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First of All with Victor Blackwell

CAIR: MD Teacher On Leave For Pro-Palestenian Email Signature; WH Weighs Big Shift In Immigration Law In Return For Aid Deal; MS Boy Sentenced To Probation, Book Report For Public Urination; The Child Was Not Handcuffed When Taken To The Police Station. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 16, 2023 - 08:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, the U.S. border policy concessions that the President is considering as part of the Ukraine and Israel aid package would be a major shift and some members of his party are livid. Today does a deal as a House Democrat says exchange Ukrainian lives for asylum seekers' lives. A member of the Hispanic Caucus and House Homeland Security Committee who says she is a hell no on what the White House is considering is with us. Plus, she calls it supporting Palestinian rights. A middle school teacher is being kept out of the classroom over an email signature that included a controversial phrase. That teacher is here to explain her intent and her discrimination complaint.

Plus a 10-year-old boy arrested for relieving himself in public when he couldn't find a bathroom. You'll hear from the boy and his mother who say this went too far. I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start the show.

A growing number of immigration advocates and Democrats are furious over concessions that President Biden is considering to secure aid for Ukraine. And the White House's urgency to get that money has put Democrats in an uncomfortable position. They may have to support policies they once criticized when proposed by former President Trump.

Now some of the policies considered raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers, increasing deportations, and expanding detentions. The changes would be significant, in some ways divisive. Still, some Democrats say they support the concessions.


REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): If you look at the people that come in, they get in. And then at the end of four or five, six years when they go in front of an immigration judge, almost 90% of them're going to be rejected. So why are the taxpayers paying for all this time? And then at the same time, it's not fair to give these people false hope.


BLACKWELL: Progressive Democrats are already rejecting the concessions. Any deal in the Senate, of course, would have to then go to the House. Congresswoman Delia Ramirez of Illinois is one of those vowing to vote no. She's a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, good to have you. I mean, the Republicans have the numbers in the House. So I just wonder how much this would cause a problem within the party. You say you're a held on what's being discussed? Are you uh, no on all policy proposals out of the HR to Republican border bill?

REP. DELIA RAMIREZ (D-IL): I serve in Homeland Security. And I actually was in that markup for 17 hours. I know the bill pretty well. Most of that will take us back to the draconian policies. I mean, you're talking about HR to what the House members want the House Republicans, they want to retaliate against any organization that were served on migrants under any program. I mean, that's how extreme HR-2 is. That means if Catholic Charities happens to help or the Red Cross during FEMA during a major catastrophe, and then all of a sudden they serve or they feed or they shelter a migrant family during that moment, they were slashed the funds for that organization. That's how extremely charged to is, in addition to everything you've heard, mass deportations, reinstating family detention, the list goes on.

I mean, it's deplorable. And the fact that we haven't had immigration policy over three decades, I was just a little girl. And when we had the very first I gave my parents citizenship, and now we're not going to actually resolve the immigration problem. We're going to go back and make it even harder and increase the number of people who are coming illegally because we're not creating legal pathways. We're creating these horrible draconian policies that will make it impossible for people to seek asylum.

BLACKWELL: How much interaction has the White House had with the Hispanic Caucus if they consulted you, as these conversations have gone on with the Senate Republicans?

RAMIREZ: The reality is that they have not and if that's actually been what's more demoralizing, and disappointing for us. We are the ones that understand immigration policy the best. My husband is a dreamer. I mean -- this is what I've worked on for my entire life and for the fact that there's conversations between some senators none of them that understand or have lived or experienced that. I just came from Guatemala on a Committee delegation trip and Honduras, talking to migrants, and we have not been in the room, yet decisions are going to impact our communities severely, are being negotiated without us in the room.


I know this is a secondary, maybe even tertiary consideration for you the political impact. There are some who say that a deal that the President makes to get this larger funding Bill Dunn could hurt him with Latino and Hispanic voters in 2024 for the reelection. But I wonder if we look at it from another direction does making a deal over the protestations of some of the liberal members of the party, help him with independents who say that, you know, he booked some members of his party to do something at the border, even when it was difficult. RAMIREZ: Look, campaign promises is what every single voter looks at, what I campaigned on what I did. President Biden campaign and getting a solution to the immigration problem creating legal pathways, and making sure that this country continues to be a country where people seeking asylum have that right to do that. Doing the opposite doesn't look good in any way.

