tv Washington This Week CSPAN December 28, 2014 4:47pm-6:01pm EST
the second thing i could not believe was when i went to see his family they said at the time the crime took place, they were with mr. mcmillan raising money for his sister's church. the crime was 11 miles away and they were there the entire time. they knew he was innocent and it was interesting to see the despair that that created. >> can you imagine? >> it would have been so much better if he was out hunting in the woods by himself is at least then we could entertain the possibility he might be guilty. we were there with him so we feel we've been sent to death, too. the despair was tangible and you could feel it. when i got back to my office and i had this amazing incident where the judge who sentenced him to death, robert e lee key. [laughter] he said, you don't want nothing to have to do with this guy. he was trying to dissuade me from representing mr.
mcmillan. with all of those things going on, it became a case that was too irresistible to walk away from. the final thing, and this is one of the reasons i was interested in doing a book project is case took place in alabama which is where harper lee grew up and wrote "to kill a mockingbird." everyone's read it. it's a beautiful story. the people in monroeville love the story. there's boo radley street, scout street, atticus bench, all through the community. yet, when i started saying, look we have an innocent black man wrongly convicted of a crime people had no interest in that. it was a bit surreal to be in this space where they were celebrating this story and watching such an incredibly vicious prosecutors and take
place. one of the challenges is that we had narratives in american literature that we celebrate for the wrong reasons. we give out these awards, the atticus finch award, a very famous model that the legal profession has embraced but the truth of it is that tom robinson died in prison. >> oh, boy. >> he did not get justice. i certainly want more for the clients we represent than what atticus was able to get. changing that has been the real challenge. so we spent six years trying to get mr. mcmillan off of death row. it is one of the few cases where we got bomb threats at our office and we had people following us creating all kinds of hazards in this space where people celebrate the story of "to kill a mockingbird." >> what an irony. i want you to share it because
the lies that were told. what you showed and just the fight all the way through -- >> what is interesting is that these wrongful convictions, as you know, we now have 147 people proven innocent. for every 10 people who have been executed, we have proved one person innocent. which is a shocking rate of error. prosecutorial misconduct are some of the key components and it was certainly what we had here. it was a young white woman murdered in downtown monroeville. and mr. mcmillan was not someone you would suspect of committing a crime. he was actually a 45-year-old african-american hard worker. trouble before. his mistake was he was having an interracial affair with the young white woman related to one of the police officers. in alabama, until 2002 are our
state constitution still prohibited interracial marriage. it was not enforceable after loving versus virginia but we could not get people to take it out of the constitution so these attitudes were very real. after seven months they were getting pressured and you see this pressure into these spaces where they do really unjust things. gun sales increasing, talking about impeaching the sheriff. they begin to put this case together and got a man to testify against him, coerced the man to testify. for some bizarre reason, they actually tape recorded the sessions where they were coercing him to testify falsely and even more bizarre they did not destroy the tape. [laughter] there was a funny story. my car, back in those days, i had a tape player. i had a rental car and a tape player. it had an auto reverse. a lot of people here won't know what we are talking about because they've never seen a tape player. we had gone to the court house
to pick up the tapes with these interviews. i put the first came in, and he did not say anything that was helpful to us for this witness and i was getting discouraged. it was quiet and then i heard it clipped. auto reverse turns it over to the other side of the tape and that's where we have the earlier interviews where the witness was saying you want me to frame an , innocent man for murder and i don't feel right about that. [laughter] the police officer said if you don't give us what you want, we will put you on death row, too and it went on for an hour. we found these tapes and got the witnesses to recant and it was incredibly exciting to finally see this case moving towards justice. there were police officers who had gone to mr. mcmillan's house, bought a fish sandwich, and made notes in their logs indicating they bought a fish sandwich and none of that was turned over. he was convicted in a trial that lasted a day and a half adding a
jury verdict of life overridden by the elected judge. >> jury override is such a terrible thing. they have that in alabama. >> we are the state that has the most use of it now. 100-something people have gotten a death sentence as a result of an override. what's ironic and chilling is that judge robert e lee key probably saved mr. mcmillan's life. if he had allowed the jury verdict to stand, we would have never been able to get to his case. we were only working on death penalty cases. the heartbreaking thing is that for every walter mcmillan on death row, there is 10 serving life without parole. for every 10 there is 100 serving a lesser sentence. because he had a death sentence we pick up the case and ultimately one. >> there's the great irony that chances are you'll get more help if you have a death case.
