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CNN NEWSROOM

Historic Flooding Along Red River; Extreme Weather All Across the Country; RNC Chair Michael Steele on President Barack Obama

Aired March 28, 2009 - 23:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, RNC chair Michael Steele on President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: There was a Michael Steele before there was a Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Plus, the dash cam video, it is infuriating. And what it has to do with a death of a love one. We'll tell you about that a little bit later on.

And the Mexican drug war invades a U.S. town. A desperate plea from police right now. Right now live in CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, everyone, I'm Don Lemon.

We start tonight with extreme weather all across the country today. In the upper Midwest, historic flooding along the Red River. Fargo and other communities are holding their collective breaths that the levees there don't give out. So far, they have been holding.

And let's go a little bit farther south. Springtime in the Great Plains, buried beneath about two feet of snow. At least two people have died. And to the east now, several people were hurt when a storm -- a severe storm pounded Murfreesboro, Tennessee, tonight causing damage to a shopping center. We're going to update you on that as well.

We begin, though, in Fargo, North Dakota. Three million sandbags piled along the Red River and now fingers are crossed. Just hours ago, anxious people on both sides of the river got word that the water might not get much higher than it is right now. It is just shy of 41 feet. A wall of sandbags, 43 feet high, is the only thing holding all of it back. All of that freezing water. While everyone is hoping the worst is over, some were not so lucky.

Our Ted Rowlands is standing by right now in Fargo.

Ted, the water might not be getting any higher, but it's not going away for quite a while.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Don. Right now, the latest reading is 40-1/2 feet. Just under 40-1/2 feet, but that is still record level, and people here are clearly still anxious.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The stairway goes down here.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): The Red River is up to the back of Leann Benjamin's Moorhead, Minnesota home. Her basement is flooded, and this wall of sandbags put up by volunteers is the only thing protecting the rest of her home. If a dike gives way, her house would be first to go.

LEANN BENJAMIN, MOORHEAD RESIDENT: I think there's obviously some nervousness because of the unknown. And anything can happen.

ROWLANDS: While the Red River had stabilized, it's expected to remain at record levels for several days, putting incredible pressure on the manmade dike system that so far has prevented a potential disaster.

MAYOR MARK VOXLAND, MOORHEAD, MINNESOTA: This is just the beginning of round two. The fight is done, and now it's the time of vigilance, it's the time of waiting. I really hate once we get to crest and have to watch and hope and work hard to keep those dikes from leaking. And to think that we're going to face this for seven days is -- it's pretty daunting.

ROWLANDS: The past week, several people have lost homes. IReporter John Kenny (ph) sent in these incredible shots from a flooded house in Fargo that he and six others tried to save, but lost after a dike gave way sending a wall of water into the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I started to run upstairs, water was already pouring on the main floor. And within probably three minutes, there were 3-1/2 feet of water on the main floor. So the basement had already filled, and it was completely flooded.

ROWLANDS: Crews continued to work around the clock reinforcing and watching the dikes.

GUY FOX, SUNSHINE CONSTRUCTION: We all kind of have a little bit of confidence. And we don't want to go too far and speak too early. But we're feeling better now than we ever have.

ROWLANDS: Still, Leann Benjamin and thousands of others won't feel better until the Red River is back down to normal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And there you see the Red River now underneath the Main Avenue Bridge, and it is nowhere near normal, coming up all the way to the top of the bridge. All evening long, crews have been working to shore up a levee on the other side of Main Avenue. And this bridge, Don, clearly, the work is not done and the waiting game has not finished either by any stretch.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much for that. Ted Rowlands in Fargo.

Heavy snow is causing huge problems in the southern plains. Take a look at these blizzard conditions in the Texas Panhandle. Blizzard conditions have closed highways and forced people indoors with winds blowing up to 30 miles an hour. A state of emergency is in effect in Kansas, where the southern part of that state has snow drifts of up to six feet tall. At least nine counties have reported two feet of snow. And in Kansas City, Missouri, the airport has been closed, temporarily for snow removal. In Oklahoma, at least two traffic deaths are being blamed on the storm, and the government has declared a state of emergency in 50 counties.

Severe weather still popping tonight in the southeast. And our Jacqui Jeras is staying busy in the CNN severe weather center. She's on top of it all.

Jacqui, you're busy. That is an understatement.

