Let Yourself Feel (with Maurice Chammah) | Crooked Media
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February 02, 2021
Pod Save The People
Let Yourself Feel (with Maurice Chammah)

In This Episode

DeRay, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara dive into the underreported news of the week, including Seattle PD’s budget, billionaire economic recovery, vaccination distribution, and immigration agents within the 287(g) program. Netta Elzie gives updates on what’s happening with the nationwide protests. DeRay sits down with Maurice Chammah, author of “Let The Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty in the United States” to discuss capital punishment.

Links:

DeRay

Kaya

Sam

De’Ara

 

Transcript: 

DeRay Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, it’s me, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara as usual, talking about the news that you probably don’t know from the past week. Ginette Algazi also is here to give us an update on what’s happening at the protest. And then I sit down with the incredible author Maurice Chammah to talk about his new book, “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty in the United States.” I learned a ton. You’ll learn a ton timely book.

 

DeRay Let’s do it. My advice for this week is let yourself feel. You know, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on in therapy. It’s definitely something I’ve seen friends struggle with. Is that like something happens normally when something like not great, we do everything to avoid the feeling. We fill up our schedule, we self medicate, we do all this stuff so that the feeling won’t come. And avoiding all that feeling just piles up and piles up and piles up until one day it’s too much to let yourself feel, get the support you need. But like running away from the feeling never works.

 

DeRay Let’s go.

 

De’Ara Welcome everyone to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger.

 

De’Ara You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @dearabalenger.

 

Sam And I’m Sam Sinyangwe on Twitter @samswey.

 

Kaya I’m Kaya Henderson on Twitter @HendersonKaya.

 

DeRay And this is DeRay @deray on Twitter.

 

De’Ara So we’re still rolling through its January. We are knocking on Black History Month store y’all. By the time you’ll be hearing this, it will be Black History Month. But for some reason, I’m going to talk to you about Marjorie Taylor Greene.

 

De’Ara That’s OK. That’s OK. There’ll be plenty more Black History Month from us.

 

De’Ara We wanted to just talk about some of the leftover Trump-ness in DC, just in a sense of how wild this woman has been acting towards, you know, people like the amazing Corey Bush that’s in Congress, folks like the Parkland survivors that have been to Congress and their parents. This woman’s been attacking folks, but in a way that is nonsensical. Yes, it’s scary, but some of it’s downright hilarious, if you ask me. So we just wanted to talk about her just a bit, because I think it does still give us a sense of what are some of these conversations look like if people are still troubled with fact and reality. This woman also is, you know, has tons of support in her district. So it seems even her behavior is fueled by the fact that she has so many folks in her town supporting her. So interesting, troubling. What do you think?

 

Kaya She’s a whole situation. But I think for me, the more dangerous thing is that there are not many Republicans who are standing up to say that this is unacceptable. I was just reading that Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio was on CNN and called for Republican Party leaders to stand up against the things that she’s saying and and says that there should be a strong response. But you’re just not seeing a center of gravity around of people saying this is not OK, this is unacceptable to watch this lady walk behind a young person and harass and harangue and berate them on camera. In fact, I mean, to do it, period. But and on camera is just galling. And no, I mean, who’s standing up and saying this is not OK, lady, this is not how we roll. Nobody. And so will Senator Portman is and I’m sure there are others, but this needs to be wholesale condemnation. This is not OK. This is not leadership. This is not democracy. You know, at some point we need to draw a line on this foolishness.

 

Sam So this is sort of a continuation of this broader conversation around accountability. And what should accountability look like for the Republicans who have misled and lied to millions of people who incited an insurrection against the United States government, who now are continuing in some cases, like with Marjorie Taylor Green, to double down on the lies, on the conspiracy theories. Re traumatizing some of the same folks that their behavior literally caused to traumatize in the first place. To just continue on with this down this path, with no leadership within the Republican Party standing up and doing anything about it. And, you know, in the current system, very little that Democrats alone can do to remove Republican members from Congress or to impeach folks and remove them. And so, you know, it is this sort of asymmetry where clearly these folks don’t belong in Congress. Clearly, they have participated in crimes and things that if any one of us did it like, we’d be under the jail. But they’re still in Congress, and without the Republicans standing up, it’s you sort of feel like, you know, what can really be done outside of waiting until the next election. And when you look at the polls, it’s not looking like her supporters are any less problematic than she is. They supported her then, like the Republican Party there. It’s well known that there are now, you know, millions of people across the country who buy into this worldview, who buy into the conspiracy theories, who believe the election was stolen. I think this is a broader question of, you know, what is the responsibility of a member of Congress, even if you have constituents that truly believe in some of these wild conspiracy theories who are truly racist at heart, we need to have some level of responsibility where those views are not given a platform in the United States government are not translated into policy to not become weaponized, where they can obstruct and delay the governing agenda of the Biden Harris administration. This is a huge conversation, but we need some level of accountability and none of that has happened to date. No members of Congress have been expelled from the chamber. Donald Trump has not been convicted yet. He hasn’t been indicted yet for all of those who participated in the insurrection and the crime, crimes against civilians, crimes against capitol police officers like egregious crimes that they have yet to be held accountable for. So, again, I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene is sort of the tip of the iceberg here on this broader issue of accountability. And we still have not seen it. I mean, there have been a few isolated cases of individuals who’ve been arrested following the capital riot and insurrection. But overall, the people who led that insurrection, the people who mobilized and organized and funded and incited that insurrection, have faced no accountability at all.

 

Sam And that has to happen now before this continues down the ugly road that’s going down.

 

DeRay You know, under the Constitution, the House of Representatives, they have the power to expel any member with a two thirds vote. It’s probably not likely, given that the GOP controls a lot of seats. The Democrats do not have a two thirds majority. But it is important to note that 50 members of the House have signed on to a resolution to be introduced by Democratic Rep. Jim Gomez calling for her expulsion from Congress. I think it’s important, you know, this cannot be acceptable in the most important legislative body in the United States. The other thing that is, and this is the ridiculous thing, Mike Lee and Chip Roy, Republican Mike Lee from Utah and then Texas Representative Chip Roy, they are calling for AOC to be censured because AOC tweeted about the GameStop stuff, which was its own thing, and Ted Cruz wrote back fully agree, like he agree with her about the GameStop and about Robin Hood stopping the trading and then AOC with the class and poise and just zinger of the best of them goes, “I’m happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground. But you almost had me murdered three weeks ago. So you can sit this one out, happy to work with almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime, if you want to help, you can resign.” Oh, and they called for her immediate apology. They said that this was unacceptable, blah, blah, blah.

 

DeRay They wrote a whole letter to Pelosi.

 

Kaya You come on, you got to miss me with this. This is ridiculous.

 

DeRay They wrote a letter to Pelosi. They say, “it has come to my attention that AOC sent out a tweet a few hours ago,” blah, blah, blah. “It is completely unacceptable behavior for a member of Congress to make this kind of scurrilous charge against another member,” blah, blah,”I ask you to call on her to immediately apologize and retract our comments. If she does not apologize immediately, we will be forced to find alternative means to condemn the regrettable statement.” It’s like you already tried to get her killed. I don’t know.

