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Roundtable: Transit Safety, Patriot Act; Gay Conversion

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Roundtable: Transit Safety, Patriot Act; Gay Conversion

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Roundtable: Transit Safety, Patriot Act; Gay Conversion

Roundtable: Transit Safety, Patriot Act; Gay Conversion

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Topics: New York subway security; a Patriot Act extension; and a gay teen's parents send him to a Christian "conversion camp." Guests include NYU professor Pedro Noguera; social and cultural commentator Callie Crossley from Beat the Press and George Curry, editor-in-chief of The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

ED GORDON, host:

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

On today's Roundtable, New York subway security, a Patriot Act extension and a gay teen's parents send him to a Christian camp. In our bureau in New York, Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University; Callie Crossley, social, cultural commentator on the television show "Beat the Press" in Boston. She's at member station WGBH in Boston. And finally, with us, George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. All right, folks. Thanks very much for joining us today. Greatly appreciate it.

We're going to get right into the situation that happened; obviously, the world looking at it once again, the scare yesterday in London, and it continues today with police shooting a man who was wearing a thick coat in a subway station there, as well as--and we should note, shooting him to death--as well as the largest Islamic mosque was targeted with a bomb threat yesterday. This continues obviously to be an ongoing problem, not just for London, but for the world, as we see the escalation, the concern of what, in fact, George Curry, may happen.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (National Newspaper Publishers Association): Yeah. It casts a long shadow around the world and certainly here. Even when we debate the extension of the Patriot Act, which we're going to get to in a few minutes, it still has ramifications because people are looking at London and saying, `Hey, if it happened there, it can happen here,' and we've already seen evidence of that, and we must do everything we can to protect ourselves.

GORDON: Callie.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY ("Beat the Press"): And I think they say it especially because it can happen in London, where they have a security system that seems to be outstanding and where they have been on high alert for the last two weeks for just this kind of attack. It wasn't that it happened on a plane. It happened in the same scenario, and yet, it's still happening.

GORDON: Pedro, let me ask you, as relates to the offshoots, if you will, of these situations--i.e., racial profiling and the like--the man that was killed yesterday was said to have appeared to be of Pakistani or Indian descent. There's question of the targeting of Middle Easterners. We talked about the Islamic mosque being threatened with a bomb and, of course, we're going to get into, as George mentioned, in just a moment, the extension of the Patriot Act, and also what is happening on New York subways. Should we be concerned about racial and ethnic profiling or is this, again, just something we'll have to live with?

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (New York University): No, I think we should be concerned about the racial profiling and the consequences this will have on our society, because what we're seeing in London--and we should keep in mind, England is a society that, in the last few years, has become extremely diverse. Cities like Leicester and Leeds now have more than half the population are people from the Third World, particularly from the Middle East and from Pakistan and countries in Africa. And what this means is that these countries will be increasingly divided, because to the degree that the English--read that the white English perceive any foreigner as a threat, what we're going to see is a heightened degree of conflict and tension in society and a willingness to tolerate this kind of racial profiling. So I think as Americans watching this, we have very good reason to be concerned, because we also have a history of racial profiling in this country that I think many of us have been victims of and we're being forced to choose now between our security and our civil liberties.

GORDON: Well, timing is everything. The House voted yesterday--the US House voted to extend indefinitely the anti-terrorist act, the Patriot Act, passed, of course, shortly after the 9/11 incidents. The Senate committee, we should note, approved its own general extension of the law, and the full Senate will likely vote on it this fall. Two outstanding provisions remain as relates to the 10-year extension, and that is the provision that allows federal agents to use what they call roving wiretaps, and the other is the search of library and medical records to look at possible terrorists within cells, as we call them, within the country. George, this is not a surprise, something that, quite frankly, we saw coming down the road. Does it bother you in the sense of what Pedro just suggested?

Mr. CURRY: Well, I mean, the main thing is we still have two competing versions even in the Senate, what--Intelligence Committee and we have a Senate Judiciary Committee version, which is the one expected to actually end up being the final form. The real question is the review process, and that's in both instances. Who decides when you're going to get that invasive in people's privacy and do you allow the FBI, for example, to do this without the supervision of judges? We have a system already in place and have had for years, go to a federal judge. If the judge approves, then go ahead with the warrant and the search or whatever you need, and I think we just have to be careful with the review process and not just give them unabated power, because we've already seen abuses of that.

