tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg August 23, 2016 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
♪ >> from our studios in new york city, this is "charlie rose." charlie: bryan stephenson is here. he has dedicated his life in fighting racial discrimination. his efforts have also focused on putting a spotlight on the legacy of slavery in america. he also won a landmark supreme court ruling. it held mandatory life without parole sentences for minors as unconstitutional.
the new organization plans to open the largest memorial honoring the thousands of victims of lynching in the united states. the project includes a museum. both will be located in montgomery, alabama. i am pleased to have him back at the table, welcome. when you went to montgomery as a a young lawyer, did you see this career happening? bryan: i didn't see everything that would come. i grew up in a poor community where i saw the anguish and suffering. i knew the way people internalized that hurt. i saw people humiliated and so when i got to montgomery, the desire to see things change was very real.
i had no idea things would develop as they did. i went as time when you could still have a conversation with rosa parks. there were these icons of the civil rights movement in my ear. i have been hopeful that we can get to the point where we can talk about these issues in a broader context. we have a lot of work to do and we have had some setbacks that i now realize that we have to talk about these issues more broadly. charlie: did you want to have a big life? brian: no, i just wanted to make a difference. i would be very happy -- well, it is. i've been happiest when i can go to the prisons and spend time with clients. standing up for people in the courtroom, making the kind of arguments that need to be made to point to the humanity of every human being.
to be in theect situation to talk nationally and internationally about these issues. charlie: are we developing a consensus on criminal justice? bryan: there is a consensus that we have too many people in jails and prisons. people on the right, people on the left recognize that. charlie: coming from both sides. bryan: that is exactly right. i think everybody realizes putting people in prison for life for simple possession of marijuana for writing a bad check is inefficient use of government resources. it is excessive and unnecessary. we are not advancing public safety when we have hundreds of thousands of people who are not a threat to public safety. we went from $6 billion in 1982 0 to $80 billion last year. where not helping in the public safety space, we are undermining funding for education.
a lot of those things the rest of society needs. charlie: in so many areas of endeavor, we are a shining light but not in criminal justice. bryan: not in criminal justice. i think that is in part because we have allowed ourselves to be a little distracted by the politics of fear and anger. we have allowed ourselves to buy into narratives of fear and anger. when you are afraid or angry you , will tolerate abuse and unfairness and inequality. in the 1970's, political candidates started saying let's be tough on crime. no one said we shouldn't be tough on crime. they all competed with another for who could be the toughest on crime and it created the political culture where both democrats and republicans were trying to show their toughness. it was law and order and tough on crime. we exhausted our ability. we went into other spaces, drug
addiction. a health problem, that is a crime problem. we did not do that for alcoholism. we said that is a disease. if we saw somebody who is an alcoholic going into a bar and we call the police, that would make no sense. we have sent hundreds of thousands of people to prison. that phenomenon is related to the history of racial inequality. if we had done better in recognizing the problems of the genocide when native people were slaughtered by the millions. if we had developed a consciousness that said, wait a minute, we made a mistake. we have created this horrific consequence for native people, we would have thought differently. we didn't. and then we enslaved people for centuries. while we ultimately recognized
that slavery was wrong, we do not account for all the damage was done. we didn't talk about the ideology of white supremacy that emerged. we did not try to repair all the damage that was done by enslaving human beings. we fought the civil war. charlie: making them property and not human. bryan: then we abandoned any effort at recovery. that led to this era of terrorism and lynching and the trauma. we have not been very good at owning up to these mistakes and as a result, they keep manifesting. charlie: are you suggesting what happened in south africa, reconciliation never happened so they never came to grips with it? brian: no one can argue that we committed ourselves to truth telling. we did the opposite.
we do not hold the people accountable for slavery responsible. we did not actually insist on recovery and repair for emancipated people. we abandoned those who were enslaved. we allowed them to sink back into this condition. we tolerated this era. charlie: so what about thomas jefferson? he owned slaves, so he should be taken out of american history or be what? bryan: i don't think we should ignore our history. there are obviously things that people did that were respected and honored. we have to acknowledge it was great and remarkable but we should also say there is a cloud over the founding of this country that we could not see -- the inhumanity.