(WEATHER REPORT)

LEMON: Yes, that is a big problem for jets. I remember seeing a story on that. How it almost brought one jet down. And they had no idea what they were going through.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We'll just choke them right off.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Jacqui Jeras.

JERAS: Sure.

LEMON: Let's change the subject now. Spotlight on Michael Steele. This week I sat down with the always outspoken RNC chair for a free willing conversation about Rush Limbaugh, political aspirations. They're very high. And also, whether he was on the wrong side of history in the Obama election. Our exclusive conversation, straight ahead.

Also, they were racing to the hospital, trying to reach a loved one before she died. Then came the sirens, and now the outrage. We've got the dash cam video for you. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or iReport.com is how you can get in touch with us. It is how you can be a part of our show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So this week I spoke with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. It was quite a conversation. We talked about his election as party chairman, Rush Limbaugh and President Barack Obama. I also asked him whether he thought he would have secured his party's chairmanship had he been white. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Yes. If my qualifications and my capabilities and my ideas were the same, and the only thing that was different was my skin color, yes. Why wouldn't I be?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's bring in now the Republican National -- Republican National Committee Chair Jim Greer -- I should say for the State of Florida -- State of Florida. And Sirius XM radio host Michelangelo Signorelli.

Thank you both for joining us.

OK, Michelangelo, I got an e-mail from you. Because you saw it run in "THE SITUATION ROOM," and you said your listeners were just floored when they saw it. They started calling in to you. What were they saying about this interview?

MICHELANGELO SIGNORELLI, SIRIUS XM RADIO HOST: Well, you know, if he thought that saying that the whole Rush Limbaugh controversy was some sort of master plan, we were all thinking, what was the master plan, to destroy the Republican Party, to bring it down completely? Because all he did was show all the divisions in the party, all he did was show that no matter that he as somebody who has talked about bringing change to the party is leading the party, the people in control are a thuggish and very angry group of extremists who are letting him know they are not going to let it happen.

LEMON: I think -- I think Jim Greer might disagree with that. Do you, Jim?

JIM GREER, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes, I don't think we have thugs running the party. But I will tell you the Republican Party is going through a cleansing process and a reevaluation, which we need to be doing.

LEMON: You know, and Michael Steele agreed with that, but he said -- he said to me, don't ask me to change my values and my morals. I said maybe you need to lighten up on certain things or at least rethink them if you're going to bring people into the party. But he said why would you come to my house and tell me what kind of dinner to be served?

Well, if you're trying to invite someone in, isn't there some degree of compromise in any relationship?

GREER: Well, we have to be an inclusive party. And every person that has an idea has to have the seat at the table. But, you know, we are talking about who speaks for the party, you know, things that are really not important right now. The Republican Party has to reengage the middle-class in this country. We have to be focused on the issues that voters across this country are talking about. Michael Steele is a breath of fresh air.

LEMON: OK. I want you to hold that thought, because...

GREER: Sure.

LEMON: Because let's talk, because some people say that he may be in trouble here. But since we're talking about this and the Republican Party being inclusive, I want to -- I asked him about that, about dropping the ball. As a matter of fact, he brought it up. He said after the convention, he wasn't happy with the Republican Party because, he said that they dropped the ball. Take a listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Dropped the ball. The bottom line on dropping the ball, what do you mean the Republican Party dropped the ball?

STEELE: There was no follow-up on their leadership. There was no way to inculcate down to the grassroots that I want you to be involved in what we're doing. Oh, by the way, we've got a national convention coming up. Would you run for delegate or alternate as a delegate to the convention?

That little bit of conversation, that little bit of reach-out to folks would go a long way and make a big difference. And that just wasn't done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Here's what he said after that. He said, you know, there were lots of people that they didn't reach out to and didn't take advantage of -- Condoleezza Rice -- that the Bush folks had put into place -- Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. Not just at the top but people who were working inside of the Republican Party. Alfonso Jackson, marginal responsibility. He said, large swaths of federal government people and the Republican Party didn't follow through, Jim.

GREER: Well, I mean, we lost the election. The Republican Party has to re-evaluate itself. We've got a lot of voices in the party. At the end of the day, I think all those voices are going to come into a consensus and we're going to be a stronger party. But if the Republican Party continues to focus on issues that are not important to the American voter and talks about issues that are not important, then we're not going to prevail in elections.