 

Kaya What the other means to me?

 

Kaya And while you’re finding other means, can you find other means for Marjorie Taylor Greene to. Let’s just do it.

 

DeRay But that’s the thing. You know, it’s a reminder that the work that needs to happen before the next set of elections, because we have to you know, we’ll have elections again in two years. It’s like we got to unrigg the system so that when people vote, it matters. The gerrymandering, all that stuff, we got to, like, get the organizing infrastructure better in way more places. Georgia was a great example of how it’s possible so that when we come up, we can knock these people out, because once we get these these seats, like, we’ll get it.

 

Kaya My news is from CNN Business, which highlights a new report released by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Families, which talks about how the pandemic is worsening America’s inequality crisis. In fact, America’s billionaires have grown one point one trillion dollars richer during the pandemic, while more than eight million Americans fell into poverty just during the final six months. Of 2020, America’s billionaires, in fact, have become nearly 40 percent more richer since mid-March alone, they have recovered their losses from the spring and they’re faring better than before. Much better than before, in part because of the stock market that is on fire. And we saw a little bit of that this week with GameStop. We have what is called a K-shaped economy, where if you look at a graph of how the wealth of different sectors go, our rich people are getting richer, our poor people are getting poorer. So wealth builds on wealth and working families are falling further and further behind. The stock market is at record highs, the housing market is booming and big tech is thriving. But other industries that host employees, working class employees like airlines, restaurants, hotels and movie theaters are in disarray. And the stock market has played a significant role in the divide between the rich and the poor. So even though our economy hasn’t recovered, the stock market has is up 72 percent from its low point in March. And the U.S. poverty rate had declined during the first few months of the pandemic.

 

Kaya But then the poverty rate began to climb during the second half of the year. And it’s now nearly double the largest annual increase in poverty since the 1960s.

 

Kaya As you know, it affects some people worse than others. And so, of course, the poverty rate for black Americans is five point four percentage points higher today than in June 2020, which means two point four million black people have fallen into poverty. For those with a high school education or less, the poverty rate has surged to twenty two point five percent, compared to 17 percent in June. And the places hardest hit in terms of increases in their poverty rates Florida, Mississippi, Arizona and North Carolina suffered some of the largest increases, in part because they have less effective unemployment insurance systems.

 

Kaya And so what you have is the continued tale of the haves and the have nots, the rich getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

 

Kaya The stock prices, the surge in the stock market helps the wealthy. The wealthiest 10 percent of United States households own 87 percent of all stocks and mutual funds, which is bananas. You know, stock shares are going up. Tesla’s skyrocketing stocks have gone up by more than 600 percent, 600 percent, which means Elon Musk has made hundreds of billions of dollars during this pandemic. Other big gainers include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose wealth has climbed by more than 68 billion. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is about 37 billion more wealthy. And it took about nine months for these people to not just for these billionaires to not just recoup and recover, but to actually exceed where they were.

 

Kaya And according to this report, it will take more than a decade for the world’s poorest people to recoup their losses from the pandemic. So here we are.

 

Sam It’s just wild to see this all happening in real time. It’s like the trends that we have seen and talked about and fought back against for a while now have just accelerated dramatically during the pandemic, with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and legislators, you know, trying, you know, it seems to say that they’re doing something and, you know, putting out these piecemeal recovery packages that, you know, the first one was a big giveaway to the wealthy, the second one.

 

Sam And now we’re talking about I think the third or the fourth package is a little bit more balanced.

 

Sam But overall, it doesn’t sort of structurally correct for even the level of inequity that was created over the past year, let alone the inequities that have been created over the past 400 years. So we’re still sort of playing catch up to get to where we were, you know, a year ago so that we can then move the ball further up the field and just make progress towards addressing the fundamental challenges that have been around for quite some time. And so that’s really frustrating. It’s also a reminder that policymakers can and should step up to propose big structural solutions, big structural investments that some of which we’ve seen from the Biden Harris administration and others, which have been sort of individual bills that we’ve seen here and there from members of Congress. But overall, I mean, you’re seeing the billionaires make billions and billions, even trillions of dollars at minimum, all of that wealth, all that additional profit that they’ve made on the backs of working people over the past year, all of that at minimum. Should be invested directly into the hands of low income people and working people, period, right. And so even talking about like, should we raise the tax rate a few percentage points or, you know, should we put out, you know, twelve hundred dollar checks or two thousand dollar checks or four hundred dollar checks on this one time installments? Like none of that is at the scale of the trillions and trillions of dollars that the wealthy have made just in the past year. And they didn’t need any of that money in the first place. They were already wealthy. Right. So they should have no problem then, like giving back all of that extra money to the people. Right.

 

Sam And so I think level setting in terms of sort of the expectations of where we’re at, how things are getting worse and that, you know, just recovering from this pandemic alone is not going to be enough because we still have to build a society that works. And it sure wasn’t working before the pandemic.

 

DeRay So I didn’t know that, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. And Sam, maybe you already knew this.

 

DeRay The 400 richest families in America own more wealth than all black households and a quarter of Latino households combined.

 

DeRay That is, nucking futs. I mean, that’s something, right? So what this made me think of Kaya when I heard your news, it made me think of Warren’s wealth tax. And what she’s calling for is an annual two cent tax on every dollar, over 50 million of a family’s net worth. Under this, billionaires would pay a six percent tax above one billion. And it’s like.

 

Kaya That seems reasonable.

 

DeRay That just makes sense. You like to see a two cent tax. And like, I think this is where we have to just be better storytellers about talking about this stuff simply, you know, when she was challenged on CNBC, somebody was like, you know, people are going to are going to move out of the country. And she’s like, there is no evidence people are going to leave the country because of a two cent wealth tax. This is going to impact such a small group that will be infinitely wealthy, even with the two cent tax. And I love it. Warren goes, “How about a counter argument that’s based on fact?” And you’re like that. It is true that the wealthiest people are paying less taxes than everybody. Like, you know, she talks about that the bottom 99 percent of Americans pay roughly seven percent of their total wealth in taxes in twenty twenty. But the top one tenth of one percent paid only three point two percent. I mean, it is if we were able to talk about this stuff more simply, more people be outraged because there is not a world where it makes sense, you know? So that’s when I read your thing. I’m like, you know, a billion dollars and that’s a lot of money.

 

Kaya A billion dollars, B billion.

 

DeRay That’s a lot of money.

 

Kaya Elon Musk alone made a hundred and thirty five extra billion dollars in this pandemic moment.

 

Kaya Hundred and fifty five billion.

 

Sam And, you know, you remember during the primary campaign how, you know, Warren’s two cent tax proposal was really set a standard in terms of like going far in terms of taxing the wealthy and its two cents. You know, like Bernie put out a proposal that was a little bit further and like there was all this debate over like how many cents on the dollar should it be? And it’s like, hold on. First of all, all the money that they made, all the additional money and profits they made during the pandemic while everyone else was suffering, like all of that money should get out of their hands and into the hands of the people, like all of 100 percent not to like not five percent, not 10, like all of it. Right. Like they didn’t need more money in the beginning at twenty twenty. So they they don’t need this money now. Right. So like baseline and then like moving beyond that, it’s like, you know, once you’re past a billion dollars do you really need a second billion. A third billion. A fifth billion. 100 billion. You don’t right. So why are we even allowing this to happen like everything passed a billion like you shouldn’t get any of that. It should just get reinvested 100 percent, not two cents. So like that should be the expectation. I feel like people agree with that in general, too. But once this gets translated into policy and compromise, it just gets watered down to the extent that it makes it feel like two cents is really going far when that should be the bare minimum.

