In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, Myles and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week—including a student loan forgiveness program, the first Black woman to live in a space station, a charity aiming to end youth violence through creativity, and the shocking acquittal of a serial rapist. DeRay interviews Malcolm Bell about his new book The Attica Turkey Shoot: Carnage, Cover-Up and the Pursuit of Justice.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, it’s me, Kaya, Myles and De’Ara talking about the news that you don’t know. And then I sit down with Malcolm Bell to discuss his book “The Attica Turkey Shoot: Carnage, Cover Up, and the Pursuit of Justice.” I’m obsessed with Attica. If you have not seen the documentary on Showtime, please see it now. It is that good. I wouldn’t tell you to watch it if I didn’t love it. I saw it to prepare for the directors being on the podcast and like, am fascinated. I think it should be required viewing for everybody. My advice for this week is to get some sleep. I really had been working on my sleep schedule because I realized that I’ve been running on fumes and I’ve been taking Saturday and Sunday to like, catch up, to reset, so that I can go into the week a little more rested and I’m so used to pushing through—and I’m not even like working nights, I’m not like, you know, I’m not working hard on the weekends anymore, but I have just been not great about sleeping. I’m like, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. And like, I got to rest. We all have to rest to do our best work, and just because you can push through doesn’t mean that you should. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger. Family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on the Instagram and Twitter @DeAraBalenger.
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles Johnson. You can find me @Rapture on Instagram and Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter @HendersonKaya.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger. So, you know, we can’t go on without talking about the verdict that came out this week. Although Kyle Rittenhouse obtained a rifle illegally, crossed state border, killed two individuals, a jury found him not guilty. Now, I wasn’t so surprised by this verdict. I just was following the trial. I was paying attention to the judge, who was completely biased. And so, you know, I just I guess I was not, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know how to process what’s happening. It’s obviously another, you know, another blow, another, you know, more evidence of white supremacy in this country and its impact on Black folks in particular. But um, but yeah, just we got to talk about it. So, so so let’s talk about it. What are all thinking about the verdict?
Myles Johnson: Well, dang. OK. I think that specifically, you know, I’m always, I hate always speaking generationally, but it always feels really, really important. I think that, I try not to personalize every single verdict, even though it feels very personal, every single verdict does feel really personal, because the amount of unsafely that you feel in your body, even if it’s true, which is not, you—so lies are good to live with in your flesh for the, for, in life. I do just really get scared about the mistrust that is being birthed, and I just get like, I kind of take it out of my range of like people, and I really do think about the babies who are seeing these things. I think about the things that are being really formative in people who are, in kids who are in, even elementary school, but middle school and high school who are forming how they view the world, and what does this lead a generation to do? I know there are some significant things that happened in my generation when I was younger, college age, things that happened when I was something about like Troy Davis, Troy Davis, everything from that to like to Trayvon Martin. Something about all these different things that kind of like helped me form how I saw the world. And it gets me really scared about what’s, what we’re telling another generation about, about safety, about justice, about their right to be in the world and their right to live another day to see—you know, the deaths happened, you know? And I think sometimes because these situations happen so much, we forget that a son, a family member, got lost and that’s the end of the story. And I think that really shapes how—I’m a, I’m a kid person—that shaped how kids see their world and that shapes what kids can hope for and how safe they feel. And when you kids don’t feel safe, it shapes how they dream. And if kids are dreaming less or dreaming safer, then we’re living in a world that’s repeating yesterdays. And then that, to me, is where my heart goes and where my mind goes, because everywhere else is a little bit too painful and a little bit too icky and shadowy.
Kaya Henderson: This made me worry about myself, because literally I was like, Yep, whatever. Like, literally like, not surprised, not shocked, not retraumatized—not even worried about the babies Myles because when I think about the generations of Black children who have repeatedly seen this from, you know, people who have lynched folks who’ve gotten off. I mean, this is par for the course. And to expect anything different, I think is, I mean, the fact that we are surprised and shocked and saddened, I think speaks to at least Black folks renewed hope for America. We always want it to be different. And it’s not, and it’s not going to be different. I think that the twist in this was they killed white people and apparently that’s OK, too. I feel, I know my progressive, my white, progressive friends are worried in different ways because I think they didn’t think this could happen to them. But welcome to the world that some of us have been living in for generations. And so I feel worried because I feel jaded in ways that I don’t usually feel. Usually, I’m an optimist. Usually I’m here for it, it’s going to change or whatever. But America continues to show us who she is and continues to show us that she’s not interested in changing. I think if people are not voting for judges, like if this is not the case to vote down ballot, people like, how can this be? Oh, because you didn’t vote all the way down ballot. Oh, because you didn’t ask yourself who these judges were. Oh, because the Republican Party has been installing judges at a clip like nobody’s business and we are not paying attention to that. We’ve had this conversation on the pod a few times. And so I just, you know, I feel like I’m hitting a fatalistic point in how I view these things. And in part, I’m sure it’s a coping mechanism because you just can’t, I mean, the amount of times that this stuff happens, you would be crazy if you allow yourself to feel this every single time, over and over again afresh. And I feel like at 51-years old, i, you know, I done been to this party too many times. And so I don’t know, I feel really desensitized to that, and that worries me.
DeRay Mckesson: My tweet is how I felt about this, “I have no new takes, no new analysis, nothing new to say. Today is a reminder that the structure produces outcomes like this as a matter of practice, and the structure can be uprooted and done differently. That’s the work I’m here to do.” Is that, I, you know, my father actually called me, he called me, he saw, he saw Attica. I’m obsessed with the Attica doc. He saw it. He called me teary-eyed. And I’m like, Daddy, what’s up? He was like, DeRay, how do you just deal with so much hate in your work, like all day? Like, how do you, like it, it feels like so much? He’s like, I saw this, white people were being evil. This isn’t that old. He’s like, these people are as old as I am. Like, how do you deal with? And I was like, Daddy, you know, I had to stop sitting in the pain because I just couldn’t move from that place. I had to figure out how to sit in the solution work because I can move there. I have power there. I can build new things in that space. And that’s how I felt with this. It was surprising that, you know, he killed white people, and the verdict was still like this. And one of the messages from that is that white people who help Black people won’t be protected by the system. That was like the takeaway. Also, you know, the judge was not just bad, but he was just brazen, right? Like letting, letting him choose the names out of the jury thing, like letting him peer over his shoulder. And I don’t know if you saw this, but you know, the judge allowed Fox News to film in the restricted areas as a part of a documentary, right? So it was just, it was the brazenness of whiteness that I think you see. And if this judge in the end doesn’t get removed from the bench for something, it is really, that is a colossal failure of something. But, and I’ll talk about this with my news, with my news a little bit later, but it was just a reminder that the system could make different choices if it wanted to, and it chooses to do, to do what it does. Or like this isn’t happenstance. It’s not like it must be this way. Like, these are deliberate choices. You’re like that jury, how do you not get a hung jury? You don’t get one person on the jury who’s like this don’t make sense. You know, like, I want to hear that jury room, the juror conversation one day. Like, I wasn’t expecting to get guilty across the board, but you know, I was a little hopeful for a mistrial. And to not get that, I think, was like, OK.
