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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  January 24, 2022 4:30am-5:01am GMT

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the us state department has told american citizens in ukraine they should consider leaving, and has ordered family members of embassy staff in the capital, kyiv, to return home. it's warning that moscow is planning an invasion in ukraine, and americans have also been advised not to travel to russia. intense gunfire has been heard in the capital of burkino faso after unconfirmed reports of a coup by mutineering soldiers. a government curfew is in place, imposed after protesters came out to support the soldiers. they're demanding more help in their campaign against an intensifying islamist insurgency. two senior members of boris johnson's cabinet say they want an investigation after a former minister claimed she'd been the victim of islamophobia. nus ghani says she was told her muslim faith was, in part, a reason why she lost her ministerial post in a government reshuffle.
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now on bbc news, it's hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. black and white americans have always had vastly different experiences within their country's justice system. you see it in so many different data sets, from police violence to incarceration to sentencing. it's impossible to understand without reference to america's history of institutionalised racism. understanding it is one thing, the real challenge is how to change it. my guest is bryan stevenson, civil rights lawyer and founder of the equaljustice initiative. will equality ever be
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more than a dream? bryan stevenson in montgomery, alabama, welcome to hardtalk. it's great to be with you. it's a pleasure to have you. bryan, i think i'm right in saying that you yourself were brought up, raised, at the tail end of segregation. that is a reality that you experienced. we now live in the era of deeply polarised politics in the united states, but also of black lives matter. as a civil rights lawyer and advocate, do you feel america is travelling in the right direction? well, we've made some progress, but we have enormous challenges to overcome. you're absolutely right, i was born at a time when black children were not allowed
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to attend public schools. i started my education in a coloured school. there were no high schools for black kids when my dad was a teenager and it took an intervention of law — lawyers coming in and enforcing supreme court rulings that ban that kind of racial segregation, and because it was mandated from the outside, you know, i got to get a high school degree, i got to go to college, i got to go to law school, but it didn't reflect real transformation in the society. we have had transformation over the last 40, 50 years. you see things that you wouldn't have imagined seeing. we even had an african—american president in 2008, so we have made a lot of progress, but the real challenge of reckoning with our history, reckoning with our past, learning from that past so that we actually eliminate bigotry and bias and discrimination, we're really in the early stages of that process. we overcame enslavement, we overcame terrorised lynching and violence, we've overcome to a certain extent legalised racial segregation
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and hierarchy. we're still dealing with over—incarceration. but this problem of genuinely reckoning with our history, honestly understanding how we have to correct and repair that damage, we're just beginning to deal with that. well, i do want to talk at length about the coming to terms with history and truth telling, not least because there you sit in montgomery, alabama, which, as a southern city and the capital as it was of the confederacy for a time during the civil war, it's a deeply symbolic place to be, but before we get to that, let me just focus for a little while on your work as a civil rights lawyer. we spoke quite a few years ago now about the work you were doing, trying to right wrongs, miscarriages ofjustice within america's criminal justice system. i just wonder whether you feel, in the last six or seven years since we spoke, that things have gotten better? you know, it's such a difficult question,
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steve, because i think we've made progress, but we've also seen the development of things that are new threats. the united states still has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, we still have a system of justice that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent, we still see huge disparities based on race and what kind of sentences are imposed. the pandemic has exposed disparities based on race that reflect this long standing problem. we have won some cases that have made it easier to get some people out ofjails and prisons. we've gotten people who were wrongly convicted some relief. there are still thousands more that need that relief. 0ur courts have actually shifted away from the commitment to anti—discrimination that made a lot of that success possible, so i can't say that things are better. i think there's an awareness now that there wasn't even six or seven years ago, and that's encouraging because that creates the opportunity. it's like going to the doctor.
