Roundtable: King Papers, Aging Gang Leaders
ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, hairstyles not amusing to some and the Pentagon labels homosexuality a disorder.
Joining us today to discuss these topics and more, Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Brown University. He joins us from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island. And joining us from our New York bureau, ER Shipp, professor of journalism - she's a professor of journalism at Hofstra University, and Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.
All right, folks. Before we get into those issues, we want to give you a chance to talk about the auction of the King papers. One of the interesting points, ER Shipp, is, as I mentioned to Mr. Carson at the beginning of that segment, there are those who really do see this as sacrilegious, the thought of putting King's papers up on auction, all of the squabbling back and forth that we've seen. Some feel as though they should be, quote, "untouched."
Professor ER SHIPP (Professor of Journalism, Hofstra University): Well, there are a few issues here. The King family, since the death of Dr. King, has been grappling with both its own identity and its financial security. Those of us who believe in the purity of it all, would love to have seen them donate the papers to some institution. They argue, on the other hand, that Dr. King was taken away from us at the age of 39, had no real financial security for his family, and that they are entitled to something. I don't like that last argument. I like the first, and I still say that the children of King, who are now as old as I am, should get a life and maybe they should think of donating the papers to an institution.
GORDON: Yet that being said, Glenn Loury, we've seen President Kennedy's memorabilia go up and papers - some of the papers go up for auction. We've seen sports iconic figures, like Joe DiMaggio and his family reap in the benefits in putting his letters to Marilyn Monroe up for auction. There are those who will say, in spite of the plea from ER Shipp for them to get a...
Prof. SHIPP: That's not King, though.
GORDON: ...well, some will say Kennedy is aligned with King in some respects.
Professor GLENN LOURY (Professor of Economics, Brown University): I think this issue resonates with another issue - the estate tax debate - in a very interesting way, because the question here is exactly what are heirs entitled to. And, of course, Dr. King belonged to all of us, and it is a shame to see his legacy traded on in a crassly and overtly commercial way. I can certainly see the point of these people. Our father had a legacy, we're entitled to something. But what exactly is the child of a great person entitled to? I think that no more than the kid who happens to be born to a wealthy industrialist, who earns a billion dollars, is entitled to just have the billion dollars dropped in their lap - no more than that are the King children entitled to cash in on their father's legacy.
But law being what it is, this is what's going to happen. Do you realize a Saudi could buy those papers? Anybody can buy them! This is not something that should be decided by the highest bidder, but so it's going to be.
GORDON: Michael Meyers, there are those who say that these papers were not being well taken care of, that they weren't on display. When we talk about we all owned a piece of Dr. King, some suggest that this is the best thing for the papers.
Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Well, somebody has to do something with these papers. I don't know what's taken so long. I mean, this is not news. Sotheby's been trying to sell the collection since 2003. The problem, the hitch has been the issue of copyright, and the King family, although they're selling these papers for probably $20 million, $30 million - much beyond my ability to pay - they want to retain copyright. Now, you can't do that! You're either going to sell them and have the people who buy them have the copyright or you don't sell them or just donate them to an institution and - like a higher education institution - and attempt to retain your copyright that way.
So - but for me, you know, the papers belong to the family. If they want to sell them, let it go to the highest bidder. I don't care if it's in Atlanta. I don't care if it's in Houston. I don't care if it's in Austin. I don't care if it's in New York City. Mayor...
Prof. SHIPP: Saudi Arabia.
Mr. MEYERS: I don't care. Mayor Bloomberg could pay for it. I mean, he has enough money to just pay for it (unintelligible) and put them in New York City. But the point here is that once you decide to auction off your papers, it goes to the highest bidder, and there's been no restriction, apparently, that it can't Saudi Arabia. And I'm not going to bash the Arabs, but there's libraries and academic institutions all over the world. King belongs to the world. He's an international figure.
GORDON: It's interesting to note that, as we heard in Josh's piece, Shirley Franklin, former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, and others, are gathering together in hopes of collecting monies to buy some of these papers - the hope was the entire collection - to keep it in the Atlanta area. So we shall what happens.
Prof. LOURY: Well, it should happen. It should - I mean, $30 million is not that much money, and I could name some other groups, about which, if sacred documents pertinent to their tradition were up for sale, they would be certain that they wouldn't be carried off by strangers.
Prof. SHIPP: But why aren't we hearing...
Prof. LOURY: $30 million is not a lot of money.
Prof. SHIPP: But why aren't we seeing our people with that kind of money step up and say, let's do it?
Mr. MEYERS: Yes...
Prof. LOURY: Well, Bill Cosby, he wants to get headlines. Here's something he can do.
GORDON: Often we put it on those with that kind of money, but if you want to look at it that way ER, why aren't we, as a people, you know, as a collective, sending in money?
Prof. SHIPP: That's what I'm saying, Ed. If everybody put in a dollar...
GORDON: I mean that can be done, as well.
Prof. SHIPP: ...remember how the statue of liberty was created out there? People sent in nickels and things. Well, I don't - if everybody who cares about this put in a dollar...
