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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Obama's Big Surge; Gays in the Military; San Francisco Columnist Ignites Racial Firestorm

Aired February 28, 2007 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, out in the open: the secret behind Barack Obama's dramatic surge in the polls.

Also: replacing the military's don't-ask/don't-tell policy for gays with don't-mind/doesn't-matter.

Plus: one city's murder epidemic and why more isn't being done to stop it.

We start tonight with presidential politics. We have just learned that Republican John McCain formally declared he is running for president. It happened during a taping for the "David Letterman" show late this afternoon. He has told us he will make a formal announcement in the weeks to come, though.

Also, a new poll shows Senator Barack Obama cutting very deeply into Senator Hillary Clinton's lead in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Tonight, the reason for the sudden shift is out in the open. Black voters are finally getting off the sidelines and heading for the Obama bandwagon.

Here's CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE WILSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: We certainly want to talk about whether or not race is a factor.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Wilson, host of XM radio's "G.W. on the Hill," hears it all the time.

WILSON: Is America ready for a black president? And the overall consensus, at least of my callers, is that America is not ready for an African-American president.

CROWLEY: Even at a rally for Barack Obama, you hear it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm being honest. No. I think -- which is a bad idea -- it's bad that America is not ready for that, but I don't think they are. CROWLEY: Polls earlier this year showed whites more likely than blacks to say America is ready for a black president, which may help explain why much of the African-American community has been slow to warm up to the election season's supernova.

WILSON: When white America has embraced a candidate, as they have Barack Obama, there's a certain amount of distrust that goes with this among a number of African-Americans.

CROWLEY: Obama's standing suffers, in part, because some black voters are not familiar with him, and because there is doubt whether the son of a white woman from Kansas, a black man from Kenya, raised in Hawaii, and educated in elite schools can relate to the black American experience.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Obama acknowledged the dynamics.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the history of African-American politics in this country, there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community. By virtue of my background, I am more likely to speak in universal terms.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Forty-two years ago this Sunday, an iconic day in black history took place. Civil rights leader John Lewis and others were beaten and trampled by white law enforcement officers trying to stop a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

Lewis has seen a lot of change since bloody Sunday. He expects more.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I think that day is slowly disappearing, that -- that feeling that black politicians are only going to deal with black issues and they're not care about the issues of all of the people.

CROWLEY: In the past month, which has included Obama's announcement tour, he has apparently made significant strides into the black community.

In recent months, ABC/"Washington Post" polls showed Hillary Clinton running 40 points higher among black voters asked to name their preference in the Democratic primary. Now the same poll shows he leads by 11, a stunning 24-point swing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama does have a plurality of black voters right now. He doesn't have a majority yet. That means that a majority of blacks still aren't sure about him. Forty-four percent favor him. That's certainly good news for him. I think the Obama camp would like to see that be significantly higher. CROWLEY: Among blacks, Obama's favorables are high, 70 percent. But Clinton's are higher, 85 percent. It is striking distance, though. And, if polls change, so can history.

LEWIS: In the depth of my heart, I -- I believe it is possible for Senator Obama to become president of the United States. I think the American people are prepared to take that great leap. They're prepared to lay down the burden of race.

CROWLEY: Forty-three African-Americans now serve on Capitol Hill. Thousands of black politicians serve nationwide. Time has made Congressman John Lewis a true believer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The bottom line for Obama in the polls, the numbers are good, even great, but they have to get better -- Paula.

ZAHN: Candy, if you wouldn't mind, please stay right there, because I want to bring in senior political analyst Bill Schneider into the conversation right now.

So, Bill, I want to go back and review some of those numbers that Candy just used in her piece, and this huge 24-point swing. Let's look at what the numbers showed back in December and January. Twenty percent of black Democrats chose Senator Obama; 60 percent chose Senator Clinton. And then the latest numbers show Senator Obama with 44 percent, Senator Clinton with 33 percent.

What happened?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that is a huge swing.

Does it mean that they have -- that African-American voters have soured on Senator Clinton? Absolutely not. Because the poll also asked the voters their favorability ratings of the candidates, essentially, do you like them? And the favorability ratings of Senator Clinton actually went up a few points. It went from 82 to 85 percent favorable.

So, they wouldn't -- they didn't sour on Senator Clinton. There was a real big jump, however, in their assessment of Senator Obama, 54 percent favorable in January, now 70. What does that mean? It means that they're excited by the prospect of Senator Obama.

Many African-American voters had never heard of him until he declared for president. They didn't know anything about him. Now they are -- and this is the word, I think -- excited by...

