DeRay, Sam, Brittany and Clint discuss the overlooked news, including “Black Wall Street,” domestic violence, global gun policies, and license plate surveillance. Michaele Turnage Young of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Harvard student Ivy Yan join DeRay to talk about the Harvard affirmative action lawsuit.
DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save The People. On this episode, we’re joined by Ivy Yan, a law student at Harvard University and a member of the Coalition for A Diverse Harvard; and Michaele Turnage Young, Senior Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Michaele: Unfortunately, we are living in a world where there are so few Black and Latinx applicants, that even if Harvard got rid of every single Black and Latinx applicant from its admissions pool, it would only increase the chances of White and Asian-American applicants by 1%.
DeRay: And we have the news as usual with me, Brittany, Clint, and Sam.
DeRay: The thing that’s been on my mind this week, I was talking to my good friend, incredible poet, Cleo Wade, and we were talking about this idea of the language of bringing your best self to something. When people say, “Oh, I’m bringing my best self,” or, “Show up in your best …” And it’s like, at what point … And she pushed me on this, at what point do you decide that some people just aren’t worth your best self? At what point do you walk into rooms and say, “You know what? I’m actually not gonna show up in the fullness of my gifts?” And it really made me think about the language of the best self. We actually should be walking into every room, treating the people that we’re in front of, that we’re with, that we’re building community and family with, as worthy. We should do that in all the rooms we’re in. We shouldn’t be in rooms where we aren’t showing up in the fullness of our gifts and who we are. And that really pushed me. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey, y’all. It’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett, @MsPackyetti on all social media.
Sam: And this is Sam Sinyangwe, @samswey on Twitter.
Clint: And this is Clint Smith, @ClintSmithIII from my childhood bedroom.
Sam: Hey, hey, hey.
DeRay: This is DeRay, @deray, D-E-R-A-Y, on Twitter.
Clint: A lot of us been home and sharing time with family for the holidays and for
Thanksgiving, so how has it been on y’all’s end?
Brittany: I just want to say that if you all read Rembert’s piece in Bon Appetit magazine about Black Thanksgiving, or as he called it, “Thanksgiving: A Hip Hopera,” you will understand what Thanksgiving looks like in my house every single year. And it has never been about these terrible false narratives and this awful history that people are getting taught about what we pretend Thanksgiving is. And I’m actually really grateful that those kind of myths were not perpetuated in my house, because it’s actually been all about Black culture and food and family and faith. We do potluck because I have a very large family, and this year I cooked the cornbread and the mac and cheese, and getting the assignment for mac and cheese was a very big deal.
Sam: How was it?
Brittany: I think I did a good, if I do say so myself. Oh, it was good. I used my friend Chef Resha’s recipe off off CarnalDish. It was fire. It disappeared very quickly.
Clint: Her name is Chef Resha?
Brittany: No, I mean her name is Resha.
Clint: Oh, Chef Resha.
Brittany: But she goes by Chef Resha.
Clint: Oh, I was like, “Oh, my gosh [crosstalk 00:02:54].”
Brittany: She was named Chef? Just look at her just living into her destiny.
Sam: That was great.
Brittany: No, her site is called CarnalDish though, and her mac and cheese is to die for.
Sam: So, I was in South Florida with my girlfriend’s family and it was her Puerto Rican side of the family, so this was an incredible experience. So, it was Thanksgiving with some additional flair. So, we had arroz con gandules, we had pernil, which is roasted pig with the crispy skin. It was incredible, in addition to the turkey and all that other stuff. I learned how to play dominoes, so I’m a G at dominoes now. So, yeah. The trash talking was happening over dominoes. We were playing with grandpa and uncles and everybody.
Clint: Sam is out there multilingual with the game [crosstalk 00:03:43], which is between dominoes and spades.
Brittany: Next time, I’m gonna need an invitation, because A, I love dominoes, and B, all that food sounds delicious.
Sam: Oh, it was.
Brittany: And nutritious.
Sam: I don’t know about nutritious, but …
Brittany: It was good. How about you, DeRay?
DeRay: I was in Delaware with my sister, TeRay, and my niece and nephew, Sail and Isaac. We went to the outlets in some part of Delaware and they were actually pretty chill in the morning, very chill. And then it was like, Old Navy, the line was so long, it was like, “Just buy it online. This is just …” And Clint, you probably appreciate this. Do you get some of Baby J clothes from Carter’s or OshKosh?
Clint: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
DeRay: Yeah, the lines were out of this world at OshKosh and Carter’s, so that was an experience. And at 11:30, I’m like, “Oh, TeRay, we’ve been out here all morning, this is cool. I’m ready to go.” She’s like, “DeRay, we’re not leaving until 4:00.” I’m like, “What are we possibly doing all day?” So, it was good. It was good to see the kids, good to see my sister.
Clint: And at my house, as I imagine is the case with so many folks in our community across the country, there was a copy or two of Michelle Obama’s new book sitting on the counter.
Brittany: Pew pew. #IAmBecoming.
Clint: The OG First Lady apparently sold 1.4 million copies of her book in the first week. 1.4 million. That’s wild.
Clint: That is by far, I think the most-
Brittany: In the first week.
Clint: … that has been sold in the first week this year. I don’t know how that stands up historically, but we should have known when she was selling out stadiums. So, shout out to Michelle. She’s out here.
Brittany: I feel like the next time I go to a hotel, I want to open the drawer and see the Gideon Bible and Michelle Obama Becoming, right next to each other-
Sam: I love it.
Brittany: … in the top drawer. I have not gotten all the way through it. I have four copies at my house. I will say, as a woman who has not yet had any children, I want to have children and I am in my mid-30’s now, to find out that she had Sasha and Malia through IVF was actually a really game changing thing. And I just feel like the candor that she has engaged audiences with and readers with is so powerful and game changing for women, for Black women, for women of color, for women who are career focused, for women who are getting married later in life or having children later in life, or just who have their own hopes and dreams and don’t always want to be defined by a man, even if that man is the former President of the United States. I’m really excited to get the rest of the way through it, but it’s been a game changer.
