Roundtable: London Attacks, Homeland Security, Lil' Kim

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Topic's on Thursday's roundtable include the London bombings; expansion of the U.S. military's homeland efforts; and rapper Lil' Kim's jail sentence. Guests: Kevin Powell, author Who's Gonna Take the Weight?: Manhood, Race, and Power in America; Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania; and Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, bombings in London and Lil' Kim's judge plays the race card. From our New York bureau, Kevin Powell, author of "Who's Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race and Power in America"; also with us, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. She joins us from NPR in Washington.

All right, folks, America woke up and, quite frankly, the world woke up to, once again, front and center, terrorist attacks, this time in London. And if one is to believe the great words of--that were made famous by Dinah Washington, what a difference a day makes, Michael Meyers. Twenty-four years ago, exhilaration, jubilation in the streets of London, and now terror and mayhem. Once again, we have to look at this world for what it is, and we live in an age of terror.

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (New York Civil Rights Coalition): Well, not only that, I live in what we call ground zero. I live in New York City so I have some personal experience with the aftermath of terror. And you have--besides the sirens blaring and the rescue and recovery missions, you have a sense of grief and anger and shock and overwhelming vulnerability. But you also have a dread of using public accommodations and--before you even get to the point, the dramatic point of rebuilding and recovery. Then you also have the false alarms and the red alerts and the orange alerts and the troops in the streets, and this is what is presented to the world, a perpetual state of emergency, a perpetual state of preparedness, a perpetual state of fear and dread. And this is what terror does.

And for us to question it is, how does Britain, how does the United States, how does the world, the part of the world that values freedom and liberty, how do these values survive in a world of terrorism?

GORDON: Mary Berry, terror will also be said to send a message, and some will suggest that this was simply a message to those who are meeting at the G8 Summit to say, `Don't forget about us.'

Ms. MARY FRANCES BERRY (University of Pennsylvania): It was a message to show how vulnerable we all are and that terror can strike at any time and it can strike in London, Washington, New York is ground zero; we may be zero and a half with the Pentagon blowup and all the security here, and this town and the worry about terrorism. And so it was a message: We're still here. It's not just the bombings, suicide bombings in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan or wherever you might think. It's right here. And Michael is right. The question always is: How do you balance the concerns for liberty with those for security? Because, you know, as Benjamin Franklin said, those who give up all their liberty for the sake of security deserve neither. So we are in some perilous times, and that's a reminder of how we have to worry about striking that balance.

GORDON: Kevin, I hope this question won't be misconstrued, but many people will simply say what they heard from Michael and what they heard from Mary, to a great degree, is the problem with America and eastern Europe, when we say we're here in ground zero, yet other parts of the world will say, `Hey, look, you know, September 11th, tragic, horrific day, but we've been living with this for years and years and years.'

Mr. KEVIN POWELL (Author, "Who's Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race and Power in America"): Oh, absolutely. I mean, clearly we're in a cycle of violence in this world, and I think because it happened on September 11th here in New York City where we live, myself and Mr. Meyers, happened in DC with the Pentagon being attacked, it looks like it's happening to us. You know, our condolences to the folks in Britain. It's a great tragedy once again, but I think we need to be clear that the countries that call themselves civilized--i.e. our country, America, and Britain--really need to take the lead in trying to see how we can end this cycle of violence because this is going to continue as long as there's the war in Iraq, as long as there's a perception by Middle Eastern countries or people in Middle Eastern countries that they're the victims of certain kind of aggression from the West. This is going to be a very vicious cycle, as Malcolm X described it. We need to figure out how we can end this thing.

GORDON: And we should note...

Ms. BERRY: And it also, Ed, is a signal to all of us--is a war ultimately cannot be the only answer.

Mr. POWELL: Absolutely.

Ms. BERRY: Because if war is the only answer, then, you know, you escalate. Everybody just keeps doing it to each other.

Mr. POWELL: That's right.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, Brit--but...

Ms. BERRY: I mean, war is part of the answer...

Mr. MEYERS: But Britain also...

Ms. BERRY: ...but war cannot be the whole answer.

Mr. MEYERS: But Britain also has experience with terrorism, and it's not Muslim-related or Islam-related or...

