New York Largely Unmoved by Sean Bell Verdict Last week, a judge acquitted three New York City detectives in the shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell. Some people expected large protests, but the city was relatively quiet. Our bloggers weigh in on that, plus the continuing Rev. Wright controversy and John McCain's efforts to connect with black voters.
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New York Largely Unmoved by Sean Bell Verdict

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New York Largely Unmoved by Sean Bell Verdict

New York Largely Unmoved by Sean Bell Verdict

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This is News and Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. Now on to our Bloggers' Roundtable. Our topics today include the aftermath of the Sean Bell verdict and John McCain's "black" tour. But first we want to continue the conversation about Reverend Jeremiah Wright. With us today, Jim Collier, he writes the blog "Acting White." Novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis, he blogs for the Huffington Post and, and his new memoir is called "Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single Fatherhood." And Robert Redding writes the Welcome, folks.

Mr. TREY ELLIS (Blogger, Huffington Post): Hi, Farai

Mr. ROBERT REDDING: (Blogger, The Hey, it's good to be here.

Mr. JIM COLLIER (Blogger, "Acting White"): Hello.

CHIDEYA: So Reverend Wright has had a busy few days, and we've just been talking a bit about the various places he has spoken over the past few days. He said, for example, that he'd been wrongly painted as, quote, "some kind of fanatic." So, Trey, some pundits say that the Wright issue had almost disappeared and his new visibility will do nothing but hurt Obama's candidacy. Should Wright have stayed out of the spotlight?

Mr. ELLIS: It's clear to me that he's jealous of his - the guy and his congregation and is trying to - he misses the spotlight. He was on his way to retiring and it's unconscionable to me that he would come back again hawking his book and being everywhere when - with this huge election is at stake. He could come back later, just take one for the team. If he was a good Marine he could have taken one for the team.

CHIDEYA: Robert, do you think this is about ego?

Mr. REDDING: Oh, absolutely. When have you ever known a pastor, especially a big city pastor, to shy away from a microphone when there is one in front of them? Clearly, this is hurting Barack Obama, and clearly if you're Barack Obama, you're like, I wish this guy would go away because he is bringing this thing back, and Barack Obama doesn't want this election come down to race. But it seems like, you know, when he's reminded and people are reminded that he does have this questionable pastor out there, who is now trying to defend his comments, that's kind of hard to do. It's kind of hard to ignore the issue.

CHIDEYA: And Jim, you know, the North Carolina Republican Party has planned a whole ad campaign around Reverend Wright, Do you think that this is going to hurt Senator Obama, you know not just in North Carolina, but also in the several upcoming primary states unfolding over the next month or so?

Mr. COLLIER: Well, Farai, I definitely think it's going to hurt him. I mean, I went, I sat there through the NAACP speech. and, you know, I could sort of ebb and flow with it, but when he hit his stride there talking about right brain, left brain, and how black kids are created with right brains and little white kids are analytical and logical with left brain thinking, I said, whoa, what happened here? You know, this guy has gone off and somebody needs to like throw him a lifeline or get out the hook. But I think that that really hurt, because it gave credence to this whole notion of extremism and I tell you, if I sat in a congregation and a pastor said something like that I certainly would get up and leave, because I felt like it was almost an anti-black statement. And...

CHIDEYA: What do you mean by anti-black statement?

Mr. COLLIER: Well there are plenty of white professionals in the past who, if they made a statement drawing differences between the physiology of a black working brain and a white working brain, they'd be in the unemployment line. You know, and so, this guy got a complete pass on making what is very extreme and hurtful and damaging statement to black people.

CHIDEYA: Robert, I mean, he did talk, you know, about Afro-centric education but then did veer a bit into these questions of physiology. Do you think that was really a distraction? Even if his main message was designed to tamp things down, was that a distraction?

Mr. REDDING: Oh, absolutely. You know, I've said over and over again that a lot of folks, especially in the mainstream, the majority, would have us, grant to us that, you know, blacks are superior in terms of athleticism, etc., but are, you know - we see with Mr. Watson, James Watson, who won a Nobel prize, that there is still a thought out there that there is an inferiority as it relates to brain power, etc. And this, of course, is a diversion, and is something that people from time to time, i.e. Mr. Watson, has gotten hooked up into and gotten ensnared on. And this is something that clearly he has as well.