 

De’Ara So my news is from CNN. We’re on a CNN kick today and it talks about a hard hit Latinx community in Washington Heights, hard hit by covid, some of the highest covid rates in the city, New York City. And so essentially, the city set up this whole apparatus at this track and field place in Washington Heights. And the whole premise of the place was to get people in that neighborhood over 65 vaccinated. What has happened is white people from all over New York State and City have taken up all the vaccination appointments. So we saw this you know, I remember we talked about this on the pod. We definitely talked about it like as a group, like on text or whatever, how this happened. This was similar in D.C., how in D.C. all the white folks came from ward two and three to ward seven and eight and took up all the. All the slots, you know, de Blasio is outraged, how can this happen? Well, what did you think was going on when you have a distribution plan that’s based off of, like going through these websites and portals and you got to have a smartphone and like, it’s not accessible for folks. And also just in terms of people actually knowing that it’s there, again, there’s not enough a good enough job done around just getting the word out about, you know, places where people can be vaccinated.

 

De’Ara As we know, like disparities around who’s getting the vaccine, is a nationwide problem going to be a global problem? And a CNN analysis of 14 states found vaccine coverage is twice as high among white people on average than it is among black and Latino people. So it also found that an average of more than four percent of the white population has received the covid vaccine about two point three times higher than black population and two point six higher than the Latino population.

 

De’Ara This is going to be the huge issue, right.

 

De’Ara And this is I think initially everybody was like, oh, the problem is that, you know, black and Latino people, because of the disparities and the racism and the health care system, they’re not going to want to get the vaccine.

 

De’Ara That’s true, but what is more true and what is going to be more more impactful is that the distribution of this vaccine is such that even if there was a behavioral change where black and brown folks came out in droves to want to get the vaccine, there would be no room for them to get it. Or if there were, it would be inaccessible, essentially. And so we’re seeing this not just in New York and we’re seeing it everywhere. New York, though, I think is keeping really good numbers. And I just like I was like, hey, let me go look and see what the portal looks like and how hard it. Amazing. It’s amazing. So I’m just thinking of people who are over 65, people who are over 80 who need to get this vaccine and are expected to go online to make an appointment and then to get to said appointment and then to go back for a second shot. So I don’t know. I just wanted to bring this because I think this is going to be like this is going to be the issue. It’s going to be the thing. And just also learning that like a year from now, if folks if we don’t have high numbers of folks that are vaccinated, the majority of the deaths are going to be in black and brown communities like communities will be decimated if this vaccine is not given out. The other thing that I’ve learned about vaccinations is that it’s not as simple as your cousin, just not wanting to get one because he’s not like I’m not feeling it, so I’m not doing it. If he doesn’t get it. Chances are maybe slim chance. But there’s a chance that the virus can mutate in him to such a way that the vaccine won’t work and then it won’t work for anybody else. You know, and I think there’s been more and more like on cable news that I’ve been seeing, just like around these different nuances, around the mutations in the vaccines, et cetera. But there’s been so little on this distribution plan and how we need to hold the states accountable, but also the Biden administration accountable for saying we’re going to give it to the states, which is the same thing Donald Trump did.

 

Sam You know, it’s we’re seeing something like this happen all across the country, as you said De’Ara. I was just reading reports coming from L.A. talking about something similar happening in L.A. where predominantly Latino communities were having in the places where you could get a vaccine.

 

Sam They were starting to have a bunch of white people from outside of those neighborhoods getting in line at the end of the day to try to get access to a vaccine that wasn’t intended for them. Right. This is like coming into another area just to get a vaccine that you technically don’t qualify for because you’re not over 75 or have a preexisting condition or what have you. But nevertheless, like we’re seeing folks jump to the front of the line to get a vaccine that they’re at less risk for. While, as you said, you are a black and brown folks are dying from this at every level throughout this pandemic. It has been predictable almost to a T that where you could see inequities generate, they will generate because of the way in which our society is structured, because of white supremacy, because of proximity to resources and information and access to people who can get you a vaccine. We’re seeing that, you know, these trends are happening in terms of who can get the vaccine. It’s happening in terms of who’s dying from covid and who’s getting infected, which neighborhoods are most impacted. In that analysis of L.A., they did a neighborhood by neighborhood breakdown of the data in terms of covid case rates and death rates. And it was like you could literally be in another country. Right. So the U.S. overall, it has the highest number of covid cases, worst place in the whole world for covid right now. But when you zoom in, even at the city level, just like you see huge disparities in life expectancy and educational outcomes and policing outcomes by zip code, you see those same disparities in covid case rates. So in Malibu and, you know, wealthy Malibu, one in every 42 people has contracted covid and tested positive for covid. But then if you go to East L.A. predominantly Latino area in Boyle Heights, it’s one in every five people. So you’re talking about more than eight times higher rates of covid just, you know, going from one area of sort of the L.A. area to the next. And so much of that is structured by race. So, again, you know, this is devastating. It is sad.

 

Sam It is deadly. And it is also like American and predictable, like so many of the other outcomes that we’ve talked about. And, you know, this has to be something where, you know, access shouldn’t require you to go online and fill out this appointment.

 

Sam That’s really difficult to get and hope to show up at this place at this time. In L.A., by the way, the stadium that they in Dodger Stadium, they’re doing vaccinations and the anti VAX people came and protested and shut down the vaccinations for a while. So, like so I don’t even know how you access the vaccines if the vaccination sites are getting shut down by the anti VAX people and the police weren’t, you know, out here trying to protect people, trying to get vaccines, they were out there just watching the protests and saying, oh, how interesting, I guess we’ll have to shut down the vaccination site. This should just be so much more accessible. Right. Like you should be able to walk into a CVS and get a vaccine. You should be able to walk into any corner store and like get help. You should be able to I mean, we just had an election where millions of doors were knocked in black and brown communities to spread the word about who’s going to be on the ballot and when the election is and how you can vote. You’re telling me we can’t mobilize people to do the same thing to get folks vaccinated at the same addresses in the same communities? So, again, like the resources are there, the infrastructure is there, the people are there. I don’t know if the vaccines are there, if the supply is there. There’s a lot of issues with the supply of vaccine and the Trump administration that said that there were vaccines that apparently they didn’t have. So I think we have to fix that issue as well. But the distribution is a huge issue that we have to overcome.

