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Laura Coates Live

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Trump's Ballot Ban; GOP Infighting Over Bipartisan Border Deal; Businesses and Companies Leaving Oakland, Concerns Over Rising Crime Rate; "Kemba" To Premiere In BET PLUS. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 23:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: The case that can change the course of the election. And nine justices are ironing their robes, as we speak. Tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

In just a few short hours from now, the Supreme Court of the United States are going to hear arguments in a historic effort, the one to ban former President Trump on the ballot because of his alleged role in the January 6 insurrection. We're all going to be able to listen live tomorrow morning, so let me make it easy for you to follow their conversation tomorrow.

You've been hearing a lot about the 14th amendment. It's at the very center of the case before the Supreme Court tomorrow. Now, it has five sections. And of those five, you may only really know Section 1, the one about due process in connection to laws, that one. That is not what we are talking about tonight. It's the other white meat, Section 3. That's what's so important. The so-called insurrectionists ban.

Now at its core it says you can't hold office if you've engaged in an insurrection. But if it were that easy, well, frankly, I wouldn't have to explain it to you, would I? And the Supreme Court wouldn't bother taking it up. There are a couple words you have to pay attention to. They're so crucial. And they are exactly the words that brings us here today, brings the court there tomorrow. And that court will dissect these words when trying to understand whether the insurrectionist ban of Section 3 really does apply to Donald Trump.

The first word to consider is officer. The big question is the President of the United States an officer of the United States? You may think you know the answer, but the court has to mull over that one as one of three main questions we're going to talk about right here tonight. As for the second big question, is Section 3 self-executing? That's lawyers speak for; can a plaintiff sue to remove someone from the ballot without Congress specifically saying that they can.

Which brings me to another word, the third important word, and it's one we've talked about a lot, insurrection. We all saw what happened on January 6th. We watched what happened live. We saw the images. We're still reeling from what we see here today. And that third and final question is this, can former President Trump be disqualified from the ballot for having engaged allegedly in an insurrection? Now, remember, he's never been criminally charged with insurrection, and that political process of an impeachment, it failed to convict him. But there was this speech on January 6th, one before the riot at the Capitol, calling out his own vice president and vowing to, quote, "fight like hell." Will this be enough for the Supreme Court to answer that question?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's time that somebody did something about it and Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now.

Something's wrong here. Something's really wrong. Can't have happened. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.


COATES: Well, joining me now, CNN opinion contributor and former House Republican Investigative Committee counsel, Ms. Sophia Nelson is here, and Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor, also joining us here right now. I'm glad that you're both here. You know, the Supreme Court oral arguments are always a tricky one, right? On the one hand, they might have some preconceived notions based on their briefing. On the other hand, they really want to hear what you have to say at the oral argument.

And one of the big questions is going to be whether the language of that 14th Amendment includes a president of the United States. When you look at this, what do you think?


COATES: There we go.

NELSON: And to the justices who are original textualists, just read the text. And then go over to Article 2, Google it, and that describes who the president is. It sets up the executive branch, it breaks it down. I think you have to read those in tandem. And I think that it's very clear that he is the chief executive officer of the United States.

COATES: And here's one of the problems, though. When you look at, and you're both familiar with this so much, and especially you and the work you've done, Sophia, but there had been earlier versions of the 14th Amendment that had the president of the United States in the language of Section 3.


They didn't end up in the final version. The Supreme Court is going to look to see whether or not that makes a difference. Was your intent for him to be on it or not, or the president to be on it? And I wonder if they're going to look at that and say, the failure to name him specifically in that section, where we've named it in other places, like the impeachment clause. Is that enough to say, hmm, don't apply to him. I don't care what you think is the officer of the United States.

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I could say there's the legislative history of this amendment, suggests that they did want to include the President, even though it's not mentioned. And I want to say this, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, when they had the debates around this amendment, there was talk that he could possibly become President of the United States, or there was a hypothetical that he could.

And I guarantee you, the framers of this amendment were thinking about whether he could be elected even though he had been disgraced and become President of the United States. So, it was directed not just at him, but all the others who were part of the Confederacy. And going back to the original textualists, you have to look at what did they intend when that amendment was passed. You have to freeze frame it almost like a football game. And you have to play that video back. And the intent is not just to include the low-level minnows in the government, to include the president of the United States.