Myles Johnson: I liked Toni Morrison’s quote about needing to be shocked, about it kind of being the emotional, spiritual work of, and psychological work of Black people, to find it in the space to kind of be shocked, and for injustice to feel unjust, and to still feel a little bit shook by it. Because that is letting us know that our humanity is still intact. And something about that brought me a lot of solace when I was reflecting on everything.
Kaya Henderson: So what you saying, Myles? I got to get my humanity back?
Myles Johnson: I’m not—[laughs]
Kaya Henderson: I’m working on it. I’m working on it. I’m working on it.
Myles Johnson: Not me and you! [laughs]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
Kaya Henderson: But I needed some good news, or what I thought would be good news, to counter the weight of the stuff that’s going on in the world right now. And so my news is about the federal student loan forgiveness program for public servants. This is a program that is designed to incentivize people to go into teaching, law enforcement, and government—careers that are usually lower paying than a number of other careers. And the program was started in 2007, and the idea is that it cancels outstanding federal student debt after 10 years of on-time payments for public servants. Now the good news in this, or why I chose this article, is because with this recent expansion, 30,000 borrowers got $2 billion in debt relief this round. In fact, right before Thanksgiving, some people are getting $50,000 worth of debt, student loan debt canceled. Which feels like a good news story. In fact, 550,000 people will be closer to debt cancelation as a result of this program, which, oh by the way, ends, the extension ends in October of 2022, which feels janky, but there’s a lot of janky-ness with what is supposed to be a good news story. Geez, Louise. Turns out that the design and the execution of this program has been so complicated and so cumbersome and so opaque that very few people could actually take advantage of the program. In order to qualify for the program, you have to work for the government, or a certain set of approved nonprofits. You have to have loans that are directly from the federal government, you have to be in the direct federal student loan program. And everybody knows that there’s about a zillion different other loans besides direct loans that don’t qualify. And you have to be enrolled in part, in specific payment, repayment plans. And lots of people are enrolled in the wrong payment repayment plans and whatnot. Literally, nobody was getting this money. And so the Department of Education and the Biden administration have rejiggered the rules of this to allow many, many, many more people to receive federal student loan cancelation, which is good news. But the problem is that we designed a program to effectively make sure that slim to no people could get this. And there are so many other people who are, who have student loans that are not direct student loans that still don’t have any relief. And so student debt continues to crush so many people in this country. The basic requirement, like the thing that you need to do to qualify besides working in a government thing is—in a government job or a nonprofit—is you have to have 120 on-time monthly payments for 10 years. I’m sorry, what? Do you know anybody in the world who has $50,000 or $100,000 worth of student loan debt and has 120 on-time payments over 10 years? Because I don’t. Which means and me and all my cousins and them, we wouldn’t be eligible. Even that could, disqualifies a huge amount of people. And heck, I mean, if it takes you 10 years and you still have a substantive amount of debt, it just reiterates this, you know, debt cycle that we put people in, in order to go to school. My article talks about a woman who has literally been fighting for a debt cancelation for more than 10 years. She moved to a city six hours away when her job was eliminated during the pandemic, just so she could get another job that qualified for the program so it didn’t wipe out the previous number of payments that she made. I mean, America, come on, we could do better than this. How do we put programs in place that are supposed to alleviate people’s stress and pain around student loans and you create a whole new set of problems? And so I brought this to the pod because for people who don’t know about it, who do have direct student loans, who do work for the government or particular non-profits, and who have made 10 years’ worth of payments for 120 on-time payments, this is for you. And if you haven’t heard about it, you should get to the website Ed.gov and StudentAid.gov and you can apply and get this stuff canceled. And for the rest of us, we need to keep on fighting to relieve people of this crippling debt. I’m not, I have paid all my student loans. I’m not one of these people who feels like everybody needs to pay their fair share. The way we have done education lending is criminal in this country. And so my hat goes off to the public servants who were able to get student loan forgiveness. And my admonition to this administration, and all of the rest of us is we need to do better, we can do better. We can expand federal student loan cancelation for many more Americans to give them a shot at the American dream and a middle class American life.
De’Ara Balenger. Oh Kaya, it’s so kismet that this was your article this week. I’m in Santa Fe with a group of my friends for, we’re celebrating one of my friends getting married, so we got together. But one of my best friends from law school, and we graduated from law school in 2007, but she’s a prosecutor in West Palm Beach, and her loans were forgiven. But she’s the only one that she knows that that’s happened with. And it was, it’s really just like through good luck and coincidence and the grace of God that it was able to happen to her. Now she has made 156 on-time payments in the last ten years. And if you knew my friend, it would all make sense. And she’s a Capricorn, so you know. So but it worked, it worked for her, you know what I’m saying? So it was also there was a point where she had consolidated her loans that they told her that she didn’t consolidate in the right ways and that she’d have to start from payment one. And that was like in year eight or something like that. So all that to say, there was so much, you know, so much bureaucracy, so much misinformation, so much lack of direction. And even like, you know, even just lucky that when we were in law school, we had an option to do just federal loans, which is not necessarily an option today. So all that to say thank you for bringing to the pod. Folks need to look into this if they’re public servants or work for non-profits and really, and really fight for it because it really can make a difference in, you know, having, carrying a big amount of debt.
Myles Johnson: My idea around this is really short and sweet. As somebody who has struggled to pay Klarna payments, when I spent so much at ASOS. I think the barrier to, I think the barrier to access to things that are driven to alleviate people just needs to be, sometimes I always feel like it’s moralized. Like it feels like, are you, are you a good enough person to earn this? And as some, and as my mother is somebody who I’ve seen her quickly rob Peter to pay Paul, to then pay Dante—like I’ve seen, I’ve seen these things happen. I think it’s OK to just let the barrier to access to relief not be so, that there not be so many rules, you know? And I think that’s the thing about America, too, because I’m like, trillions of dollars in debt—whatever the number is—I’m like, Who are y’all? Why don’t, give me this money. Give me this money. Forgive me. Stop playing with me. Stop playing with me. Put it on Klarna, will pay it back. Call it a fair trade. You got God, stop playing with me. And that’s how I feel about, that’s how I feel about debt. We need to get to a point where it’s not somebody paid [laughs] 120 on-time payments? You ain’t, you ain’t never going to take that trip that you know you weren’t able to take, and got that extra bottle you never were supposed to get that one time, it’s going to stop you for the rest of your life. I don’t like that. I don’t like that. Not as eloquent.
De’Ara Balenger. This best friend of mine is also a friend who has never missed, she never missed a day of school. That’s the type of person she it.
Myles Johnson: Oh, praise God.
