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New Documentary Examines Attica Riot; President Biden's First Year; Interview With "Attica" Director Stanley Nelson; Interview With "Attica" Co-Director and Producer Traci Curry; Interview With "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fright For Fairness" Author Laura Coates. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired January 19, 2022 - 13:00   ET




Here's what's coming up.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Since the promise of his inauguration, we take stock of President Biden's first year in office with former Pentagon adviser Kori

Schake and political analyst Abby Phillip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted to use those weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Put your hands in there, and you will not be harmed."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "You will not be harmed."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "You will not be harmed."

AMANPOUR: The deadliest prison right in American history, Attica. You might know the name, but you have never seen the full story and what this shear

inhumanity says about structural injustice today. The film's world-renowned director, Stanley Nelson, and producer Traci Curry join me.


LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: When you are within the system, you will see just how impactful race and bias truly is on the day-to-day

operations of the justice system.

AMANPOUR: "Just Pursuit." Former federal prosecutor Laura Coates speaks to Michel Martin about trying to change the justice system from within.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

On the eve of President Biden's one-year anniversary, perhaps diplomacy is not dead. That is how a senior State Department official put it as the U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, agreed to meet in Geneva on Friday.

During his visit to Kiev on Wednesday, Blinken said that Russia could attack Ukraine -- quote -- "on very short notice." But Russia's chief

negotiator and deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, seemed to step back from the brink.


SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: We do not want and will not take any action of aggressive character. We will not attack, strike,

"invade" -- quote, unquote -- whatever, Ukraine.


AMANPOUR: So, the crisis on the Ukraine border is just one of many challenges on President Biden's plate, as he prepares to mark his first

year in office, from COVID, to climate, to voting rights to Afghanistan.

A lot hasn't gone his way, but then a lot has.

Let's assess his standing with Kori Schake, former Pentagon policy adviser, and political correspondent and analyst Abby Phillip.

Welcome, both of you, to the program.

Kori Schake, you have followed these international crises very, very closely. To me, the Russian deputy foreign minister's statement seemed to

be definitive: We will not invade. We will not take aggressive action against Ukraine.

What do you make of it?


And he is the official government representative. And so, if the Russians do now invade Ukraine, it will facilitate organizing countries to come to

Ukraine's support and to penalize Russia. So, I think it's a very promising development.

AMANPOUR: And, particularly -- obviously, the Russians have said this over and again. Putin said it. We're not going to do it. We're not going to do

it. But they're building up these troops.

But this does come after this week of talks, which everybody said went nowhere, and the Russians saying, we have come to a dead end, we have got

nothing to talk about. Then, all of a sudden, the top diplomats are meeting again in Geneva.

So it does look like diplomacy is making some headway as of this moment, Kori?

SCHAKE: I agree.

I think the Biden administration has handled this very well. They were early to identify the signs of Russian mobilization and troops massing.

They shared the intelligence with NATO allies and with the Ukrainians. They organized NATO allies into a common front and got a strong set of economic


Ordinarily, I wouldn't favor ruling out the use of military force. But after the Biden administration's debacle in Afghanistan, I think it

wouldn't have been credible anyway. So that limited the risk of upward escalation and assisted in bringing other NATO allies on board.


The thing that Vladimir Putin should take away from the last month of threats Russia has been posing is just how well the Western countries have

held together and kept a common line that they will not be a party to creating a Russian sphere of influence that crushes the sovereignty of

other countries.

AMANPOUR: Really interesting, and as we stand on this brink right now.

Abby, I want to play a little portion of President Biden's inaugural speech, when he's talking about standing up for democracy vs. autocracy.

Let's just pay this little bit.


BIDEN: That's all I'm asking, that we do our part, all of us. If we do that, we will meet the central challenge of the age by proving that

democracy is durable and strong.

Autocrats will not win the future. We will. America will. And the future belongs to America.


AMANPOUR: So, Abby, of course, that was the first State of the Union.

Let me ask you, though, how do you think that central mission that he outlined on that platform there and also in -- during the inauguration, how

do you think he's meeting that promise, not just abroad, but also with the terrible challenge to democracy in the United States itself?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think it really does start at home.

It's hard to have credibility on that very lofty mission if, at home, there is effectively dysfunction. And what Biden is facing right now is that a

combination of economic anxiety over inflation and what comes next, in the midst of this COVID pandemic that seems never-ending is making it very

difficult for the United States to have a confident footing on the world stage from an economic perspective.

And then, secondly, the dysfunction in Washington continues. It was there when he was elected. He said that there was an opportunity for the country

to work together on common problems. And that has really not happened on many things.

Democrats are still stuck trying to get a lot of their priorities through. And Republicans are not budging at all. So, for Biden, I think it's a big

question mark. He can't pivot to the world stage effectively if his domestic standing is as weak as it is.

And I think, on top of that, you heard Kori talking about the debacle in Afghanistan. That still hovers over everything. I think it's had a lot to

do with an erosion of confidence in this president, both domestically and abroad.