ZAHN: We're going to have John Roberts now join our three -- our four-way conversation. Bill and Candy are going to stay with us.

Let's bring in senior political correspondent John Roberts.

So, John, you just heard both Candy and Bill talk about these numbers and their significance. You and I both have been out on the campaign trail for years. And we know how quickly these numbers can change.

But what kind of a marker are they for Barack Obama's campaign at this very early hour in this process?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an indication, Paula, that black voters are getting to know him, and perhaps, on some occasions, like his policies and believe that he may be the best representative for them in the Oval Office.

They may also be looking at this at what a tremendously positive thing it would be for America if an African-American, whether they be Republican or Democrat, were to win the White House. It would certainly do a lot to take some steps down the road to healing the rifts that still exist in this country.

It's good for Obama that he has doubled his numbers among African-American voters. But the rub here is that he's still below 50 percent. That still means that the majority of African-American voters do not support him.

Is it because they're skeptical or suspicious of him? Perhaps too early to tell. Maybe they just don't know him well enough. But he still hasn't crossed that 50 percent line. And, until he does, he's not really having a tremendous amount of success among that voting bloc.

ZAHN: And, Candy, it's interesting that Barack Obama, in an interview with NPR, seemed to downplay what John was just talking about, saying -- quote -- "I don't expect to get the monolithic African-American vote. I think we have some strong candidates in the field. And it would be presumptuous of me to assume that people would vote for me simply because of my race."

But can he win the primaries if he doesn't win the majority of the black vote?

CROWLEY: Well, the primaries, if you look at them sort of state by state, you look at Iowa, New Hampshire, these are predominantly, heavily predominantly, white states.

South Carolina, it will make a difference. There is a huge number of blacks who vote in the South Carolina primary. So, at some point, it does make a difference. It makes more of a difference, obviously, in the general election.

And, remember, we also have the possibility of a whole bunch of states having a super-duper Tuesday. And a number of those states have a large African-American vote.

ZAHN: Bill, I want to take a look at something else from that "Washington Post" poll, where Barack Obama was described as more inspiring than Hillary Clinton.

Now, once again, John was trying to point out, when Obama gained some of the support, it doesn't necessarily mean folks are fleeing Hillary Clinton's campaign. Crunch those numbers for us.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

Well, when voters, Democrats, were asked to compare the front- runners for their nomination, they said, on one quality, inspiration, Barack Obama outshined Hillary Clinton. He is an inspiring figure. He talks the language of faith. His message is not a racial message. He is the first national African-American political leader who did not come up through the civil rights movement.

His message is one of inclusiveness and inspiration. He aims to unify the country, to bring the country together. And that is inspiring a lot of Americans, not all of them Democrats.

What these numbers signify is, there is going to be a very tough fight between Clinton and Obama, and perhaps others, for the African- American vote. And that's wonderful. They should never be taken for granted. And the criticism that, somehow, because he didn't come up through the civil rights movement, he hasn't paid his dues, to whom?

I mean, the fact is that African-American voters are very pleased and proud and excited that this man has a serious chance of getting elected. He is as popular among whites as he is among African- Americans.

ZAHN: But he certainly has some challenges with some of those civil rights leaders -- Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, John Roberts, showing pretty lukewarm support for him at this stage of the game.

ROBERTS: In fact, we interviewed Reverend Al Sharpton about that this afternoon. And Sharpton was making the point where he was saying: While, if I was in the Obama campaign, I would be excited that the numbers are coming up, but I would still be concerned that they are below 50 percent.

Sharpton, when he was running for president in 2004, captured the majority of the African-American vote, literally took it off the table, so that the remaining two -- the remaining candidates were battling for what was left among them.

This -- this upcoming election, really, Paula, is going to hearken back to 1992, when the African-American vote was up for grabs, and it was Bill Clinton who really developed a strategy of zeroing in on that vote, to say: I'm going to be the candidate who captures the African-American vote.

And, remember, he is still around as well. I was talking with Paul Begala, who is a former Clinton White House person, and has on occasion backed Hillary Clinton, most recently in her senatorial race, who said: I would love to see -- I would pay money to be in a church in South Carolina and see Bill Clinton and Barack Obama going at it to head to head on a Sunday morning.

He thought that Clinton would walk away with the house. So, he's still the secret weapon there for the Hillary Clinton campaign, when it comes to the African-American vote. ZAHN: And what a secret weapon to watch in the months to come.

Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, John Roberts, three members of the best political team in TV, appreciate your time tonight.

Boy, do we have our work cut out for us in the next year.

Out in the open next: secrets they don't ask and don't tell in every branch of the military. Is it finally time to let gays serve openly?

Then, a little bit later on: A newspaper columnist in a major city dares to write: why I hate blacks.

We will be back with more on the fallout from that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: In one of America's proudest cities, deadly violence is out in the open tonight -- coming up, what comedian Bill Cosby is doing to try to calm down "Murder City."

But, first, an open secret about every branch of the U.S. military: Gay people are still signing up and still being kicked out under the don't-ask/don't-tell rule that's been in effect since 1993.

Brand-new numbers show that, since then, more than 11,000 service members have been kicked out for being gay, not just soldiers, but medical police and intelligence officers, even translators who know Arabic.

Today, the very first American wounded in the Iraq war publicly revealed that he's gay.

Retired Marine Eric Alva lost his leg and nearly died when he stepped on a land mine. This afternoon, he pleaded with Congress to let gays openly serve in the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF SERGEANT ERIC ALVA (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: ... alongside, which I did, a straight Marine, then, and someone who knew I was gay, which a couple of people did know I was gay on that convey in Iraq in -- March 21, 2003.

And it was the protection of protecting each other, getting the mission done. And -- and, when I was injured, everybody didn't stop or the people that even knew me, that I was gay, to say: Well, he's gay. Don't help him. Let's not save his life.

They were saving the life of an American, protecting another American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And, today, Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan introduced a bill to repeal don't ask/don't tell, and allow the estimated 65,000 gays, lesbians and bisexuals now on active duty to serve openly.

That is the first issue for tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum, Democratic strategist Morris Reid, along with conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer Mark Smith.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight.

I want to start off by having you all look at this response for military readiness to -- actually, the response is for military readiness response to Meehan's bill.

It reads: "Some liberal members of Congress are trying to -- again to impose the homosexual agenda on the men and women of the military. Most Democrats have more pressing things to do. And Republicans see no need to repeal the homosexual conduct law."

Is this really about liberals imposing gay tolerance?

MARK SMITH, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Absolutely.

Look, think about it. We have 2.6 million people serving in the armed forces today. We're talking about 13,000 people who have been discharged for being openly gay -- not gay, openly gay -- over the last 13 years. That's 1,000 people a year, hardly a significant number, if you look at the fact that it's 2.6 million people.

And the fact is, Paula, we're fighting a war, a war with men and women fighting in the fields today. And why on earth would we want to talk about the silly issue? And the reason why is, we have these...

ZAHN: Silly issue?

SMITH: Yes. It's absolutely silly.

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS REID, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We're fighting a war.

ZAHN: Give me a break.

SMITH: It's absolutely silly, because here's the story.

We have congressmen who, the closest thing that they have ever gone to a battlefield is a golf course in Virginia, and they're trying to tell the military what's best for morale. I say, defer to the military, defer to the generals as to what is best for the military and how we win this war, and stop playing games in Washington. This is just politics.

ZAHN: I don't know how you describe this, though, as a silly issue.

REID: Listen, we're -- the war is not on gays. It's on our enemy. And, when I'm a foxhole...

SMITH: Then why are we talking about gays?

REID: Let me just -- let me first just tell you this.

If I'm in a foxhole, I don't care if the person is gay, straight, black, white. I want them to save my life and protect my bottom, my rear end.

I just think that you're wrong on this. And I think that this really speaks to a larger issue about how we socialize men in this country. You know, men feel like, if there's a gay guy who can dunk a basketball better or who can shoot a gun straighter, then they're -- that's a problem with me.

You need to be focused on what the -- the issues here. If people want to serve -- this man wanted to serve. And he risked his leg. We shouldn't take that away from him.

ZAHN: Are you telling me he's insecure with his masculinity?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is that what you're saying?

REID: What I'm saying is, he's got a problem.

SMITH: No. What I'm saying is...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: ... this is -- see, that's the point. You're trying to draw some social observations, some social significance to this.

REID: Was it social that he lost his leg?

SMITH: And what I'm talking about is not society.

REID: Was it social that he lost his leg?

SMITH: I'm talking about winning the war. Was it -- I'm talking about the winning the war and what is best to win a war.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Wouldn't you say his service was pretty darn heroic?

SMITH: Absolutely. And his -- his service was heroic.

ZAHN: He almost lost his life.

