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Roundtable: Sean Bell Protests & Presidential Politics

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Roundtable: Sean Bell Protests & Presidential Politics

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Roundtable: Sean Bell Protests & Presidential Politics

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

We're going to debate the possible impact of Reverend Al Sharpton's New York pray-in, weigh in on the Indiana and North Carolina primary results, and remember the pioneer of inter-racial marriage laws, Mildred Loving. That's all on today's Bloggers' Roundtable. With us, Carmen Van Kerckhove. She blogs at "Racialicious." She also is the co-founder and president of New Demographic, an anti-racism training company. Baratunde Thurston is a blogger for several sites, including The Huffington Post. He also writes for "Jack and Jill Politics" under the pseudonym Jack Turner. Plus, education analyst Casey Lartigue, his blog is "The Casey Lartigue Show." Welcome, folks.

Ms. CARMEN VAN KERCKHOVE (President and Co-founder, New Demographic; Blogger, "Racialicious"): Thanks for having us.

Mr. BARATUNDE THURSTON: (Blogger, The Huffington Post): Thank you for inviting us.

Mr. CASEY LARTIGUE (Blogger, "The Casey Lartigue Show"): Thanks for having us.

CHIDEYA: So we just heard from Reverend Herb Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn. His storefront church is one of the places people are meeting today on their way to pray-ins. They're protesting the verdict in the trial of three NYPD detectives who shot and killed Sean Bell. Two of the officers who fired at Bell were black themselves. Now, Al Sharpton is spearheading the protest. He says the goal of the pray-ins is to actually shut down New York City. Baratunde and Carmen, you are in New York. Baratunde first, what are people saying about the protest?

Mr. THURSTON: Well, I'm getting some excitement from some people that something's actually happening. You know, Black Agenda Report had a great phrase to describe the decision. They said that the decision may have been legal, but it wasn't just. And there's a strong sense in the community that this was an act of injustice, that justice was not served.

So on the one hand, you have people who are glad that something's going down. There's always conflicted feelings raised when it's Al Sharpton who is sort of leading something. And he's a double-edged sword. He can bring a spotlight like no other, but he also brings a spotlight like no other.

CHIDEYA: Carmen, what about that double-edged sword of Al Sharpton's involvement?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Yeah. I think Sharpton is definitely a controversial figure. I think it's great, on the one hand, that, you know, African-Americans have someone like him to really, you know, draw attention to issues. But on the other hand, there are a lot of white folks who really regard him as some kind of a huckster and a race baiter. And so it definitely is a double-edged sword, just as Baratunde said.

CHIDEYA: Now, after the verdict, many people expected large and immediate protests, but the city was relatively quiet. Now, when you think about this, Casey, why do you think there was a delayed reaction? And also let me ask you, are black folks in D.C. even paying attention to this case?

Mr. LARTIGUE: First of all, I haven't heard about people boarding buses to get to New York to protest this, and there's been very little talk as far as I've heard on black talk radio locally. I mean, obviously some, but not within the last couple of days. But I think the problem that - the reason there hasn't been a lot of action is what the two other guests have mentioned. And that is Al Sharpton.

I mean, with so much nonsense mixed in, it's hard to tell what is injustice and what is street (unintelligible). Because you know, he'll take delusional women and criminals at their word. So it's hard for us to take him at his word when he says, here's something that you need to get involved in. So - and you now, it's not just about Sharpton because I've got my suspicions about people like Alan Dershowitz. Because you know, if you're his client, I'm suspicious. And I think that's the kind of thing that's happening with Sharpton. People are just always suspicious.

Mr. THURSTON: I also think, if I could jump in really quickly, that there's some sign of fatigue. We've had so many cases like this. It's obvious that we have a dual justice system.

Mr. LARTIGUE: You know, think about Tawana Brawley, Duke rape case, Crown Heights, Bensonhurst, I mean, Freddie's Fashion Mart, Diallo, Jenna Six. Some good, some bad, but he's always there. He has all the credibility of a public defender, as you just had your little promo earlier, about public defenders.

CHIDEYA: Now, we've got some bloggers that we've been checking out. And one of them wrote, there's a lot less anger over this verdict than Al Sharpton thinks. Most black folks realize that Bell was shot by black people. Relax, Al. Nobody is getting too upset over your silly protest. Impacting the commerce in New York only hurts your community.

Carmen, do you think - I mean, this is something that has come up again and again, especially with the Jenna Six case, which did rally huge amounts of people to one fixed location. Do you think protests are - I mean, how important are they to modern civil rights and legal rights?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: I think protests are still a very effective tool because anytime you can get a large number of people together in a one place, that creates a good visual spectacle for a very image-driven media. However, I do want to address the point about the fact that, you know, some of the cops involved were people of color themselves. And I think a lot of people, you know, really harp on this fact.

But here's the thing. I mean, the media is constantly bombarding us with images that really criminalize young black men. And so it's not as if, if you are a person of color yourself, you're automatically shielded from internalizing some of this stuff. So it's absolutely possible for black cops, Latino cops, to have the same sort of, you know, gut reactions about criminalizing young black men in their minds and thus reacting violently. And so I really think that that's an important point that we should really discuss.

Mr. THURSTON: And that it - More important than their race, you know, whether they're black or white, is they're blue. And they hide behind the shield of the power of the state, and it's the state here, not the color of the officers, that has this pattern of criminalizing and killing black people way beyond the numbers that would be just.

Mr. LARTIGUE: Yeah. You know, but this is the old problem that very often, there are incidents that, if the Ku Klux Klan or some white people were involved, that black people would be out rallying, ready to just burn stuff down. But they're a little more confused when it is a case like this, that there are black people involved.

