On NPR’s All Things Considered, I joined a law professor and a sports editor to weigh in on President Trump’s DACA decision and, NFL player Michael Bennett’s allegations of mistreatment by the Las Vegas police.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: And now it’s time for the Barbershop. That’s our regular segment where we gather interesting folks to talk about what’s in the news and what’s on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up today are Paul Butler. He’s a law professor at Georgetown University. His latest book is “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.” He’s with us from our studios in New York. Welcome back, Paul Butler.
PAUL BUTLER: What’s up, Michel? Woof, woof, woof.
MARTIN: You, as always. With us here in our Washington, D.C., studio is political commentator Gayle Trotter. You can find her writings at the “Right In DC” blog. Welcome back, Gayle.
GAYLE TROTTER: Great to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: And last, but certainly not least, is Barbershop regular and sports editor at The Nation, Dave Zirin. That’s a magazine of progressive opinion and reporting. He’s also written a lot of books. He’s going to tell us about one of them. Nice to see you back here, Dave, as well.
DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, it’s great to be here. I’m in there like swimwear.
MARTIN: All right. So let me start off today’s conversation where we just left off a minute ago, with President Trump’s decision to end DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As we said, that’s an Obama era immigration policy offering protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. It allows them to get work permits to go to college to get – and things – and get driver’s licenses, for example.
You know, there’s so much that we can talk about this program, but I’m very interested in, you know, what your reaction to all of this is. So, Gayle, why don’t you start?
TROTTER: Sure, Michel. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but we’ve talked about this in many of these controversial issues when we’ve had these conversations. And for conservatives like me, this is another example of where the process was violated. So conservatives care very greatly about civil rights. And the ability to have the civil rights of individuals respected is based on the fact that we have the rule of law.
So when the Obama administration decided that they would unilaterally act to have this temporary stopgap program, President Trump decided that that was not in keeping with the process that we have for putting public policy through Congress through legislation. And when we don’t respect the rule of law at these high levels, we have problems at the lower levels with civil rights, with people – government officials feeling like they’re not bound by the rule of law.
When we don’t respect the rule of law at these high levels, we have problems at the lower levels with civil rights, with people – government officials feeling like they’re not bound by the rule of law. —GT
MARTIN: So you feel this was a good decision and…
MARTIN: …Both in substance and in process – the president – Trump’s decision, the way he – because he – you know, offering the six-month window. Some people have a problem with that.
MARTIN: Number of corporate executives have said they’re not going to, you know, you’ll have to come through me. It’s been a very kind of interesting couple of days. Dave Zirin, what strikes you about all of this?
ZIRIN: The anguish of the over 800,000 young people, the interviews with them with the tears running down their face. And the fact that nobody is talking about the fact that so many of these kids in this – are in this country – young people because of the collateral damage of U.S. foreign policy. And now these young people, through no fault of their own, are now going to be treated like a bargaining chip in the U.S. Congress. And DACA being extended is going to be used as a way to get more border wall, more enforcement. And then there’s the galling fact of just being lectured about the rule of law by Jeff Sessions.
It wasn’t even – Donald Trump didn’t even have the courage to go up there and say this for himself. He sent up Sessions, somebody who, I think, many people think should be investigated for perjury to the U.S. Congress for – and the Senate for his confirmation hearing. And it is so deeply disturbing when you actually hear the voices of the people who are affected by this and know that they are going to go through hell the next six months of not knowing whether they’re going to be sent back to countries that they’ve never lived, that they might not have family. And I think we have to be better than that. And the fact that we’re clearly not better than that is deeply disturbing.
MARTIN: Paul, what strikes you about the whole debate?
BUTLER: So this is another move by Trump to show his base he’s sincere about making America white again. And the crazy thing is Trump is trying to enroll African-Americans by exploiting fear that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from black people. So right after the decision was announced, the president’s spokeswoman said there are almost a million unemployed blacks in the same age group as the DREAMers and that they need the jobs that the DREAMers have. I hope black people have more sense than to participate in Trump’s white supremacist project. I think what he’s doing to the DREAMers is of a piece to the – with the shoutout that he sent to the Nazi sympathizers in Charlottesville.
MARTIN: Gayle, I want to give you one more bite at this apple, just ’cause it’s, you know, two opinions against one here on your side.
MARTIN: One more bite at this apple before we move to our next subject.
TROTTER: I guess two things. I don’t understand the logic of Trump “wanting Americans to be more white” and also wanting African-Americans to have more jobs and opportunities. That seems a little inconsistent. And then on the compassion issue, I have compassion for the ability of the American people to determine what they want as public policy.
So conservatives are very unhappy that Congress did not repeal Obamacare, but we believe in the process. We weren’t able to get that accomplished through our representatives. And we’re not saying that you should have compassion for all the people who’ve suffered under Obamacare and just throw that law away. We’re saying we need to go through the process. And if we haven’t gotten the representatives in there to repeal it, then we need to work to get the representatives. So it works both ways.
I don’t understand the logic of Trump “wanting Americans to be more white” and also wanting African-Americans to have more jobs and opportunities.—GT
MARTIN: Well, as I said, there’s a lot to talk about here, so.