all of the people languishing under these long sentences, half of the 6000 people in prison in louisiana have practically life without parole sentences. half of them. most of them never get a visit a postcard, or anything. the languishing, it is massive exile of huge segments of our population. when you think of it that it is 2.3 million people, we are the biggest incarcerate herr in the world, one in every 100 adults. do i have this right? since we've made drugs a felony i've heard that one in every three young black men aged 19-29 are in the prison system? prison, parole -- >> that's right. >> that's more than apartheid in south africa. >> yeah. the really scary statistic that i'm especially terrified of now
is that the bureau of justice now reports that one of three black male babies are expected to go to jail or prison. one in six latino boys is expected to go to jail. that wasn't true in the 20th century, 19th century. it became true. we've got tremendous, tremendous work to do to turn this thing around. getting people to just be honest and responsible in the prosecutor's offices and law enforcement positions is part of how we do that. we have some bigger challenges as well. >> yes, we do. just to have a little perspective, a white woman of privilege growing up in baton rouge, louisiana, during the days of jim crow. it gives me compassion and in working with people because it took so long for me to wake up. when you are in a culture, it gives you eyes and ears. honey, that's the way we do
things. it's better for the races to be separated. they like to go and be with their people and we like being with rp old. i go to sacred heart church in baton rouge, and black people had to sit over on the right. this is symbolic of the oneness in the body of christ am a black kids had to make their first communion separate or my kids and i never questioned it. in fact we had an , african-american couple that worked at the house. ellen worked in the house with mama. jesse worked in the yard. daddy and mama were kind. daddy helped them get property get a house, helped jesse get a job at the refinery, and then they moved on, but never questioned the system. i did not question the system.
in fact my whole approach to the gospel one of my seven words , was jesus-follower. there's a way to follow jesus and there is a way to follow jesus. there are a lot of ways. [laughter] pope francis follows jesus, but it's different than what others have followed jesus or the , bishops or whatever. the institutional church that happens. for me, bryan, it really was an awakening around the gospel that i did not even really realized i had grown up in privilege. when i had joined the nuns, we still had african-american people helping the sisters. lillie may was the cook. we had a guy working in the yard. i never questioned it. but it was when we began to discuss the civil rights movement and what was happening in liberation theology in latin
america about being on the side of poor people, i had always resisted that justice stuff for nuns because i thought we should just be spiritual. if people have god, they have everything. my spiritual life was parallel with what is going on on earth because after all, all you want to do is one day be in heaven with god, right? i did not even really know poor people. when i woke up to what the gospel is really about going and , being with people, when i moved into the same top t. thomas house in the project, it was like going to a different country. i found out when i did research there were more complaints to the justice department about police brutality in new orleans, louisiana than any other city. if you are living in the suburbs, that could be calcutta.
you are so removed from the experience. public school kids coming into the adult learning center. they dropped out as juniors in high school, cannot rita third-grade reader. nobody had health care. people were dying. young men did not know they had high blood pressure and destroying their kidneys. then they are on dialysis the rest of their life. they are so angry and so depressed. their kidneys are shot and they're going to be on dialysis. what happens when you don't have health care? when i first went there, we had a great sister who had started hope house. she said helen, you don't have , to have this plan in your back pocket about how you will eliminate poverty. sit in the feet of the people and hear their stories and just be a neighbor and let them teach you. african-american people then became my teachers. one thing i realized, it's not
that i was so virtuous. it's just i had been so cushioned unprotected >> then you can have agency in the world. if you do not know what gets you have, you think you are stupid. you think, i cannot learn that. i am not smart. >> i think it is so interesting because i do think we have done this horrible thing in america i not -- by not questioning the wrongs we have done and the consequences of those wrongs. >> big-time. >> this is a country that has not been self-critical and so reflective of its mistakes. we do not like to admit mistakes at the national level or political level. because of that, we have created
a world where we can be living in close proximity to tremendous poverty and racism and bigotry and still be comfortable. we have been taught that we are not responsible for the problems we see around us. one of the great challenges for me right now, this is one of my burdens and i will be honest about it, is how we correct that. how we change this narrative. our new project at eji is about erasing poverty. we are focused on reeducating this poverty on the history of racial inequality. >> so important. >> it has to start with that history, because in so many ways, we are still suffering from the legacy of slavery. i talk about my grandmother a lot because she was the daughter of people who were enslaved. for parents were born in virginia in the 1800s. her experiences of slavery's shaped the way she was raised.
it is not a distant thing for me. and when i think about slavery i think about the fact that we had an institution in this country that was very different than other societies. other societies had slaves. america became a country that became a slave society. we did more than just enslave people. we created a mythology about the differences between white people and people of color. we created a religion that try to reconcile slavery in this country by saying that these people are not fully human, they are different. all of these deficits. we are going to help them by enslaving them. we made ourselves feel good about the fact that we owned all the slaves. that myth, that ideology was not addressed by the 13 amendment. it was not addressed by the emancipation proclamation. slavery did not and in this country, it evolved. it turned into something else.
we still have forced labor and that mythology. than we got to decades of terrorism, this. between -- period between reconstruction and world war ii. it was lynching and violence that sent my grandmother and her friends to the north. it was that fear that was constant and persistent. we never talked about it. we did not talk about the trauma that we created by flinching people -- lynching people. we were so focused on dealing with these little issues. where you couldn't eat, where he could sleep, where he could drink, all of that. but we never took time to talk about the big issue, which is the historical art of inequality and injustice. that concerns me because we have never developed a habit of being truthful about what we did wrong during slavery, what we did wrong in the era of terrorism. you cannot segregate people.
