Roundtable: Combating Gun Violence; Challenging Racial Casting
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's Roundtable, a rise in casualties in Iraq, and the GOP has lots of obstacles to leap before the November election.
Joining us today from our New York bureau is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, along with Bob Meadows of People magazine. And from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., we've got Yvonne Bynoe. She's author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-Hop Culture.
So thanks, everybody. And I have to start with these numbers on Iraq. I mean there's been so much going on geopolitically. We could talk about Korea, but let me start here.
That the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq is at its highest monthly level in nearly two years: 776 per month. And right now we've got GIs fighting on this block-to-block level in Baghdad, and some military experts are saying that it's really important to look at the number of people wounded versus killed because body armor and new technologies are really keeping people from dying, not necessarily from recovering.
So I think at this point, as we look at these casualty numbers, what is it doing to our perception of the war, Michael?
Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Until the so-called soccer moms, security moms, scared moms get scared for their young children in Iraq whose lives are being killed or wasted, spent, whose bodies are being wounded and who will have to be taken care of when they get back to the United States - if they get back to the United States - until they elect the right kind of leadership, until there's opposition from the right kind of politicians to this war in Iraq, you're going to have casualties. War is, as some general or president said - yeah, general - hell. That means death, it means wounding. It means that the United States is going to be a police force in Iraq now as opposed to winning a war, because even President Bush accepts that he cannot win this “war.”
CHIDEYA: Yvonne, you know, Michael just mentioned the soccer moms, but in some ways, at least as it's spun in the kind of political world, soccer moms are a bit more socio-economically secure that perhaps some of the mothers who have sons in Iraq or daughters in Iraq, because it is very much a mixed force.
We're talking I think still primarily in the military about working-class families who may or may not have the same sway when it comes to getting the ears of politicians. Does class play any role in how these discussions go on?
Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-hop Culture): I think they certainly do. For the most part - there have been some studies done. And you're exactly right, Farai, that a lot of the military is working class, whether you're black, white or brown. The military is still an avenue of access of economic advancement, if you will, for young people who may not be able to go to college for financial or academic reasons.
So certainly whether or not they are patriotic and believe in the cause is less interesting and less relevant than whether or not they have any political power in terms of where this war is going or any future war. In the past, the sons of the elite were fighters, so there were different calculations made as to whether or not we were going to put our sons in harm's way. Now the elite run from battle, and they leave these - the people on the ground are the poor and working-class folk.
So I think that there is something to be said as to who bears the brunt of these conflicts. But I think there's something else that we need to go back to. The perception of the war, frankly, hasn't changed for the people who didn't believe this was a good case to begin with. We still have not heard what the benchmarks are for pulling out. What we are hearing are these high death rates. What we are seeing are people coming back, as Michael said, who are wounded and mangled and will probably be so for life. But I don't hear the Democrats, either, getting a backbone and actually saying: Beyond pulling out, what are the benchmarks? What is success? What are we willing to do here?
I hear the stay-the-course on the GOP side, and I hear very little on the Democratic side. The Democrats need to get a plan and be realistic. We can't pull out tomorrow, but we need to start ratcheting back and being clear what that is going to look like because the Iraqi police is not standing up, as we keep hearing. They're running. They're still polarized. So this is - Bush didn't want to be in the nation-building business, but that's exactly what he is in now. And this could take decades, I mean 50, 60 years for this to look like some sort of democracy that we're familiar with, and I just don't think we have the will to be involved in that.
CHIDEYA: And, Bob, you know, that really leads into, you know, some of our upcoming conversation of the GOP. But there was this big debate this weekend between Allen and Webb in Virginia, one of the most hotly contested races with, you know, intimations of racial bias and all sorts of talk of all these other issues. But really when it comes down to it, it was a similar situation to what Yvonne was saying, from what I learned of the debate, where Allen, who is the Republican, said, you know, stay the course, and Webb, who's the Democrat, said well we're not - you know, we need to do something, but it wasn't exactly clear what he wanted to do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: So, Bob, how does this play - you know, how does the Iraq war play in to the these upcoming elections, do you think? I mean is anyone scoring any points here?
Mr. BOB MEADOWS (Writer, People Magazine): Well, that's the very sticky, sticky situation that we're in. Everybody is of the mindset exactly what those two candidates say. Well yeah, we can't just jump out, but oh I really don't know how to get us out. That just shows the complexity of what you have going on here.