CHIDEYA: I want to move on to another topic, Sean Bell. He was a 23-year-old unarmed black man who was gunned by New York detectives the night before he was to be married in 2006. Now, late last week, a judge acquitted the police officers of all charges that pointed to recklessness or wrong-doing. And some people expected large protests, but the city was relatively quiet, except for a small protest in Harlem. Trey, you spend most of your time in New York. What do you think was the cause of, you know, the relative quiet?

Mr. ELLIS: Well, I think, you know, unlike the OJ trial, it was not as inflammatory. And I think we've - there's a certain degree of cynicism that people are - we understand that police officers, instead of being held to a higher standard for firing their weapons to the regular, to the normal populace, are held to a lower standard when it comes to shooting black people. Or black undercover officers who are shot, you know, often in New York City when they're on the job. That's sort of the disposability of black male life, unfortunately, has become commonplace.

Mr. COLLIER: Well, you know, I mean, I can kind of agree with you. But I also think that people are just getting smarter on these sorts of issues. And like in the case of Amadu Diallo, I mean, he was shot pulling his wallet out. I mean, and to me, that was a clear case of involuntary manslaughter. But back to the case of Bell, you know, the guy was intoxicated, he was behind the wheel of a car, he rammed the minivan, and so I think that the audience is, while they're upset and, you know, they want to see justice, whatever that is. On the other hand, they know that there are circumstances here that just, you know, take us deeper and beg for better understanding and thoughtfulness.

MR. ELLIS: I would agree if there were six shots fired by police officers. But the guy shooting 31 shots...

Mr. COLLIER: Why does the number of shots? I mean, if you can get killed by one shot, I mean, to me, the first shot is the one that matters, and that's the one that needs to be scrutinized. The other 49, I mean, they're bad marksmanship.

Mr. ELLIS: No, that's not true. I think there's a cowboy mentality of like, oh I'll fire, and let's see what happens. No one's firing back at them, right? And then there's this police officer panicking under fire. Firing, unloading his clip, reloading, firing some more in some orgiastic spurt of violence that is not professional. He should be fired.

CHIDEYA: Well, Robert and Jim, you're not in New York City. What do you think of the way that New Yorkers have reacted?

Mr. REDDING: Well, I think they've been class - a class act. Clearly, New Yorkers - people don't give them much credit. People that don't live there or haven't visited there. It's a great town, great people. They've been a class act as it relates to this particular incident so far. As far as the way it's been handled by the police, I think it's unfortunate that you have situation where you have a report on the website today about the taunts that Ms. Bell is - well, actually, the fiancee is getting. And we think that those are originating from the police department, saying, you know, ha ha ha. That kind of thing. That's unfortunate. I think (unintelligible) definitely needs to go. And in addition to that, I think - and I did a podcast about this, Barack Obama's response was a little lagging in its ability to kind of resonate with the black community. I think that there are some things that need to be tightened up there as well, so. Just assessing the situation, I think it was excessive. Clearly it was excessive. But was it justified? That's the question, I think that most people have.

CHIDEYA: Jim, do you have any thoughts on the city's response to the whole...

Mr. COLLIER: Yeah, 50 shots is too much. And I think what New Yorkers are really bugged about is that they just have an incompetent police force. But incompetence does not automatically rise to the level of criminal. And I think that that's what this case is about. Fifty shots is clearly incompetent, but it is not criminal when a man is behind a car, and he's doing some damage himself with that car. And you can kill someone running them over with a car just as surely as putting a bullet in them.

CHIDEYA: Trey, let me take this to another level. You blog a lot about parenting. And as the father of both a girl and a boy, who are quite young right now, when's the right time to start teaching them about how they act around the police and what their expectations of interactions with the police should be?

Mr. ELLIS: That's an amazing question, because they're in a public school in New York City and it's a very mixed public school. Across the street is a middle school, where all the kids are black kids, black or dark-skinned Hispanic kids. And they are some rotten, foul-mouthed kids - troubled middle-schoolers. I mean, the stuff that comes out of their mouth, I just - I really like - I have to turn to them every single day and say, my kids are right here. Please stop talking like you're some sailor on the - it's a huge problem, and my son, who's 6 years old, said, oh, these - the little boys, they do pranks on the police, these kids.