LEMON: Like what? What issues you say that are not important to the American public?

GREER: Well, I think we need to be talking about the economy. We need to be talking about the dinner table discussions that Americans across this country are talking about.

LEMON: And Republicans are not talking about that.

GREER: Well --

LEMON: The people at the top?

GREER: We're starting again. We realize after the loss last year under the leadership of Michael Steele, who's doing things differently, just like in Florida under Governor Charlie Crist's leadership, we do things differently down in Florida, and we are successful when you let everybody who has a stake in the issue have a seat at the table, when you are inclusive and when you are focused on what the voters want you to focus on versus issues that are not their priorities.

LEMON: OK, well, you know, when I asked him, and I want you to comment on this after Michael, I asked him if he had -- he said he's been trying to reach out to the president for years, President Barack Obama, that there is no professional jealousy when it comes of all -- he said there was a Michael Steele before there was a Barack Obama. So he said he's tried to speak to the president, and I asked him about it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Look, you know, I like the president personally, even though I think he's got a little thing about me that I haven't quite figured out what that is.

LEMON: You haven't spoken to him, have you?

STEELE: No.

LEMON: You reached out?

STEELE: Several times, and I'm done.

LEMON: So there's no bipartisanism going on there?

STEELE: No, not that I know of.

LEMON: Is there any professional jealousy?

STEELE: Not on my part. What would I be jealous of?

LEMON: He's the president of the United States.

STEELE: I'm chairman of the RNC.

LEMON: So, what's your point?

STEELE: We both have leadership, responsibilities and roles. I'm not equating the two. My point is you're on your track. I'm on my track. You do your thing. I do my thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I asked him if Dr. King would be proud of him, or would think that he realized a dream? And he said yes, I think, absolutely he would. Look, we have two black men or African-American men at the pinnacle of political power in this country. He said one was Barack Obama, the other was Michael Steele.

Michael?

SIGNORELLI: Well, you know, first off, when he was talking about how the Republican Party did not reach out during the convention, he's absolutely right about that. They're usually better about creating at least some window dressing at the convention, putting some people of color, putting more faces up there. Of course, that doesn't represent the party in general. They didn't even do that this time around. And it's great. I think he's absolutely right.

It's great that he's criticizing them, but once again for saying that, he will now come under attack and will probably grovel back to these people who are criticizing him. He is a figurehead. And I think Dr. King would certainly see that it was wonderful we have a president who's African-American and even seeing that the Republican Party has to create window dressing by having an African-American heading their party. But Dr. King would also see that we have a long way to go in the Republican Party.

GREER: You know, here's the thing, if we can celebrate, if the nation can celebrate the election of the first African-American as president of the United States, the Republican Party should be able to celebrate the election of an African-American as our first national party chairman.

LEMON: OK, Jim, hang on -- hang on one second. Hang on one second.

SIGNORELLI: But address the issues that affect African- Americans. Why don't they vote for you because the issues are something the Republican Party just does not reach out on. They don't care.

LEMON: I also asked Michael Steele about the election of President Barack Obama. Trust me, you do not want to miss what he had to say about that. My exclusive conversation with Michael Steele continues in just a moment.

Also this, families vacation to Mexico. Their vacation turns terrifying when masked gunmen surround their car and from there things only got worse. You will hear their story in their own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. More now on my exclusive conversation with Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele. We start with a question that I have heard a lot of people asking, given the history-making results of the presidential election, does Michael Steele feel like he was on the wrong side of history? Well, you will hear what he has to say, and then Michelangelo Signorelli and Jim Greer return to share their thoughts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Is that how that works? So where was all the support for me when I was running for lieutenant governor of Maryland? Where was all of the support for me when I was running for the U.S. Senate as potentially the first black senator from Maryland? I didn't see a whole lot of, you know, being on the right side or the wrong side of history there. So if I looked at it in that context, I would be stunted in my abilities to do anything. I would become frustrated, angry, to the point where I just give up and go away. And that's just not how I do things. So this isn't about being on the right side or the wrong of anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, you know, Jim, maybe -- let's just say that Michael Steele is a forward thinker and is thinking beyond his party. Let's just say that. That he is the future. If by not saying -- by saying no, that maybe we shouldn't change our stance on things or as you said, the Republican Party is not talking about things that are relevant to the American people like a party of Rip Van Winkle? Is there like a wake-up call like, hey, guys, this is what's important now and you're not doing it? Maybe Michael Steele is right?