 

Sam So on the topic of a bunch of money going to a bunch of white people, that probably shouldn’t be going to let’s talk about the police, because my news is about Seattle, where legislators at the local level have not only cut the police budget for this year, but are going a step further and deciding to open up the decision making about where should that money go to city residents through the participatory budgeting process. Now, before we get into participatory budgeting, I want to zoom out and talk a little bit about the landscape of police funding over the past year or so. So following calls to cut police budgets all across the country, widespread organizing around it. Some of the numbers have come in around, you know, to what extent and in which places did budgets change? According to a Bloomberg analysis of the 50 largest cities, 26 of those 50 cities, the majority of cities actually increased their police budgets for this year compared to last year. And there were only a handful of cities that made substantial cuts to their police budgets. So despite all of the national conversation, national focus in sort of year one, we’ve seen a set of cities begin to make down payments on a strategy of cutting the police budget. But in most cities, we’ve not seen as much of a shift. And those cities are places like Austin, places like Minneapolis, New York City. Although New York City’s budget cut, some of that was smoke and mirrors, but some of it was real. And Seattle. Now Seattle lawmakers announced that they would cut the police budget by about 18 percent, which is not as much as local organizers were pushing for. They’re pushing for a 50 percent cut, but an 18 percent cut ended up happening, made it into the twenty 21 budget. But what is interesting about that cut is that now the city has to figure out where that money is going to go. And they’re doing this through participatory budgeting, which is a process whereby they’re working with local organizers throughout the city to survey both online and in-person residents all across the city and to ask them where that money should be invested and what types of programs, what types of strategies they’re currently developing that sort of outreach strategy right now. But this isn’t the only place that has done participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting was originally started in Brazil a few decades ago and made it to the United States has been used by a few big cities, including New York City, to manage a few million dollars every single year. And now in Seattle, what they are going to do is put 30 million dollars into that participatory budgeting fund, 12 million of which comes directly from the police department. Another 18 million is cut from a variety of other places in the city budget. And it’s going to be up to the people to decide where the money goes. So, you know, this is promising. We haven’t yet seen how the strategy will be implemented or where the money will end up going. But it is another way of thinking about, you know, how do we actually open up this process so all the money doesn’t go to some random white guy who’s who came up with a plan That doesn’t make sense.

 

DeRay So we’re going to bring on an expert to the pot to talk about all the immigration stuff. I’ll briefly say that Biden had an executive order on private prisons that came up in the past week, which is a good beginning. Remember that it only applies to the DOJ. So it doesn’t apply to homeland security, which is where ICE is. Now We think about private prisons in a big picture. Remember that less than eight percent of people are incarcerated, are incarcerated in a private prison, but 75 percent of people who are incarcerated by ICE are actually in private facilities. So like the one place where, like the end of private prisons really, really matters is actually ICE. The other thing that I have to remind myself and other people is that the in the private prisons doesn’t mean that the people are free. It means that they’re in a public prison. So, like, you know, we still got work to do.

 

DeRay There was this really good explainer in the appeal that says “decades of federal policies turned local police on immigrant communities. Here’s how Biden can stop it.” And I realize that there’s just a lot of the apparatus of ICE that I actually didn’t know about, like the functionality. So I didn’t know about the Reagan administration starting the criminal alien program and the criminal alien program essentially is what that allow for sharing between jails and the federal government so that they could, like, find people ostensibly who were engaged in wrongdoing in the country and were not full citizens. And then, like, you know, they could deport them because that was clearly what they were trying to do. Then the 287 G program, another program named after the section of the Immigration Nationality Act. It authorizes the federal government to deputize local police and corrections officers as immigration agents at the request of localities. And this was enacted in the Clinton administration in 1996. But it started to be used more heavily in 2002 ish and afterwards, then Secure Communities was George W. Bush administration pilot that the Obama administration expanded and that allowed fingerprints taken during a local arrest to be shared with the Department of Homeland Security, triggering a detainer if I suspect that the individual is subject to deportation. You can imagine that disproportionally impacting people of color. So the roll out of Secure Communities were strongly correlated with large Latinx communities. And 93 percent of people arrested in the program are Latinx, you know, work to do in. The majority of those deported through this program were convicted of misdemeanors or traffic offenses or had no convictions at all. So, like, it was just interesting to learn about how this apparatus was actually built in a way that I literally just didn’t know. And the Biden administration has a real chance here to use executive action to just change some of this stuff. And what we learned through Obama is that if we wait for Congress to act on some of these things, we might be waiting forever. So I’m interested to see what Biden can do with the stroke of a pen. And, you know, it was interesting to see people just turn a blind eye to Trump doing all types of executive actions. Side note, the fact that the Diet Coke button in the Trump Oval Office was real is really wild. I’ll just say that that there was a button where he press Diet Coke, they delivered a Diet Coke, that that was actually real. And like that is really wild. But there’s a lot of work that the Biden administration can do immediately to undo some of the ICE actions. And we can also work through Congress. But what the article does, a really good job of reminding us is that like executive authority can cancel the 287 G agreements with the local police departments, they can get rid of secure communities and criminal alien programs, that there’s a lot of administrative stuff to take the burden off of immigrant communities right now. Don’t go anywhere more Pod Save the People’s coming. Pod Save the People is brought to you by Kaya’s favorite Sunbasket. I like Sunbasket too, but I think that Kaya has me beat on this one. So one of the reasons why I love Sunbasket is because I can’t cook, literally can’t cook anything I’m trying to learn. One of my friends is we are one of my best friends in the world. Dony, we’re setting up some Zoome moment so he can teach me how to cook. But in the meantime, Sunbasket Is it because it is nutrition, it’s quality. The directions are there. I ain’t got to go grocery shopping like it really is all the things. And I know that it’s actually going to be, it’s actually going to be healthy. Right. Like that is like the thing and it’s awesome.

 

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DeRay And now I check in with Johnetta Elzie. She gives us an update about what’s happening across the country with regard to the protests.

 

Johnetta Hey, what’s up, everybody? It’s me, Netta. And thanks for tuning back in this week.

 

Johnetta It is officially Black History Month, and we love to see it.

 

Johnetta My mother’s seven year anniversary also is this last Sunday.

 

Johnetta And as I write this, I have to say it was great. I had a fantastic day. I can’t even lie. There was no huge emotional outpouring of sadness, just really only happiness. And like I looked at pictures of her and I did not cry. I actually laughed a lot looking at so many of the old photos and remembering exactly what I was doing that would make her look at me like that. So my mom was a Virgo.

 

Johnetta I am an Aries. If you are into astrology, you can already imagine how our little dynamic went. OK, so I just felt so refreshed on her day, which is a first.

 

Johnetta I’ve never used that word to describe how I feel on any of her anniversaries. So this is a first and I appreciate it. I learned a few years ago about working on her days. I’m sure my mother actually loves that she now has whole dedicated days outside of national holidays that I stopped my whole world for to honor her on so big.

 

Johnetta Thank you to Dr. Sherri Williams and my dear friend Camilla for the conversation fellowship, the good Kiki and the good Peruvian food we shared while watching Housewives yesterday.

 

Johnetta And I appreciate every thoughtful phone call, text and virtual hug I was sent over the weekend because in doggy news, my family and I suffered a huge loss last week, my best friend, Champagne Cha Cha Elzie passed away at age 14 and I still remember the day that we got her. My mom and my aunt walked into the house where she was and all of cha cha little Pekinese brothers and sisters could not be bothered.