COATES: Well, I'm gonna freeze frame and note that the two of you matched very well on this.

ROSSI: We do. We do.

NELSON: We talked on the phone about --

COATES: I didn't want to say anything, but it looks really good. Freeze frame and replay that. Thank you so much. I want to get to the oath though, because we've seen the spectacle of a president taking the oath. It's called the inauguration, right? We know this very important moment. But there's this question of taking the oath. And Trump said that his oath is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution rather than support it. That's the argument he's making.

Now, the current argument is that defend and support -- well, they are synonymous in many respects, as we all understand them. And so, I mean, I wonder how the conservative members of the court are going to parse through that distinction that will hold on, maybe the oath didn't apply in the same way?

NELSON: I think you're splitting hairs here, I mean, not you, Laura, but Trump and his attorneys. And I think that these justices -- I actually expect they'll be unanimous in this. And I know that people think that's probably insane of me, but I think this is a very serious question they've got to get right. And they're going to spend a lot of time deciding how this applies.

And you start parsing out the oath to the Constitution when you become president, I just think that's a ridiculous argument. They mean the same. Those words are synonymous. COATES: So, is the reason for the so-called reach then, because there

isn't the leg to stand on, or do you think the Supreme Court, either of you, is going to say, you know what, even though you haven't been criminally charged and convicted of an insurrection or engaging in one, that's enough to disqualify you from the ballot. Are they going to go that far?

ROSSI: No, they're not. 1869, Justice Chase, Sam Chase, he issued an opinion that said under this amendment, Section 3, it has to be enforced by Congress. And that's the only real opinion that addresses the 14th Amendment. So, I think the Supreme Court, if I'm going into toziography (ph) and predictions, I think the Supreme Court is going to find the most narrow way to rule for Trump.

And I think it's going to be that it has to be executed or enforced by Congress. But I want to add one little thing that isn't coming up in these arguments a lot is the word hold. It says you can't hold office.


ROSSI: It does not mean you can't be elected. So, you could elect some crazy person in a state or elect somebody who's crazy to be President of the United States. But then you have to get over the whole turtle. And that's where Congress comes in.

NELSON: I agree.

ROSSI: And they can say, you know what, you're disqualified, but we're going to get two thirds of the vote and say it can be president. So, I think that word hold is very important. I bet you the Supreme Court is going to latch on to that word and have a very narrow interpretation of this case.

COATES: Yeah, that makes it so interesting. If the issue is whether you can hold office and that Congress can remove that disability as they say, that makes the running mate of the eventual -- if he is the nominee and he does secure the actual election, very important, does it not?

NELSON: But there's a more important thing we're not talking about. You might get to it, so just hit me if I'm wrong, if I go wrong here.

COATES: I won't hit anyone I invite to be on the show. I want you to know this.

NELSON: But what I'm saying is, is that you got to deal with this issue that Colorado is a sovereign state, has decided they did the fact-finding right there, the fact-finder if you will, that he engaged in insurrection and they took him off the ballot.

The Supreme Court has to deal with whether or not they're going to override a sovereign state in their election process as this is a 10th Amendment issue too. It's not as clean as we might want it to be with the questions that we're answering.

[23:10:00] And I think that there is a real bouncer between federalism and state rights and who's going to get the superior ground here, and I think Congress, as you said, it probably goes back to what Congress has to do here. I think they have a difficult decision ahead, and I think they have to be united in whatever way they come out on this.

COATES: But what about the issue -- I mean, and what comes down to it, I think you're right about the idea this is being -- this is based on a state Supreme Court making this assessment in a state district court having a fact-finding mission and a bench trial. But I also wonder about the engage in insurrection. Again, he has not been charged with insurrection. Even the one out of Washington, D.C., led by Jack Smith, has four counts, none of which include insurrection.

The fact that that's a part of it -- shall have engaged in insurrection, are they going to rely then on the Colorado finding to make that conclusion or they even get there?