Iraq right now is a situation where it is on the verge of a civil war. If we just pull out, it's going to be complete and total chaos. I think for the American people it really boils down to - and I have to say, you know, 68 percent of the people have said that all the Republican shenanigans that are going on will not necessarily affect how they vote, and as Yvonne said, people who felt one way before the war still feel that way.
A lot of the people who felt we should be going into Iraq, they also kind of still feel that way. So nobody really has - despite everything that's happened, nobody has found a solution, nobody has found a way out. How is it going to affect the voters? I think Iraq is going to be a very big topic come November 7, but along with many other things like North Korea, the economy and Mark Foley, for instance.
CHIDEYA: Oh yeah, Foley. Foley remains a large story with, you know, I think something like four dozen subpoenas going out for this probe of it. And, Michael, let me get you to react. Because you've got Foley, you've got, you know, these figures coming out of Iraq. You also have this other race in Pennsylvania with a representative who had an affair and was alleged to have strangled his mistress and, you know, that's a big fight. This is the Republican candidate.
Mr. MEYERS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: Then of course you have Allen and Webb with all of the racial drama around that. Are the Republicans really vulnerable in terms of losing the House or Senate?
Mr. MEYERS: I must say I'm astonished, because I thought the October surprise was going to be the discovery and the capture of Osama bin Laden.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MEYERS: And now it's the discovery and the capture, and the outing so to speak, of Representative Foley. And it will continue to be the capture of the other hooligans who knew or should have known what was going on in Washington, D.C.
I just don't believe that there's only one congressman who is in Washington, D.C., who's going down, so to speak.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MEYERS: So, you know, for me it's a failure of both leadership and memory. Hastert doesn't remember anything. He has a short-term memory loss; it's always the first to go. But once the memory is gone, I think some of these other people have to go. Hastert has to go.
And the Congress is in real trouble now, those incumbents and people who get into these sticky messes. The people, the electorate, have got to stand up and say we are tired of this immorality. The Republicans stand for “morality.” Now I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. If you're doing this kind of sticky mess, they've got to go down.
CHIDEYA: Well, Yvonne, you know, you have a situation where the president called Hastert to commend him for his leadership on this issue. Do you think that's something that the president might regret if it's proven that the speaker of the House actually knew about this years beforehand?
Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, I think Bush regrets this whole situation. I think, however, he was between a rock and a hard place. If he pulled his support from Hastert, it really is going to set the whole thing on its head. And as we all know, Michael is exactly right. There are a lot of people who had to know about this guy. There are people in Florida who knew at least that he was gay. That was an open secret. Him being gay is not the problem. The problem is if he was having these inappropriate conversations with these young pages, he couldn't have been the only person who knew. And, you know, in Washington it's that, you know, I don't recall, I don't remember. You know, that's become a cliché.
So I think that overall, when we look at this situation, Bush has no choice. His mentality seems to be, you know, as we've heard over and over and over, staying the course. At this point, their best bet is to hope that Hastert can weather this storm and that they can get through the next set of elections.
But after the midterms are over, who knows what'll happen. He might get kicked to the curb after that point because he will no longer of service to Bush. So we just have to wait and see.
But real quick, back on Iraq. I'm always curious because people keep saying, well if we pull out it's going to be a catastrophe. It's already a catastrophe. And looking at Israel and the Palestinian conflict, that's been over 50 years and that's still a catastrophe. So I really don't think that that's a, you know, a real cause to say we can't pull out. We need to find a formula and a plan to pull out, but we need to get out.
CHIDEYA: Well, I want to turn to violence of a different stripe - school shootings. There's been this spate of shootings at schools. There was another case just recently where a kid fired a gun in a school and intended apparently to shoot some of the fellow classmates and teachers, but the gun jammed.
Now this is a very weird proposal. I just want to hear what you guys have to say about this. A Wisconsin…
Mr. MEYERS: Hmm, it's weird.
CHIDEYA: …lawmaker says that teachers should arm themselves, that all teachers should carry guns; and that if you look at Thailand and if you look at some other countries, teachers are armed. Of course, it's been pointed out that in many of these cases there are guerrilla warfare going on in certain regions that make it a little bit more imperative perhaps to carry guns.
But, you know, on the one hand you have the mayor of Boston and the mayor of New York joining together with a coalition of dozens of other mayors to try to really prevent guns from getting into the schools. But then you have someone else saying, you know what, just give the teachers guns.
Michael, you've got to have something to say on that.