Brittany: And before we move onto the news, when this comes out, it will be Election Day again in Mississippi. Of course, there’s a runoff happening for the all important Mississippi Senate seat. We have the opportunity not only to place a Black man named Mike Espy in that seat, but also to prevent someone who is supposedly and apparently a Confederate sympathizer, who jokes about public hangings, and is a fan of the NRA, we have the opportunity to prevent her from remaining in that seat. So, if you are in Mississippi, if you know anybody in Mississippi, if you are passing through Mississippi, please, please, please do everything you can to get out the vote and make sure we stay on the right side of history here.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save The People. Don’t go anywhere, there’s more to come.
DeRay: The New Yorker is an iconic magazine that represents the best writing in America today. When you order a subscription to The New Yorker, you also get to enjoy thought provoking articles by some of the best writers in the world, along with unique illustrations and cartoons. I will say the recent cover that showed the changing demographics of people entering Congress, especially with the women coming through the door-
Brittany: Yes, I loved that one.
DeRay: It’s amazing.
Brittany: It was so good.
DeRay: The New Yorker, the articles are great. The art, too, is on par with the best of anything.
Brittany: Yeah, I think I’m gonna frame that one. It made me feel super powerful as a woman, as a person who is working hard during these midterms. I was just like, “Yes, we are in here and changing history.” The New Yorker covers everything from politics to international affairs to climate change to business to food. One thing I love about The New Yorker is that they write about fascinating topics I usually haven’t thought about before, like the world’ diminishing supply of sand. Who knew? Fault lines, and stink bugs, which are evil and awful. But there’s plenty to read, especially because I have started a digital subscription to the newyorker.com, which publishes 15-20 new stories each day that aren’t available in the print magazine.
DeRay: The New Yorker has outstanding writers and contributors, like Ronan Farrow, who you know because he wrote the breaking news on Harvey Weinstein, Jia Tolentino, who writes cultural criticism, Helen Rosner, the James Beard award-winning food writer, and so many other people. But The New Yorker doesn’t just cover news, culture, and food. It also includes things like poetry, fiction, and the famous cartoon caption contest.
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Sam: So, the news. My news is about Dr. Olivia Hooker, who was the last known survivor of the Tulsa Race Riots, passed away last week at the age of 103. So, if you don’t know about the Tulsa Race Riots, it’s a really important sort of historical marker and event that captures so much of what was happening, in terms of racial violence and racial terrorism in the 1920’s.
Sam: So, the Tulsa Race Riot started when a young black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. It turns out that he had just stepped on her foot accidentally in an elevator. But based on sort of the rumors and the attempts by the media to gen up and white resentment after this incident, a mob of white men showed up at the courthouse where this man had been arrested and was being detained. Tried to lynch this man, and then proceeded to, along with almost the entire police force of the town, proceeded to take up arms and descend upon a community called Greenwood, which was a Black community. Actually, the wealthiest Black community in the entire United States at that time. Essentially burned it to the ground in a day, and arrested every single Black person that survived. About 100 to 300 Black people were killed, 10,000 made homeless, and that entire Black population was then arrested and detained by the National Guard and put in an internment camp for several days.
Sam: So, all of this is what Dr. Olivia Hooker experienced and witnessed at the age of six. She saw the men come into her house, she saw them looting the place, she saw them damaging and destroying all kinds of things, not only in the house but in the community. And then she grew up and became the first Black woman in the U.S. Coast Guard, got her PhD, and lived to be 103 years old.
Sam: And so, I say all of this for two reasons. The first is incidents like the destruction of Black wall Street and the Tulsa Race Riot were not unique to Tulsa. That was one of the most high profile and destructive examples, but all across the South and some areas of the Midwest and the rest of country, we saw entire Black communities burned to the ground by the Klan, by mobs of angry armed White men, by police officers, in some cases, National Guardsmen. And it’s important to remember that history as we think about where we are in the current moment, where we see another sort of surge of White Supremacist violence.
Sam: And the second reason is this incident and Dr. Hooker living to be 103 years old, is a reminder that there are people in our communities today who have experienced so much over the course of their lives; grandparents, great-grandparents. And it’s really important to be talking to them about this, to get their stories about what they’ve experienced, so that we can pass those on to the next generation so things like this are not forgotten and allowed to repeat again.
Brittany: Sam, the profile that you shared with us on Dr. Hooker that Charles Blow wrote for The New York Times earlier this year, is so moving and so powerful. But I really appreciated a line that he used in the subtitle. He essentially said that spending time with her reminds us that history doesn’t stay stuck in time. And I’m actually reminded of when DeRay and I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma a few years ago. We led a workshop at an education summit. And afterwards, my friend Erin Davis, who’s a teacher in Tulsa, gave us a tour because we wanted to see Black Wall Street.
Brittany: And Black Wall Street doesn’t look at all reminiscent of that time. There are very few markings to honor what once stood there. There is a very small plaque, and the rest of it just kind of looks like a gentrified neighborhood in Midwestern or Southern town.
Brittany: But what’s interesting about that, is that it sits at the edge of the kind of happening part of Tulsa, which has been recently branded at the Brady Arts District. And several activists and even business owners in that district protested against that, because the Brady Arts District was named for Wyatt Tate Brady, who was the … And I’m putting this in quotes, “founder” of Oklahoma. I’m putting this in quotes, because of course, Apache People, Cherokee People, and other indigenous people lived in Oklahoma far before people like Wyatt Tate Brady were there. But he founded Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he was also a documented leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and I want to say a grandson of a Confederate General.
Brittany: In 2013, those protesters and those business owners and activists came together and pushed the City Counsel to change the name of the Brady Arts District. It still to this day remains the Brady Arts District, although the City Counsel decided on a compromise. And now they’re saying that that Arts District is named after Matthew Brady, who was a famous Civil War photographer, who was also from Tulsa, Oklahoma. So, instead of actually changing the name, they just said, “No, no, no, it’s really about this other guy.”