Ms. BERRY: The Irish terrorism.

Mr. POWELL: Right.

Mr. MEYERS: Exactly. It's the IRA-related terrorism, and one of the first times I went to Britain, I was shocked. This was long before we had experience with terrorism in the United States. I was shocked to see troops in the airport...

Mr. POWELL: And dogs in the airport. Yeah.

Mr. MEYERS: ...armed with rifles and automatic weapons ready at the bay.

GORDON: Let me take a note here as we go out right now and record this for other parts of the country. We do not know who, in fact, was behind this bombing, as of this moment.

Mr. MEYERS: That's a very essential point.

GORDON: Let's pick up on another story that we were going to talk about, and we had this on the boards prior to the bombing, that speaks to what Michael Meyers just suggested, and that's a new Pentagon Homeland Security strategy. It calls for expanded US military activity not only in air and sea, which we've seen but, frankly, on American soil, and that's whether or not we're going to become used to seeing the military walk the streets of cities in this country, something that I think most people would be shocked and a bit frightened of.

Ms. BERRY: Well, a bit of...

Mr. MEYERS: Well, when I was quite young--This is not surprising to me--I saw troops walking the streets of Harlem. You have in emergency situations--and we used to call them riots in those days; some people called them insurrections, civil disobedience and other things, but we had riots, and the troops were in the streets.

Ms. BERRY: And the...

Mr. MEYERS: There are exceptions to every rule of every law.

Ms. BERRY: But also, Michael and Ed, there has been a history to this thing, ever since what--something called Emergency Plan White, which came out around the period after World War I. The military, the Army and Army intelligence, has had a plan for putting troops into cities. I wrote about it in a book called "Black Resistance-White Law," a little poem.

Mr. MEYERS: Oh, I must read that.

Ms. BERRY: And they--and then--and the federal government has had a policy and a plan; in the '60s it was called the secret war, the secret order that everybody found out about, and there was a lot of anxiety in the black community about whether they were going to detain blacks because of the riots.

Mr. POWELL: Yeah.

Ms. BERRY: But there has been an ongoing plan. The FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has a stake in this plan, too. So there's the idea...

GORDON: But, Mary, as you well know, the concern...

Ms. BERRY: And it wasn't just--but, Ed...

GORDON: The concern here is whether or not...

Ms. BERRY: But, Ed...

GORDON: ...you see this not in situations as Michael suggests, whether it be heightened alert by virtue of a terrorist attack or a riot domestically, but whether or not this becomes an everyday occurrence...

Mr. POWELL: Exactly.

GORDON: ...a commonplace occurrence.

Ms. BERRY: Well, it may.

Mr. POWELL: Well, one of the things I'm concerned about, Ed, is, does this begin to affect people who may be politically opposed to the war in Iraq? Will they be now subjected to this kind of military on-the-ground activity? And I'm thinking about a lot of folks that I know who have been adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq for the last couple of years. I think we really got to be careful when we talk about how we use the military. It was striking to me that this whole document strategy for homeland defense and civil support, there was no major press conference. It was kind of put out there very quietly, and we just are happening to get the information about it right now.

Mr. MEYERS: But it won't be commonplace, because we do have civilian authority, we do have police forces, and we...

Mr. POWELL: We'd like to hope so.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, we do. And the role of the military in domestic surveillance and domestic policing is regulated by law. All I'm saying is, there are exceptions to the law, and in the aftermath, for example, of 9/11, people wanted to know: What took the military so long to scramble and to defend our domestic skies? They wanted to know: Where are the troops helping people in New York and Washington, DC? They want to see a pre--we have troops still in New York City in the depots. There are National Guards people there, and there are troops that we see every day. These are--again, this is just a perpetual state of emergency.

Ms. BERRY: Well, the first...

GORDON: Mary, is this part of the concern, though, the idea that...

Ms. BERRY: Yes.

GORDON: ...if, indeed, these troops do become more commonplace than we're used to, there will be that idea of who's in charge of the chicken coop?

Ms. BERRY: Absolutely. There are two things about this. First of all, we wouldn't be as concerned about security and troops being used if we were sure that the people who were making decisions about who is a terrorist were people we could trust.