GORDON: Well, E., that's been the $64,000 question for...
Prof. SHIPP: Well, you know, I know.
GORDON: ...a long, long time.
Mr. MEYERS: I know.
GORDON: All right. Let's move on to...
Prof. SHIPP: And it's now a little too late, because it's no up for auction.
GORDON: ...the next issue, because we'll continue to watch this story as the auction comes up. This from the Gang Book, that's a 272-page guide by the Chicago Crime Commission that took a look at gangs and gang leaders. They say now the average gang leader in Chicago, the head of a Chicago street gang, is 43 years old and, more often than not, lives in the suburbs of Chicago -county, specifically...
Prof. SHIPP: Including Cicero.
GORDON: ...usually, typically have been convicted of murder. As we see this, it really is an interesting interplay of what we think of as a gang leader, Glenn Loury, and what actually is the gang leader.
Prof. LOURY: Yes. Well, you know, I was thinking about Al Capone as I was listening to - as I was reading these report; because this is all about prohibition, and I mean prohibition on the sale of drugs, about the criminal conspiracies that form in the wake of the market that's created by prohibiting drugs. Capone was unheard of in 1920, and he was under federal indictment in 1935. He had a 15-year run. These guys have had a 30-year run, and they're still running. It's $100 billion a year commerce. What we're seeing here is chickens coming home to roost, that there are now 50-ish gang leaders running huge criminal conspiracies and communicating with their organizations in elaborate ways from prison cells - is a chicken come home to roost on our drug policy for the last 25 years. And that it's moving to the suburbs maybe gives me some hope that our politics can see the insanity of this policy and try to back us away from it.
GORDON: It's interesting, because it goes on to talk about the sophistication of how they communicate - secret ink that can only be seen visible through exposure to heat; that they send, what they're calling, microwriting in languages like Swahili; that they actually subpoena fellow gang members to appear in court, and then give them hand signals to instruct them what to do. Michael Meyers, it's an interesting thought, but Glenn brings up an interesting comparison of the idea that when you think about street gangs, you don't necessarily think about a middle-aged man, but as he suggests, Capone was exactly that. We're starting to see this with black gang leaders in this country now.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, when I think about gangs, I always think about middle-aged people, because it's been a tradition in history that there have been young enforcers and the middle-aged people who run things. And it's the young people who will run for them. I'm glad this book is illustrated. I like to look at the pictures. I don't really see anything new about this, either. Mafia is old news. A lot of the Mafia has broken up and put into prison. People are still running their enterprises from prison. I'd like to see this secret - so-called secret ink. I understand some of it is based on urine. You know, there must be technology to catch up with these kind of techniques, and there must be clever ways of keeping ahead of them or getting right behind them and putting more people into prison. But, you know, I'm not surprised that gangsters live in suburbs. That's where the money is. That's where the nice lawns are. That's where the houses are. Crime is profitable. It's very, very profitable until your butt is put into prison.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, this is - it's...
GORDON: So ER it's...
Prof. SHIPP: Go ahead.
GORDON: I was just going to say, you know, we don't balk or don't look with a jaundiced eye at the idea of the Sopranos and them living in a suburb. So this is just the African-American version of that, in a sense.
Prof. SHIPP: Yes, and it's not all that new.
Mr. MEYERS: And it's not all African-American.
Prof. SHIPP: But I was intrigued by seeing that so many of these gangs who've been - I guess have been chronicled, are in Cicero. Now, if anyone knows a little bit of history, you know how hard black people fought to get into Cicero. That was the place that wanted to keep people out. And it's ironic that gang members have decided that that is the place to make home.
But one point I wanted to make too, is that you - this is kind of like, Aaron McGruder will have fun with this, if he ever gets back to his comic strip. This is, you know, The Boondocks. This is black folk who've been doing this for a long time in the city, on the south side of Chicago and west side of Chicago, deciding to stretch out. It's not anything to be proud of, but you can only see that, in the historical context, that this is what they all do, all those who move up in the ranks of crime.
There was a group in Chicago - a gang in Chicago that I wrote about 20 years ago, that it found a way to try to have meetings and they decided to sue to be recognized as a religious organization. So when they got together for their religious services, essentially they were doing what we were talking about now. They had their meetings and they controlled business from the cell.
GORDON: All right, let's move on to what is interesting for the military to deal with, yet again. It's a Pentagon document that classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder. The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in the section on homosexuality it is put alongside mental retardation and personality disorders. Glenn Loury?
Prof. LOURY: Yeah, and the American Psychological Association, I think, 25 years ago, had said something exactly the opposite of that. So that really is not acceptable. But, you know, I have to say here that the issue is not whether there should be gays in the military, because there've always been gays in the military. The issue is the status of homosexuality in the military. And I'm not without - I mean, it's a complicated problem, because the army has to train these guys to go and do unbelievable things, like what they're doing; has to train them to walk into incredible situations, and they use all these metaphors around masculinity.
