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NAACP Sues Over Mississippi's Policing, Judicial System Expansion; Schools Swap Reading Programs After Drop In Literacy Scores; Florida Sheriff Faces Off Against Neo-Nazi Group. Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired April 24, 2023 - 07:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: You can argue if it's fair or if it will work, which is what a lot of people in the real estate sector are talking about -- is this a good idea. That's separate.

If you have a higher credit score -- I want to say this. If you have a higher credit score you pay less. Overall, you pay less to borrow than somebody with a lower credit score. That's just how the whole system works.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Can we talk a little bit more about real estate? I don't know if this part of it --


LEMON: So, the conventional wisdom is the interest rates are high and everybody is waiting for the rates to go down --


LEMON: -- down, down, down.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: (Sneezes) Excuse me.

LEMON: But people in the real estate world -- bless you. People in the real estate world will say -- do you have a tissue?


LEMON: Will say -- no, I just happen to have some here. They will say if you -- you should just buy now even with the high interest rate and then refinance because this is the best time right now to buy. The prices are, like, really peak -- really great for buying.

ROMANS: So it depends on who you are and what you need the home for, right? I keep hearing that the Suisse Bank -- that's mortgage rates last week. They ticked up a little bit on some strong economic news. Five-point-five percent seems to be the sweet spot when you ask people. That's what they're really kind of waiting for. They want rates to go back down to 5.5 percent or so. I mean, the best thing for somebody who is trying to buy a home, if it's in the zip code you want, if it's where you want to be and the price -- and the time is right, that's why -- that's why you buy a home.

I think we're getting used to these six percent mortgage rates. A year ago this was so shocking that these rates were up, and so that was keeping people off the market. Now people are getting a little more used to it. They've figured out what they can afford to buy. You can afford to buy a little bit less this year than last year because of those higher rates. But I think rates have stabled out here and I think that's making people feel a little bit more comfortable about buying.

LEMON: All right, cool.

HARLOW: Thank you.

LEMON: By the way, everybody sneezes. I'm sneezing this morning.

HARLOW: Sorry.

LEMON: Kaitlan's sniffling. It's that time -- it's the spring.

HARLOW: I'm usually good at holding it in.

LEMON: It's the spring.

ROMANS: There's so much pollen in the air, too, right?

LEMON: I know.

ROMANS: I mean, it looks so pretty outside and then it's like achoo.

HARLOW: I know.

LEMON: But then -- I woke up this morning and it was 40 degrees.

HARLOW: The cold.

LEMON: We've been in the 70s or 80s.

HARLOW: I know.

LEMON: So you have to put on the corduroy --

HARLOW: I miss spring weather.

LEMON: -- this morning.

HARLOW: Thanks for the tissue.

LEMON: You're welcome.


ROMANS: Nice to see you, guys.

LEMON: So this is a -- this is happening again. Remember it happened with Pharrell and then Robin Thicke with another Marvin Gaye song. Well, this one -- listen. Jury selection is set to begin in the copyright trial against music star Ed Sheeran. He's being sued over one of his songs that the plaintiff's claim copies one of Marvin Gaye's classics "Let's Get It On." The plaintiffs are the heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote that song.

Here's the Sheeran song "Thinking Out Loud" -- listen.


ED SHEERHAN, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing "Thinking Out Loud."


LEMON: And Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On."




LEMON: OK, so last year, Sheeran successfully fought a lawsuit that accused him of copying another of his hits, "Shape of You." This is what he said about the case after the case was dismissed.


SHEERAN: There's only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify. That's 22 million songs a year and there's only 12 notes that are available.

I'm not an entity. I'm not a corporation. I'm a human being. I'm a father, I'm a husband, I'm a son.

Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience and I hope with this ruling it means in the future, baseless claims like this can be avoided.


LEMON: All right, so that was after another one. So I don't know. What do you think?

HARLOW: I don't hear it -- the similarity between the two.

LEMON: You don't hear it?