GREER: Well, listen, the Republican Party needs to maintain its values and principles that it's always have: less government, less taxes. But it has to be the Republican Party of the 21st century. We have to be focusing on the issues that are important to African- Americans, Hispanics. It can't be window dressing. You know, we have to walk the walk, and I believe that. And we are doing that. But let us not forget African-Americans and Hispanics are Americans, too. The same challenges that Americans across this country face, African- Americans and Hispanics face those same challenges.

SIGNORELLI: That is true. But as long as the Republican Party as under George Bush maintains a very extreme view on affirmative action on cracking down assault weapons...

GREER: OK, but we don't have George Bush anymore. George Bush is not in the White House anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

SIGNORELLI: ...in cities against the assault weapons then.

(CROSSTALK)

GREER: Well, the Republican Party, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hang on. Hang on. One at a time, please.

SIGNORELLI: We have seen African-Americans disenfranchise because of Republican officials, when they tried to go and vote. All of these issues. That's not window dressing. That's really changing the issues.

GREER: We can't talk about the future. We can't talk about the future if we're constantly going to revisit the past.

I agree. Maybe we did some things wrong in the past. But we have a new national chairman in Michael Steele. We have governors, such as Charlie Crist, that are the future of the Republican Party. A new breath of fresh air. There are some that want to continue to breathe the same old stale air. But the future of the Republican Party is one in which I believe...

LEMON: Hang on, Michael.

SIGNORELLI: That we will have great successes in the future, new energy, a new look to how we do things while maintaining our principles and values, and if we do that, if we're focused on the issues that the middle-class of America is focused on, that families are focused on, it's not window dressing. We mean what we say. The Republican Party will win Congress back and ultimately the White House.

LEMON: And Michael Steele says that the best way for African- Americans or any minority group, or really to leverage their vote and their political power is to give the GOP a second look.

GREER: There's no doubt about that.

LEMON: OK, but hang on. Hang on, because we've got to go. I want to get you yes or no if you can.

GREER: Sure.

LEMON: Is Michael Steele in trouble here, Jim?

GREER: No, not at all. Michael Steele is not in trouble. He's going to be a great national party chairman. There are some that were asking for change. They were asking for a new approach in leadership. They're getting it. They're getting for what they asked, which is Michael Steele leading the party into the future. He's going to be a great chairman. And I know he's going to continue to have the support of Republicans across this nation.

LEMON: OK. I've got to run, but I want to ask you, what do you think, Michael, of Michael Steele and Sarah Palin 2012? That's what I have been hearing could happen.

SIGNORELLI: Oh, I just think that is trying to bring two people who are just in completely different orbits. And if we're going to have change, as Mr. Greer said, Sarah Palin is not going to be on the ticket. I think everything Mr. Greer said was great, but if they grovel back to Rush Limbaugh and this other crowd, we're not having change.

LEMON: Can you see that 2012, Mr. Greer, Sarah Palin and Michael Steele?

GREER: No, I can see a lot of people potentially in 2012 or 2016. Michael Steele could be one of them. Charlie Crist, governor of Florida, could be one of them. Sarah Palin could be one of them. We're going to have many opportunities for the voters to look at the future of the past, the past of the party, and where we as a national political party need to go. And I think it's got to be someone who is progressive, someone who looks to the future and someone who is inclusive.

LEMON: All right. We got to run, Jim. We got to run, Jim.

Thank you, Jim Greer of Florida, the chair of the Florida Republican National Committee, and the outspoken host Michelangelo Signorelli.

Thank you both very much.

SIGNORELLI: Thank you.

GREER: Thank you. It's great seeing you.

LEMON: And you can see much, much more of my exclusive conversation with Michael Steele, tomorrow, in our African-American first series "Up from a Past," it's right here on CNN, tomorrow 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Boy, that was a lively conversation. You know what, getting back to the weather now. You almost need a roadmap to keep up with all of this extreme weather going on across the country. Flooding along the Red River, heavy snow and the plains. Severe storms in the southeast. Jacqui Jeras, we'll check in with her in just a little bit.

