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Trump Threatens New Tariffs on China, Repeats Debunked Claim; Russian Spy Poisoning Update; Bollywood Star Appeals Prison Sentence; Former South Korean President's Verdict; How to Fix the U.S. Prison System. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired April 6, 2018 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: fears of a trade war are again front and center after Donald Trump threatens another $100 billion in tariffs against China.
Plus Russia warns the British government it is playing with fire over accusations of Kremlin poisoned its former spy.
And one of India's biggest Bollywood stars is promising to fight back after being sentenced to prison for animal poaching.
Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.
SESAY: We are turning to markets could in for a freaky Friday after Donald Trump's latest shot at potential trade war with China. Dow futures have been down sharply since the president released the statement late Thursday saying this.
"In light of China's unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate."
The U.S. and China have been threatening to impose new import taxes on each other all week. President Trump said they are a penalty for China's theft of intellectual property. Wall Street finished the day up 240 points but the U.S. markets look to be headed for a disappointing start right now. The Dow futures are down 1.8 percent the Nasdaq and the S&P futures are also pointing lower.
Let's take a look at how the markets in Asia are faring. The Shanghai Composite is closed today. Looking at the Nikkei, it is also down marginally. The Hong Kong Hang Seng is also -- that is actually up. Looking at trading in Seoul, that is down and the Australia S&P (INAUDIBLE) is marginally up.
Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is in Beijing and joins us now.
Ivan, the president has made his move, the consideration of a further $100 billion worth of tariffs against China. Question is not how will Beijing respond.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judging by the pattern of this week Beijing will probably come up with its own plan, its own threat of tariffs on about $100 billion worth of U.S. goods because that's the pattern we've seen thus far. This week has been remarkable if you look back at the beginning of the week, with China imposing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. goods in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
And then moving forward a couple days, where you have the U.S. imposing tariffs on $15 billion worth of Chinese goods, threatening to do that, China reciprocated in kind. So presumably China will go the next step as well.
These massive tariffs have not been applied yet, it's important to note. And just earlier this week, the White House was saying it could be months before they come into place. Both sides have been calling for negotiations to take place. But clearly the tension is ratcheting up. The threats are ratcheting up.
And what's interesting about this is if the U.S. goes through on these latest threats, that would be roughly 40 percent of Chinese exports to the U.S. that would face a 25 percent tariffs.
Now in retaliation, U.S. exports far less to China. So China would have to presumably find other avenues to try to punish the U.S. economically. And I'm sure they're probably drawing up plans.
However, it is a national holiday here in China so we're not likely to hear very much from Chinese officials today.
SESAY: I'm sure they will speak out soon. Ivan Watson joining us there from Beijing, we appreciate it much. Thank you.
Michael Genovese is the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.
Michael, good to have you here.
MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be here, thank you.
SESAY: A great deal to discuss. The world is watching this, this tit-for-tat at least the potential showdown if you will. The market are spooked. The president is on a completely different page. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You probably saw that for many years no president wanted to go against China economically. And we're going to do it. We're at a point where we had to do this. Our economy is strong. Our jobs are great. We're going to come out with numbers on Friday that hopefully will be fantastic numbers. Companies are doing really well and you have to go after the people that aren't treating you right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Michael, why is everything about this president framed in such way that makes you feel it's a knockdown drag out fight, even when a more sophisticated, more nuanced, more subtle approach could work better?
GENOVESE: Well, the president personalizes everything. Everything is about him, doing it to me. And if he's correct -- and I think he is -- that the economy is strong and all the economic indicators seem to be going in the right direction, why do you want to rock the boat?
Why do you want to shake things up?
I'm scared to death to look at my 401(k) because it's been like a roller coaster. And what he does matters. It has consequences. He's using the bully pulpit to be a bully. China is not going to be bullied and they've already demonstrated that.
Now as the report indicated, no real imposition of these tariffs has gone into effect yet. And so there's time and there's room. And you hope cooler heads prevail.
Would that be the Chinese?
Because Donald Trump has not exhibited that he's going to be a cooler head. If this is a great negotiating point, fine. But you are walking on a razor and things could really collapse very quickly.
SESAY: And one Republican senator basically summed that up and sounded the alarm bell. The Republican Senator Ben Sasse, this is what he said.
He said, "Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again. But if he's even half serious, this is nuts. He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire. Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this."
And when you what the president said on Thursday, he talks about the economy being strong and waiting for these numbers and they're in a good position, that's what he shares with that audience there in West Virginia.