it does not mean we are condemned. it does mean we have to ultimately own up to that. we have to say slavery was horrific. we have to be thinking how we free ourselves? what we can do is ignore it and pretend it wasn't that bad. you actually add to the victimization when you deny. charlie: what is the definition of pretending it doesn't exist? bryan: it is evident when michelle obama gets up at the democratic convention and talks about slaves building the white house and everyone says that is outrageous and crazy. pretending it didn't exist -- saying slaves had it good, they were well fed. pretending it doesn't exist is what you see when you come to the american south. i don't know that as many people appreciate the hardships of slavery as there should be. i don't think we did a good job of detailing the hardships and the struggles. we have to begin telling the story.
it was only a couple of years "12 years film called a slave" on honest accounting of slavery. i can't ignore the fact that the south is littered with the iconography of the confederacy. we have romanticized this period. we have said it was a great time. we have honored the architects and defenders of slavery and that suggests that we don't really appreciate it. it would be unconscionable for someone to say let's make adolf hitler's birthday a national holiday, it would be unconscionable for someone to say let's make osama bin laden's birthday a national holiday. we are celebrating its architects of slavery. charlie: tell me about the museum and what you believe it can begin to do. brian: it will be an 11,000 square foot area. it is situated 100 meters from
one of the most prominent slave auction sites of the american south. it is situated 100 meters from the alabama river. that is where a dock and rail oftion transferred thousands slaves people. it will introduce people to the hardships. you will hear the voices of slave people. we are going to get slave narratives. we will talk about about african people being kidnapped. we will have artifacts that present that. we will have virtual reality films that will put you right there on the train where enslaved people were being forced to the lower south with all of that anxiety. not knowing if they will be able to keep their children. we will move from that slavery experience to the era of terrorism. we will try to get people to understand. charlie: that is the lynching. bryan: lynching was not mob
justice or violence. they took place in communion with a functioning criminal black peoplem but were not considered enough to be considered defensive. dants. because she chided those children, they came to her home and lynched her. a family was lynched because the pastor said the lynching that took place was wrong. people in mississippi were lynched because they bumped into white people at the train station. these social transgressions created these lynchings and that meant the black families when , your son came home and said i might have laughed inappropriately, you would have a crisis conference on whether to send your love ones of the north because of this fear of
lynching was so traumatizing. we send people out of the american south with this fear and trauma. now they sit in urban communities where it has been unaddressed. for me, you have to understand that we will have this in the museum, a consul that has the most comprehensive data on lynching. we're going to talk about the era of segregation in an entirely different way. we are not as interested in the celebrity stories of what people of color did. we are interested in the intensity of resistance to integration. we want people to see the signs that were put throughout the south that restricted where black people can go, the statutes of what legislative bodies have done. it would be convenient if that is where they all lived. we had members of the legislature creating these documents and these doctrines to
burden people of color. until you understand the intensity of resistance to integration, you cannot understand why we're dealing with racial bias in this country. if you understand this history you would be foolish to think , that the civil rights act or was sufficientct to end this history of racial inequality. people will still try to undermine the rights of black people. charlie: you said i'm persuaded that we will eliminate the problems of injustice in the system until we change the narrative of racial difference that we have all accepted. bryan: i think that is right. i think we are all actually affected by this narrative. i think it is wrong what we are doing to run children. -- to our children. charlie: what is the most important thing we have done in a positive way to change the narrative? that we can look at that as a start. bryan: we have made progress on issues like domestic violence.