HARLOW: But that's -- I mean --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: But I've not seen -- I've not heard the similarities between some before and they've had massive settlements over it because of that fighting in the court. LEMON: Do you remember the family -- I think Marvin Gaye's family --


LEMON: -- if I'm correct, sued over "Blurred Lines" because it sounded like (singing) got to give it up, keep on dancing.


LEMON: And was it "Blurred Lines?"

HARLOW: But this is the one that they --

LEMON: But this is -- this is -- this is not the family this time. It's actually the --


LEMON: -- person who wrote the song.


LEMON: So we shall see.

COLLINS: Yes, we shall see --

LEMON: Jury selection --

COLLINS: -- what happens.

Speaking of lawsuits, the NAACP is now suing the state of Mississippi over what it says is separate and unequal policing in the city of Jackson. We have details on that lawsuit ahead.

HARLOW: Also, a literacy crisis in the United States as more and more children struggle just to read. We'll tell you about a whole new way of teaching that's giving teachers and parents hope.



LEMON: The NAACP suing Mississippi's governor and other state officials over new laws that expand control of policing and the judicial system in the city of Jackson. Governor Tate Reeves signed the legislation into law on Friday.

In a statement, the organization said, quote, "The laws represent a state takeover of Jackson and strip residents of their right to democratically elect leaders."

CNN's Isabella -- Isabel Rosales joins us now from Atlanta. Good morning to you, Isabel. Critics say that these changes put white conservatives in control over a Democratic city where more than 80 percent of the residents are Black. Tell us about it.


These laws are new laws that are certainly creating a divide here. Some people hope that it's going to save the capital city after a spike of crime, but others are seeing echoes of a racist past.

Supporters of these new laws -- they're pointing to the homicide rate in Jackson, which has doubled over the past decade. Peaking in 2021, the homicide rate 12 times the national average making Jackson one of the deadliest cities in the U.S.

So let's dig a little deeper into these new laws because they're important.

What they're going to do is allow the state of Mississippi to expand the reach of state-controlled police to the entire city of Jackson. Now, this is a force that has not dealt with city law enforcement before. It is a force that does not answer to local officials but rather to state-appointed leadership.


Now, the flip side of these new laws -- also the judicial system. Major changes coming to that, including establishing a new court within the boundaries of a new capital complex improvement district. So the judge there -- that's going to be appointed by the Republican state chief justice. And the prosecuting attorneys -- they are also going to be appointed by the Republican state attorney general.

We heard from Gov. Tate Reeves who signed these bills into law on Wednesday before he did that signing -- listen.


GOV. TATE REEVES, (R) MISSISSIPPI: I want what's best for Jackson. But for us to continue to see young kids getting killed in the streets, for us to continue to see property crimes that are happening here that are causing businesses to leave, we've got to make sure that we have law and order.


ROSALES: And Don, as you mentioned, at the heart of this controversy really is representation. The legislators who introduced these bills, now laws, represent districts outside of Jackson. The State Legislature is primarily Republican and white. Jackson is primarily Democratic and over 80 percent Black.

The NAACP filed a lawsuit on Friday. Here's what they said, really quickly. "If elected officials in Mississippi want to help address the results of their negligence and improve the lives of Jackson residents, they should start with completing improvements to Jackson's water system, not undermining the constitutional rights of their citizens" -- Don.

LEMON: All right, Isabel. Thank you so much. HARLOW: One in three kids in America right now cannot read at a basic level of comprehension. I'm going to say that again because it is so startling and concerning. One in three American children are behind on reading. This is according to a key national exam. That has some schools rethinking their approach to teaching our children -- again, embracing the basics, phonics.

Our Athena Jones has been looking into all of this. I cannot believe that statistic.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's stunning. And, you know, I think we can all agree that the important thing that schools should be doing is making sure our children can read. That they are literate. That they leave school able to read.

But I've been looking into this over the past week and what I found surprised me. Many schools across the country have been using an unproven, flawed theory to teach children to read and it's not working.


DREAM JAMES, 8-YEAR-OLD WHO STRUGGLED TO READ: My name is Junie B. Jones and --

JONES (voice-over): Before this school year, 8-year-old Dream James was struggling to read. Now --

DEBORAH JAMES, DREAM'S MOTHER: She's reading everything.

