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Roundtable: Rice Peace Trip, D.C. Surveillance

News and Notes: October 5, 2006

Roundtable: Rice Peace Trip, D.C. Surveillance


This is NEWS & NOTES. I’m Farai Chideya.

On today’s Roundtable, Secretary Rice feels pressure to broker a peace deal in the Middle East, and a bar bans hip-hop gear in its dress code.

Joining us today from our New York bureau, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, along with Walter Fields, CEO of the And at the studios at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we’ve got Callie Crossley, social/cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston.

Welcome to all of you, and let me go to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She flew to Jerusalem yesterday. She’s under pressure from Arab allies to push the peace process in the Middle East. But so far there is no movement. There’s negotiations to unify the governments of Hamas and Fatah. That’s not working. And across the Middle East, you know, leaders told Rice, according to a Washington Post report, that “they do not want to be pitted against other Arab governments and movements.”

So, Callie, what does this mean? At one point, President Clinton felt as if he were close to brokering some kind of peace deal. It didn’t quite pan out as he’d hoped, but what about this administration?

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Commentator, Boston television show Beat the Press): I think we missed a window a few months ago and many other times past - excuse me - in recent months by aligning ourselves so closely with Israel. Not that we don’t support Israel, but not making ourselves a neutral arbiter. I think that we have to lead from strength, and you can’t lead from strength if your whole thing is about a very narrow focus about how the world should be in a very narrow vision of the world.

And I think some of this now is push-back from a lot of folks saying hey, you’ve not recognized us as having any kind of voice at the table, any presence at the table, and we don’t want to hear that from you now. Syria, if you recalled, when Lebanon was blowing up initially, stepped out and said: Well, listen; we need some peace here. Let’s everybody calm down. And then it backed away from that because it felt as though the United States was not there as a neutral arbiter.

So we’ve lost that, and that’s what Clinton - I think the Clinton administration brought a real understanding that we are a part of the world and that we are trying to make this very volatile part of the world come together in some peaceful fashion. And in that way, I think it managed to convey that we as a nation were willing to hear all viewpoints. And now I don’t know where we go from here, because I don’t think people believe us.

CHIDEYA: Michael, do you think that the U.S. needs to change tactics in the Middle East?

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition):

Mr. MEYERS: Who’s going to give them the new tactics? No. This is a situation where the extremists are outgunning and outdoing and out-extreming the extremists. You’ve got to remember, this is the Hamas government. You know, they were supposed to be the representatives of the “Palestinian people” and they were the extremists. Now they’re being taken out.

So extremists in the defense of what, extremism? I - you know, for Condi Rice - President Bush/Condi Rice time is running out. As I have said many times on this particular program, the world is falling apart. To me, it seems to me that Condi Rice, after a full two terms in high office, should have some accomplishments. One should leave the world better off as you leave office.

CHIDEYA: But what would you want her to do, or the administration?

Mr. MEYERS: Other than resign?


Mr. MEYERS: I think that this administration has lost its opportunity. But I would say this - this is the only thing that can be done with respect to the topic at hand - you’ve got to get the Palestinian Authority and all these so- called moderate Arab states to finally recognize the right of Israel to exist. They’ve got to sign on the dotted line. Once they do that, then you have an opportunity for talks, peace, negotiation. But the refuse to do it.

CHIDEYA: Walter, they do refuse to do it. I mean even now the Palestinian government refuses to sign any kind of document or make any kind of statement that Israel has a right to exist. Is that the sticking point here, or if not, what is?

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO, I don’t think that’s the sticking point. If I was in their positions, I wouldn’t sign it, either. You have to remember that the whole approach of this administration is misguided. The fact remains that the U.S. government provides about $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel. The attempt to split the Arab world on this question is misguided and it’s going to blow back in our face. The only way this situation’s going to be resolved is when we determine the legitimate boundaries of a Palestinian state. The Arab world is not going to come to the table and negotiate anything unless there is a definitive Palestinian state on the table.

