Roundtable: DJ Booted for Rice Slur, Drug-Free Zones

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Topics: a talk radio host is fired after using a racial slur to refer to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and whether drug-free school zone laws really work. Guests: Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStar Network; author Yvonne Bynoe; and People magazine writer Bob Meadows.


This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. One today's roundtable, a radio DJ loses his job over what he calls a slip of the tongue, and the U.S. won't allow Puerto Rico residents to vote in the 2008 Presidential election.

Joining us today from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-hop Culture. And at our New York bureau, Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the, along with Bob Meadows, writer, People magazine.

Thank you all for joining us and let's talk about this radio situation in St. Louis. A personality at 550 KTRS was fired on the spot yesterday after referring to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice using a racial slur in a conversation. He says he meant to say if the NFL hired Rice it would be a big coup. Instead he used a racial slur. We have the clip. Let me just say it may be offensive to some listeners.

Unidentified Man (550 KTRS Personality): She's been chancellor at Stanford. I mean, she's got just the patent resume of somebody that's got some serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon--oh my God! I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that. Okay? I didn't mean that. That was just a slip of the tongue.

CHIDEYA: Just a slip of the tongue, Bob. What do you think?

Mr. BOB MEADOWS (Writer, People Magazine): You know, when I read it, I was thinking to myself this sounds like a slip of the tongue because he was so very apologetic, but after hearing it just now, it doesn't quite sound so much like a slip of the tongue anymore. I have to say, I guess, my attitude is kind of turned around about this. It sounded deliberate, I have to say. Reading it, it didn't sound that way, but hearing it, it sounds almost like - it sound deliberate.

CHIDEYA: Yvonne, there have been so many radio shock jocks, their nickname on the airwaves, like Imus, who have gone out and used racial slurs against prominent African-Americans. And as Bob mentioned, this gentleman, who was the radio host, he didn't break tone. He was like, oh, oh, I'm sorry, but he didn't really say, oh, I'm sorry. Does it make a difference, his delivery, make a difference? And what's the real issue here? Is the issue that we, once again, are shocked that there are racial slurs on the radio? Or is that kind of now par for the course?

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-hop Culture): Well, I think it's unfortunately par for the course, but I think the difference between someone like Imus or Howard Stern, you know what you're getting when you turn onto those stations. You know that they are there to shock, and whether that's sexual content or whether it's racial content, or racial slurs, you know what you're going to get. I think what is problematic when you turn on a regular station and you're looking to hear news or sports, and you hear this type of language.

Now, frankly, when I read it, I just found it a bit incredulous. You know, coon, I mean that's the term that the guys used. Slip of the tongue, well, it had to be somewhere in your consciousness for it to slip out. So to me, it's always a slippery slope to start thinking about what people's intent was, but he had a responsibility, just like the rest of us. We're on the air. He said it, and he has to pay the price for it. So again, I think it has to be a strong message that's sent.

And piggybacking on that, I think black Americans have another responsibility. We will refuse to really deal with people who use the N word, black entertainers, rap artists and such, so we're sending a mixed message out there in the universe, and we're going to have to get clear about our own message before we can really get stark about language and how it pertains to us.

CHIDEYA: Walter, Yvonne raises the point that really the N word has now been taken over, in some ways, by African-American entertainers. Some hip-hop critics say that this is an attempt to diffuse the word. Are we going to have to diffuse every racist word? What is the appropriate response to all the many different slurs that are against African-Americans? And of course, every ethnic group has slurs against them.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, Well, I mean, I think we should have a zero tolerance policy across the board, and I do think it's a matter of context, particularly when you're talking about news programming. Look, I was one of the people that led the charge against Bob Grant in the New York metropolitan area because Bob Grant had had a history when he was on WABC radio, of just slurring African-Americans.

But I think that we also have to look back--I mean, I've just listened to that clip. That was no slip of the tongue. You know, if that was a slip of the tongue, I have a few choice words I'd like to say right now on the air, but I know that I can't say them. So you know, I think that we have to put things in context, but I think Yvonne is right about we have to get our own act together and determine what the standard is going to be because we are sending mixed messages when we also use derogatory terms within our own community that we then deem offensive when others use them. So I think, you know, there is a need for clarity here.

CHIDEYA: Walter, let's move on to another topic. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to give residents in the territory of Puerto Rico the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections. This is the latest development in a longstanding debate over the islanders' constitutional rights, and it may actually precipitate a new referendum on whether they should be independent, a U.S. state, or remain a territory.

In some ways, this reminds me of Washington, D.C. where Puerto Rico has a Congressional representative, but they can't vote. Washington, D.C. has a Congressional representative, but that representative can't vote. In this case, they can't vote in the presidential elections, even though they're affected by U.S. policy. Should they have a voice?