AMANPOUR: And would you say, Abby, that -- there are many challenges we're going to get to, there are many promises, and we will get to some of these.

But the idea of the American president or the United States potentially seeing a congressional rollback, a setback, certainly in the Senate, of key

voting rights legislation is obviously bad for the home front, but doesn't give America itself credibility when it's trying to push democracy abroad.


PHILLIP: Yes, there is a huge problem in this country, which is a wholesale effort at the state level to push anti-democratic laws that undermine

voting rights.

Much of it is born out of the January 6 insurrection and the lies about the 2020 election. And Democrats are trying to deal with that by passing voter

-- voting rights legislation that is unlikely to go anywhere in Washington.

And so the options that are available to them is to either pare back in Washington or work to combat these laws at the state-by-state level. And I

think, so far, they have not had a huge amount of luck in combating these laws going into place.

And so it's a real question what is happening at the state level and how that undermines American democracy in the long term. And, frankly, here in

Washington, where we are, there are attempts to deal with it, but there's not enough political capital to deal with it.

And, as a result, I think it's not going to get -- these bills that they're considering -- there's a vote just today. It's not going to go anywhere


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you both.

I'm going to ask you, Kori, in terms of what the rest of the world -- how it views America under these current circumstances. Our colleague Jeff

Zeleny wrote a big analysis piece of Biden's first year, but he also points out the things that have gone right.

Let me just list a few.

"The 12 months Biden has been in office did come with major victories, successfully guiding passage of trillions of new funding to combat the

COVID pandemic, rebuild American crumbling infrastructure, pushing that through Congress. He's appointed more federal judges than his recent

predecessors, overseen a boom in hiring, a drop in poverty, and orchestrated a nationwide vaccination campaign."


Kori Schake, those are real achievements, despite some of the setbacks, as we have been talking about.

I guess what I'm trying to ask you is, how do allies and adversaries look at America when the president can't seem to get his poll numbers up,

despite this good news, can't -- there's a sort of an air of malaise in the United States?

What does it signal to a very difficult and challenging world?

SCHAKE: Well, I think other countries look at the United States and worry about the vibrancy of our democracy.

And they also worry about the competence of the Biden administration. I mean, just to take China policy, the Biden administration has been right to

continue the emphasis on getting China right, but they haven't been able to identify a trade and economic policy that's more than American


And that's not a way to do reduce reliance of other countries on China as an economic force in Asia and beyond. So, they don't seem to be able to

make the pieces work together.

Afghanistan, as Abby rightly pointed out, strongly affects allies' attitudes, as does the sort of hubris of the Biden administration crowing

about America being back, but then not listening to allied concerns about Afghanistan, for example.

So allies are quite relieved about the coordination of policy towards Russia, but very worried about the incapacity to have the pieces of

strategy working together on China and the genuine inattention to allied concerns on a lot of other issues.

And so I do think, even though President Biden has had important successes, that allies want predictability. They want us to solve our problems, and

they want us to share their problems. And the Biden administration hasn't done enough yet.

But it will also take a couple of American administrations, after the upheaval of the Trump administration and January 6, for allies to really

feel confident that the United States has -- is grounded.

AMANPOUR: We will come back to some of that in a moment.

But I want to ask a similar question to Abby.

With the successes, even the economy -- I know that the inflation is a major problem right now. But in terms of employment, in terms of all the

other things I listed, there's a lot better than there had been before he came into office.

And yet his polls are down, and, again, this idea of malaise, of Americans not being able to absorb the things that are actually going right, lifting

so many children out of poverty, for instance, with one of those big bills that he paused.

How do you assess the reality of what's happening, and how it's not seeming to impact his popularity, or in a negative way, with the people?

PHILLIP: That is a real frustration when you talk to Biden officials is that they feel like they have done so much, and yet they're not getting

enough credit for it.

The problem for them is that early successes don't necessarily stick around in people's minds forever. When we ask the question, when pollsters ask the

question about people's view of the future, what they say is that they believe the trajectory of where America is headed is in the wrong

direction. And that is where Biden is getting hurt.

The problem at the moment is that they needed to maintain and sustain some of their successes over time, and they haven't been able to. They dropped

the ball on this latest COVID surge and acknowledged that they didn't anticipate that there would be yet another variant that would require them

to be ready. And they just weren't ready.

And so the American public is looking at that. They're asking the basic question, is this administration competent? And the Biden administration

hasn't gotten a good answer to them yet. Right now, American families are concerned about the future. They're worried about the trajectory of their

household, being able to pay their bills, deal with inflation, send their kids to school.

And the Biden administration is behind the eight ball in getting ahead of those concerns. They're sort of dealing with them kind of after the fact,

when people have already expressed that frustration.

AMANPOUR: And, Kori, it's unusual for the American people to -- I guess to judge their president on foreign policy issues.

But when the Afghan debacle took place in the summer, it really did affect the way even the American people looked at him, much less the way the rest

of the world looked at.


It is a disaster, and the humanitarian crisis looming there is just one of the worst in the world right now. People are on the brink of famine. The

Taliban have absolutely reverted to type. And there's no such thing as a 2.0. It's exactly the same Taliban, same policies as before.