This issue of violence is going to persist from both sides, because it’s not just Palestinian groups that have been violent. The Israeli army has been violent, including many people - many Israelis are taken aback by the violence of the Israeli army. So I think until the issue of a true Palestinian state is resolved, you will never have the Arab world negotiate with the United States, which is seen as being biased towards Israel.

CHIDEYA: But do you think that the U.S. really - I mean certainly the U.S. has been involved not only in giving aid to Israel and to a much, much lesser extent to some Palestinian governments, but is it really up to us, I guess? Is it really up to the U.S. government to make these decisions? Have we put ourselves in a role where now, because of the billions of dollars that we give to this region, we have to make decisions? Or is it something that’s beyond the U.S. control?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, if you’re putting $3 billion on the table for one country in a region, yes, you have some responsibility here to try to make sure.

Mr. MEYERS: One country being Israel?

Mr. FIELDS: That’s right. That’s right.

Mr. MEYERS: Our strongest ally in the Middle East, which is a democracy, a real democracy.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, first of all, the question…

Mr. MEYERS: I don’t understand…

Mr. FIELDS: …of whether or not we’ve destabilized an entire region because of the manner in which we engage Israel I think is a question that needs to be debated.

Mr. MEYERS: So you don’t believe that Israel has a right to exist.

Mr. FIELDS: No, I didn’t say that.

Mr. MEYERS: You said you would not urge them to sign on the dotted line.

Mr. FIELDS: I said I believe…

CHIDEYA: Guys, I want to hear all of you, but one at a time.

Mr. FIELDS: I believe that this issue will not be resolved until there is a definitive Palestinian state. You will not get the Arab world to talk in a meaningful way until that is addressed. I think the issue of Iraq has muddied the water and I think the United States’ attention to Iran right now is a distraction. And until this government understands that that issue has to be resolved, you’re not going to get Arab nations going against other Arab nations for the sake of the United States. It’s not going to happen.

CHIDEYA: Michael?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, we have had Arab nations “go out against Arab nations,” especially the extremist Arab nations. We’ve had Egypt play a forthright and strong role. My point is that I don’t understand why these so-called Arab states cannot recognize the right of Israel to exist. And for Walter to sit here and suggest that they should not sign on the dotted line, we - meaning the United States - should not even insist and urge them to sign on the dotted line in terms of Israel’s right to exist, which is our strongest ally in the Middle East, I don’t accept that. I don’t accept it and I reject it.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, first of all…

CHIDEYA: Callie…

Mr. FIELDS: I just need to respond.

CHIDEYA: Okay, go ahead.

Mr. FIELDS: The use of the language so-called Arab states is problematic. Because they’re not so-called Arab states, they are Arab states. We have no relationship right now with the Arab world, and the situation in Iraq has definitely muddied the water and increases the complexity of this issue. So to take the simple position that all you have to do is recognize the right of Israel to exist…

Mr. MEYERS: I didn’t say all you had to do…

CHIDEYA: Sorry, guys, I’ve got to get some Callie in here.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I would just say this, and I think both of you are taking a position that’s correct. I mean Israel must be recognized, and at the same time there’s going to have to be a Palestinian state of some sort. Now what does that mean right now for this administration, one who has lost ground really in the entire region? And that’s my point. Back in the Clinton administration, at least both sides, with those firm positions that you have just stated, were at least willing to give up something to move to the middle.

We can’t even have that discussion anymore. And that, to me, is the tragedy and the danger and should be a real concern for everybody in the world. But for the United States, the superpower in the world, to have given up its moral ground as a power that could bring all these forces together and have people really talk about moving away from those firm positions is the problem. And I don’t know how we get - I honestly have no idea how we move from this point.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to move to another topic, because this is one - you know, Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, it’s something we’re going to revisit against and again on our Roundtable. But I want to ask you about something a little closer to home. It’s D.C. police and surveillance.