Brittany: What we also know about Wyatt Tate Brady is that he was also one of the leaders in the Tulsa Race Riots. And this is exactly what happens when we don’t reckon with history. There are families that lost generations of wealth. There are people who lost their lives. There is history that is not being accurately taught. And we don’t just get to rebrand history because it’s ugly.
Brittany: So, I’m very glad that people like Dr. Hooker are being discussed, but I’m hopeful that we’ll look around our own cities and towns and think about what kinds of things are being glossed over and rebranded right in our own backyard.
Clint: I’ve been thinking a lot about how as a writer and a researcher and someone really fascinated by oral histories and someone whose scholarly and artistic an intellectual work is tied to the act of sitting down with someone and interviewing them and asking them a set of specific questions. I’m so intentional about doing that with strangers and people I’ve never met, but I’m not as intentional in doing that with my own family. And I’ve kind of had that realization over the course of my own dissertation research, where I’m interviewing dozens and dozens and dozens of people for this project. And I’m like, “Man, I’m asking some of these people questions that I don’t think I’ve ever asked my parents or my grandparents or my aunts or my uncles.”
Clint: And so I’ve been, beginning with this trip, trying to be much more intentional about sort of connecting the dots and asking the sort of questions that I may not have felt like I should ask or needed to ask. But my grandfather, for example, is almost 90 years old. And so, what sort of stories is he carrying with him, that I may assume that I know? Because he’s shared stories with us throughout our entire lives. My grandfather was born in 1930. And what America looked like for a Black man in Mississippi in 1930 is so remarkably different than the world that we live in today. And unfortunately, not as different in some ways. And I think that pulling those histories from our own family members is something that we can all try to be more thoughtful about, and it’s certainly something I’m trying to be more thoughtful and more proactive about.
DeRay: So Brittany, I went back and I checked some of those Tweets from when we were down there, and I forgot that we went in front of the Brady Mansion, where the mob of White citizens met to plan the attack on Black Wall Street. I also forgot that Tulsa didn’t even open an investigation into the destruction of Black Wall Street until the 90’s. So, you think about all the time that passed before there was any official investigation. And Brittany, do you remember … So, when you go back there now, it’s not a vibrant … It’s just a completely different place. They built a highway through it so that they couldn’t rebuild it.
DeRay: So, when you think about the way White supremacy is so intentional, we actually don’t think enough about the way highways have been used to segregate and to create enclaves of Whiteness or prevent Black communities from ever forming.
Brittany: That’s exactly what happened in Africatown, which was a vibrant Black community in Alabama. That’s what happened in Kinloch, right here in St. Louis. Over and over and over again, highways are used to connect parts of the city that want to be connected and destruct parts of the city that they want never to be revived again.
DeRay: It happened on Montgomery, as well. I wanna focus on how intentional it was that both the damage and the lack of rebuilding, is that the White community wouldn’t sell bricks to the residents who attempted to rebuild Black Wall Street, so they had to make their own bricks. And people don’t think about that.
DeRay: There’s a question of where the survivors bodies, that the Tulsa Race Riot Commission did archeological digs to test the soil for unmarked graves, because there were just so many people that were buried outside of the cemetery, which is sort of wild. And it was over 800 people admitted to surrounding hospitals with an estimated 10,000 left homeless, 35 city blocks housing, almost 1,300 residences were destroyed, 600 successful businesses lost.
DeRay: The last thing I’ll say is that, remember that they actually bombed Black Wall Street as well. Local law enforcement and private citizens used private planes to drop bombs to aid in the rioting. It’s a part of history that we weren’t taught. We know these things as adults. And I’m always mindful of just how intentional these things were. It also makes me think about all the stories that are probably like this that we just never heard about, but were as insidious or even worse, which is wild to even think about.
Sam: I mean, just to add to that, how sort of prevalent this was during that time period. I’m in Orlando, Florida right now, and I just learned that Ocoee, Florida, which is maybe five, 10 minutes away, had a very similar incident, where a man named July Perry, a Black man, was trying to get folks registered and turned out to vote. And he was lynched and they burned the entire town the ground. Ocoee used to have a large Black population. It did not have a single Black person in it for the next 50 years after they burned it to the ground. And very few people, even in this city know that this even happened. So, we have to be telling these stories. We have to be asking, as you said, Clint, we have to be asking folks who lived through this or who have ancestors who lived through this what happened, so that we can capture these stories and be aware of them moving forward.
Clint: So for my news, I want to talk about Dr. Tamara O’Neal, who last week in Chicago was killed by her ex-fiance, Juan Lopez. And as recently as September, O’Neal and Lopez were planning on getting married, but something changed for O’Neal and a few weeks back before the wedding, she broke off the engagement. When she saw Lopez show up to the hospital where she worked on last Monday, she was so scared by the sight of him that she called police, she called 911. And when Lopez saw O’Neal in the parking lot, he pulled out his gun and he shot her six times. Afterward, he ran into the hospital, he kept shooting, killing several people, including Samuel Jimenez, who was a 28-year-old rookie officer with the Chicago Police Department.
Clint: And what’s interesting to watch about this whole thing is how the narrative of the event in some media circles has been more about the slain police officer than it has been about Dr. O’Neal’s murder at the hands of her ex-partner, at the hands of domestic violence. And this is not to say, to be clear, that Officer Jimenez’s passing shouldn’t be acknowledged or that he should not be mourned. It it also incredibly important for us to be mindful of the ways in which stories like this and narratives like this become so focused on the police slaying in the line of duty at the expense of a Black woman killed at the hands of domestic violence.
Clint: In the New York Times article reporting the killing, O’Neal isn’t mentioned by name until the fifth paragraph, and the lead of the article frames this largely as the killing of an officer in the context of a mass shooting. As Huff Post has reported, most mass shootings in the United States involve a man targeting his intimate partner or another family member, and among mass shooters who target the public in random acts of violence, many have histories of abusive behavior toward women. If you look at Pulse, if you look at Parkland, if you look at Sutherland Springs, and like many mass shooters before him, Lopez had a history of abusive behavior towards women himself.
