the system's held accountable for it and then they start to actually respond and put policies and procedures in place that will stop a tragedy like Mike Brown from being able to occur. So, yeah, we'll keep protesting.
PAGEAshley Yates, thanks so much for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEAshley Yates is co-founder of Millennial Activists United. That's a youth-led grassroots organization based in St. Louis. So Michelle, she sounds pretty optimistic.
BERNARDShe does. She does. I feel a lot less pessimistic than I did before we got started after hearing her. Maybe they are on the right track. And if she can keep galvanizing millennials and others to keep, you know, being -- sort of marching and being foot soldiers for justice for Michael Brown and for other black boys and black men across the country who are under assault for no other reason than their race, we will begin to see things change.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls and questions or read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're joined this hour from Pittsburgh, by David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He's the author of, "Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing." And here in the studio with me, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. She's the author of, "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law."
PAGEAnd Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He has a new book coming out just in the next few weeks. It's called "Culture Warrior: Reflections on Race, Politics and Social Change."
PAGEWorrier, Culture Worrier.
PAGEThere's an "O" there.
PAGEYeah, you know, there's a different meaning to that. Yes.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let a listener join the conversation. Kim is calling us from Columbia, Mo. Hi, Kim.
KIMHi. Thank you for taking my call. I just worry that there's not been enough discussion about the tough job that police officers do. As a society, we want and need a police force. And there just hasn't been enough talk about how dicey it is sometimes to be a police officer when every situation they go into is different and they don't know how it's going to go down until they're in the middle of it. And cops aren't infallible, you know, no one is.
KIMAnd judging in hindsight, of course, is easy. And I just wonder what all this anti-cop backlash -- how it will impact folks and whether they'll have people then choosing not to go into law enforcement.
PAGEKim, that's a great point. David Harris, let me ask you, is there a concern in the law enforcement community about this?
HARRISYes, there is.
PAGEAnd are we not being fair with the difficult job, as Kim says, that police officers do?
HARRISWell, there is concern that maybe people who are not in law enforcement don't understand how difficult the job is, as the caller says. There's concern that they have to put their lives on the line and don't, you know, don't get the proper respect for it. That is all true within law enforcement. However, they don't have a strong case when it comes to holding themselves and their profession accountable. And I think really that's what this debate is about.
HARRISThese kind of unfortunate, tragic incidents like Michael Brown's death happen every day in the United States in one place or another. As difficult as police officers' jobs are -- and I wouldn't dispute that for a minute -- I wouldn't do that job for twice what they get paid -- but it -- as difficult as that job is, accountability has to be part of the mix. And I think that's what people want now.
HARRISThey want to see that when a mistake is made, whether it's this case or other cases, that the police officer is accountable for how that job is done, and when mistakes are made, for there to be consequences. And it has too often been the case that police organizations have failed to do that.
PAGEWe've gotten several emails like this one from Gerald. Gerald writes, "I'm sorry, but isn't your whole show predicated on the supposition that Michael Brown did nothing wrong. The cop claims he was being charged. We have a video of Michael Brown assaulting a store clerk. I'm not bigoted or prejudiced, but aren't you making a big assumption here that is just not totally supported by fact?" What would you say to Gerald?
PAGEThat's right. We have a court system and a…
PAGE…grand juries and investigators. I'm wondering how the -- how some of the people who are so sympathetic to Michael Brown will feel if they don't get an indictment. I think there's a lot of pressure on this grand jury now. It reminds me of the Trayvon Martin case. But this is how the system works. But, you know, not to even investigate, though, that's an insult -- not just to African Americans, but it's an insult to the American system of justice.
BERNARDYeah, and I, you know, for the person who sent in the email, a lot of the anger also is let's assume that he was charging the police officer, there's all the -- there are other people who have said that he had his hands up, that he was walking backwards. And even with a charge on the police officer, was it necessary to gun him down and shoot him as many times as he was done in this instance? Was it necessary to leave his body laying out on the street for hours?
BERNARDI mean, there are many, many African Americans who are not -- this not just an "anti-police officer" or "anti-cop" thing. This is a question about how people view black boys and black men in general. Whether it is George Zimmerman, a wanna-be police officer or wanna-be security guard, or others. It's not just cops. This is a question of how the whole country views the importance of the lives of black boys and black men.
PAGEAll right. Let's take another caller. We'll talk to David. He's calling us from Raleigh, N.C. David, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVIDHi. Good morning. How are you?
DAVIDJust a quick question. Don't -- isn't there a risk of hurting the integrity of the argument being made by the general case by tying this to Michael Brown? And kind of a secondary tie-in to that is, isn't there -- aren't we sort of supposing that there should be a double standard in how police respond to any particular activity?