What he doesn't say is China does possess the means to harm, hurt American consumers, manufacturers and farmers.
GENOVESE: You think he's taking that into consideration. You hope he does take it into consideration but you always know with Donald Trump he can be played. He can be manipulated. And he is perfectly correct. IP and a lot of other problems with China is imposing on us. They're not playing fairly.
But do you have to take a sledgehammer to every problem?
If the only thing you know is the hammer than every problem is a nail and that's all Donald Trump knows. He is not nuanced. He is not sophisticated. He is not well-versed in policy. So what he knows is to use the bully pulpit, to be a puppet and to take a hammer and hit people over the head with it.
The Chinese are not going to put up with it.
SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) these words.
The president has been on a tear and that he continued on Thursday, repeating a host of debunked claims that he has said time and time again. I want you to take a listen to what he had to say about voting in California.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: In many places like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that. They always like to say, oh, that's a conspiracy theory. Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Would you like to take a stab at trying to figure out what he is trying to do, achieve, what the message is?
GENOVESE: Well, he's clearly unhinged in that comment, I mean, millions and millions of people, that's absurd. Normal people don't say things like that. A president shouldn't say things like that. And when he says things like that, people begin to question his judgment, his temperament, even his sanity. That's not what normal people say, millions of people, it's absurd.
And he's being absurd. Who is he playing to?
I don't think even his base believes that.
SESAY: It is interesting because I think about coming from a part of the world where our elections are constantly questioned in terms of their fairness, their transparency and to have the United States, their elections -- he's basically putting the U.S. in the same boat as a number of other places in the world, which is just not what the world is accustomed to hearing.
GENOVESE: Well, he did it during the campaign, when he thought he was going to lose and he said he was going to -- he might challenge the vote. And he did it afterwards about how, no, he really won the popular vote. Again, it's all about him, everything has to be spot and shiny and beautiful for him and if it's not, he simply changes history.
Well, it's OK for your uncle in the back room to change history. But when the president does, it has consequences. Other nations look to us as a beacon. We're not a beacon right now. Other nations look to us to lead. But when we're bashing the free press and we're undermining democratic elections, it undermines the press. It undermines elections. It undermines democracy.
The president doesn't care that this has consequences, it's all about him.
SESAY: The president also had some comment to make, comments again that he kicked his entire campaign with, about people trying to cross the border. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower. When I opened, everybody said, oh, he was so tough and --
TRUMP: I used the word rape. And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don't want to mention that. So we have to change our laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: What does that even mean?
It's what I think when I hear that. But also his use of rape is to evoke a certain kind of fear.
GENOVESE: You hit it on the nose, fear. What fear does is it stops the rational thinking process. When fear dominates, you don't think through, you don't think of the consequences. You don't think about the options. Fear is a great mind closer. And if he can get you to be afraid -- and the statement was completely absurd -- more rapes than have ever -- you know, those kinds of excessive statements which are just not true.
The caravans are for a purpose, to prevent violence. The caravans happen every year. It's part of the Way of the Cross, which is a Catholic -- especially in Central America and Mexico -- it's a way of life there.
And so this is a solution in search of a problem. Let's militarize the border. It makes him feel tough. It makes him feel manly. It's completely absurd and it's counterproductive and the caravans will fizzle out. They always do unless you provoke them.
And if you want to provoke them, we've had a history of that. President Polk provoked a war in Mexico because of tampering with the border and militarizing the border. I don't know what Trump's end game is.
SESAY: This gathering in the West Virginia was actually supposed to focus on tax reform. You would never know that, to be honest. If you were to listen to the president, in fact, take a listen because he had remarks but take a listen to his feelings about what he was supposed to be saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes but the hell with it. That would have been a little boring, a little boring. Now I'm reading off the first paragraph. I said, this is boring, come on. We have -- we have to say, tell it like it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: He threw out those remarks, which were for this event on tax reform, this tax event. Tax reform or the benefits of tax reform are meant to be the central plank for Republicans trying hold onto the House and Senate in November.
If their own president can't stay on message, if you're running in November, what are you thinking?
GENOVESE: He is the showman in chief. And you saw -- it's great TV. It's funny. Oh, he's just playing around. He is the center of attention. But he so easily gets off message and that's been history of his presidency. And so many Republicans in Congress say, stay on message.
The message might work for us. Tax cuts might work. But every time he starts to talk about message, it becomes some game and he has to throw out all kinds of extreme statements and he loses track of his central focus and his central purpose.
