In This Episode
DeRay, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara dive into the underreported news of the week, including longshoremen protections, the whiteness of the book industry, Pasco county sheriffs, and steam-heaters. Netta Elzie gives updates on what’s happening with the nationwide protests. DeRay sits down with Andy Slavitt from the podcast “In the Bubble” to discuss America’s path forward, then chats with New York State Senator Brian Benjamin about NYPD transparency. New episodes of Pod Save The People will resume in January.
DeRay [00:00:00] The January 5th runoff in Georgia that will determine control, the Senate is right around the corner. Early voting is taking place. Have you been waiting for the right moment to get involved? Now is the time. Head over to VoteSaveAmerica.com/Georgia to find something you can do right now and sign up to Adopt Georgia, where they’ll be sending new opportunities to donate and volunteer to support groups doing the work in Georgia between now and January.
DeRay [00:00:22] Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. So this is our last pod of 2020. Lord knows it’s been a long year. We love you. We’ve been through a lot in this year and we appreciate all of our listeners who have stuck with us since the pod launch in 2016. It’s been a long four years. We’ll be back in twenty 21. We’re excited to close out the year in and super grateful to have you as a listener. Now, on this episode, it’s me, Kaya, Sam and De’Ara as usual, talking about the news that you might not have known and that it comes and gives us an update about what’s happening with the protests across the country. And then today we have one of our original guests back, Andy Slavitt. He used to run Medicare and Medicaid, and he’s here to talk to us about the vaccines and then sit down and talk with New York State Senator Brian Benjamin about some of the bills that he’s addressing in New York state and why they matter and why they’re game changers in the landscape in New York state.
DeRay [00:01:11] We hope that you have an amazing holiday break. And if you have not already checked out the No-Kock Campaign, please check it out, it’s EndAllNoKnocks.org.
DeRay [00:01:20] Remember, banning no knock warrants is not enough. Banning no knock warrants actually won’t have a big impact because a police can take a regular warrant, call a knock and announce warrant and they can execute that in a no knock fashion. So if we actually want to ban on our upgrades, we have to not only ban on knock warrants, but we have to restrict the execution of all search warrants in a way that actually stops the practice. So EndAllNoKnocks.org. My advice to close out 2020 is to make sure that you reflect on how much you persevered so far in 2020 and take those lessons with you into twenty twenty one. I’m excited for twenty twenty one. I’m excited for the rebound. I’m excited for the rebuild. For the rebirth. I’m excited for all of it and all the friends and all the relationships that I made in these hard times, I’m excited to carry them in to the New Year. Thanks for listening and let’s go.
De’Ara [00:02:12] Hello family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @DeAraBalenger.
Sam [00:02:22] Sam Sinyangwe @SamsWey on Twitter.
Kaya [00:02:25] I’m Kaya Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:02:29] This is DeRay @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara [00:02:31] Oh right y’all. We’re just rolling through getting towards the end of this year, thank Goddess we’re almost done. Thirty seven days left to, you know, who is out of office, respectively. Hopefully. So, you know, there’s no shortage of things happening, obviously. So we think one of the things that was interesting, I think a couple of days ago, a story in The Wall Street Journal in which the writer berated Dr. Jill Biden for wanting to use the ‘doctor’ since she received a doctorate. So I don’t know this man’s credentials. I didn’t go into his background because I don’t care. However, it just was so interesting to see the lengths that he went to to kind of disprove her credentials. Anyway, I just thought it was a little refreshing wake up of misogyny that we got here. But interesting to hear what you guys had to say about about this one. Twitter had a lot to say, obviously.
Kaya [00:03:30] So I thought it was interesting, would be a word, but it wasn’t interesting. I actually thought that it was really ugly, frankly, that this man would come for Jill Biden in this way. She’s been Dr. Biden for her entire career. And he effectively says because she has a doctorate in education, that that’s not really a doctorate. And I feel like I could mobilize an army of folks who worked long and hard for their education doctorate to come for this dude is so fascinating that people feel like they can just say whatever they want to say out of their mouths about these folks. He’s taught at Northwestern University for thirty years without a doctorate or any advanced degree. Well, we should talk to Northwestern about what that’s all about. And we should talk to you about the fact that just because you didn’t choose to pursue higher education doesn’t mean that you should disparage somebody who has. And I think the way Twitter went after this guy and went after The Wall Street Journal, my guess is that they will think twice before they go down this road again. It’s just an unforced error. What I mean, what was he accomplishing by asking her to drop her honorific? She earned the honorific. And so you can call her Dr. Biden for the rest of her life because that belongs to her. She earned that right. It is. It’s just another example of the patriarchy, the white patriarchy doing what it does. And I’m so glad that a bunch of people spoke up and said, we’re not having this.
Sam [00:05:12] You know, it’s it’s a reminder of, you know, the fact that there are so many of these unqualified and mediocre men in these positions. Think about The Wall Street Journal has so much reach and there are so many voices they could have lifted up that wouldn’t have used that platform to disparage the first lady elect of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden. It doesn’t make sense to me like why, you know, again and again and again, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen articles like this, opinion pieces like this that really have no substance. There’s nothing to them other than sort of a hit piece to disparage somebody. And I think that, you know, hopefully The Wall Street Journal, based on the backlash that they’re experiencing, a lot of it on Twitter, but hopefully outside of Twitter as well, it’ll it’ll force them to think differently about this and think differently about how they choose who should be actually getting a platform on their opinion pages and who shouldn’t.
DeRay [00:06:07] So a lot of us don’t read The Wall Street Journal every day. But I hope that the women readers of The Wall Street Journal take note of how offensive this is. And I hope that they are raising noise as subscribers to The Wall Street Journal. Because if they write this about her, though, right? I mean, and it’s not like, you know, when I first saw it on Twitter, I was like, oh, she may be somebody. I don’t even know who they were talking about. But I heard this conversation about a degree and I thought I was an honorary doctorate. And I thought that this was like, you know, every time, every year it comes out people being like, don’t call a doctor if they have an honorary doctor.
DeRay [00:06:38] And then I look, I’m like Dr. Jill Biden. She has a doctorate. Like, you know, this is actually like what a doctorate is. I did love that.
DeRay [00:06:45] Northwestern actually released two statements distancing themselves from Epstein. So the department actually wrote “the department is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece that casts unmerrited disperersion on Dr. Jill Biden’s rightful public, claiming of her doctoral credentials and expertize. The department rejects this opinion, as well as the diminishment of anyone’s duly earned degrees in any field from any university.” And you’re like, thank you. And then the university actually put out “Joseph Epstein has not been a lecturer at Northwestern since 2003. While we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression.
DeRay [00:07:21] We do not agree with Mr. Epstein’s opinion and believe the designation of doctors is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D., and Ed.D Or an M.D. Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity, inclusion and strongly disagrees in this of misogynistic views.” Boom like.
Kaya [00:07:38] There It is.
DeRay [00:07:38] No, sir.
Kaya [00:07:39] There it is.
DeRay [00:07:40] You know, in a moment where Trump has made so much OK, I hope that the that there’s like a swift backlash. So this stuff doesn’t proliferate.