So that's a crisis. You have talked about that.

On the other hand, President Biden has gone back into the climate accord that Trump pulled the U.S. out of, trying to get back into the Iran nuclear

accord that Trump pulled the U.S. out of, with pretty disastrous results.

Are you, as a foreign policy analyst, encouraged by that and the trajectory that that will put the U.S. and the Western alliance back on to?

SCHAKE: I am. I'm encouraged by several things.

I'm encouraged by the Biden administration and the American public's administration -- the American public's attitudes towards alliances, right?

Both the public and the administration understand that the United States is stronger in the world when we are working in cooperation with like-minded

countries, countries that, in some instances, share our values.

Countries in other interests -- instances share our interests in solving problems. The Biden administration has done a good job on that. They have

done a terrific job, for example, in strengthening the quadrilateral cooperation between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States, and in

moving it beyond simply defense cooperation to work on vaccine dissemination, for example, something that Asian countries in particular

are very concerned about.

They have done a terrific job at anchoring Australia in support with the U.K. and the U.S. for the defense of Australia. They have done a very good

job in stitching together cooperation, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

Where they can't seem to find their -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

AMANPOUR: Well, no, I was actually going to say, because we have got a little bit of time left before I turn to Abby for her concluding thought,

what would you say is the most important thing for the Biden administration, Kori, on the international stage over the next 12 months?

SCHAKE: I think two things.

First, they have failed to really make a dent in international vaccine distribution. And that ought to be the way that they are working American

factories, sharing American technology, and helping other people get the vaccines that will break the back of the pandemic and show the United

States in a great light.

The second thing they're failing to do is come up with a trade policy that will help allies band together and reduce their reliance on China. Those

two things are going to be really important in the coming year.

AMANPOUR: And, Abby, President Biden openly says and admits and -- well, when I say admits, acknowledges getting into office on -- with the great

help of African-Americans, whether it was as the Democratic candidate and then as president.

And this is what he said about racial injustice during his inauguration.


BIDEN: Especially those moments, and especially those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African-American community stood up

again for me.


BIDEN: You always had my back. And I will have yours.


AMANPOUR: I keep wanting to tell -- to say that he's saying all these things at the inauguration, but, of course, that was when he won, November


But, hey, we're in a very bad place in the U.S. on this issue right now. We have talked a little bit about the voting rights legislation, which you

said is probably dead for the moment.

What do you think he has to do and this administration has to do to reset for the next year, particularly with the midterms coming up?


I'm so glad that you played that clip, Christiane, because I actually recently have had a lot of conversations with Democrats about that promise

that Joe Biden made and what it really means to the voters who put him in office.

And it's already, I think, too late to relitigate the strategy on voting rights. I think that is unlikely to resolve itself favorably anytime soon.

But the question is, what does Joe Biden owe to the voters who put him in office?

And I think it's actually the same thing for black voters as it is for many other voters. They care about jobs. They care about economic security. They

care about health care. They care about child care. They care about their kids' education in this COVID crisis.

And so the Biden administration, it seems, really needs to find a way to refocus back on those kitchen table issues, because those are the very same

issues that black voters want addressed and want relief targeted at the people who in some cases in this pandemic have been hurt the most.


One of the things to look for, Christiane, is going to be how the Biden administration deals with this other big bill, the Build Back Better bill

that has been stalled because the moderates believe it is too big, it's too expensive.

And how they can potentially carve that up to target relief on some of the issues that matter to Democratic constituents is going to be the single

most important thing that the Biden administration can accomplish in the next few months that can help Democrats going into this next midterm


AMANPOUR: Really fascinating.

Thank you for your observations and your analysis, Abby Phillip and Kori Schake. Thank you so much, indeed.

And turning now to a powerful documentary that has been short-listed for the Oscars. "Attica," from Emmy Award-winning director Stanley Nelson and

co-directed with Traci Curry, tells the true story of the deadliest prison uprising in U.S. history. Fifty years ago, prisoners seize control of the

Attica jail in Upstate New York, taking several hostages.

When negotiations failed, state troopers retook control, and they killed 10 hostages and 29 inmates. The images are shocking. And some of the footage

has never been seen before.

Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry are joining me now.

Thank you both for being here. That film is so powerful. It's -- you just don't know what to say or where to put yourself at the end of that two

hours. It is just extraordinary.

Stanley, can I ask you first, Mr. Nelson, to just put us into context of where the nation was when that prison uprising happened? What was it that

led the prisoners to think that they could demand basic human conditions for themselves in America at that time?

STANLEY NELSON, DIRECTOR, "ATTICA": Yes, that's a great question, because, in a way, America was at a crossroads. This was 1971. We're just coming out

of the '60s.

In prisons, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords are really starting to take hold. But, on the other hand, Richard Nixon is president. And he's

elected on a law and order ticket. So, really, in a lot of ways, Attica is a mix of those two things, one, the sense of rebellion and change that was

happening, continued happening from the 1960s, but also this new push for law and order that was coming from the presidency on down.