Also, abducted near the border, left to die in the desert. An American family's vacation to Mexico turns horrifying when they get caught up in an escalating violent attack. The story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We want to give you a quick update now on the extreme weather battering parts of the U.S. The Red River appears to have crested, reducing the flood threat for people in Minnesota, also North Dakota.

Now -- the long wait, I should say, is to see if the levees are going to hold. They're watching and waiting there.

In Tennessee tonight, several people were hurt when a severe storm pounded Murfreesboro, causing damage to a shopping center. Those new pictures just into CNN.

And there's more than a foot of snow on the ground in Oklahoma. The governor has declared a state of emergency in 50 counties. We're watching all of the weather news for you right here on CNN.

An American family caught up in the surging violence in Mexico. Their annual vacation turned to horror when masked gunmen ambushed their car, took them in the desert and left them scarred for life. CNN's Randi Kaye has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBRA HALL, ABDUCTED IN MEXICO: We're not anyone to them.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Debra and Chris Hall don't sleep very well, though it's better now. Nightmares that used to keep them awake for days now keep them up for hours.

HALL: They first got in the truck and they opened the backdoor. Our son said, oh, my God, please, no God. And if I live to be 100, I will always hear that tone in his voice. KAYE: Debra and her husband live near San Diego and for years since their teens, they've been driving into Mexico to vacation. But they'll never go back again, not now, not after their last trip.

(on camera): The Halls were driving along this road in Mexico just about seven miles from the U.S. border. It was a cold, foggy November night shortly before midnight when they suddenly saw flashing lights in their rear view mirror. They thought it was police so they pulled over. Within seconds, they were surrounded by ten masked gunmen, all dressed in black, pointing guns at their heads.

HALL: And they said, we're getting in, shut up, put your heads down. We're going to kill you.

KAYE (voice-over): The Halls were pulling a camper that was covered with race car stickers, and the gunman demanded to know where the race car was, a prize that could have been traded for cash or drugs.

(on camera): The Halls say their abductors drove them about a mile or so into the hills. They demanded jewelry including Debra's wedding ring, and they ripped the radio and navigation system out of their truck. Then they told them all to kneel face down in a ditch.

(voice-over): The gunmen covered them with a sleeping bag.

DEBRA HALL, ABDUCTED IN MEXICO: I thought they were going to kill us then, that they were covering us up with the sleeping bag so that they wouldn't get blood on them.

CHRIS HALL, ABDUCTED IN MEXICO: I tried to cover my daughter with my body to protect her.

KAYE (on camera): Did you talk to her?

C. HALL: Yes.

KAYE: What did you say?

C. HALL: I just kept telling her I was sorry.

DIVINIA HALL, ABDUCTED IN MEXICO: I really thought we weren't coming home. And I was kind of facing my own mortality. I was OK with the fact that I was with them and that if it was my time to go, it was my time to go but at least I was with my family and they knew that they knew I loved them and that I knew that they loved me too.

KAYE (voice-over): They were faced down in the ditch waiting to be executed. Time passed slowly, until suddenly the Halls realized they were alone. The gunmen had left in their truck. It took them two hours to walk to a town. Baja police drove them back across the border.

(on camera): The Halls had no money and no I.D. when they got to this McDonald's on the U.S. side of the border. They told me someone gave them a quarter, so they could use a payphone and call a relative to pick them up.

(voice-over): They filed a report with the San Diego police and this one with the Mexican consulate, but the men who terrorized the family were never caught. Even worse, the gunmen know where they live. They stole their driver's licenses.

Aware that cartel hit men are striking on the U.S. side of the border, they don't feel safe. It's as if fear is always stalking them, and still they feel like they lost much more.

You'll never go back?

D. HILL: No. No way. No way. And that's sad.

KAYE: The country they loved, stolen from them in the middle of the night on a Mexican highway.

Randi Kaye, CNN, on the U.S. Mexico border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: As violence spreads across the Mexican border and into the United States, police departments are having to step up their game. In Tucson, Arizona, 200 home invasions this year, mostly drug related. Our Roberto Villasenior is in Tucson, Arizona. He is Tucson's assistant police chief.

Tell us about the problem you've been having there. You say that it is related to the drug trade, this increase in home invasions.