Clint: And this has been really well documented by Huff Post, as well. He was fired from the Chicago Fire Academy in 2014 after he was accused of inappropriate conduct with female cadets. That same year, his then wife filed an emergency protective order against him, saying, “I fear that my safety is in jeopardy,” stating that he was acting erratically with his firearm and that he had threatened to go to her job and cause a scene.
Clint: Women are at the highest risk of being killed when they leave their partners, according to experts in this field. And for many women, their workplaces then become a place of heightened danger because their partners know when and where they work.
Clint: So, all this is to say, it is a tragedy that multiple people were killed, but the story has become so focused on the officer, in some circles, that we are not paying enough attention to the domestic violence element of this story. And how it speaks to a much broader and more frightening phenomenon, about how patriarchy and sexism and misogyny and talks of masculinity, the sort of fatal manifestations that they have.
Sam: There are sort of two things that I’m thinking about in response to this. The first is yet another example of clearly identifiable sort of signs of domestic violence culminating in another mass shooting. That speaks to the need to identify these warning signs and take them seriously when women come forward to report experiencing domestic violence, and to make sure that folks don’t have access to a gun who are exhibiting this behavior before it gets to this point.
Sam: And then the second thing that I’m thinking about, as you said, Clint, the centering of the police officer in the narrative, when really what needed to be said was more about domestic violence than any particular threat to police, but a reminder that police often are threatened too by the fact that people who are violent, that have patterns of violence can get access to guns and can sort of engage in these mass shootings.
Brittany: One of the ways in which patriarchy functions that is particularly insidious, is that we just aren’t believed. Right? So, I especially had to learn very early and very quickly as a woman, that unless we use certain words or show certain signs of damage, harm, trauma that are visible to others and that can be rationalized by people who have never been through it, that we will not be believed. That the idea that verbal abuse can lead to more drastic kinds of abuse, the idea that psychological and financial abuse are signs that people should be paying attention to, are often just things that are not discussed in society, because patriarchy functions in such a way that we treat those things as minor, to the point where when a woman has been able to break up with a violent partner or an abusive partner, we assume, to your point, Clint, that the danger is over. And that anything that they could be scared about thereafter is probably a figment of their imagination because they’re safe now. When in fact, it can actually escalate things, as we unfortunately have seen in this case.
Brittany: I’m frustrated by the kind of reporting that we’re seeing in this. I’m frustrated that the dots are not being connected properly. And yet, the fact that the dots are not being connected to this domestic violence situation are unfortunately par for the course, and very reflective of exactly how patriarchy functions, especially when it comes to domestic and intimate partner violence.
DeRay: So what I realized is that, I knew a lot of the things that have been reported in the news about intimate partner violence or domestic violence; I didn’t know some of the subtext, that in 60% to 80% of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the women before the murder. When we think about the gender aspect of this, is that the majority of intimate partner homicides, there was some abuse before the homicide actually happened. That half of all homeless women and children in the U.S. are fleeing from domestic violence. And that, to me, is such a different way to think about homelessness or houselessness in the country. What does it mean when half of the women and children are actually leaving abusive households or homes?
DeRay: One of the things I found interesting too is, there’s research that talks about domestic violence is most likely to take place between 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM, so the after work hours. There’s another report that analyzed the method of homicide, and this is a new report that came out, done by the CDC, that more than half involved firearms and 20% involved some sort of blade. So, some of the laws around giving people who have been accused of domestic abuse or restricting their access to guns, there’s had an eventual impact, but knives are still an issue.
DeRay: The report also found that Black and indigenous women are slain in general at significantly higher rates than women of other races. So, Black women are killed at a rate of 4.4 per 100,000, and indigenous women at a rate of 4.3 per 100,000. Whereas, every other race has a homicide rate of between one and two per 100,000.
Brittany: And before we move on, if you or anyone you know is suffering from intimate partner or domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799- 7233. If you need to contact them in non-verbal ways, they have a 24-hour online chat at thehotline.org. That’s thehotline.org, and chats in Spanish are also available.
Brittany: I do want to continue this conversation on gun violence though, because the Counsel on Foreign Relations recently put out a report comparing U.S. gun policy to global gun policy. So, as a reminder, the Second Amendment of the Constitution states that, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The NRA, of course recently has done an entire ad campaign around those words, “Shall not be infringed.” They conveniently left out the well regulated part.
Brittany: So, let’s talk about those regulations and the fact that because so many either don’t exist in the United States, or have been fought back in the United States, that we are seeing gun ownership rates and gun homicide rates that are dramatically higher than our neighbors around the world.
Brittany: So, in the United States, there are over 75 guns owned per 100 people. In Australia, it is fewer than 25 per 100 people. And in the United States, we are seeing over three homicides per 100,000 people. And in Australia, we are seeing less than one. Why do I keep making these comparisons to Australia? Because often they come up when we talk about gun violence and gun policy.
Brittany: In 1996, in Australia, there was a massacre and a mass scale shooting at Port Arthur, where a young man killed 35 people and wounded nearly two dozen others. Unfortunately, it sounds very familiar and reminiscent of mass shootings that we’ve had very recently in the United States. But as a result of that, in Australia, the conservative led national government pushed through fundamental changes to the country’s gun laws, and they did so in cooperation with the states and territories, which actually regulate firearms. In that collaboration, they created the National Agreement on Firearms, which basically prohibited automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles. It mandated licensing and registration, and it instituted a temporary gun buyback program, that took 650,000 assault weapons out of public circulation. At the time, that was about one-sixth of the national stock. There was also another high profile shooting in Melbourne, Australia in 2002, and after that they tightened handgun laws.
Brittany: We have had massacres and mass shootings happen far more frequently in this country than we have seen in other nations, and we continue to say, “Well, there’s nothing that can be done about it,” or, “We don’t know what can be done about it.” There are models all over the world. The question is, what is it going to take for us to actually not just know what can be done, but have the will to do it?
Clint: I think about how this report outlined the way that other countries have taken steps after mass shootings to prevent them from happening in the future. I mean, I come back to this massacre that happened in Australia. We know that things can be done to prevent mass shootings like this from happening at the scale and at the rate that they continue to happen, because we’ve seen other countries do it.