Mr. FIELDS: I think they should definitely have a voice. I mean, I think it is akin to what we have in Washington, D.C. where you still have taxation without representation. I think it's almost incredible that in 2006 we have appendages of the United States where citizens are affected by U.S. laws are pretty much treated as U.S. citizens, but being told that you can't vote in a presidential election. And I think it will drive the debate around whether or not there should be independents or whether or not there should be full statehood for Puerto Rico, as I believe, as there should be for Washington, D.C.


Mr. MEADOWS: Puerto Rico's voted several times and they've consistently rejected statehood. And so I think that speaks because one of the arguments or the argument, I believe, that the government uses in denying them this right is that only states, only people who live in states can vote in the United States, in the 50 states, can actually vote for the president. And apparently, if you're a U.S. citizen, as Puerto Ricans are, but you move to Puerto Rico from the U.S., you then cannot vote.

So what has to happen, of course, is there has to be an amendment to the constitution as which is what happened with Washington, D.C. giving them the right to vote. And it remains to be seen if there is enough backing for something like that to happen here.

CHIDEYA: Yvonne, you know, ultimately in some ways this is up to people in Puerto Rico to decide if they even want to try to be a U.S. state. Why do you think that there has been so much resistance to becoming a U.S. state even though it would confer extra voting rights?

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think it's an issue about whether or not they want to retain their own individuality, and as was just mentioned, in 1998 they had a referendum and 46 percent of Puerto Ricans decided, voted in favor of statehood, 2.5 percent voted for independence, total independence from the United States, and 50 percent or thereabouts wanted none of the above. They voted for none of the above.

So I think that does speak to the ambivalence. Certainly they have some limited benefits to being under the aegis of the United States, but for them, I think a lot of Puerto Ricans think it might be more of a loss to their identity as Puerto Ricans to become a state. And frankly, a lot of the people who voted for statehood were, from my understanding, the more affluent Puerto Ricans. The working class and poorer Puerto Ricans were not particularly in favor of this. So again, I think the argument continues to be made until Puerto Ricans make a more vigorous attempt or aggressive attempt to want to determine what their status is, that United States is not going to really have much of an incentive to do any constitutional changes or any amendments to benefit them.

CHIDEYA: Walter, let's tackle the topic of drug free school zones. They are almost a joke in some communities because if you want to buy drugs, some folks say you just go to a drug free school zone. But these laws have been a staple of the war on drugs. Now some legislators and activists, are asking whether these laws are fair and effective. The Justice Policy Institute released a report yesterday claiming that the laws have not shielded young people.

In fact, only 1 percent of the cases that come out of these laws involved drug sales to youth, but they have been disproportionately affecting blacks and Hispanics. Should these laws be reformed and revised?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I certainly think they should be revisited. I mean, I think, you know, if you look at drug use in the United States, certainly we still have a serious problem, and I think there was a psychological effect when these laws first went into place that we wanted to think that, at least around schools, that there was sort of a zone of safety. That hasn't necessarily happened.

So I think it is time to revisit this situation, and I think there might be some other policy remedies that are more effective than this notion of creating these drug free school zones.

CHIDEYA: Bob, in fact, this is a really staggering little piece of information. Around Yale University, the only place that is not included in a drug free school zone is the golf course, which shows how big these radiuses are. And in some cases, these laws entail mandatory prison terms, precludes such options as probation or treatment. They really affect how the drug offender is rehabilitated. Is that an effective way to treat the people who are offenders, the people who are incarcerated, to say, okay if you are in this specific area, no rehabilitation for you?

Mr. MEADOWS: Saying no rehabilitation for you?


Mr. MEADOWS: Well I think it's the drug user who needs the rehabilitation more so than the drug dealer. I don't have any sympathy for drug dealers. The fact that entire cities in some cases are considered drug-free zones so that you get more intense penalties, 'cause that's the thing, if you're caught selling, obviously, selling drugs is illegal. If you're caught selling drugs in a drug-free zone, you, there are mandatory penalties that go along with that, so that's really the problem here.

It, it doesn't bother me that drug dealers in urban areas who are typically selling to my people, black people, which is something I'd like to stop, I don't really mind if they're going to get stiffer penalties. If it's, maybe they should go out to the golf course and pedal their wares if they want to not face a penalty so, so stiff. So I think, honestly, I think that's a ludicrous argument, that black people face this more than any, more than anyone else.

CHIDEYA: Yvonne, what Bob is saying, really gets to a fundamental question in the black community? You many have people in the same community, you do have people in the same community who are dealers, who are users, who are victims, who are friends and family of users. What is the appropriate way to try to strategize a criminal justice policy that deals with addiction, deals with the drug dealers? What would you like to see on an urban policy level?