ASST. CHIEF ROBERTO VILLASENIOR, TUCSON, ARIZONA POLICE: That's absolutely true. About three-quarters of the home invasions that we have experienced, we can tie to the narcotic trade. However, we can't say that these are cartel members hitting across the border. We have always been very closely wrapped up with the narcotic trade base just upon our position and our closeness to the border.

LEMON: Yes. Yours is just based on geography, which one would assume would have everything to do with that, especially now. You said that these home invasions are more violent than ever?

VILLASENIOR: Well, actually, home invasions are a fairly new phenomenon. About five years ago, you never heard of a home invasion. You would have robberies, you have convenient store robberies, bank robberies and so forth, but in April of 2008, we established this unit because we started to see a trend of this new type of crime that was occurring where organized groups that employed military or law enforcement-type tactics would break into a home and commit robberies there. And most of it is tied back to the narcotic trade.

LEMON: So what do you do about it? Just increase -- I mean, people have to be extremely frightened. I mean, home invasions any time you say we didn't have any, and now they're all of a sudden starting to happen, more violent and they are tied to drugs. What are people doing there? VILLASENIOR: Well, you need to remember, though, that a lot of this is lifestyle choice. As I said, about three-quarters of them involved -- people who are involve in the narcotic trade. So it's something we've always said. It's a choice issue. If you don't get involved in the narcotic trade, you severely lessen the chance.

LEMON: Yes. It's not like -- it's not like the people who were just on vacation there and sort of were innocent bystanders. You said a lot of it has to do with that.

VILLASENIOR: Correct.

LEMON: So listen, we've been talking a lot about expanding tolerance for drugs. Do you think that would help you in Tucson at all, especially for marijuana?

VILLASENIOR: Well, I don't know if that would help or not, because there are so many other type of drugs that come through here. We have a lot of heroin that comes through Arizona. We have methamphetamine. When local governments crackdown on the precursors, a lot of that moved down to Mexico. Now they are making some efforts down there. So there's always been that type of issue. In addition to narcotics smuggling, we have human smuggling that goes on, too. So I don't know if lessening the restrictions on marijuana is the answer.

LEMON: Do you have an answer?

VILLASENIOR: Well, we try to be proactive. And that's what our answer. And part of the issue that we see now is that home invasions have become somewhat lucrative because they're an easier target right now. So we encourage people to practice crime prevention tips such as alarms, surveillance. But the most important thing, getting to know your neighbors, getting the community involved.

LEMON: You know what, I understand what you're saying. That I thought maybe, you know, had something besides, you know, the things that we hear about people -- we hear people say all the time. Especially as you said, three-quarters are sort of lifestyle choices. I thought maybe there was some other answer besides protecting yourself in that way, that, you know, that you have come after.

VILLASENIOR: Well, I mean, again, you just have to have people that are aware of what's going there. Report the items to us. We actively go after the home invasion units, which is why we established this unit.

LEMON: Yes. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I know that we need to come up with an answer very quickly, considering what's going on with the drug trade and also what's happening on our border.

Roberto Villasenior, we appreciate it.

VILLASENIOR: Thank you.

LEMON: Best of luck to you. Well, we can't really talk about the war next door without talking about America's hunger for illegal drugs and renewed calls for decriminalization. We are digging deeper right here on CNN.

And it is the outrage story of the week. A police officer stops a family at a Dallas area hospital while they were trying to visit a dying relative. The officer refuses to let the driver go inside and you won't believe what happens next. The dash cam video says it all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. So you know what, our economy could definitely use a boost to pull it from one of its all-time lows, but don't count on the legalization of pot to push it higher again. That idea went up in smoke, and that was kind of a quote from the president. When President Barack Obama made it clear that he does not believe, at his town hall meeting, that he doesn't think that this should happen. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to say that there was one question that was voted that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience. This was a fairly popular question. We want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes, that was a quote. It's not a good strategy to grow our economy. Well, meantime, that debate on whether marijuana should be legalized ranges on with some high-profile figures arguing the pros and the cons for it. Actor Stephen Baldwin is against it even for medical reasons, while former talk show host Montel Williams who has multiple sclerosis thinks those in pain should have access to it. "LARRY KING LIVE" just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONTEL WILLIAMS, SUPPORTS MEDICAL MARIJUANA USE: Ladies and gentlemen, you need to listen up and do the research yourself. For 30 years, our government sends out marijuana. Is this not an egregious offense, the same government that locks up a child or someone with a joint in their pocket, is actually a drug dealer? They are dispensing it every single month.