Kaya [00:07:48] My news this week, just when I was coming off last week with some positivity and how to fix America, I’m going right back down to the dark place with the Tampa Bay Times investigation called Targeted, where the newspaper “uncovered that Pasco County,” that’s the county that Tampa Bay is located in, “that Pasco County sheriff uses grades and abuse histories to label school children as potential criminals. And the kids and their parents don’t know.” This, I mean it Just as a former superintendent, it broke my heart because, in fact, I fundamentally believe that the police and the school system have a very unique and important relationship to have. But it feels to me, and it feels clearly the same way to the Tampa Bay Times that this sheriff’s office is out of bounds. They have a secret list of kids who they identify as kids who could fall into a life of crime based on things like whether or not there is any abuse at home, whether kids have a D or F in school, whether kids missed too many classes, if they’re sent to the office for discipline, if they’ve witnessed or experienced household violence and things of that nature. There are 420 children on this list and it doesn’t seem like parents or kids can find out whether or not they’re on the list. And the sheriff actually takes pains to defend what they do. “They say, in fact, that the paper has misunderstood what they do. They call what they do intelligence led policing, which uses data to help them do their jobs. They say it’s not predictive policing where they use data to predict who would be criminals,” except that’s pretty much what the list says. “The sheriff says that they use the list not to just identify people who could fall into a life of crime, but that they also offer mentorship and resources to students.” And when asked, the kinds of resources that they talked about are pretty thin, like taking kids fishing and giving clothes to needy kids. If kids are needy and they need clothes, I don’t know why you need to know that they got a D or and F or that there’s been abuse in the home or what have you. They are using this data from schools and they’re also using data from the Department of Children and Families. And they also tried to say that it’s not just for identifying future criminals, but for students who are at risk for victimization and truancy and self-harm and and substance abuse. But they didn’t have any evidence to back up or any even citations in their manual that showed that any of those things were part of the diagnosis. And so it it also came out through a Times investigation that they use grown ups, criminal histories and social networks to predict if they will break the law even when there’s no evidence of a crime. And in fact, that deputies harass people who have these kinds of backgrounds. They go to their houses, they target them. And in fact, many of the people who have been targeted are young people. And there’s a quote where one of the experts says, sensitive information about kids should be in the hands of people who can offer help. Police are not in the business of offering help to juveniles. They’re in the business of policing. And I think this is incredibly disturbing because, you know, if you look at the data, you can predict this, right? Who are the students who are twice as likely to be suspended or referred to law enforcement, according to federal data in Pasco County, black kids and kids with disabilities. Right. So this ultimately ends up being pretty discriminatory. And even the criminologists and the academics who are cited in the manual and in the the police’s defense, they say that you can’t associate childhood trauma and criminal behavior. Right. They say that there is no nothing, no data that you can put into an algorithm or a risk assessment tool that can predict who is going to to commit a crime. And so I think there’s a big question around the legality of how this police officer is using this data. And in fact, after the time started asking questions, they started immediately revamping elements of the program to offer more support and to build positive relationships with students. But at the end of the day, I mean, this is a school district that is sending two point three million dollars a year to the sheriff of Pasco County to support school resource officers and to support the police in helping to keep schools safe. And that same office the sheriff of Pasco County is using that to target its students as criminals. It’s depressing. It is heartbreaking. It is. You know, I guess in some cases not surprising, but I think we have to get on top of these kinds of things. And this is when the ACLU and anybody else who are experts in FERPA and HIPA, the student privacy laws and the health care privacy laws, actually have an activist role to play in making sure that this doesn’t happen in other places.
Sam [00:13:36] So, Kaya, this is dispiriting and disheartening and also not surprising, given what we know about policing in general and also in particular policing in Pasco County, where, you know, as you mentioned and I think we talked about this on the pod a little while ago when the news first broke that they were engaging in this program that they call intelligence led policing to essentially compile all of this data and surveillance on residents that they’re supposed to be serving and use that data to essentially harass people, to show up at people’s homes, to try and discourage people from living there, to arrest people for technical and minor violations. With this sort of deeper dive is discovering and uncovering is that they’re applying this framework to kids. Right? It is not just sort of adults. It is kids that they are applying this methodology to essentially identify and then in here, they’re saying they’re offering kids help and this and that. But I mean, we already know how they’re using this data and how they interact with adults. And they were explicit in saying that their goal is to get people who are on this list to leave town and which which frankly, sounds like the Klan. That is like their goal in using this data and now there’s weoponizing those same systems against kids. So, I mean, it’s outrageous. It is probably not the only county in the country in which this is happening, because we know that there’s been a huge growth in the use of predictive policing technologies and other technologies that essentially take biased data and weaponize it and use it against black and brown communities. And I think that this is one of the most egregious examples of that.
De’Ara [00:15:16] Sam, what you said about the KKK, I mean, it’s actually what instantly came to my mind. There’s a difference, I feel, between systemic racism, discrimination and inequality and inequity and what is happening in Pasco County, like I feel like this is such an intentional abuse of power and targeting these young black and brown kids, that it’s just unconscionable in ways that can only be evil. And so I just started to do a little Googling about Pasco County, and I’m sure there’s some lovely folks in Pasco County. However, it seems that there is a report in 2017 that the Klu Klux Klan was actually like recruiting folks in Pasco County, like there were they were passing out literature that folks were finding so much so it was reported on local news, Tampa news. And then also just like considering like terror in the history of lynchings, evidently there were 46 black folks lynched between four different counties in Florida between 1877 and 1950, and Pasco County being one of those counties. That link between the legacy of racism and white supremacy in this country and how it is so alive and well in people that this goes beyond like, you know, unconscious bias. And, you know, we’re well intentioned, but still discriminating. Like, y’all know what y’all doing down there. You know exactly what you’re doing.
DeRay [00:16:42] You know, Sam, this is actually something that you helped us think about years ago on the pod when we talk about scientific racism. And I’m always amazed at the way that racism will justify itself. So, you know, you put it in a spreadsheet, make a rubric. You know, it looks quote objective and it is truly heinous. So when I look at the rubric that they had for what makes you at risk or off track, the sheriff’s office says that if you commit your first crime in between 13 and 16 year old, you’re automatically at risk. That’s an risk identifier. If there’s any arrest at all, at risk. If you are a victim of personal crime one or more times, at risk, your life, what is what does that even if I don’t even know,.
Kaya [00:17:27] It was not your fault.
Kaya [00:17:29] Right. You had nothing to do with it.
DeRay [00:17:30] And I’m a victim. If there’s a lack of supervision three to five times while you’re in school. So they define that as truancy, curfew warnings, juvenile disturbances or probation violations. Again, truancy is like, you know, we talked about curfew laws and truancy. That’s a scam anyway, my favorite category is “delinquent friends.” If you have one or more delinquent friends, you are at risk, oh no you’re off track, that’s actually worse than at risk. If you have been a part of two or more custody disputes you’re at risk.
DeRay [00:18:06] You’re like the kids done got. And the kicker is,.
De’Ara [00:18:09] That’s me They describing in me everything you just went through, I’m like that’s me, that’s me, that one too.
DeRay [00:18:12] Or I Don’t know if you this applies to you, but if you are a certified gang member.
DeRay [00:18:19] Think you are.
Kaya [00:18:19] You want to know what the certification process looks like. Right. That’s what I’m wondering.
DeRay [00:18:24] What is the certification?.
Sam [00:18:26] I remember I was watching one of these like documentaries. It was about death row and Suge Knight and then I think they had somebody was from the LAPD who was like, well, we knew Suge was in a gang because he wore red and he associated with other gang members. And I was like, those are the like those are the two things that you look for? Like you were friends with somebody who may or may not be in a gang and you’re wearing the color red.
De’Ara [00:18:47] But Same, come on, Suge is not a good example.
Sam [00:18:51] We don’t, yeah I mean, Suge wasn’t a good. That’s fair. That is fair. He was. It turns out a gangster Suge was a gangster.
DeRay [00:19:00] Sam is keeping it true. He’s saying the rules is the rules, baby. The rules are the rules.