Sam: Yeah, and just building off that point, Clint, I think about Japan. And Japan has an exceedingly low level of gun violence and a very low level of gun ownership. And to get a gun in Japan, you have to pass a whole range of firearms tests, you have to say why you actually need a gun, which strikes me as pretty important, and do all of these other things you don’t have to do in the United States. And as a consequence, not only do you have a low level of gun ownership, so there aren’t all these guns just laying around that fall in the wrong peoples’ hands, mass shootings are extremely rare. And police shootings are almost non-existent. So, in Japan, police haven’t killed a civilian in at least seven years. And now again, Japan has a population that’s about a third of the United States population, between a third and half. So, this is a large country that has essentially ended fatal police violence.
Sam: So, when we think about things like we can end gun violence, we can end police violence, these are actually attainable goals that other countries have been able to achieve through policy. And so, it’s important to keep that in mind when we’re thinking about what’s possible in the United States.
DeRay: I don’t know if I’ve talked about this on the pod. I don’t think I have, but I have a gun license in Maryland and I got it rather recently. I was curious and I just wanted to see for myself what it was like to get a gun license in Maryland. So, I go. I do a four hour class. One of my first questions was, “Do these classes actually matter? Am I gonna sit through some random thing.” The classes actually matter. I learned a lot.
DeRay: But what I also learned was that the instructor, some of the things he was telling us was literally how to bypass the system. So in Maryland for instance, to transport guns, the ammunition and the gun actually have to be separate. The gun can be in the glove compartment, but the ammunition has to be in the trunk. That’s just how it works. But you can apply to be a gun collector and you can transport all types of guns. You can sort of get around the transport rule and some of the other rules if you apply to be a gun collector. So, a part of the class is teaching you how to fill out the gun collector form. So, it was fascinating to do that.
DeRay: The other thing is that in Maryland, to get a conceal and carry, you have to go … It’s all process. It’s different from the class I took. It’s 16 hours of class to get a conceal and carry, so a weekend. But when you finish the course, that day I could apply for a conceal and carry in another state. And in that state, I would automatically get it, because you just have to apply and have taken a course somewhere in the country. And I’d be able to conceal and carry in at least 20 states across the country. And just doing it and seeing how easy it was is really, “Wow.”
DeRay: And I live in Baltimore and I was like, “Where are all the Black people in my class?” Why were there no Black people in class? Because there are actually no classes offered in the City of Baltimore to get a gun license in the State of Maryland, because there’s apparently some loophole that prohibits the City of Baltimore from offering these courses. So, the only people that take these classes are White people who have the access to even book the time and can travel out to where the classes are offered. And in Maryland, you can only buy a gun once every 30 days, which I guess is an important restriction. I have not yet bought a gun, so I’ll double back when I go through that experience.
DeRay: So, one of the things I brought, something that I was fascinated by … Because I sort of tweeted about this and I don’t think I tweeted about it well, because people were like, “Well, you know people are looking at the license plates.” So, I think what I tweeted before was, “Oh, the government is collecting peoples’ license plates,” or something, and people were like, “Well, you know that there are cameras everywhere.” It was sort of like, “Well, DeRay, that’s really obvious.” But what the story is, now that I have space to talk about it better, so what’s happening is that these automated license plate readers across the country are logging your license plate. That’s sort of basic.
DeRay: When I tweeted about it, people seemed to already see the, “Well, the government is already watching everything anyway. Cool.” And cool in the sense of, “That’s what you think.” But what’s happening is, they’re actually tracking where your car is by looking at the license plate. So, these companies are able to map out where you’ve been across the country because they know what your license plate is. So, they can see where drivers have traveled, they can identify the vehicles that have visited certain locations. Police can also add license plates to hot lists so they can get real time alerts when a vehicle is spotted. There’s one company with shares with about 3,000 agencies and 30,000 law enforcement employees.
DeRay: And the question is, why does this matter? There are some people who are like, “Well, there are cameras everywhere.” So, one reason that it matters is cyber security, that this can be hacked. And just think about the number of people who would have access, or what people could do with knowing where you were at any point across the country. There’s no other data that just is tracking peoples’ cars like this.
DeRay: What the report also found is that there is very little oversight, so people in departments didn’t even know that their staff was accessing the database, that people were using the database. And it just makes me think about what it means to literally live in a police state, where there’s information about you that exists in the world, that you don’t even know that people are tracking things like where you’ve been across the country just based on where your car was.
Sam: DeRay, this is fascinating. It reminds me of a show. It’s about terrorist plots that were stopped and how they stopped them. And what was fascinating is that you think about the level of surveillance, and particularly when you think about issues like terrorism and all of the money that’s been spent and the infrastructure that’s been built to surveil everybody, and especially every brown and Black person in the country.
Sam: So, I’m thinking about there was an episode where they essentially tracked this guy, who they thought was a terrorist, come into New York City. They stopped him at the bridge, they tracked him when he left the bridge because they didn’t find anything on him. They tracked him throughout the entire city and knew where he was at every single moment. And you think about, how do you actually do that? Well, that’s license plate readers. It’s getting data from peoples’ phones and all of that information that they use. But then you contrast that with issues like White Supremacist terrorism, right? And issues where you have all of these mass shooters. And after every single one, there’s this long paper trail. There’s issues of domestic violence. They were on the same Reddit channels, and they were interacting in the same groups online.
Sam: And then every time this happens, they’re like, “Well, we actually had no way of predicting this. He wasn’t in our database, sorry.” And it’s like, “Well, how is it that’s you’re collecting data on literally every single person and every single thing that everyone does, and you can’t do even the most basic things to predict and prevent acts of White Supremacist terrorism, acts of mass shootings, all of these things that are so prevalent?” But when it comes to a whole range of other issues, tracking protestors, things like that, it seems like they’re deploying all of these resources, they’re sourcing all these databases, they’re building a whole infrastructure around it, and they know exactly where you’re gonna be before you even get there. That’s just what that makes me think of.