Mr. POWELL: Absolutely.

Ms. BERRY: Some people are concerned about, you know, from what we've seen with what has happened to protesters, people who haven't liked the war, to Arab-Americans, to people who people think are Muslims, even though they may not even be Muslims, whatever, that we're concerned about how this would be used. But I'll tell you another reason why it's not going to become commonplace. First of all, we don't have enough troops to have it commonplace everywhere...

Mr. POWELL: Mm. Mm.

Ms. BERRY: ...unless we have a draft, so that's one thing that'll put a little finger on the scale, but we're right to be concerned. There is a law, the Posse Comitatus Act, and some other laws which regulate using the military, but it hasn't stopped before because of those laws, and laws can be interpreted in many ways. So I think we're right to be concerned. We're right to be concerned about our security, but we're also right to be concerned about how it will be used and who it will be used against.

GORDON: All right. Let me move from the sublime to the ridiculous, perhaps, some would say here, and that's a federal judge in New York sentenced the rapper Lil' Kim to 366 days--For those who are counting, that's a year and a day--in jail.

Mr. MEYERS: ...(Unintelligible)

GORDON: A grand jury found her guilty of lying to protect friends involved in a shootout that happened outside a popular radio station here in New York. But here's the interesting point that we wanted to talk about: The judge fined the rapper $50,000, but here's what was interesting. US District Judge Gerard Lynch suggested that he considered the public perception of sending, in his words, `a young black entertainer' to prison far longer than Martha Stewart, who spent five months in prison for lying about a stock sale and remains under house arrest. Does this strike you at all as strange, Kevin?

Mr. POWELL: No, not at all, because a lot of black folks talked about it when Martha Stewart got sent away, that she got a slap on the wrist that was basically a vacation home, you know, not a real prison. And people were talking about, well, what's going to happen with black celebrities after Martha Stewart, particularly Lil' Kim? And so I think he was right, and then I thought he was human to begin to think about this thing in real terms.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, I like you word, Ed, `ridiculous.' This is ridiculous. I mean, what does race have to do with it?

Mr. POWELL: Race has a lot to do with it, actually.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, look, you have this Kimberly Jones--I think we have to strip her of her glamour. Kimberly Jones--she lied to the grand...

GORDON: That's the given name of Lil' Kim.

Mr. MEYERS: That's her name. She lied to the grand jury. She was facing three counts of perjury, one count of conspiracy, five years--between eight and 20 years. She got off scot-free, coming to court with fans cheering her, and this judge--maybe a headline-grabbing judge, maybe--says something about when he compares her case to the non-violent issue of lying about a stock sale.

Mr. POWELL: Well, first of all...

Ms. BERRY: Well...

Mr. MEYERS: This is not--it doesn't make any...

Mr. POWELL: ...you've got to get...

Mr. MEYERS: ...sense. It's ridiculous.

Mr. POWELL: Mr. Meyers, you've got to get your facts right. First of all, she didn't commit any acts of violence. She was trying to protect...

Mr. MEYERS: She lied, I said. `I lied about an act of violence'...

Mr. POWELL: But it is a case of...

Mr. MEYERS: ...a shootout that she was there witnessing.

GORDON: Hang on, Michael. Let Kevin get in.

Mr. POWELL: Hip-hop is synonymous with...

Mr. MEYERS: That's what I said.

GORDON: Hip-hop, if you know--I see that you're the executive director of New York Civil Rights Coalition, so you should know as a leader that hip-hop is synonymous with black culture. It has been for 30 years, and so that's why...

Mr. MEYERS: There's no such thing as black culture.

Mr. POWELL: OK.

Mr. MEYERS: That's another...

Mr. POWELL: That's your opinion.

Mr. MEYERS: That's another program.

Ms. BERRY: Well, that's your opinion.

Mr. POWELL: Well, you're not a black man then.

Mr. MEYERS: No such thing as--there's white culture.

GORDON: All right. All right, Mary.

Ms. BERRY: Can I...

GORDON: Please, come on in.

Ms. BERRY: Can I get in here....

GORDON: Let's get the testosterone...