SMITH: His service was heroic. He's a great American. And he deserves all the tributes that we give to him.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: And he served -- and he served under the don't-ask/don't- tell policy. REID: A stupid policy.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: ... why are we changing the policy?

MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT & CEO, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM: A very wise man once said, you don't have to be straight to shoot straight.

And I think we should remember that. I mean, I respectfully disagree, simply because there was a time in our nation's history when people said that blacks should not be allowed to fight and defend this country. And black man after black men signed up for the armed services, fought for this nation heroically. We are a very, very large part of the armed services today. And, really, any kind of discrimination against anyone is abhorrent.

ZAHN: Morris, take a look at -- at this poll. And it was just recently released. And it showed that, in this country, that 55 percent supported allowing gays to serve openly. That's up from 48 percent in the year 2000.

What is the political reality of this, that -- that -- that the policy is outdated homophobia?

REID: Well, listen, first, it was a...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is that what the American public is saying?

REID: It was a dumb policy. It was one of the stupid policies of the Clinton administration, just like affirmative action, amend it, don't end it. It was dumb.

And it was the Clinton administration...

ZAHN: And this guy is a Democrat speaking.

REID: Listen, it was the...

(LAUGHTER)

REID: It was the administration trying to be all things to all people.

We know people who are gay. There's nothing wrong with being gay, like there's nothing wrong with being straight. If someone wants to save lives, protect this country, let them do it.

ZAHN: What about the argument that it compromises the morale, it makes for awkward situations in close living quarters? Do you deny that that's an issue at all?

REID: I don't think a gay man is really that interested in me, I got to tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

REID: And, if I'm going to war, I'm not really thinking about that. I'm thinking about my comrades and trying to win. I'm not worried about what he's thinking about when I'm in the shower. I could care less.

BERNARD: You know, it's interesting.

SMITH: But that's you.

The question is, what -- what -- who makes the decision here? And I'm willing to defer to the military, who has to fight the fight on the ground. And, if they think that the don't-ask/don't-tell policy is working, I'm willing to defer to their judgment, and not have congressmen who want to score political points in the media make the decision.

REID: I love it the way you -- you want to defer to the military when it's in your best interests, but no one wanted to listen to them about Iraq.

ZAHN: All right. We have got to leave it there.

We have got a lot more to discuss on the other side of this break.

And you can join in on our conversation by sending an e-mail to NOW@CNN.com. Our panelists will check them out, if you're reasonably polite...

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: ... and read some of them on the air a little bit later on.

Also, you can hear more from retired Marine Eric Alva about his experience as a gay man in the military tonight, coming up at 10:00 Eastern, on "A.C. 360."

In San Francisco, a newspaper editor is now apologizing for what was one of his probably more challenging moments, in reacting to what an Asian columnist wrote -- coming up, why furious blacks say that isn't nearly enough.

Out in the open a little bit later on: the reasons for Philadelphia's shocking new nickname, "Murder City."

We will examine that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There is a growing controversy in San Francisco to talk about tonight, after a local newspaper published a piece saying African-Americans should be discriminated against because they once submitted to slavery. The author happens to be Asian. And he makes that claim in a column called "Why I Hate Blacks."

And, as Peter Viles shows us, it's bringing hidden racial tensions between Asians and blacks right out into the open tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even by the anything-goes standards of free weekly papers, the headline in San Francisco's "Asian Week" stood out: "Why I Hate Blacks."

Columnist Kenneth Eng, a self-described Asian supremacist, was just warming up with the headline, though. He goes on -- quote -- "I would argue that blacks are weak-willed. They are the only race that has been enslaved for 300 years."

He continues: "Blacks are easy to coerce. This is proven by the fact that so many of them, including Reverend Al Sharpton, tend to be Christians."

Criticism came quickly and sharply. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes San Francisco, called the column deeply troubling and irresponsible. And local leaders agreed.

AMOS BROWN, PRESIDENT, NAACP OF SAN FRANCISCO: I was appalled. I was flabbergasted that these kinds of sentiments would go unchecked in a major Asian newspaper in this city.

JEFF LOUIE, SENIOR PASTOR, SUNSET CHURCH: His views do not represent what I believe. Neither do the -- does it represent the community of Christians of Asian descent.

VILES: "Asian Week," a free paper with a circulation of 48,000, says it has cut its ties with the 22-year-old Eng. This is far from the first time Eng has written a controversial column. Past titles include -- quote -- "Proof That Whites Inherently Hate Us."

TED FANG, EDITOR, "ASIAN WEEK": The failing of our editorial process, in allowing this piece to go forward, was an insensitive and callous mistake that never should have been made by our publication.