NELSON: The Supreme Court doesn't do fact-finding.

COATES: They don't --

NELSON: Because that's their job. Gene?

ROSSI: I'll tell you this right now. The Supreme Court tomorrow, and I'm predicting, they're going to stay away from finding insurrection or not finding. They don't need to get to that. I think there are many other avenues to the Supreme Court to find that narrow avenue to rule for Trump, and I think they will rule for Trump in the end. And I do think it's the self-executing issue.

I think they're going to say Congress has to set guardrails because you don't want --

NELSON: Does checks and balances.

ROSSI: Absolutely.

NELSON: It is.

ROSSI: You don't want 50 little, you know, insurrection trials going out in the United States at the same time. We have to have some method to all this madness. And they're going to find the most narrow way. It's going to be that Congress has to set some guidelines.

COATES: We'll tell you what you're right about. I mean, the idea that there -- this is not an isolated attempt in Colorado. There are other states that are considering it. And the Supreme Court is well aware of the problem of patchwork when it comes to issues like this, even if they want to keep their hands clean. Gene Rossi, Sophia Nelson, both of you, thank you. And come back. So, color-coordinated again. That was lovely.

Take a look at this, everyone. People are already lining up outside the Supreme Court tonight, hoping to get a seat for tomorrow's oral arguments. So -- oh, there's Jake Tapper. And I'm just kidding. So how do Americans feel about efforts to keep Donald Trump off the ballot? We'll break into the magic wall. Next.



COATES: While the arguments before the Supreme Court tomorrow could set us on the path to making, well, election history, but how do voters feel about the effort to disqualify Donald Trump from office? Let's go now to CNN's senior data reporter, Harry Enten. He's at the magic wall and going to bring it to life for us. Harry, always good to see you. The big question, what happens if the Supreme Court agrees with the Colorado top court and takes Trump off of that state primary ballot? How would that impact his path to nomination?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yeah. I mean, look, the deal Laura here is pretty clear. Colorado is not gonna really make too much of an impact either in the primary or if you look forward to the general election because in the primary, look, Donald Trump is going to almost certainly accumulate the delegates that are necessary to win the nomination.

And in the general election, a state like Colorado leans Democratic. But you know, of course, there was also the move by the main secretary of state to remove Donald Trump from the main ballot. And I will note that could potentially have some more ramifications come the general election because even though Colorado leans Democratic in the general election, Maine actually allocates electoral vote to the winner of each of the congressional districts.

And Maine's second district actually leans Republican come to fall. So, Colorado, no, but Maine potentially could be a very interesting case come the general election cycle.

COATES: Well, there's also an Illinois circuit court, and a judge is moving forward with a major 14th Amendment lawsuit to block Trump from the ballot there in Illinois. I mean, how many cases remain unresolved right now? I mean, you look at all the accumulation of it, it could maybe make a measurable difference, could it not?

ENTEN: Yeah, it definitely could. You know, if we look, there have been a lot of cases, right? So, litigation removed Trump from the ballot. It's been filed in 35 states. It's pending in 16 states still, so it's still pending in a lot of states.

And if you look at those states, right, where we have pending litigation, look at this, pending litigation removed Trump from the ballot. States he lost by less than five points are one in 2020. Look at this. We have a slew. We have eight states. We have red states like Texas. A lot of electoral votes there. Really red states like West Virginia.

But there's some swing states in there, too, right? Like Wisconsin that Biden barely won back in 2020 or North Carolina, a state that Biden barely lost back in 2020. And Arizona as well, a state that Biden barely won back in 2020. So, the fact is there's pending litigation in a lot of states that could make a difference come the fall if in fact some of these lawsuits actually do succeed.

COATES: That's why this Supreme Court argument to me is so interesting, Harry, to see, you know, they're not just taking this case to hear exclusively about Colorado, although that is the focus, of course, but this is going to have implications to other states that might be thinking about it as well in the long term. But one of the questions to me also is how do you Americans feel about keeping Trump off the ballot? Do they support this proposition?