Ms. BERRY: ...and cool this a little bit.

GORDON: ...level down a here...

Ms. BERRY: Let's get it down.

GORDON: ...before I have to knock both of them out.

Ms. BERRY: Cool it, guys.

GORDON: Go ahead, Mary.

Ms. BERRY: Cool it, guys. Cool it, guys. You got to contend with me here. Come on.

Mr. POWELL: Yes, ma'am.

Ms. BERRY: I'm not plugging all my books today, but I did write a book called "The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice," which is used by judges in continuing legal education. And that book points out, looking at cases over time, how much race, gender, class and other factors influence the decisions that judges make and that they should be reminded of that and also of the perception of the public that they're being unfair if they're not careful to try to keep those factors...

Mr. POWELL: Absolutely.

Ms. BERRY: ...from biasing a particular situation. So maybe the judge shouldn't have said it out loud, whether he did or not. I think his saying it out loud meant that he is affirming it.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, he certainly...

Ms. BERRY: And I wouldn't necessarily, unless I know his history--and I don't know his history--claim that he's headline-grabbing.

Mr. MEYERS: I said maybe.

Ms. BERRY: As for Lil' Kim...

Mr. MEYERS: I said maybe.

Ms. BERRY: As for Lil'...

Mr. MEYERS: Ah...

Ms. BERRY: As for Lil' Kim...

Mr. MEYERS: I...

Ms. BERRY: As for Lil' Kim...

Mr. MEYERS: Looking at the history...

Ms. BERRY: I think Lil Kim'...

Ms. POWELL: Let her finish.

GORDON: Get your point out.

Ms. BERRY: I think...

GORDON: Hang on. Finish, Mary.

Ms. BERRY: I think Lil' Kim is funny. I find her amusing. I also think hip-hop is part of, right now, of what is black culture, although krumping might be overtaking, you know, this if you see the movie the "Rize," which I saw the other day. Fantastic. Anyway, they should send me some money. But I think that also...

Mr. MEYERS: Hey, Mary, you're plugging a little bit of everything today.

Mr. POWELL: Yeah, she certainly is.

Ms. BERRY: I think that also...

Mr. MEYERS: Let me...

Ms. BERRY: I think that also...

Mr. MEYERS: Let me...

Ms. BERRY: ...Martha Stewart finally...

Mr. MEYERS: This...

Ms. BERRY: Martha Stewart finally...

Mr. MEYERS: Kimberly is...

Ms. BERRY: I think it's fair for Lil' Kim to be convicted. I think she should do the time. She did the crime. But I think--I hope she gets home detention and somewhere comfortable like Martha Stewart did.

Mr. POWELL: I agree.

Mr. MEYERS: This is an inversion of the rhetoric. I mean, Lil' Kim--or Kimberly Jones--is not funny here. This is a person who went to the judge and said, `Oh, please forgive me. Let--understand that I'm God-fearing.' She put her hand on a Bible and lied. And this is not funny.

Ms. BERRY: Why isn't Karl Rove in jail?

GORDON: Let me bring up something that's...

Ms. BERRY: Why don't other people who lie go to jail?

Mr. MEYERS: God-fearing. It's an inversion of the rhetoric.

Mr. POWELL: There are a lot of people who...

GORDON: Hang on a second.

Mr. MEYERS: God-fearing. Give me a break...

GORDON: One at a time.

Mr. POWELL: There are a lot of people who lie in this country, Mr. Meyers, a lot of people...

Mr. MEYERS: On a--she...

Mr. POWELL: ...and they have not gone to jail.

Mr. MEYERS: She--on...

GORDON: Let me ask this...

Mr. MEYERS: Well, you don't lie to a grand jury.

GORDON: Here's--hang on, Michael. Here's something that...

Mr. MEYERS: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. POWELL: ...(Unintelligible) bunch of bull for you.

GORDON: OK. You know what? I will shut the mike off.

Ms. BERRY: Yes, sir.

GORDON: Here's a question that I have for everybody. What I found interesting in this is this kind of unwritten rule among some in the African-American community--and, Kevin, I know you've dealt with this in dealing with a lot of young black males in particular as you go around the country.