VILES: What civic leaders were less likely to admit is that the column touches on a real issue in the city: tension between blacks and Asian-Americans.

BROWN: This 20-year-old young man, unfortunately, was mouthing, reflecting the opinions, not of all, but of many in the masses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because every time I do go in a Chinese store, I always got some -- somebody always got something smart to say, or they always just following us around, like you're about to steal something.

VILES: One factor behind the black-Asian tensions, the black population of San Francisco is declining, in part because of soaring real estate costs, while the Asian-American population is surging. Some neighborhoods once dominated by blacks are now heavily Asian. ROSS MIRKARIMI, SAN FRANCISCO SUPERVISOR: Next to New Orleans, San Francisco is losing its African-American population fastest than any other major city in the United States. That hemorrhaging needs to be, I think, understood as a citywide crisis.

ARNOLD TOWNSEND, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: And, you know, we have an attitude that black folk are fine. And I guess, once they're all out of the city, they will be fine in San Francisco.

VILES (on camera): One civil rights leader described the tensions between Asian-Americans and blacks in this city as seething, even before the column came out. So, one concern now is whether this statement of racial hatred will inflame that situation even further.

Peter Viles, for CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And the editor of "Asian Week," who you just saw in that piece, says he's also planning to sponsor a town meeting in the near future to talk about racial tensions in San Francisco.

Out in the open next: a city where murder is simply out of control. See how comedian Bill Cosby is trying to help.

Then, a little bit later on: an urgent health warning for anyone, man or woman, involved in the dating scene.

We will be back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, a city where young people are killing each other at an alarming rate. And the situation now is so bad that even actor Bill Cosby is speaking out. It's happening in his native city of Philadelphia, which these days many people are calling "Murder City."

Deborah Feyerick went there to find out why violence has become such a part of so many young lives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOROTHY SPEIGHT JOHNSON, SON MURDERED: We're going stop this violence, because it's not normal that our young people are dying at the rate they're dying.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): You can hear it in her voice, the raw anger of a mother in pain.

JOHNSON: There's not nothing normal about that. Don't accept it as being normal.

FEYERICK: At a rally to stop the violence, Dorothy Johnson talks about her son Kalik (ph), a college grad who was working as a youth counselor when he was murdered in north Philadelphia, shot seven times just for parking in someone else's spot.

(on camera): What were you surprised to learn about your son's killer?

JOHNSON: That he had killed someone else five months before he killed my son, and he walked the street for five months and no one said anything.

BILL COSBY, ACTOR: How many of you in this room -- please stand if you have a close relative, not a friend, but a close relative who was shot and murdered in your neighborhood. Just stand. Please, just stand.

All right. Look at these people, ladies and gentlemen. Here's your reality.

What I'm trying to get people to do is wake up.

FEYERICK: Clearly, this is an important issue, what's going on in Philadelphia. Is this situation desperate?

COSBY: Yes.

FEYERICK (voice over): So desperate, the murder rate in Philadelphia is three times the national average. And those most often gunned down, young black men killed by other young black men.

In north Philadelphia, where murder is a fact of life, a local community center becomes a safe haven.

(on camera): How many of you have heard gunfire? How many of you have seen a body?

What does that make you think? What does that make you feel?

DONTE STEVENSON, PHILADELPHIA TEEN: That I might be next. It's spontaneous. Like, you don't know who is going to go next.

SIERRA DANIELS, PHILADELPHIA TEEN: And, like, you hear about a lot of crimes and stuff, and you get worried, but you don't think about it as much as you probably should. But I don't think it's safe.

ARLENE BELL, CARING PEOPLE ALLIANCE: I've seen kids get to be teenagers and they have empty eyes. You can see something's gone and they've seen violence, lived violence. Violence is part of their lives at that point.

FEYERICK (voice over): The truth is, the teens say it's easy to get a gun if they want to. Not that they do.

PASTOR DERRICK JOHNSON, PROJECT LIFE: The average African- American kid who is growing up in a densely-populated urban area sees a weapon as a tool or a utility the way a businessman on Wall Street sees a cell phone.

FEYERICK: Pastor Derrick Johnson once served time for murder. It's now his mission to keep young people from killing each other.

(on camera): Is this about race? Is this about poverty? Is this about despair? What is this about?

SYLVESTER JOHNSON, PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: It's a combination. If you look at the same statistics, young black males are probably three or four times less employed than other people, they're less educated than other people, they have more poverty than other people. So you've got to look at the big picture. You just can't just look at what's happening here as far as crime is concerned.

