Roundtable: NYC Shooting, Remembering Gerald Boyd

Monday's topics: 50 shots at a groom-to-be raise questions about the New York Police Department, and remembering pioneering African-American journalist Gerald Boyd. Guests: Callie Crossley; a social/cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston; Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education at New York University; and Robert George, editorial writer for The New York Post.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES, and I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's Roundtable, 50 shots at a groom-to-be raise questions about the NYPD, and pioneering African-American journalist Gerald Boyd is dead.

Joining us today from our New York bureau, we've got Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post. At member station WGBH in Boston, Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the city's television show “Beat the Press.” Plus, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education and co-director of immigration studies at NYU. He joins us from member station WLIU in Southampton.

Thanks for being with us and let's go straight to the NYPD situation. So, early on Saturday morning, a groom-to-be, Sean Bell, was shot outside a club in Jamaica, Queens, two other men were wounded. Five officers let fly 50 bullets at three unarmed men. They were placed on leave, stripped of their guns. It's reminiscent to some people in New York of the Amadou Diallo situation.

And at a rally recently by Reverend Al Sharpton he really talked about the communication, or lack thereof, between police and citizens. Let's take a listen.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Activist): We are not anti-police. Many of us have police in our family. We are anti-police brutality. There is a difference between good cops and bad cops.

CHIDEYA: And here's New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly describing the incident.

Mr. RAYMOND KELLY (Police Commissioner, New York City): The officer was struck and the minivan was hit at just about the same time, and then the officer opened fire.

CHIDEYA: Robert, you're there in New York. What's the mood?

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): The mood is, as much as you would expect, a mixture of anger, sadness, frustration - those are some of the main emotions that come to light. As you've said, this is somewhat reminiscent of the awful Amadou Diallo shooting seven years ago now.

What I would say is somewhat different in this context. The relations between the police and the minority communities in New York are much, much better. In fact, if there's been one hallmark of, excuse me, of Mayor Bloomberg's administration, it has been the relationship of the mayor and the police commissioner have had with the black community.

In fact, there have been other shootings in the several years that Bloomberg has been mayor of unarmed black men, but they didn't become as much of an -they didn't cause the uproar as, say, the Diallo shooting did because of the enhanced relationship.

However, obviously, when you've got 50 shots going out from the police and you've got three unarmed men, obviously this is going to be a major story for several days to come.

CHIDEYA: Marcelo, you are also in New York. Is this going to erode any goodwill that the mayor of New York has built up, any level of trust that the mayor of New York has built up with communities of color?

Professor MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Globalization and Education, New York University): Well, a lot of it will depend on what happens moving forward in terms of handling the internal investigation of this specific shooting and then, really, the mayor's ability to reach out, to really establish trust and transparency in managing a situation that is immensely disturbing. Fifty shots, three unarmed men, lots of lots of questions. The answers are going to be very important in terms of maintaining that trust.

CHIDEYA: Callie, there's now a phrase going around - contagious fire. I guess meaning that if one person starts firing off a volley of shots then the other people, other officers, will say oh, there's got to be something worth shooting at and join in. Is that enough of an explanation for what happened here?

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Commentator, “Beat the Press”): Oh, absolutely not. I guess I was thinking contagious racism or contagious stereotyping, which may then lead to contagious fire. And by that I mean we're, you know, talking about you just came out of the segment talking about the hate crimes that are more in evidence now where people can have access to them and the Michael Richards kind of rant.

I mean people don't see this as connected but it's absolutely connected. So here you have a car full of, you know, off-duty officers, unmarked, as I understand, did not identify themselves. They see a carload of black men and they assume, because they hit the van, that, you know, they are trying to do something untoward.

And in fact if I had been in the van with the young men who were fired upon, I would have assumed that the cops were about to - if I didn't know there were cops in there - I would have assumed it was a carjacking, which is I'm understanding one the wounded guy said that's what he thought.

And so the - what my point is is that, you know, they look in the car and they see this group of black men. It's late at night and, you know, assumptions and stereotyping just ran rampant. And so then I think that's what catches fire in the car. That, you know, one and the other and they all make the same assumption and then the next thing you know then everybody is shooting. So contagious fire may in fact be something that we'll see more of, but I think it begins with assumptions and stereotyping.