You can't govern that way and he's demonstrated that you keep on stepping on your own feet. You end up messing up policy.
SESAY: Michael Genovese, we thank you.
GENOVESE: Thank you.
SESAY: Moving on, Moscow's ambassador to the United Nations says blaming Russia for a nerve agent attack in the U.K. is a, quote, "fake story." It made the claim Thursday at a U.N. Security Council meeting and warned the British government it was playing with fire in making the accusation.
Despite Kremlin denials of involvement, U.K. officials repeatedly believe they know which Russian lab made the nerve agent. Meanwhile former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal remains in critical but stable condition. His daughter, however, is recovering and has made her first public statement. We get more now from CNN's Matthew Chance.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the first statements from Yulia Skripal, now awake after surviving the nerve agent attack meant to kill her and her father, Sergei, in Salisbury, England, last month.
"I woke up over a week ago now and I'm glad to say my strength is growing daily," she wrote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).
CHANCE (voice-over): Yulia's cousin claims she recorded this unauthenticated phone call with Skripal on Wednesday and handed over the audio to Russian state television.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).
CHANCE (voice-over): The call has not been confirmed by CNN but in it, an update on Yulia's father.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).
CHANCE (voice-over): The former Russian spy remains in critical condition as an emboldened Kremlin called a U.N. Security Council meeting today, rejecting all blame.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Ladies and gentlemen, I don't even know what to say about this. It's some sort of theater of the absurd.
CHANCE (voice-over): Russia's anger has been fueled by the British government's allegation that the weapons grade nerve agent used in the attack was made in Russia. (INAUDIBLE) has tweeted the same conclusion but quickly deleted it.
CHANCE (voice-over): Scientists who examined the nerve agent say they never identified the source. Soon, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman took to Facebook.
"The U.K. now has its own test tube of shame," she says, liars."
Britain stands by its assessment but Russian officials say that the allegations were fabricated, designed to discredit Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The so-called Skripal case became a pretext, an imaginary or staged one for a groundless mass expulsion of Russian diplomats not only from the U.S. and Britain but also from a number of other states.
CHANCE (voice-over): Foreign minister spoke as 60 expelled American diplomats departed Moscow, part of a tit-for-tat response by Russia. As relations between the Kremlin and the West worsen, the Trump administration is also threatening to sanction Russian oligarchs coming to the U.S. over their involvement in the American presidential election.
As for the Skripals, Russia's ambassador to the U.K. was all smiles today at news of Yulia's survival, even offering an invitation home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really happy and I wish you that one day Yulia will come back to Moscow, where she has job, (INAUDIBLE).
CHANCE (voice-over): -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
SESAY: Well, as we just saw, the front office deleted a tweet that blamed Russia for the poison attack. It was a serious misstep by U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Chemical weapons experts in the U.K. had not identified the nerve agent as Russian in origin.
CNN contributor Jill Dougherty joins us from Seattle, Washington. She's a former Moscow bureau chief at CNN.
Jill, always great to have you with us. Misstatements from British officials opening the door for the Russian ambassador to the U.N. to say this at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Couldn't you come up with a better fake story? We have told our British colleagues that you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry.
Your politicians never thought about all this, did they?
They had no idea that their sense -- that their hyped-up statements might boomerang and hit them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Jill, how are you reading those comments about the U.K. being sorry?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the Russians have upped the ante at this point. They initially denied and they continued to deny. But they've gotten more strident in the way they're doing that.
And I think at this point, you know, you're going to be sorry is really kind of a scary threat, what could it be?
Certainly they're not going to use nuclear weapons and attack. But they can retaliate in different ways. Right after, just a few days ago, the Russians were carrying some exercises right at the border of Latvia. So you have -- there are different ways you know that they can respond, not quite clear but they obviously are pushing it. They are not pulling back at all. They're pushing it right up to the wall.
SESAY: They are pushing it. The U.K. ambassador to the United Nations is also pushing back. Karen Pierce (ph) was equally forceful in her response. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN PIERCE (PH), U.K. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We can't ignore what has happened in Salisbury. We cannot ignore Russia turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and in Salisbury. And we cannot ignore the way that Russia seeks to undermine the international institutions which have kept us safe since the end of the Second World War.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Forceful, direct, laying the charge at Russia. But Jill, from where you sit, when you take into account what the British Foreign Secretary said in that interview that kicked off this retraction of statements about knowing where the chemical agent was made and the front office having to basically withdraw the tweet, how bad a misstep is this on the part of the British?