FEYERICK (voice over): The cemetery is cold and gray and filled with fresh graves. Dorothy takes small comfort knowing her son's killer is now in prison serving two life sentences.

D. JOHNSON: To think someone took his life over a parking space, it's still so, so painful. It hurts so much because he was a great guy.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Philadelphia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And with that we turn this over to our "Out in the Open" panel -- Independent Women's Forum president, Michelle Bernard; Democratic strategist Morris Reid; along with conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer, Mark Smith.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to see all these losses in Philadelphia. And I want us all to try to collectively absorb these numbers, because these numbers are absolutely staggering.

When you look at young -- the murder rate of young blacks murdering other blacks, why are so many young African-Americans killing each other, Morris? What's going on?

REID: I think it's just a devalue of life. They don't have an appreciation for life.

They don't -- I think it's just -- they're so disconnected, they don't feel that their life is worth anything, so why should they value the other person's life? And I really think that just a lot of this has to do with not enough immediate black role models, male black role models, to teach them right from wrong.

I happen to come from a single -- my mother led my household without my father, but I had a lot of people to work with me, my uncles, my communities. I really this is a black male issue where we really need to focus on how we're looking at each other and how we're valuing and appreciating our lives.

ZAHN: You k now, Michelle, you look at this very personally as a mom.

BERNARD: Right. I do. ZAHN: And you were worried about what kind of life your own children would have, what kind of world they'll have socially down the road.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

ZAHN: What is the state of black youth today?

BERNARD: It is -- it is very troubling. You know, it's interesting, because we -- I think about the fact that just three years ago we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education. And as a parent, and as an African-American, really just as an American, you have to ask yourself, is this what people like Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall fought battles for?

It is heartbreaking, and we have a -- we have a boy crisis in this country. We have a man crisis in this country. It disproportionately is affecting African-American males. We are a community in deep, deep crisis.

ZAHN: What is it that you tell your daughters, that there's no future with a -- with a black man down the road? Is it that dire?

BERNARD: Well, you know what? It is -- it is getting to the point where a lot of African-American women that I know personally say, who were our daughters going to marry? And somebody made a joke once and said, well, they'll have to go to prison to find a husband.

And the thing that's very sad about it is, if you go to prisons today, you will see that most of the men that you see in prison are black men. It is very, very scary.

And the key absolutely is education, personal responsibility, and having a very deep sense of self. And Morris is right, we need black role models. We need black male role models.

We need somebody -- you know, Bill Cosby is right. He got a lot of flack about this right after the celebration of Brown versus the Board of Education for going out into the public and telling people...

ZAHN: We can't blame each other...

BERNARD: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Step up to the plate.

BERNARD: Yes, step up to the plate, don't blame it on racism. Pick your pants up. Go to school, read a book, get an education. And parents have a personal responsibility to insist -- instill a sense of shame, as well as a sense of pride in their children.

ZAHN: There is another very frightening statistic I also want us to take a look at now, and this deals with the issue that our Harvard study just analyzed. In the states with the highest gun ownership, homicide rates were 60 percent higher than in the states with the lowest numbers of gun ownership.

So a lot of people would say this means get the guns off the streets.

SMITH: No. I don't think that's what it says.

ZAHN: What does that say to you?

SMITH: You see, the problem is that criminals with guns are dangerous to society. But law-abiding citizens with guns are a benefit to society because they thwart criminal predators before the crime is committed.

ZAHN: So are you going to suggest to folks in Philadelphia who are worrying about being murdered arm themselves?

SMITH: I'm going to suggest that Philadelphia engage in a two- prong process. One is, if somebody engages in any kind of a violent crime, they go to jail for a long time. And the second thing is, it's clear that there are violent predators running around the city of Philadelphia, and law-abiding citizens are -- should not be victims. They should stand up, they should take steps to defend themselves against predators, and that includes -- and that includes owning the gun and protecting themselves.

ZAHN: We only have 10 seconds a piece.

Final thought?

BERNARD: Gun court in Philadelphia. It's a great idea. If you break the gun laws, they lock you up, they throw away the key.

Excellent idea.

ZAHN: Morris.

REID: I think this really has to be connection to job opportunities. If you look at where murders are high among black men, they also have unemployment. There has to be a connection to connecting these people back to society.

ZAHN: You just went three seconds over. You owe me on the other side. Interesting point, though.