PAGEI'm -- I don't quite follow your point, David. Explain it a little more.
DAVIDWell, what I mean is kind of what the emailer said, that, I mean, I don't want to be the one to say the emperor has no clothes, but the reality and the facts seem to point to the fact that Michael Brown was kind of a thug, right? I mean, he -- they have him on tape minutes before roughing up a shopkeeper and stealing. And there is -- I don't know who we have enough evidence -- how your panel has enough evidence to assume that Officer Wilson is guilty.
DAVIDBut the police have announced that Officer Wilson was beaten pretty severely and he probably -- he may have overreacted. I'm not saying that they shouldn't investigate, but the trouble is they're tying a lot of this to Michael Brown. And the facts point to the -- to, you know, he was no angel and he's being canonized right now in the press, but, you know, it really kind of comes down to we're trying to hinge a lot of different points on this.
DAVIDAnd, you know, I'm just wondering, like, should the police now -- should they respond to being physically assaulted differently because it's being done by a black male?
PAGEDavid, thank you for your call. Clarence?
PAGEWell, first, we're not assuming the guilt of the police officer, number one. Number two, it's highly disputed that the police officer was beaten. In fact, I have received -- and other media people have received alleged photographs of the beaten Darren Wilson that turned out not to be Darren Wilson at all. This same thing happened with the Trayvon Martin case. People putting out negative photographs of allegedly of Trayvon Martin. Turned out not to be him at all.
PAGESo let's -- this is why, again, we have a criminal justice system, why we have grand juries and investigations and all. And also, I think that there are indeed two different issues here. One is the specific case, as the caller mentions. But there's also the larger problem across the country, which is getting attention now. We're seeing now how poorly records are kept -- nationally anyway -- in regard to police shootings, who police shoot.
PAGENow, folks are going back and looking at the FBI figures. Every municipality has a different way of reporting. But we're getting better figures now and discovering, I believe, African American are seven times more likely to be shot by police than white folks. Now, are all those justified? We need more investigation about this. But this is what we're really talking about here.
PAGEDavid Harris, what do you make of our caller's point?
HARRISWell, I don't think that there's anything to be gained by canonizing Michael Brown, but to assassinate his character, I think, is wrong, too. This is about whether the police officer used more force than was necessary. Police officers have the legal right to use force properly and proportionately when necessary to do their jobs. Nobody is saying that they should use a different standard because the person is black, but they have to respond appropriately within the law.
HARRISThey have plenty of leeway within that. To say that this is really about Michael Brown being a thug, I think, really takes the evidence in exactly the direction that the caller is pointing. I think he is engaging in the very same kind of reasoning. And I don't think it's about what Michael Brown's character was one way or the other. It's about whether too much force was used by this officer. And that's the heart of this case. That's what the grand jury will turn on.
BERNARDThe point I wanted to make was, number one, Michael Brown was a child, 17, 18 years old. He was somebody's son. He was a child. Let's assume, as the person who called in, that Michael Brown was "thug," which, in and of itself, is terrible because it's an assumption, I believe, based on the fact that he's African American male. But let's assume he was a thug. Let's assume that Michael Brown was engaging in bad behavior with that store clerk on the video that all of America saw.
BERNARDDoes that mean Michael Brown should have been shot down, murdered, killed in cold blood and left on -- had his left body -- his dead body left on a street for hours? And would that have happened to a white 17 or 18-year-old male, who was a "thug," engaging in similar bad behavior? And the answer's no.
PAGEDavid, thanks very much for your call. So what is the Obama administration -- how has the Obama administration responded to this, Clarence? What have you seen?
PAGEWell, as I mentioned, Eric Holder was sent out and gave some very stirring speeches and discussions with local African American community people and others. He also has assigned several dozen investigators to this case, kind of as a backup. This sort of reminds me of the Rodney King case where the police were exonerated by the first trial and then federal charges of civil rights abuses were brought and several police were found guilty on that level.
PAGEThat could possibly happen here in this case as well. But the main thing is that the Obama administration is trying to be a backup to make sure that there is justice from the federal level, regardless of what happens at the local level.
PAGEWe've seen the attorney general, Eric Holder, out there. Not so much President Obama himself.
PAGEWould it be -- is that an absence we should note?
PAGEOh, yeah. Well, you know, significant that this president, first African American president has been really handcuffed and muzzled in how and how often and what language to use in talking about race. But this is because he's expected to be even-handed now. There's a new etiquette for him, where he cannot presume too much. Even saying, as he did, that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin.
PAGENewt Gingrich -- that was during the 2012 campaign season. And Newt Gingrich came out accusing Obama of racism for that statement. To me it was a very benign statement. And he was trying to comfort the family.