Brittany: I was just reading about a woman from my hometown in St. Louis, who got a ticket for speeding on the drive between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, which is about three hours. She copped to speeding, she said she absolutely did it. But when she missed her original court date, she went back, paid the bond, thought that that was all she’d have to do, maybe complete some classes. But what the judge actually did was give her six months jail time, with two years of probation, and said that she needed to serve 20 days of shock time. That’s what she called it, shock time, on the weekends in jail. And what that looked like was that every weekend, she was going to have to go until those 20 days were served up. And that is just evidence of all of the ways in which the criminal justice system and law enforcement continue to abuse the power they already have.
Brittany: All that to say, if the police are already abusing the kind of power that they have now, I don’t want them to have any more power than they already have. I’m already worried about what the criminal justice system is doing is to everyday people. When she was locked up, they suspended her license, they said she couldn’t drive until she paid all of the restitution in her case. How is she supposed to pay the restitution if she can’t get to work because you suspended her license?
Brittany: So, this vicious cycle goes on and on and this kind of technology, which we know exists, but can be used in so many different ways, is very, very scary to me.
Clint: I’ve been thinking a lot about how much our sort of collective understanding of the surveillance state has changed and expanded since Edward Snowden leaked the information that he did about the NSA. And it’s just fascinating to think about how the level of sophistication, if you will, at which Americans at large are able to have a more sophisticated understanding of racism, structurally, and how it operates and how it has operated historically. And that is very much tied to the Ferguson, and even before that, Trayvon Martin and so much of what has happened culturally in the Black Lives Matter movement since then.
Clint: And I think that Snowden was also an inflection point, because the way that we publicly talk about surveillance and privacy is far more sophisticated, and we have a new vocabulary and a new understanding with which to interrogate and think about these things than I think we did five years ago. It’s a good thing that we are able to more deeply interrogate the ways in which the surveillance state is all encompassing function of our lives, in ways that are very real and very unsettling.
DeRay: That’s the news.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save The People. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.
Brittany: Before you know it, it’s going to be the holiday season. And let’s be honest, people, I’m already hearing Christmas music when I get into my Lyfts, and it’s just a little too soon. I’m like, “Let’s let the calendar play out, please.” But it is clearly right around the corner, and I’m already brainstorming on what to get everyone.
Brittany: One of the gifts you can’t go wrong with is socks. Everybody needs socks. Most socks barely last more than one winter, so people will always need new ones. Plus, they can make all the difference when it comes to staying warm. That’s why I’m thinking of getting a bunch of pairs of Bombas for my friends and family.
DeRay: I like that, Brittany, especially for the people you wanna show appreciation for and maybe you don’t know all that well, because Bombas are the most comfortable socks in the history of feet, because they have a cushioned foot bed that provides comfort without added bulkiness and they stay in place without slipping down, which is so frustrating.
Brittany: What I also like about Bombas is that one pair sold equals one pair donated, because the founders know that socks are the number one most requested item in homeless shelters. To date, they’ve sold and donated over nine million pairs.
DeRay: Bombas are engineered comfort for everyone’s everyday. So, there’s a perfect pair of Bombas for all the people you need to find gifts for. I’m not kidding when I say these socks feel like walking on a cloud. And Pod Save The People listeners get 20% off their first order. Go to bombas.com/people. That’s B-O-M-B-A-S.com and you’ll get 20% off of your first order. Bombas.com/people.
DeRay: And now my conversation with Ivy Yan, a law student at Harvard University and member of The Coalition for Diverse Harvard, and Michaele Turnage Young, Senior Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who co-authored the amicus brief on behalf of Harvard students and alumni.
DeRay: Thanks for joining me today on Pod Save The People. I’m excited to learn more about the lawsuit and to hear you help us understand it better. I know about the lawsuit, Students For Fair Admissions vs. Harvard, which has been in the news for a few months. We covered the issue os admissions at Harvard and other schools months before this came in the news. But I want to know if we can start with you walking us through what is it about, who is involved, and why does this matter?
Michaele: The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by a group named Students For Fair Admissions, run by Edward Blum, who is a gentleman who has been trying to get rid of the consideration of race in admissions for probably about a decade now. In any event, Students For Fair Admissions filed the lawsuit against Harvard university, claiming that Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution by considering race in admissions, which they allege discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
Ivy: This lawsuit is particularly dangerous, because it takes the standard of what sort of admissions policies are permissible away, because a lot of Supreme Court decisions have talked about the Harvard Plan as being the model of affirmative action or race conscious admissions.
Michaele: Back in 1978, the Supreme Court, in Bakki, essentially said that universities have a First Amendment right to pursue certain educational goals. They were allowed to pursue the educational benefits of diversity. The Supreme Court has said that again and again over the years.
Michaele: Another thing that’s at stake here aside from the legalities of it, this is fundamentally a fight over what constitutes merit. You have Students For Fair Admissions saying that merit should be judged by standardized test scores and grade point average, and that many other things should not be taken into account. You have Harvard University saying that you need to look at an applicant as a whole person and take into account not just their test scores and their grades and their extra curricular activities, but also whether they encountered adversity and whether they showed tenacity in overcoming that adversity, and many other things that would lead someone to be somebody who’s contributing to society.
DeRay: How can you help us better understand the admissions policy now? And is it flawed in some way that we’re not accepting?
Michaele: I would say that I think most admissions policies, as they stand now, there’s room for improvement in some way. But what we’ve seen presented in court by the plaintiffs is a statistical analysis done by their expert witness. And the statistical analysis was done in such a way where we can’t really know whether that’s valid, but when it comes to reducing something like an applicant’s personal statement, or reducing a guidance counselor or a teacher’s recommendation letter, it’s just not as easy to do a statistical analysis of those things, because those are qualitative factors.
Michaele: So, we feel that SFFA’s statistician just did not do the analysis in the proper way. It’s essentially a situation where he seems to have cherry picked the factors that he was going to include in his analysis and he has done the analysis in such a way to reach a predetermined result.
Ivy: Additionally, for the factors in Harvard admissions that people have been pointing out as problematic for a much longer time, including preferences given to legacy students, preferences for athletes and children of professors that all skew to benefit White students, those sorts of policies are definitely something that we hope to be looking at critically. One of my favorite Asian-American bloggers re-appropriated an analysis on considering the effect of legacy admissions on the admissions rate of people of color, breaking it down a little bit, and finding that all people of color are impacted by those sort of preferences that make it so much easier for many White admits to get into Harvard. It’s not just Asian-Americans.