Sam [00:19:06] You got give, I mean, you know, there was plenty they could of used for Suge they didn’t need those two.
De’Ara [00:19:11] It was two people I knew if I ever saw them at a party, I had to go. Suge Knight and Mike Tyson, if I was in the same room with him, I was in the wrong place. Time to go.
DeRay [00:19:19] Sam said they could have made a better case. Not with that data.
Sam [00:19:22] Yeah, the rubric could have been a little bit stronger.
DeRay [00:19:25] And what’s what’s really wild is that the school district rubric is no better. So if you are one credit behind for attendance, you’re at risk, one credit. I mean, what if you have one referral and a quarter for office discipline, you’re at risk. You’re like, well, OK.
Kaya [00:19:41] And then I mean, and we’ve seen this not just here in Pasco, but the treatment of ACE’s, adverse childhood experiences, and how people weaponize those to mandate interventions for kids in the name of trauma informed care. It’s a tough nut to swallow because I think there are lots of people who are well-intentioned and want to provide the appropriate interventions to kids who are experiencing these traumas. But, you know, I’ve had a dust up with a very, you know, renowned scientist who told me that stress levels in poor black kids were super high. And I said, we’ll go to Montgomery County because those rich white kids are stressed out, too, and their stress levels are high and you not trying to you’re not out here trying to swab their cheeks like you trying to swab my black children cheeks. So let’s cut this out. So, you know, I mean, there is we have to be very careful about how we use this information on children.
De’Ara [00:20:48] All right. My news today, y’all, comes from The New York Times. It’s titled “Very High Risk: Longshoremen want protection from the virus so they can stay on the job. So we’re days now following the FDA approving a Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, which we still don’t really know what that means. And again, with, you know, who’s still in office for 37 days and not really knowing what the distribution plan is going to be quite yet. This article really spoke to me for a number of different reasons that you all will see, but but namely, just like how we’re going to prioritize need and what that means for people that should receive the vaccine and at what point, et cetera. So this particular article covers a perspective of port workers are longshoremen in New Orleans in particular. So for those of y’all who like me, were asking, what is a port worker or a longshoreman? Let me tell you.
De’Ara [00:21:42] So they are workers who load and unload freight from cargo ships to docks. And so, you know, cargo was imported and exported from all over the world and often includes shipping containers, which you probably have a sense of.
De’Ara [00:21:55] Like I’ve seen shipping containers now my whole life and never put any thought into what was in them and who was taking things off of them or putting things onto them.
De’Ara [00:22:04] And so shipping containers, barrels of oil, other substances and even oil and grain sometimes are in those containers. So this article tells us that “longshore work is exhausting and often requires close contact with others. The trade,” this is an important part, “Is essential to our economy.” So longshore workers serving as a crucial link between moving goods from shipping vessels onto trucks and trains that send them to their final destination. Over 95 percent of overseas trade for the United States flows through one of around 150 deepwater ports in the country, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.” So two crucial insights that this article really highlights that were new to me is that longshore workers in particular have the highest risk of being exposed to covid.
De’Ara [00:22:51] Secondly, they are primarily black, had no idea. So the article really expresses how covid is working its way through the longshoremen community, through stories of a couple of folks, namely Veneshia Givens. So her husband thought he had a sinus infection. He went to urgent care and the doctors did not give him a covid test, but sent him home with sinus medication. He went back to work and a couple of days later got really ill and then was admitted to the intensive care unit and he didn’t make it. Around the same time, his childhood friend and fellow longshoreman Wendell B. La Cour died from the virus. Also then another friend and colleague at the docks, David Page, was out of work for weeks in recovery. And even the union’s local president in New Orleans, David Magee, also contracted the virus and spent weeks and weeks in the hospital. So Mrs. Givens talked about in the article how this was like it was like a domino effect happening at this at the New Orleans port. And she insisted that her son not go back to work. He’s also a longshoreman. She said, “I lost my husband. I don’t want to lose my child too.”
De’Ara [00:24:01] So what is going on here? First of all, I think it’s just interesting for us to just like take time to understand, like, how things even arrived to us and that these ports, these major ports are in most major cities. And most folks working at these ports are folks of color, black folks. And so there’s an association of international longshoremen’s.
De’Ara [00:24:25] And it’s a union that represents about 65,000 longshore workers.
De’Ara [00:24:30] And they’ve been lobbying both the federal and state government for support. “In a letter in September to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, union officials asked that longshore workers be provided personal protective equipment sanitizer in rapid coronavirus tests, saying that the officials who operate the terminals were longshore workers and typically are at the highest risk and don’t have the PPE they need.” So that the federal level, “the Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, has been reluctant to involve the federal government in protecting transportation workers from the pandemic, saying it’s a labor management issue.” OK. The Department of Transportation does not make public health decisions. That authority lies with Human Health Services and the Center for Disease Control.”This is what the Department of Transportation spokesperson is saying. “Secretary Chao and the department have consistently and strongly encouraged passengers and transportation workers to follow the CDC guidelines, including wearing face coverings.” Thank you for that helpful bit of information.
De’Ara [00:25:30] U.S. secretary of transportation. And so “On Capitol Hill” really not having any movement there.
De’Ara [00:25:37] So there’s a provision in the INVEST in America Act. It’s a transportation overhaul bill and it calls for mandatory mask mandate for transportation workers, including longshoremen. But that bill, which is passed in the House, is stalled in Republican led Senate.”
De’Ara [00:25:52] So what’s happening is now it’s too expensive for some of the smaller ports to actually provide PPE, the the larger ports and just the longshoremen association, etc.. Now, they’re really saying that in order for them to give the PPE to everyone that needs it in a way that’s going to protect them, it’s going to be too expensive. So they’re calling on the federal government to do so. Another piece about longshoremen that I didn’t know as well that also puts them at risk is the way they actually bid on work. So they all get there during the day because you got to kind of wait for the ship to come in. And so they bid based on seniority to get that piece of work. But they have to stand basically shoulder to shoulder. And then they’re kind of chosen based on seniority and how many people they need to bring those goods in from that particular ship.
De’Ara [00:26:37] Long story short, with the holiday season and an increase in shipping and without these folks having the PPE and rapid covid test that they need, it’s basically a recipe for disaster. So who knows what’s going to happen in the next couple of months. But some experts are saying that if they don’t get the PPE that they need, if these protocols aren’t put into place, that basically a lot of longshoremen are going to have to stay home, which means there’s basically like a backup in the supply chain, which means when you go to a store, there’s nothing on the shelves. So just wanted to bring this to the pod because there were a whole bunch of pieces of information that I did not know. And so hopefully you got a little something out of it, too.
DeRay [00:27:20] I will say I honestly had no clue longshoremen like I you know, we’ve seen this profession and like TV shows normally, like the crime shows when something comes on one of those big craters and it’s like all the people on the dock.
DeRay [00:27:34] But it was like a I didn’t know this was still a, profession like it is and b, I didn’t know these people were black, like, literally no clue.
DeRay [00:27:41] And it made me think about how how much a disservice we do to the history of labor organizing when all of labor becomes teachers or like.
Kaya [00:27:50] Or police.
DeRay [00:27:51] The police. Right. It’s like that is the story of laborers. And then we talk about five fifteen. It’s sort of like maybe hotel workers. Right. Or like hospital workers. I’ve seen sort of people talk about. But we think about the historic union organizing and blackness that like we only hear about when it is like, you know, we talk about Memphis and the sanitation workers. Right. Are like it’s all these sort of like big, big moments, as opposed to helping us see the arc that created space for black people to be in the labor movement at all. And like this made me want to do more research and learn more about the history of organizing around blackness that I literally I just didn’t know like this really blew my mind. And it was a reminder of how the people who are bureaucrats have a lot of power. So when the transportation secretary is just like not my involvement, it’s a management issue.