The second thing I would say to you is, when you look at what Republicans are trying to do, you're not trying to solve border policy, I serve in the committee with them while we talk his border. They're trying to drag out this issue until November, in attempts to regain the White House. Anything they do now, promise -- I promise you in January when we go back to appropriations negotiations, they're going to want to do more and more and more. And what I've said to the administration is, don't take the bait. If we're going to address some immigration policy, let's get to solutions. And we have recommendations for that.

BLACKWELL: Well, I will say there was a president who included the border in this larger bill and connected all these issues to get the $110 billion, as I mentioned, for those other interests as well. You're from Illinois, I want to play something for you that the NAACP, Illinois State Conference, President Teresa Haley said, that led to her suspension this week and get your reaction. Let's play it.


TERESA HALEY, ILLINOIS STATE NAACP CONFERENCE PRESIDENT: They are shopping around and the bus bolts are coming and we're seeing families on the street, and we're like, oh my god, we're not used to seeing families on the streets. But black people have been on the streets forever and ever. And nobody cares because they say that we're drug addicts. We got mental health issues.

But these immigrants have come over here. They've been raping people. They've been breaking into homes. There weren't savages as well. They don't speak the language. And they look at us like we were crazy, because we were the only people in America who were brought over here against our wheels, and we're slaves, sold into slavery. But I'm right, everybody else who comes over here. We were so kind we're so really you need some clothes. You need a place to stay. We're going to make it happen.


BLACKWELL: Your reaction to what you heard there?

RAMIREZ: I'm disappointed. It's really heartbreaking to hear someone in her leadership row talk that way. The truth is that our liberation is intertwined with each other's way have been pitted against each other. And instead of calling one group savage, we shouldn't be figuring out how do we make sure we have resources in the black community? And how do we make sure that others who are seeking asylum also get resources? It shouldn't be an either-or. But that kind of language is what continues to divide our communities. And we must put a stop to it. BLACKWELL: Congresswoman Delia Ramirez of Illinois, thank you so much. A Muslim advocacy group has filed now a complaint against a Maryland school district because an Arab American teacher was placed on leave. The Council on American Islamic Relations accuses Montgomery County Public Schools of removing Hajur El-Haggan from her middle school classroom after expressing support for Palestinians.

Now according to the complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, El-Haggan's email signature includes the phrase, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." Now, the anti-Defamation League calls the slogan antisemitic. It says that, "This rallying cry has long been used by anti-Israel voices, including supporters of terrorist organizations such as Hamas."

Well, joining me now are Hajur El-Haggan and Zanah Ghalawanji and Attorney with care. Thank you both for being with me. I want to start here Hajur with and I think we need to discuss this in several contexts. The intention of the words and the interpretation of people who believe that this is anti-Semitic. When you put it in the email, what was your intention of the message?

HAJUR EL-HAGGAN: Good morning. Hello. Thanks for having me. Just like any advocacy that I believe in, I feel like it's always important to make sure that you are expressing. Well, really just your advocacy. You're making sure that you feel as though you are standing up for injustice, and really just encouraging the marine just really justice and freedom for all oppressed groups, and just all groups in general. And so to me, that was a way of showing my advocacy of that, and my beliefs in freedom and justice and just rights for all people.


BLACKWELL: But you are, you know, as I mentioned at the top that there are many Jews and non-Jews who believe that that calls for the erasure of Israel that is anti-Semitic. So what would you tell your Jewish colleagues, students, parents at the school who believe that you have called for those things through that message, and you were aware of what they -- how it would be interpreted when you include it in the email signature?

EL-HAGGAN: I think just like any political slogan or statement, it can have some controversy around it. But I think what's important is to go to its intended meaning, and the intended meaning is the freedom and justice for the Palestinians and just for oppressed people in general.

BLACKWELL: Zannah, let me read here from the Montgomery County School District email policies as for employees to maintain professional email signatures and abstain from quote, "Special stationery, quotations or sayings is part of following email signatures," there. Why is it appropriate to write any political email, political message in an email? She's at work. If this is what you believe outside of the school building, keep it there?