De’Ara Balenger. So, you know, that’s, it’s like, .5% of the people.
Kaya Henderson: I was going to say, that’s like . . . right.
Myles Johnson: Because even when I think about it, when I’m in school, sometimes school missed me. I purposefully skipped, and I don’t want to be punished for that. So sometimes I looked at the student loan debt and then I also looked at the party I wanted to go to and I did that. I don’t want to pay for that for the rest of my life. I want, I want the person who’s the most irresponsible financial person to still get things from the U.S. government because the U.S. government has been doing gangsta criminal things and I, and I think that we can participate too. [laughter] I don’t want us to jump through any more hoops.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya and Myles, I love that you [unclear].
Kaya Henderson: That was not where I was expecting that to go. [laughs]
Myles Johnson: That’s 120 payment really got to me. I said, What!?
DeRay Mckesson: You know, a couple of things come to mind. And Myles, I think that the way that you talked about the moralization of access, I think, is brilliant. And I was was thinking about this with something else, but sort of with Rittenhouse and all the stuff around crime, my news today is, it’s never lost on me that like, we didn’t use poverty, poverty chose us, right? Like the reason why my father struggled to pay my loans off, and I had to pay them off in the end when Te-Ray graduated from college is because he wasn’t set up to succeed in the system. But none of our parents were right? Like it was, the generation of wealth that didn’t exist. The legacy of it we talk about endlessly. But it’s like the moralization is so interesting, because the way the system is set up assumes that white people made all the right decisions. And you’re like, no, the decision was theft, right. The decision was evilness and savagery that resulted in financial gain. And Myles, I think you’re right about the like model for me, what it means to be debt free: U.S. government— you’re not there, right? And you are spending tons of money every single day. And you think of the Trump administration, we paid for rich people. We bought, we bailed rich people out during that administration who didn’t need it. And we’re just trying to get insulin to be $35 at a cap and people over here thinking it’s the end of the world. So that was that. But the second thing I’ll say, the only thing to add is that, you know, this is my note to the Biden administration is y’all cannot figure out a way to help people understand your wins if it was the last thing on Earth. Because there are some good things coming out of administration. This is one that if Kaya literally, if you had not put this in the thing, I ain’t hear about it, I ain’t know about it, nobody was talking about it, it wasn’t a Tik Tok video, I don’t follow the White House Instagram page. But like this is something that has a material benefit for real people and who knew? And I think that the midterms and the next election, I’ve seen people be like, Well, Trump da da da. And it’s like, Well, we, you know, Trump was a nightmare in every possible way, period, and you heard, you heard them every day. It was like, we cannot escape that Trump cycle. And he was lying about everything. But it’s like the Biden world? It’s like, I don’t know. They, you know, hire Cardi B to get to, be a spokes—something got to give. Because they have to figure out how to tell better stories because, it is, the stories we hear the loudest are the people at the border whipping the Haitian refugees. We heard that story endlessly and that is also true. So we don’t, we don’t ignore those stories. We also have to tell the other stories so that people know the full range of what’s happening. And so people can continue to put pressure because I do think that some people are sort of checking out, like this ain’t working. And you’re like, well, some of it is working, actually. And the part that’s working, we should celebrate. And the part that’s not, we should push like hell.
Myles Johnson: My news is from Dazed Magazine—this sound so awkward because I just changed tones totally. Like, my news is from Days Magazine. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, so sometimes I, well, often I look at what’s happening in pop culture and kind of in my head and sometimes through writing reconnect it with like bigger themes. And I’m really fascinated with two things. And one of the things is House of Gucci. I’m really excited to see this movie, but also I’m always interested in when murder films, when things that are centering violence, are becoming enthralling in pop culture, and fascinating in pop culture. Because I do think it’s indicative of what Americans, specifically Americans that consume mainstream content are then finding escapism for. So this this, this murderous Italian woman is, is for me, kind of a catharsis for it’s going to be a catharsis for a lot of people. What is interesting, and then I then go into thinking about violence in are, and Quentin Tarantino and blah blah blah blah blah, and that’s what led me to the Days Magazine article, which is what this organization called Art Against Knives. It’s a London-based organization that actually helps support artists, and helps artists essentially—they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary—essentially supports artists who are, you know, more overexposed in over vulnerable to violence. And I thought that was such a fascinating thing when I was reading the article because art often is so violent and art, and specifically mainstream are, and I thought it was really interesting that there was an organization that was specifically addressing those, to me that kind of weird conversation that art and violence have together, and that is actually creating like a bridge to like say, like, Oh no, if you’re overexposed to violence, here’s something that we can do. Where I usually kind of get a little bit disturbed that a lot of art is like, this over represented by violence. The spokesperson for the charity told Dazed, “Our unique model brings essential specialist support to the borough’s most marginalized young people via creative activity. They can access mental health support at the same time as producing a track to sexual health support whilst having their nails done. This is provided by an extraordinary staff team made up of creative professionals, award-winning youth professionals and young people who have progressed through programs into paid roles. The charity was founded as a direct response to the 2008 stabbing of Oliver Hemsley, a 21-year old Central St. Martin’s student who was left in a wheelchair as a result of an unprovoked attack. And this is actually London based, and I was thinking to myself how just being in New York and being Atlanta that I would love to see more organizations really address those things. In the last two years through either suicide or homicide, I’ve lost going on 10 friends who ware, who were all in the creative team for me. And it’s been one of those things that I just cannot ignore, that it’s a hard subject to talk about, but gun violence, then the people who I know who are overrepresented, who are now in prison because of things. I have a friend who just got sentenced to prison for, like an actual stabbing, who is an artist and somebody else had a, literally has a head injury who were actually praying for actively right now. And these type of organizations, to me, really feel necessary. And I think that often we can look at what people are doing over the pond or what other people, creators are doing globally and figure out how to appropriate those things in a good way here, or to connect those things and see how they can, so they can see that they can happen here. So besides Adele’s new album, [laughs] besides Adele’s new album, Art Against Knives is also something that London is exporting that is fantastic, and I was really inspired by it. And, you know, in my hunt, like Miss Kaya for good news that found me and I wanted to share it.
Kaya Henderson: If you call me Miss Kaya one more time, me and you are going to have a problem.
Myles Johnson: So what do I do? So what do l?
Kaya Henderson: You can call me Kaya. [laughs]
Myles Johnson: So what do I do when my mother hears me on Pod Save the People and says, Now I know you did not get on this microphone with these good—?
Kaya Henderson: You’re going to have to tell her that I threatened your life or something, because I’m not Miss Kaya yet.
Myles Johnson: OK.