DeRay [00:28:42] You’re like, oh, I think of all the ports closed down.
DeRay [00:28:45] That sort of is your problem, right? Like if if all of a sudden, like, there’s no goods coming in or out of the country, that is sort of like a national issue and you just not even thinking about it or caring about it or like is really a disservice to people. And like, you’re McConnell’s wife. So you like you know, you’re just.
Kaya [00:29:03] There you go.
DeRay [00:29:04] This is nepotism at its finest, but like you don’t even pretend to care. I think that’s the thing that is just so galling.
Sam [00:29:10] So my news is about publishing and in particular new analysis by The New York Times that looked at over seven thousand books published by the top five, what they call the Big Five publishing houses. So these are publishing houses like Penguin and Simon and Schuster, Doubleday, HarperCollins and McMillan. And what they find in reviewing over 7,000 books that have been published since the 1950s all the way through twenty eighteen is that during that time period, 95 percent of fiction books specifically that were published were written by white authors. And so, you know, this is a huge time period, 1950, all the way through the present. You would think, you know, maybe things have gotten substantially better more recently. But it turns out that in twenty eighteen, the most recent year, they have data on just 11 percent of books were actually written by people of color, just 11 percent and 89 percent were written by white people. So I wanted to bring this to the conversation because, you know, we talk about diversity and a lot of spaces and a lot of industries. I think when we talk about books and fiction in particular, it’s so important to to our ability to imagine a new world, to imagine our place in it and to see ourselves represented in new ways. And I think that, you know, seeing this data was just shocking. The extent to which people of color have been excluded from that process, excluded from having the opportunity to produce and have a platform through these big publishing companies to share those stories.
DeRay [00:30:39] The list is one of those things that is really interesting. It was this year that Octavia Butler actually hit the New York Times bestseller list for the first time, which is sort of wild. It also is a reminder that the list is about first week sales. Right. If you you know, if you go on a book tour, you want to get as many sales the first week. You don’t want people to necessarily buy books on the book tour because that is normally going to happen after the week. So it’s like a whole it is a whole process to figure out like what is the way that you do it? How do you do it? I like, you know, around the list. The thing that’s also interesting about this, you know, I think about when I sold my book, I probably met with 16 publishers and only in two meetings where any black people, which was also wild and it was like we set a record at CIA.
DeRay [00:31:27] You know, it’s like a holding, but it was to black people. You’re like, wow, this is a very different way. And there were a lot of people who were like, I’ve worked with black authors write that was their selling point to me. And I’m like, well, you know, this is and I worked with one of the black people, Georgia.
DeRay [00:31:43] It was incredible and a great editor and skilled in a host of incredible ways. And she was great and gave great feedback, all the stuff. But it was like, wow, it was one of those things to see it up close and personal. It also is interesting, I think about and this is not a critique of any books right now particularly, but I am interested in the genre of writing books to white people about race and like, what does it mean when those are the popular text about race? These are like not books for black people. They’re like not literally not intended for black people, but it’s like to help white people process the moment. And it makes me think about what happens to all of the amazing texts that are black people. Right, that are like for black people written by black people. The intended audience is black people. And it makes me think through those things. So that’s that’s what your news brought up to me. So my news is sort of zooming out. This is something that was just fascinating to me. We talked at the beginning of the pandemic about some of the racial history of black people and pandemics and what that looks like. But this was about sort of the legacy of pandemics in the United States and what they’ve done to our homes. And I just wanted to bring some stuff here.
DeRay [00:32:56] Have you ever heard people talk about project heat or like the old school radiators that are like the steam radiators and they are hot to touch? Any of you have ever had one or been around? Why? You know, that that is like the hottest heat you have ever.
DeRay [00:33:10] You like I mean, no heat inside a house could be this hot, you know, so hot that you can keep the windows open and still your room is totally warm. And what’s interesting about it is that reading about it is that the last pandemic in 1918 and the Spanish influenza really changed the landscape of like how we built homes in so many places. And those radiators, like those old school radiators, were meant to be able to heat a room while the window was open because the idea was that fresh air needed to circulate so that when the pandemic was raging, you weren’t like just circulating stale air. And the legacy of that is that, you know, in places like New York and public housing, you still have a vast majority of buildings with these really old radiators that are very hot if you’ve been around long, you know, that, like when he comes on, it is heat and it is heat for a very long time, whether it’s cold outside or not. And then he goes off, but it is hot, hot. And it was really interesting to me because I hadn’t even thought about the way that the pandemic just shapes so much of how the world moves. Also, things like linoleum or floors, like white tiles and kitchens came from a pandemic era when people needed to clean the surfaces. And the easiest way to clean surfaces was when they were white. And I just had people like thought about that, you know, like steam boilers, like all those things that you find are real challenges. And Kaya, I don’t know about the buildings in D.C., but definitely our buildings in Baltimore were these ancient steam boilers. And I hadn’t even thought about this idea of like we were actually building buildings so that they could withstand a pandemic, you know, a hundred years ago almost. And how we actually haven’t updated technology in the modern day, given what we know. And the article goes on to say that “roughly 80 percent of residential buildings in New York are still heated by steam and surveys of tenants that 70 percent are chronically overheated in winter.” So people you know, this is actually a waste of energy and a lot of places. But the design actually came from pandemic time. And that was fascinating to me.
DeRay [00:35:19] I was like, this is really interesting.
Kaya [00:35:20] As somebody who started her life in the projects around radiator’s, the thing that really I mean, that did this. It actually helps me.
Kaya [00:35:32] It helps my unbelief because I just thought they were trying to take poor people out and burn up a little poor black children where I come from.
Kaya [00:35:42] But but knowing that actually reason we.
De’Ara [00:35:47] My parents still have radiator’s let me do something. But the clank clanking got me that was so.
DeRay [00:35:54] Oh Goodness.
De’Ara [00:35:54] It can get as high as it just that night you’re trying to sleep in bank bank.
Kaya [00:35:59] My my house was built in 1929. I have radiator’s all over the place and I’m thankful for them actually because now you can actually control the heat. Right. Like you get your plummer to come in and fix it and there’s a knob that actually regulates the heat in the right way. But honestly, when I was little I thought this is so dangerous for kids. These radiator’s I mean, I’ve been burned by a radiator before and they are serious. But who I think I might have slept a little easier if I had known that the point was that we could keep the windows open and have fresh air coming around because of, you know, pandemic’s.
Kaya [00:36:35] I thought some of these things were just really interesting to understand the history of, like, closets.
De’Ara [00:36:40] Yeah, because I feel like black people don’t know that Kaya, because I feel like your mom would be like, stop letting the heat out. Put the windows up.
Kaya [00:36:45] Oh yes for sure. Absolutely.
Kaya [00:36:47] And we and they are sweating like pigs for me, but closets and the the how closets came to be because these big armoires, which is where people used to keep their clothing collected, dust and dust, of course, was believed to have carried germs. And so, I mean, there were lots from the white subway tile. Fascinating, you know, so that people could spot dirt and grime and so that it evoked feelings of a clean hospital. I mean, these were just very interesting little tidbits that you generally don’t know about.
Kaya [00:37:25] And so I really enjoyed this article. Thanks DeRay.
DeRay [00:37:29] Don’t Go Anywhere, more Pod Save the Pople’s coming. Pod Save the People is brought to you by my favorite our favorite shout out to the one and only.