who cannot subject people to humiliation by excluding them from things. excluding them from education day in and day out. the way that segregation injured people. and just move on. those injuries will continue. when my great fears now is the the way we are talking about the civil rights movement. i will be honest, i am worried about the way we are celebrating. next year will be the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act. last year was the 50th anniversary of the march on washington. we are so happy to celebrate. >> yeah. >> no one is prohibited from celebrating. it is almost as if the civil rights movement was a three-day movement. dr. king led a march on washington. on the third day, congress signed all these laws. if we think about it like that we are going to be frustrated about people talking about racial bias.
the truth is that we never committed ourselves to a process of true reconciliation. and we need to do it. we will not have justice in this country until we tell the truth about what we did to our society, to this country, by tolerating lynching. by tolerating segregation. and now tolerating mass incarceration. the reason we don't care about youngblood was going to jail or prison is that we have not cared about this distinction for decades. we have work that has to be done . we have this project where we are trying to put up markers to reflect where the slave trade florist. -- flourished. in montgomery, we have the confederate monuments. we have 59 monuments in montgomery the two largest high schools. if you come there 10 months ago
you would not find a single word about slavery. we want to mark these spaces where the slave trade florist -- flourished. we want to mark the spaces where there was a lynching, and the whole town participated in a lynching. a lot of the people who were lynched were lynched for social transgressions. they went up to the front door of somebody's house rather than the back door. they lacked too loudly outage of. -- at a joke. if we do not talk about it, we are going to continue to run into these problems. >> you point to something really big. i am reading a book "lies my teacher taught me." it is the way we have written history.
and people's history of the united states -- usually the one who writes the history are the victors, not the people subjugated. i was just in seattle on the day the city council changed columbus day to indigenous peoples day. do you know how long that has taken? most people do not know what christopher columbus did to people. you know how he cut off children's hands in haiti when he did not bring them gold? have no idea. >> that is right. >> lc wr leadership conference, nuns on the bus, nuns with the people calling on pope francis to rescind three papal bowls. it is just beneficial thing. we will not go there. 1 -- [laughter] but what it said basically is that indigenous people were
considered pagan, so if they did not become christian, it was ok to enslave them and then, it gave the green light, with religious blessing, slavery that some people were meant to be just what you are saying, brian. you have that lessing of religion on people. i happen to know some northern cheyenne people in montana. we have been in the sweat lodge. they can remember their grandparents, how the calvary would come along with the missionaries and teardown sweat lodges because that was pagan. we still have struggled against that. we do not know it. people who have not suffered by -- when i went to st. thomas and began to be educated, and there is a great workshop called "undoing racism," and i remember
ron chisholm saying institutional racism. never thought of it. you blackball somebody. put white is always pure, snow even in the language, we have racism. he would say to us, you may walk in a room and somebody does not like what you stand for. they may argue with you because of your ideas. but you are never going to walk in a room where people are going to treat you funny because of the color of your skin. i never thought about those things that come with -- i had never heard the term "white privilege" before. >> when we commit ourselves to telling the truth about the history of racial inequality in this country you get to hear things you would not otherwise here -- hear. to create a safe space for people to talk about the things
they want to talk about. we have communities where people are suffering from communal post-traumatic stress disorder very much related to the trauma of segregation and racial subordination. i remember when i was a little kid, my mother she was a church musician. she was precious to me. i never saw herby anything other than kind and just. she would give anything to anybody. i remember when it was time to get polio shots, it was the early 1950's and we did not have a doctor in our county but the black kids had to line up in the back of this building in november. we were waiting for the nurses to finish giving polio shots to white kids three by the time they got to us, the nurses were tired. they did not have sugar cubes. they were just grabbing kids and being rough with them. my sister was in front of me. the nurse grabbed my sister.
she had a needle and jabbed my sister in the arm. my sister started screaming. i saw her coming at me. i looked at my mom and started screaming. the nurse grabbed me by the arm and was raising that needle. i was terrified. i heard all of this glass breaking. i turned around and my sweet mother, my church organist playing mother, had gone over to the wall and picked up this trade glasses and was growing them against wall. she was screaming about how unfair it is. she was so angry we had been out there. that dr. came running in and said: police. i watched these ministers negotiate for my mother's safety. please give shots to the rest of our children. they had to beg them to give shots to the rest of us. it was traumatizing and hurtful and humiliating. i am still thinking about it
now, and there are thousands of these experiences and moments that had been inherited. and all that follows you around. you see these big confederate flags, like being a holocaust survivor and having to look at swastikas. that indifference in testifies -- intensifies all that suffering. and you are told, do not be truthful about this. you will not succeed if you talk truthfully about the burden of discrimination. he will not be successful if you talk honestly about these issues. we have created a country where we are continuing to struggle. to suffer. the great thing about truth and reconciliation we have to tell the truth. the truth has to make people uncomfortable enough that they want to reconcile themselves to a new relationship. when you went to st. thomas, the truth was in front of you.