AMANPOUR: Stanley Nelson, you have done a lot of work documenting black history in America in all its different avenues.

Did you know the full story of Attica at the time or shortly afterwards? What -- how long did it take you to figure out that there was so much that

wasn't known and that you wanted to put this together?

NELSON: Yes, I was about 20 years old or so, and -- when Attica happened in '71.

I knew what most of the public or some of the public knew. I mean, I didn't know the details. I think, really, nobody knew. Nobody knew why -- in the

general public, why the prisoners rebelled, and nobody knew why law enforcement came in into a situation where 40 people were killed.

So I knew some, but I didn't know all. I had thought about making a film on Attica for probably 20 or 30 years, because I thought that it was a story

that hadn't been told. And it said so much about America, not only the prison system, but race, the power of the state against people who rebel,

and said so many things.

AMANPOUR: Traci Curry, what did you know about it before coming on to this project? What attracted you to this particular project?

TRACI CURRY, CO-DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "ATTICA": I didn't know very much about it, to be honest. I -- what happened at Attica happened well before I

was born.

And so, when Stanley approached me about working on this film, I started to do a lot of research and reading. I think, initially, I knew what I think

most folks know when they hear Attica, which is the line from the "Dog Day Afternoon" film.

And I wondered, what was it that was so resonant about this event that it could evoke all of these emotions in that scene? And so, when I began

reading and seeing that this was a story where we are talking about the state of New York killing 39 American citizens, this is something that a

civilian commission that investigated Attica called the single deadliest day of state violence against American people outside of the Civil War and

the killings of indigenous people.

And so many people don't know about it. So, once I realized that, it was just something that I had to work on, and really am happy that we have been

able to tell the story.

AMANPOUR: So, that's -- the inclusion is the killing and the brutality that happened at the end of this.


It began some five days earlier, more or less, four or five days earlier, with inmates basically taking the keys to the main blocks of one of the

prison guards, and his name was William Quinn. Then they all came out and they decided to use this opportunity to make their demands.

I'm going to play a sound bite from one of the inmates in your film about what they wanted, what this was all about to begin with.


ALHAJJI SHARIF, FORMER INMATE: I knew this wasn't going to last forever.

I knew there would be an end to this. But just because we was incarcerated didn't mean that we were less than human. Somebody had to take a stand.


AMANPOUR: So that is former inmate Alhajji Sharif.

Stanley Nelson, what were the conditions? What basically did these inmates want?

NELSON: Basically, they wanted to be treated like human beings.

And they say that over and over again in the prison. Indignities were large and small. It ranged from being given one roll of toilet paper a month.

And, as one former inmate says in the film, they -- after that, you had to tear out pages from books to use -- to go to the toilet, from small

indignities like that, and up to the fact that there were goon squads and beat-up squads that would come into your cell at night and take you and

beat you up if you complained or if you did anything out of order.

So the conditions were horrible. And the inmates ended up having 30 demands for changes in the prison.

AMANPOUR: Now, there was an observer committee set up once this all happened. And it consisted of some politicians, state senator. There were

some journalists. There was a lawyer, a few lawyers. Anyway, it was a proper observer committee.

And they say that the demands were reasonable. As you mentioned, it was for decent medical care, for decent food, for fair disciplinary hearings. These

demands were reasonable.

And yet -- pick up the story, Traci, because it looked like the negotiations might reach somewhere. Describe the negotiations, because that

in itself was amazing to see the -- whatever his name is there, Oswald, the commission -- the commissioner of prison corrections, come in, and actually

talk to a group of the inmates about their demands.

CURRY: Yes, I mean, I think one of the things, Christiane, that's so remarkable is that that initial moment of sort of chaos, when the rebellion

first happened, very quickly turned into an organized democratic system, almost a small city, in there.

And the prisoners realized in this moment that they had an opportunity to push for the reforms because they have taken over this space, they have

hostages. And so, yes, they bring in the commissioner, they bring in the media, they bring in this very high-powered group people and they begin

these negotiations.

And they come up with this list of 30 points. And, ultimately, what happened was the sticking point was amnesty, because these prisoners

recognized that this was going to end at some point, and there would be legal repercussions against them, there would be physical violence

repercussions against them, which ultimately is what happened.

And so the end of the amnesty was something that they recognized that they had to have. And it was just something that state was not willing to budge

on. And that was ultimately the sticking point.

AMANPOUR: But, even that -- we will get into that in a second.

But, just to your point, I want to play this sound bite from a reporter who was describing what was going on, what they wanted, and the nature of the

negotiating dynamic and the context. We will just play this for a second.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prisoners have taken their clothing away and put prison clothes on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were blindfolded in a circle in the middle of the yard. They also had guards, inmate guards, that were around them protecting


SHARIF: And we had seen them as captives. We see them as people who were in -- under our supervision, so we couldn't do harm to them.


AMANPOUR: So, that, again, is extraordinary.

The captives -- or the hostages being held by the inmates were safe. They decided they would not harm the hostages.