50 years ago, domestic violence was seen as a joke. the honeymooners was a comedy show where men would joke about hitting there was. there was something that we tolerated about the abuse in the home and then that narrative began to shift and we still have a long way to go. now you see sports leagues are taking action against athletes because it is becoming unacceptable to look the other way with that kind of violence. that is a shift in the narrative. there was a time when we thought consuming fossil fuels is the only way to use energy. now we have realized that is destroying the planet. we have recyclable bins, we talk about green energy, doing things that are going to protect us. that is a shift rooted in the understanding of what is healthy and accessible has to change.
we have not done that in the racial justice. we have looked for shortcuts. if jackie robinson plays baseball, that will be ok. if we let black people play basketball, we will be ok. those shortcuts don't work. you cannot have a magic pill. charlie: has this president that everything that he can? bryan: i don't think he started his term wanting to be a black president and addressing these issues. he wanted to be the opposite. as he has persisted, he has recognized that he is being perceived as a black president. we have to talk about these issues more broadly. he has done some things that are really positive. i actually think all presidents should be doing more. i also think we cannot look to our presidents to solve these problems. we have to have our governors and mayors and school boards and educators and grassroots be active. this is not something one person
can saw. that is why we are starting with the museum and memorial that in the hopes of what people can do together. that is the memorial. it is this massive structure which sits on a rise in montgomery, alabama. charlie: why montgomery, alabama? bryan: it was the cradle of the confederacy. it was a place where terror was widespread. it was the birthplace of the civil rights movement. i think montgomery is a perfect place for this. if anything, you got to tell the stories in the spaces they have happened. we got to do it in places where there is going to be some resistance. charlie: was there any resistance in montgomery? bryan: we are the early days of this. i'm sure there will be. those columns are all representative of thousands of people who were lynched. charlie: how many? for every county
where lynching took place in the country. the names of lynching victims will be engraved on each column. the columns will rise. those are jars of soil collected from lynching sites. we started a community remembrance project where we have invited people to go to lynching sites where they collect soil and put it in a jar. it has the name of the victim and the date of the lynching and they reflect on that. we have been collecting these for quite some time. it has been really empowering to see community members respond to this opportunity. they get closer to this legacy. we're going to duplicate each of the columns inside the memorial. those 800 columns with the names are going to be duplicated and will be outside of the memorial. we're going to ask people from
the counties to come and claim their memorial. they will actually be placed in counties all over the country because we think while this national memorial will fit it to exist all over the country and i think it will be important for people to own up to this history and i hope that teachers and leaders will go claim the monument for the victims in our county. that kind of activism gives everyone an opportunity to participate in this. we are putting up markers at lynching sites. one of the things i am hoping that will happen is we put up chiefsarkers that police and sheriffs and police chiefs say come and i want them to i am sorry that the people wearing this uniform did not protect you years ago. i'm sorry they did not do that. then i want them to know that they have an opportunity to say,
bryan: i do, yes. i don't think we should facilitate it at some made up conference. i think it needs to happen. three years ago when i was in montgomery, we had 59 markers in downtown montgomery. hardly a word about slavery. we put up these markers on the slave trade. there was tremendous resistance to that. charlie: by the city council? bryan: the alabama historic commission, ironically. i see white families coming into town and young kids stop at that sign. you will see the parents trying to move them along. they won't and they will spend 10 or 15 minutes of their time and it is probably the first time the family has talked about slavery ever. if we can check this resistance and denial culture, then we can
gain and learn a host of things. it is about liberation and getting to the point that we are not so compromised and constrained. we bump into each other a lot in this country. -- takenot create much much to create distrust. that is going to continue until we say the things we need to do. it is not touchy-feely, it is just honest recovery. it is how you heal. it is how you recover from this trauma and mass atrocity. you see it in rwanda. that society is recovering. it would not happen if people said we would not talk about the genocide. you see it in south africa and other places in the world because charlie: i'm asking this question because they want to know the answer. did we just not talk about slavery? bryan: we said we're not going to talk about it. we are going to feel bad about ourselves if we feel like the losers of the war. we're going to really be in
trouble if we let these people show us they are our evil so they constructed a legal, cultural and social world that reinforce the narrative of white supremacy. that was the narrative that created slavery and people of the north tolerated that. yes, it was a conscious decision to not talk about these things. president woodrow wilson heralded birth of a nation and said we would not talk about these things. when lynching was going on, we are not going to talk about that. people said we're not going to deal with that and that has been our history. charlie: i didn't know that about woodrow wilson until the last year. bryan: we have not actually asked questions about people's culpability when it comes to this narrative. charlie: incarceration. joe sullivan said you were like a father to him.