Have they dented their credibility here in their case about the Russians being responsible?
DOUGHERTY: I think they have. It depends to what degree. I wouldn't want to put a percentage on it. But Russia would certainly jump on anything that they can exploit to show that this is all (INAUDIBLE) and crazy and as they called it today, theater of the absurd.
But I think the thing that really is worrying Russia right now is what it is going to probably happen in the United States, already seems to be happening, which is the U.S. government now, the investigators putting -- Mueller's investigators putting the squeeze on Russian so- called oligarchs.
And this type of financial movement by the United States, where you begin to squeeze people who are very rich --
DOUGHERTY: -- who are friends of President Putin gets serious. Russia can't retaliate in tit-for-tat. Isha, think of just the past couple of weeks. You've had expulsions of diplomats right and left, 60 here, 150 total, et cetera.
Russia can play that game. But Russia does not control the international financial system. And so when this threat is out there, I think it makes Russia very nervous. And that's why the -- also the British had been doing some of that, too, saying that they might have to look at investments and property and bringing money from Russia into the U.K., making that more transparent.
These are things that really do worry Russia and the obvious intent is to get as close to President Putin with these so-called oligarchs, which the Russians would say are business men, close to Putin as you possibly can.
SESAY: And with that being said, with Russia's growing nervousness, with them becoming more strident, what are you seeing in Russian media?
DOUGHERTY: Well, they're very -- they're furious. So there is a lot of anger but then there's also a lot of ridicule. You know, just a few days they were saying, well, perhaps Mr. Skripal, the former spy, was killed with kasha, with porridge, you know.
So there is a lot of mockery, ridiculous, saying this is so totally ridiculous it doesn't even bear answering. There are different ways -- Russia has used this consistently. Sometimes it will deny that something happened. Sometimes it will strike back and say prove it, which they've done. There is a lot mockery. That is definitely a tool.
And then I think also you take it to the threat. And that's where we are right now. You will be sorry for doing this. The threat is not defined yet.
SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) on edge. Jill Dougherty, joining us there from Seattle, always appreciate it. Jill, thank you.
Quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., Salman Khan is known for playing a police officer on screen. In real life, he's fighting to stay out of prison. The latest on the Bollywood star's conviction -- ahead.
Plus Republicans and Democrats agree the U.S. prison system needs to be change but how to do that is the question. I'll ask a criminal justice reform advocate his thoughts on the issue.
SESAY: In India, one of Bollywood's biggest stars could spend the next five years in prison. Actor Salman Khan was sentenced for killing protected rare antelope in 1998. A higher court is set to hear his appeal.
SESAY: For more, journalist Liz Neisloss joins us now from New Delhi.
Liz, handing down of the sentence seemed to shock Salman Khan's team and the Indian public, which has really kind of become accustomed to this notion of the rich and famous really are kind of above the law.
LIZ NEISLOSS, JOURNALIST: I think that's certainly true. The rich and famous, whether in Bollywood or in the case of India, many business people, the super rich, do seem to the public to be above the law.
They have influence and they obviously have the money to keep legal battles going through the court system, potentially for years.
SESAY: To be clear, though, this isn't Salman Khan's first brush with the law and negative publicity.
NEISLOSS: No, not at all. He is a star with an enormous fan base. And he really has a reputation for being a big, muscular hunk of a guy. He has what some describe as two sides of his personality. One is a very generous, charitable side; he has his own foundation. He has done work for children with cancer.
But he also has a reputation for violent outbursts. Girlfriends have come out, talking about abuse. And then just recently, he was acquitted of a hit-and-run case. He was accused of killing a homeless man with his car. He was acquitted in that case.
But this is a man who is really no stranger to negative publicity.
SESAY: That being said, as he is no stranger to negative publicity, where we find ourselves now and this sentencing, is his fan base standing by him?
NEISLOSS: Absolutely, absolutely. His fans have gathered outside his home in Mumbai. There's sure to be fans gathering near the court. There was a story in the paper, local papers here just days ago; a 15- year-old girl ran away from her home in a neighboring state from a village. She scaled a wall just to get to Salman Khan's house. Now this was before the sentencing but it really, I think, is an indicator of how strong his hold is on many of his fans.
SESAY: We shall see what happens next. He is appealing the sentence. let's see how the Indian courts work. Liz Neisloss in New Delhi, we appreciate it. Thank you.