If you look at any of these tapes on the basic training of these people, all the stuff about sexuality, it peppers the language, it's a part of the metaphorical vocabulary of how you train guys to go and do this. Homosexuality grates against that, and so, it's the status of homo - so don't ask, don't tell, is, although it makes nobody happy, its not an unreasonable compromise here; because its saying, all right, we're not going to prohibit you from serving if you're gay, but please let us have our little mythic world of, you know, masculine fantasy that we need in order to accomplish the thing that we need to accomplish as an organization, in which your sexual preference actually grates against. And I think that's a plausible compromise if it can hold.
Prof. SHIPP: Who says you can't be masculine and gay.
GORDON: The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities - let me say this, though. The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military suggests that this is further proved. That the military deserves failing grades for its treatment of gays. You were saying, ER?
Prof. SHIPP: I'm saying, who's to say you can't be both masculine and gay? I don't really see the conflict there. The military needs to wake up. They are treading waters - for like 30 years or more people have realized, sensible people have realized, that homosexuality is not a disease. It's not a mental illness. The only illness here is in the government, the institution, the mind of the military.
GORDON: Well, but here's the real problem, ER You may not see it that way, but there are a lot of men in the military who are going to see it that way.
Prof. LOURY: Exactly.
GORDON: They won't care how muscular you are...
Prof. SHIPP: If they are macho men, they're not going to be threatened.
GORDON: ...how many, no, but here's the reality ER. They don't care how muscular you are. They don't care if that person can whoop their butts. They're never going to see them as masculine.
Prof. SHIPP: That's their problem then. They're the one with the mental illness.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GORDON: Michael Meyers, pick up.
Prof. LOURY: They're the ones who have to be trained to fight and die. They're the ones who are part of this organization that needs a myth in order to be able to function.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, I hear from, of all people, Glenn Loury, a lot of stereotypes. I mean, as if he's never heard of the effeminate heterosexual or that all gays are effeminate or not masculine or (inaudible).
Prof. LOURY: No, that's not what I mean. I just mean...
Mr. MEYERS: I heard what you said. Now, let me say what I want to say. This is a societal prejudice against people based on their sexual orientation. Their sexual orientation has nothing to do with their, quote, "the way they walk, they way they talk, the way they live"...
Prof. SHIPP: Or shoot.
Mr. MEYERS: Or shoot. Or what they do in life. And that's why the American Psychiatric Association, that's why modern social sciences and psychological scientists say that it's the American - here, ER Shipp has it correct - that the American public, the American prejudice, is dysfunctional, is the disorder, Not people who have a different sexual orientation or different sexual practices than, quote, "the majority," however, you count that.
GORDON: And Michael was this outburst an attempt to prove your masculinity?
Mr. MEYERS: I'm not having to prove anything.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. LOURY: Ed, let me just say this...
Mr. MEYERS: I don't have to prove my race and I don't have to prove my sexuality.
Prof. LOURY: I don't dispute anything that Michael just said about what homosexuality actually is. It's not an illness, and these people do deserve to be treated with respect. What I'm saying is that a military...
Mr. MEYERS: How about with equality, dignity...
Prof. LOURY: ...just let me say it - just let me say. A military organization is a very special thing, and training soldiers to go and fight in combat involves the use of mythic images...
Mr. MEYERS: And you're telling me there's no other country that has gays in the military?
Prof. LOURY: ...about sexuality. I said they've always...
Mr. MEYERS: And the military doesn't work...
Prof. LOURY: Michael!
Mr. MEYERS: You're wrong, Glenn.
Prof. LOURY: Michael.
Prof. SHIPP: But that's even irrelevant. You said these people. You know, we don't like that phrase when it's used about black people. These people.
Prof. LOURY: What I'm trying to say is, you tell me how to run the organization without these myths. As I said, go to basic training and look at what they actually say to these guys. Go and listen to the way that they actually talk.
Prof. SHIPP: Then they need to be the ones to be trained.
Prof. LOURY: Now, sex and homosexuality plays a role in that, and it's a - when you force people - these young men have the ideas that they have. Now, I'm not defending the ideas.
Mr. MEYERS: Now, remember, we have young men...
Prof. LOURY: I'm just saying you can't wave a wand...
GORDON: All right.
Prof. LOURY: ...you can't wave a wand and make them feel differently about this sexuality thing.
Mr. MEYERS: Why do you identify only with the young men who are prejudiced and bigoted as opposed to young men in the military who are serving honorably who happen to be gay?
GORDON: All right, guys. All right. I've got to stop us here. We did not get to, which we will tomorrow, the idea that Six Flags, the amusement park, is suggesting that there are certain hairstyles that fit the all-American look, and certain hairstyles that do not. So we'll talk about that.
Prof. SHIPP: I think your panelists would not fit their mold.
GORDON: Probably not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MEYERS: Anybody for frequent (unintelligible).
GORDON: ER, Glenn, and Michael, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it.
All right folks. Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, the touching story of kids living with cancer, a new PBS documentary chronicles their struggles and triumphs. And, renowned jazz violinist Regina Carter takes a stroll down memory lane on her new CD.
(Soundbite of music)
GORDON: You're listening to NEWS AND NOTES, from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.