Roundtable: Rice on Darfur, T.O. Denies Suicide Reports

Thursday's topics: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks about putting an end to genocide in Darfur; and Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens says he didn't attempt suicide. Host Farai Chideya is joined by economist and author Julianne Malveaux; Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhart School of Education at New York University; and Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the North Star Network.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's Roundtable, Secretary Rice speaks out about putting an end to genocide in Darfur, and NFL star Terrell Owens is trying to end so-called rumors that he tried to commit suicide.

Joining us today from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., economist Julianne Malveaux, the president and CEO of Last Word Productions. From our New York bureau, Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. And Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the Northstarnetwork.com joins us by phone.

Welcome, everybody. And let me start with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She spoke at the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa. She addressed the violence in Darfur. It's getting worse despite international peace efforts. Now in her speech she said that the African Union wants to increase peacekeeping forces from 7,000 to more than 20,000 but they're meeting opposition.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Unite States Secretary of State): If the government of Sudan chooses cooperation, if it works with the United Nations and welcomes the U.N. forces into Darfur, then it will find a dedicated partner in the United States.

And as President Bush stated in his recent letter to President Bashir, we will be prepared to examine all aspects of our bilateral relationship and to work toward our common goal of a unified, peaceful and democratic Sudan.

But if the Sudanese government chooses confrontation, if it continues waging war against it's own citizens, challenging the African Union, undermining the peacekeeping force and threatening the international community, then the regime in Khartoum will be held responsible.

CHIDEYA: And we're actually talking there about U.N. forces as well as African Union forces. Pedro, the U.S. has a very strange relationship sometimes to the international community. Sometimes we seem to be all for U.N. action and sometimes not. What do you make of how the secretary of state's speech is going to be taken in the context of this very important issue?

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (Steinhardt School of Education, New York University): Well, I think it's another reflection of the poor kind of diplomacy we have seen from the Bush administration and, sadly, from Condoleezza Rice herself. She makes this threat. She has nothing to back up the threat.

If the government of Khartoum does not go along with U.N. peacekeepers, what would they do? They're overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and I think it's not interested in committing troops to Sudan, so there's really nothing the United States can do.

And where we should be trying to exert influence is on the other Islamic countries, particularly in that region in the Middle East, who could influence Sudan and also on the organization of African unity.

But we don't have very strong ties with either body and consequently we end up just making statements that have very little impact at all while many, many people are dying.

CHIDEYA: Walter, at the same time, Jendayi Frazer, who has been an undersecretary dealing with African affairs, has been just doggedly going and trying to deal with the crisis in the continent. So the U.S. has not done nothing. What do you think the next step should be for this government?

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, Northstarnetwork.com): Well, I think clearly it's been a persistent problem under not only in this administration but the previous administration.

The government of Khartoum is very resistant to outside pressure, but I think we may have to see some economic sanctions. I think we have to get the African Union involved. I think Pedro is right in terms of talking to the other Islamic nations.

But we also have to remember that a lot of what's going on in Sudan is based upon oil. And it's that the root and a lot of these problems because the oil industry has really financed a lot of the government war. So I think we've got to be clear in terms of what's at stake here, and it's more of an economic issue. And I think when we begin to apply economic pressure you may begin to see some changes in terms of subsiding some of the violence that has been going on. And it is truly a tragedy that is just growing in magnitude.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, what do you think about that? You're an economist, is an economic solution the solution?

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist and Author): Well, I think it's part of the solution. Certainly, we do need to look at the oil ties there, what's going on. And those companies that have been involved in financing some of this, we need to talk to some of them. Some of them are U.S.-based companies. But I think that the conversation that Secretary Rice had - and the woof ticket that she's putting out there are so unseemly.

Our country, we have the blood of 450,000 people on our hands. This most recent conflict that began in 2003, we resisted calling it genocide. They have resisted - I will give her credit for raising the issue of rape as a tool of war. But they resisted talking about the rape that's taking place there.

There's also a land issue which of course is connected to the economic issue of moving people off their land. And we have just done so very little because we're overextended, because we have poor ties in the Islamic world. We've done so little and we're sitting here looking at something that, before it's over with, if some actions is not taken, is the proportion of Rwanda.

They cannot turn away U.N. peacekeeping forces. The African Union has been there but of course the African Union has fewer resources. They have troops of about 7,000. We're talking about, you know, bringing 20,000 U.N. troops in there, and they should not be - that government should not be allowed to treat the U.N. troops as if they're invaders as they have said.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, I'm going to stay with you because speaking of economics, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Monday to end state investments in Sudan. Now the goal is to pressure the nation to end the violence in Darfur. And George Clooney was there; Don Cheadle was there.