Next on NEWSROOM L.A., we're awaiting the verdict in the corruption and bribery trial of the former South Korean president. Stay with us.
SESAY (voice-over): Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour:
SESAY: A South Korean court is expected to deliver its verdict next hour in the corruption and bribery trial of former president Park Geun-hye. She has denied any wrongdoing but accusations led to her ouster last year.
If Park is found guilty, she could face up to 30 years in prison and a hefty fine. Our Paula Hancocks joins us from Seoul with all the details.
Paula, set the scene for us. I see you're outside the court.
What is happening?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isha, this is the court where, in just over half an hour, the judges will come in and start reading out their verdict and their sentencing for the former president.
It could take up to a couple of hours we're being told because they're going through every single one of the charges, 18 in all, things like bribery, abuse of power, embezzlement.
So certainly it will take some time to get through those charges. But prosecutors have asked for 30 years of prison term for the former president. We'll have to see exactly what she gets.
But this is the scene outside the court. There's certainly some very vocal protesters as you can hear. This is the pro-Park contingent. There's probably a couple of hundred there at the moment. They're very vocal.
But they believe that Park Geun-hye has been unfairly accused. Park Geun-hye herself also denies all the charges against her. But this is the minority in South Korea. There are many more people who believe that justice should be done in this landmark corruption case.
And for the first time ever, it's actually going to be shown live on television. The judges decided that it was in the national interest. So for the first time a lower court sentencing will actually be broadcast live around the country -- Isha.
SESAY: I know that Park Geun-hye's legal team tried to fight that but it is going ahead. Paula Hancocks joining us there from Seoul, we appreciate it, thank you.
We're going to take very quick break here on NEWSROOM L.A. From Obama to Trump, we'll dive into how the U.S. prison system has changed in just a few years and how those changes are affecting the convicted.
SESAY: New York police say ultimate fighting style Conor McGregor has turned himself in for questioning after an altercation in Brooklyn. UFC president Dana White (ph) says McGregor and his entourage attacked a tour bus Thursday, throwing trashcans and metal barricades and a hand truck.
Two of the fighters on board were hurt and deemed unfit to fight Saturday. [00:35:00]
SESAY: White says McGregor had some sort of disagreement with an athlete on the bus. Police say charges are pending.
Well, when former U.S. president Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, he promised to make prison reform a priority, a system that disproportionately imprisons people of color.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that even as we imprison more people of all races than any nation in the world, an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.
A growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, detained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: President Obama made it his goal to keep this conversation going in hopes to arrive at some legislative victory. In the end he was the first sitting president to ever visit a federal prison. He commuted more sentences than any other president in U.S. history and he also issued an order to fade out the use of private prisons.
But things are starting to look a little different now. Donald Trump won the presidency and the new administration immediately began to roll back these Obama-era measures. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued this memo shortly after the inauguration and called for the reinstatement of private prisons that critics say are inefficient and inhumane.
Dozens of senators even sponsored a bill to ease drug laws and sentences that have historically resulted in nonviolent offenders spending lengthy time behind bars. But the White House pushed it to the side.
Last week, "The New York Times" reported Mr. Sessions excoriated the bill, predicting it would reduce sentences for a highly dangerous cohort of criminals, including repeat dangerous drug traffickers and those who use firearms.
But let's try and connect the dots and try and figure out what's really going on with this administration and really how they view the whole issue of prison reform. Joining me now to talk about all this is criminal justice reformer advocate Shaka Senghor. He's the director of Innovation and Strategy at #Cut50 and "The New York Times" best-selling author for his memoir, "Righting My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison."
SHAKA SENGHOR, AUTHOR: Thank you so much for having me.
SESAY: You're so welcome. It's great to have you with us.
You were in prison for 19 years.
Can you tell us what you were convicted of, what you did that led to you being incarcerated for all that time?
SENGHOR: Yes, so around one month it's my 19th birthday, I was convicted of second degree homicide, which occurred 17 months after I had got my last shot (ph). I was sentenced to 17 to 40 years in prison. I ended up serving 19 years in prison, seven of that in solitary confinement.
SESAY: Seven years?
SESAY: Solitary confinement.
Can you tell us what that is like, what that does to a human being?
SENGHOR: They say that most people begin to deteriorate within 30 days of being in solitary confinement. It's essentially torture; 23- hour lockdown, five days a week, 24 hour-lockdown. The other two days out of the week the level of illness in there is unimaginable.
And so you put somebody in that environment for that length of time, there can only be one intention behind what the designated outcome is to be and that really to torture a person.