Stanley Nelson, the last bit of the film is almost unwatchable.


AMANPOUR: The -- you see this video, you see the guns, the police storming the prison, the killings, the bodies lying in pools of blood. The prisoners

humiliated and forced to strip stark naked and put their hands above their heads, and at one point, crawl through, you know, basically, human feces to

get from the outside back inside.

How did you get that video? Was that - where did you get that from, and had you seen anything like that before in America?

NELSON: No, I've never seen anything like the footage. And, you know, it's hard to even describe. I mean, you really just have to see it to believe

it, and that's one of the things that makes the film so powerful, it makes -- it made us able to tell the story because, you know, there's just -- the

images are just unbelievable.

We got a lot of black and white footage that we used there from New York State, they had an early iteration of a video camera that only shot black

and white, but they were up in a tower shooting video of the takeover of the prison from the first day until the retaking on the fifth day. So, that

was there.

And then, the incredible pictures of the new prisoners being marched around the yard were taken as evidence, a lawyer who worked for over 20 years

trying to get a settlement for the prisoners and did finally get one. That was evidence that was used in those trials.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And I'm glad you point that out, the prisoners did get a settlement. The hostage families also did get a settlement because it was

the state, it was the medical examiner who said that actually their hostages have not been killed by the inmate, they have been killed by the

rifles that the law enforcement people were using. And the state tried to blame the inmates for killing the hostages.

Can I just ask you, because, you know, maybe some people listening to this today all these years later, ask you both, will say, hey, guys, you know,

let's have no bleeding hearts here. These were prisoners. Some of them committed the worst crimes you could imagine and why are we spending so

much time trying to figure out, you know, what happened? How do you respond to that because it goes to the heart of, I guess, a very punitive American

justice system?

NELSON: You know, I can start. I would say that no matter what crimes they committed, they're human beings. And, you know, they didn't want to be

excused from their crimes. They wanted amnesty for taking over the prison. You know, that's what they wanted amnesty for. They are very clear, they

never say in the film or they never said back then, you know, we're innocent of the crimes we're convicted for, let us go. But they still

deserve to be treated as human beings. And that's what they say over and over again in the film.

AMANPOUR: Traci, I want to play this soundbite because it's really, I think, goes to the heart of what it felt like for at least one of these

inmates who you talk to, to be let out into the yard after they've, you know, overtaken the prison and they hadn't been out in years. And here's

this very poignant soundbite from an inmate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy looks at me was named Raymond White. He was walking around, look up in the air. It's dark. Yow, Ray, Ray. Yow, Ray. You

awake? He said, man, I ain't been out after dark in 22 year. And we was talking, singing songs. It was a festive night.


AMANPOUR: It's very poignant that, actually, because in that -- just in that observation you realize what captivity actually means and how it

affects people. I want to ask you about the press, because I think the press seemed, by and large, to acquit themselves very, very well in this

instance and the inmates believed that they could trust them to tell their story in a balanced objective way.

You have a lot of very good interviews with members of the press, including I think it's John Johnson, formerly from ABC, amazing stories from their


CURRY: Yes. I think, you know, the prisoners recognize that they would need the world to bear witness to what happened here and to their credit, they

were savvy enough to use the power that they had within DR to ask the media to come in. They had a television in the yard. So, they were able to sort

of watch some of the coverage and there was a feeling that the coverage was fair. And so, there were certain reporters like John Johnson and Stewart

Dan, who you also see in the film, that they particularly identified as fair and reporting the story in a way that they felt was true to what was

happening and inviting them to come in.


And in many ways, the presence of the media is why we're here, because it's sort of that tree falling (INAUDIBLE) that this is how it happened and

nobody saw it, then no one pays attention. But I will also say that this story of media malpractice, because as you mentioned, Christiane, the press

reported that the prisoners killed all of these hostages because there was a single source in the prison and that is what most of the major media ran

with and that all turns out to be false the day before. So, I think it's a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the story of the media's role at Attica.

AMANPOUR: Fortunately, the medical examiner came out pretty quickly to corrected that. Finally, Stanley, I guess, you know, what was it like for

you to talk to these prisoners and reflecting also that this situation is not over? We have mass incarceration in America. We just had an uprising at

Rikers Island, 200 inmates protesting conditions there. I mean, what's changed?

NELSON: Unfortunately, I don't think much has really changed, you know. Prisoners might get more toilet paper, but on the other hand, there are

over 2 million people that are in prison. You know, we read about Rikers Island, other prisons across the country. I don't think very much has


And one of the things that you see in the film and that we never mention -- we never talk about in the film, what you see from the prisoners who talk

in the film, you see their basic humanity. And you get to kind of know them, you know, you understand them. One is funny, one is very serious, you

know, another is a different way. And you understand that these are human beings, and these are human beings, some of them who have not seen the

night sky in 22 years.

AMANPOUR: That's very clear. And that demonstration of our common humanity is really quite a triumph. And you've held everybody accountable with your


Thank you so much indeed, both of you Stanley Nelson, Traci curry. Thank you very much.