And I said, oh, but they're not the real criminals. The big criminals are the white people, because he watches cartoons, and on "Scooby Doo" and these cartoons, the mastermind criminals are these white guys. But he understands a certain level of low-level, petty criminality that he's associating with these middle-schoolers. And so that's certainly troubling for me to say, look, you're black. You're going to grow up to be one of these - looking like one of these boys, and you're not going to be one of those boys. But - so to teach the pride in race, and then to say, but there's all sorts of huge problems in our society that we've got to address.

CHIDEYA: Robert, what do you see as - you know, this is not a New York City problem. The relationship between people in the community and police officers exists in most cities. What needs to be done? Does there need to be a - I remember the Officer Friendly days, and those seem to have passed into history. But what do you think could be done now?

Mr. REDDING: You know, until I got older, until I moved into different communities, I did not know that there was an adversarial relationship with police officers. That relationship exists within the inner city, definitely. One of the things - we were talking about this a couple of shows ago - about the Outkast song, that's what Ray Quan (ph) is talking about on the Outkast song. He's talking about the relationship of police officers with the community. I'm not sure what can be done at this point, because it's clearly an issue within the urban and inner city. And it's getting out of control, because I think that there is the perception in New York City, especially, not just in New York City, that there is an adversarial relationship between officers and young black men especially. And, as a matter of fact, the unwritten code now is, especially among people that are dating or people that are married, if you call the cops, that could be almost a death sentence to the black man in the family. So that's just one of the things that's unfortunate, because black people unfortunately are not trusting of the citizens on patrol. And I think we need to foster more, I'm not sure how we get there.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, gentlemen, just stay with me. We need to take a short break, and we'll be right back with more of the Bloggers' Roundtable.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Welcome back. You're listening to NPR's News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. We are back with our Bloggers' Roundtable. With us, Jim Collier, he writes the blog "Acting White." Novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis, he blogs for the Huffington Post and His new memoir's called "Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single Fatherhood." And Robert Redding, who writes the Welcome back, gents. And I'm going to move straight ahead to a topic. It's what some people are calling John McCain's "black" tour. He went to New Orleans' Ninth Ward last week and criticized the Bush administration's reaction to Katrina. It was part of his tour of what he calls "America's forgotten places." He also went to Selma, Alabama, and visited the Edmund Pettis Bridge, scene of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" incident, where civil rights marchers clashed with Alabama state troopers.

Now, Senator McCain says he wants to be president to all people. Jim, do you think he is accomplishing his goals?

Mr. COLLIER: Well, inasmuch as he got press and he got press at a time when there's - black people are front and center in other ways, you know, with Hillary and Obama. He got press with black people, and it got him up there. I don't know what else he could have done that's positive. So he's saying, hey, I'm relevant, and this is an easy one for me, as opposed to, you know, getting on a negative bandwagon.

CHIDEYA: Now, Trey, is this targeted towards black voters or towards swing voters, you think? And why if swing voters?

Mr. ELLIS: It's definitely towards swing voters. It shows how leisurely his campaign is right now. He knows he's not going to get a single black vote. But he also knows that he wants to define himself against George Bush and define himself as a sort of reasonable middle-of-the-road guy, which is what had been his reputation before he swung to the hard right in adopting this very hard right platform of the Republican Party, to which he does not agree with. So I think it's smart on his move. It's smart politics.

CHIDEYA: Robert, you're a political Independent, and when you look at this, do you - how do you think McCain is going to balance these different constituencies that he's got going? The, you know, Christian conservatives, who haven't been such a big fan of his, who he's trying to get down with, the swing vote, moderate vote, I mean, how's he going to balance all these different groups that he has to deal with?

Mr. REDDING: It's going to be real tough. And I don't think he's going to be able to do it successfully, but I think he's going to be able to do it for the election as it relates to him actually getting the nomination clearly and all of that. But long-term, this unity government that he'd like to see, I'm not sure he's going to be able to actually bring about if he should become president of the United States. Now there's a couple of interesting things. One, on a South Carolina flag issue - because I'm not sure he's not getting any black votes, especially if he picks Condi as his vice president. I think he's going to get black votes plus 10 percent.

Around 10 percent vote off of the Democratic plantation. They don't vote Democratic. The South Carolina flag issue is one where he admitted that he was wrong. MLK Day in Arizona is one that he admitted where he's wrong. I'm looking for him to admit one other thing that he was wrong about. And that was back in Georgia, continuing to stand by George Allen, when George Allen made those "macaca" comments about that staffer. He went on and he continued to campaign for George Allen. And I think he needs to make that right. And I think he'll be on the road to, I guess, getting some minority support.