bryan: i feel one of the best parts of my work is the relationships i have made with people that have been abused. i represent a lot of people who have made some terrible mistakes but they are incredible human beings. they have so much potential, capacity and to give and we condemn them in ways that is tragic especially young kids. ,joe was one of our young kids. he was 13 when he was wrongfully convicted and given a life without parole sentence. a lot of those young people are desperate for something human to hang onto. i want my clients to know that i care about them deeply and they have value and their lives mean something. i believe we are more than the worst thing we have ever done, for everybody, not just my clients. just because you have lied, you are not only a liar. just because you have taken something, does that mean you are only a thief.
just because you have killed, you are not only a killer. charlie: did you have any sense of how your life would unfold and what you might be doing? "ie is a quote -- understood i don't do what i do because it requires what is necessary or important. i don't do it because i have no choice. i do what i do because i'm broken too." i'm broken too. bryan: i think when you get close to suffering and you spend a lot of time near abuse, neglect and incarceration and execution it will break you. ,i think it is in brokenness that we understand the power. charlie: has it broken you? bryan: yes, it has. my great-grandmother -- my grandmother was the daughter of people who were enslaved. my grandmother was in my ear all
the time talking about slavery. i used to think why are we talking about slavery. i started my education at a colored school. i did not go to a public school. i went to high school, i went to college. when i went to harvard law school, i did not want people to know that i started in a colored school. it's not that i was ashamed, i was afraid it would diminish me. i thought they would make me seem broken. i started doing this work and saw the constraints and resistance to equality and fairness. then i realized part of the solution is to own up to that history and i want everyone to know. i am the great-grandson of enslaved people. everyone to know that i started my education at a colored school. if they hear something of value thisnow it is rooted in broken history, maybe we can think differently about what it means to stand up for the brokenness. in a greatess opportunity to teach us on how
mercy works and how justice works. acknowledging that in myself is partly honoring that struggle. there is power in this legacy that has nurtured me despite slavery lynching and , segregation. i think if people can overcome slavery, lynching and then we can overcome mass incarceration and excessive violence. we will know it when we don't think that there is a presumption or danger and guilt that applies to black and brown people. when we are not as preoccupied with the race of offenders. we will know it when we changed the landscape and what makes it safe and acceptable to talk about these histories. we will know it when we honor things that are honorable and we talk forthrightly about the things that are dishonorable. charlie: for all that you have
done for so many people, i have this feeling that they have done an equal amount for you. bryan: absolutely. charlie: they have given your life -- bryan: i feel really privileged to do what i do. i feel deeply moved and honored by being able to stand up for people. i was told one day that if you really want to make a difference, sometimes you have to stand when other people say sit down. you have to speak when other people say be quiet. when you know who you are standing for, speaking for it , does not feel like a burden. i feel very honored to represent se humanity i think has been denied. charlie: thank you for coming. bryan stevenson. i suggest several things. i did a piece for 60 minutes with him and he will see part of that. he has given one of the great
ted conference talks which has been seen by millions and millions of people. his book is called "just mercy." jeffrey toobin writes a profile of bryan and he raises important questions for all of us that need to be acted on and need to be addressed and need to be heard loud and clear. i am honored to call him a friend. back in a moment. stay with us. ♪
charlie: michael kenneth williams is here. he is best known for his portrayal in the wire. his latest role finds him behind bars as friday. -- freddy. he has taken a turn as an investigative journalist and in viceland's new documentary series. here is a look at black market. >> for me to be alive is a blessing. our goal is to show the world a window to understanding why people do the things they do and where that desperation comes
from. charlie: i am pleased to have michael williams. michael: thank you. charlie: how did you get started? as a dancer? michael: yes, i was a backup dancer in new york city. it was the early 90's when the right music video and the right artist can make you a star. charlie: what did tupac have to do with your success? michael: he saw a picture of me in the production office that was being used to house his new