 

Johnetta And Cha Cha wiggled and wobbled her way and flopped down on my mom’s foot.

 

Johnetta And that’s how she knew she was for us. So she picked us. And I’m so glad that she did. And I remember seeing her. And even at eighteen, even though I had never had champagne for real, her beautiful little golden coloring, I was like, oh my God, we have to name her champagne. But it also was connected to I watch The Boondocks nonstop my freshman year of college.

 

Johnetta And there is this character named Cristal. So I was like, oh my God, yes, name this dog Cristal champagne cha cha something. So we named her Champagne Cha Cha Elzie. Pekinese dogs usually live to be around 15 years old. So I find extreme comfort in knowing we had this amazing little girl who then turned into this spicy, spunky woman and then our elderly queen, you know, she came to be is she matured and hit thirteen.

 

Johnetta Fourteen.

 

Johnetta She was definitely an elder and she demanded a different kind of respect around the house. So I’m so happy we got to see her through all these phases of life.

 

Johnetta And I really appreciate her. I love that our fluffy little girl has left here. And in my heart, I believe she’s returned home with her mom, my mom. So rest in peace to those two earth sign queens. Cha Cha was a Capricorn and my mother a Virgo. And now let’s get into the news.

 

Johnetta So on today’s installment of racist police saying racist things, a Georgia police chief and a police officer have resigned after body cam footage revealed that they used the N-word and other anti black slurs.

 

Johnetta The two officers also said that all slaves had to do was work and that neither themselves nor their folks owned slaves.

 

Johnetta Their six minute rant is now making his rounds on the Internet. In case you want to go, check out this vile word garbage, I guess the body cam footage does come in handy.

 

Johnetta The two officers were asked to resign by Hamilton City Council. However, some local news stations are reporting that the officer was fired and that the police chief resigned. The distinction is important because it shows clearly where folks who can hold police accountable stand. Either way, keep being bold enough to spew hate on camera, and we’ll get you out the paint.

 

Johnetta Let’s talk about Congress.

 

Johnetta The good sis Representative Cori Bush is clearly not here for any nonsense after Representative Marjorie Taylor Green allegedly berated Bush and her staff in a hallway while not wearing a mask, Corey promptly requested a different office on a different floor.

 

Johnetta Cori is a Democrat from my home state of Missouri. Marjorie is a Republican from Georgia. Marjorie posted her response on Twitter, calling Corey “a leader of the St. Louis Black Lives Matter terrorist.

 

Johnetta Mob” claiming that she was the one who was berated.

 

Johnetta First of all, see, this is why I do not let up on the media calling any and every black person who is concerned about the humanity of our people a Black Lives Matter protester.

 

Johnetta Can’t black folks just not be black and concerned citizens?

 

Johnetta Can I not just wake up and see something messed up in my community and go outside and decide to do something about it?

 

Johnetta That’s what I did seven years ago in August 2014, and that’s what so many other people did. We were not calling ourselves anything other than a resident of the city where we lived, where something messed up happened. Secondly, how many times in life can myself or other black women know that we have experienced violent acts of racism with a dash of misognoir that equals real life harm only to be turned into the villain for demanding fair and equal treatment, or just by wanting to have and experience the same peace in our personal space that everyone else has. This is yet another example of the violence, harassment and gaslighting black women experience and are exposed to on a daily basis at the workplace, at the grocery store, at a city stoplight, even in the halls of Congress, black women cannot find peace.

 

Johnetta I will give you all the honor of Googling Miss Marjorie’s colorful background on your own. She’s a mess.

 

Johnetta It’s a lot of real cool things happening down in Austin, Texas. Like I really, really have to say, we should all keep our eyes on Austin right now for all the folks who throw fits at the idea of cutting police budgets in order to redistribute dollars to, oh, I don’t know, help people in a pandemic.

 

Johnetta The Austin City Council just approved purchasing a hotel to permanently house people experiencing chronic homelessness. The council unanimously voted to buy a local hotel for around seven million dollars, making it the third building that the city has bought a vote on purchasing a fourth hotel is on hold because of four city council members who did not want to purchase two hotels. At the same time, roughly one hundred million dollars of the police department’s four hundred thirty four million dollar budget is being redistributed to community services.

 

Johnetta This is defunding the police in action, and it’s improving the quality of life for constituents and citizens in that city.

 

Johnetta That’s top notch. Like, I really cannot say it enough. This is truly like what is happening in Austin is transformative. It is. It is improving people’s lives. I do not have and don’t see a problem with that. I love it. I love to see it. So I have a book recommendation for everyone.

 

Johnetta And it’s a novel called “Family” by J California Cooper. It’s a beautifully written piece of historical fiction set during the Civil War that follows four generations of African-Americans.

 

Johnetta Chapter four presented a concept that I had not even prepared my mind to read. I was not even prepared to say it out loud.

 

Johnetta It was something so ridiculous that I just rejected it. Like the idea, this is silly. This is so foolish. No way.

 

Johnetta This specific and particular evils of chattel.

 

Johnetta Slavery in America really do shock and surprise me every time I learn of a new way, new, a new way that enslaved Africans were dehumanized on this American soil, a quote that really struck me from the book was about Always who is the mixed race enslaved woman who is a character in this book. So the quote said, “Always didn’t know that she was pretty. It’s something you may not know, but most slaves that in the house or in a regular job, never seen a mirror, never get to see what they look like. Ain’t that something? Can live your whole life and never know what your own face looks like, can look in water, but then your face be moving in waves and can’t see it is good and clear” quote. What a quote, what? I spent some time reading slave narratives, but I never even considered this fact. I cannot imagine going my whole life never knowing or seeing or appreciating my features on my face, my nose shape, my full lips, the seriousness of my eyebrows. If I’m frowning too hard, I can’t imagine not having access to my face. Always the enslaved woman being talked about in this quote was slapped by her white mistresses for the simple fact that she was pretty. But here’s the gag that always was pretty and didn’t even know it. She had never, ever even seen her face. And while this is historical fiction, I believe that this is not even touching the surface of how embattled, toxic and sinister interactions between white women slave owners and the black enslaved women who were forced to live with them could be. It is also amazing at how distinct and specific and cruel slave owners had the forethought to be. Imagine how never seeing yourself could affect your self, worth yourself, value your self esteem. I’m really enjoying listening to this audio book, and if there’s any other gems that stand out to me, I will be sure to share them with you all here. And so, by the way, I’m just going to affirm quickly black women, in case you forgot, in case no one told you today, you are beautiful and that’s on period poo. So I’ll see you next week. Bye, everybody.

 

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DeRay Maurice Chammah is a writer for The Marshall Project and now the author of the new book, “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty in the United States.” We sat down today to talk about capital punishment, its future under the Biden administration and the power that voters have over crime and justice reform. Let’s go.

 

Maurice Chammah Thank you for having me.

 

DeRay This book is a fascinating I have a gazillion questions. We have 30 minutes to get through them. So.

 

Maurice Chammah Sure.

 

DeRay You know, I just want to jump right in because I have so much I want to talk to you about. The first is why the death penalty? Like, how did you even get to this is like a day like why you did such a deep dove. It feels like you must have taken forever to write this book. And it’s so detailed, so many things I never even thought about. Didn’t know. How did you get here?