TAVIS SMILEY, GUEST HOST: Stephen, what about that distinction between legalizing and decriminalizing? What about the latter?

STEPHEN BALDWIN, ACTOR: I disagree with the latter as well. You're talking to a guy 20 years sober, Tavis, off of drugs and alcohol. I used to sit around. I know the affects of marijuana firsthand. And I can tell you right now, if this starts to become something that is more readily available to our youth, the ramifications and repercussions of that in the next 20 years will be beyond our comprehension.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: CTguy says, "Marijuana should be legalized. Cash- strapped states could generate tax revenue from its sales. Also, might lessen Mexico violence."

I like the music. Thank you.

TheGrottoTweets says, "I feel marijuana should be legal to curb the violence that always results from the black market. Prohibition is too dangerous."

Here's what AtlantaBrother says, "No marijuana should be legalized. It will only cause havoc amongst people. I would vote no."

And Tottankoph says, "No. There really is no reason to believe that it will the economy or improve drug-related crime."

Can we take this one right here? Can we take this one? The guy says, "Yay, you're mentioning legalization of marijuana on your show. Good job, Don!"

And someone else says, "Glad to see you're bringing up this issue.

Man, you guys really love to talk about marijuana. Maybe the president has a point when he's talking about the online community. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iReport.com. You see it right next to me. That's where you can get on the show, and get your comments on just like these guys.

OK, outrage story here. Racing to the hospital to reach a loved one before she died. They came in contact with the police, and then comes the outrage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOATS: My mother-in-law is dying right now!

POWELL: I can screw you over. I'd rather not do that. Your attitude will dictate everything that happens, and right now, your attitude sucks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That is just a small part of what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: An overzealous police officer had one thing on his mind when he pulled over NFL player Ryan Moats north of Dallas. Never mind that Moats' mother-in-law was dying. Ed Lavandera explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Police Officer Robert Powell's view, chasing down an SUV that he just saw slowly pass through a red light. The car has flashing hazard lights turned on, and inside is NFL running back Ryan Moats, who's racing to the hospital to see his dying mother-in-law. When Moats pulled into a parking space, police say, Powell draws his gun and the confrontation quickly gets heated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT POWELL, POLICE OFFICER, DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Get in there! Get in there!

TANISHA MOATS: Excuse me?

POWELL: Let me see your hands. Get in there.

T. MOATS: My mom is dying.

POWELL: Put your hands on the car. Do you understand?

RYAN MOATS, NFL PLAYER: My mother-in-law is dying, right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: From the officer's dash cam video, you can hear Moats try to explain the urgency of the moment. His wife and another relative ignore the officer and go inside. The officer asked for Moats' insurance and says he's being ticketed for running a red light.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: I need your insurance.

MOATS: I don't know where it's at. I don't have insurance.

POWELL: You don't have insurance?

MOATS: Take it or whatever.

POWELL: Listen, if I can't verify you have insurance

MOATS: My mother-in-law is dying, right now.

POWELL: Listen...

MOATS: You're wasting my time.

POWELL: If I can't verify you have insurance, I'm going to tow the car. You need to find it, or I'll tow the car. Stop talking. Stop stalking. You're going to need to cooperate or I take you to jail.

MOATS: What'd you ask for? You asked for insurance and registration, so...

POWELL: Shut your mouth!

MOATS: There you go.

POWELL: Shut your mouth!

MOATS: Yes.

POWELL: You can cooperate or I can take you to jail for running a red light.

MOATS: Go ahead.

POWELL: Is that what you want to do?

MOATS: Whatever. Go ahead.

POWELL: OK, I can screw you over. I'd rather not do that. Your attitude will dictate everything that happens. And right now your attitude sucks.

MOATS: Yes, sir.

POWELL: OK. I turned my red and blues on as you're going over the bridge. This is where you stopped.

MOATS: Do you think I'm going to stop when my wife's mother is dying.

POWELL: You are required to stop. What you're doing does not matter.

MOATS: OK, yes, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: That was Police Chief David Kunkle, ripped his officer's handling of the situation. Powell has been put on paid leave until an internal investigation is complete. He could be fired.