Mr. GEORGE: Oh, I - let me just jump in here because I think there are a couple of facts that I guess that have to be explained here. This happened, by the way, in the context of several nightclub incidents. Well, actually, they've been going on in Manhattan with a couple of women had gotten killed, one allegedly by a bouncer and so forth.

So the police had started this new thing, operation club crackdown or something like that. And so what had actually happened was there was an undercover cop who had been in the club and had observed - this is from the cop's perspective - had observed an altercation between one of the guys and somebody else in the club, and then the undercover cop follows them outside.

According to the police, he claimed that he identified himself as a police officer and told him to get out of the car. It's unclear as to whether they heard him or they understood him, and then, as Callie said, they may have thought that it was a carjacking and tried - and panicked and tried to get away and that's where it started.

But it wasn't just a matter of them stumbling upon the guys in the car. The other thing is to - from what I understand, this group of police officers - it wasn't racial. It was a couple of white - two white officers, two Latino officers, and I believe the undercover police officer was black, so that also makes it a little bit different from the Amadou Diallo shooting, where it was all - who were four white officers.

CHIDEYA: Well, we're…

Ms. CROSSLEY: I still think assumptions are at play, I have to say. You know, I have to say that I still think assumptions are at play. If you think something is going on and there was an altercation, I mean goodness gracious can't you shoot over the top of the car, shoot the tires out? Must we all, you know, go right to just killing people with 50 shots? Come on. I thought they were trained, you know. I'm not - maybe that's what I would do. I'm not trained, but they are trained.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, it's very, very clear in the context of the way the police are trained that it was an inappropriate shooting in that context, given that one of the bullets apparently hit like the AirTrain, the door to the AirTrain rail right above it. So I mean it was obviously, clearly a lack of training going on there. But I just wanted to get - say what the facts were on the ground just so the listeners will know.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, I think that we're going to have to leave this topic here because we are going to revisit it. It's definitely another landmark in an ongoing struggle between ideas of policing and what happens.

But I want to transition us to the life of Gerald Boyd. He was a pioneering African-American journalist who died of cancer last week at the age of 56. According to his wife, Robin Stone, also a journalist, he kept that secret -his illness secret from many of his friends and colleagues.

Now he was The New York Times managing editor, first African-American to assume that post, one of the top jobs at one of the top newspapers. Now, he won a Pulitzer for a series with The Times on race in 2000. And NPR's Juan Williams talked to him.

Here is a clip of that interview.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

Mr. GERALD BOYD (Former Managing Director, The New York Times): Primarily in a workplace but other places, blacks and whites and people of other races were now in relationships with each other. And what was not being talked about, what was not being examined journalistically, was what did that mean. To what degree were people understanding each other, appreciating each other? What went into the dialogue? And so we thought it would be useful, even important, to try to get at that.

CHIDEYA: Now unfortunately Gerald Boyd left. He resigned, but some people think he was pushed out of The New York Times in 2003 after the Jayson Blair scandal. And he just basically said quote, “I would be lying if I didn't say that I can't help wonder why after all these years of struggling to establish our work and credibility in the newsroom to be seen as a top notched journalist, as soon as controversy arises, an African-American reporter and an African-American senior editor are automatically viewed as suspects.

Now, Jayson Blair, obviously panned out to be someone who didn't have journalistic principles. But Gerald Boyd, arguably, was just caught up in this vortex of the Blair scandal. I want to do a couple of things here. One is, you know, start out by talking about the series on race. Marcelo, did you have a chance to read that, and what do you think the impact of that was?

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, I think the impact was quite substantial. It was very elegantly researched. It was a beautifully crafted series that engaged one of the enduring themes in our nation responsibly, eloquently, really in an experience near way that revealed, really, Mr. Boyd's sensibilities, his own insight, his own rigor, his own sense of discipline.

So very, very sad that the Blair case, which in a way was really radioactive, tarnished a career of many, many firsts. He was the youngest, by the way, journalist ever to win the very prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, so a great loss for all of us.

CHIDEYA: Callie, I mean bouncing off of what Marcelo said, here's the man who really did stake out a lot of territory of both being the first African-American in position X, Y, and Z throughout his career, winning this Pulitzer but then, Jayson Blair snuck up on him.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, there are still many of us who believe that he should not have gone, maybe Howell Raines had to take the heat but, you know, it's questionable about whether or not he should have gone as well.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

Ms. CROSSLEY: And the thing that really I think is still being discussed because it was said undercover, and then some people just said it out loud, is that they believed that he too, in addition to Howell Raines - who did admit that he gave special favors to Jayson Blair - somehow had connected more with him because he was black and overlooked things and blah, blah, blah.