and you have to have that truthful moment. but you are right, the church has a lot to explain. [laughter] they do. the church has been complicit in this dynamic. they have been complicit in the lies. we have a generation of white people who were taught that they were better than other people because they are white. we have not help them recover from that of use. >> on the drive to angola it is a road that dead and that the louisiana state penitentiary. 18,000 acres that used to be slave plantations. so called angola because they used to have slaves from angola. 75% of our prisoners, average sixth-grade education. to see people walking out to the field with hoes over their
shoulders with guards on horseback. you just say, nothing has really changed very much. so what has happened is it just changed right over into imprisonment. martin luther king, that book he wrote, "where do we go from here?" he said, what does it mean to say people were emancipated and set them free in an agricultural society and not give them land? we would never think of doing a homestead act and say get out there. you had to have land. you had to have a mule to work the land. there is something in human beings that wants to be able to work. so you get out of slavery and move right into what did the
plantation owners do? have you seen any of those lack codebooks? have you ever seen any? >> i have seen. >> what have you seen? >> it is shocking, really, because it gives you the punishment and of the crime based on the race of the offender and victim. rape of a white woman by a lack man is a mandatory death sentence. rate of a black woman by a white man is a 100 dollar fine. it goes on and on like that. that thinking persisted. we have that racialized criminal justice system. that is one of the tragedies as well, because we do not understand how this legacy -- it is not just a southern phenomenon. is terrifying that millions of people leaving the south, coming to the cities of the north coming to the cities of the west, los angeles and oakland and detroit, chicago and boston
were populated by african-americans that fled the south not just looking for economic opportunity, they were fleeing terror. >> if anybody knows about terrorism, african americans know about terrorism this country. >> people say to me mr. stevenson, i get so angry when people talk on the tv about how we are dealing with terrorism for the first time after 9/11. they hate it when people say that because they grew up with terror. the other challenge is that we have these communities in the north where these populations came here as refugees and exiles from terror. they brought with them all of that trauma and stress. we move them around in our cities. when something becomes economically viable, we move these communities away because we never see them as belonging. that challenge still haunts us all over this country. we have got much to do to change this
narrative. what i think we are talking about is how you change the narrative. how do we get people to think and talk differently about these issues? part of why we are putting up these monuments is because we want people to think and talk differently about the legacy of lynching. we want them to talk differently about the civil rights era and not singly celebrate grand marches that reflect on what we did by segregating and humiliating people. >> really. i remember being shocked, i learned a lot through "dead man walking" and about who got executed and who didn't. get shocked me profoundly. one of the things it is, when you write a book, you do research. so i learned about police brutality. but also that when slavery was abolished in the 13th amendment it was except for those who are
in prison. indentured servants. it has not been abolished completely in this country. and i have been amazed -- i am just going to say it -- the racism in the supreme court. there was an extensive study in georgia about how, when the death sentence is given, overwhelmingly, it corresponds to -- when the victim is white the death penalty is thought. when the victim is black, it is barely a blip on the radar screen. i saw that in new orleans at st. thomas. if one of the people at st. thomas was killed, you were lucky if you could find five lines on page 30. it was a most always formulate drug deal gone bad.
when a white person was killed it was on the front pages of the paper. with a picture of the person. and i want you to talk about this, because you know about the mccleskey decision of the supreme court. did i get this right? they said it is clear that race plays a role in magnification of the death penalty, but it would be too costly of the criminal justice system to remedy it? >> it really is astonishing. you are absolutely right. this is why i think this narrative needs to change. the 13th amendment does exempt people with criminal convictions from prohibition against slavery. i've been talking about this with my class and my students. they keep thinking, we are so outraged. why would we tolerate enslavement of anybody? yet we would probably have great difficulty removing that exception to the 13th amendment. if you and i said we think the
legacy of racial inequality means we should not be tolerating slavery in any context, we would get pushback for that. it is because we have allowed this idea to emerge, which is what has that mass incarceration, when people are accused of crimes, we get to do whatever we want to do. people in angola up until the 21st century, not only going out in the fields, they were being required to pick cotton. without trying to get parole for people who were juveniles forgot their sentence reduced. some of our clients were having a hard time getting parole. because they refused to go out in the field and pick cotton. >> and get 2.5 cents an hour. the most you can get at angola is $.21 an hour. >> that is right. but that idea has developed. even the modern death penalty --
there was an interesting conversation. the supreme court says in 1972 we are going to strike down the death penalty because it is discriminatory. 86% of people who have been executed for the crime of rape are black women who raped white women three --. the court said, no more death penalty. they did not say cruel and unusual punishment. >> they never have. >> in 1976, when you had people clamoring for the death penalty, they said we are not going to presume that the death penalty is going to continue to operate in a racially biased manner. the lawyers for the legal defense on were saying nothing radical has happened in regards to race relations. is that we are not going to presume -- you are going to have to show was about modern death penalty operate in this way. that is what gave rise to mccleskey versus cap the 19 87 case that show the death penalty
is 11 times more likely if the victim is white. 22 joined -- times more likely if the suspect is black. even georgia's model made to 4.3 times more likely to get the death penalty. the first thing the supreme court said was, if we deal with racial bias in the ministry of the death penalty, it will be a matter of time before defense lawyers come back and talk about race barriers for other kinds of criminal sentence is -- sentences. they will point out disparities for other types of crimes. he said the court has reached the decision because the fear of too much justice. he was right. it was the second thing that they said that i remember, as a young lawyer, reading, and almost wanting to stop practice law.