D.C. put up a whole bunch of surveillance cameras after 9/11 mainly and was hoping that it would crack down on crime, and this was modeled after what was going on in London with surveillance cameras. But last weekend, 11 people were shot, four died. Residents said that one shooting happened within yards of the cameras. Even some police officers say it’s not a deterrent.

So is this a case – and, Callie, I’ll start with you - of us giving up a certain amount of freedom but not really getting more security from it?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Oh, we’re absolutely giving up a lot of freedom, and it appears not to be getting much from it.

Though I have to say I’m a little bit surprised. Because we’re led to believe by what’s happening in London that you really can crack down on crime in this way. I don’t - I feel that this is a privacy issue, a strenuous privacy issue. But the people in some of these communities apparently have supported it and want it.

So I’m going to go with them wanting it in their community because they feel like it could do something. So I’m not quite certain why it’s not. But we are definitely giving up privacy. And by the way, at every point and turn it seems to me we’re giving up privacy. And there’s going to come a point where people are going to wish that they had drawn a line in the sand somewhere.

CHIDEYA: Well, Walter, the police department says that there’s only passive monitoring. Because, I mean once you put up, you know, so many hundreds or perhaps even thousands of cameras, you can’t blow the budget and have people sitting around looking at them all the time. So there’s a lot of cameras, but there aren’t necessarily enough people watching them.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I think that’s the problem. If you’re going to make the commitment to have this level of surveillance, you also have to have the commitment to make sure that you that you have the requisite level of monitoring. In London, the reason why it works is because it is real-time monitoring in combination with enough people on the ground so that if an incident - if they see something developing, they can shift manpower to that area. We don’t have that in the United States.

So what you have are a series of cameras that are supposed to be a deterrent because people see the lens and, oh, we’re not going to commit the crime. Criminals don’t think in that manner. What the cameras have done, though, I think they have helped in some instances in terms of after a crime has been committed in terms of identifying perpetrators and helping police in sort of their investigative work after the crime has been committed.

But as a deterrent, as a preventive measure, it really hasn’t worked because we haven’t invested the type of resources that are necessary to have that level of surveillance in these local communities.

CHIDEYA: Michael, I want to move you to another topic.

Mr. MEYERS: I want to talk about this one, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Okay, go for it.

Mr. MEYERS: Because, you know, it’s too soon to tell what the cameras are doing in D.C., and there are only 48 cameras in high-crime areas. Look, I live in New York City. We’ve got cameras everywhere. We’ve got cameras in the subways. We’ve got cameras in the parks. We’ve got cameras on buildings. We’ve got cameras in plazas. We have police cameras; we have private cameras.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Is it working?

Mr. MEYER: You know, in some - yes, it is working in the sense that people are concerned about being videotaped. Now of course there are those offenders who are also camera friendly. They will do public urination. They will love-make. They will ignore the cameras. There are people who wear Halloween masks and they will wear Halloween masks to cover themselves for crime purposes.

But, you know, I think what we have here is a situation where cameras by themselves of course cannot deter crime or solve crime. They can help identify perpetrators perhaps after the fact, because these are not in-time cameras. But also you’ve got a question of policing and controlling an effective crime detection, as well as prevention. And you’ve got to look at the whole picture, not just a small part of the picture. Excuse the pun on picture.

CHIDEYA: All right. Michael, I - this topic I think was built for you. A dress code initiated at On the Rocks, a bar in Nashville, Tennessee, has some people questioning the motives of the bar’s owner. It’s stated on a sign: no baggy clothes, no chains, no sunglasses and no grills. Grills of course being big old, you know, flossy, glossy…

Mr. MEYERS: Gold stuff on your teeth. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: …gold stuff on - and diamonds on your teeth. The business also prohibits certain clothing labels, including Ecko, Sean John, Phat Farm and Fubu. And a reporter at WSMV-TV in Nashville spoke to some residents about the dress code.


Unidentified Woman (Nashville): I can see, like, they don’t want any baggy jeans. I could see that. You know what I’m saying? But they don’t have a right to sit around and talk about if you wear Sean John or Phat Farm, Rocawear or whatever. To me, that’s racism.