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Andy Slavitt [00:41:48] I feel like I’m home.
DeRay [00:41:51] Now We’ve had you on before to talk about Covid. What how is the response going to look differently under the Biden administration? And I ask because in some ways it feels like the states have sort of done their own thing and that it doesn’t look like that’s going to stop. It looks like the vaccines that are already vaccining. So like what will be different besides not having somebody who’s just lying to people?
Andy Slavitt [00:42:11] Yeah, I mean, look, I think you’re right. You got to start with honesty. I think we’ll get the straight story. Number two, I think we’ll see the bully pulpit be used more frequently, regularly to tell people, look, here’s what we should be doing and try to unite people.
Andy Slavitt [00:42:25] Number three, equity. There’s going to be a real focus on every decision being made with regard to how do we make sure the people who are getting hurt the most, who are in most vulnerable situations are getting taken care of, know they have appointed a head of health equity, which is, I think, a brilliant move. Who’s going to be involved in every decision. And then finally, just plain competent. People in there in the government who know what they’re doing, delivering or coordinating with the states and getting vaccines distributed. Those are I think it will be things that will be pretty noticeable by the time you get through the first hundred days of the Biden administration.
DeRay [00:43:00] Now, what about the vaccine? You know, I’ve seen a lot of people, people I respect who are nervous about taking the vaccine. What’s your read on that?
Andy Slavitt [00:43:09] There’s a reason people got nervous because Trump started to politicize the vaccine. The truth is the United Kingdom just approved the vaccine before we did. They should give us a great deal of competence. These are very good vaccines. This is not about politics. We go through very rigorous processes in the vaccine data quite frankly, it’s just incredible. It’s beyond the wildest dreams of what you know for vaccines, in my opinion, are some of the greatest invention known to man. Viruses are always going to be out there. But, you know, we had the HIV vaccine in the late 80s, early 90s, who to save millions of lives and so much suffering.
Andy Slavitt [00:43:48] So we’re so lucky to have this. And I hope people will take the time to talk to the people they trust, because I think we’re going to find that this is a vaccine that is going to do a lot of good and grateful. We have more than one.
DeRay [00:44:02] Now, will you say more than one? What are the differences between the vaccine like? Why is it not just like one vaccine? Why is it that people might be able to choose or like, do you choose? How does it work that there are more than one vaccine?
DeRay [00:44:12] So, you know, essentially they basically didn’t know what was going to work. So the more than 100 companies started working on these vaccines early. And there’s some important differences. There’s something that people may have heard of called messenger RNA as an approach. It’s a brand new way, different type of accidentally before two of the vaccines that are going to be approved early, one by Pfizer and one by the Dorna use this platform and every one of them has advantages and disadvantages. I mean, the challenge with some of these vaccines is you need a booster shot about three weeks after your first one. So that’s not great because it requires people to come in twice, but it’s 95 percent effective. And, you know, they didn’t know which vaccines would come over the line. But the good news is we’re going to need all of them. We need every one of them because we’ve got to vaccinate billions of people on the planet and hundreds of millions of people in the country. So every single one that’s approved, we’re going to need them. How will we choose? You know, nobody’s going to force anybody to take a vaccine, but very likely, particularly for the people that are starting to get them earlier, the vaccines that are approved first, that are manufactured first. Those are the ones that people will be near people. And the vaccines are very, very similar. So, you know, I don’t know the people that it makes a lot of sense for people to shop around for the for the one that they prefer because they’re going to have very similar effectiveness rates, very similar side effects, et cetera.
DeRay [00:45:36] Is the vaccine going to be free or are people like how are people going to get the vaccine? Like, do you just like go to urgent care or is it just are they going to be pop up clinics? Like what does that look like? Are they going be enough vaccines?
Andy Slavitt [00:45:47] So the vaccines are going to roll out in waves. And so the first wave of people getting vaccinated are going to be health care workers and people in long term care facilities. And that’s about 22 million people. So that’s where the first called 44 million vaccines will go, because, again, each person was recommended to have two vaccines. Then they’re going to go to in some order that the CDC is going to recommend that is going to begin with school teachers and essential workers at risk, people and seniors. And so people will get. Notified the most common place people will get them will be places like CVS or Walgreens, there will be hospitals, there will be other centers. They’re determining kind of where that distribution goes. Some of these vaccines require that they be stored in very cold temperatures. So it’s not like it’s easy enough that you can just go to any doctor’s office. If they don’t have the refrigeration capability, there will be some of that that’s factored into the logistics. My guess is that over the course of the first six months, virtually everybody, if everybody, by the time you get to May or June, will have had a vaccine available for them to be able to put into their arm.
DeRay [00:46:58] And what about the side effects, you said they’re similar?
Andy Slavitt [00:47:00] side effects are exactly what you hope for. They are. You’ll see like a little inflammation of the arm. You may be tired. You they feel a tiny bit feverish. That lasts no more than 24 hours or 48 hours at the outset. Those are the signs of a vaccine that are really good. Nobody wants anybody that have to suffer through a sore arm. But what that indicates is your body is kicking off an immune response, which is exactly what the vaccine is supposed to do. And what that’s doing is it’s giving you immune response in your arm where you want it, as opposed to where people who get sick would get that information. So people will should experience a little of that. It should be concerning just to be expected. And it’s a sign that your body is working. Right.
DeRay [00:47:47] And will kids take it?
Andy Slavitt [00:47:48] So not at first. At first it’s going to be 16 and older. That’s why it’s really important for us to vaccinate teachers early because kids will not be taking the vaccine first. Pregnant women will not be taking the vaccine.
Andy Slavitt [00:48:02] So it’s really, really important that all the rest of us, because we come in contact with kids, we come in contact with pregnant women do take the vaccine so that we don’t put them at risk.
DeRay [00:48:11] And what about prisons and jails? I’ve heard that some places are going to do some early doses there.
Andy Slavitt [00:48:16] The way it’s going to work is there’s an organization called the ACIP which will make a recommendation on who gets vaccinated when they haven’t done that final determination yet. Once they do that, those recommendations will go to every state governor and then every governor gets to accept or reject those recommendations. So what you could see, is it done differently in different states. In some states, they put people in jails and prisons higher on the list. That could be January or February or March. Other states could put a lower on the list, March, April, May. So it’ll be the difference between a couple of months. We all should be making the case loudly that anybody who is at serious risk needs to get these vaccines earlier and people who can afford to isolate that live in apartmenrs or alone or they live in the house, we should all be getting those vaccines after everyone else does.
DeRay [00:49:08] How do you feel about Vivek being the surgeon general again and the team that he’s put in around like the Covid task force? Are you is this a good thing or are we still nervous about something? And then what’s going to be the lingering effect of the Trump decisions on what’s happening?
Andy Slavitt [00:49:23] You know, I think about each of these appointments and each of them are people that I know between pretty well and very well. And I think they said all the right messages and they’re the right kind of people. Everybody is 180 degrees from the Trump people. Xavier Becrra, Latino, second generation American is currently the the head of the Justice Department in the state of California. He’s been in the lead fighting for the ACA. He personally believes in single payer. The image I have in my mind as someone who equates health and justice together, that you can’t have a just society until everybody has health care and until people are treated fairly, do something I know pretty well. It’s such a beautiful message in my opinion. It’s so different from the message we get today where, you know, the trans community gets discriminated against BIPOC community, gets discriminated against. That’s just part of the design. That’s what happens. It’s just part of the design. You have to fight against that. And I think Becerra will do that. In terms of the covid team. Vivek Murthy, I’m grateful he’s playing this role again, as we call America’s doctor. That’s a really good guy, a really sincere guy, someone who cares deeply about people. He’s deeply empathetic. And so I think will be great in that role of just explaining things to the public and the person who’s going to run kind of as a quarterback of the response is a guy named Jeff Zients, who I worked with when I was in the administration. And he’s a great quarterback. He’s very organized. He’s very disciplined. He’s very focused. He’s a good listener. He takes our points of view and he makes quick decisions. So I think he will help make sure that we’re running things on the battlefield pretty well. So I’m I’m really thrilled with the people that have been chosen so far.