Do you think that this is going to have other states thinking about divestment in the same way that South African divestment became a pension fund in a state-by-state issue?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Absolutely. I mean the tactic of reducing investment is an absolutely effective tactic, because essentially with South Africa the goal was to make that country ungovernable because money was not coming there.

The same can be done in the Sudan and I think it's utterly a brilliant move for Mr. Schwarzenegger, you know, who's kind of an iconoclastic Republican to stand with a liberal George Clooney and with the African-American Don Cheadle as he goes into an election. It's about the people of Sudan and it's about what's happening in Darfur, but it's also about Mr. Schwarzenegger very brilliantly being able to manipulate the current event then to benefit him in his electoral quest.

CHIDEYA: Pedro, have you heard any - I mean I haven't heard anything from New York or from any East Coast cities, but do you think that this could catch on in other parts on a city level or state level?

Prof. NOGUERA: Well, there was a very large demonstration actually in New York just a week ago. And so there is a growing movement across the country to support efforts to bring an end to genocide in Darfur.

I think the question about divestment, though, is we don't know the extent of the American investments there. We do know for example that the Russians have a big stake there and so does the Chinese.

And, again, this is where diplomacy is needed. You can't simply - if the major players are not willing to impose sanctions, then even if the United States does begin to move in that direction it may not have the effect we hoped for. So I think in addition to disinvestment there's going to have to be a much more effective diplomatic effort than we've seen so far.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. And, Walter, you know, Russia and China sit along with the U.S. on the U.N. Security Council. And the countries have quite a bit of a power who sit in that very hallowed body. So if there are countries that really are relying on oil from this region, do you think that they will step up?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, not that they are so much relying - I mean a country like Russia with Gazprom, a huge oil concern, I mean they could declare major influence upon Sudan. And I think that part of what we're going to see is we have to remember the anti-apartheid disinvestment campaign took some time; it didn't happen overnight. And I think that's what's going to happen here with this situation.

I think it is going to be a combination of economic sanctions and as much diplomacy as one can expect, because it's been very difficult to engage this government in any diplomatic relation on this issue.

CHIDEYA: Let's turn to a story a little bit closer to home. A police report says Dallas Cowboys star receiver Terrell Owens attempted suicide late Tuesday. The report says the player, known as T.O., was depressed and reportedly overdosed on his prescription pain medication. But at a press conference yesterday afternoon, Terrell flatly denied the claim.

Mr. TERRELL OWENS: (Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys): The rumor of me taking 35 pills I think is absurd, you know. I don't think I would be here if I had taken 35 pills. And, you know, just to dispel rumors that I get my stomach pumped, you know, that's definitely untrue.

CHIDEYA: So his publicist was the one who called 911 in the first place, but now everybody is saying, including the publicists said at the briefing, the NFL star has 25 million reasons to live. That's the dollar value of his contract. Is this a cover-up, a misinterpretation? Why do we - why are we following this athlete so closely? I guess I'll start with you, Julianne.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, you know, I love T.O. I love his energy and his spirit. And we follow him so closely cause he's Stagger Lee. I mean, he basically told the Eagles where to go and took a big hit without a whole lot of public, you know, he didn't shuffle about it. And so people are interested in him all, you know, across the board. I'm not even a sports fan and I watch the man play, that's how much I like him.

But I don't think this man tried to commit suicide. I do think his publicist should have called 911 if there was some interaction between these supplements he takes and the pain pills. He just had a plate put in his hand. And so, obviously, he was in some pain and took the pills. But I think this is much ado, and I'm wondering what the Dallas police force are doing releasing confidential information. It seems to me that it's in some people's interest to try to undermine this man.

CHIDEYA: Well, Pedro, you know, depression in the black community and in communities of color is an issue that often goes covered up. And celebrities and athletes are no more or no less likely, I would assume, to have these issues. So at least do you think it's feasible that it could be an issue? What do you think of it?

Prof. NOGUERA: I'm inclined to believe T.O. If he says it's not an issue, then I say it's not an issue and we should move on. I do think that athletes who are under the kind of scrutinies he receives will experience a great deal of stress. And it wouldn't surprise me that that would start to take an affect on him.

But I think this kind of sensationalized coverage is just, you know, media does it whenever there's a low, there's not much to do. And I really think it's not the kind of story that we should give a lot of attention to because it's just not worth it.