ZANAH GHALAWANJI, ATTORNEY, CAIR LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Well, here's the problem is that, we had other teachers who were including political slogans, in their email signatures at school, from Black Lives Matter that slogans revolving around the LGBTQ movement. And Hajur was the only one who was disciplined for her email signature. We're seeing a pattern right now, where Arab and Muslim employees are having policies disproportionately apply to them, whereas other employees are not having those same policies applied to them. This is a way to punish Arab and Muslim employees who are speaking out on for the Palestinian people and for their freedom and for their dignity. So that's why we filed this complaint because Hajur was the only one who was negatively impacted by this policy, her colleagues all participated in the same conduct.

BLACKWELL: So you're suggesting that it is because she is a black woman? She is a Muslim, that that is why, according to the EEOC complaint, that she has been disciplined this way that if a white man had written from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free, he would not have faced the same consequence?

GHALAWANJI: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we're getting complaints where there are people who are and non-Muslim and non Arab who are advocating for Palestinians. But the discipline that is being applied to them, is significantly more minimal than the discipline that's being applied to people who are Arab and Muslim. Hajur's issue went from 0 to 100 really quick. I have seen people who are non Arab, non- Muslim, participate in the same conduct and they get a slap on the wrist. And so policies really need to be applied equally and fairly to all employees.

BLACKWELL: Hajur, the Montgomery County School District told us that you'll remain on administrative leave pending an investigation wouldn't discuss it more because this is a personnel matter. You've offered to remove this slogan from your email to go back into the classroom that was denied. I'm not asking you if you regret your belief, I'm asking, do you regret the action that led to your administrative leave?

EL-HAGGAN: As someone who's passionate about advocacy and supports that in the classroom and in public school education in general, I think what I -- I don't I wouldn't say I regret what I did no. However, I feel sad that other people felt a certain type of way about it. But I think the overall and just disappointed at how the school district really handled the situation by going 0 to 100. When we are restorative justice County, and we focus on really like reflections and understanding why and restoring relationships instead of just immediate punitive measures.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll continue to follow this story. Hajur El- Haggan and Zanah Ghalawanji, thank you so much for being with us.

A 10-year-old boy in Mississippi now has a probation officer for urinating in publicwhen no restroom was available. Hear from the boy and his mother on how this happened and what they plan to do next. Plus I'm not a Latina, right? Clear to you and me. So why was it not clear to an AI program that CNN tested out what we learned from our experiment with facial recognition about AI and biases?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It thought that I was Victor Blackwell.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Victor Blackwell is a black man.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does that say? That says that these algorithms are not ready for primetime.



BLACKWELL: It's breaking news on the three Israeli hostages killed Friday by Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Gaza an IDF official now says that they were shirtless and waving white flags when they were shot. At official call to killing a tragic event and a violation of the rules and engagement. The official also says there is intense combat at the area where the hostages were accidentally killed.


So what's the price of destroying someone's name and reputation? A jury in D.C. says that Rudy Giuliani must pay nearly $150 million for two election workers here in Georgia for defamatory statements he made about them after the 2020 election, will be Freeman or daughter Chemoss were awarded more than $16 million each for defamation, 20 million each for emotional distress, and 75 million total for punitive damages.


RUBY FREEMAN, GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I miss my home. I miss my neighbors. And I miss my name. I've heard some of you. Don't be sad for me. Don't waste your time. Being angry at those who did this to me and my daughter. We are more than conquerors. Pray for us as we continue to fight the good fight of faith.


BLACKWELL: Giuliani says that he will appeal. We've got an update to a story that we brought you last week. This is about the candidate for sheriff in Louisiana who was run off by a single vote. He's fighting for an order to we're fighting to overturn an order I should say for a new election, our affiliate in Shreveport, KTBS, reports that Henry Whitehorn lost his appeal to prevent this second runoff. His opponent says that there were illegal votes cast the judge agreed to order a do over. A wide horn says that he's trying to take his case now to the Supreme Court there in the state.

Now if the Louisiana Supreme Court declines to hear the case, the earliest the new election can happen is in March. And here's what Whitehorn told me last week. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY WHITEHORN, CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF IN CADDO PARIS, LA: One vote does matter. And we prove that in this election. And so we're encouraging folks to -- to stay with that and come out if there's a new election. But I have faith in the court system as well. And I don't know if is even get to another election.


