Roundtable: Castro Illness, D.C. Curfew

Tuesday's topics include: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro cedes power to his brother, and a new curfew to crack down on teen violence in the nation's capital. D.C. Guests: economist and author Julianne Malveaux;, Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle.

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ED GORDON, host:

Now more for the Castro situation, a look at a move to stem to growing tide of violence in Washington, D.C. - we turn to our roundtable guests.

Joining us today, and joining me here in Washington, D.C., from our NPR headquarters is economist and author Julianne Malveaux. She's president and CEO of Last Word Productions. Roland Martin, executive editor of the Chicago Defender joins us today from the Windy City in our Chicago bureau. And Jeff Obafemi Carr is host of the radio show Freestyle. He joins from Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee.

Julianne, we were just talking a moment ago, off mike, about the idea that here is a man that started down John F. Kennedy and is still in power. Fidel Castro is one of the most remarkable political stories in history.

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist, Author, President and CEO of Last Word Productions): Literally, literally. He's survived, what, nine presidents actually. And has really, I mean, gets mixed bag. Because on one hand, you have the whole issue of how the economic system works there and how much oppression there is. But on the other hand: a total redistribution and transformation. If you look at Batista's Cuba in 1959 and Cuba of today - although there are many who were wealthy who would say that they are worse off - there are many who were quite poor who would talk about how much better off they are.

Ed, what concerns me here is the fact that the United States - Mr. Bush and Condi Rice are probably salivating at the - if they have time to salivate, given the Middle East - at the possibility of Castro not being there.

A couple of years ago, the president formed a commission for assistance to a free Cuba, co-chaired by Secretary of State Condi Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. And they literally are preparing themselves for whatever transition they think will be. Hoping to nudge Cuba into something they call democratic, which what I think they mean is capitalistic.

And so we have to be careful that the United States, already overextended, does not try to play a hand in here.

GORDON: Roland, here's the $64,000 question as it relates to that. It may the devil that you know vs. the devil you don't. I mean, obviously, people in administrations here in the United States knew and understood Fidel Castro. But it really is one of those things that you really don't know what Cuba is after Castro.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, of course not. But I certainly believe, though, that you are going to see a continuation. There's nowhere in the world Fidel Castro is not going to put together some kind of proper succession plan to continue down the path. I mean I certainly agree with Julianne when you talk about in terms of that country's healthcare system, it's infant mortality rate, the number of doctors they have there.

I mean you have to have a complete picture of the country. If you only talk about, well, they thwarted democracy. I mean they're a communist country, duh. I mean, so, I mean, and I sort of look at efforts in this country by Republicans and Democrats to not necessarily count all the ballots of certain elections. That's also an effort to thwart democracy.

But, again, you have to have a total view of Cuba versus the view of the administration or the GOP wants to provide for you.

GORDON: Yeah. Jeff, it's very important to note often we see the exiles in Miami and other parts of Florida dancing and singing any time you see something about Castro stepping away or a hiccup in his administration. But there are many people - I've been to Cuba - there are many people who are solidly behind this man.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, Freestyle): There are a lot of people in Cuba who love Fidel. Getting a little buzz, there. But I caution us to look at this with an even wider lens, however. Because if the celebration of people who are either in exile or voluntarily defectors, there's going to be a litmus test for the righteousness or the utter evilness of a ruling government.

What would it say if the same thing, God forbid, happened to the President of the United States? One could argue based on approval ratings and voting records, that half or more of the U.S. would erupt in celebration. And given the popular, or the perception that the U.S., via this war on terror or Iraq or its proxy war with Iran, is try to bully the world. One could argue that people globally would celebrate a ceding of power right here in the U.S., right now.

So I think we have to be really cautious of that and make sure we're straight.

GORDON: We'll continue to watch…

Mr. CARR: You still - okay. I'm sorry, I'm hearing the buzz in the microphone. Really watch that…

GORDON: And we too here. We're going to try to fix that for you, Jeff. We're going to continue to watch the Castro situation, see what unfolds there.