Ivy: So, that’s something that’s important to think about when we’re talking about discrimination. If Asian-Americans were trying to fight discrimination, the remedy should be looking at things like legacy preferences, not affirmative action. Which allows the university to look at a person as their whole self and to consider the impact that their background has had on their journey to apply into college.
Michaele: An important thing to consider here is that recruited athletes, legacy applicants, applicants who are on the Dean’s and director’s interest lists, and children of faculty and staff, they actually comprise about one-third of Harvard’s admitted class. So, this is a large portion of the class. And so, when you think about this, somebody who applies and does not happen to be a recruited athlete, a legacy, or on the Dean’s or director’s interest lists, or a child of a faculty or a staff person, the admissions rate of those applicants is 6%.
Michaele: In contrast, the admissions rate of a recruited athlete is 86%. The admissions rate of a legacy applicant is 33.6%. The admissions rate of children of faculty or staff is 46.7%. And the admissions rate of applicants who are on the Dean’s or director’s interest lists, the admissions rate for those applicants are 42.2%.
Michaele: And so as I said before, you have about a third of the class who is being filled by people who are recruited athletes, legacies, Dean’s and director’s interest lists, and people who are children of faculty or staff. And those applicants are far more likely to be White.
DeRay: Now, why do you think he focused on Asian-Americans? Why do you think that was his target with the lawsuit?
Michaele: Mr. Blum was behind the last Supreme Court case that interrogated the use of race in college admissions, Fisher vs. The University of Texas. And Abby Fisher was the plaintiff in that case. She happens to be White. And he brought that case that went to the Supreme Court twice, it went to the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2016, and he didn’t get the result he wanted. He wanted to have the Supreme Court outlaw the use of race in admissions. And as we know, that did not happen.
Michaele: Now, in his dissent, Justice Alito kind of signaled that perhaps he should consider trying this again using Asian-American plaintiffs. And so, Mr. Blum went out on a tour across the country speaking to Asian-American groups about bringing a lawsuit. He started several websites, Harvard Not Fair, that sort of thing, trying to attract people who had been rejected from certain universities, so that perhaps they could serve as plaintiffs in a lawsuit.
DeRay: Michaele, I wanted to talk to you. You were part of the first class that UCLA admitted after the University of California system eliminated affirmative action. How has that decision affected not only admissions in California, but the way students experience those campuses?
Michaele: There were 131 Black freshmen that year out of a class of 4,200 freshmen. The large university campus, we’re talking about 24,000 undergraduate students and 11,000 graduate students. Of the 131 Black freshmen that year, about 99 or so of us were there for academics, the rest were there because they were recruited athletes. Of the 99 or so of us, I think about 10 were Black men and the rest were Black women. As time went on, we saw less and less Black students, less and less Latinx students, less and less Filipino students on campus, because kind of as time went on, the classes that had been admitted with the consideration of race in admissions, they started to graduate. And so, there were just far less people on campus by the time I was in my senior year as compared to my freshman year.
Michaele: The experience of being the only Black person on campus as far as the eye could see and being the only Black student in a lecture hall of 500 students was traumatic at times. Whenever the topic of the Black experience came up in a class like that, all eyes were on you. It presented challenges in ways that I didn’t really anticipate. They have very large dorms at UCLA. And I happened to be the only Black student on my floor. I was very easy to find. And so, there were people who would come to the dorm and say, “Well, I’m looking for the Black girl,” and they’d be able to find me. And that didn’t feel like a safe situation. And so, we did mobilize in the next year, tried to make sure that Black students weren’t living by themselves in a situation. You lose anonymity. Student organizations that just were such a source of support and such a source of enrichment for the broader campus, just wholly disappeared.
DeRay: Ivy, what is like on campus now at Harvard, given the lawsuit?
Ivy: Well, it’s actually been really encouraging to see how far opinions and conversations have come, since a lot of these conversations started six, seven years ago. I was a senior in Harvard Undergrad when I started seeing on Facebook targeted ads from Edward Blum’s organization for the website harvardnotfair.org, where he was recruiting Asian- American plaintiffs. And that started a conversation about how Asian-American students on campus had a particular responsibility and ability to speak out on the issue of affirmative action, in a way that shows that we support it, that it makes sense for our educational experiences, and it’s so important for peoples’ mental health, academic wellbeing, just wellbeing in general, to have a university that acknowledges that race plays a part in your life. So, a lot of student organizations, Asian-American student organizations signed onto the NAACP LDF Amicus Brief, which stated their support for a race conscious admissions, which was really encouraging.
Ivy: The lawsuit’s definitely starting lots of conversations and requiring people to really grapple with the divisions in our communities. So, I think the lawsuit has definitely brought a lot of issues to the fore and required us to really think about the ways that we are at the center of a new frontier, and the fight over civil rights.
DeRay: I would love to know, what are students saying to defend the idea of the end of affirmative action?
Ivy: I think people have been particularly concerned about the framing of the personal rating or personality rating, as it’s been, I think, incorrectly framed in the media, because it strikes one of the deepest fears of Asian-Americans. And one of the most common stereotypes of Asian-Americans is that we’re all the same, that we’re interchangeable, that we aren’t interesting people because of X, Y, or Z.
Ivy: So, I think that issue in particular has really grabbed people. And the framing that Asian- Americans are being discriminated against is something that people seize onto, because a lot of people don’t really understand what affirmative action is. They grow up in communities where it’s not necessarily a topic of conversation, so it’s both an education hurdle to get past, to talk to people about this particular issue. And I think the particular facts in the Harvard admissions case have been concerning to people on a personal level.
DeRay: Interesting. Michaele, what should we be watching for next? What do we need to be paying attention to?