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if you don't know that you have diabetes, if you don't know that you have high blood pressure, you're not going to do anything that tries to address those disabilities. i think we've done better in diagnosing some of the problems that exist. now, whether this nation is prepared to now take the treatment, do the things that are necessary to get on top of these disorders, that's the larger question, the more complicated question, and there, i'm not sure yet. we've got work to do. you have written, erm, an extraordinarily powerful account of going into a poor community and talking to kids there, and you quote one 12—year—old boy as telling you this — "i know i'm going to be injail by the time i'm 21." and i guess he based that on the life experience he had, the people, the male figures in his life that he saw around him and the reality, as you've said, of the extraordinary rates of incarceration amongst young, black adult males in america. do you think if you were to go out into montgomery right now, talk in a disadvantaged black
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neighbourhood to kids of ii, 12 years old, that the boys would say the same thing? 0h, ido. i mean, i don't think we've made any progress in confronting the profound absence of hope that is shaping the lives of too many people in this country. there are zip codes in america where the expected incarceration rates are in 70%, 80% of the kids will have criminaljustice involvement, and that has not changed, and that's why i feel like there is such important work to do. i mean, this pandemic again has given me a perspective on this. in 2001, the bureau ofjustice, the federal bureau ofjustice, projected that in the united states, one in three black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison. and as shocking as that data is... the expectation for latino boys is one in six. as shocking as that data is, what was even more shocking was the casual way we just embraced that, we tolerated that. there was no pandemic—like response to that forecast. there were no convenings, there were no task forces,
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there was no emergency—like response. we just accepted it. and it's that comfort level with these outcomes, with these disparities, with that hopelessness that i describe when i go and talk to young kids of colour, it's that comfort level that has me so concerned and so worried and so committed to doing something that challenges in a more fundamental way the way we address this problem. this is a... it's a very difficult area, isn't it? in a sense, i feel unqualified to enter it. but if one is talking about data sets and incarceration rates and one looks at the systematic element in all of this, one does get extremely depressed and sees the picture as extraordinarily bleak. is there not room for trying to get away from systems and analysis and just thinking in terms of individuals? are there not ways that you can reach out to the individual boy aged 12 in montgomery or anywhere else in america and try to give him a message which isn't about the sort
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of odds that are stacked against him, but is about the way in which if he, you know, works hard, does his best, america is still a place where he, like bryan stevenson, can achieve extraordinary things? oh, no, that's the heart of my message to kids like that. you know, as i said, i grew up marginalised, excluded. i never met a lawyer until i got to harvard law school. as a student, i did not have the opportunities a lot of my classmates had, and getting young people to appreciate that they have the capacity to overcome these barriers is at the heart of what i'm trying to say. i've been in montgomery, without travelling as a result of the pandemic, for about 20 months, and it's been really interesting to have this kind of time because i've realised that i stand on the shoulders of people who did so much more with so much less. i'm the heir of a generation of black people who would put on their sunday best and go places to push for the right to vote, push for the right to be legally accepted, and they'd be on their knees, praying, knowing that they were going to get battered and bloodied and beaten by the police, and yet they still went. and there is a courage
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and a strength in that narrative that that young boy needs to hear and understand. my grandparents fled lynching violence in the deep south and had to cope with these threats and this menacing throughout their lives. my great grandfather was enslaved, learned to read while enslaved because he had a belief that one day he'd be free. there was nothing rational about believing that emancipation was going to come to enslaved black people in virginia in the 1850s, and yet my great—grandfather had that belief, and when emancipation did come, he would read to all of the formerly enslaved people on his porch each week the newspaper so that they would have information to help them manage the complexity of life as a formerly enslaved person in this country that was still denying