CHIDEYA: Walter, do you think that by tomorrow this'll be old news or people going to keep talking?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I don't think it's going to be old news, and I certainly can't make a diagnosis. But I think that, you know, there could be something here. And I'm more concerned about the issue of pain medication. What a lot of people don't realize about professional athletes - particularly those who are sort of the franchise players on these teams - they're under a lot of pressure to perform and to even work through pain.

And I think there is more issues of addictions to pain medication in professional leagues than even the steroid problem. Because when you meet these athletes after their careers - it's like the walking wounded. These people do not come out of their career whole. Most of them have lifetime permanent physical impairment and they have to deal with a lot of pain.

T.O.'s a big guy, so to subside some of this pain you really have to take a lot of medication. I'm more concerned about whether or not there is some tendency to overmedicate in terms of dealing with pain than necessarily the suicide issue.

But I don't know if this is going away. I think there's going to be a lot of efforts to sort of, you know, spin this story. But I think that there is something going on in terms of medication.

CHIDEYA: Let's move on to one more topic. In Houston, the debate over immigration has been reignited. Last week, an undocumented immigrant allegedly shot and killed a Houston police officer after a routine traffic stop. Now the police chief blames the federal government for failing to secure U.S. borders.

Pedro, what do you make of that whole blame game that's going on there?

Prof. NOGUERA: Well, I don't know if it does anything to address the crime problem. What we have now in this country is a situation where individuals who've been deported because of committing crimes in this country are sent back to their country, and then they come back again illegally. So they're illegal twice in this country. Those kinds of people are quite desperate because they are living, you know, outside the law and they are likely to commit very dangerous crimes.

There are many such individuals in the country. And it's not simply a matter of the border. We have to look more closely at the overall policy of deporting individuals who in effect were raised here, were socialized in this country and became criminals here. And whether the ethics of sending them back to these countries where they usually have no ties, no support - this individual is one of those.

And I think that it speaks to a larger problem with the way we've treated deportees and deportation over the last several years.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, there are instances where police officers get killed in most major municipalities. Why is the fact that this person was an undocumented immigrant becoming the crux of the issue?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, there a number of things. The officer who was killed, Rodney Johnson, was a hugely popular individual. I have some friends in Houston. I called them - you know, I knew we were going to talk about this - and they, you know, they knew who he was. I mean he was a, you know, powerful African-American man, five kids, great family - the whole bit.

His widow has asked that the community not seek special reprisals against the undocumented man who committed the crime or who allegedly committed crime. She says it pulls the city apart. So she does not want this to turn into an issue about, you know, immigration. She wants to deal with simply the crime and the individual.

But the fact is that you killed - they have also not had police killing in Houston, I think, in two or three years. So it happens more frequently in some cities. That's another piece of it. But I think there is another anger.

Houston is seen as sort of a haven for undocumented people, and the police are very frustrated by it. So I think there is an underlying anger about this. Pedro was right. There are two things. We have to deal with the deportation issue. And this Congress has shilly-shallied again and not come up with any kind of solution or proposal about this immigration problem.

CHIDEYA: Walter, Houston is one of these cities that is so completely ethnically diverse. It has a black power base, it has a Latino power base, a white power base - a whole mix of people that contribute to the city. Could this really cause some friction between those different factions?

Mr. FIELDS: I mean, I think in the short term it could cause some friction. But I think overall this is really a federal government issue. You know, this person was deported after a crime, came back into the country illegally and now is responsible for the murder of a police officer. So I think at its heart we have to find out what happened here. But I think it's a process issue.

Our immigration policy is just awful. And I think it's the responsibility of our government to find some way to make sure that individuals cannot enter the country illegally, and that those who may be involved in criminal activity are processed and removed. Because if this person had not come back in, the officer would still be alive.

Certainly, the officer's life is always in jeopardy because it's a dangerous job. But given the circumstances of this case, I don't think we can ignore the fact that at its heart, we have to look at this issue of immigration. And it's one of those side issues that's going to cloud the debate, but you got to confront it.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, very briefly, do you think this will actually put pressure on the federal government?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Absolutely. I think it will. I think this is a case where the flaws in the policy are glaringly obvious. And so I think the federal government will have to look - congressional representatives from Houston are already talking about this, both because Officer Johnson was popular and because the policy was flawed.

CHIDEYA: All right. That's economist Julianne Malveaux, president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Incorporated - Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhart School of Education at New York University - and Walter Fields, CEO and Publisher of the Northstarnetwork.com. Thank you all.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you.

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