Kaya Henderson: Not yet. Not yet. Myles, thanks for bringing this to the pod. This was really interesting to me to follow your line of thinking around the overrepresentation of violence and the arts ability to counteract violence. I think we don’t have to, we don’t have to go all the way across the pond to see examples of arts organizations that are engaging young people to divert them from violence. But I thought it was very interesting, I used to do a lot of international work, and I had team members in London and over the last ten years or so, in fact, the youth service funding in the UK has, in London has been cut by over 70% and so and even more in some of the more challenging places around the UK. And so these youth centers, which were funded by the government, have seen significant significant cuts. And you know, I don’t think we recognize when we make this social policy that when we see cuts in diversion programs and things that engage young people, that we should expect to see violence actually increase on the other side, mental health issues increase on the other side. Like, this is all common sense, and we don’t seem to put it together because we do this work in silos, right? The arts education work is funded differently and separately from our violence prevention work, which is funded differently and separately from our education work or our mental health services. And we got to start seeing people as whole people and treating them as whole people and not sort of single-issue people. The other thing that your comments made me think about is with the overrepresentation of violence and the over glorification of, I guess what I would call the gangster lifestyle, is the onslaught of what’s on TV right now. Power Book 3 comes out today, or book 2, whatever the next one is coming out today, and Black Mafia Family everybody is watching. And they are wildly violent. And we just finished watching The Harder They Fall, which we, you know, praised for seeing historical figures, and they killed a whole lot of people. And so that, you know, I was watching Black Mafia Family and realizing that like 50 Cent is like the Tyler Perry of American Gangsterism, right? Like, this dude has 59 different shows on right now that are all about the drug game and all about killing and all about violence. And I think about the, you know, the people who are on the front lines every day in these youth centers and in these nonprofit organizations trying to send our young people a different message, versus the like radical proliferation of what kids are seeing or what young people are seeing on TV, what we’re all seeing on TV and in movies. And I don’t know how you counteract this thing with, you know, the nonprofit funding that we give to these kinds of organizations. So that was sort of disturbing to me.
De’Ara Balenger. I think for me, I’m just thinking about this very practically. The royal family has had some issues with race. I think. It would be such an easy win for Prince William to say, You know what, I’m just gonna write a check. So, I don’t know, I guess that’s how—
Kaya Henderson: That’s not his money! That’s not his money. That’s the government’s money.
De’Ara Balenger. He’s got his own money too. He’s got his own money, too.
Myles Johnson: Now we’re talking, right, because I was talking about robbing Peter and Paul and Prince William. So, come on.
De’Ara Balenger. Yeah, I mean, or you know, Meghan and Harry out here with their foundation. Listen, this is easy y’all. Very, very, very easy to do. I just don’t understand why an organization that has been, has such a marvelous track record that is doing such powerful, compelling work is struggling to get funding in the United Kingdom, with so many people now trying to be on trend, with trying to be more multi-cultural and more pro Black. Y’all better write a check.
DeRay Mckesson: So two things come to mind. First is this is a reminder that we underfund communities of color everywhere. So when people talk about the global aspect of anti-Blackness, it’s not just in America, it’s not just in Latin America where people talked about Brazil or Colombia. We see it in the UK too, right? We see it all across the globe that people sort of when people decide where money goes, it’s not to our communities and to hold them up. The other thing, though, is that there is not even newer research, this is like research that’s been around for a while that shows that in a city of 100,000 each new nonprofit community organization leads to about a 1% drop in the homicide rate, a 1% reduction in violent crime, and almost 1% reduction in the property crime rate. That investing in people changes the landscape of options that people have. That makes sense, right? And even with this data, you know, people will talk about: follow the research, follow the research. And then they’ll be like, put more money in the police department. You’re like well, the police department money, actually the research shows the exact opposite. We’re doing a thing on Rikers right now. Rikers, as the number of staff has increased, Rikers has gotten more dangerous. Adding staff has not made Rikers safer. The data actually shows something else. So I’m so interested when people talk about like, Oh, the data should lead us da da da. Because you’re like, the data actually says non-profits are not just cosmetic things, they’re not just nice to have—they actually have a legitimately, like a measurable impact on crime and violence in communities.
De’Ara Balenger. All right, y’all. My news is from NPR. I think I’ve been on an NPR kick, just love it. So it’s about Jessica Watkins, who will be the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station. Now I wanted to talk about this article one, to celebrate Jessica Watkins, but also so we all know, our whole family and community knows, this sister is going to be up in space. And for you other NASA astronauts on this space station, we know she’s there and we want to make sure she’s protected. OK.
Kaya Henderson: Oh, ho. Damn!
De’Ara Balenger. So, two, two reasons for covering this, because you’re not about to be doing our sister wrong up in space we can’t get to her. So this is just fabulous news. And so Jessica Watkins is actually from Maryland. She’s been living in Colorado. This sister has a Bachelor of Science in Geology and Environmental Sciences from Stanford and a doctorate in geology from UCLA. A lot of her graduate research was on the emplacement mechanisms of large landslides on Mars and Earth. Yes, this. Yes, we love you. Bless you, bless you. So this news is, you know, is short and sweet. Jessica Watkins is going to be the first Black woman to be, you know, living and working on the space station. She joined NASA astronauts in 2017 and has been working in the space agency’s research centers, and particularly working on what’s going on with Mars. And she told Colorado Public Radio, “I do hope that all young girls, especially young girls of color, that are interested in STEM and interested in exploring space, feel empowered to do so. I just hope young girls across the country feel that way now.” So shout out to Jessica Watkins. Sis, we are paying attention. And let’s figure out how you can send us some tweets or, you know, phone home so that we know you’re okay up there.
Myles Johnson: So that this really reminded me of when everybody was in uproar about Jeff Bezos and everything that was happening with him. And I kind of, and everybody was calling on the Jill Scott-Heron poem “Whitey on the Moon” And I kind, I just did not agree with everybody’s conclusion with it because I knew that Black people really found a home and a lot of Black culture is about finding a home in space, in space, in the ideas of the space, and through mysticism in science has been such an intricate part of Black culture. So I was, something about it gave me a little tension that we were kind of disassociating and saying like, Well, that’s for white people, space travel and interest is for is for white people. Even when I was 23, which was six months ago, when I was 23, my first book was centered on a little Black queer kid going to Mars. My boyfriend is in a professional astrologer and artist, and space and universal themes have been such an intricate part of the artist that I love to Sun Ra, to Octavia Butler, to Samuel R. Delaney. And I just love when that’s being actualized, because the math part and the bravery part is something that I will not be accessing in this lifetime. I have made peace with that. So I love that while I’m, while some people are here doing the imagination work, the spiritual work, there are some people who are brave enough to do the numbers and to—I don’t understand, the kind of back flips that when you’re, when you’re underneath that kind of pressure, I don’t know how people deal with that—but I’m glad there is somebody there who is more reckless with their numbers and their lives and who’s willing to do it. All hands on deck.
