Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, "Between the World and Me," has been called "required reading" by Toni Morrison. "I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates," Morrison said. "Between the World and Me" is written as a letter to Coates’ 15-year-old son, Samori, and has been compared to "the talk" parents have with their children to prepare them for facing police harassment and brutality. The book is a combination of memoir, history and analysis. In July, Coates came to the Democracy Now! studio to talk about the book and his upbringing in Baltimore.
Today we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the explosive book about white supremacy and being black in America. Titled "Between the World and Me," it is written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. In July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched the book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church. "It seems like there’s a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us," Coates said. "But for me, this conversation is old, and I’m sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new."
Could Puerto Rico become America’s Greece? That’s a question many are asking as the island faces a devastating financial crisis and a rapidly crumbling healthcare system. Puerto Rico owes $72 billion in debt. $355 million in debt payments are due December 1, but it increasingly looks like the U.S. territory may default on at least some of the debt. Congress has so far failed to act on an Obama administration proposal that includes extending bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico and allocating more equitable Medicaid and Medicare funding for the island. Meanwhile, Puerto Rican leaders in the United States are planning a massive lobbying day in Washington in early December to spur congressional action. In a holiday special, we feature a major speech by Democracy Now! co-host Juan González on "Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis: Economic Collapse in America’s Biggest Colony and What Can Be Done About It."
In our extended interview with Congressmember Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, he dismisses legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week to restrict Iraqi and Syrian refugees from resettling in the United States after the attacks in France. The Republican-backed measures would require top federal officials to sign off on every person from Iraq and Syria seeking refugee status. “We’ve had 750,000 refugees come into this country since the year 2001. None of them – not one – has been engaged in terrorism,” Ellison says. “Why then are we going to revamp our whole refugee resettlement program simply because of intimidation by Daesh?”
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison has joined the chorus of people demanding transparency and the release of the video of the police killing of 24-year-old African-American Jamar Clark ten days ago. Authorities say police shot Clark in the head after a scuffle with officers who responded to a report of an assault. But multiple witnesses say Clark was shot while handcuffed. Minneapolis police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation. Ellison has also called for a Department of Justice investigation into Clark’s death, which has now begun. During a police raid last Wednesday, a police officer dressed in fatigues and carrying what appeared to be a gas-launching gun pointed his weapon at Ellison’s own son, Jeremiah. “It is a violation of decency,” Ellison says. “Shouldering a weapon against nonviolent protesters is aggressive… and it did not help de-escalate the situation at all.”
Nearly a thousand Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota Tuesday after alleged white supremacists opened fire on a demonstration the night before, injuring five people. Police have now arrested three people in connection with the mass shooting, which took place at a protest outside a police precinct. At least one of the gunmen was reportedly wearing a mask. All three suspects are white. Authorities may treat the shooting as a hate crime. Witnesses of the shooting say police took an unusually long time to respond to the attack, and then proceeded to use mace on the protesters. At the time of Monday’s attack, the Black Lives Matter protesters were gathered at an encampment outside a police precinct to protest the police killing of unarmed 24-year-old African-American Jamar Clark, which the Justice Department is now investigating. Authorities say Clark was shot in the head Sunday after a scuffle with officers who responded to a report of an assault. But multiple witnesses say Clark was shot while handcuffed. We speak with eyewitness to Monday evening’s shooting Leslie Redmond, who is a student at The University of St. Thomas School of Law and president of the Black Law Student Association.