BLACKWELL: Whitehorn would be the first black sheriff in Caddo parish. Well, there are more efforts now in two states to close down or cut back on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Oklahoma first up, the GOP Governor there signed an executive order defunding DEI efforts in public colleges. Kevin Stitt says that his state is going to encourage equal opportunity rather than promise equal outcomes. Also, this week, the University of Wisconsin's Board of Regents, they made a deal with GOP lawmakers to cut back diversity initiatives there. Now, the UW system will get about $800 million in state funding. It's money being held up by Republicans, but to get that they have to accept big cuts and changes to the DTI staff and their programs to diversify their faculty. Now that's after the board rejected the same deal four days earlier. They're on board now.

Wisconsin's Governor Democrat Tony Evers calls the vote by Republicans a vast overreach. And he wrote that he hopes that every individual who promised in this process that the important work of building diversity, equity inclusion, and making sure our campuses are a welcoming and work for everyone would not be diminished by this action. And we'll be working in earnest to make good on that commitment. And he says that he damn sure will make sure that they do.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education. This is part of a broader effort, but you know that at least 40 Anti-DEI bills have been introduced in 22 states, at least seven have passed. Next, the story of a 10-year-old boy arrested for urinating in public doing what boys sometimes do when he could not find a bathroom. Hear from the boy and his mother who say it went too far.



BLACKWELL: A 10-year-old boy in Mississippi was arrested for doing something that sometimes boys do. Sometimes men do it. He urinated outside because there was no public restroom available. This is in Senatobia in Mississippi's northern part of the state. Contagious Eastern's mother says that he relieved himself on private property standing behind an open car door. A police officer saw it and seemed to be satisfied when his mother scolded him but then four other officers including a lieutenant arrived and arrested Quantavious (ph). Since then one officer involved was terminated, other officers will be disciplined. This week the County Youth Court place Quantavious on three months probation and assigned him a book report. With me now are the boy's mother, LaTonya Eason and the family's attorney, Carlos Moore. Thank you both for being with me. I see we're having a bit of trouble

with your signal but I'm going to try to come to you first LaTonya and tell me what happened?

LATONYA EASON, MOTHER OF 10-YEAR-OLD QUANTAVIOUS: Honestly, seeing (inaudible) attorney's office, seeking legal advice to keep the school (inaudible) officer walk in and said (inaudible) by your car, urinate. So we walked outside. I asked my son, why did he do it? He was like he's bathroom they don't have public restroom. So I saw them don't do it again picture he said okay. So now I'm able to get in the car he's like you handled it like a mom. Just make sure he doesn't do it again. My baby and shortly about for officer (inaudible) the lieutenant get out in excellent what's going on? So after standing there, this a young man was urinating behind his mom car. It's kind of like alarm so I just told him I don't have to (inaudible).


So he attains a (inaudible) for him and the officers. They went over. They was having a conversation. And after the conversation, I know I walked over, and said, I'm sorry, but (inaudible). I have to arrest your son. So it's like, are you serious? He was like, yes. He got to get out of that car.

So he told my son to get out the car and put his hand behind his back. It took my son to the patrol car and put him in the patrol car. So I walked over there behind, and I hooked by shell, and I told him that he was going to be okay. I was right behind him. So when we got there to the jail, to the (inaudible) PD, they still didn't allow me to get my son. I was there for like 45 minutes to an hour before they even let we get my son.

BLACKWELL: Well let me play here what Quantavious said that experience was like.


QUANTAVIOUS EASON, 10-YEAR-OLD ARRESTED: Started like hot a little bit. And they like took me down. And they got me on track and and I wouldn't -- I wouldn't go -- I wouldn't know what was happening. I get scared, started shaking like I'm going to jail.


BLACKWELL: Attorney Moore, let me come to you. He went to Youth Court was declared quote, "delinquent or in need of supervision" now has been sentenced to probation. You say that he was treated this way because of his race explain.

CARLOS MOORE, FAMILY ATTORNEY: Yes, I don't believe any other child of any other hue. And America or Mississippi would have been arrested, prosecuted against Senate's for simply urinating in public discreetly. That is something that every boy and man in America has done at some point I believe. It's a rite of passage, and no one else has ever had to go to jail for it. But this 10-year-old did and I think it stinks to high heaven. BLACKWELL: Do you think -- do you have any evidence any indication that race was a factor was race mentioned? Or is that just a conclusion based on his being black and being arrested?