DeRay [00:51:05] Now, what should we be looking for as Biden and Harris take over? What are the questions that people should be asking? What are the things that we should be paying attention to knowing they ought to be night and day from this current administration?
Andy Slavitt [00:51:17] Well, look, I think we should have an expectation. The new administration is more than not-Trump, that they don’t just, you know, reverse his bad policy, but they heal the things that are broken. DeRay You and I know we talked about these things before. There’s there’s a lot about the healthcare system that was unjust before covid. There are a lot of things that didn’t work before covid for many, many people. And now during Covid, they became more acute people of color, dying older people in nursing homes, abandoned people with mental health issues in crises, all of these things. But they just simply accentuation the trend that existed before. There were kids that didn’t have Internet at home before covid-19. They didn’t have Internet during covid-19. And the message is it’s all up to us whether they have Internet after covid-19 and likewise whether or not people have access to health care and so forth. One thing I’ve learned is I learned, as from a lot of people, including you, if you don’t actively fight, then people will will reassess towards the comfortable and the comfortable will be very unequal system.
Andy Slavitt [00:52:21] What we can expect from Biden, Harris and the team that they’re fighting against that every day. They’re making progress against that. And it’s not easy. It’s not overnight. But, you know, we should expect that people in the government fighting for us for once and that change is just going to feel really different.
DeRay [00:52:41] Well, we consider you a friend of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back. We will stay tuned to what’s happening with the vaccine. And as always, you teach us a lot.
Andy Slavitt [00:52:48] Yes. Great to be on. Thank you for having me.
DeRay [00:52:51] You’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [00:56:36] And now the check in with Netta to give us some updates on what’s going on with the protests around the country.
Netta [00:56:41] Hey, everybody, it’s me Netta. Thanks for tuning back in. New weeks. New news, old dynamics.
Netta [00:56:47] I had a lot of puppy play time at the park this week because the district enjoyed some lovely weather over the weekend. And I am taking on new responsibilities in my work life. And I will be so honest. It is so stressful. My brain hurts so bad.
Netta [00:57:03] I don’t know of anyone who has ever even felt that way. But yes, sometimes my brain just hurts from thinking too much. Yesterday I went to run an errand and I returned back home to a very happy sage sitting in the middle of my living room floor, just having the time of her life, little tail wagging. And ya’ll I was frightened because when I left the house, Sage was in her playpen. Sage How did you get into my living room, Sage? So sure enough, I had to go investigate in this dog because I figured out how to get out of her playpen and was just having the time of her life with her leash and her harness and a box that she pulled out of somewhere. I have no clue. So, yeah, she really got me yesterday.
Netta [00:57:48] So after the shock wore off, I just had to scoop Miss Daisy up, put her back in her playpen, securely, clean up all of her mess and just show no emotion because that was a wild one. Oh, OK. So that’s personal updates. And here’s to the news.
Netta [00:58:09] In Ohio, Jason Meade, a sheriff’s deputy, killed an unarmed black man last week. The names change, but the stories always feel the same. Twenty three year old Casey Goodson Jr. died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds to the torso in Franklin County, Ohio. Police say they allegedly saw Goodson driving while waving a gun. But according to the NPR report, no official reports said Goodson was armed at the time of the shooting. Goodson’s family has rejected multiple accounts of the shooting.
Netta [00:58:40] Family lawyers told CNN with me the statement issued nearly one full week after he killed Casey. It is critical to note that this is a classic defense often claimed by police after they shoot and kill someone. It is also critical to remember that often the evidence does not support these claims. The Franklin County coroner’s office has ruled the death a homicide, but that ruling doesn’t automatically trigger criminal charges. Now here’s where things get extra suspect. There’s no body camera footage of the shooting. No other law enforcement officials were witnesses. Casey’s grandmother and two small children did witness the shooting. Casey was also licensed to carry a weapon. And carrying a concealed weapon is lawful in Ohio. The officer who fired the fatal shots was said to have just finished conducting a search for a violent fugitive, though Casey was not the subject of this search. Like that Sunshine Anderson song, we’ve heard it all before. I don’t know about you, but I’m super tired of saying justice for, and then inserting the name of a young black man or a young black woman who has been taken from us too soon.
Netta [00:59:47] You know what justice would be? Not having to know people’s names in the first place.
Netta [00:59:51] Casey Goodson Jr., like BreonnaTaylor, like George Floyd, like Mike Brown Jr., are all people that should have lived long, anonymous lives, unknown to most of us.
Netta [01:00:02] Instead, we know them and Casey Goodson Jr. for all the wrong reasons. No matter how you feel about people who want to divert resources from law enforcement, this is why people make those demands. And if you’re reducing these demands simply to slogans, remember that these calls come after someone has lost their life or been traumatized at the hands of law enforcement. These aren’t rhetorical debates. This is a life and death matter. And some hopeful news.
Netta [01:00:30] Incoming Los Angeles County D.A. George Gascon has publicly committed to ending cash bail for any misdemeanor, not serious or nonviolent felony offense.
Netta [01:00:40] In a series of tweets on December seven, the day that he was sworn in, he drew from his experience as a former police officer, concluding that the criminal legal system is fundamentally broken. In addition to announcing that he’s ending cash bail for nonviolent offenses, Gascon said he’ll end the practice completely on January 1st. So happy New Year’s. But in all seriousness, this is a pretty big deal. For years, activists and organizers have pushed DA’s to boldly reimagine what public safety looks like. L.A. County is one of the largest counties in the country, and what happens there could make waves across the nation. We have a long way to go before we have a truly equitable criminal legal system which now functions on the backs of black and brown bodies.
Netta [01:01:23] But this is a step.
Netta [01:01:26] While most of the country has moved on from the election, Donald Trump and his minions are determined to raise as much help as they can before they leave last. We can in D.C., the Cowboys were spotted snatching Black Lives Matter flags off of black churches in the district.
Netta [01:01:43] I want to repeat this again. Last weekend in the District of Columbia, the Proud Boys were snatching Black Lives Matter flags off of black churches in the city. And not only were the flags pulled down, they were burned. Are you going to tell me that this is economic anxiety or are we ready to call the thing the thing? This is racism. And I don’t care how many mascots of color the Proud Boys prop up, they’re still racist. So let us recap.
Netta [01:02:14] Proud boys enter church property, disrespected the church grounds and the spiritual sanctity of the space, violently removed a fixture and documented evidence of their crimes. On the 13th of this month, the Washington Post reported nearly three dozen people had been arrested in connection to the violence stemming from thisSsad Guys protest. Does anyone else see an issue here?
Netta [01:02:39] The pastor of Astbury United Methodist Church issued a statement following the hate crime because that’s what this is saying, it was “reminiscent of cross burnings.”
Netta [01:02:50] This is another example that even our most sacred spaces aren’t safe from racism. The Silence from certain faith leaders is also deafening. But unfortunately, the silence is all too typical.
Netta [01:03:01] Those who preach from their pulpits that All Lives Matter somehow find themselves without words When black lives or black churches are the targets, maybe in their minds this is not a crime because black people and black worship spaces aren’t deserving of protection.