DREAM JAMES: I just like B and that's all.

DEBORAH JAMES: Before, it was I can't do it. I can't spell. I can't read, too. Now it's oh, I know how to sound this out and I know how to read this.

JONES (voice-over): The third-grader at Panther Valley Elementary School in rural Pennsylvania had a hard time learning the basics of reading. Her school had introduced a new curriculum a few years ago based on the balance literacy theory -- an approach used in some classrooms nationwide for over two decades. Rather than learning to sound out letter combinations, also called phonics, teachers focused on what's known as cueing, instructing children to use context and other clues to figure out words.

AMANDA KUSKO, THIRD GRADE TEACHER: This just explains to them what each syllable actually means.

JONES (voice-over): Teacher Amanda Kusko at first embraced this new approach.

KUSKO: But then as we started kind of digging deeper and getting into the instruction, I sort of noticed something was missing.

JONES (on camera): So how did it work? KUSKO: As they're reading they are supposed to look at the picture -- oh, what's this word? Well, look at the picture. Do you maybe know a word part? What could that word be? What word would make sense there?

So they weren't actually reading the letters. They weren't reading the words. They were guessing.

JONES (voice-over): That didn't work.

ROBERT PALAZZO, PRINCIPAL, PANTHER VALLEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We realized very quickly that students weren't acquiring the skills to actually sound out words, to decode words, and spell words. They weren't actually learning to read.

JONES (voice-over): By year-end, just a quarter of Panther Valley's third-graders could read at grade level. In fact, much of the country is facing a child literacy crisis. Just one in three fourth-graders was at or above proficiency in reading last year, with nearly four in 10 performing below basic level.

DAWN BROOKHART, AIM INSTITUTE FOR LEARNING AND RESEARCH: It's a social issue for all of us and it's an equity issue across America.

JONES (voice-over): But a shift is underway. Education Week reports over the last decade at least 29 states and the District of Columbia have begun to require an evidence-based approach to reading instruction.

BROOKHART: Mississippi started back in 2013 when they enacted legislation and policies around requiring teacher prep programs to base their training on the science of reading. From 2013, fast-forward to 2019, they have 10 points gain.

JONES (voice-over): At Panther Valley Elementary, principal Robert Palazzo also changed course, replacing balanced literacy after trying it for just a year and a half.

KUSKO: Good job. Cold.



KUSKO: Syllable?

PALAZZO: We've seen students in third grade's decoding skills, meaning sounding out words, increase from 20 percent at grade level in the beginning of the year to approximately 60 percent currently.

JONES (voice-over): Dream began the year reading at a first-grade level and is now closer to a middle or end of second-grade level. She and her mother couldn't be more proud.

DEBORAH JAMES: Now, this is what she wants. This is what she likes. She loves to read. She's eager to, like, oh, I can't wait to start fourth grade. I can't wait to -- you know, to do all of it because she's not low self-esteem no more.


JONES: And you heard the mother say that she's not -- she doesn't have low self-esteem anymore because now she can actually read.

And this is important. Reading is so foundational for the rest of your education. And we now know that more than half the states are now requiring more of a focus on the science of reading. These are tried and true proven methods to teach reading, like sounding out the letters in a word. And this is the way many of us learned to read.

Some of this comes from parents who saw what was going on during the pandemic, watching their kids trying to be -- trying to learn to read and they're thinking that's not -- that's not how we learned. What's going on here?

So, really, really interesting.

LEMON; Decades and decades of like facts, right, that show --

JONES: We know it works.

LEMON: -- phonics, right. So then, why not?

JONES: It's stunning. It's -- this sort of theory took hold and it kind of took off, and people become very much committed to it --

LEMON: It's crazy.

JONES: -- and don't want to backtrack. But the thing is kids have to be able to recognize new words --

HARLOW: That's --

JONES: -- and be able to sound them out --

HARLOW: And it was pushed by --

JONES: -- and not be guessing at pictures.