Kaya Henderson: This goes into the files of Black people can do anything for me. So come on, sister Jess, I’m down with you. I’m not really worried about you disappearing or anything. Like, we gonna have a good eye on you. But it’s good to know that cousin De’Ara got some people in case anything goes down. I am excited to learn about this young lady, and I also think that it is an incredible teachable moment. You know, as you recounted what she studied, De-Ara, literally, like I, that is way above my pay grade. And I think while we are looking at this particular moment, there’s an opportunity to deconstruct the pathway from little Jessica, Black girl who dreamed about space at some point, to where she is today. We talk about wanting more Black kids to, you know, be involved in STEM careers, but we don’t actually teach young people what the pathway is. We don’t explain what the geological blah blah blah, whatever you just said, she studied—we don’t, I don’t know what that’s about, and I got multiple degrees. And so if our young people are going to be able to do this, we need to use moments like this to lift up, and break down quite frankly, what it is you need to study and why these things are interesting so that we can engage a new generation, so that Jessica is the first, but not the last. That Jessica, is you know, busting through doors, but holding doors open for many, many more people to come behind her. And so I want sister Jess to do a cartoon or something. She can do it on Reconstruction if she’d like, come on to Reconstruction and help us teach young people what it is that she’s doing and what it takes to get there so that, you know, we’re having the Soul Train line on the International Space Station because there is so many of us up there.
DeRay Mckesson: Yes, a Soul Train line in space. So first, shout out to De’Ara, because this is another one that if you’ve not put in the chat, literally I hadn’t heard about Jessica, Dr. Watkins. Hadn’t seen it, none of it. So thank you for bringing it. I didn’t know that only 7 of the 249 people who have ever boarded the space station since its creation were Black. That is wild. And I only know this because I was in a, I’m a part of an unconference that has all these incredible people, and some of the people are former astronauts and one of the people is one of the space doctors. And I was fascinated by like, what does it mean to be, he like studies to do medicine in space? Like, you know, the doctors actually don’t go up, so they deliver the medicine via telemedicine. Like, when people get sick, that’s how they, that’s how they deliver it. But it was so interesting because I was like, Well, how many programs? And he’s like one. I’m like, Well, how many people are in the program? It’s like eight a year. You know, like the pipeline for this stuff is actually just so tiny that knowing about it is not even half the battle, knowing about it is 90% of the battle because it’s one or two pathways to even get to the funnel. And then getting out of the funnel is its own challenge. But it just reminded me, partly to what Kaya said, and I think about my work with kids is, you know, what does it mean to expose young people to these things? Not as not as even aspirational in like a big A sort of way, but like, you know, our cousin Jessica’s up there. Like our cousin—you know, like, what does it mean to just help people see that? And that’s what I saw, this is like I cannot wait to find a picture of Dr. Jessica Watkins and show Salem, my niece, and just as like a random thing. Like, did you know, did you know she about to live in space? And she be like, Oh. And it’d be normal for her. Not like a big deal for me, but it just is normal for her is really cool. So I’m excited to to see the way that this seeps into culture. And like Kaya said, Black people, everything we touch gets better. We’re going to be the only people on the space station soon. People will be like, why they not letting other people up? And we’re like, because it’s too much flavor up there for y’all right now. So I’m excited to see that happen.
It looks like I’m Debbie Downer today on the news front, but my news is about a rape case with a man who was a teenager at the time, Christopher Belter. He’s now 20. He pled guilty to third degree rape with four women. And the, let me take you to the end. The end is that the judge felt like incarceration just was not the right space for him and ordered him to six years of probation instead. And the judge is about to turn 70. So he is about to automatically be forced to retire. And I brought this here because—let me just take you to the end of my comments and I’ll work back—I brought it here because often we think about the disparate impact of the criminal justice system on people of color, on Black kids and da da da. And people sort of are like, Well, you know, you do the crime, you pay the time. They’re like, This is what the rules are, we got to change the rules, you know, da da da. And then you come to a case like this and you remember that the rules are all a game anyway. That like for white people, the rules don’t really become the rules. Not even that I think that this boy needs to be in prison for the next six years or how ever many years, but this wasn’t even like a case where they were competing stories. He’s like, Yep, I did rape them. Yep, I did, I feel bad about it and I hope they know I’m remorseful. And you’re like, Is that, is that the, is that the case that we’re dealing with right now!? And it just was really surprising to me. And you know, the lawyers for the families obviously felt like this didn’t make sense. And, you know, the district attorney didn’t make a comment. But, you know, connected white people just skirt the, skirt the rules. And this, the wildest part about this to me, is that this boy faced almost no accountability. So he initially got put on probation by another judge, violated the terms of that probation, then goes to this case, and there’s no consequence for him even violating the probation on that one. And mind you, there are hordes of Black people who are facing full terms for a violation of probation that is a basic. Like, you know, you missed the curfew, you didn’t come to the place at the right time, and it re-triggered their entire sentence. This guy is openly flouting the terms of his probation and like, there’s no, literally no consequence. And it is just, I brought it here because I didn’t know where else to put it in my life and I needed to process this, but I’m reminded the system could do very different things if I wanted to. And the system chooses to do these things to our people.
Myles Johnson: White patriarchal violence is a, invasive, but then also when I think about—because I always, certain things always get difficult. I’m going to [unclear] about murder. It’s a little bit different for me, but like I really think about like, how do we actually go to this utopian space in my head where these moments don’t, don’t happen, or we don’t consistently produce people who participate in white patriarchal violence? And it always, the biggest take away that I got from it is that the tension between wanting to have ways that this doesn’t happen and maybe ways that transform minds and past experiences so this violence doesn’t happen that maybe it’s just not, the best places isn’t prison always get stopped because of a lack of accountability when it comes to white men and when the lack of accountability when it comes to this type of violence. So it’s hard to even have those conversations or move forward on those conversations because the amount of justice that, there’s just no justice when those things happen and it just kind of filled me with frustration. There’s really nothing super intelligent or articulate that I have to say about it besides it gets frustrating, specifically as somebody who wants people to start thinking about other ways outside of punitive punishment and the prison system of how to restore society. And you can’t have those conversations when these things are happening and when vulnerable people’s lives are not being taken seriously, and white power continues to be what, what rules things, and not any type of actual sense of justice or with wanting to heal. It’s maddening.
De’Ara Balenger. I think the other thing that’s so shocking about this case is that—I was just reading some other articles about it as well—but there were several adults that were also involved in kind of creating this party house atmosphere, right? And they were supplying these young girls with alcohol, marijuana, kind of creating conditions for them to be sexually assaulted. So I think, you know, it’s also just an extension. You know, this is a 16-year old who is, you know, who is not an adult and clearly has no boundaries, and adults are actually facilitating and encouraging this disgusting and violent behavior. So it’s just, yes, it’s patriarchy, yes it’s all of these things, but it’s also just, it’s just sickening too. I mean, I think there’s just like a part of like, where’s the humanity in any of these human beings? And the fact that these victims so courageously stood up, testified in court, told their stories—which also if you read some of their testimony, it’s just, it’s devastating. It is just devastating. So I think just to the, just where are the, where are these people’s humanity in all of this? Y’all got nothing better to do in Lewistown, Niagara Falls, where the hell y’all are living? This is just it’s just crazy to me on so many levels.