Netta [01:03:18] After all, this is the country that designated us as three fifths of a person. The old ways of thinking suddenly don’t feel so old anymore.
Netta [01:03:27] And the past, it feels very present.
Netta [01:03:32] I’m ending this week on a positive note, Miss Gloria, asked us to fight on, a lot of us have seen this iconic picture of a black woman shoving away a rifle from a National Guardsman during a protest back in the 60s. The Washington Post caught up with a woman recently. Her name is as Gloria Richardson, and she is now 98 years old. She lives in New York. And if you think time has dimmed her fire, think again. She told The Post, until everyone is on the same plane, then the fight continues. This fight is still the same fight as before.
Netta [01:04:09] Amen, Miss Richardson, amen, see her next week.
DeRay [01:04:13] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [01:07:52] And finally, I’m sitting down with New York State Senator Brian Benjamin to discuss his work representing New York.
DeRay [01:07:56] He represents Harlem and some of the amazing legislation he’s working on that would be a game changer in the state of new York, that will be a model across the country.
DeRay [01:08:05] Let’s go. Senator Benjamin, thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:08:09] Thank you. I’m honored to be on Pod Save the People.
DeRay [01:08:11] You know, we don’t normally have local politicians on, partly because you represent a slice of the world. But one of the reasons why we invited you is because you are one of the few political leaders we’ve seen at state levels who are willing to fight some of the big fights around criminal justice. And you can help us understand better why state legislatures really matter in the grand scheme. But can we start with how you got to the statehouse? Like, what was your did you always want to be a state senator? Did you, like, fall into this as somebody convinced you to run and you thought it was a good idea? Was it a bad outcome? Like, how did it happen?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:08:45] Yeah, I know growing up, my mom and I used to watch Meet the Press together every Sunday morning. She worked at the labor union. I was very involved. I probably went to every single Democratic convention right up until this last one, and I always wanted to be involved with it. Never knew if I would actually run. But a couple of things happened. One, when then Senator Obama ran for president, I really felt like I think I might want to do this. And so I decided to leave the job I had at the time. I was an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. I left the job to then come to Harlem to help a friend of mine help build affordable housing in the community and got involved in the local community and joined the community board. And, you know, of a couple of years, I thought to myself, you know, if at any point something opens up, I’d be interested in considering it because of term limits. I believe that that would have been the city council seat. So I was looking to run for that. But then when the city council seat opened up, then Senator Bill Perkins decided to run for the city council seat. And given his popularity, I thought would be a better approach for me to run for the Senate seat behind him. And that’s what I ended up doing. And quite frankly, because I’m so interested in ending mass incarceration, I found by going to the state would have been just as appealing. I going to the city council.
DeRay [01:10:01] And how has it been in the state Senate? Like help people understand like why sort of what’s the power of the state House and what is specifically the role of the state Senate in New York?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:10:11] The state legislature runs the state. You know, a lot of people interact with their local municipalities, like the city of New York or Buffalo or Rochester, their local municipalities. But all laws manifest right from the state. So, for example, education, every single decision manifests from Albany. We give the mayor mayoral control. But that’s something that we give the mayor criminal justice, determining sentencing. Whether you go to jail for something or not, whether you have bail or you don’t, what is the the policies around the climate change, et cetera. I mean, every single issue you have in the state, the state actually has the governor in power. So for me, it’s been very important. I’ve also I’ve been learning about other issues that I wasn’t as familiar with on the state level, but I’ve been really able to like, really lean in on the criminal justice reform. You know, I was very involved in the conversation around bail, very informal conversation around speedy trial discovery, very active around trying to get New York State to finally fully divest from private prisons. I pushed the state control to do that kind of bill right now to consider lending to private prisons from New York state banks prohibiting that. So you honestly, the state legislature with the governor really has the full power of the state. And, you know, I know many of us remember when Obama became president. A lot of us was so excited. And what a lot of the Republicans did, particularly the Tea Party, is that they went and started locally organizing around their state houses so that policies that were happening federally, they could undermine them on the state level. And that’s the power that we that we have as well.
DeRay [01:11:48] Can you help us understand the timeline? So unlike city councils, it seems like city councils across the country meet often. They meet like every other week in some places once a month. But it’s like they are sort of always on. The state house isn’t always technically on. I guess you’re always you’re sort of like always in your role as long as your term is. But you all don’t make decisions for 12 months. So how does that work? Does that mean that, like. You know, once one session ends that, like, is sort of a wrap or like, I don’t know, like you help us understand the timing.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:12:19] Sure. So the way it works is and we just actually got our calendar for the upcoming session coming session calendar. We generally have scheduled legislative days between January and June, usually resulting in about 60 to 65 actual physical days of session. We also have the ability to call for a special session at any given time. So, you know, let’s assume, for example, there’s some crisis or something important that we feel like we need to go pass legislation on. The Senate leader and the speaker can call us into session at any time for any particular purpose. So we are we are on calendar days from January to June and then on request from July through December. So that’s just a legend on the legislative front. In the meantime, you know, we have working groups. We do a lot of activity with constituents. We’re figuring out problems like, for example, right now we are actively looking at the conversation around housing, the eviction moratorium, what we should do around that, how much tax revenue we should raise. We are actively looking at that right now. And that is something that we can decide, you know, before the end of the year, we will go back and have a session and in session to exercise the issue. So that’s sort of the framework of it. You know, we don’t have calendar days all year, but we’re actively working all year. It’s just when we actually physically go into session is primarily between January through June.
DeRay [01:13:58] What does it mean that you’re a senator and not a representative? Does it matter? Are they essentially the same two bodies, but it’s just different terms, like how does what does that mean?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:14:07] We have the assembly, which is 150 members. They almost are like our House of Representatives. And then you have the Senate, which is 63 members. And we’re like, for lack of better terms, the U.S. Senate, we we have the same term. So unlike in D.C., where the the House members have two year terms in the Senate, have six year terms in New York, the House and the Senate both have a two year term. So we are every two years running for reelection. The difference is if a bill passes the Senate and does not pass the assembly, it cannot move forward. The Bill passed, the Assembly doesn’t pass the Senate. You cannot move forward. The only way bills actually get passed and enacted is that it has to pass the Assembly and the Senate and it has to be the same bill. And that same bill then would be provided to the governor. And the governor will either subsidize is or rejected or offer a chapter amendments that, if we agree on, could then have the bill become enacted.
DeRay [01:15:06] Got it. When you originally ran, you ran on this issue around closing Rikers, and sicne then you’ve done a lot of work around the criminal justice. Can you talk about why Rikers was your entrance to this work yet?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:15:19] The reason why I started with Rikers is because Rikers for me, represents one of the biggest issues that I have with our system, and that is that we over incarcerate. At the time when I ran. If you look at the number of people who are in Rikers at an enormous cost to the city while being there in the market and a number of cases for crimes that they weren’t convicted of to me and in a number of those cases, nonviolent offenses, to me, Rikers represents one of the worst parts of our system. And when you compound that with the fact that Rikers is really inhumane, jail, all of that combined to me is a systematic structure that really undermines people of color. And by the way, as you know, when you have almost nine out of 10 people being black or brown, it is just an enormous problem. So for me, I wanted to come to the legislature and let people know off the bat that I meant business. I believe, you know, a lot of times that come from the private sector where things just happen faster. And so for me, the idea that we needed 10 years to close Rikers was just illogical. Now, I came and said we needed three which is probably a little aggressive. But, you know, I found in government you rather say two and end up at 4 then to say four and then up at eight. Right. So I really wanted to sort of highlight, you know, some of the some of the issues there. And we ended up working on those things. And part of that was, you know, how can we reduce the population in a way that made sense and didn’t in any way at all threaten public safety? And we have been working on those issues since I’ve been a senator.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:17:02] But that’s why I started with Rikers.