Please stay with me, because there's a lot more to talk about. If you want to join in on the conversation, please send me an e-mail at CNN.com. We'll read them and get reaction from our panelists a little bit later on in this hour.

"Out in the Open" next, a very scary health warning for anyone on the dating scene. If you're a man or a woman, going all the way may be even riskier than you think.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, some shocking news about women and sexually transmitted disease. A new Centers for Disease Control study just out today shows that more than a third of American women have Human Papilloma virus by the time they're 24 years old, and about a quarter of all women under the age of 60 are infected at any given time.

That makes HPV the most common STD in the nation. And in tonight's "Vital Signs," medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen looks at what this means for women and men on the dating scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's never easy reentering the dating scene after a divorce, but try doing it when you have genital herpes.

(on camera): When you told men, "I have herpes," how did they react?

JENNIFER NICHOLAS, SINGLE: I had one guy who -- I thought he was Mr. Perfect until I told him, and then he was like, "Forget my number, don't speak to me again." He just absolutely freaked out and acted like parts of my body were about to fall off.

COHEN (voice over): What men like him probably don't know is that the dating scene is full of people like Jennifer Nicholas. While Jennifer is honest about having herpes, not everyone is. And they're out there in force.

One out of every four American women has genital herpes, a condition that can never be cured. The rates are somewhat lower for me.

Think that's high? Well, half of sexually active men and women will get HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, sometime in life. That's a virus that can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. This, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

NICHOLAS: It makes you feel dirty and unwanted.

COHEN: STDs are so hush-hush in our society, we had a hard time finding someone who would even talk about it on camera. Atlanta gynecologist Dr. Michael Robinowitz wasn't surprised. He said since no one talks about STDs, patients think they're alone, despite the dramatic statistics showing that they're not.

(on camera): When you tell a women, "You've got herpes," what's the reaction usually?

DR. MICHAEL ROBINOWITZ, GYNECOLOGIST: Almost always tears, anxiety. "What, me? No, that can't be."

COHEN (voice over): Once they get over the initial shock of being diagnosed with any STD, Dr. Robinowitz tells them, first of all, they have to be out in the open with anyone they're thinking about sleeping with. And they should use a condom and the partner should get tested.

(on camera): So you tell them, before you sleep with this person, just ask, "Do you have an STD?"

ROBINOWITZ: Absolutely. Trust, but verify.

COHEN (voice over): As for Jennifer Nicholas, she has dated some men who are herpes free and comfortable with the fact that she has the disease. She's also dated men from the Atlanta H Club, a social group for people with herpes.

NICHOLAS: I went from being the only person that I knew that had it to knowing thousands of people that had it.

COHEN: Now she's doing her part to stop the spread of America's STD epidemic and to put an end to the stigma.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And there's another thing to add. The latest study is expected to boost efforts to get the new vaccine for HPV to more young girls across the country.

Minutes away from the top of the hour. "LARRY KING LIVE," he has the very latest on today's court ruling on Anna Nicole Smith's body.

And our panelists sifting through your e-mails. They'll read them and weigh in on them in a little bit.

See them hard at work.

Are you guys really reading the e-mails? Yes, they are. All right.

If you want to write, the address is now@cnn.com.

We'll be back with what you had to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up in just a few moments.

I'd ask you what you're doing on the air tonight, by I just saw the graphic, Anna Nicole Smith.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Yes, you got it. We're going to have a major program on all the developments today, Paula, with guests who are friends and reporters who have covered the scene and relatives and would-be relatives.

It should be quite a show with many guests covering this extraordinary story that now shifts fully to the Bahamas for what will definitely be a burial on Friday.

That's at 9:00 eastern, 6:00 Pacific, immediately following the lovely Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: It was fascinating to watch that today. You know, for a moment there we all thought that maybe her mother might have a shot at prevailing. It didn't happen.

KING: No, it didn't.

ZAHN: I like that Johnny Cash look you've got going tonight, Larry.

KING: I love black.

ZAHN: It looks good on you.

KING: I'm into black.

ZAHN: Well, all of us New Yorkers, that's all we have in our wardrobe. That and shades (ph) of gray, the new black.

All right. Have a good show. We'll be watching.

KING: Bye, honey.

ZAHN: See you in a little bit.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

ZAHN: Your e-mails are starting to come in. We're going to read what you think about some of the stories we brought "Out in the Open" tonight. And believe me, you're pretty fired about many of them we covered, including the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Our panel coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: All right. It's your turn to turn the Plexiglas table, this fancy table of our over on us.

You flooded us with e-mails tonight. Our "Out in the Open" panel has been going through them. They are ready respond to you.