And it turned out - of course, we understood that wasn't the case. And as Boyd made his case I mean there was a lot of stuff that was going on he had nothing to do with. So to have him be tarnished with the worst example of - it's not even bad journalism - I don't even know how to describe it.

CHIDEYA: (Unintelligible) lies, fraud, deceit…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Lies and fraud and all of that - and he stood for excellence. I mean he - there was no question about the level of excellence that he brought to his own work and to that which he tried to extract from others whom he mentored and shaped and guided.

I recall his speaking at the NABJ convention before this and getting the journalist of the year award. And he just started to talk about, you know, what his career paths have been. Of course, many of us knew that. And, you know, this was a tough guy who, you know, had exacting principles, and he just broke down because he, you know, he said, you know, as hard - as fast and as far as you may get or even as slow as you may get in this business, to be recognized by those in this room who know how hard that journey is.

So to see him be turned out in that way because of something that was not of his creation and so opposite of what he stood for was quite painful indeed, not just for him but for those of us who admired and respected him.

CHIDEYA: And, Robert, it seems to me, you know, from what I understand of the situation, he was no fan of Jayson Blair's, but he was tainted by association, first of all, being African-American, secondly being in a leadership position. So is there still this double standard or whatever you want to call it where if one black person does something wrong, you know, if you've got the O.J. Simpson trial or you've got, you know, Mike Tyson biting of someone's ear, all of a sudden, by association, every black person in hailing distance has to somehow be accountable?

Mr. GEORGE: I don't - I would like to think that that's not the case. I mean I think unfortunately you do get these particular perceptions that the broader media likes to create. I do think the Boyd thing - it was tragic. I think it was because it was less I think to do because the fact that he was black but the fact that he was - he had the title managing editor.

And even though Howell Raines may have created this particular atmosphere within the time to sort of - to try and, you know, push ambitious people like Jayson Blair along and Boyd just sort of went along with it. He just sort of, in a sense, because he was in a leadership structure, he ended up having to go as well, and I think - I mean it is tragic.

My sense is that if there have been - if John Smith had been the managing editor and he had been white and also seemingly approved of Blair's rise as well, I think a similar thing was going to happen. But I also think it's also really tragic that this also coming so closely after the death of Ed Bradley as well, and you have like two…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Exactly.

Mr. GEORGE: …relatively speaking, young men. You know, I mean they're in their sixties or so. But, you know, both died of kind of cancer related illnesses. And both real pioneers in the journalistic field, and I mean it's really, really sad.

CHIDEYA: Marcelo and then Callie. At this point I wonder about the overall state of journalism. You still have, you know, these men were too young to die. They - I mean, you know, obviously you can go at any age, but there still is a situation where there are not a lot of people to replace them. There are not a lot of people in leadership positions. Very briefly, Marcelo, then Callie. What would make this situation where these men's legacy lived on in the form of other people being able to step up?

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, again the example opening the past, creating really the excellence and the very, very high standards that we need moving forward I think is probably their greatest legacy.

CHIDEYA: Callie, are there enough people in the pipeline who've also fought their way through to move up to levels like this?

Ms. CROSSLEY: No, and it's kind of scary, I have to say, because as I speak on university campuses, so many people have moved away from journalism. And even some of those who are attracted to it really are still not understanding what it takes to be a good journalist and all of the ethical concerns that should be a part of who you are as a professional.

So to see the kind - the layer of people like the Ed Bradleys and the Gerald Boyds go away, who fought so hard to get to those positions, who demonstrated their work through sheer excellence, who became some of the first as part of the clubs that some of the rest of us would be, Gerald Boyd was a Nieman fellow and so was I.

So, you know, to see all those paths broken and not to have somebody right behind to sort of continue down the path is very sad to me. There are some, but there's certainly not a lot.

CHIDEYA: All right, we're going to leave it there.

Mr. GEORGE: Not as many as there should be.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, absolutely.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Not enough.

CHIDEYA: Not enough. So we've got Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator; Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post; Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education at New York University. And all of us saying not enough. Thank you all.

Mr. GEORGE: Thank you.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, he launched the multi-platinum career of his daughter, Beyonce, but did she record her album without his blessing? Next up, we've got Mathew Knowles on running his record label and, of course, on his famous girl.

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