Unidentified Man (Nashville): You see black people wearing more of these type of clothes. Like, I’ve got it on now, you see it? I think he’s, like, pointing his finger towards black people when he said the grills, the Fubu, Sean John or whatever he said. I think he’s talking about more black people.

CHIDEYA: So, Michael, private businesses technically have the right to refuse service to anyone. We don’t have much time. Do you think this is discrimination? Should it be called that?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, I have to say, look, licensing and police powers of state trump sometimes private businesses. So private businesses, particularly bars, they are subject to anti-discrimination laws. Now is this discrimination? Of course it’s discrimination. But is it unlawful discrimination?

This has happened in Tennessee. I’d look at the Tennessee state law. But I would say to you, this is not racial discrimination. I live, again, in New York City. We turn people away at bars and discos and clubs all the time based on appearance. If you’re not wearing the right kind of clothes, you don’t get in. Period.

CHIDEYA: But these labels are black-owned labels.

Mr. MEYERS: There’s no such thing as black-owned labels. Have you looked at young people, what they’re wearing these days? Young white people?


CHIDEYA: I mean the businesses are black-owned. So I think that that - Callie, chime in here.

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. Yeah, Callie.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah, there, there are more white kids wearing this stuff than a lot of black kids.

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That’s the first thing. The second thing is now we’re crossing into a free speech area too, which definitely is something that has to be considered.

I am reminded of a recent incident when a young man got on a plane, a white guy, wearing a T-shirt that in Farsi and in English said: We will not be silenced. It was translated in English underneath. And he was taken off the plane. Now what’s happening here? I mean we’ve got to think about is this speech - this may be free speech. We may not like it, but, you know, it’s got to be out there, bar owner, because that’s what we say we can do here as an American.

CHIDEYA: So, Walter, they have the right to refuse service to anyone, including people wearing Fubu - which means For Us, By Us - but as Callie points out, the us now includes people of all races. Is this discrimination? Should the bar change its policy?

Mr. FIELDS: I think the bar should change its policy. Look, there may be more white kids wearing these labels, but clearly these labels are identified with the urban culture and many people read urban culture as black and/or Latino. So I think it’s clear what this bar owner is trying to do. If I saw flip-flops on the list, then maybe I wouldn’t be so, you know, opposed to this ban. But it’s not on the list.

Mr. MEYERS: (Unintelligible).

Mr. FIELDS: So I think it’s clear that, you know, there’s something else going on with this owner.

Look, if I were - saw that sign, my reaction would probably be a little different. It would be, like, I don’t need to go into your bar.

Mr. CROSSLEY: Right.

Mr. FIELDS: And I think part of what we have to do is not raise this to the point where we make people feel as though they need our business. Let’s be discriminating in our own use of our consumer dollars and suggest that, fine, if you…

Mr. MEYERS: But it’s not a question of our business alone. If it truly is racially offensive, then whites as well as others should protest and object to it.

Mr. FIELDS: Well they…

Mr. MEYERS: I would say…

Mr. FIELDS: …they should, but…

Mr. MEYERS: …I would say that…

Mr. FIELDS: They should. But what…

Mr. MEYERS: …that if it (unintelligible) racial…

Mr. FIELDS: Michael, Michael, the injury, though, falls upon a certain group of people. So, yes, while everybody should be offended…

Mr. MEYERS: People wearing baggy clothes.

Mr. FIELDS: …those of us who are targeted should be particularly offended and make sure that we spend our dollars, you know, likewise.

CHIDEYA: All right.

Mr. FIELDS: And make sure that we also are discriminating.

Mr. MEYERS: (Unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: We’re out of time. We’re absolutely, a hundred percent, out of time. We’ve been talking to Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, and Callie Crossley, social/cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston.

Thank you all for another day of spirited discussion.

Mr. MEYERS: Yes!

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thanks.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, NPR’s senior correspondent Juan Williams on news from inside the Beltway, and pianist Keith Jarrett tells us his secret to improvisational jazz.

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