GORDON: Callie, proponents will suggest that while George lays that in place, on occasion, there is a need to strike and strike immediately and quickly and not get caught up in what is sometimes looked upon as bureaucratic red tape, even though we know there are--emergency provision that will turn that paperwork over quickly.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I guess I'm looking at the library. I guess I just don't see where the emergency is on reading the library records. And supporting what George just said, if you have a moment to get a federal judge, I mean, they're out there to prove it if it seems reasonable to, you know--and you have some evidence--see, that's the key. People not just responding to some feeling they have, but some evidence that these are persons that need to be investigated further, then, OK, but it makes me awfully nervous that there are these broad powers, and we, as black folks particularly--it's not that long ago from the civil rights movement where people were being monitored inappropriately, and that's what these rules were put in place for, is to try to stop some of that.

And I think the reason that you hear from persons of color particularly talking about these issues is because we know what this is like. We've been under that kind of illegal surveillance, inappropriate surveillance, and targeting, and I think a lot of folks--read white people--have not had that experience, and so they're thinking, `OK, well, I can give up a little bit of this because I'll be safer.'

GORDON: Pedro, let me continue in the mode of proponent's voice, if you will, and that is that, hey, folks, it's a new day. We are now in a preventative measure, and the fact that some of your civil liberties will have to be stepped on is one that you will have to live with by virtue of keeping our shores and our ground safe.

Prof. NOGUERA: Well, I think the good thing is that there at least now is an active debate about the Patriot Act. Right after 9/11, that law was passed by the Congress with very little debate. In fact, many members of Congress did not even know what the provisions were. So at least now, we see a public discussion. The media's covering it. I wish there were even more time, because I think this kind of debate with respect to how much of our civil liberties we're willing to give up in exchange for greater security is a debate that the greater public needs to be involved in. All of us are now living with the inconveniences of going through the airport and going through those kinds of security, and many accept them as being a necessary part of life. How far are we willing to go is the question.

GORDON: George, please...

Mr. CURRY: I disagree with--I want to make a follow-up point to Callie had earlier about whites generally not having the same experience. Except--when you look at the anti-war movement, they have had the same experience, and there are reports now that this same countersurveillance is under way with the FBI. So it's not even just a thing of the past, nor is it just for African-Americans. Anybody that espouses an unpopular cause, particularly when it comes to war, they will be under surveillance.

Ms. CROSSLEY: No. What I was saying is that I think that a lot of white people don't understand that as a reality. I do--I'm understanding that they have done it to other groups. I mean that if you stop five people, as they do often, to say, `OK, could it happen here and what would you feel about...'

Mr. CURRY: Right.

Ms. CROSSLEY: `...our imposing these kinds of things in America?,' when you look at the m...

GORDON: So the average Joe...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah, exactly.

GORDON: ...the average Joe, Callie, doesn't...

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's right.

GORDON: ...necessarily understand that, in your opinion.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly.

GORDON: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what we see as an offshoot of all of this going on and all that we're talking about, and that is that police in New York will begin random searches of bags and packages carried on by folks to the subways. Officials have suggested that this will start, based on the new series of attacks that we've seen in London, as yet another preventative measure. And, of course, New York, quite frankly, those of us who live in the area see that people are, while going about their lives on a day-to-day basis, frankly on pins and needles right now.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, see, here's the thing.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I don't see this is--go ahead.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Random--what does random mean? I've heard it discussed that random's going to mean a numeric random search, so every fifth person, every seventh person. But I don't--let me just quote Richard Pryor. You know, this usually means just us when it comes down to this. I mean, this is just so open to racial profiling, and this is what makes me nervous. It's not that black folk are...

GORDON: Well, New York's police chief said this morning that random is just that. It's random, but Raymond Kelly also suggested that if there is information that suggests any given group is about to do something, they, of course, will then profile those people.

Prof. NOGUERA: You know, I ride the subway in New York City every day, and I'll have to say that it's a question of how it's done. If they are to stop people and just ask, `What's in your bag?' and take a look, I think many New Yorkers will accept it. There is a heightened sense of anxiety out here because of what's happened in London, and I think that many New Yorkers are very worried about riding the subways. And you go to Grand Central, it wouldn't take much to have many people killed at once if there were a suicide bomber or some kind of a bomb in a backpack. So I think a lot of it depends on how it's done, and we have to watch carefully to make sure that there isn't racial profiling that accompanies this kind of a change in the procedures.

Mr. CURRY: And that's clear, the issue has carried out, and I don't think people generally object to it, if it's done fairly, as Callie said, if it's done seriously, it's random, which is kind of hard to me. How are you going to do that with that many people involved?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly.

Mr. CURRY: I have questions about that. But if it really is--will not be profiling a particular group, then I think people will accept it.