they put in the decision that a certain quantum of bias and disk termination is, in our judgment, inevitable. >> that as it. >> may they use that word. i read out from where it says, equal justice under law, i have to believe that it makes sense for me to go inside. but there is something profoundly inconsistent with conceding the inevitability of bias and being mated to equal justice under law. >> it is so bad. >> i am a product of brown versus board of education. i go to a community where black children could not go to the public schools. i member when the lawyers came in and opened up the public schools. the court could have said in 1954, racial segregation is inevitable through white kids do not want their death white
parents to not want their kids going to school with black kids. but a different court with a different narrative and a different vision said it was not inevitable. they said it was unconstitutional. if they had not said that, i would not be sitting here. yet, this court, in our era is talking about the inevitability of discrimination. >> i tell you when you descend into this, it is going to make you very sad and depressed and angry before it is going to get better. but just to face the truth of it, i am astounded by, in my second book "the death of innocents," i don't -- i go head to head with justice scalia. he goes duck hunting with my brother louis. [laughter] he is a catholic. that is what i mean about the
jesus thing. [laughter] they just wrote a book on scalia. is called "court of one." i thought about how he calls himself part of the machinery of death. he says that unblinkingly and says how he sleeps well at night. and it has nothing to do with his faith because, as he said at a forum in chicago, really spelled it out by his interpretation of romans 13, that god has entrusted the civil authority or government the right to exercise god's wrath. the government becomes the administer of god's wrath.
as a christian country, we believe in the death penalty because we should be paul -- punished for our sins. the reason why europe has gone for the universal declaration of human right is because they have followed freud more than jesus. here is what i was astounded in this book. he brought out his argument about affirmative action and why affirmative action, in one of the first cases -- i guess it must have been the 1960's, early 1970's. his reasoning, he said my grandfather came as an immigrant to this country and worked very hard. my father worked very hard. and the children, we have worked very hard. i am not responsible for slavery in this country. it is like, our people, we came and we made something of ourselves. is that disconnect. and you hear people making arguments like that all the time. why don't those people get jobs? when i learned to write, when i
was living in st. thomas, i would hear, why don't they -- don't they know they should keep their children in school? why don't they pick of the litter? why don't they get jobs? why don't they? and i said, i have to find a way to tell the stories of real people and put faces on what happens to you when you are struggling against all this stuff as a family. >> i think the absence of shame is the reason why people feel comfortable elevating a narrative of individuals on -- individualism like that. you do not feel shame about what your grandfather or great-grandfather did. you feel pride in the way they were able to succeed. because we are not telling the truth about how our great grandfathers were lynching people, our great grandfathers were enslaving people, and our grandfathers were benefiting from exclusion through lack of
competition. and our fathers were living at the time and did not have to deal with the complexities of racially integrated, sexually integrated workforces. we do not deal with shame very well. we go to the pride narrative. which is what we are doing with our civil rights stories. that is why we got to some ways shame -- it sounds harsh but you have to shame this country into confronting the idiocy of that kind of story. you know, because we have not forced people to do it, we suffer. the united states supreme court two years before the big anniversary, said we do not need the voting rights act anymore. in a case brought by the state in alabama, where they set, we want black people voting. present we do not want black people voting since black people first arrived on this continent. there has never been a time when
the elective of alabama have said we do not want you voting. even if they did not say it expressly, he implied that the law would be a different strategy. they did not say we hate black people for a really long time. we now get the benefit of not having these restrictions and protections. is a very twisted narrative. i see the same thing in the criminal justice system. i see the same thing in the death sentence. we have people like walter mcmillan, who are exonerated and we do not own up to what we did. we tried to kill them for 10 years, 20 years, 33 years. we do not take any responsibility for that. we have to create a way of talking to people that fosters a more honest awareness of our obligation to be a little more humble. >> yeah. >>
i go to germany and i like what i see. i like that it is a country soberly trying to reflect on the legacy of the holocaust. there is an awareness that we can't go back, we can't repeat. in this country, we don't do that. that allows arrogant people, arrogant judges, to say prideful things that add to the injury. it is hurtful to hear some of these narratives. we have to change that narrative, but still be hopeful. you're right, this conversation will make you discouraged, make you worry. i think one of the great challenges we have -- and this is why the church should be more vibrant and out there leading -- is we still have to find ways to be helpful. when they do that, they allow
themselves to get comfortable with these realities. we have to be willing to make them hopeful. >> you know -- i have accompanied six people to execution -- here's some hope. people are good. it's not like they've really thought this through and have come out racist or saying, we have to kill the criminals. they have not thought very much about it. my hope -- i don't know i can still be doing this if i was getting out there and going into all these places, texas, alabama, everywhere and people were so closed, rigid, and races. they do want to reflect on what we are doing in this library tonight, this community discourse, where we are taking
something and reading about it talking about it, digging deeper into it. this kind of communal growth, in terms of understanding who we are, counters, don't you think, the individualism. when people do something wrong we say we have to hold that individual accountable. were not good like europe is or other countries. they asked, what did we do wrong? we blame the individual and publish the individual. >> that is right. that is why contextualizing is key. what is breaking my heart -- and my clients have gotten younger and younger, and we are now doing this whole effort around children and what motivated us to get involved in this is that the age of our countries getting younger. we have children that are born
into violent families. they are born into violent neighborhoods. they go to violent schools. they are chased by violent gangs. we get involved by jumping on this kids pick we call them violent offenders. we beat them up and want to throw them away. the inability to recognize what that violence has done to them the inability, unwillingness, to talk about what that trauma has done, what it means to live in a community where you're dealing with violence and poor schools and threats and abuse and violence all the time, that in difference to that is what will to be ashamed of. we've got to find a way to context relies all that. children, 13 and 14 without parole, they want change.