Kaya Henderson: Apparently, we haven’t even heard the details of the barbarism of this serial rapist. I mean, this dude is on probation for raping people, and he rapes, he continues to rape people. And the judge does not feel like jail time is warranted. Eight years of probation—that’s just—or six years, whatever it is, that’s just time for him to rape more women, because that’s what he did over the last probationary period. It is, what this says to young women, what it had to take for, you know, this young lady to testify. I read that she vomited in the bathroom after she heard the sentence. I mean, you’re retraumatized all over again. She was raped all over again by the judge. And he gets to go retire. Miss me with that. This is why y’all, let me tell you something. It is, it is a wonder, a wonder, that people are not raging far more than what is currently going on out in these streets because literally the way we allow white men to do what they want to do however they want to do it is like, I mean, I don’t, like I rarely have nothing to say, but I don’t even know what to say about this. And the judge offered no excuse. No, no rationale, no whatever. And we just pick up and go to work the next day? It’s just OK? And he gets to go back to school. And you know, to me, when systems like the judicial system fails, we have other ways to respond to this. School, he would not come back to my school. I don’t care who, what, where, when, why you couldn’t, you couldn’t go to school for a life for you, bro. You couldn’t get a job anywhere that I had anything to do with. You couldn’t go to the CVS if I had something to do with it. And so it’s time for us all to be responsible and not allow—his family clearly is coddling him and allowing him to do this and more. And it’s time for the good people who do have conscience to begin to act and to say this is not who we want in our society. We can make him a pariah, even if the judge didn’t. And so I think whoever his pharmacist is should refuse him service. I don’t know if this is legal. De’Ara, you may have to come get me out of jail for saying this or some Jazz—but I would do everything within my godly power to make sure this dude don’t get a thing. I mean, is it good that air is free because if I found a way to stop him from getting that, I’d stop him from getting that too.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Now let’s get into Malcolm Bell. I didn’t even know Malcolm Bell had written this book. I didn’t know anything about this until had seen the Attica a documentary and then talked to people. During his time as a New York State prosecutor, Malcolm bravely blew the whistle on the police who committed extensive torture and murder during the 1971 Attica prison riot. And now, we had Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry on the show to discuss a new Showtime documentary in Attica recently. And if you haven’t heard that episode a seen that doc, you got to go do it, like I said. Malcolm’s book is an insider’s account of the aftermath of Attica. If you’re like me, you wondered what happened after Attica, when the dust settled. Well, my conversation with Malcolm addressed all those questions and my curiosities and I’m sure it will, for you too. Here’s my interview with Malcom Bell. Let’s go.
DeRay Mckesson: Malcolm Bell, thank you so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Malcom Bell: Well, I’m very pleased you were kind enough to have me.
De’Ara Balenger. So I just saw the Attica documentary and I must say that I literally did not know anything about Attica really before, before seeing it. I think I’d heard about it and I’d heard that there was like a prison uprising, but I couldn’t have told you anything more than that. I saw it, and I am like, full-blown, this is the wildest thing. This should be required for everybody. I had Stanley and Traci on the podcast and I didn’t know what the aftermath was. And then they were like, Oh, there’s a whole book by Malcolm Bell, who was the whistleblower, and I was like, Oh my god, A.J., can we find Malcolm Bell? And then you said, Yes. So thank you for coming. I am excited to learn from you.
Malcom Bell: Well, it’s great pleasure to be here, and I thank you for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay, can you just walk us through how did you get involved with Attica? You know, I’ve read the book, but can you tell us, like, was it a phone call, did you get a—probably wasn’t an email back in 1971, not that era. Yeah. What did you, how did it happen?
Malcom Bell: It was a total accident. I’ve been doing civil litigation in Manhattan for quite a few years and it was fun, but it didn’t seem that important. It was other people’s money I was fighting over. And I decided criminal law would be more exciting, and the best way to learn about criminal law is to work for a prosecutor. So I answered a blind ad for prosecutors and it turned out to be the Attica special prosecutor who was appointed by Governor Rockefeller after the terrible tragedy.
DeRay Mckesson: A blind ad!? Really?
Malcom Bell: Blind ad in the New York Law Journal: prosecutors wanted. I told them I had no prosecutorial experience but I was willing to learn, and I had done a lot of complicated cases, which Attica certainly was.
DeRay Mckesson: So can you talk us through you joining the team, because you joined a couple of years in, right? You weren’t there at the beginning of the special prosecutor’s office, right?
Malcom Bell: That’s right. It was just something on the television that came and went. And it was two years later that I answered this blind ad, September of 73. Almost exactly two years later that I went to work for the attorney general of New York in the special prosecutor’s office.
DeRay Mckesson: OK, so give us a rundown for listeners who have no clue about anything that you did. What, so you joined the special prosecution team. You were in there just trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not true. What happened?
Malcom Bell: Well, when I got there, the prosecutor’s staff was much too small for the job at hand, and it had made a decision, a very fateful decision, that it would prosecute crimes committed during the insurrection in chronological order, meaning the crimes that prisoners may have committed during the first four days of the insurrection and save the 39 homicides that the police had committed for the very end. When, it turns out, and rather obviously all the evidence was stale. Witnesses had gone far and wide and it was really late in the game. So when I joined the prosecutor’s office, they had worked with the grand jury that indicted 62 inmates, prisoners, and zero law officers. And I told the man who hired me, Tony Simonetti, who was basically running the prosecutor’s office at that point, that all things being equal, I’d rather prosecute a cop than a prisoner. And he said, why? And I said I had nothing against cops, but I thought the prisoners, the system was going to land on them, whereas the police would be hiding behind the system. I was right about that.
DeRay Mckesson: So you thought that the police might be, might be hiding stuff, or that the system might be protecting them and, you know, the end of the story is that that was true, is that there seem to be a, some collusion between the state police, all the things at hand. Was there like a particular moment where you were like, Oh, my goodness, like they are hot, like they destroyed something. Was it like a, did you call for a document that you knew existed and all of a sudden it didn’t exist? Like, what was the moment that you were like, Wow, this is a cover up?