Michaele: So, now that trial is over, the next step is for the parties to do a post-trial briefing. Essentially, they’re going to have an opportunity to give the court something in writing, essentially giving the court their perspective on the evidence that was presented during the three week trial. So, that process is underway. The parties are going to go ahead and send their briefs. The Amicus parties, there are a number of amici in this lawsuit; that essentially means that they are friends of the court. They are not parties to the lawsuit, but they have a useful perspective that could be helpful to the court in making a decision. So, our organization represents 25 student and alumni organizations as amici. So, the amici will be able to weigh in, in writing, as well in January. There is going to be a hearing in the case, I believe in February.
Michaele: So, that’s kind of what’s happening next. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that regardless of how Judge Burrows rules on this case, one or the other party is going to appeal. And so, you’re going to see that happen. And we’ll see. I mean, we would not be surprised if this is a case that goes to The Supreme Court.
DeRay: Which isn’t necessarily a good thing, with The Supreme Court. Are there are any misconceptions that you had to clear up about sort of these issues?
Michaele: So many. One of the main misconceptions is about the personal rating. People often think that it’s a personality test, how well liked are you? Or, how outgoing are you? And that’s not the case. The personal rating is actually based on information that comes from outside of Harvard. So, it’s based on recommendation letters from teachers and guidance counselors. It’s based on feedback from the alumni interview. It’s based on students’ personal essay. So, their personal statement. And it’s not a rating of how well liked are you or how much do we like your personality? It’s something that is intending to give a preliminary assessment of an applicant’s grit, and lots of other things. So, non- cognitive factors that aren’t going to come out in test scores. So, how well has this applicant overcome adversity to the extent that they’ve encountered it? Would this applicant be someone who would be a good roommate? But it’s not kind of a, how well liked are you?
Ivy: I would say two points in particular. First is that a majority of Asian-American people support affirmative action. The minority that doesn’t is very vocal and I think that’s why it’s particularly important for people who acknowledge the importance of affirmative action policies in our educational systems, to speak out and to do the work of having conversations of people who maybe don’t know as much about the policy, or who just have fundamental disagreements with the policy. And figure out what about it particularly wrangles people.
Michaele: I think the point that Ivy just raised, that Asian-Americans are not monolithic is a really important one. We know that Pacific Islander students are three times as likely as White students to attend a high poverty school. We know that 26% of Hmong-Americans, 20% of Cambodian-Americans, and 17% of Laotian-Americans, and 15% of Vietnamese- Americans are living below the poverty line. Asian-Americans are just simply not a monolithic group. And I think that that’s a huge misconception here.
Ivy: Yes. And another thing I would say is, based off of some recent research that they surveyed Asian-Americans in particular, and asked them what instead of affirmative action, or what sort of policies they think would not be discriminatory, and actually people responded with what the current system is. That they thought that holistic, that race considered among one of many factors, would be a perfectly acceptable way to do college admissions. And that is exactly the process that is currently sanctioned by the Supreme Court, and that Edward Blum and Students For Fair Admissions is trying to take down.
Michaele: Right. I think in addition to that, we have encountered people who say, “Oh, affirmative action, why would you want a quota?” I think it’s important for people to know that the United States Supreme Court outlawed quotas back in 1978. That’s been 40 years ago. We also have people who say things like, “Oh, well, aren’t Black and Latinx applicants taking the seats of White and Asian-American applicants?” The answer is absolutely not. Unfortunately, we are living in a world where there are so few Black and Latinx applicants, that even if Harvard got rid of every single Black and Latinx applicant from its admissions pool, it would only increase the chances of White and Asian-American applicants by 1%.
Michaele: There just simply aren’t enough Black and Latinx applicants to make a difference in anybody’s chances to get into college.
DeRay: What do you say to the people whose hope has been challenged? Like, “We voted, we called, we emailed, we rallied, and we’re just not getting the type of outcomes that we want,” what do you say to those people?
Michaele: I think life is not about waiting for the sun to shine. It’s about learning to dance in the rain. And there’s a lot of dancing going on. So, even though we are living in a challenging climate, there are still lots of victories happening. And it’s important to continue to advocate for the change that you want to see in the world, because a lot of it is actually happening. And I think it’s important to keep the faith.
Ivy: I think particularly when things get really hard though, you take hard losses. Looking around you and seeing who are you fighting for and who are you fighting with, not what you are fighting against is something that can center me a lot. One of my favorite writers, Erin [inaudible 01:02:34] did this incredible series of articles, and the end of which, in one, she asked, “What shall we love?” And I think that is what drives my organizing, and I think that is what gives particular power to progressive movements.
DeRay: Is there somewhere that people can go to continue following the good work that y’all are doing? Or is there a person they can follow? Or, where can people get information?
Michaele: One great source of information is the website of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. We have been posting information about the lawsuit and updating it as time goes on. In addition, some of our clients have amazing presences on social media, where they are disseminating information about the case. So for example, the Coalition for Diverse Harvard maintains a website and they also have a Twitter and they’re on various social media and they’re certainly a great source of information on this case. And LDF is actually on Twitter and all different forms of social media, as well.
Ivy: And then I would also say, Advancing Justice. I think Advancing Justice Los Angeles was particularly involved in this case.
Michaele: And Asian-Americans Advancing Justice is working with them, as well. So, those are both great sources of information.
DeRay: Awesome. Well, thank you both for joining us on Pod Save The People. I consider you both Friends of the Pod, and can’t wait to see how this shakes out. Hopefully in the way that you want.
Michaele: Great, thank you.
Ivy: Thank you so much for having us.
DeRay: 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 that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week.
DeRay, Clint, Brittany and Sam discuss Georgetown's reparations fund, the new Black Maternal Health Caucus, life-long prison sentences without the possibility of parole, and “proactive policing.” New York Times Magazine Staff Writer Emily Bazelon joins DeRay to talk about the power of prosecutors, transforming the American court system and ending mass incarceration.
DeRay, Sam and Brittany are LIVE from Portland, Oregon. They’re joined by Representative Jennifer Williamson and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to talk about the treatment of incarcerated women, Elizabeth Warren’s housing crisis plan, policing, Trump's budget and more.
DeRay, Brittany and Sam are LIVE from San Francisco with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.