HARLOW: Sorry to interrupt. It was pushed by some big education companies, too, right?


HARLOW: And so there's always money and business involved.


COLLINS: A really good look at that, Athena. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you.

COLLINS: Also this morning, a dangerous rescue operation by U.S. special forces evacuating American diplomats and their families out of Sudan, but thousands of American citizens are still there, trapped. We're going to ask the White House what their plan is to get those people to safety.

LEMON: And a Florida sheriff going head-to-head against a group of neo-Nazis spreading hate in his town.


SHERIFF MICHAEL CHITWOOD, VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: When you're trying to crush a radical group of cowardly scumbags unity and sunshine destroy it.


LEMON: That is Sheriff Michael Chitwood. He speaks his mind. There he is. He's going to join us after the break.



COLLINS: Today, jury selection is going to begin in the trial of the man who is accused of going on that deadly rampage inside Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue. That was in 2018. That was the shooting that left 11 people dead. It was the deadliest antisemitic attack ever to happen in the United States. That's according to the Anti-Defamation League.

CNN's Danny Freeman is live in Pittsburgh this morning. Danny, obviously, for the victims and their families this has been such a long time coming. What are we expecting during this trial as it's getting kicked off today?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, let me orient you for a second. We're in downtown Pittsburgh right now outside of the federal courthouse. We're about five miles away from Squirrel Hill. It's a neighborhood -- that's where the Tree of Life synagogue was and, of course, where that horrific shooting happened about 4 1/2 years ago.

We're expecting jury selection to begin today, really within the next hour or so. And as you said, it's been a long, contentious road to the start of this death penalty case.

But I want to bring viewers up to speed as to who we got to this point. Remember, this started on October 28, 2018. It was a Saturday morning. Prosecutors say Robert Bowers arrived at the Tree of Life synagogue armed with multiple guns. And there were members of three Jewish congregations actually worshipping that morning at the synagogue at the time.

At that point, prosecutors say that Bowers opened fire on the synagogue and then entered the synagogue and started shooting. And prosecutors also say that Bowers said he wanted to kill Jews during the attack. And also then, prosecutors found more antisemitic posts online attributed to his name. Well, 11 people were ultimately killed; others were injured. And Bowers was charged with murder and other -- or I should say multiple hate crimes in addition. And because of that, this is a death penalty case.

Now, Kaitlan, Bowers has retained defense attorney Judy Clarke in this case. If that name sounds familiar, Judy Clarke has represented other high-profile federal death penalty defendants in the past. That includes the Unabomber. That also includes Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the Boston Marathon bombing.

Well, his defense team -- they said that they would take a deal with life in prison if it took the death penalty off the table, but federal prosecutors have not budged on that issue.

Again, jury selection begins today. This trial could go as long as July -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. And, of course, we're just thinking of everyone there. I mean, I was -- I remember being there covering that in the aftermath when the president went and visited there in Squirrel Hill. Just the way that community responded was really something to see. We'll pay attention to this trial closely.

Danny, thank you so much.

HARLOW: The hate and fringe conspiracy theories pushed by the Tree of Life shooting suspect have not gone away. They are spreading. They are increasing.

One example, The Washington Post reports that hundreds of antisemitic flyers were dropped along the street from the Daytona -- across the street, I should say, from the Daytona 500, and they prompted one of the suspected gunman's online rants. That's the same location where neo-Nazis held up signs like this: "Henry Ford was right about the Jews." That's what one read.

The sheriff there isn't taking it anymore. Sheriff Michael Chitwood is naming and shaming the people behind the hate speech even though it's put a target on his back -- watch.


CHITWOOD: When you're trying to crush a radical group of cowardly scumbags, unity and sunshine destroy it. There's a lot of people in this room and there's a lot of people around this country of the Jewish faith who are on their hit list. They try to besmirch your character. They try to put death threats out on you and threaten you and your family.


Well, I wear that as a badge of honor because I, too, by these clown groups, want to shut my big mouth and put a bullet in the back of my head. Go for it. That's my message to you.