Malcom Bell: Well, it’s more gradual than that, and I was quite naive in those days, even though I was in my forties by then. I, you know, it was a very sheltered life when you’re in civil litigation in New York because you just work on one case at a time. And an official report had come out the year before on Attica that said that the police had engaged in much unnecessary shooting. Now when you do unnecessary shooting in a crowd of 1,300 guys, there’s a very good chance a lot of that is criminal. And as this situation was described in this report, it was pretty obvious that the police—and when I say police, I should I should specify, of the police who were engaged in recapturing the prison by force, which to me means violence, only half of them discharged their weapons. Only, they admit, most of them admitted that, and we found a few others that have done so. And it’s possible that others had done, a whole lot of others have done so, but didn’t, we can know about it. But as we studied the evidence, it was pretty clear that they had given statements to the police detectives that made it clear that they had fired their weapons and the number of shots they fired. And I had the handicap, we all did, that the police were lying a lot. And right after the prison was retaken, the police destroyed a whole lot of the evidence of what they had done. They moved bodies before locating, you know, showing where they were. A whole lot of photographs mysteriously did not come out. The police made a basic failure to keep track of who had what weapons, so one rifle killed three men and we had no idea who fired that rifle. Another rifle killed two men and injured a third and we had no idea who had that rifle. And so we had an uphill fight to get more than half a dozen murder cases out of what the police had done. But there was a whole lot of reckless endangerment, which is basically a seven-year felony, it can put you in for seven years, if you can prove that somebody shot at somebody he shouldn’t have but you can’t prove that he hit him, and that would have been enough. And there were an awful lot of troopers that we had evidence sufficient to convict them of that crime but with this tiny staff, the prosecutor’s office had not gotten around to that. And so let me just backtrack a little. At the time the assault on the prison began, the prisoners had placed hostages on these raised roofs called catwalks inside the prison, holding knives at their throats, trying to deter the assault. Well, it was more and more obvious as things went on that the state was not going to let the lives of a few prisoners or a few hostages stop them from getting their prison back. So snipers, state police snipers on the roofs of the cell blocks we’re able to pick off those so-called executioners and no, no hostage died from any of the cuts he received. Two of the, two of the hostages did receive pretty serious cuts in their necks, but the shooting was so good that it took out the inmates before they were able to kill anybody. Thereafter, there was almost no justification for shooting, but the shooting went on, like mopping up on Iwo Jima for another five, six, seven, minutes. It’s a little hard to tell because the state police video that they made of the re-taking had mysteriously been shortened so it didn’t show any shootings. We only had about four minutes of video for, you know, the good parts were obviously cut out and I was doing my best to prove that and who had done it.
DeRay Mckesson: Did you ever find out who, who was doing the cutting, who was deleting things, who was destroying stuff? Like, and do you remember the moment where you were like, where it dawned on you that it wasn’t you being paranoid, you weren’t just like trying to ding the police, you were like, Wow, this is actually a cover up?
Malcom Bell: Well, it was apparent from the start the police had cover it up. What I was very slow on was realizing that my office was going to facilitate that cover up. The best way to do a cover up is to make it look as though you’re making a serious effort. And here I was, a guy with a good pedigree and if they call me in and they couldn’t get any convictions, then it would make the effort look a little better than it otherwise might. But I was very fortunate. The spring after I was hired, I became chief assistant in the office, mainly because I worked very hard and was very interested in trying to prosecute the police who had shot people, that had shot at people they shouldn’t have. Whereas the other people in the office, most of whom were ex prosecutors, were not interested in doing that. So anyway, I was given a fresh grand jury in the spring of 2075, which is very late in the game, and I was putting evidence in three days a week calling Trooper after trooper as a witness, we had, you know, given that there were a whole lot of troopers who did not fire their weapons, there were a lot of potential witnesses. Now a whole lot of them said, Oh, I don’t remember, I don’t remember. The one thing they all did seem to remember was as they went down the catwalks, these roofs of these corridors in the prison to get at where the hostages were being held, right in the intersection of those corridors there was a place called Times Square, there was one prisoner who was on the ground and two troopers had emptied their revolvers into him and left him with the appearance that his eyes were shot out. Actually, bullets did not penetrate his eyes. It was fragments of his skull that penetrated his eyeballs. And it’s a ghastly picture. You can see it right in the center of my book.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, yeah, I saw it. It’s wild
Malcom Bell: To get back to your question, I was believing that I’d be allowed to finish getting these criminal troopers indicted, and yet the closer I came, the more obstacles were placed in my path. And finally I was taken away from my grand jury, much to their disappointment I found out later when I talked to six of them. And lo and behold, only one trooper was ever indicted and that was sort of by accident. My office thought that they could have a vote on him and he would not be indicted, but lo and behold, that wonderful grand jury did indict him of reckless endangerment and he was facing the seven-year charge, but that all got wiped out later when the governor Jerry by this time in his wisdom, decided that the way to have equal justice was not to prosecute anybody for anything, even though there were 43 homicides.
DeRay Mckesson: And what did the people in your office say, where, when you were doing this? Were people like cheering you on quietly, were people like, you know, this is wild, don’t do this Malcolm—like what were your colleagues saying?
Malcom Bell: Mostly, they were staying off to themselves. I mean, we’d have lunch together. We’d have breakfast together when we were in the motel in Buffalo, going to the grand jury. Everything was very friendly. We did not talk about our work. There was one investigator who was totally on my side, a guy named Lenny Brown. He was the guy who discovered that the police had withheld or destroyed six color photographs when, first when that man I’ve told you about was being blown away on Times Square with the two troopers emptying their pistols, and then a little later there was another inmate—I talk of inmates, I understand it’s prisoners now but you know who I mean—he was, he was lying on the pavement, right in the center of Times Square pavement, and he was probably going to die quite quickly because he’d been hit in the lungs with a disintegrating rifle bullet. Dum Dums are outlawed but the police used a disintegrating bullet anyway. And it had shattered inside his lungs, so he was bleeding to death. And this other trooper came up, saw him lying there and blasted a shotgun through his neck, killing him instantly. That was one of the prosecutors—one of the troopers I wanted to indict for murder.
DeRay Mckesson: Do you think that there are still documents that are suppressed from Attica, or no? Have they all been made public?
Malcom Bell: Oh, there are lots of lots of documents suppressed, thousands of pages. Including all of the grand jury testimony, or almost all of the grand jury testimony that I put in, which if I remember correctly was about 7,000 pages of testimony. That is suppressed, a lot of other documents are suppressed. Now there were two breaches in the wall of silence, as it were, with documents. One was that the prisoner lead counsel, Elizabeth, Liz Fink, gained access to the documents and as she puts it, in another documentary that just came out: I stole them. She she made off with the documents. The other was that the author, Heather Anne Thompson, who has this great book “Blood in the Water” the story of the whole beginning, end and aftermath of the insurrection, she was poking around in an office of the attorney general used to have in Buffalo, and she found a whole other bunch of documents that she never should have been shown if the state was doing its job of suppressing the evidence properly. And she copied a whole lot of them, so references to them appear in her book. But yes, they couldn’t take them all, Liz and Heather. And there’s a lot of stuff that’s still suppressed and that’s one of the reasons the book on Attica can’t close yet. This stuff is suppressed. And the other reason it can’t close is that the state afterwards swindled the hostages and their families and then would never apologize. That’s still an open thing.
DeRay Mckesson: Who has the power to try to open up the documents to make them public?