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them basic rights. when you understand that history and when young boys appreciate that history, they begin to recognise that despite these data, they have the capacity to succeed. how does that fit with also telling the young black kids of today that the police are institutionally racist? it's completely consistent with that. you have to understand the threats that you face. you have to understand that you are going to be presumed guilty by a lot of people. you're going to be presumed dangerous and your conduct has to be shaped by that awareness. i knew things when i was integrating schools about the expectations i would have, thejudgements that were being made against me. and if anything, i had to work around those things. and so you have to prepare young black boys, as they begin to drive, what they need to be aware of when they're stopped by the police. they can't be comfortable. they can't assume that the burden is on the police officer to keep them safe. they have to recognise that if that officer is presuming
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them dangerous and guilty, they've got to do some extra things to make sure that encounter doesn't turn perilous. and that's unfair. but... and it's the reason why, despite what i'm saying to these young kids about this legacy, this history, their courage, their capacity, i have to say to the rest of america, this is not fair, this has to change, we need to shield these children from burdens that have been unfairly placed on them because we have not reckoned with our history. we cannot tolerate police violence. we cannot tolerate these presumptions of danger. does the message to the rest of america, and let's, you know, be explicit and say white america in particular, does that message sometimes become counterproductive? i'm just thinking about black lives matter and the degree to which, for some people inside the black lives matter movement, it became very important for a systematic overhauling of police services across the united states. there was a very interesting moment in last november's election cycle where, in minneapolis, there was on the ballot the idea of replacing the police department with what i think
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was being called a department of public safety and the public who voted in that election overwhelmingly rejected the idea because they felt that their own personal security was now on the line. do you think this is being pushed too far in certain circumstances? well, i think the media pays a lot of attention on extremes. i really do. i mean, what i'm talking about is a larger historical struggle to get the country to confront its past, and that goes beyond black lives matter. it actually goes beyond even policing and the issues that that represents. that's a really critical issue in the black experience in this country, but it's only one of several issues.
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ahmaud arbery, the black man who was killed while jogging in georgia, was not killed by the police. trayvon martin, the young boy who was killed in florida, was not killed by the police. they were killed by these presumptions of dangerousness and guilt that go to a larger issue. and that's why, for me, we have to talk about our history. who we are in the story. you know, it's interesting that in commonwealth countries, areas. . . australia, canada, there's this reckoning going on with how to respond to indigenous people, orfirst people, and you see things happening in those societies that are trying to address the damage that was done. the united states is a country that is a post—genocide society because when europeans came to this country, millions of indigenous people were killed through famine and war and disease, and we haven't talked about that. most americans have no idea how many indigenous people lived on these lands. we don't recite the names of the tribes and the communities who occupied the spaces before we begin things. we're not reckoning in that way because we haven't dealt with what the narrative
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of racial difference that we have carved this country around has contributed to when it comes to bias and so, i'm talking about something much broader than the questions of police violence or the questions even of advocacy around policies in urban spaces. i'm talking about what does a nation have to do to repair the damage done by 2.5 centuries of enslavement? where is america today, in your view, in terms of a journey toward truth and reconciliation? i think it's at the very beginning. i don't think we have picked this up in any earnest way, in any meaningful way, in our 400—year history and so, we're just beginning to have conversations that might allow us to get there and as a result, we are way behind where we should be, and part of that has to do with power. you know, the nazis lost the war and, as a result of that, there was this necessity for reckoning. it doesn't mean that
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what you see in berlin is something that was inevitable — you had to have people willing to talk honestly about that — but as a result of that, they've made progress over country, even though we've had a longer period of time to respond. crosstalk. i don't want to sound like an extraordinarily naive optimist but there's plenty of stuff going on in the united states today. statues of confederate "heroes" like robert e lee have come down. you have been instrumental in montgomery, as i said — one of the centres of the confederacy — of establishing a new legacy museum. you've created memorials to the thousands of black people lynched in that period, from the late 19th century through to the end of segregation. you and others have been responsible for changing the narrative in the united states. why don't you actually focus on some of the positive stuff? take some credit, rather than sounding so bleak? well, i appreciate that, but we have this long history