ENTEN: Yeah, you know, if keeping Trump off the ballot, take a look here. Support Colorado and Maine's decision to keep Trump off the ballot. Look at this even split that we have here. Not really much of a surprise in our 50/50 nation. Forty-nine percent of Americans actually do support it, compared to 46 percent who oppose it. Very, very tight.

And, you know, just looking forward to the Supreme Court generally speaking, trust the Supreme Court to make the right decisions on legal cases related to the 2024 election. Look at here, Laura, 42 percent, just 42 percent have a great deal or moderate amount of confidence in the Supreme Court. The vast majority of Americans really don't have that much trust in the Supreme Court, Laura. Fifty-eight percent have just some or not at all to make the right decisions.


COATES: Well, that ain't good.

ENTEN: Yeah.

COATES: And you have to wonder if that changed recently or that's been ruined for a long time. Something tells me it's a lot more recent than it has been in the distant past. Harry Enten, as always, thank you for the numbers. I appreciate it so much.

ENTEN: I appreciate you, Laura.

COATES: And be sure to listen live as the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case to remove former President Donald Trump from the ballot. Our coverage begins tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. east.

Next, a variation on a theme on Capitol Hill. Talking about all of the -- what was the word? Chaos. It's got a lot of lawmakers ticked off. Will the meltdown actually hurt Republicans? I've got a panel here to talk to me just in a moment about all of it. Look at this beautiful panel. We'll be right back. Only you raised your hands? Really? (LAUGHER)



COATES: Well, there might be just one word for what we're seeing on Capitol Hill today. That word, drumroll please, chaos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): But we've got to sit down together, figure out how we're gonna solve problems because the American people sent us here to do that.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): Partisanship won. The Senate has failed Arizona. Shameful.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It's more than disappointing. It's dangerous. Extremely dangerous what we're doing today. This has to be reversed and the people should demand it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): But it is shameful and embarrassing to see MAGA radicalism take hold here in the Senate.


COATES: Well, the Senate's long-awaited, carefully negotiated, and the big word here, bipartisan, bipartisan, border bill, it is dead. A foreign package tied to the bill was actually collateral damage in all of this. Republican Senator Josh Hawley, yes, that Josh Hawley put it this way, quote, "It's been a total disaster. Why would voters look at what's going on over here in the circus and say, yeah, we want more of this?"

Well, let's talk about what the voters might want with former communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris, Ashley Etienne, and also CNN (inaudible) some respect on your name, senior public commentator Scott Jennings, excuse me, also contributor for CNN, Sophia Nelson is back with us and political analyst for CNN, Coleman Hughes. He's the author of the brand-new book, "The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America."

I know the cover is red. I love it. Well, anyway, in here, Scott, are you feeling pretty good tonight? This is kind of a trick question, a bit rhetorical. But are you feeling pretty good tonight about what Republicans are getting done on the Hill?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know, it's not over yet. I'll put a glass half full spin on it. Sometimes bills don't pass. It's not the first time it has happened and it won't be the last. They're still negotiating over the foreign aid package, the plan B option, which got 58 votes today. So, it only needs a couple of more to get over the 60-vote hurdle. And they're negotiating over how to get that done.

And if that gets done, that'll be a step in the right direction for several priorities that a lot of Republicans have. What's going to be left undone is the border and immigration piece, which continues to be left undone year after year after year. And I think, you know, for the American people, it is true. This has become a major problem. It's become a major issue, and it's become a major crisis under a Democratic administration that for three years has claimed the border is secure and now all of a sudden has realized, oh, the election's coming, so now the borders not secure. We want to blame somebody else.

COATES: Is that really what it is, though, Ashley, when you look at it? Is it really, they delayed so long just to wait till right now for Republicans to kind of implode in their own voting?

ASHLEY ETIENNE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: No, I think the problems just exacerbated and it's gotten worse over time. I mean, I've traveled all over the country and you can see migrants all over the country. We've had, you know, Democratic governors and mayors leaning on the president to take action. So, I think it got to a sort of a boiling point and the president had to do something about it.