film and he randomly saw a polaroid of me and said, who is this guy? he could play my little brother, go find him. they found me and i got the part. that was my introduction to the world of acting. charlie: did you take to it immediately? michael: absolutely. i took to the arts immediately. i was not a gangster. i did stupid stuff and i just wanted to be accepted. it got me into a lot of trouble wanting to fit in. i did a lot of things that i wasn't proud of so when that lightbulb went off in my head
that i could do something artistic and get paid on it. i gravitated to that. it wasn't about the money at that point i knew that it held my attention. and i enjoyed the process. it got me to the point where that is what fueled everything in my success. charlie: can we use your example to influence other kids? to get them connected to the arts. michael: for me, that is my ultimate goal which is the main reason why i started my
company, to get more leverage to give me more power to create opportunities for people that wouldn't necessarily get that. i like being able to find talent where you normally wouldn't find it and this is primarily in the head. -- hood. charlie: someone cut you and left a scar? someone else offered to kill the person? you said no. why? michael: i said no because that is not how i was raised. i wasn't prepared to live with the decision of having someone's blood on my hands. it felt easier to me.
dealing with this all my own. i had a shot at that and that was not me. for the wrong reasons at first. to be something i wasn't and that was how i got this scar on my face. i got drunk and was pretending to be something i wasn't and got my butt kicked. that was a turning point in my life. charlie: how did you make it the turning point? michael: by staying true to myself and not retaliating or wanting to have someone dealt with like that.
anyone who knows me knows that. you already know it to my life to a whole another level. charlie: how important was playing omar in the wire? it is a much beloved television series. michael: omar is special. i needed that character. i used the audition as my last shot. i was prepared to walk away from the business and i was in a transition. i had completely left the dance world.
the phone went quiet for about a year. i was forced to work for my mother in the daycare that she had told in the projects which we still lived in. i was grateful to have that. by march of 2002, i was on the wire. charlie: and it changed your life? michael: yeah. charlie: there's a bit of the the characters you play? michael: yes i think so.
i've been blessed with the opportunity to find healing points in myself. i believe these characters that i get the chance to play our how to look at.e things that are to come. and it has gotten stronger as these characters have gone down. they keep touching parts of my personal life that i cannot do anymore. charlie: i'm listening to someone who views themselves as
an unfinished product that is constantly growing and listening. what it's all about and what is next and how do i learn from every experience. in your case, every character. michael: for a grown man to be just figuring this out. charlie: you are in a better place than most people. michael: better late than never. [laughter] charlie: as soon as you stop figuring it out, it seems to me you are missing out. i might as well die. [laughter] michael: i'm not ready to die. charlie: me either. tell me about boardwalk empire. michael: i call that the dream job. was it real?
that was a fantasy, man. everything about that was a dream come true. i remember driving for various auditions and i was hearing rumors about turning it into a studio. if i met de niro, i would call it hollyhood. you can stay right here living in the projects. instead of going down flappers avenue, i would go over to washington and cut around to brooklyn bridge from the back.
i saw myself working as an actor on a television show at the brooklyn navy yard. the only thing i couldn't see, i was still living in the projects and i had my route. i get there and i get to play him. this is something different. this is something other. you don't know what it's like to live in 1920. where did you get this from? i took five men in my family that were all deceased.
i took various pieces there. all of these men lived in the 1920's and he gave me this opportunity to hang out with all of my dead uncles and my dad. it was every scenario. there were five faces of him and that is how he was born. i got around them. i call that a boys club. charlie: that has been your acting class working with people like that. michael: i love a crew of people getting together and hashing it out and doing some good work. i love ensembles and boardwalk
was the classic crew. we shot that on 35mm. charlie: it is all on videotape now. what about black market? michael: the black market was a step into kind of what i was alluding to. these jobs are starting to parallel my life. it is all coming to a head now. i'm here to tell someone's story. through arts or giving someone a platform. i feel that position to tell someone's story. i just want to be in place.