And then this becomes a question of, OK, so you've got a guy who's, you know, a former drug dealer, who allegedly was trying to run over the cops. So then it's like, it's not such an easy case as it would be like, what, they're white cops. They obviously must have been after him because he's black.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to go into a speed round here on this one topic because we've talked quite a bit about it, and that is the elections. You know, Senator Obama completely sweeping North Carolina, and Senator Clinton getting three percent victory over in Indiana. So speed round, what do you think is going to happen, you know, over the course of the next few weeks? Baratunde.

Mr. THURSTON: I am just happy to welcome the mainstream media to the Democratic primary. They've finally caught on to the wrath of the math, which hasn't changed much since Obama's 12-state sweep post-Super Tuesday. And that, I think, is the biggest change. The facts on the ground haven't changed. The media narrative and perception is very important, and it has. And I'm glad to see that it's happening.

CHIDEYA: Carmen?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Yeah. I mean, I think Baratunde and a lot of other bloggers have really brought up this angle in the media, which has been very much harping on whether Obama can win the white vote and not really asking whether Hillary Clinton can win the black vote. And so I'm glad to finally see that question being raised more and more. And, you know, hopefully, let's wrap this thing up.

CHIDEYA: Casey?

Mr. LARTIGUE: Yeah. Ultimately, I mean, there's going to be a big fight. But in the end, 85 to 90 percent of black people are going to vote for Democrats and again have their votes taken for granted.

CHIDEYA: I want to move on, finally, to the passing of a woman named Mildred Loving. She passed away on Friday. Her last name always reminded people of her place in history. She and her husband, who was white, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The State of Virginia, even at that late date, forbade inter-racial marriage, and their case changed laws across the country. So Mildred Loving rarely gave interviews. But last year on the 40th anniversary of the case, she said, I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving and loving are all about. Carmen, how significant was this case and Mildred Loving?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: It was very significant. I mean, it was definitely groundbreaking. One thing that a lot of people don't realize is after the Loving versus Virginia Act was passed, a lot of states continued to keep the anti-miscegenation laws on their books, even though they weren't allowed to really enforce them. And what's interesting is that in 2000, the State of Alabama held a special election to decide whether or not to take those laws off the books, and over 40 percent of the residents voted to keep the laws. And so I think that really is an eye-opening fact in showing that there is still a lot of opposition to inter-racial relationships in this day and age.

CHIDEYA: Baratunde, Virginia used to be the heart of the Confederacy. And when you think about outlawing inter-racial marriage, there have been inter-racial relationships, some of them coerced, including rape during the days of slavery, some of them consensual. Is it ironic that there's so much mixed blood in virtually all African-Americans, but that the law said people could not marry?

Mr. THURSTON: I don't quite consider it ironic. I just - I think it's a vestige of the fears and the commitment to white supremacy that our laws have so often reflected, and it still shocks me that this was only 40 years ago. We have a very strong image of our country as super progressive and enlightened, but 40 years is not that long ago. And 2000, as Carmen just pointed out, is even closer. I also love that Loving said equal rights for all marriages, that in a day and age when same-sex couples are denied their rights, we have the same conversation going on. And I think it's actually time to keep extending equal marriage rights under the law to all of our citizens.

CHIDEYA: Casey, some countries, including South Africa, have laws on the books, you know, national laws saying that gays and lesbians can marry. Do you think that when Mildred Loving says something like what she says, do you think that there's room for a groundswell of support among African-Americans, among Americans as a whole, to really reconsider the issue of gay marriage, which has been so far very controversial, very much a wedge issue?

Mr. LARTIGUE: Yeah. It probably won't happen because I think, unfortunately, a lot of people still look at it as, you know, it was because of race that we were denied, but now it's because - you know, I mean, if you're gay, you can kind of hide it. You can still have your life.

But I think we need the focus on that this is about the relationship of consenting adults with their government. And that is that you're able, when you come up with you marital plans, that you don't have to tell the government - I mean, you have to give the government notification, but you don't have to seek permission. We need to focus more on the fact that as an individual, I can choose the person that I want to marry, again, as an adult.

CHIDEYA: Finally, it's all about attitude at this point. And there are a lot of people who still don't like interracial relationships. There's an upswing in black women marrying outside the race. Black men still have the lead. Baratunde, among your extended cohort, do you get the sense that people are accepting or suspicious of interracial relationships?

Mr. THURSTON: Yes, and both. I think you always find throughout history, probably, that younger people are much more open to things that buck some of the rules of older society. So among my peers, there's a pretty open attitude. Although there are still tensions, obviously, due to the historical context that we can't ever fully escape.

CHIDEYA: Carmen?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Yeah. I mean, I think that race gets very sexualized. And so there are always a lot of underlying suspicions about people's motivations for getting into interracial relationships. You know, is it just some kind of fetish, some kind of fascination? And so I think, you know, that overall, there's more acceptance. But that acceptance isn't really complete, and I think it comes with a lot of underlying assumptions and question marks.

CHIDEYA: All right. We're going to have to wrap it up. Thanks, guys.

Mr. LARTIGUE: Thank you.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We've been talking to Baratunde Thurston. He blogs at the Huffington Post and "Jack & Jill Politics." Plus, Carmen Van Kerckhove, who blogs at "Racialicious." Both were at our New York studios. And Casey Lartigue's blog is called "The Casey Lartigue Show." He was at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. You can find links to their blogs and ours at npr.newandnotes.org. And the conversation doesn't stop here. Our online series "Speak Your Mind" gives you a chance to sound off on the issues you care about. To find out how, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org, and click on "speak your mind."

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org. News and Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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