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in america of celebrating too soon. we thought that after the north won the civil war, that we were in some new era and we could put that behind us. and the truth is, the north won the civil war but the south won the narrative war and we had 100 years of racial apartheid and exclusion, lynching and lawlessness. we ended mob violence in the 1950s, to a large extent, but we didn't end the thinking that generated that. we passed these civil rights laws in the 1960s but we didn't overcome these presumptions of dangerousness and guilt, and i'm not too ready to take a lot of credit because i think we have this long problem of celebrating too soon. i still live in a state, alabama, wherejefferson davis�* birthday, the president of the rebelling south — his birthday is still a state holiday. confederate memorial day is still a state holiday. are you... yeah. all right, so, powerful stuff. so are you, bryan stevenson, saying that white americans
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need notjust to acknowledge, in a new and very different way, the realities of their history — of the united states�* history — but they need to go further? they actually need to take on a level of guilt. is that what you're saying? guilt is necessary? no. no, i think, first of all, i'm not speaking just to white america, i think it's all america. this country is very diverse and there are all kinds of people who benefit from not dealing honestly with this legacy, so i think all of america has to be willing to tell the truth about this. we have some things we need to learn. and when you commit to truth and reconciliation, truth and restoration, truth and reparation, you begin to think differently about how you should address some of these problems. in the 1960s, it would have been totally legitimate to say to these states that had disenfranchised black people for a century, you know, it's not enough to just take away the barriers to voter registration for black people. we didn't make it actually easier for black people to vote. we need to do something reparational, we need
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to do remedial. we didn't do that. right, but how far... crosstalk. how far do you go with this? for example, do you go into the schools with a message about the nature of systemic racism? you know better than i that in the us right now, there's a big, hot debate about so—called critical race theory because — well, i interviewed a guy called ryan girdusky not so very long ago — the founder of a thing called the 1776 project — and he is an ardent critic of so—called critical race theory. he says that white kids in schools across america today are being encouraged to feel guilt, black kids are being encouraged to feel like victims, and that rather than create a new america of trust and mutuality, you're entrenching the notion of a racial divide. yeah, i don't think that's descriptive of anybody that i know that is active on these issues and, to be honest, i mean, my goal is to not create an america where people are punished for the past. i have no interest in punishing
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people for the history of slavery or the lynching and the segregation. my interest is liberation. i genuinely believe there's something better waiting for us in this country. there is something that feels more like equality, feels more like freedom, feels more like justice, and i think it's waiting for us. but that means we're going to have to talk about things that we haven't talked about. and the process, the goal, the purpose of that talking is to get to a shared understanding of what our history has been so that we can appreciate how to not replicate that history moving forward. and what i'm worried about is that once again, in 2022, you have a group of people who want to make it impossible for anyone to talk honestly about our history of racial bias. they want to silence anyone who wants to address this past. and that's what happened in the 1950s when you had segregationists punishing anyone who talked about integration. it's what happened after reconstruction, when we punished emancipated black people for trying to exercise their rights.
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it's what happened during enslavement, when we made it illegal — a capital offence — for someone to advocate for abolition of slavery. and that's the thing — we have to not get distracted by the politics of silencing those who say, "i believe there's a better america waiting for us", and i genuinely believe that. i represent people who commit crimes all the time. i don't believe in crushing those who offend, denigrating those who offend. i believe that we are all more than the worst thing we've ever done, including this country, despite its history. but to get to mutuality, we're going to have to talk about it. right, and you just mentioned politics. i just wonder how concerned you are about the temper and tenor of american politics today. we are speaking pretty much on the precise anniversary of the assault on the us capitol at the tail end of the trump administration. i think it is fair to say the people involved in that were predominantly, by a vast majority, white americans.