 

Maurice Chammah About ten years ago, I was a little bit out of college and before I was even interested in journalism, I had this job. I just kind of happened to get it. I think actually a parent of somebody I had grown up with who was running the small nonprofit, who was doing basically oral history interviews around the death penalty, the idea is that you would kind of drive around the state and spend three hours with the family member of a murder victim or the mother of someone on death row. And then they were kind of building this archive that they saw as almost like a lot like a truth and reconciliation kind of archives around, you know, someday the future, there won’t be a death penalty. And we’ll sort of look back on this moment. And I was called seconds after violence project and while I was there that I got sort of fascinated with the subject and then realized that journalism was sort of the path that I wanted to take. So I spend basically all day researching and trying to sort of tell people about what I was learning and I got into criminal justice. But because I already had this interest in the death penalty, I kept pitching stories to editors about individual cases. And then eventually I would see trends and sort of zoom out a little bit. And then I would write about all sorts of other criminal justice subjects, you know, jails and prisons and policing and coming back to the death penalty because, you know, it doesn’t exist everywhere in the US. But it was so dominant in Texas where I grew up and it felt like this kind of symbolic pinnacle of the larger justice system and the way that we had collectively chosen that we wanted to have a justice system that was very punitive. Right. That we had people in prison for 40 years, 60 years. And then the death penalty is the kind of extreme punishment that makes those long prison sentences seem somehow more thinkable. So that the kind of longer arc of how I got here and then over the last five years, it was a matter of just going very deep, interviewing dozens of people, picking individual cases that seemed kind of really important historically that maybe people have forgotten about because they don’t like the late 90s so revisiting these historical moments and then isolating sort of the real life people who sort of career arts and life experiences kind of illuminated the story really vividly and could be the sort of focal point characters to sort of draw readers and and keep them going through what is, I realized, an incredibly depressing subject.

 

DeRay Have you been in an execution chamber? I’m assuming you must have, but I didn’t want to assume you write so much about other people’s experiences, and I didn’t know if you’ve been in one,.

 

Maurice Chammah So I actually never did witness one and of a long story to tell about it.

 

Maurice Chammah When I started writing the book, I thought in order to describe this sort of thing more vividly and responsibly, I should witness an execution. And I made a lot of efforts actually to get the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to let me witness one is as a reporter, I tried to become a freelancer for some local newspapers because they had the rules around take only local reporters getting in. And essentially they just sort of kept coming up with reasons I couldn’t go and I gave up. But at the same time, a few defense lawyers were telling me, no, don’t do it. Like, you know, the whole point of your book in your research is to sort of reduce the amount of trauma in the world. And there you go, throwing yourself into becoming traumatized by it. So now I kind of I’m in the same position. Right. You’re I’ve interviewed dozens of people about what it’s like and tried to describe it very, very closely. But I’ve never seen one myself.

 

DeRay Yeah, I was I actually was asking, how have you been in an execution chamber? Like, have you ever been in the space I ask because I was in the Angola. I mean, that answer was great. I want to do that. But I went to Angola and I was in their execution room, which I think because Barbara Walters did an interview in there and they just never know why it was too bright for the cameras. And I was like, wow, what a world we live in. But have you been to an execution chamber?

 

Maurice Chammah I have not actually, no, I’ve seen that. So the the electric chair that Texas used to use back in the 50s and 60s in a museum in Huntsville, Texas. And so I’ve seen that electric Chair, but no, I was never able to get access actually see the execution chamber in Texas or anywhere else, though, so, yeah, I think I would have gotten sort of a lot out of it as a description. And so what I ended up doing is basically anyone I interviewed who had been able to take pictures inside, I asked them to show me the pictures. And eventually the corrections officers, people who work in  showed me these sort of behind the scenes pictures. So the execution chamber, but also like the area behind the glass where the executioners do their work that you don’t normally see. They would just occasionally let corrections officers, take photos in the area, a restricted area. And all you apparently got to do is be interviewing them in their homes and say, hey, can I see that? I mean, they show it to you. So I did a lot of describing kind of based on that kind of reporting.

 

DeRay So let’s jump in to Texas. So you organize the book in terms of rise and fall, which are the two sort of big sections. Why did you do it this way?

 

Maurice Chammah When I first started learning about the death penalty, I just assumed it was something that we had always had. But it had just kind of always been a sort of policy in the background in the US. And I didn’t realize that in the 60s it almost disappeared completely. And then in 1972, the Supreme Court finally ended it completely by ruling that it violated the Constitution. This was sort of a huge victory for a group of civil rights lawyers that had been chipping away at it for years. And then there was a huge backlash. Right. So states, including Texas most of all, but a lot of states, especially in the South, wrote new death penalty laws and the Supreme Court ratified them in 1976. And then if you just look at a graph of executions or death sentences in America, it looks like a little mountain you know, it kind of slowly through the 80s and 90s, around the year 2000, it peaked with almost 100 hundred executions that year across the country. And then ever since then, it has been in decline today where there are still executions. And, of course, Trump administration pushed through a sort of huge, unprecedented number of federal executions over the course of a few months. But the Trump executions aside, the big picture is that it’s sort of falling back to where it was in the 1960s. And it just struck me that that was mysterious in a way. Why why had that happened? Why how do we hit the peak and then suddenly decided to get away from it collectively. And so then the research with a lot about just isolating and trying to understand the sort of interlocking different reasons that this happened. There’s a lot of different reasons and it gets very complex legally and politically. But it seems like America just reached a point at the end of the 90s and around the year 2000 where we almost collectively realized we were overdoing it. We see a certain amount of like embarrassment creep in among Texas politicians. There’s a lot of shame associated with the fact that George W. Bush was running for president and the Texas death penalty system just seemed kind of exotic and extreme to voters around the country. And then you start to see more bills in the legislature, more funding for defense lawyers, more Supreme Court cases that just start to erode the death penalty. So I divided the book in two because I just thought it was sort of the clearest way to think about the death penalty story over the last 40 years with about, you know, about 20 years of rise and fall.

 

DeRay One of the things that you do so well is you highlight how some of the decisions that a while, the impact on people’s lives led to the death like the unbelievably long sentences and the result of very quick decisions for things going to save people’s lives have been like one intrepid journalist. Did you go into you know, I think about when you write about the Texas law, how it was like they wrote it in a matter of days, essentially. Right. Like they leave huge decisions, like, you know, what you say. Right. And that it wasn’t even it was like I think, you know, if you give it like one house, eight apples, the other house eight banana, and then the compromise goes to apricot. And it’s like night and day from what people even proposed. Was that what you thought going in? You know, I will say having read the book, I don’t know, at least people I thought about this. The reason I ask it is because, you know, we’re trying to undo this stuff. We have to produce a million studies and like we have to go overboard to show that this stuff is bad. But when they made it, they, like, did it in the middle of the night with no nothing.

 

DeRay You know,.