Malcom Bell: The attorney general can release whatever he or she finds. It’s not always easy to find this stuff now. You have offices that have closed. The Trade Center went down that had some offices. So, yes. The court can release the grand jury minutes, transcripts if it wants. The attorney general made a motion to the court in 2013 to try to get a whole lot of that stuff released and I guess also a thing called The Meyer Report. After I went in the spring of ’75, after I’ve been shut down and I resigned in protest from the office and I tried to work things out through channels, I finally went to Tom Wicker at The New York Times and told him about the cover up. And the officials, it was amazing to see these officials scurrying around trying to cover their backsides, and what they finally did was appoint a guy named Bernard S. Meyer to form another commission to investigate the investigation of the riot. And he issued a big report that agreed with my facts but said, Oh no, there was no cover up, it was just bad judgment. And they didn’t prosecute the main perpetrators, and that sort of thing. And that’s in his, he had three volumes of this report, and that’s in the first volume. What was released was quite shocking, both for the facts it’s revealed and the way that Murry Meyer leaned over backwards to protect anybody really high up, specifically Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Attorney General Louie Lefkowitz. They were the people at the time who bore the real responsibility for the cover up. I don’t know whether Rockefeller planned the cover up or he just took the benefit of it for minions who know to do it for him.
DeRay Mckesson: You make a choice not to name the officers that you probably have really good proof they killed people. And it wasn’t all of them, but it was definitely a subset. Do you think that, do you think that there is any—because there’s no statute of limitations on murder, right—do you think that there’s any chance that there will ever be a prosecution of these officers? Or do you think that this is just, you know, a historian’s game at this point?
Malcom Bell: Technically, you’re absolutely right. They could be prosecuted for murder because there is no limit. I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I just don’t get a sense that anybody wants to do it anymore. Some of the people have been named that I feel—as an ex-prosecutor, I have an obligation that most people don’t have to not name names. Liz Fink in the documentary that Michael Hull just recently released, she names one of the guys that blew away Kenny Malloy in Times Square, the man without the eyes. And yeah, he could be prosecuted. The other guy could be prosecuted. The one that shot Sam Melville, the mad bomber, so-called, he was, he was a radical in the ’60s who believed in stopping the Vietnam War by blowing things up, which was, you know, I didn’t agree with. And he was more or less executed by the state police detective who claimed he was about to throw a Molotov cocktail at him, which didn’t happen. And so the detective just fired a big shotgun slug into his body, and he bled out quite quickly. I would have wanted to prosecute that guy for murder, too. He has already gone to his reward, so the Good Lord is doing whatever is needed for him, I believe.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, can you just go over the facts one more time? How many people were killed? How many, how many of the hostages were killed, and were any of the—and who killed them?
Malcom Bell: OK. The first guy killed was the guard Bill Quinn, who was hit over the head on the first day of the insurrection and died on the third day. After that, prisoners killed three other prisoners quite brutally, stabbed 20 to 40 times, throats cut. And that was not known by the authorities until afterwards, after they found the bodies in the cell blocks. And that happened during the insurrection. And then at the end, the state police and a few corrections officers who should not have taken part—under orders of Governor Rockefeller they were ordered not to take part, but they did anyway, claimed not to have heard the order—and they killed 10 hostages and 29 inmates, prisoners, shooting them all to death. And promptly announced that no, prisoners had killed the dead hostages. Will that was false, and it was exposed the next day by the medical examiner, Jack Edland, and he suffered for telling the truth about that. He was hounded to death, an early death. He died at 57 because of what he had been put through. It’s a long story and it’s sort of in the back of my book, and I count him as the 44th casualty of Attica. But, yeah, there was there was virtually no reason for any more shooting after the hostages lives were saved by some good police work at the beginning. The rest was just bad police work and to a very large extent, racially-driven. And you saw in the documentary aspects of the racism, it’s very apparent in any telling of the story. And it’s like a macro version of the Black Lives Matter tragedies that are occurring as we speak.
DeRay Mckesson: What do you say to people who are like, this is the wildest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I didn’t know. How do we make sure this never happens again? What do you say to people who say that?
Malcom Bell: Number one, I’d say, see the film. See Firelight’s documentary that Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry put together. I would say read Heather Thompson’s book, I would say read my book. Incidentally, I just learned they’re going to put out a paperback of my book next year, and I look forward to that because I always wanted it to be in paperback. So I always wanted to be people who didn’t buy hardcover could read it. And I just hope it’ll show up in a few airports. I think you’ve had the experience yourself, once you see the film or anything like that, you realize that this, just how terrible it was. And one thing I got out of the film was at Attica anyway, the prisoners were more decent than the police, and a lot of people don’t realize that can happen. And there it was. And it’s very hard to deny after seeing that film, I think.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. I’ll ask you as we close, is there anything that you’re, like, what will you never forget about your time trying to prosecute these officers? Is there like a, I don’t know, I have to imagine that you learned so much? And I wrote a book too, and I know that there’s always stuff you can’t put in the book because at some point you’ve got to make a decision to cut something, and you know, there’s a story that means a lot to you, but it didn’t make the cut. You know, what are the things that you will never forget about this?
Malcom Bell: Oh, gosh. You know, I forget what I eat for breakfast two days ago. And you listen to me, I remember Attica very well. And I guess, I stopped being so naive. I switched over. I’d been a moderate Republican, I voted for Richard Nixon for president. I admit that. Attica, the experience, you know, we’re so politicized these days. People can say it moved me to the left. No. It opened my eyes to what’s really going on. I do not believe I’m left or right. You may have that experience yourself. The color photos [Billy] put in skull after the inmates had broken it in, that’s always stayed with me. A lot of the autopsy photos have stayed with me, I had to work with them. And one day I went down to the, well, the autopsy room on First Avenue in Manhattan and watched a morning of autopsies. It’s an eye-opening experience.
DeRay Mckesson: Did you ever talk to any of the families of the victims?
Malcom Bell: I talked to a lot of hostage families after Liz Fink and her team obtained the big settlement for the prisoners who were tortured. And that’s another thing. I mean, to answer your question, I can suddenly answer your question—the thing that impressed me most, I suppose, was the extent to which law enforcement officers tortured prisoners after they had surrendered. And just about all of them were tortured. And just about all of them who testified later—when I say later, in the year 2000, almost 30 years later—wept on the witness stand. That was really powerful. There’s a lot needs doing in this country in criminal justice, and the first thing is, I hope this and your talk with Nelson and Curry and others, first thing is to learn what’s actually going on in the blizzard of lies and falsehoods and happy talk that inundate us. It’s pretty hard to see what’s going on sometimes, but that’s what matters.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, Malcolm, thank you for making time today, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back. Everybody, please go watch the film. Please read Malcolm’s book. This is a chapter of our history that is actually not so in the past. That’s the other thing I’m like. This is 1971. These are like, this is not the, it’s not 100 years ago. So thank you for coming.
Malcom Bell: Well, it’s a great pleasure talking with you, and thank you very much for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week.
Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrie and mixed by Charlotte Landes, executive produced by me, and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.