Let's turn our attention now to something interesting that happened here last night, Julianne Malveaux, on the streets of Washington, D.C. In an attempt to curb the growing juvenile violence that we're seeing, not only in the nation's capital but across the country. A 10 p.m. curfew for young people was implemented last night, with the thought that if you did not have adult supervision or a job pass, et cetera, you cannot, should not be on the streets.

I remember some years ago this had taken place in Detroit when there were growing problems among youth there. This is not new, but the question remains, are you looking at the correct problem here?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Not at all. I mean this is amusing, frankly. The entire city council, save one individual, voted in favor of the curfew. One young brother, actually, Adrian Fenty did not, because he talked about us focusing on the wrong thing.

When Marion Barry was mayor, you had full employment for young people in Washington, D.C. We don't have that - in the summers. So anybody who wanted to work had that. You don't' have that now. You don't have - some of the recreation centers are not open the way they need to be open.

If we want to talk about youth alternatives, we need to talk about youth alternatives. But a curfew is a symptom. The problem that is so egregious here, is this curfew happened after a white guy, a Brit, was killed - and brutal killing certainly - over in Georgetown. They found the perpetrators within three hours.

Now I cannot tell you how many unsolved murders you have in southeast D.C., which is where black people live, but you don't find anybody in three hours there. Because this happened in Georgetown, suddenly there's outrage. Well, there's murder in the District and in cities all over the country, but Georgetown murders get a different kind of priority than Southeast murders, and the response is, oh, let's have a curfew to keep them off the streets.

So I think only one of the people in the Georgetown - there were three people charged - was of curfew age. So you're not fixing anything. What you're doing is adding a hassle factor. And you know, the adult in me says, no, if you're under 16, you don't need to be on the street at 10 o'clock at night.

But the police resources that might well be used to catch criminals are instead being used to round up kids.

GORDON: Roland, when you think about this, the question begs - if we are looking across the country and seeing a growing amount of violence perpetrated by youth, and people seem to be outside of doing what some see as cursory fixes, like a curfew, not dealing with the situation of youth that really do not feel connected to a society, what's that going to say down the line as they grow older?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, the bottom line is there are cities all across the country that have had curfews. There's a curfew in Chicago, you have curfews in Ft. Worth, Texas, other places as well. And so that's simply one of those things. I don't have an issue with it.

I certainly believe it's a problem when you implement a curfew but you then don't tackle the other issues as well. If you simply say, just slap a Band-aid on it, and everything is okay. But I think people understand restraint. And people understand that there are certain rules you're going to have to abide by.

I don't have an issue with it. I have no problem with people by a certain age having their butts in home by a certain time. Not a problem with me.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, you know, Roland, the issue is not - I mean certainly I agree with you about no one wants 12-year-olds running the streets at midnight. But having said that, let's not make the curfew the policy issue. The policy issue has to be how we engage our young people. The policy issue has to be that there are alternatives for them in the summers, like jobs.

Like if you have to go to work tomorrow morning, you don't want to out in the street at night anyway. If you are being renumerated(ph) to go to work, you know, you will not be out in the street. And so we're putting the burden of our societal problems, in my opinion, on our young people. Cities have had budget cuts because, the feds have had budget cuts because, we would rather spend our money in Iraq than in the United States. And I know that I'm way out in left field. Ed is being very indulgent with me today.

But in any case, but we, the burden of this falls on our young people. If you look at inner-city schools, they speak to our contempt for our young people. And if you look at what young people are engaging in the summer, that speaks to our contempt too. So don't try to fix it with the curfew cause the curfew will not fix it.

GORDON: Jeff, here's the interest point, we're going to hear from in just a few moments, the prolific writers and producers Gamble and Huff. And Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff - and in particular, Kenny Gamble - have done a lot in the Philadelphia area, and have taken on the school system to make sure that that system is providing quality education for all that attend there.

What we do not see across the country - and as Julianne is suggesting here and Roland as well - we aren't really seeing the adage of the children are our future, our most important resource. We're not doing enough for these young people, so it's not really surprising that we see this bump in youth crime, frankly.