DeRay [01:17:02] Got it. What’s coming up. So we got connected because you are a co-sponsor of the No Knock Bill. So that’s how we met. But you’re also working on the Comptroller we talked to you and your team about. So if you can preview for us like what’s coming down the pike, that be great.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:17:17] Sure. So a few things. As you mentioned, we have a No-Knock Bill. That bill has been reorganized, which I’m very excited about. You know, as many people know, the Breonna Taylor case, there are situations where there are no knock warrants that could be 60 days old in some cases that are acted upon by police where there isn’t some major extreme circumstance to warrant it. Right. It’s not like someone’s in the murder that that that is a terrible issue. And a lot of these cases, they could be simple potential drug offenses where no knock warrants are granted. And as far as I’m concerned, those are rife with potential for abuse. And also, if the police find something in the apartment that they feel like they need to take for whatever reason they can do so, which is a whole separate issue. So for me, one of the things that I’m excited about with the horror, Bill, is that it will close some of these loopholes to not allow officers to manipulate search warrants and really sort of increase some of the requirements around how when a no not warrant can be given. Because, listen, there are times when no knock warrants are needed, but it isn’t the majority of the cases that are used for now. So I have some real concerns about that. That’s not my Bill that’s a colleague of mine bill, Senator, named James Sanders. But I’m a co-sponsor on that. The bill that, you know, I’ve introduced, I’m very excited about is a bill that takes a look at settlements as relates to police misconduct. Right now in the city of New York, our taxpayers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to settle police misconduct cases. A couple of years ago, the number was over hundred and eight million, double what it was 10 years ago. And for me, part of the problem with these settlements is the information that’s reported to the general public is very vague. It’s aggregated and it doesn’t have some of the key details that you need to take a look and say, well, who how much has been paid to each of these separate cases? Who are the main parties? And we really want to make sure that that information is published. Right. We want to publicize when there are payments made for legal settlements that involve law enforcement. Like we need to know what that is because that’s our money. And so this bill will require annual reports from the city comptroller and the state comptroller to that end. And I feel like that transparency would really help, in my view, to change behavior, but also help to bring us to the issue before we end up with a George Floyd case. I’m sure the police officer, Chauvin, who was involved in that case, that wasn’t the first time he did something inappropriate. There were probably some settlements tied to him in the past. We want to prevent bad apples from growing. And I think this bill would provide the transparency to do that.
DeRay [01:20:09] What would you say to some of the critics of releasing this? I would say like this data should be private, that like people got money, that all of it should sort of be secret and that the comptroller does release right now. So the overall figure and that figure is bad enough that we don’t really need to know the details.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:20:26] Well, I would say to them, there are miscarriages of justice, police misconduct that are tied to these claims. And we want to get to the bottom of rooting that out. And it is not OK to say, oh, well, there was a settlement, so let’s just leave it at that. No. Well, we want to do is provide transparency and to find out who are the police who are doing these things, if there are patterns that need to be detected and then to help boost those out through transparency. I think that for the bigger system, that’s important. Right? I mean, I don’t think anyone would say that it’s OK to allow police who engage in misconduct on a regular basis to continue in their jobs. They should be rooted out. And I think this bill helps to do that. That’s better for everyone. That’s better for the taxpayer, and it’s better for the citizens who have to trust the police to do their job.
DeRay [01:21:20] Now, what about covid? So it feels like we have staved off the worst right now around the budget crisis. But these budget windfalls are going to hit at some point and there’s going to be a host of hard decisions, especially if Biden and Harris don’t come out with a really robust stimulus package or a recovery package. What are you all talking about when we think about the budget cuts, like, well, is their rainy day fund in New York, that’s you’ll just deplete that now, fill it up later, like, I don’t know, what’s it looking like?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:21:50] Those a couple of things we’re looking at. One is we’re looking at raising taxes. We believe that that’s an important part of the solution. We are also looking at cuts, but more cuts that are tied to either things that are no longer relevant in the global like environment or things that will wait that we just don’t have the time for. We can delay until later. There’s some capital projects that are being slowed down. There’s going to be reviewing our property taxes. What are the right numbers and the right levels to sort of make the whole puzzle work? So we’re looking at every range of solutions. Obviously, we are. We are all hoping and praying and working hard to win the two Georgia Senate seats. But if for some reason we don’t prevail, we have to be prepared to deal with a world where Mitch McConnell has power as well. So we are actively looking at raising revenue, evaluating which cuts make sense, and understanding that there’s more expensive because, as you mentioned, covid, there’s a vaccine that we’re going to have to roll out that cost money, too. And we’re not clear on what and how much the federal budget is going to help pay that. So this is a constant thing we’re looking at. What I can say is that we’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of the working class, poor people.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:23:00] We’re going to make sure that everyone pays their fair share and this shared sacrifice across the board.
DeRay [01:23:04] Like what should we as we as we think about sort of this next session, you introduced a bill around technical violations of probation, you’re co-sponsering the No Knock bill, you have the comptroller bill. There’s going to be some covid stuff like how can people I don’t know, is there a way for people to get involved? So if they care about these things, should they call you? Should they call their state rep or house rep? Is that I don’t know, like some people saying if somebody was like Senator Benjaman, will you fight about this idea? Should they just email your office or they text you? I don’t know. What’s how do people get involved?
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:23:34] If you have a specific thing that really grabs you, The best first step is to find out if there’s a group that’s already organized on that issue. There are a number of activist groups who have different bills and issues that are part of their platforms. If you engage with them and you’re not in love with that operation, then there are other ways for you to get involved. You can help pull some people together. You can write op ed. You can clearly call your legislators. And I’m happy to receive the calls. And we have a team that does that. But depending on what kind of skill sets you have, you can get involved in the process. Right. So, for example, all of our bills are available online. You can Google them, you can find them on LRS. You can depending on what kind of skill set you might have, you can read through those bills. You can talk to people. I tend to find that those who are more involved in organizing with others or thinking through the content really can make a big difference. Sometimes, you know, we can get a call right before we’re going to pass a bill the next day saying, hey, you missed the fact in the bill that there is this thing and sometimes that happens when you’re passing thousands of bills, not something done on purpose, something that you can always revise later. But I do think there’s a lot of opportunities for citizens to do that. We all have town halls and there there are hearings where we have on various bills and various issues. So depending upon whether it’s like you care about health, you care about the bill, or you just care about who’s elected, depending on what you’re interested in, there are no words to get involved. My office is always available. If people want to call and ask questions, we can help guide people to say, oh, you’re interested in this law? I would recommend that. And my office number two, one, two, two two two seven three one five, people can email me at the BBenjamin@NYSenate.gov. And we’re happy to help people get more engaged because our government works when more people are involved, more people are engaged and our local government works better when that happens. And one of the things that happens is people tend to focus more on the federal level, who’s president, who’s not president. But what happens on your block, what happens on your street, what happens in your neighborhood is usually governed by the local and city and state representatives. And connecting on that level usually makes a lot of sense.
DeRay [01:25:47] Well, thank you so much for this. We consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Senator Brian Benjamin [01:25:51] Perfect. Thank you DeRay.
DeRay [01:25:54] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcast with this Apple podcast or somewhere else. And I’ll see you next week.
DeRay [01:26:06] Pod Save the People is brought to you by Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Sam SInyangwe. And our special contributer, Johnetta Elzie.