GORDON: Well, George, there's the question that you bring up, and it smacks of what a number of people are suggesting today. Upwards to four million people utilize this system. If, in fact, you see this as looking for a needle in the haystack, should we continue something that is perhaps one of those one in a million things or is that one possibility worthwhile?

Mr. CURRY: I think you've got to look at all the tools. I lived in New York twice, when I was a reporter for Sports Illustrated and when I was a New York bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, and I rode those subways every day, and I just really think that it's just one of many tools. It's not going to be the answer. There is no one solution, but knowing that there will be these random checks, not know when or where, I think that's just an effective tool. It's one tool, but not--by itself, it wouldn't really get us anywhere.

GORDON: Pedro, you suggest that you ride the subway system very often. If, in fact--and you suggest New Yorkers will put up with this. But if, in fact, we start to see the kinds of lines we--those of us who travel often via the airways--if we see the kinds of lines we see at airports, do you believe that that is just going to be one of those things that New Yorkers say, `Ehh, gotta live with it'?

Prof. NOGUERA: Well, I think that's a very good point. If it results in paralysis in the city, that people can't get where they need to go, you will see a lot of frustration and a lot of complaints, because people need to move and get around, and it's hard as it is, given the congestion. So I do think there are limits to the tolerance that people will show with respect to this kind of approach to policing. At the same time, people do want to feel safe.

GORDON: All right. We're going to turn our...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I think it's a false sense of security is what I think, that--using this, because I'm not sure that it can be effective. I think you use all the tools, as George said, but I'm sitting here today thinking in a few months, you're going to see that there's going to be targeting of certain kinds of folks, and that's what I'm concerned about.

GORDON: Sure. And in terms of a false sense of security, though, to their credit, Mayor Bloomberg, as well as the police chief, have suggested that this is, as George says, just one in a number of things that they have to do. They don't see this as a panacea and they're telling people, without question, that they are not suggesting that this is going to make New York City safe by itself as a solo act.

All right. We'll turn our attention to a story that raised our interest here as we heard about it, and this is a 16-year-old teen-ager who calls himself Zack(ph), who is in Tennessee, who told his parents that he was gay, with much trepidation and concern, obviously. After that, and having a long talk with his parents, they came to him and said that he had to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays, that is being called a conversion camp. Your thought, Pedro, with the idea that there are still many who say that this is, being gay, a situation that can be corrected.

Prof. NOGUERA: I think there's plenty of reason to be concerned about this kind of camp that's been created. It's not unlike these boot camps that have been created now for juveniles who have gotten into trouble. And there needs to be very close scrutiny of what happens in these camps, because the possibilities for abuse are great. At the same time, parents have, you know, a great deal of responsibility over their children and it's hard to tell parents that they don't have a right to counsel their children a particular way, but we know that given the intolerance towards gays and lesbians in this country, that the potential for abuse is great there, so I would say that the public has a role here to scrutinize camps like these, to make sure there is no abuse.

I personally think it'll be completely ineffective, as many of the people who have attended those camps have reported, because I don't think you can simply use Christianity to counsel someone out of their sexuality.

GORDON: Callie, one of the interesting points here is on a blog site that this young man has, he writes a diary, and he says, `After all of this'--and this was written at 2:30 in the morning. This shows that he is agonizing over this. He talks about how he just can't take much more of this. He says, `I'm not a person who would contemplate suicide,' but he also says here, `All I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible,' in his words.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah. That was--you know, nobody's been able to speak to this teen-ager, and nor has he reported back on the blog since he's entered the camp, so let's put that out there. And that was obviously quite distressing. And what we know now about teen-agers trying to figure out, you know, where they are and looking back on some--Columbine and some other issues, it made me nervous...

GORDON: Yes.

Ms. CROSSLEY: ...reading that, thinking, you know, was this a sign or a signal? And we should be paying attention to it. So I think...

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: ...that people who have protested this particular situation are protesting on two levels: what is actually going on, as Pedro said...

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: ...and is there abuse? But also, is this a sign we need to be paying attention to of something that could happen?

GORDON: George, real quick for me.

Mr. CURRY: Briefly, they got about a hundred and twenty of these camps around the country. It's a case of the cure being worse than the illness, and I use that term advisedly. This is a horrendous--this boy is really tormented and I'm not sure anything good is going to come out of this.

GORDON: All right. Pedro, Callie, George, thank you very much. Greatly appreciate it. You guys have a good weekend and we'll talk with you sometime next week, I'm sure.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thank you.

Prof. NOGUERA: Thanks, Ed.

Mr. CURRY: All right.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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