For the first time in three decades, a Chicago police officer faces charges of first-degree murder for an on-duty shooting. White police officer Jason Van Dyke was arrested on Tuesday and is being held without bail for the killing of African-American 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. It was more than a year ago, on October 20, 2014, when officer Van Dyke shot the teenager 16 times, including multiple times in the back. Police claimed McDonald lunged at the officer with a small knife. But newly released dashcam footage showed the teenager walking away from the police officers’ cars when another police car pulls up to the scene. The video, which has no sound, then appears to show Officer Jason Van Dyke jumping out of the car, pointing his gun at McDonald and opening fire. The teenager’s body spins as he is hit with the barrage of bullets and then falls to the pavement, where he continues to be struck by bullets. Officer Van Dyke remained on paid desk duty after the shooting until he was taken into custody on Tuesday. In addition to the fatal shooting last October, Officer Van Dyke had at least 18 civilian complaints against him, which included excessive use of force, illegal arrest and use of racial slurs. None of these complaints led to any disciplinary action. This week Chicago police announced they will also move to fire officer Dante Servin, who killed 22-year-old African-American woman Rekia Boyd in 2012. We discuss the developments in Chicago with Barbara Ransby, professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
The firestorm of controversy that erupted over whether the United States should continue to accept Syrian refugees after the deadly attacks in Paris includes a bill by House Republican lawmakers to restrict Iraqi and Syrian refugees from resettling here. At least 31 U.S. states have said they will not accept the refugees, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said, "We can’t have them. They are going back." Others are drawing historical parallels with a different refugee crisis the country faced in the 1930s, when Jewish refugees sought refuge here. Case Western Reserve University history professor Peter Schulman recently tweeted a Fortune Magazine poll question from 1939 that asked, "Should the U.S. government permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to come in from Germany?" The results showed 61 percent of respondents at the time said no. Among those seeking refuge and denied entry were Anne Frank and her family. "The nativist response then has very clear echos now," says Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post, whose recent article is headlined, "Yes, the comparison between Jewish and Syrian refugees matters." We also speak with Ilya Lozovsky, an editor at Foreign Policy and author of the article, "I’m a Russian-born American Jew. My people’s rejection of Syrian refugees breaks my heart." He says he decided to speak out because "[e]ven if Donald Trump never becomes president, this type of discourse has become legitimized."
As Chicago braces for protests ahead of the release of video footage of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, we speak with Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. Her organization declined a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on Monday as the city tries to quell impending protests. "For us, it was important not to take a meeting with the mayor where it was clear to us that this series of meetings was about how are we going to quell our fears — being the mayor’s office’s fears — about what young, black people are going to do once this video is released," Carruthers said. "They’re very concerned with the city remaining peaceful, but unfortunately, the community, or the target, that is being told to remain peaceful is not the Chicago Police Department."
Chicago is bracing for several new developments in the police-involved death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot and killed over a year ago. Officer Jason Van Dyke will reportedly be charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday, and the city has until Wednesday to release the video footage of the shooting, ordered last week by Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama. An autopsy report shows McDonald was shot 16 times on October 20, 2014, including multiple times in the back. Police have said that the teenager lunged at the officer with a small knife. But people who have seen the video from police dashcam footage say it contradicts the police account, instead showing Van Dyke opening fire on the teenager while he was walking away, and continuing to shoot him even after the teenager was lying on the pavement. Despite the fact that McDonald’s family did not file a lawsuit, the city paid them $5 million in April and fought to conceal the video, even after the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and a freelance journalist all filed FOIA requests for its release. Van Dyke remains on paid desk duty, as the shooting is investigated by the FBI and the United States attorney’s office in Chicago. For more we are joined by Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism outlet that recently released tens of thousands of pages of civilian complaints filed against the Chicago Police Department — 97 percent of which resulted in absolutely no disciplinary action. Kalven is also the freelance journalist who uncovered Laquan McDonald’s autopsy report.
When Ras Baraka was elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey in May 2014, he entered office as the well-known son of noted global activist and poet Amiri Baraka, with similar radical politics. In his inaugural address, Baraka said, "We need … a mayor that puts his city first. A mayor that never forgets how he got here. We need a mayor that’s radical." He calls for an "urban Marshall Plan" to invest in cities. "My family has been in Newark almost 100 years," Baraka said. "Nothing has been given to those folks — job training, job development, infrastructure redevelopment, roads, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, putting people to work, giving people jobs and decent education. All of that is necessary in a democracy and to move America forward."