And of course, you can watch "Attica" on Showtime.

Now, from America's prison system to the courtroom, Laura Coates used to enforce civil rights of the Justice Department before becoming a prosecutor

as assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. In her new book, "Just Pursuit," she reveals the reality of working as a black woman within

a legal system widely considered racist.

She joins Michel Martin to explore how the pursuit of justice can create injustice.


MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Laura Coates, thank you so much for talking with us.

LAURA COATES, AUTHOR, "JUST PURSUIT: A BLACK PROSECUTOR'S FRIGHT FOR FAIRNESS": I'm so glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me. I'm so eager

to have a conversation with you in particular, thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks for that. People are familiar with your kind of trenchant legal analysis and your ability to hold your own in all kinds of

situations. So, and, you know, your first actual assignment in the government, your first federal assignment was actually with the civil

rights division. I mean, it sounds like a dream job but it turns out that it wasn't. Why wasn't it?

COATES: Well, it was a dream to be able to continue the work of the voting rights act and try to enforce it around the nation. But as you can imagine,

as you just see now in real-time, there's a lot of people who are putting pressure and their thumbs on the scale to try to ensure that we claw back

voting rights. And I was there at a time when we had the benefit of Section 5, Michel, we had the preclearance authorization, we had Section 2


You had on both ends at the proactive and a reactive level to be able to address discriminatory practices. And it was hard even then, even before

the Supreme Court gutted it, before rendered it anemic, the voting rights act. And so, you knew that there were still challenges ahead. And frankly,

the bureaucracy that comes into play, the decisions to ensure that we do not put off the vibe that we are somehow a political arm or a partisan

entity, there is a lot of contemplative practices, a lot of -- considering the politics to everything, and it really could -- in many ways, it

constrained the ability to pursue with the type of vigor we needed to.

MARTIN: So, you wanted to have more trial experience.

COATES: I did.

MARTIN: You wanted -- so, you transferred to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington to become an assistant U.S. attorney, and AUSA. Just as briefly

as you can, why was that important to you?

COATES: It was important for me to have a more tangible role in justice, to actually see it in the day-to-day, not just to have the policy positions

but actually seeing it in real practice and affecting in a very personal individual way.

MARTIN: Your book comes with a very provocative opening salvo, frankly. Which as you just say it, that, you know, sometimes, you know, pursuing

justice causes injustice. And this was a shock to you. You thought your public service was going to be kind what you thought was a straightforward

act of patriotism, is how you put it. One of your supervisors in the Civil Right Division actually tried to warned you, as you recount it, you know,

he said, you know what, it's just going to be misery every day. When you heard that, what did you think?


COATES: I thought that he was misinformed, frankly, or perhaps that he was somebody who didn't understand the true role of what a prosecutor could be.

And I was coming from a place where it was a given in the Civil Rights Division. People knew whose side you were on. You know, we -- they knew

where your moral compass was pointing and the work that you were doing. And I assume that under the same umbrella of justice, the Justice Department,

that would be understood and the idea of being a forgone conclusion will continue.

But little did I know, frankly, and I don't think I'm a naive person, perhaps I was -- myself was misinformed and not realizing the idea of what

it took to transform from a civil rights attorney to a criminal prosecutor and that even though you're under that same umbrella, the questions of

allegiance come up. Even though your victims are black and brown, overwhelmingly, the idea that you are prosecuting black and brown people

who are disproportionately impacted by the system really pulls you in different directions and forms this battle of allegiance that I grappled

with and write about that in the book.

MARTIN: So, that never occurred to you before you took that job?

COATES: It did occur to me that people might challenge the notion of what side are you on and the idea of, hey, how can you be civil rights oriented

and still believe that you can be a federal prosecutor? But I think it challenges this fallacy that black and brown people are only supposed to

perform one role within the justice system, as defendants. And the idea of simply being in reaction as a defense counsel, for example, who after the

decision has been made to arrest, after charging documents have been filed, grand juries have been in panel, the weight of the federal government

against the individual defendant, you know that it is not a -- at that point, a fair fight.

The resources are overwhelming and few defense counsels are able to achieve an acquittal for their clients. And so, I noted the idea that the defense

counsel being in a very reactive position, after all was said and done, having to guard against and defend retroactively. I saw a prosecutor's

role, frankly, as being an extension of a gatekeeper and trying to ensure that the charging decisions were accurate, the discretion was wielded

appropriately and the power was not coveted in the maniacal way but instead in a way that actually pursued justice.

And I think there was always a tension of trying to, on the one hand, explain that and also advocate on behalf of people who have every right to

have champions, who have every right to have somebody correct what they have done and hold people accountable.

MARTIN: You tell some very disturbing stories. But what struck you the most is kind of the jokiness about people making mistakes that had massive

impacts on people's lives, was it the kind of -- just kind of callousness that people seem to develop? Was it the -- what is it that struck you the


COATES: You know, all of what you described struck me, but it was the quest for camaraderie at the expense of civil liberties and constitutional

rights. It was the idea of the us versus them on full display. Because when you stand up and you say, you announce your name, you know, Laura Coates on

behalf of the people of the United States, there is, in my mind, this baked in indication that you understand that the people also include the person,

that is the defendant. That their rights are also at stake and that there is an extension of a benefit of the doubt that's given to you as a

prosecutor, given to police officers.