Mr. MEYERS: I certainly do. Look, in New York City we have police in schools. They carry guns. The teachers don't carry guns. I'm, you know, it's very difficult. You know, you've got to remember you have a gun culture in the United States. In New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, all those whiter states, people can get guns legally, lawfully. In New York City it's very hard to get a license for a gun.
Now I could get a license for a gun because I'm a controversial figure and I'm always threatened. But I don't want to get a gun because I'd use it. And so I think you have to be…
Mr. MEYERS: …you have to be very, very careful about public policy. And I don't' think arming people, arming teachers, is the answer to anything. You have to have less guns, fewer guns, particularly in schools. But again you have policemen in schools. We lost that fight. But the police are armed and dangerous.
CHIDEYA: Bob, I mean is this just sort of a stunt, or do, you know, are we supposed to take this seriously? It sounds like the lawmaker is serious.
Mr. MEADOWS: Well, it's coming out - of course this representative is in Wisconsin. They just had this principal who was killed by the student. So he's responding to that, and he's probably very emotional at this point. But yeah, it's not a stunt; it's just crazy and ridiculous because, no, you can't have the teachers packing.
And as you implied, Farai, the examples he pointed out are situations where teachers are being included as part of the government in Iraq, so therefore they're being targeted; or there's a guerrilla war and teachers are being targeted. Teachers in Wisconsin, teachers all over the world - teachers in our country rather, they're not being targeted like this.
These incidents of school shootings are very - or relatively isolated incidents. But yeah, the key is to not give more guns. It's to take the guns out. If this kid had - you know, if these children had been armed with, say, knives or something like that, they wouldn't have been able to cause all this mayhem because people would have been able to jump on them instead of just fleeing away, running away.
So no, that's not the solution. And I actually - the mayors going up against these illegal guns, I applaud it. One of the opponents in this story, for some reason, says it's political grandstanding. Well everything in politics is grandstanding and it's all political. But no, actually I applaud this effort and I hope that it's successful - far more than Representative Lasee.
Mr. MEYERS: It won't control illegal guns.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. Well, Yvonne, you know, at this point when you look at an issue like school shootings, which seem to go in waves, you know, and in fact psychologists analyze it as kids who were already disgruntled sort of feeling empowered when they hear about another school shooting to go out and do a shooting themselves. So they do go in waves.
But what really is the solution? I mean it's a very difficult problem to legislate away, because it's a very difficult problem to even identify, you know, why certain children are going out and shooting their classmates. Why there are adults entering spaces like the Amish school. I mean it's a very disparate problem. So how can - what kind of solution would you want?
Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think first of all we have to get over the notion that crime only happens in urban school communities. If we look at the vast majority of these school shootings, they have not been in any urban community. They've been in schools that have a majority white population. A lot of them have been rural or way out in the sticks.
Mr. MEYERS: Yes.
Ms. BYNOE: So I think that we really have to come to grips that there are a lot of kids of all colors that really need help. And I think, frankly, I'm for school security. I know it's not the best situation, but I think that we need to start looking more across the board of having more deterrent measures, be that metal detectors or whatever. And I am for having some type of security force, and I mean real security, in these schools.
But as long as we keep saying, oh, it's in southeast D.C., oh it's in the Bronx, oh it's here, there's no real measure to address these issues in a comprehensive way. I also think we need to talk about counseling. Again, as long as it's just violent black youth, we don't have to really have real conversations about how to identify students who are at risk mentally before they get set off and bring to school a gun.
I also think the parents have to be held more accountable. In a lot of these school shootings these were parents who had guns in the home and that children had access to, or the kids got guns and the parents were clueless that they had any. So, you know, I think that if your child is a minor, they're living in a house with you, you bear some responsibility, particularly if they go out and shoot somebody with your gun or a gun that was housed under your roof.
So I think that we have to look at these things in a broader fashion. But we have to start acknowledging that white kids do shoot, white kids do get guns and white kids are killing people. And I think once we can get that on the table we can have a more effective conversation about how to curb this youth violence.
CHIDEYA: Well, that's going to have to be the end of our conversation for today. We've been talking with Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership in Hip-Hop Culture; along with Bob Meadows of People Magazine and Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Thank you all so much.
Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.
Mr. MEYERS: Thank you, Farai.
Mr. MEADOW: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: And as always, if you'd like to comment on any of the topics you've heard on the Roundtable, you can call us at 202-408-3330. That's 202-408-3330. Or you can send an e-mail. Just log onto npr.org and click on Contact Us. Please be sure to tell us where you're writing from and how to pronounce your name.
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