DAVID KUNKLE, CHIEF, DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I want to issue a personal apology and also an apology on behalf of the Dallas Police Department to the family of Jeanetta Callingsworth. I am embarrassed and disappointed by the behavior of one of our police officers, Officer Robert Powell.

LAVANDERA: And listen as another police officer and even a hospital nurse try to help get Moats inside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECURITY GUARD: That's the nurse. She says that the mom's dying right now. She wants to know if we they get him up there before she dies.

POWELL: All right. I'm almost done.

SECURITY GUARD: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: After almost 15 minutes, Ryan Moats finally is allowed to walk away. But not in time to say good-bye to his mother- in-law. She died as Officer Powell finished writing the ticket.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And the nurse came out and said it. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports that after all of that, the ticket has been dismissed. Dallas police say in their initial conversations with Officer Powell, he insists he did everything right and acted appropriately.

I can't wait to read what you guys have to say about that. Lots of provocative talk tonight. And we want to get it on the air. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iReport.com. Tell us what you're thinking. We want you to really be a part of our show. We're back in moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. A lot of you are responding. Let's read some of them right here. Here is what * says. She says, "People wonder why there is such a poor relationship between the police and the black community."

I don't know. I mean, I don't know if you can connect it with that one, because people -- I don't think the officers knew they were black when they stopped him.

But anyway here, the man says -- Ctguy2675 says, "The man tells us the officer -- tells the officer's mother-in-law's dying. Clearly, the correct response is to help the man and to see his loved one."

Thank you, Ctguy. You went away for a while. You must have been on vacation. We wonder where you were.

Yogi fish says, "herb will not grow our economy, but it will save us the cost of prison, arrest and policing."

And here's what Birdie says. "Obama didn't say it won't be legal, just says it won't help the economy. I think he dodged it for now."

Hellataz -- there's Hellataz. Where's Hellataz, then? "Steele is jealous, Hellataz says, of Obama. He even stole the idea of Obama being a strategic chess master in politics now claim he is, too."

Thank you so much for that, for writing in. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iReport.com. That's how you can be part of our community right here on CNN.

Saving lives in the hospital and on the streets. Well, we'll tell you how one doctor is really making a difference.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: I'm going to tell you something that will shock a lot of you. Some people won't be surprised, though. And almost 50 percent of all murder victims in the United States are black. And even those who survive a violent assault face a greater risk of receiving another violent injury. This week's "CNN Hero" is trying to change all of that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. CARNELL COOPER, COMMUNITY CRUSADER: As a trauma surgeon, I see a significant amount of violence every year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy had brought somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was shot with a .45-caliber gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got shot twice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It actually blew my leg off.

COOPER: We take care of them, and then they'll come back again.

My colleague said there's really nothing you can do in these situations. I knew that wasn't true, and I knew I could make a difference.

I'm Dr. Carnell Cooper. I'm saving lives by breaking the cycle of violence in Baltimore.

When they are here in the hospital, it represents an opportunity.

I want to talk to you about the violence intervention program.

Maybe for the first time, this individual says, "I almost died."

Are you interested?

Yes. OK. Good.

We say, look, we are going to help you get out of the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I was into shooting people, robbing. This group has changed my life tremendously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all got goals now. We know where we're going at.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A GED, job training, more support.

COOPER: You guys have all done great, and I'm very proud of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Cooper, he saved me.

COOPER: Every physician's goal is to save lives.

This is another step in that process. In my mind, it's what I should be doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Heroes are chosen from people you nominate at cnn.com/heroes. So forget about earth day, remember that? Tonight, Americans are observing earth hour. We'll tell you how.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Seems like just yesterday, we're reporting that the space shuttle "Discovery" was going up there, well, guess what? It's back on solid ground now. The shuttle landed today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It's been 13 days of a mission that included refurbishing the International Space Station so it can hold more astronauts.

Right now, it is earth hour in the Mountain Time Zone. Happy earth hour, everyone. This was New York City earlier tonight. The goal of earth hour is to turn off or at least dim all of the lights for 60 minutes. You guys didn't tell me you were going do that. It's a symbolic annual gesture to highlight the concern over climate change. I'm Don Lemon at Atlanta. I'll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00, 7:00, and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "LARRY KING LIVE" right now.