You know, how many times have you heard someone say, well, you know what, everyone's guilty. UI mean, innocent until presumed -- innocent until

proven guilty. Excuse me. Presumed innocent. But then, you got this idea, well, the government wouldn't have charged them if they didn't know

something. We have this sort of moments when we extend the benefit of the doubt.

And what was most shocking to me was the benefit of the doubt was taken lightly, that it was not something that was universal. And I had great

colleagues and, in many regards, some I do not respect, many others that I do, who thought about that benefit of the doubt and wielded it as a weapon,

as opposed to thinking about it as a way to preserve the credibility of the Department of Justice and to help others. And I think that was probably the

most shocking.

MARTIN: Well, give an example. There's this one instance you talk about where the prosecutor sets up this -- the snitch bust. Tell me about the

snitch bust. So, talk a little bit about that incident, like what happened there? Like why did he do that?

COATES: So, I read about it in this chapter called, you want to see something funny, and that was really how it (INAUDIBLE) to me as a moment

of escapism. Hey, come with me, leave your desk for a second, I got something to show you. Somebody who wanted to take me under their wing, a

white male colleague who thought that for some reason I sought to emulate his particular brand of prosecution and power.


And the want to see something funny ended up being in the basement of our own offices, a young black male defendant who was awaiting his own trial is

being held, but he was chained to a chair. And I immediately understood that this somehow was the funny part for this particular colleague. And

that he was going to use his different recollections, episodes of the wire, however he thought people spoke in these circumstances, he would drop

certain syllables, he would try to emulate what believed people in this particular community spoke like.

He was -- he was trying to force this person to become an informant, and the way he chose to do so was to bring him in under a separate bus and get

people who are leaving the jail, who were held, some go to the courthouse for the hearings, their sentencings, their trials, and that's one bus going

into courthouse. And this other bus, you may be on different and the assumption is if you're on the other bus, that you're headed to the U.S.

attorney's office to somehow be a cooperator or to meet with someone in some respect.

And so, this idea, you could imagine in a no snitch world that we're in, we talk about snitching in terms of rats and people who are cooperators, who

are in danger and why we have to put them in certain (INAUDIBLE) location, the idea of that stigma of what that would look like and how it would

impact. And this particular prosecutor saw this opportunity, frankly, to exploit that perception and to use it to his advantage.

And I had never seen this practice before. I was relatively new to trials at this point. I had not seen what this looked like in practice or how one

came to be an informant. I assumed, in some respect, that when somebody was a cooperator or informant, that it was used through council in a way that

protected them and they actually wanted to come forward in some form or fashion, albeit reluctantly, but the way it was done and how it was used

was a moment that was so eye-opening and jarring and made me realize that even if I did not intend to be, my very presence was complicit. And that I

needed to take that with me going forward and to really think about what role I was truly playing. And the us versus them, how did I become the us

in a way that was exploitative?

MARTIN: Yes. You talk about that a lot, how it's almost -- it almost seemed tribal. Like the idea was, you know, you are part of this tribe now. So,

this is how you're supposed to think. Like, one of your colleagues ridiculed you for shaking someone's hand, for example, and introducing

yourself. You describe a scene where a black female defense attorney who you were -- happened to be eating lunch in the same space one day, as you

describe it said, said that -- called the -- described your colleagues thusly, she said that these are the white boys who got picked last for gym

class and now, get to play God.

COATES: Right. And that was the --

MARTIN: I mean, it's harsh, but do you think there's some truth to that?

COATES: I think there is some truth in the idea that there are some prosecutors who want to pursue justice and are doing it altruistically and

with the right intentions. I think there are other prosecutors who see power as an opportunity. And they exploit and covet it in ways others do

not. And I think that when I was having this conversation right about this chapter about a right seat at the table, explores notion of why I think

it's important to be on both sides of the courtroom, why it's important to have every role within the courtroom, in the legal system that hopes will

become a justice system in America.

And I had this conversation where those ideas were challenged and why two of us were having this sort of moment of butting heads in terms of why we

each thought our seat at the table was the right one to have, why it was you needed to have somebody who was a defense council with the perspectives

who refused to shed who she was on that side. But you also needed somebody who also refused to shed and did not have the luxury of leaving behind

different facets of my identity that made me me, being a black woman, being a mother, being a wife, being a human being, having a lived experience of a

black woman in America, why that was equally important, if not more, to have on that side.

But you see, these discussions and conversations about sort of the preconceived notions and misgivings of where we each fell is also a part of

our conversation in the national realm. We have it with police officers, the idea of how can you be a police officer knowing that the so-called bad

apple syndromes actually occur? How can you be on that side? How can you be a judge? How can you be a warden? How can you be a parole officer? How can

you be -- and you can fill in the blank there, but there is an importance of having this fallacy that we can only perform one role in the justice

system as defendant, completely disrupted.