ZIRIN: Well, just in the interest of building a bridge, as well, is that I want to say that I agree with Gayle that I think DACA was a terrible way to go about this policy. And we should have real immigration reform from the Senate and the Congress. And the fact that both parties have punted on this and not dealt with the reality of the immigration population that lives in this country has been an act of political cowardice on both sides of the aisle.
MARTIN: OK. As I said, there’s so much to talk about here.
TROTTER: Good bridge.
MARTIN: There it is.
ZIRIN: I promised, Michel.
MARTIN: Exactly. I appreciate that. So let me talk about another one of these sort of emotional issues that – you know, hot button is such a cliche but it is. I mean, it just evokes a lot of feelings on – around a lot of issues. And we want to turn now to a couple of recent cases involving police conduct or misconduct. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been in the news after he wrote on Twitter about an encounter that he had with the Las Vegas police after the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match.
He says that he and others thought that they heard gunshots in the casino lobby. He said he ran to get out of the way of whatever it was. He says that he was then handcuffed. The police put a knee in his back and threatened to blow his bleeping brains out. He used a different word. And Bennett says that this is profiling. He says that he was being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Las Vegas Police Department has contested Bennett’s account. They say that his conduct is what made officers suspicious. And the Las Vegas police union went further, sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging an investigation into Michael Bennett. Roger Goodell says they’re not going to do that now. Now, Paul I’ll start with you on this. You’ve written extensively about this whole question of race and policing. Your thoughts about this?
BUTLER: What happened to Michael Bennett is what you call police work. This isn’t about bad apple cops. It’s about the system working the way it’s supposed to. Every time the U.S. Justice Department does an investigation of a police department, it finds that police as policy use excessive force and racial profiling against black people – Chicago, LA, Baltimore and now Las Vegas.
And I kind of take this personally because my mom retired to Vegas. And even though I’m a grown man and a law professor and a former prosecutor, my mom still felt like she had to have the talk with me to tell me that Vegas police are notorious and that I needed to be careful. And this episode proves that she’s right.
MARTIN: But, Dave, you are actually writing a book with Michael Bennett about some social issues. It’s called, quote, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” This project started long before this latest incident, but, you know, what are your thoughts about this? And you’ve also been writing about this too.
ZIRIN: It makes me more uncomfortable than anything that we’re writing in this book called “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” I’m very upset by this, obviously, on a very personal level. I consider Michael to be a dear friend. And I think what’s happened to him is beyond the pale. And I spoke to him the night all this took place. We texted. And the level of trauma that he experienced that night – having a gun against his head, I mean, he’s telling this to me in real time. And it’s just like he could barely control his emotions. He was so upset. He was thinking about his daughters and what – I was thinking, would I ever hug them again, kiss them again?
And that – there’s an old expression that a liberal is a conservative who’s had to spend a night in jail. And I think, like – Michael has experienced this, I mean, has just made him, I mean, just made him all the more wanting to speak out about the issue of police violence. But on the question of making a bridge again to people on the other side of the aisle, I’m so disturbed by the comments of the Las Vegas police union, where in their letter to Roger Goodell, they wrote – and I quote – “while the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for our American flag and everything it symbolizes” – because Bennett sits during the anthem before games – “we hope the league will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our police officers.”
I think the fact the police are supposed to protect and serve everybody independent of their politics. And the idea that they would invoke his politics to effectively say, hey, even if he didn’t do anything, he deserved it because he’s someone who disrespects our country, that’s very frightening to me on these questions of rule of law and process and the idea of being a free society.
MARTIN: Gayle, I want to give you time to talk about this. Unfortunately, we are short on time. But I also wanted to bring up this other incident that’s been in the news about this nurse who was handcuffed because she refused to allow a police officer in Salt Lake to draw blood from a patient who was unconscious. And she was, in my view, very polite and had her supervisor on the phone. You know, and a lot of people look at that and say, well, what further – do you need any further proof that there’s a problem here? And I just want to get what – your take on this.
TROTTER: Yes, that’s terrifying, Michael Bennett’s experience with the Vegas police. Just imagine having a gun put to your head is a terrifying experience. When you see the video of the Utah nurse who is trying, not only to do her job, but to protect the civil rights of the unconscious patients. I think nurses are amazing. And I think there is a problem.
So I take your phrase and turn it back on you and say that a conservative is a liberal who’s spent a night in jail. Conservatives like me are out there all the time talking about government, not investing it with more and more power over our private lives. And so I think that there is a lot of crossover in that, that we really care about that and we want to prevent the abuses of government. And with this Utah nurse, it is wonderful that she was on the front lines to protect the civil rights.
Conservatives like me are out there all the time talking about government, not investing it with more and more power over our private lives.—GT
ZIRIN: Here, here.
MARTIN: That’s Gayle Trotter. She is a political commentator. Her writings can be found at the “Right In DC” blog. She was here in Washington, D.C., along with Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, writing a book – a forthcoming book with Michael Bennett. Paul Butler’s a law professor at Georgetown University. He was with us in New York. Thank you all so much for speaking with us, so much to talk about.
TROTTER: Great to be with you.