 

Maurice Chammah There were a lot of moments for researching this, but I found the story of how a sausage was made just very dispiriting, sort of depressing. So in 1973, as you say, you know, the Texas legislature had to come together and write a new death penalty law. They didn’t have to. They decided that the public pressure was on them to do it. And the state house came up with one version of the law. The state Senate came up with another one. And then basically a handful of legislators locked themselves in a room over the course of like a three day weekend in May 1973 with the session, you know, a few days from closure. So they had to come up with some bill that would pass both houses. And they just hash this out if they didn’t record the sessions. One defense lawyer from the era who had some input earlier on told me that he basically threw his hands in the air and said, you know, you people are crazy. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. So they mostly relied on prosecutors to give them advice. And everyone was just kind of grabbing at straws and guessing what kind of would a pass the Supreme Court and the meaningfully allow juries to decide who was the worst of the worst. And the question they came up with was that the defendant is facing the death penalty in order to go to death row the jury would have to find that could be dangerous in the future, which means they had to predict the future. And precisely, you know, over the next 30, 40 years, psychologist coming in and making saying, can you really sort of based on somebody’s prior criminal history, make actual predictions of predilection to future violence? No, you can’t. But we need to do a study with the two hundred people on death row for, you know, you have Supreme Court cases where small armies of a really, really smart lawyer sort of took over the arcane wording of the bill and debate it. And I had my entry point to the reporter was knowing about the law in the present. And so I sort of had this curiosity about how did future dangerousness, as it’s called, prove to be such a big part of the Texas law. And given how much scholarly and legal and just sort of professional work had gone into sort of picking over these these lines of text to say nothing about the effect on actual people’s lives in terms of who goes to death row, who gets executed, I mean, the implications for people’s lives are massive. So for all that could be based on what a handful of legislators spent a couple of days hashing out in 1973, most of them not specialists in criminal law, most of them just relying on prosecutors, making guesses about what would work was really dispiriting.

 

Maurice Chammah And I think, you know, I was really focused on this one little Texas decision in 1973. But later on, just out of curiosity, I would look into the stories of how the crime bill or some of these other more famous punitive bills got passed through Congress and might have been a little more time and effort spent on it. But you kind of get the feeling that everybody was just guessing about how to deal with crime and they just sort of threw whatever at the wall they thought would stick and really long prison sentences for their answer. And it’s super dispiriting when you consider just how much work it is to undo these things, given how little work went into informing them in the first place.

 

DeRay It’s often sort of wild. You cover a ton of stories where it was the reporter who like, for whatever reason, took it upon themselves to retrace the evidence. Did you go in to this thinking? That it would be like some people’s lives would hinge on, like a young reporter asking a million questions and it’s like, well, why didn’t the system actually produce that in the first place?

 

Maurice Chammah Yeah, I mean, there was a touch point to whenever I would interview defense lawyers where, you know, a lot of them actually defense lawyers, journalists, a lot of the people who would have played a really heroic role in individual cases and whose story as a reporter. Right. Or me coming in there seemed like a really exciting story to tell. Oftentimes, I would actually be surprised that a defense lawyer in particular would be sort of uncomfortable at being in the spotlight because they wouldn’t want a reader to think that you have to be a sort of, you know, young, hot shot, obsessive genius to unravel one of these cases, that the system itself should actually provide that level of care to make sure that the people who are getting punished are actually guilty of the crimes or that they really deserve that. I had a lot of conversations with defense lawyers, actually about the movie and the book Just Mercy and Bryan Stevenson. And it was a very complex conversation because a lot of them had been inspired to go into defending people on death row because they had seen Bryan Stevenson give a speech in the early 90s. It was not as well known as he is now, but he was giving talks to law schools and inspiring lawyers. And a lot of these defense lawyers said, you know, Bryan Stevenson, to me, he’s brilliant. I also am worried that people will think that you have to be Bryan Stevenson to defend people on death row. Right. That in order to give justice to people accused of the worst crimes, in order to find out who truly innocent on death row and get juries and judges to think sympathetically about the traumas in their lives, etc., that you have to sort of, you know, sort of once in a generation civil rights hero when we also want people to understand that it’s just a matter of sort of doing the legwork. Right, that there should be systems in place that allow for everyone to get this level of care and defense so that we feel like the system we have, you know, makes any sense at all. So through the research, like interviewing people and but some of them have sort of personally satisfying moments with these sort of more complex conversations that I would get into, where I would get to see, like the sort of influence and the kind of internal mental struggles that people would have as they go about doing what from the outside can look like really, sort of simple hero story work,.

 

DeRay I love it.

 

DeRay What do you think are some of the misconceptions about the death penalty that you sort of address? One thing that I will say that I thought was interesting was the sort of tension. There is some stuff around the clemency and parole board that I thought was interesting. There were some stuff around the life without parole and the tension between the death penalty folks and life without parole. But I’d love to know because there are a lot of listeners who only know the death penalty from what they see on the news, or they might know Trump’s recent decisions around the death row. And like their latest information, how can we help people think better about this who are not experts?

 

Maurice Chammah Well, I think a key part is just the very simple story. The death penalty has been disappearing for many years and is on its way out. And on the one hand, we might say there’s many people who still support the death penalty and think that this is a problem, other people who celebrate this as a victory. But I think that in order to have to be meaningful, we sort of have to think about what it means for the future of the kind of wider criminal justice system and not think about the death penalty sort of in isolation from the rest of mass incarceration. I think a really key point about the death penalty the people need to understand is that we often talk about individual cases, but we really think about the death penalty in the big abstract concept, you know, in Gallup or some of these other pollsters go ask people what they think of the death penalty. They ask about it in the abstract. They say, do you think the death penalty should be the punishment for murder? And people answer the question, not thinking about any particular murder, or maybe they think about the worst murder they’ve ever heard of or who knows what’s in their minds and the answer to that question. But look, the death penalty isn’t an abstraction. It actually just plays out in terms of individual cases. And from the outside, the sort of first thing you tend to learn about these cases is how awful the crime is, the fact that somebody committed multiple killings as a serial killer, or in the case of Lisa Montgomery, where the executions under Trump, she murdered a pregnant woman and made off with the fetus seem like stomach churning, horrible crimes that are very hard to listen to and think about. And our reaction is, oh, my God, that person deserves punishment or retribution. And then you dig a little bit deeper into the case. You read with the defense lawyer filed in the case and you find out, oh, there’s actually this whole other story about the trauma that this person has under gone, you know, and Lisa Montgomery’s case, she was sexually abused repeatedly as a child. She had severe mental illness. She had brain injuries. And so you have a very complex picture of somebody who committed an act of violence, having been the victim of violence themselves over and over and over again. And the more you look into is on death row, the more that kind of story repeats itself over and over again. And so I think one lesson for me, in a way, I often talk about the death penalty or try to get people to think about the death penalty differently, is to move away from this kind of vague philosophical abstraction of life. Do some people deserve to die for what they’ve done, which is easy to answer yes to, but doesn’t really force you into the hard questions. And I think it’s important to shift the conversation over to the kind of real life cases and real life dilemmas about who these people actually are and the kinds of trauma that actually produces the further violence that we’re seeking to punish. This is also an area where I think some of the lessons from the world of the death penalty could kind of apply much more broadly as we seek to unwind mass incarceration. You know, if somebody is in prison for 40 or 60 years, it’s often because originally what they did caused a jury or a judge to sort of we are back in horror and just say this person needs to go away forever. But they are thinking about the kind of underlying social policy forces that this person into someone who committed a really terrible crime. The 10 years of their research and interviewing and writing for this book, kind of like trained my brain into a new place where when I hear about a terrible murder, my first thought now still might be, wow, that’s so awful. How could someone do that? But my second thought is, oh, like what produced that, right? Was it some history of mental illness or was it some long line of traumatic experiences for that person? What in the world produced that rather than what people in the brain of this murder produced? That right. So I it’s sort of more you do the work and the way you think about it, the more you kind of train your brain to ask a different set of questions.