CHIDEYA: Do you think the Republicans are really making a play for that though, Jim? Minority support, that is. The governor of Louisiana - let me just throw this in. The governor of Louisiana, who's of South Asian descent, is now being seen as another possible veep candidate of color, along with Condi.

Mr. COLLIER: Well, I think what it really speaks to, Farai, is this split between - within the Democratic Party. What happens with black voters? Because this ugliness has gone on between the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign. And you have voters who are basically stomping their feet and saying, you know, if my guy doesn't get in, or if my woman doesn't get in, I'm not voting for the other Democrat. I'm going to, you know, I'm going to do - what's likely to happen is they'll switch over. And I think McCain is sort of making - saying, hey, if you want to switch over, come on over. The air is really great on this side, you know. I'll catch you. And so I think that he's in part responding to that.

CHIDEYA: Trey, when you look down the road, you know, not at 2008 so much, but four years from now, eight years from now, 12 years from now, do you see the Republicans making inroads into the black electorate, and, if so, what would it take?

Mr. ELLIS: I don't see that, and if the Republican Party as it stands now, there's no chance at all. I think even among the black religious mega-churches, they still have been pretty solidly Democratic, even if they don't agree on all the social issues. So I don't see - I can see maybe peeling off some only if, let's say Hillary steals this election, then there'd certainly be some kind of opening, but they'd have to do more than just that.

You know, McCain might have some chance to get some black vote, kind of a screw-you-to-Hillary vote, if she becomes the nominee by some trickery. But I don't see that as a long-term goal or a possibility for the Republicans. I see the Hispanic vote being much more up for grabs.

CHIDEYA: Robert, you know, from your vantage point, where do you see people going in terms of party affiliation by race or, you know, I mean - and presumably you would also want to see candidates that are neither Democrats nor Republicans.

Mr. REDDING: Right. As a matter of fact, unfortunately, I do see people going more towards the Republican Party, more blacks. Issues to watch are gay marriage. Issues to watch are abortion. This whole Planned Parenthood thing is continuing to blow up. These calls that were supposedly recorded, O'Reilly's been talking about it. It's been making the rounds on the internet, etc. I don't think this whole gay marriage thing and the whole abortion thing is settled in the black church yet. I think that there are some votes that could be peeled off there.

John McCain is also making his overtures. We're talking about Condi Rice and other blacks that could possibly be running mates. If they don't run someone black here along with McCain, they could face a situation in the Republican Party where they could lose significantly. They know that, so they know what they have to do, but last and not least here, I have to point out, my years on the radio in Atlanta, a lot of people thought once they heard me bashing Democrats over and over again, that I was saying go vote Republican. I'm not saying that.

People feel like that's their only other option. But people forget about people like Cynthia McKinney who's going to - it looks like at this point is going to win the nomination for the Green Party. I like to see them vote in another way outside of Republicans, outside of Democrats, because people think that those are their only two options, and that's just not true.

CHIDEYA: Jim, what about voter registration? In previous years, the - you know, especially with Karl Rove as a strategist, the Republicans have done a really good job at outreach and, you know, getting people mobilized, you know, feet on the street. This time around, Senator Obama's candidacy seems to be bringing a bunch of new voters to the table. Do you think that's going to shake things up?

Mr. COLLIER: Well, I think it has the potential to, but, just as we saw in Philadelphia, the turnout numbers, even with a close race and a heated race, were disappointing for black voters. And so black people still have a difficulty and a hurdle and an obstacle to overcome in simply converting their enthusiasm and needs and issues into actually walking into the polls and actually casting a ballot. And it continues to be a problem.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, gentlemen, it's been great. Thanks.

Mr. COLLIER: Thanks.

Mr. REDDING: Thank you.

Mr. ELLIS: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: We've been talking with Robert Redding. He blogs for the Redding News Review, and he was at KMLB in Monroe, Louisiana. Jim Collier writes for the blog "Acting White". He was at the studios at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. And novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis. He blogs for the Huffington Post and teaches film at Columbia University, and he was with me at our NPR West studios.

You can find links to their blogs and ours at And the conversation does not 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,, and click on Speak Your Mind.

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