But it gets back to this issue that you said earlier, which is Republicans don't want to take yes for an answer. What I saw from Biden is he did like classic Clinton triangulation. He gave the Republicans everything that they wanted. It was like a conservative wish list, but he put them in a position to tell him no, and they've done it. And now it creates an opportunity for him to really put this at their doorstep, the failure of the border, the open border on Republicans.

But the question is, is whether or not he can effectively do that alone. He's not yet proven that he can sort of disseminate, promulgate an effective message that penetrates the key audiences. Thanks, Scott, for agreeing on that one. So, I mean, so the pressure is on him to make the case, but I think he's well positioned to do that.

COATES: Is he?

NELSON: You know, Laura, I think the story here is Senator Lankford's speech. Every American should listen to that speech he gave today. It was disturbing because he said before they even looked at the bill, he was told, "If you do this, you're gonna get destroyed. We're gonna destroy you." The real big story here isn't that they didn't get anything done, is that Donald Trump killed it and told him not to do it, and they fell in line. That to me is the real story here of what's happening and I think that's where we are for the rest of the year until the election.

COATES: So, what does that mean then if you are somebody who's hoping to negotiate? We've seen what happened to Speaker McCarthy, right, when he endeavored to cross the aisle and he longer has a gavel, he's longer in Congress. Now you have Lankford who is a Republican, one of the most conservative in the caucus by the way, has been completely villainized for what's happened so far. Who wants to negotiate? Who wants this job back?

NELSON: They totally were going to destroy him. Listen to what the man said. It's now personal.


NELSON: And I think that that's what we're missing in all of this. There's this personal element which takes us away from bipartisanship in getting things done. It's just an ugly place right now to be in the Congress.

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is why Congress has such low approval ratings right now. [23:30:00]

I think both parties have egg on their face in this situation. Republicans for rejecting what was pretty sensible and tough bill on the border that would have gone a long way towards curbing this emergency. And Democrats, frankly, for, you know, the second Donald Trump was out of office, Biden wanted to signal that he was not going to be like Trump on the border. And he took his foot off the pedal, right? And that's what allowed this crisis to build up to begin with.

That was an example of partisanship, too. So, in my view, it's partisanship on both sides. This is the reason why we can't get things done, and it makes perfect sense for the American people to be upset with Congress right now.

COATES: So, my grandma said, this is why we can't have nice things.

HUGHES: Right.

COATES: Okay, this is why we can't have nice things while there's plastic on the couch. But let me ask you this, President Biden said this at a fundraiser in New York, you guys. He said, "Republicans have to decide who they serve. Are they here to solve problems or just weaponize them?" I mean this question of basically who do you serve sounds like it might be Trump.

JENNINGS: Well, I mean the question for him is who does he serve? I mean, you know, he is the one that's struggling on this issue right now. I mean, 70, 80 percent of the American people believe this is a crisis, believe it's a top issue, and they believe he has failed on this. And so, what has he been doing for the last three years? This became urgent to him only when it became obvious, a boat anchor on his reelection campaign.

It didn't matter to him when he promised to give free healthcare to illegal immigrants during his campaign. It didn't matter to him on day one when he reversed all of Donald Trump's policies. If he had an ounce of humility or good faith here, he would go to the American people say, I messed up, I shouldn't have reversed those day. One executive act, I should not have done that. I'm gonna reverse my actions and I'm gonna fire my Homeland Security Secretary for being a failure. And now I'm ready to negotiate. That would be an ounce of good faith where there is none right now.

COATES: It is at odds though. I'm the one to blame and now I'm going to fire the person who executed my policy. That's kind of the issue about the impeachment of Mayorkas in part and that failed as well by the way. Add another thing that failed this week for what Secret Johnson tried to do but do you see it that way? I mean obviously this has been an issue for a number of years and frankly for other administrations too. But why do you think -- to that point of what's taken so long, how do you respond to that in terms of why?


COATES: Why there was not sooner action to Scott's point? ETIENNE: Well, I mean, my -- you know, the president came into office

and implored Congress to pass bills to address this issue. I mean, the position of the president has always been that the way we really address this issue in a comprehensive way is for Congress to take action, right? The Republicans have campaigned on the border, consistently spent millions upon millions of dollars in ads bashing the President for an open border, and here we are at a point now where they have an opportunity to take a bill that they wrote, they drafted to solve this particular problem.