 

Maurice Chammah When you hear about something awful,.

 

DeRay Do you really think it’s going out? I know you write about it and you know, in that in the Fall section. Yes. You which you said before, was like, you know, it’s on its way out. And I’m like, do you think it’s on its way out? Like, if you actually like it on its way out or is it just like do you think it’s going to go to a really low level or be or when you think on its way out, you really mean it’ll be politically untenable?

 

DeRay You know,.

 

Maurice Chammah I’ve wrestled with this a lot like, well, the death penalty really disappear. And when people have asked me to predict what happened five or ten years. Now, I always like caveated a lot because I think there’s so much about the world is surprising. I mean, when I first pitched this book to publishers, they were asking me questions about President Hillary Clinton and what she would do about the death penalty. So the world changes really radically and we can’t predict it. But I can envision a situation and I think we’re on the way to it where the death penalty continues to exist. But it really only shows up for these rare and sort of extreme crimes like mass shootings. Like the Dylann Roof case or the Boston Marathon bombing where the kind of public response is still so kind of viscerally angry. That still will be a death penalty system, but it’ll be a very rare and almost kind of irrelevant to people’s lives in a way. And I think that you’ll also have a situation where, you know, maybe people are still sentenced to death, but there’s virtually no executions. I think that’s another way to think about it. Already in states like California and Pennsylvania, there’s death row. There’s many people on death row who are sentenced to death, but the state has no political will and no sort of practical mechanism for actually carrying out executions. I mean, California dismantled their execution chamber. So in order to bring back executions, you’d have to get in a very productive governor who not only supports the death penalty, but is committed to it in a really big way. And, yes, Donald Trump was that president and what he did. But it is hard to imagine somebody of wholesale causing a real revival that. So I think what we’re going to see is a declining year by year and relevance. And at the point at which it actually disappears, it might be a little while from now, but it won’t go out with a bang. It’ll sort of go out with a whimper. It’ll it’ll just sort of peter out to the point where we still have it on the books, but we never actually carry out executions. And it just seems kind of irrelevant to people’s lives and to the larger political conversation.

 

DeRay Do you think the tide is sort of turned in axis that like that that idea that like you quote that one person, the comedian who like you kill in Texas, we kill back. Do you think that that is sort of done, you know?

 

Maurice Chammah No, I don’t. I mean, I think that Texas has a very strong sense of self that’s tied to a sort of forceful retribution that’s kind of tied to a mythology of the old West. You know, this idea that the horse thieves write and I write in the book a lot about how I think that this is a smokescreen for the way that the death penalty is more connected to the history of Jim Crow and lynchings in the south. Texas is the place for that smokescreen. And I think kind of the strongest because we have a sort of Western heritage. I think the Western heritage in Texas continues to play a pretty big role in allowing people to respond to crime with a sense of a knee jerk eye for an eye justice. But I think that it’s changing and it’s changing fairly quickly. And when you add in the kind of practical problems for the death penalty, the fact is very expensive. The fact that many small towns are giving up on it because they can’t afford to execute people anymore. And then in the big cities, you have big demographic shifts, you know, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio or now all four for some years been run by Democrats who are fairly in the death penalty. You’re seeing the tide start to turn, but I don’t think it’s totally turned in Texas. I’m less familiar with other states, so I’ve reported on them some. And I think that there’s still a very strong pro death penalty sentiment in a lot of southern states, especially Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. I think it’ll be a while before this country totally disappears in the states because they are also states where it’s baked into the culture to some extent.

 

DeRay What do you want people to get out of the book?

 

Maurice Chammah I want people to take away how much power it actually may have as voters and as kind of members of society to chart a certain different path when it comes to criminal justice. And the death penalty in particular I mean, over and over, it was clear that the legislators were supporting the death penalty and writing these new laws, not because they themselves were so personally committed, but because they felt like, sure, they’d be voted out in the next election if they didn’t. And so many of the prosecutors who sentenced people to death row, who worked on death is constantly cited. The people were voting them in. And the fact that it was jury of the citizens who would ultimately have to issue those decisions that would send people to death row. So I quickly just saw that people have power and that they can utilize that power to chart a new path. But I also want it to be clear how much work it actually takes not to have a different opinion, but to kind of train your brain away from kind of fear based policymaking and public policy responses that come from a place of sort of anger and. It’s about personal responsibility and rage, as opposed to looking at the sort of deeper policy questions around race and class and gender and the sort of difficult work that it actually takes to respond differently when you hear, you know, a stomach churning description of a federal crime, it’s still very easy, I think, for people to respond with a sense of indignation and a sense of throw that person away, something separate than that.

 

Maurice Chammah And it’s a lot of work to kind of see under the hood what is causing the violence in society. So I think I hope people take away this kind of twin set of lessons about how much power they have and b the work ahead and how much, you know, we all have to invest in learning to think differently about some of these public policies.

 

DeRay One of the last things I ask. What surprised you in doing this research?

 

Maurice Chammah That’s a great question. One thing that surprised me was how often people who profess to support the death penalty and even made their career partially in relation to getting people to be sentenced to death and executed, were ambivalent about it.

 

Maurice Chammah They maybe supported it in the abstract. They still thought it was justice. But when they had to be the person to make the argument to the jury, this man needs to go to death row or when they did the work of carrying out an actual execution. I talked to a bunch of members of what’s called the Tie Down Saloon who actually carry out these executions. I was surprised at how ambivalent everybody was and also how open they were about that ambivalence with a journalist who, you know, I mean, I had to build trust with some of these sources. But at first I could imagine in their minds thinking, you know, who’s going to make we have to be bloodthirsty. And I didn’t want to do that, but I had to kind of make the case to them that I wasn’t going to do that. And then once I got to the deeper into interviewing the prosecutors, executioners members of jury who had voted for the death penalty, just so often, they were open about their requests and second thoughts and ambivalence about sentencing people to death. And so it gave me the sense that yes many Americans support the death penalty. But then when they’re kind of confronted with it up close, they wrestled much more honestly and simply with it.

 

DeRay We consider you a friend of the pod, can’t wait to have you back. Thank you so much for this book. It is really. I learned a lot.

 

Maurice Chammah Thank you so much DeRay. I really appreciate it.

 

DeRay Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in that the people this week tell your friends to check it out, make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcast whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And I’ll see you next week.

 

DeRay The People was a production of cricket media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz, our executive producers Jessica Cordova Cramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, Sam Sinyangwe and our special contributor Johnetta Elzie.