they are hungry for guidance and nurturing and all those things that all children want. our unwillingness to provided to them is a reflection of the way in which these narratives have emerged. we had these people in the 1980's talking about how some children are not children, they look like, they talk like kids but these are not children. these criminologists say they are super predators. we use that term to generalize then we turned it into law. we lower the age of trying children as adults. we created a world where we now have 250,000 people in adult jails and prisons who are convicted of crimes when they were children. we put 10,000 children in adult jails and prisons. we have some 3000 kids who have been sentenced to die in prison. what is a country like america doing when it sends 13-year-old and 14 your children to die in prison?
the united states and somalia are the only two countries in the world that have not signed the covenant on the rights of the child. we will not sign it because of prevents the death penalty. we ought to be ashamed. it becomes necessary for us to demand something more hopeful from our government than that they just throw kids away. we build these schoolhouse to jailhouse pipelines. we've got to demand more. we have to do it with that kind of hope that all of these revolutionary leaders -- it's not pie in the sky stuff. the kind of folk you need to create just is an orientation of the spirit. we need hopeful people to go to those hopeless places and be a witness. >> yes. >> my favorite story in this book is when we were finally -- had all this -- it was finally time to go to court.
the black community is so demoralized by what they had seen and what they have experienced -- i was shocked when we got to court the first day. all of these people of color showed up. they all came into the courtroom. we show the tapes and the witnesses admitted it was false. when i went home that night, i remember seeing hope growing in that community. i came back the next day and i saw this people of color sitting outside the courtroom. i could not understand it.
i went over to the community leaders and asked them why they were outside the courtroom. they said they were not allowed inside the courtroom. i walked over to the deputy sheriff and said i want to go into the courtroom. he said you can't commit. i said i think i have to come in. they open the door. they changed everything around and put that metal detector inside the door. behind that metal detector they put a german shepherd that was just sitting there. it was half filled with people that the prosecution brought in. i was so angry and went to the judge and said, this is not fair that you did not let by people come into the court. >> he said, well your people to set to get here earlier tomorrow. i was angry. i went to the community leaders and said, it's not fair. they said, that's ok, we will be here earlier tomorrow. they started identifying people to the witnesses. they identify this older black woman, ms. williams, we want you to be one of the represent is in court today. -- one of the representatives in court today. she had a compact.
she took it out. i watched her. she walked over to the door. i was inside the courtroom. i saw her walk through the door with such pride and dignity. she held her head up high and walked to that metal detector, and then she saw that dog. she saw that dog, you could see the fear paralyze her. she was trembling. i saw her shoulders sag in tears started running down her face. i stood there watching her. i heard her groan loudly and watched her turn around as she ran up the courtroom, a painful thing. other people made it into the court that day. i had forgotten all about it. when i was going to my car tonight, she was still sitting outside. she said, i feel so bad. i let everybody down today. i said, it's ok. it's not your fault. they should not have done what they did. she said, no, i was meant to be in the courtroom. i couldn't do it. i failed. she started crying. i said, it's ok. you should not worry about this.
she said, no, i was meant to be in the courtroom. then she said, when i saw that dog, all i could think about was soma, alabama. -- selma alabama. i remembered how we march for the right to vote. i wanted to move, i tried to move, but i couldn't do it. she walked away with tears running down her face. the next day, i went to court. when she got home that night she did not talk to anybody. they could see her play all -- pray all night long. she said, lord, i cannot be scared of a dog. she called the community leaders and said she wanted to be a witness again. she wanted to be a representative again on the trip from the house to the courthouse. she kept saying, i ain't scared of no dog. when she got to the courtroom, i was inside. they still have the metal detector and the dog, and i could see her standing there. she was saying, i ain't scared of no dog. i watched this beautiful old
woman walk through that metal detector, walk up to that dog, and said, i scared and no dog. [laughter] she said, i am here. [laughter] i looked at her. i said, it's so great to see you here. a few minutes went by, she said it loud, you didn't hear me. i am here. i said, i do see you here. i never will forget it. the judge walked in. everybody stood up. everybody sat back down. ms. williams remain standing. she said, i am here. it became clear to me to what she was saying. she was not saying i'm physically present. she was saying, i may be old, i may be poor, i may be black, but i'm here because i have a vision of justice that compels me to
stand up to in justice. that is what we need. you may have to say on that a lawyer. i'm from new york. i don't know this. i don't know that. i'm here. i don't know if there any words more powerful they can make a difference in the lives of condemn people, poor people, marginalized people, then when some of you with a heart full of hope comes and stands next to them and says, i am here. sometimes that is all we have to do. [applause] >> you know, that story -- i think it's great. i think that that story -- what do you think, brian, if we turn it over to people. the story is so iconic and says so much.