But there are consequences because when you are within the system, you will see just how impactful race and bias truly is on the day-to-day operations

of the justice system.


MARTIN: You know, it seems like the way criminal justice is spoken about in this country, there's only two choices, right? It seems like these poor

kids who have been dealt a bad hand or these are super predators to kind of drag up -- you know, a term from the early '80s, these are super predators

who have to be controlled and locked away as long as possible, and those seem to be like our only two choices.

And I'm just like, what is a better way to talk about that? What is a better way to approach this? I think we've seen the current version of this

is defund the police, society's going to hell, you know. What's a better way to talk about these issues?

COATES: Well, it's never binary. And I think we have to stop talking about it in either/or. Stop talking about justice as defined either as a

destination or simply a verdict. One of the things that turned General Keith Ellison from my home state of Minnesota spoke about after the Derek

Chauvin verdict was very clear, to talk about, this is not a transformative moment necessarily, it's not the catalyst that we can never go backwards.

It was one trial. It was one verdict. And while it was extraordinarily important for it to happen and the right decision, it's one case among

thousands of cases, probably this year alone.

And we have to think about it of justice of being more than just a verdict being rendered or that somebody has been exonerated after being decades --

spending decades in prison or that the person is somebody who is a detriment to society.

What you speak about is the range of humanity. What you speak about just now, Michel, is the scope of humanity and idea of thinking about the fact

that these are human beings in a system who, unfortunately, never met me until they had made the worst choice or decision of their lives. If you met

me in my professional capacity as a prosecutor, you were immediately, in terms of how you were charged, thought of by the powers that be and the

jury and the courtroom as the culmination of just that one decision, not your entire life.

And I'm not a therapist. I don't pretend to be somebody who is a social worker or somebody whose job it was to be involved in the rehabilitation of

somebody, but I do know that if we infuse humanity and think about it as more than the either/or, think about the nuance, it's not just the right

thing to do, frankly, Michel, it is a strategic advantage.

And I'll tell you why. You're talking about prosecuting a case or you're a defense counsel. Guess who's on your jury? Whole human beings. The whole

point of voir dire is to find the right fact finders who will be sympathetic to your particular case. If you're the defense or the

prosecution. You try to curate the peer group that's going to decide this person's fate because you realize that the humanity and the human aspect is

going to be very important to the decision-makers in this case.

And so, why on earth, as a strategic matter, let alone what's the right thing to do, as a strategic matter, why would you pretend that race and

gender and bias does not factor into our justice system if it is part of our void dire system, it's part of what we're actually thinking about as

prosecutors, as defense attorneys, as judges. And I think the more we just realize and admit, frankly, and at times, confess, confess that actually

has a role, we'll be better off.

MARTIN: Before we let you know, you know what, you know I have to ask you about "Jeopardy!," right?

COATES: Do you mean double jeopardy?

MARTIN: The former -- the late beloved host of "Jeopardy!" actually name checked you as someone that he wanted to be considered to carry on his

legacy. First of all, that had to have been kind of awesome, since you are a fan of the show. But I'm just wondering why they never gave you a shot. I

mean, the whole thought that you were pretty good.

COATES: I was thrilled, and I really will always be so honored that Alex Trebek even mentioned my name. I mean, I grew up watching him. We all

watched him. We -- I was a fan of the show and a personal fan of his. And that he named me was really just such a moment of -- an unexpected moment

of pride and I will always remember how kind he was about it.

And I was so sad to see his passing. My own grandmother died of pancreatic cancer and the fact it claimed yet another life is always going to be in my

mind and my heart. When they were looking for guest hosts, I did raise my hand. I asked for the opportunity. I wanted to at least have the

opportunity to audition and be a guest host. I wasn't asking for the guarantee. I was asking for the opportunity, and they said no. And they

said no in no uncertain terms. And they --

MARTIN: Best of what?

COATES: It was -- they didn't believe that his recommendation or statement was persuasive enough to provide that opportunity. So, you know, it just

reminds you, Michel, I'm sure you've had in your own life, that you've got to wear your own jersey and continue to be your own champion.


And I know that my calling will -- is not a gameshow perhaps, but you know what it is, it's asking the right questions, it's answering the questions

and it's keeping my community out of jeopardy.

MARTIN: All right. Laura Coates, thank you so much for talking with us.

COATES: Thank you. I appreciate it, Michel.


AMANPOUR: And Laura Coates, a great example of standing up for herself and for her community.

And finally, tonight, a man who embodied the transformative power of fashion. He stood up for himself and his community. Style icon Andre Leon

Talley has died age 73. From the segregated south, he broke barriers to become Vogue's editor at large and used his position to champion diversity

in fashion. He styled some of the most influential figures like Michelle Obama and he was mentor to influential models like Naomi Campbell.

But many will remember him also for his striking presence. 6'6" and always impeccably (INAUDIBLE) in flamboyant regal outfits.

And that is it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online and on our podcast. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.