PAGEAnd actually a statement of fact, in a way.
PAGEAnd a fact, thank you.
PAGEYeah, yeah, yeah.
PAGEThank you. But because Obama says that now, you know, some -- everything is polarized around race and politics now with issues like this.
PAGEMichelle, do you think the Obama administration should be doing more?
BERNARDYou know, I'm torn on this. I -- in the past when we have heard -- particularly from the African American community -- complaints that the president isn't "black enough," and has not done enough, I have always argued he is the president of the entire country. And he has to speak on behalf of the entire country. However, we have seen people like Newt Gingrich refer to President Obama as, I think, the welfare president.
PAGEOr the food stamp president.
BERNARDThe food, excuse me, the food stamp president. What we are seeing in terms of race relations and seriously what I would consider a boy crisis, in particular with African American men, I think that this is an instance where the nation needs to hear from the president. When he was running for office in 2008 he gave that fabulous speech. I have never forgotten it.
BERNARDAfter the whole Reverend Wright debacle, in talking about the importance of African American families and communities. He needs to that again. He can change the whole tone and tenor of the entire country and our attitude, because people will look at him and they will see that if he was not president of the United States he couldn't get a cab in Washington, D.C. He would have great difficulty getting a cab. He could be the same subject of everything that we've seen happen to Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and others across the country. And we need his example and his leadership on this issue.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got time for another caller or two. Let's go to Angelina, calling us from Harrisburg, Pa. Angelina, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANGELINAHi. Thanks for taking my call. One comment I'd like to make is that this is undoubtedly a race issue. The officer that shot Michael Brown didn't know whether or not he was rich or poor. He knew that he was a young black male. And as a result, Michael Brown was treated as a second citizen and ultimately ended in his death. But I wanted to ask what is the local government doing about these protests?
ANGELINACitizens are upset. They're protesting. So why isn't the local government trying to meet the needs of these people, rather than just arresting them? And if they are, what are they doing productive to help meet the needs?
PAGEAll right. Angelina, a good question. Could anyone on our panel address that?
HARRISWell, we have some -- go ahead, Clarence.
PAGEI was just going to say the police chief has turned over a new leaf, you could say, as far as community relations go. He has spoken to the community. He has apologized for Michael Brown's body being left out there for, I believe, four hours. He has marched with local people or tried to until that was disrupted. But -- and also, I understand they're supposed to expand use of body cameras for the police there as well. So they're making some effort. Too bad it took this kind of a tragedy for it to happen.
PAGEYou know, one thing that strikes me is how in some ways this is reminiscent of reaction to the O.J. Simpson controversy.
PAGEAnd that iconic picture -- I think it was on a college campus.
PAGEOf split-screen, the white students outraged by his acquittal, the black students exuberant about it. Has anything changed, David Harris, since then?
HARRISWell, I think things have changed in that we are no -- you can't be unaware of the fact that there is a different perception of law enforcement and the criminal justice system among whites and blacks. The only way you could be unaware of that is you're living under a rock. Now, it's much easier -- the thing is it's much easier if you're white to not really think of that reality very often, if at all. And then you get the split-screen realities when a case like this sort of bursts onto the national scene.
HARRISI do think there has been progress. But there is plenty to be made that is left to do and we have, you know, we've had racial profiling discussions now for, you know, nigh on 20 years. And we're conscious of it, but I'd like to see it decreasing. There are many directions we could go for improvement. It's just a shame that every couple of years it seems we have to revisit this. And people wake up and say, I didn't know that they thought of the world so differently than I do.
PAGEWhat do you think, Michelle?
BERNARDI agree with him. I will say, though, just -- there were many African Americans who believed that O.J. was guilty. And I'm happy to see that there are many whites who believe that what has -- what happened to Michael Brown was a travesty and that something needs to change.
PAGEAre things different now, Clarence, do you think?
PAGEI think -- well, you know, as I say, it takes these racial eruptions to have a national discussion, you know, because otherwise we can hold discussions, but the people who most need to be there don't show up and this -- a case like this brings more attention. I am reminded through this whole thing, as I was with the O.J. Simpson of what Tom Wolf (sp?) said about, you know, there's an old saying that a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.
PAGEAnd as Tom Wolf said, a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested. That's what we're seeing here. And there is a new black/white coalition, a right/left coalition, Libertarian right and civil liberties left who are concerned about the militarization of police, concerned about more accountability, about getting the body cams, you know, that old saying, again, about character is what you do when nobody's looking. So these body cameras make sure everybody's looking.
PAGEClarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy, and David Harris from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Thanks so much for joining us this hour.
PAGEI’m Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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