i just want to say this about hope and the must turn it over to you. you get to get in the conversation. i speak at a lot of universities and high schools. young people do want to get in there and they do want to make things different. i think we have to find ways -- not just to teach, but we have to find a way to build bridges across classes and neighborhoods so that young people can be with each other to sort these things out.
>> absolutely. >> there is so much separation. >> yes. that is the final part of that. for a lot of the work we do -- you and i have to do things, which it were honest about really uncomfortable. it's not easy to go to some of these places. it's not convenient. we are not unique. what we are doing is something that anyone can do, everyone can do, and i guess my hope is that we can find a community of people who will choose to do uncomfortable things, people who celebrate the consequences of what happens when courageous people do courageous things. the truth is that we need everybody. we need them to the courageous. we all have to some times stand when others are sitting. well have to speak when others are quiet. doing something uncomfortable is the legacy that most of us have inherited if we are concerned about social justice and human rights. we need that from everybody, from people coast-to-coast, and sometimes uncomfortable thing means it will get a little challenging.
you pick up some cots, bruises and scars, but it is in that we honor what it means to be fully human. i'm going to tell one more story and then we can open it up. i have been thinking about this all day long. you have this incredible ministry where you have gone into difficult places, you stood next to condemned people who really just needed somebody to hold onto them, people who were abandoned, people who were forgotten. you go all over the country and you do amazing advocacy. it has been an honor for me to have this time. we had a chance to share each other. this is one of my favorite people on the planet earth. i mean that. i want to say this to you and then we can open it up. >> i want to say one thing. [applause] >> that's right. i remember being in a church giving a talk, and this older man was in the back of the church. i did not know how he was reacting to the talk when i was giving it. he sat there staring at me. he had the stern look on his face. i remember worrying about him, because he was looking real stern. when i finish the talk, all the
young kids came up and i said my things to them. this older man in a wheelchair with sitting back there. he got this little boy to will him up towards me. he got behind this wheelchair and push this winter up to me and this older man came up at me. i did not know what he was gone a do. do you know what you are doing? i took a step back. he said, do you know what you are doing? i mumbled something. he said, i'm going to take you what you're doing. he said, you are beating the drum for justice. it moved me. he said, you keep beating the drum for justice. he grabbed me by the jacket and pulled me into the chair. he said, come on him going to show you something. he said, you see this car. -- this scar. i got that scar trying to register people to vote in mississippi in 1964. he said, you see this cut right
here. i got that cut in greene county, alabama trying to get people to register to vote. i got that mark during the children's car seat in -- crusade in birmingham alabama. i will never forget him saying to me, people look at me and they think i'm some old man in a wheelchair covered with cots and bruises and scars. he said, you know what, these are not my cots, bruises, scars. he said these are my medals of honor. i know you go to difficult places. i know you have exhausted yourself beating the drum for justice. i know you have been cut and bruised and scarred, but i will tell you that for people like me, all i see is a nun with a heart full of love and a commitment to justice. it is a real privilege. [applause]
>> thank you. i am writing a book. it is my spiritual journey. it is like the prequel that led to dead man walking and the experience of being with people who were executed. i think of it in terms of fire. something that happens to us that sets us on fire for justice. the beginning of my book is going to go like this, they killed a man with fire one night. they strapped him in a wooden chair and pump electricity through his body until he was dead. his killing was a legal act because he had killed.