i'm being set in this direction and there are so many people living below the poverty line in this country around the world. it is not a white or black thing. it is not a drug thing, it is not a mental illness thing. you have so many people not surviving and trying to do whatever they can to get by. no one is saying i'm going to rob people and break the law. everyone is hurting. i came off the role of black market and had seen so much pain. people are like how you get these people to talk and for a
number of reasons. vice is known for doing quality. that is number one and people see me and they feel me. i try not to have any pretensions of my reason for being there. thirdly, i think these people are looking for a lifeline and hope. why else would you stop your drug habit to come on television and talk about your daily events? you want help. you are looking at this. that is a lot.
charlie: how about freddie? michael: freddie is a charismatic dude. when i got that role i could not wait to play him. just in the audition piece i said help me with this piece. i said this to a friend of mine los angeles and i said. he said this is perfect. that is exactly what it is. the writing, the first thing that got me was that they are beasts. [laughter]
charlie: they have been there and done that. and they know the urban scene too. michael: his attention to detail, it was borderline ocd. i don't even think he realizes just how much he created. he was involved in every aspect. he was really hands on. he made sure everything was seamless. you say wow.
charlie: someone said about this that it has more to do with class than it does with race. take credit for what we said. michael: i'm not saying that racism does not exist but what i am saying is that growing up in brooklyn there were a lot of ethnicities. hassidic jews. i saw italians and there were communities. the irish community.
and my makeup growing up had a lot of energies. one of the main things i saw was respect for one's culture. even in my community, that was what most of them became. it was ignorant but it was cultural pride. i look at the situation with what is happening right now and what "the night of" is dealing with. the reason why i say it is a class thing is, i am not comparing anything. all i am saying is i see this community sticks together and the way they make sure the
culture, how it happened. the way they fight and pull their money together. i see that in different cultures and that culture was stripped out of my community so i say listen. i believe if my community was going to pool together and redirect our money and get to know politicians, we might get a different response there is no reason why we have to leave our communities. someone put it on my twitter. maybe these people should go and get a job. not everyone has the ability to
go and find jobs. not everyone is built like that. why does everyone have to leave the community to go and get a good living. if you want to live in your community that should be your right. let us put it back in our community. where we direct our dollars and making politicians responsible. the class thing is real. my big brother says, he told me something that made me stop and think. he said stop fighting for stuff you already have. stop asking for rights you already have. redirect the power. you are not going to change people.
what you can change is how it is spewed at you. you can restructure the power over here. stop pulling out and crying and saying we already have it. we need to redirect it in a way that people respond. redirecting our energy in a different direction. trying something new. getting to know local politicians and making them more responsible. i know i'm going on a tangent right now but yes race played a part in what is going on and also the fact that he doesn't know his rights. he doesn't know what can and cannot be done to him. he had no one to call.
they didn't know how to find him. we have to get more involved on what is going on our community. there has to be someone out there. charlie: what is going to happen is that you have to run for something and be a politician. michael: not me. i just want to turn the cameras on. i found myself in black market and in the night of. these stories affect me personally. i've been blessed. i could have been dead so many different times. spiritually or mentally or physically. who the hell knows but while i am here i might as well do the right thing.
mark: i'm mark crumpton. you're watching "bloomberg west." heartbroken is how president obama says the nation feels after the flooding in louisiana left 13 people dead and destroyed homes and businesses. the president said it's time for washington to do its part. president obama: when we know how much permanent housing is going to have to be built, when we have a better sense of how much infrastructure has been damaged, what we need to do in terms of mitigation strategies, that is when congress may be called upon to do some more. mark: the federal government has approved more than $120 million in aid for residents affected by the flooding.