MOORE: He is black and Mississippi. The judge was white, the prosecutor was white. The arresting officer was white. The lieutenant was white, the chief is white. That is all we have left to conclude all of the other people are white and he was black. And we asked for them to dismiss the charges totally. They refuse to do that. In fact, the prosecutor threatened to upgrade the charges if we did not agree to probation.

BLACKWELL: LaTanya, what's your concern about the impact on Quantavious now that he has probation and has been arrested?

EASON: I am so -- it hurts me to my heart to know that they placed my child on probation or something that -- I mean he couldn't -- he cannot put his (inaudible). So it hurts to my heart knowing that they -- they made him do production times. Not only that he got to report to a probation officer three months. And (inaudible) to write a report (inaudible). It really -- it hurts to my heart.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And I think a lot of parents --

EASON: My son (inaudible) through enough.

BLACKWELL: A lot of parents will feel exactly what you're feeling. We're having a bit of challenge with your audio LaTanya but I thank you both for being with me. A 10 year old now with probation for doing, as I said at the top, something that boys do and occasionally men do as well. LaTonya Easton attorney Moore thank you both. Coming up CNN, Isabel Rosales. Do we look alike? We got a shot of her. She's sitting right here. Do we look alike at all? I don't think so.

AI facial recognition software thought so. Our experiment and the red flag that she found next.


BLACKWELL: Police departments are using AI facial recognition software to identify crime suspects. In some states, the technology can compare faces on surveillance footage to -- well maybe yours by tapping into millions of driver's license photos. CNN Isabel Rosale spoke to experts about this, and they warned that AI makes more mistakes with black and brown people and those lead to real-life consequences.


ISABELLA ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It started with a loud knock on the door of a Detroit house.

PORCHA WOODRUFF, SUING DETROIT PD AFTER FALSE ARREST: All right. Whoa, wait a minute. That's loud.

ROSALES: Portia Woodruff, the homeowner. Portia spent 11 hours in jail for a crime she didn't do and it ended with a $25 million lawsuit. WOODRUFF: It was police officers at the door.

ROSALES: They told her she was under arrest for carjacking and robbery.

WOODRUFF: What am I going to car take? I'm pregnant.

ROSALES: They first and handcuffed her as her children watched.

WOODRUFF: That was an experience that they should have never went through.

ROSALES: She later found out AI played a role in her arrest. According to the lawsuit, facial recognition software mistakenly matched her mug shot from an arresting years ago to this video of a suspect. Defending the technology, Detroit's police chief points his officers for the error.

CHIEF JAMES WHITE, DETROIT POLICE: Is that the investigator ditch that investigative work.

ROSALES: AI is the life work of Georgia Tech professor and researcher Matthew Gombolay.


ROSALES: So do you think it should be used by police departments?

GOMBOLAY: Certainly not.

ROSALES: A report by Georgetown Law estimates that as of 2016 one in two American adults is in a law enforcement face recognition network and it can happen without your consent or knowledge.


GOMBOLAY: This technology is not accurate for the way it's being used. When you ask a question, like, is this person's face match up with a fugitive? You can have a 99.7% accuracy rate.

ROSALES: That sounds really good.

GOMBOLAY: That sounds really good. But what if you ask that same question 300 million times you deploy these things at scale at a population level, you're going to get a tremendous number of false positives.

ROSALES: Depending on your race that accuracy drops even more. A 2019 U.S. government study of 200 facial recognition algorithms found some of them up to 100 times more likely to misidentify people of color compared to white people. Gombolay put the tech to the test.

GOMBOLAY: We will see what happens. ROSALES: Let's see. Using pictures of CNN journalists, plus these

Georgia Tech researchers, he created a virtual lineup and told the AI to identify my face.

GOMBOLAY: It works.

ROSALES: Isabel. There it is.

GOMBOLAY: Some of the time though it says no face. Some of it -- like here, it just thought that you were Victor Blackwell.

ROSALES: It thought that I was Victor Blackwell.


ROSALES: Victor Blackwell is a black man.