no religious leaders contested the killing that night, but always there. i saw it. i saw with my own eyes. what i saw set my soul and five, a fire that burns in me still. here is an account of how i came to be in the killing timber that night and the spiritual currents that pulled me there. it could be when we reader book, when we meet a person, that part of us that knows we were made for more. we were made to do something significant in life for justice, and not just agree to be able to bask in what we have been given, but to be able to be able to catch on fire. it is the greatest gift of all. when you catch on fire, brian, you know this, we have to do what we do, not in the sense of being coerced, but it's
integrity. i must. i must do this. when we are on fire, we do what we must do and carried through to wherever it will lead. one of the spiritual values is we do what we do, this is gandhi -- mother teresa said something like this to -- we do what we do because it is the right thing, a thing of justice, and we don't seek the fruits of our actions. we do it and turn it over and then let it be picked up. that is the word i would like to say. you are a man on fire, and we are part of it, but it is bigger than us. you feel yourself on the don't you? the man on death row in louisiana is going on 23 years. he was totally innocent. he was totally railroaded on the eyewitness of one person who put him there. i see the courage of that man. every time i come away from that
death row cell, i come away with courage to fight because he is facing every day that sell knowing he is innocent and striving for his justice and for history. >> it is incredibly inspiring. there is nothing that may energize you more than find a prison and go to visits somebody. find someone to support. you will be surprised how it will change you. you will learn about courage. you will learn about that orientation. i remember when i was a little boy growing up and i played in the church, some of the poorest people would come in and they would give these testimonials about all of their struggles and all of their suffering, and they would tell all these heart aching stories of what happened to them just as we. they would end by looking at the
congregation and saying, but of course i would not take anything for my journey now. i would not let that turned me around. that is the great power in being proximate to these challenges. yes, they break you, but they also push you to see great things. they make you want to do things that you would not otherwise want to do. that is very exciting. >> we got to turn it over. thank you, brian. [indiscernible] >> we will sign books for you afterwards. if you only have money for one book, get brian's book. >> i know you are happy about
pope francis's recent statements about abolishing the death penalty. this is officially been the church of a long time. the predecessors were not outspoken about it. i wonder if you see this as a lasting change or a flash in the pan. you see this is something that the church will be more -- looking forward? what is your prediction along those lines? >> it's great that the pope spoke out. we are the church. we learned that in vatican ii. we are the church. we are the democracy. the supreme court is the supreme court. we are the people. the same thing is for being in the church. the bubbles that have been coming up on this have been coming up a long time, and catholics have made great headway because we have been
working are you know what off to educate people like mad in the pews because catholics in 1998 78%, look how high this is, 78% of the country supported the death penalty. with catholics, it was 80%. it's bad. they are getting it. we have been educating the you know what out of people. it is the people. when a pot boils, it's not just one big bubble that comes up in that pot. it starts with little bitty bubbles down at the bottom and the bubbles keep rising, like we are doing tonight. the same is true for the catholic church. >> one of the challenges with leadership is that our political leaders have been intimidated into not doing honest about a lot of these issues. you can't find politicians from either party -- mass incarceration was not a single party phenomenon. they were competing with each
other to be tough on crime. you will not hear politicians use words like rehabilitation, restoration, redemption, correction when it comes to dealing with people in jail. we have to change the political culture and make it safe for our leaders, church leaders, political leaders, community leaders to be honest about the need for more compassion. to be honest about the need to do something that is more just more merciful. leaders have become intimidated by what happens. i'm excited about what we saw in california in 2012 -- a public referendum on the death penalty. we could not get the legislature to eliminate these mandatory sentences in california there were treating to over incarceration. it was the people who passed a referendum by a landslide in every county that ended the sentences for violent offenders. it was these people who almost passed a law that would have abolished the death penalty. in 2012, largest different
america. it is possible for our leaders to help us, but it is urgent and essential for us to demand more for our leaders. i hope we don't wait for our popes and presidents and our elected officials to lead discharge. -- lead this charge. we have to stand up and start moving and make them follow us if they will not lead. >> anybody else? paul? >> how do we do it? >> i think there are some specific things. we have elections coming up, and i guarantee you that at the national level most of us do not know whether the people running for office believe there are too many people in prison or this is the right number or we want more. we don't talk about these issues. we can eliminate -- reduce the prison population by the to percent in the next eight years by three civil strategies. -- simple strategies.
if we convert -- in this world drugs and treat drug entity as a health care issue rather than a criminal justice issue and get the people the treatment they need, not only will we help families and communities, but we will bring down the prison population dramatically. prison population spending in 1980 was 6 billion. last year, it was 80 billion. we bring the prison population down by 50%, that is $40 billion we can use for health and human services, education, and other things. that is one thing we can do. the second thing we can do is to insist, insist that we become a part of the global community. as we stop putting our heads in the hand and think we are above everyone else -- it is shameful we have not done that. what will come behind that are reforms that will make a profound difference. finally, what we have to do is demand from our elected leaders that they not simply be tough on crime, but they be smart, that
they care about public safety and what we included public safety. things like the health of our poorest and the quality of education and the opportunity for people to be safe and secure in the neighborhoods and communities. we have to ask the questions. sometimes it does not take more than someone saying, do we have too many people in jail or prison's? let me hear what you have to say about that. great we can talk about these issues. here's what happened in these executions were people were being tortured, suffering. should we stop? should we stop? do we have a criminal justice system that is unfair to the poor. she we do something different? is it to racist? those are the questions that we have asked on the profound human rights issues that is becoming a dominant issue for our society. >> all i can say is, i am so happy -- thank you very much. [applause] >> thank you.
>> tonight, glenn kessler on his biggest pinocchio's of 2014 awards. >> democrats tend to get a little bit more upset because they have bought into the myth of the liberal media and they think the media is on their side. republicans, they believe in the myth of the liberal media and they expect they will be -- they will not be fair to me. i think, i hope that over the last four years, i have done enough back and forth, treated both parties with equal fervor that people have come to say
ok, you are someone we can do business with. the senate majority pac they stopped answering my questions ager midway through the campaign season. >> tonight at a :00 eastern pacific on q&a. >> here on c-span, newsmakers as next with steve bullock of montana. then the influence that religion has on social issues. at 8:00, a conversation with glenn kessler. >> this week on newsmakers, we are joined f