SESAY: How do you -- how did you hold onto who you are and not lose yourself in the system?
SENGHOR: I was really fortunate. I had some amazing, incredible mentors, men who are currently dying in prison. These men, they gave me books. And I was literate. I was one of the minority who actually went into the prison literate. And so I had an opportunity to be able to read and keep my mind sharp and focused and read the stories of other people who had been through adversity and hardship, really kept me grounded in the reality that I could come out on the other side of that.
SESAY: You found books, you found education, you found enriching and expanding your mind. So when you hear that this administration, one of the things that they have done almost immediately is cuts thousands of jobs in prisons, which is affecting education programs.
Talk to me about what that says to you. Talk to me about the impact on those other men that you know are in prison right now and other young men going into prison.
SENGHOR: It's horrifying. It's horrifying to think that we live in a world where torture and punishment is utilized as a means to correct behavior. And in reality, what people really need is treatment and rehabilitation.
We all want safe communities and the road to safe communities is assuring that people have a skillset, they have the nurturing, the counseling that's necessary for them to return to the community healthy and whole.
And so when I hear that, all I can think about is what do people expect to come back?
You can't beat people, you can't dehumanize and degrade people and then ask them to come out and play nicely.
[00:40:00] SENGHOR: Again, I was fortunate. I had incredible mentors and I had the ability to read. So I was able to self correct and I was able to heal myself. But the reality is this doesn't happen often because all of the programs were stripped from prison. In '96, I was going -- I think it was '94-'96, I was going -- I was taking college. I was averaging a 4.0 when they stripped all the programs.
And so in that moment, I saw other men saying, wow, here it is; we're on this positive path and I was taken away.
What are we going to do when we return to society?
And I see a lot of them struggling. That's one of the reasons I do the work that I do, because I'm trying to provide resources and access to housing and employment for men and women who are coming home, who have been basically left out of the circle of society.
SESAY: You as part of your research into what prison, how much better prisons could be or, better yet, how they could better serve the (INAUDIBLE) you went to Germany.
SESAY: Tell me about that and what you took away from that when you get a perspective on what's happening there and here.
SENGHOR: When I went to Germany, I went over there with all the biases as one can imagine, understanding the history of Germany. And I thought that the prison system would be barbaric inhumane, dehumanizing. And when I got over there, it blew my mind, that the way that they treated the men and women inside were as if this was just a cousin or a brother or uncle or aunt who had run afoul and that they had to wrap their arms around them in order to make sure that they came home healthy and whole.
I had a conversation with a warden over there and I told her how much time I served in solitary confinement. And she said we would never do that to one of our citizens. And when she said that, like her eyes welled up and she was tearful.
And it made me think about the disconnect we have over here. The reason it is so easy to punish is because black and brown men and women are not seen as equal citizens in this country.
And when you see people as your fellow citizen, who may have made a mistake, then you realize that your responsibility as a fellow citizen is to help that person. When you don't have that connection, then it is easy to say, oh, just put us in and throw away the key.
But now we're in a different space where we have this opioid crisis, that's impacting segments of society that hasn't been the norm in the past. And now there's this call for rehab. There's this call for treatment. And even with that, there's still this vicious idea of hurting people. And we know that hurt people hurt people.
SESAY: I know that you subscribe to the line that Brian Stephenson (ph), the activist, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, who serves marginalized communities, is on death row. And you have been quoted as saying also, we are more than the worst deed we've ever committed.
SESAY: Why is it important for people to understand that, even if you murdered something, someone, you are not just a murderer?
SENGHOR: The reality is a lot of times we look at a singular act without understanding the holistic reasoning behind why these things continue to occur. In addition to working on criminal justice reform, I also work in highly volatile communities that are -- been devastated by gun violence.
And what I've found is that if you get to the root causes and you start dealing with the early childhood trauma, adverse childhood experiences, you know, you begin to understand that these singular acts are not born in a vacuum, that there are circumstances and environmental factors that are contributing to them.
And we recognize that the brain of a 19-year old is not the same as a 40-year old. But they have to have this treatment. They have to have the rehabilitative resources. They have to have people that really say, you know what, we're willing to fight for you because we believe in you and we're not going to throw you away and disregard you, which is what we do in this country all too often.
SESAY: I could talk to you for hours and sadly we're out of time. Shaka Senghor, thank you.
SENGHOR: Thank you so much for having me.
SESAY: Thank you.
You have been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. "WORLD SPORT" starts after the break.