HARLOW: Wow. Saying "go for it" did not fall on deaf ears, apparently. Three men have now been arrested for making online threats against Chitwood. One allegedly said, "Just shoot Chitwood in the head and murder him." Another said, "I will Chitwood. Mark my words." And another, "I'm going to shoot Mike Chitwood."

So how is he responding to all of this? He's greeting them at the airport. A very good intro.


CHITWOOD: Tyler, I'm Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood. Welcome to Volusia County, Florida.


CHITWOOD: Enjoy your stay.


HARLOW: Well, Sheriff Chitwood joins us now. Thank you for being here. It's so astounding to us sitting here watching what you faced -- I think to everyone watching -- to how you respond.

As I understand it, this is not just about the threats to you; this is about threats to your family, right? The people that didn't choose to be in the position you're in.

CHITWOOD (via Webex by Cisco): Yes, that's correct and I've been doing this for 34 years. And good morning, and thank you for having me on.

My family -- my daughters, my grandkids, my parents didn't sign up for this --


CHITWOOD: -- but when you've got a bunch of cowards that hide behind the anonymity of social media, they crank up their base through that.

HARLOW: Does the tactic work to name and shame, to greet them at the airport? Because you're -- you obviously want to bring this to light but I think you really want solutions. You want this to stop.

CHITWOOD: Yes. I want it to stop and I don't know if history is on my side of being able to end the hate. But what we can do is when you turn the camera on to them and you put up their arrest photos and you put up their criminal histories and really show the community what a rogue gallery of criminals and thugs they are, it kind of -- it kind of sheds a different light on who you're dealing with.

HARLOW: Yes. You know, I -- we remember this press conference that you held back in February and there were a lot of explicit examples of what was going on in the antisemitism in your community. It's very hard to listen to but I think it's important, so we're going to play just a short part of this for people to sort of wrap their heads around.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave our country and go back to Israel. You know, where you bombed Palestinian kids. Where we fund you stupid (bleep) Jews $8 billion a year.


HARLOW: You -- can you imagine? I mean, you don't have to because it's happening.

How common is stuff like that there?

CHITWOOD: You know, it wasn't common and I think that's what really set me off. I feel like my community -- a home invasion robbery occurred that -- a segment of my population was targeted for their religion. I'm not going to stand for people to be targeted for their religion, for their race, for their sexual orientation, or ethnic background. I'm not going to stand for it.

HARLOW: You have supported a proposed law there that would actually make antisemitic incidents -- so things like we just saw a felony. Talk to me about the law specifically -- why you support it -- and does it have a shot of becoming law?

CHITWOOD: Yes, it's House Bill 269. I think -- I expect it should be signed sometime this week. And it enhances penalties for what you just saw.

If you go on private property, which is what we're seeing, and you drop off hateful literature targeting someone for their religion, it's a felony. If you use a projector to shine hateful messages on the side of private property, it's a felony. If you get up in somebody's face with a bullhorn and you start screaming antisemitic remarks to them, it's a felony -- it's felony stalking.

So we're really looking forward to this.

HARLOW: You have previously been a supporter of former President Trump and the number of hate groups surged 55 percent under the beginning few years of his presidency. That's according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He is the GOP frontrunner for 2024. I wonder if you have any message to him on this front or if you think he bears any responsibility?

CHITWOOD: Just from where I sit, when Charlottesville happened and the former president said there were good people on both sides, that was the whistle call that it's OK to be an extremist.

And let me -- let me say about extremism -- whether you burn a police station down, burn a police car up, or you're out there trying to wipe out a race or a religion, that is extremism. There is no such thing in my opinion as left or right. It's extremism and it should never be tolerated in American society.

HARLOW: So your message to him in this campaign?

CHITWOOD: You've got to help us here, Mr. President. You've got to help us. If you become the president you've got to help us. You cannot be cuddling and cozying up to these far-extreme groups that want to destroy America.

HARLOW: Thank you, Sheriff, for -- not just for this but for what you do and for what you're standing up for. It means a lot.

CHITWOOD: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks.

CNN THIS MORNING continues now.