GOMBOLAY: Yes. What does that say? That says that these algorithms are not ready for primetime. That they need to be right not just most of the time. They need to be right virtually all the time.

ROSALES: Calvin Lawrence, has specialized in AI since the 90s. He's helped build some of the very technologies police departments use today. The technology is not fair to everyone.


ROSALES: At what moment did that click for you.

LAWRENCE: And to be quite transparent, most recently, I think I wrote the book, basically how to guilt.

ROSALES: That guilt and that book came after the police killing of George Floyd. It explores how AI can deepen systemic racism. Where in this process does it go wrong?

LAWRENCE: It goes wrong at the data layer.

ROSALES: That data biased, because black people are heavily overrepresented in mugshot databases, which according to Lawrence means the software is more likely to identify a person as a suspect if that person is black. And the mostly white developers tend to use white faces when training the algorithms. So the technology becomes highly skilled at matching white faces, but gets it wrong significantly more often with black faces.

In building the algorithm, you can teach the AI to be racist?

GOMBOLAY: Yes. You can absolutely teach the algorithms to be racist. The algorithm doesn't care. The algorithm just wants to do a good job at the task you've given it. And in this case --

ROSALES: You're telling it that if you're black, you're more likely to have committed the crime.

GOMBOLAY: Yes. That's the data that you fit in.

ROSALES: And the price of getting it wrong, is costly.

WOODRUFF: It's just destroying lives. And it could have possibly completely destroyed mine.


ROSALES: And those AI experts that I spoke with say that it's going to take all of us. All of us pushing on lawmakers on the tech companies on law enforcement to insist that they train these systems correctly and set some guardrails. But most importantly, Victor, that people of color are sitting at the table when it comes to developing the software in the first place. That's where it starts to go wrong.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I mean, for this woman you spoke with who was pregnant to be arrested in front of her children.

ROSALES: Right. Traumatizing.

BLACKWELL: I mean, it's traumatizing for the children and for her and those can go much further and have bigger consequences.

ROSALES: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about this contusion of your face for mine. How does that happen?

ROSALES: No offense. Okay.

BLACKWELL: None taken.

ROSALES: You are a handsome man.


ROSALES: But in that moment, okay. I was -- I was astounded.

BLACKWELL: I'm bald. You obviously are not. No beard on you, black man, Latina woman, what --

ROSALES: What happened there? W

BLACKWELL: How did it happened.

ROSALES: What happened there? Okay, so I spoke with Professor Gombolay and asked him the same question. And he said that this AI is strained by the people in the lab, people that are mostly white and Asian men. So the software keeps being trained over and over and over again. And it learns, it learns to identify those faces in particular very, very well, to the detriment of our faces. So a Latina and a black man, it could not tell our faces, as well. And this is what we're seeing in the real world.

We're seeing a white male-dominated industry, creating this technology, training these algorithms, and they're just not doing a good job with black faces.

BLACKWELL: Thank you so much for that report.

ROSALES: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Isabel Rosales. Thank you.

A CNN analysis found the largest credit union in the country also has the largest racial disparity for approval of conventional home loans. We'll bring that to you next.



BLACKWELL: Navy Federal Credit Union, it's the largest credit union in America serves military members Defense personnel veterans their families. Exclusive CNN reporting shows that Navy Federal also has the widest disparity in conventional mortgage approval rates between whites and black borrowers of any major lender. Here's CNN is Rene Marsh.


BOB OTONDI, DALLAS-AREA HOMEOWNER: But it really is a nice neighborhood, you know.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barbra Tandy, a Kenyan immigrant turns Texas entrepreneur knew this was his dream home the moment he saw it. It's in a highly sought-after school district that his son so desperately wanted to attend for its basketball program. So how many homes did you look at before he's found this one and said this was it?

OTONDI: We had about six, but this was the one that we all wanted, and we're all praying to get this one.

MARSH: Otondi's first choice for his mortgage was Navy Federal Credit Union, IT services military members, Defense personnel, veterans, and their families, and is the largest credit union in the country.

OTONDI: I was the CEO of my company. So I had a pretty good income.

MARSH: Your credit was in the 700. You had recently sold your house and you had $100,000 for the downpayment which was more than 20%.