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it is true, i think, to say also that the republican party right now is peddling a message, particularly in terms of voter registration and electoral rules, which appears designed, perhaps, to its critics, to be eager to suppress black votes in many states across the union. are you worried that there is a new level of racial polarisation in us politics today? oh, no question. i mean, i'm actually concerned about the future of the democracy. i can't remember a time in american history where our basic democratic principles have been more threatened, more challenged. if you are unwilling to accept clear facts, clear realities about who wins an election, about what is a virus and what's not a virus, what is a sensible response, what is health, what's not — if you can create false narratives around all of these things, you make yourself vulnerable to authoritarianism, and we've seen that play out across the world, so no, i'm deeply concerned about this moment that
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we are in. and again, it reminds me of what people were worried about in the 1950s after the court mandated an end to segregation. they were worried about governors standing in front of courthouse doors, saying, "no, i will not comply with these federal orders," people shutting down schools rather than allow integration. it was a very disruptive moment created by this momentum toward progress, and i think we're experiencing that now in america. but here's my question, and it's going to be a last one for you, bryan. are you interested in building bridges, establishing a dialogue with those who i would assume to be your opponents — perhaps people inside the trump movement, if i can put it like that — you know, putting up new statues and building new museums in montgomery is extraordinarily, symbolically important, but what about actually reaching out to those people who aren't interested in your museum and your new memorials? yeah, all of my work
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is about reaching people who do not agree. i mean, i don't think there's any way forward without getting people to understand things that they may not want to understand. so, i mean, for35 years, i've been working in courts where i go into courtrooms, where i'm the only person of colour who is going to have an opportunity to speak. i'm talking to largely white judges and white juries and so, i've always recognised that i need to get others to see some of these things that i think are important for all of us to see, so i'm absolutely committed to that process. i don't want to be in a world where if you're on that side, i don't talk to you, and if i'm on this side, you don't talk to me because that's not a world that facilitates the kind of better america, better democracy, better world that i want to live in. and it's notjust an american thing, it's a global thing. i reject the politics of division, one side or the other. so, yes, i'm all about not only building bridges, but making sure they are
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bridges that have the kind of structure and integrity that you can walk across on both sides and make everyone feel lifted up and hopeful about what we can achieve. bryan stevenson, i wish we had more time, but we don't. thank you very much indeed for being on hardtalk. my pleasure. hello there. high pressure has kept most parts of the uk dry through the weekend, if rather cloudy. and high pressure has meant a dry start to january 2022, only seeing around about 50% — half the rainfall we'd normally see by this stage, and there's not a great deal of rain
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in the offing this week — certainly not for england and wales. we might see a little bit more midweek across scotland in particular with a low pressure approaching but for the meantime, the high pressure is still hanging on towards the south. there's a weather front to the north and that has given a few millimetres of rain during the day on sunday. it's sinking a little further southwards on monday but coming into that high pressure, it's a weak affair. but there's still quite a bit of cloud around but where we had the cloud breaks through the night, there's patchy frost and some patchy fog as well to watch out for, some poor visibilities, but again, not widespread, but it will take its time to clear at this time of year. and then, there'll be some brightness and sunshine — notably, we think, eastern scotland, perhaps parts of north—east england, but some thinner cloud elsewhere. perhaps quite gloomy, though, in some areas and cold as we had on sunday — four or five degrees at best. 0ur weather front towards the north as well weakens as it heads towards the moray firth, some sunshine then developing to the north of it, but it's a fairly weak affair for the most part.
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it then starts to push northwards again through monday night and into tuesday, so through the coming night as well, it's going to be pretty chilly where we get the cloud breaks but on the whole, there'll be a lot of cloud. some pockets of fog again on tuesday, slow to clear away but where they do, then we'll see some sunshine coming through but again, it's fairly limited — there will be a lot of cloud around and it will feel cold under that cloud, even without much breeze. that breeze still bringing in some cloudier skies and some patchy rain to the north and the west. the high pressure, as you can see, is still close by for tuesday, as i mentioned, but by mid week, we've got this area of low pressure rolling in and that's when we see some rainfall coming in to scotland, in particular, but parts of northern ireland as well as that weather front starts to trail southwards. but again, ahead of it, perhaps a little bit of brightness but it's the south—westerly wind, the atlantic breeze, that starts to pick the temperatures up and perhaps turn some of that cloud over and allow some sunshine to come through. so perhaps a little bit brighter midweek but then, the pressure builds towards the south once again.
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this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm sally bundock. the us orders family members of its diplomats in kyiv to leave over the continued threat of russian military action in ukraine. a defining week for uk prime minister borisjohnson, with the report into downing street parties released in the next few days. heavy gunfire in the capital of burkina faso after unconfirmed reports of a military coup and a mutiny by soldiers. one, two, three, four. and we'll speaking exclusively to legendary beach boy brian about a life of music as he turns 80 later this year.


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