With me again, Independent Women's Forum president, Michelle Bernard; Democratic strategist Morris Reid; conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer, Mark Smith.

Welcome back.

Let's start off with this letter from Luis, a Marine. He writes, "Regarding the issue about gays in the military, I believe after spending 20 years in the Marine Corps I can fairly say that having to be in close quarters or with someone who is known to be openly gay can disrupt a military unit. Remember, this is not only about fighting but about troop morale. The status quo should remain in place."

REID: Well, you know, I would defer to this gentleman who has been there. I haven't been there, but I have to tell you, if I'm in the foxhole, I don't really care. I want someone who is going to be there to protect me, who's going to win, who wants to win the war.

I will defer to him because he is been there. But it just makes no sense what we have going on right now.

BERNARD: You know, it's interesting. A Zogby poll has come out, a poll by the Pew Research Center has come out. And what they are showing is that a lot of -- most -- the vast majority of the people in the military today, people who are actually out fighting the wars that this nation is fighting, say that it doesn't really matter to them anymore.

ZAHN: Ten seconds, and then I'll let you start off with the next e-mail.

SMITH: Sure. Look, we have had "Don't ask, don't tell" since 1993. We have the greatest military force in the world. Why would we engage in a social experiment in a time of war? We shouldn't.

ZAHN: This next e-mail is from somebody who didn't want us to use their name. "I served in the Army from 1999 to 2006, and toward the end of my time in the military I came out to my friends and subordinates. To my surprise, I found that no one really cared about my sexuality. They only wanted a good leader that would do his job."

"One of the reasons I did not reenlist is I could not stand fighting for the American way that went out of its way to exclude me, even after I was willing to put my life on the line for it. If I could serve openly in the military, I would reenlist tomorrow."

And that is not the only e-mail we have seen like that.

SMITH: Sure. But bear in mind, Paula, we're talking about a fighting unit of 2.6 million people. Sure, there's going to be anecdotes going every way. But to me, at the end of the day, if the military thinks the best way to fight wars -- and that's what the purpose of the military is, is to fight, win wars, and protect our nation, not to engage in social experiments. If they think that the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is working, I say let's defer to the military and not engage in politics about it.

ZAHN: And you say this is not about a social experiment.

REID: It's not about social experiments. It's about, look, we -- we're fighting everyone right now. We need as many people that want to enlist as possible. If someone is gay, happens to be gay, who wants to be openly gay and wants to serve, let him serve.

BERNARD: Well, you know, here's the other interesting thing that people aren't talking about. It is costing us millions and millions and millions of dollars a year to retrain people to replace all the people that we are kicking out of the Army because they have come out and said they are openly gay. I care about that. I want us to win the war. But I also care, what's the country doing with my tax dollars? I work really hard for it.

REID: Well, you're unhappy with this administration for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Now on the staggering murder rate in Philadelphia. A city now that many are calling "Murder City." This one from Anthony.

He writes that "Black male role models will not be enough if we do not continue to foster new role models. Many of the black men of today, especially in the corporate world, are too 'snobbish' to want to help our black youth. As a black male teacher, I'm trying daily to instill good characteristics for the black male, but sometimes, it' hard when there are so many other factors that hinder them outside of the classroom. What are some other ways I might be able to help these students?"

REID: Send me an e-mail and I'll bring 10 black men to help you. It is ridiculous to point the finger at successful black men and call them snobs.

You know, isn't that what we go to school for? Isn't that why we get educated, so we can move up the corporate ladder? It's ridiculous.

ZAHN: Well, some people -- some blacks would say that you're acting too white. We discussed that last night with you.

REID: We did talk about it, but they're absolutely wrong. There's nothing wrong with making money, and it's also good for kids to see people who have made it in corporate America.

ZAHN: A quick, final thought.

BERNARD: Speaking with properly subject-verb agreement is not acting white. It is speaking the language that allows you to compete in a global marketplace. And our kids, our black males need a good education.

ZAHN: Thank you all.

REID: Thank you.

ZAHN: Glad to have you with us throughout the hour. Interesting stuff, always. Smart people here with me.

Finally, a New York City council brought the n-word "Out in the Open" this afternoon to ban it. Council members unanimously passed a resolution calling on all New Yorkers to voluntarily stop using the slur.

Members say even black people who use it as a term of endearment denigrate and disrespect themselves. The ban is symbolic. There's no fine. An issue we've been covering in depth right here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We'll be back again tomorrow night. Have a great night.

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