[08:50:02] OTONDI: Correct. I mean what more could you ask for --

MARSH: CNN reviewed Otandi's financial documents. He even had a pre- approval letter from Navy Federal in hand. But just two weeks before closing --

OTONDI: I got a denial. They sent me a letter saying, you're sorry, but your application has been denied.

MARSH: We stunned, surprised? OTONDI: I mean, I was stunned. I was shocked. I was hot.

MARSH: The denial letter listed excessive obligations in relation to income as the reason.

OTONDI: When the denial is when we came back and said, oh man. There's something else going on.

MARSH: And what did you think that something else was.

OTONDI: A discrimination.

MARSH: But it wasn't just Otandi. Thousands of other black applicants were also rejected. According to a CNN analysis of federal consumer protection data, last year, Navy Federal Credit Union only approved 48%. That's less than half of its black applicants for conventional home mortgages. Why borrowers were approved more than 75% of the time, it's the biggest gap among the top 50 lenders.

The data also shows Navy Federal was more than twice as likely to deny black mortgage applicants than white ones. Even when different variables including income, debt, property value, and downpayment percentage were the same.

OTONDI: I feel validated what one point but also I feel a bit of anger, anger because it shouldn't be happening.

MARSH: Two weeks after Navy Federal rejected him another bank approved Otandi for mortgage. Navy Federal Credit Union denied CNN's requests for an on-camera interview. In a statement it said it is committed to equal and equitable lending practices, and that CNN's recent analysis does not account for major criteria required by any financial institution to approve a mortgage loan. That includes credit scores, which are not public. Navy Federal declined to provide additional data.

We asked Navy Federal why Bob Otandi's loan was denied, but they declined to comment citing member privacy. CNN's analysis does not prove discrimination, but it does show dramatic racial disparities and who Navy Federal rejects and approves for conventional mortgage loans.

LISA RICE, CEO, NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE: The Black-White homeownership gap, and the Latino-White homeownership gap today are both wider than they were in 1968. When we pass the Federal Fair Housing Act.

MARSH: Lisa Rice has spent decades as a fair housing advocate. She says the disparities and Navy Federal is lending data are alarming and an extreme example of a bigger problem.

RICE: It's definitely a larger systemic issue than we know that we have a long history of redlining and a long history of lending discrimination in this nation. We'll have that. That data that is sort of tainted with bias is being used to develop the credit scoring systems. OTONDI: We got the house, thank God and we moved on. But what about the ones who were denied? What about the ones who now don't can't get their own dream house? It's something that's going to affect the generation all the way down to their kids.


MARSH: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which oversees consumer lending told CNN it does not comment on specific institutions, but they do conduct investigations to ensure that banks and credit unions are following fair lending practices. Now anyone who thinks that they might have been denied a mortgage because of their race or ethnicity should file a complaint with their local Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.

BLACKWELL: Rene, thank you. Coming up. This week's art is live how an artist inspired by the faces of black children uses their work to make us reflect on how society sees them.


BLACKWELL: Earlier this hour I told you the story of 10-year-old Quantavious Eason arrested in Mississippi. A child treated like an adult. And this week's art is life. Deborah Roberts is influenced by the stories of black children like Qunatavious or 16-year-old Ralph Yarl (ph) shot in the head after ringing the doorbell, the wrong doorbell. Deborah wants to remind us that they are children and we should not treat them like adults.


I'm Deborah Roberts. I am in Austin, Texas and I am a mixed-media visual artist. I use a lot of found images, cut-out pieces of paper, or printed paper. And I take those things and create a face from that. And so it's like humanity meets humanity. I use girls between 8 and 12 and we talk about all sorts of things just identity politics I mean stereotypes. I mean, you know sexuality everything in the world.

I'm influenced by the -- what happened in the news is bad particular. Black boys and black girls and how they are perceived in the world. The story of Ralph Yarl just automatically see a black face, a black child's face and think that -- that's someone they should shoot. I hope that people see children as children.

Don't make them adults too fast. Don't treat them as criminals and any type of stereotype you might have a black people when you -- when you're dealing with these children. Allow them to have a bad day. Allow them to be the laugh out loud. To live the American dream.


BLACKWELL: Deborah Robert's show at the Steven Freeman Gallery in New York City runs through December 23rd.