You know, I think everyone's playing politics here, but you know, the one thing is that, you know, I've worked for a speaker before and if we could just go back, I think the person who has the most egg on their face is Speaker Johnson at this point. Why would you bring a bill to the floor and you don't have enough votes for the bill? But here's the other thing, Laura, and this problem's only gonna get worse, so it's gonna create a bigger opportunity for the president.

As we go into the summer, we've seen border crossings only increase as the weather changes and gets warmer. This is gonna become a problem for Johnson, and that he's put himself in a box and I'm not really sure how he's gonna get out.

COATES: Well, the math wasn't -- the math wasn't mapping, I mean, that's a problem. We've got to figure that before you go to the floor. But Coleman, I talked about your book at the very beginning and I want to get into it because I -- it really is fascinating, it really is. And in your book, you talk about the end of race politics. In some respects, people talk about immigration issues as a proxy for a larger conversation on race and beyond. It's been released. How do you hope to change the conversation about race and politics?

HUGHES: Yeah. So, this word colorblind has become a dirty word for many people. And actually, it's good that we're talking about this today because we've gotten deep into the 14th Amendment today and I have a whole section on the 14th Amendment in my book because the first proponent of the 14th Amendment, Wendell Phillips, who is president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he was the first American public figure to use the word colorblind in his proposing the 14th Amendment.

And what he meant by it was that the state should have no business recognizing or discriminating in any direction when it comes to its citizens, right? So, this is where I trace the history of the idea of colorblind as to not to conservatives or to reactionaries, but actually to the most radical anti-slavery activists of the 1860s.

And from there it's a through line through the civil rights movement where you have -- you can go back and read Martin Luther King's great book "Why We Can't Wait" where he says, "Yes, we have to address the legacy of slavery. Yes, we have to address racial inequality."


And the best way to do that is not with policy that discriminates on the basis of race but rather with discriminating that attacks poverty and will disproportionately benefit Black-Americans. Nowadays, you would also include Hispanic-Americans. And that we should -- especially Democrats and people on the left should rediscover the wisdom of the colorblind approach to addressing poverty, addressing the legacy of slavery, and so forth.

COATES: What a great book. I can't wait to read it and hope everyone does as well. Coleman, thank you. Thank you to everyone here on the panel as well. I do give drinks to other people besides just Scott at the table. I mean --


COATES: Look, we don't have the budget to hand out mugs now. You can look at the mug, you can hold the mug and put the mug back. There's also been a big spike in crime in Oakland, leading some companies to warn their employees not to even leave the building for lunch. I'm serious. Some people are even afraid to go outside. So, what is behind the surge? We'll explore it next.



COATES: A once bustling city, now facing a surge of violence. Crime in Oakland, California was up in several categories last year, even as crime fell in other major cities. Several businesses have even had to close up shop. Here's CNN's Veronica Miracle.


VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chaotic scenes from Oakland, California, a city now notorious for its violent crime. The Hegenberger Road corridor, one of the worst parts of the city, once a thriving road with chain stores and local businesses. It's now an area many avoid.

(On camera): So, customers are scared so they're not staying to eat.

CINDY VARELA, OWNER, ZONA LATINA: Exactly. They call for the phone and order the food, but to go.

MIRACLE (voice-over): One year since opening Zona Latina, Cindy Varela's business has been broken into twice. Her customers targeted countless times.

VARELA: For my customer, they broke the windows, the car and take everything.

MIRACLE (on camera): Varela's store is down the street from this raising canes (ph) where employees tell us they do drive through service only. This cage here, it's where employees park their cars and there are signs everywhere, telling people to eat and leave.

(Voice-over): Just around the corner, the well-known burger chain In- N-Out, says it will be closing this location, not from lack of business, but because customers and associates are regularly victimized by car break-ins, property damage, theft and armed robberies. In 2023, Oakland police recorded increases in burglaries, robberies, and auto thefts by 23, 38, and 45 percent compared to the year prior.