Mr. POWELL: Yes, sir.

GORDON: And that's this `don't snitch' rule.

Mr. POWELL: Right.

GORDON: No matter what happens.

Mr. POWELL: right.

GORDON: Isn't this something that has to be looked at and talked about, the whole question of--you know, we just saw Biggie's trial...

Mr. POWELL: Yeah, yeah.

GORDON: ...the mistrial there--and this whole question of `don't snitch.' What about that aspect in the African-American community?

Mr. POWELL: Well, you know, it's interesting. In Harlem and Brooklyn, the biggest T-shirt seller this summer are these shirts that say, `Stop Snitchin.' And then, you know, again, people who do not understand black culture, who are really not a part of the black community...

Mr. MEYERS: There's no such thing a black culture.

Mr. POWELL: That's your opinion, Mr. Meyers. You have to understand that in our community there's a certain kind of policing that happens that has nothing to do with the judicial system. There's a certain kind of loyalty on the street level that we have to talk about because the reality is, you know, many of us are more fearful of the violence that may happen to us if we, quote, unquote, "snitched" to the police because snitch...

Mr. MEYERS: Why do you apologize...

Mr. POWELL: May I finish, sir?

Mr. MEYERS: ...for thuggery?

Mr. POWELL: Sir, may I--well, why do you apol...

Mr. MEYERS: And why do you...

Mr. POWELL: Sir?

Mr. MEYERS: ...equate that with black culture?

Mr. POWELL: Well, you know what?

Ms. BERRY: Well, black...

Mr. POWELL: I'm not apologizing for thuggery if this is a form of President Bush and the war in Iraq, actually.

Mr. MEYERS: You are apologizing for thuggery.

GORDON: Go ahead, Mary.

Ms. BERRY: I think that snitching happens in the white community to don't snitch. Otherwise, somebody would have told--they would have--Mr. Novak would be telling who told him about...

Mr. POWELL: Exactly.

Ms. BERRY: ...this woman, Mrs. Wilson...

Mr. MEYERS: In the courtroom it's `I don't recall.'

Ms. BERRY: ...and the CIA.

GORDON: But hold on.

Ms. BERRY: But--and there are a lot of people that don't. But I think that Kevin is right that in the culture, in communities where many working-class and poor black people live...

Mr. POWELL: Exactly.

Ms. BERRY: ...if that's acceptable to you, Michael...

Mr. POWELL: Exactly.

Ms. BERRY: ...in those communities, the idea of not snitching is something that people have to take into account in terms of what's going to happen to him. So Lil' Kim was trying not to snitch. That's what she was trying not to do. People have to stop doing that. And I know it's risky, because they can be killed themselves...

Mr. POWELL: And I know people who have been killed.

Ms. BERRY: They have to stop doing that when other people have been killed. We've got to find a way to deal with that in the community. We really have to. Otherwise, the violence will escalate...

GORDON: And continue.

Ms. BERRY: ...and it won't stop.

Mr. MEYERS: You...

Ms. BERRY: But that's the rule.

GORDON: Michael.

Mr. MEYERS: You cannot have a system of law, system of justice where people are coming into court and are charged with crimes and people who witness crimes and refuse to say what they saw. You don't have a rule of law. And I don't call that snitching. I'm--I say that's civic responsibility. If you see something, tell it.

GORDON: Well, let me tell you, Michael, for your next trip back, there is...

Mr. MEYERS: Otherwise, you're apologizing for thuggery.

GORDON: There is a rule of law here. And that says when the host says `be quiet,' please do.

Mr. MEYERS: `I am the judge.'

GORDON: Michael Meyers, Mary Frances Berry, Kevin Powell...

Mr. POWELL: Right on, brother.

GORDON: ...thank you all very much.

Mr. POWELL: Right on, brother Ed.

GORDON: I appreciate it.

Ms. BERRY: All right. Thanks.

GORDON: Coming up on Political Corner, NPR's Juan Williams has the latest on the political surroundings of the veteran health benefits, and he'll also talk about that Supreme Court justice seat. And a report on why Connecticut may be the best place in the country to host the WNBA All-Star Game.

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