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture): Wow, that's a large question, Farai.

CHIDEYA: I know, I'm throwing it at you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BYNOE: Well I think, I think first things first, I have to agree with Bob. I think the whole conversation about whether or not African Americans or Latinos are disproportionately affected is a red herring. I think what is more interesting, I would want to know is, are there more drug activities in this area? If there's more activities in these particular areas, in comparison to suburban areas, then I think it stands to reason that, you know, that people who are selling in these areas possibly will be black and Latino.

And, therefore, they're going to be the people who you are going to arrest. So I think this is like an apples and oranges conversation. Who, were is the crime, and who are the drug dealers? And I think that's the number one issue that we have to deal with.

I also, too, think that there should be certainly more drug treatment facilities for people who have addiction problems and who want to clean themselves up, but, again, I tend to agree with Bob. I'm not so sympathetic to drug dealers. I think that, certainly, if this is first time offense, perhaps you should not get the same penalty as someone who is a repeat offender. But by the same token, we shouldn't give you a slap on the hand and say, good job. I think it has to be some type of piece into, into these penalties.

I think that children should be protected, perhaps more so than adults. So if these safety zones are not working, that that needs to be addressed, but I think that, you know, we keeping throwing race at issues a lot of times, and they are smoke screens to deal with the issues that in some areas, there is more crime. In some areas, there are black and Latinos who are committing the crime against other black and Latinos, and we have to deal with that, and stop worrying about what's happening in suburbia.

Suburbia has their own set of issues, and that's it. If there were white people who could make money coming into urban areas and selling drugs, they certainly would do it, and they certainly are already there. So, I think we need to deal with things on the ground instead of overlaying everything with race automatically.

CHIDEYA: Walter, what about the issue of rehabilitation? Bob was essentially saying, look, I want to rehabilitate the drug users, I don't care so much about the dealers. But some of the dealers see prison as basically a school for crime. You go in, you come out with more skills, you can commit better crime.

Mr. FIELDS: Well I think we have to treat the addiction side of the public health problem, and I don't think we do. I think we treat it as sort of a criminal justice problem, and I think that's part of the overall problem with U.S. drug policy right now. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and until we begin treating people that have, you know, addictions, we're always going to see, you know, a recurrence of behavior of the nature.

You know, in terms of the racial overlay, you know I will tell you, you know, drugs are rampant in suburban communities. And I think it's a matter of how, you know, environments are perceived because you could probably go into any suburban community, particularly around a school, and find major drug activity. And perhaps, you know, in cities that are exempting golf courses, perhaps they need to include the golf course because I'm quite sure there's some activity going on, on that golf course.

I think U.S. drug policy just has not made sense, period, across the board. And until we begin to really treat this as a public health issue, really determine that we're going to make sure that we put the dealers behind bars and not let them get out for a substantial period of time, and make this notion of dealing drugs, no matter where you deal them, you know, a very serious issue, we're always going to come back to this. And unfortunately, for small children who are being caught up in it, and if you go into urban communities, they are being caught up in it at a very early age, I think we do have to refocus our attention on how we protect children and young adults in this matter.

Ms. BYNOE: But I think the point, what I was trying to get at, at least in terms of clarifying is that in certain communities, it's right there in your face. If you're standing on the corner, you're accosted by the dealers, and that's a reality. Where, certainly, I agree with you, there are drugs everywhere, but at least in some other communities, it is more cloak and dagger and clandestine. So I agree that it needs to be across the board penalty, but I think it's, in some places you cannot even walk down the street without being intimidated or fearful because the drug dealers have taken over, and I think to pretend that that does not exist is to obscure the real problem.

Mr. FIELDS: I'm not pretending that doesn't exist.

Ms. BYNOE: Sure.

Mr. FIELDS: I just want to make sure that when we begin looking at this that we look at both sides. I mean, I would agree with you, but I've also been confronted, you know, in my space in suburban communities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FIELDS: I just think that we have this tendency to believe about the intensity in urban community but not understand that if you talk to a lot of parents in suburban communities, they're scared to death because this stuff is now so prevalent.

Mr. MEADOWS: Right.

Mr. FIELDS: And so public that I think we tend to always think about large, metropolitan, urban centers. We've got a problem across the board with drugs in the United States and until we really have a common sense approach, unfortunately, our children are going to be the victims.

CHIDEYA: All right, we are going to have to leave it right there, a great topic. In our New York bureau Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStar, along with Bob Meadows of People Magazine, and in Washington D.C., Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture. Thank you all.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

Mr. MEADOWS: Thank you.

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