In the last week, several companies across Oakland have all announced safety concerns. Kaiser Permanente telling its workers in a leaked memo obtained by KTVU not to leave the building for lunch or hold meetings downtown.

SHARI GODINEZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KONO COMMUNITY BENEFIT DISTRICT: It sort of creates this avalanche of people afraid to go out, which actually makes it even a worse problem.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Shari Godinez is a third-generation Oaklander.

(On camera): What's it like seeing restaurant after restaurant closed on this block?

GODINEZ: It's very heartbreaking.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Godinez represents hundreds of businesses as the executive director of a business collective. More than half of the businesses she recently surveyed said they were closing or leaving Oakland.

GODINEZ: To see Oakland transition from such a thriving community to starting to look like a ghost town is just devastating.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Godinez's organization and other business districts want city leaders to make policy changes that would allow Oakland police to operate more effectively. She says businesses like this home decor store burglarize just a few weeks ago, experienced repeated break-ins. Groups of people organized and strategic, often captured on city-wide cameras, hit several businesses at a time.

Crime, Godinez says, is changing the local economy. She believes it's part of the reason the Oakland First Friday Street Fair put on to showcase businesses has been temporarily shut down for the first time in 10 years.

(On camera): It makes you emotional, just thinking about it.

GODINEZ: Because I don't want to see it go away.

MIRACLE (voice-over): And the city is also taking action. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, who's been in office just one year, already facing a recall from dissatisfied voters, but her office increased the number of police across the city, including the Hegenberger corridor. That area saw a 23 percent reduction in auto burglaries in 2023 compared to the year before.

The Oakland police say they're working alongside community members and law enforcement partners at all levels to deploy resources strategically to combat criminal activity. Nigel Jones is a restaurateur who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica. One of his restaurants, Kingston 11, was ransacked last fall. It's around that time he says he started working with other business owners to find solutions and bring them to city leaders.

(On camera): So, you've achieved your American dream in Oakland.


MIRACLE: You want others to be able to do the same.

JONES: Yes, I do. There are folks who can't go anywhere and they need to make the city thrive. And so, I'm one of those folks. Not that I can't go anywhere, but I don't want to go anywhere. And I am 100 percent committed to Oakland being a place where people can thrive and achieve their dreams.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Veronica Miracle, CNN, Oakland, California.


COATES: Veronica Miracle, thank you so much for that. Up next, sentenced to more than two decades in prison, held responsible for someone else's crimes. Now the story of Kemba Smith is being made into a movie and it's a story that's very personal to me. Back in a moment.



COATES: Abuse, injustice, and finally, freedom. Kemba Smith was only 24 years old when she was sentenced to more than two decades in prison. The year was 1994 and the war on drugs was as rampant as it was racist. And Kemba's boyfriend at the time, Peter Hall, was a drug dealer. Yes, Kemba witnessed some illegal stuff go down, but she did not commit his crimes. She had no history of violence. Not even a single prior offense. Still, can you believe none of that mattered?


Why? Because of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. After Kemba's boyfriend was murdered, she was held accountable for his actions. She was 24 years old and sentenced to 24 years for someone else's crime. So unfortunately, with the help of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she was released in 2000 after six years in prison.

Now her remarkable life story is a movie premiering February 22nd on BET PLUS. Here is an exclusive clip.


UNKNOWN: What's going on?

UNKNOWN: I don't know.


UNKNOWN: Could you at least tell us what you're looking for? UNKNOWN: Peter Hall, also known as Khalif Hall.

UNKNOWN: Well, he certainly isn't in a dresser drawer, that's for sure.

UNKNOWN: Do you know his whereabouts?

UNKNOWN: No, sir, we do not.



UNKNOWN: It's Mom Davey (ph).


COATES: People often asked me why I became a prosecutor. Well, the reason is here. And her name is Kemba Smith. And the director of that film, Kelley Kali, and I'm so thrilled to have both of you here today. I mean, I've told you this before. In 1994, it was that Emerge magazine, the cover, it said, "Kemba's Nightmare," and my mother gave it to us three daughters in her household and said, "I need you to read this and understand what could be in life."

And it has always stuck with me. It really has changed my trajectory and for so many other young women. And now a new generation people are going to learn your story. What does this feel like, Kemba?