Mr. CARR: Right. I think one of the things that we've done is we've made young people the enemy. I would agree with what Julianne said. We don't get the notion that children are indeed our future. Another thing that we are not taking into account - New York, Memphis, Philly, Washington, here in Tennessee, Boston - I was in Minneapolis speaking yesterday, the same thing is true - it's hot all over the country.

Heat is not only causing strokes, dehydration and fatigue, but it shortens tempers, it causes us to lash out at one another. One of the things that's happening is we're lashing out at our youth. The other thing you risk with a curfew is antagonizing these young people. Believe me, I was young once and I know.

Young people believe that they are blamed for everything. And when I say everything that goes wrong, from a broken dish at a family reunion to skirmishes at the mall or car-jackings. But young people know that grown folks act a fool too. And they know that many of these crimes are being committed by adults, and they feel - just like I did when I was a young, Black male trying to just hang out - why should we be punished?

That leads to a standoff relationship that can affect and infect the way those kids perceive and deal with authority for years to come. So I don't think it's an effective response to punish the kids in that way. It's a more effective response to create those…

GORDON: So, Roland, what do you tell young people, as I've had many conversations with them about doing the right thing and playing the game right. When they tell you, and repeatedly tell you, and correctly tell you, that, look, you know, we're not being given opportunity. We're not being given the chance to get on an even playing field. And obviously that doesn't speak to every youth in America, but many of them.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, that is the result of, again, a significant number of policies that we have to examine. And bottom line is, everything rolls downhill. And so when you have the budget cuts, those are the first programs to always get cut. And so you have to deal with that.

You have to do like some other cities have done, where you have a combination of the public and the private sector. Here in Chicago, Congressman Bobby Rush was very concerned about the lack of jobs and resources and youth in his community. He called corporate and private leaders to the table and said, look, we've got to put together a contingent of 1,000 jobs for the youth in this particular area. That's one way of doing it. That is not going to solve the entire problem for the whole region, but when you have that kind of proactive measure, and then that's how you do it.

But if we only look to the public sector to be able to provide these kinds of jobs and opportunities, then we're going to continue to have the conversation, because when it comes to the budgets, that stuff will always be the first to get cut.

GORDON: Julianne, I don't hear the righteous indignation from many corners when you talk about what Roland is suggesting: budget cuts for public schools and the like, youth programs being slashed. I do not hear it.

Ms. MALVEAUX: But, you know, that's the thing, Ed. We have accepted the status quo. Because, you know, we were talking off-mike about literacy. How come we are not upset about the levels of literacy. And why in summers - again, when, you know, as Jeff says, it's hot and kids are basically unengaged - why don't we have literacy programs?

Years ago, I mean it had to be in the 80s. Remember - I guess it was in the Reagan years, yeah - midnight basketball. You know, that was a program, and at that time I didn't like it because I thought it was too male-focused. Now I would welcome it because at least it was something that young brothers were trying to do to stay off the street. They were playing ball in the middle of the night.

But we literally have let the public sector off the hook. And I say we, because we are the public sector. We've let elected officials off the hook, we let the education sector off the hook, and the outcome is too many of our young people are being thrown away. They're being thrown away at 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

This violence that people talking about, however, is adult violence, not just youth violence, and you can't call it youth violence. The other piece is the starving of the public sector in terms of not only high school, but also higher education - doesn't give folks much to hope for and that becomes frightening as well. You graduate and then what?

And so I think that the African-American community, and I put it on us, has been asleep at the switch on these issues. But more than that, I think that we have allowed the majority community to turn our kids into disposable kids.

GORDON: Alright. Roland, Jeff, Julianne, thank you so much. And, Jeff, sorry about that line.

Mr. CARR: It's alright, man, it happens…

GORDON: But we'll get you involved a little bit more the next time. Greatly appreciate it.

Mr. CARR: Alright.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks, Ed.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS & NOTES, a group of homeless vets on Los Angeles take to the stage to entertain and educate. And super producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Talk about three decades of making their signature Philly sound.

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

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