The education system of Newark, New Jersey has faced years of crisis, with high dropout rates, low-performing schools and a state takeover dating back two decades. In 2010, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Democratic Mayor Cory Booker of Newark and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg joined forces to revamp Newark schools. But despite trumpeting their plan as a model for national school reform, millions of dollars initially flowed not to the schools but to outside consultants, most of them white and with no ties to Newark’s majority African-American community. "A lot of [the money] went to consultants," says Baraka. "Not much went toward teacher training, toward teachers and classrooms to give them better resources and opportunities for kids in the schools. I think now because there has been a lot of uproar and a lot of discussion and because we have a new person in charge of that when I became mayor, we began to talk about the last bit of money and how we get to spend that. Hopefully, use it for the benefits of the children."
While 130 people died in the Paris attacks, an average of 100 Americans are killed in gun violence every day, prompting many to question whether "another Paris is taking place in America this very day." We speak with one of the mayors leading the charge for stricter federal gun laws. Ras Baraka is mayor of Newark, New Jersey, where one in four residents live in poverty, schools are under state control and the city has one of the highest murder rates in the country. "The shootings in these cities where I am the mayor and all over the country are growing higher and higher because of access to guns," Baraka said. "In New Jersey, fortunately, we have some stricter gun laws. But unfortunately, they bring guns across I-78 and I-95, guns come from the southern part of the country and into hands of 14- and 15-year-old kids who are using them to solve disputes and creating murder and mayhem in our community. We have to have universal kind of gun laws that affect every state and every city, not just a few."
Belgium’s capital city of Brussels is on its highest alert as residents remain on lockdown. People are being told to stay away from their windows, and schools remain closed as police and soldiers carry out raids in the search for suspects in the Paris attacks ten days ago that killed 130 people. Overnight raids resulted in 16 arrests. No guns or explosives were found, and Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris attacks who drove to Brussels afterward, remains at large. Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel says Brussels will remain under the country’s highest level of security threat, meaning the threat of an attack is "serious and imminent." We speak with Belgian-born human rights activist Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, who has spent the last few months interviewing refugees coming to Europe mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. He also examines what he calls the "marginalized ghettos" in European cities where many migrants live, including the Brussels suburb called Molenbeek, where some of the Paris attackers lived. "Europe really should be focusing more on the marginalized Muslim communities at home and try to better meet their needs, make sure that young people are educated and have jobs available, because the reality is that the majority of these people who carried out the Paris attacks were French citizens — some of them resident in Molenbeek — who have been living in France all of their lives," Bouckaert says. He also notes Belgium has been a center for the illegal weapons trade for decades.
Among the issues tackled in the new documentary film "Drone" is the connection between video games and military recruitment. We air a clip from the film and speak to its director, Tonje Hessen Schei, as well as drone war whistleblower Brandon Bryant. "I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using [video games] to manipulate and recruit," Bryant says. "We’re more interconnected now than at any time in human history — and that’s being exploited to help people kill one another."
In an unprecedented open letter to President Obama, four U.S. Air Force servicemembers who took part in the drone war say targeted killings and remote-control bombings fuel the very terrorism the government says it’s trying to destroy. Two of the signatories, former sensor operator Stephen Lewis and former Air Force technician Cian Westmoreland, tell us why they are speaking out for the first time about what they did. "Anybody in the Air Force knows that an air strike has collateral damage a significant amount of the time," Westmoreland says. "I’m saying it wasn’t all enemies. It was civilians, as well."
Former Air Force pilot Brandon Bryant is one of the the first U.S. drone operators to speak out against President Obama’s global assassination program. Bryant served as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011, manning the camera on the unmanned aerial vehicles that carried out attacks overseas. After he left active duty in the Air Force, he was presented with a certificate that credited his squadron for 1,626 kills. We hear Bryant’s recounting of his first-ever lethal drone strike and the impact it continues to have on him today.
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