KEMBA SMITH, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "KEMBA": It feels surreal. But it's actually, I have to let go of my own feelings because not everyone would want to put all of their past, you know, decisions that weren't the best and being in an abusive relationship during college. But it feels good to be here, thank you. But it's bigger than just me, like you said.

Actually, one of the characters in my film, Michelle West, she actually has a clemency petition in, but she was sentenced to two life sentences plus 50 years and she's still sitting in federal prison. So, once I was released and once, you know, all this galvanizing and momentum with my story and it took the president of the United States to release me, I had a sense of survivor's guilt because so much was done for me, but I knew that there were other women that were in similar situations that deserve a second chance as well. So, I continue to be a human face for those that I left behind.

COATES: You still battle with some of that guilt to this day.

SMITH: Of course, I do. I mean, she's still there and there's so many other people fighting. And so, with my movie, there'll be a social impact campaign that's launched along with it and some of the things that we would like to do with the federal government to do and states across the country, is to look at second-look legislation, governors to exercise their power of clemency to give other people second chances. COATES: I mean this has been your big priority as well even making the film because, you know, you can't take it lightly. When you hear a 24- year-old, 24 years for crimes that she did not commit, you think about being in college. You think about being, you know, young and dumb like we all have been and maybe will be again.

And to think about the relatability and the consequences, you really brought out the multi-dimensionality of all the people who are portrayed in a real-life story and brought it on film.

KELLEY KALI, DIRECTOR, "KEMBA": Yeah, and that's important as a storyteller, at least from my perspective. My background is in anthropology from Howard University. And what I was taught there is that we are all not all one note. And I find that in movies and storytelling, oftentimes you have this one note villain and then this one note hero.

And that's not life. That's not what we go through. So, when we're able to tell stories such as Kemba's, we have to be one conscientious and careful because it is a biopic and these are real people who have family and kids who are still living today that we need to make sure that we're not causing trauma to them as well.

But if we're showing the truth and showing the layers of the individual, even if they didn't make good decisions, they're still a human being. No one wakes up and says, "Mommy, I want to be a drug dealer one day." There are circumstances in which people live in that cause those decisions. And heaven forbid, we ever have to make decisions like that, but we can't truly sit and say that we would never do that, not until you're placed into that circumstance.


So as a storyteller, as a filmmaker, I think it's our responsibility to take that care in every single person, character, whoever that you're depicting on a screen.

COATES: You know that's -- you say it's so profound and yet so many people do sit in judgment, you know. I've been a prosecutor. I never endeavored to be a judge. I was hoping to be a conduit and a voice for people. But there are those who sit in judgment and they think I would never. That's her or that's him. This is what they do, and they think them -- they're better than the circumstances they are around.

And I just wonder you know you have had several lifetimes since that 24-year-old girl inside of you. When you look back now, do you judge her?

SMITH: I don't judge her because I understand that she was a young naive impressionable college student and I made some choices that weren't the best. What I do look at is the fact that I was a survivor, and I was indicted by a federal government that didn't take into consideration the fact that I was being abused in the domestic violence aspect, and I feel as if that's something mitigating circumstances that the prosecutor should have taken in consideration. I do accept responsibility, you know, for the choices that were made,

and that's why I'm so transparent in telling my story because I do want to prevent the prison-to-school pipeline and from young people to go down that same path, not to go down that same path, but also to -- it's been my mission to highlight the prosecutorial misconduct that happened where I turned myself in seven months pregnant.

The prosecutor said that he would grant me a bond to give birth to my son and he also promised that if I plead guilty, I would only get 24 months and he were late on that promise as well. So, it's just really important for me to let people know what happened and how easy it is to get caught up.

COATES: I'm proud of you Kemba. I'm proud of you Kelley, and proud of this movie because I think the story needs to be told and frankly our stories, while not a monolith, is far more expansive than people give us credit for. And so, I'm really glad that this is coming to light, and it's one that will always be near and dear to my heart. So, thank you so much.

SMITH: Thank you.

KALI: Thank you, Laura.

COATES: Thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.