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The Van Jones Show
America Now Faces a Complex Threat Externally and Internally With No Easy Answers; Underneath All the Chaos and Nonsense, What Do Everyday Americans Really Want? Black Voters and Rural Voters, What Do They Really Want, Can They Come Together, Can Democrats Unite Them?; President Trump is Attacking Joe Biden For His Role in 1994 Crime Bill; 1994 Crime Bill, How Bad Was It, What Was The Impact?; Bryan Stevenson Says We've Got to Confront History to Overcome the Legacy of Racial Inequality; On LGBTQ Americans, Trump Administration is Actually Rolling Back Protections That Could Hurt Lots Of People. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired June 01, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
VAN JONES, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Van Jones. Welcome to THE VAN JONES SHOW. What a week! Got a bunch of craziness going on. They're ratcheting up the tariff stuff, the trade wars. We've got real concerns about the safety of our elections. We're going to get to all the crazy stuff. But first I want to tell you, I'm so glad you tuned in today, tonight.
One of our show's missions is to keep you attuned to the true heartbeat of the country. Underneath all the chaos and nonsense, what do everyday Americans really want? And tonight you're going to get some answers. For starters, you're going to hear directly from a family of Trump voters in Ohio who may finally be souring on the Commander-in-Chief. But why? You're going to find out.
Also, we're going to take you into the minds of two major voting blocks. Black voters and rural voters. What do they really want? Can they come together? Can Democrats unite them? We don't know. We're going to find out.
Plus, wisdom from a modern day saint who goes into American prisons to defend people who are condemned to die. What can Bryan Stevenson teach us about what's right and what's wrong in America today? Tonight, I promise you're going to be informed, you're going to be inspired. But first let me depress you. OK? Let's talk about this past week.
All right. Bob Mueller made rare public comments and confirmed that Russia is indeed attacking our democracy. He reiterated that his investigation did not exonerate the President of any crime. And he said that charging the President was not something his office
could pursue anyway. And he put the ball back in the hands of Congress to do something about it.
In other words, the moment of reckoning is upon us. America now faces a complex threat externally and internally with no easy answers. Congress can either drag us into a national, bitter impeachment fight, divide us, weaken us in the short-term, or Congress can ignore Trump's obvious misdeeds. I mean, the guy cooperated with the investigation, but he also tried to undermine it. So if Congress does nothing, that sets a precedent that the U.S. President is above the law and that could weaken us as a country in the long-term.
So there's no easy answers here. But I do have some observations. Some Democrats are afraid that impeaching Trump could backfire politically. They say that the Republicans paid a heavy price for impeaching Bill Clinton. That's not true. OK? Just two years later, the GOP was in control of the House and the Senate and the White House. OK? So that doesn't make a lot of sense.
At the same time, pro-impeachment Democrats should be careful. The right-wing media is telling half the country a completely different narrative about what's going on. And it would take a Herculean effort to truly educate the country about why impeachment may be justified.
And in the end, Republican-held Senate is not going to remove Trump anyway. Meanwhile, Trump is going to be out there saying he's a victim, he's a martyr, he's being hounded because he wants to help his base. And that could play to his benefit. So it's a tough choice.
I don't know the right thing, but I do know this. My fear is that the real danger is being ignored in the middle of all of this. In 18 months, we got an election. And the Russians can undermine our Democracy again. The one person who most loves this whole spectacle is the one person we talk about the least, Vladimir Putin. All this division and distrust accelerates his plans to weaken us from within.
So, even as we debate the fate of the President, Pelosi and the Republicans should come together to convene a parallel set of bipartisan hearings to defend our democracy from a foreign threat. All Americans should be united on at least one principle, that American elections should be decided by Americans. And if we can't come together on that, something is really, really wrong. And let's face it. We are still reeling from the last election.
Speaking of last election, 2016, I spent a lot of time trying to understand the messy truth behind Donald Trump's victory. And you might remember, I talked to an Ohio family that had voted for Obama twice and then voted for Donald Trump, the Seitz family. You might remember them. Well, two-and-a-half years later, I went back to the same house and talked to the same family. I think you might be surprised by what they have to say about Donald Trump today. Take a look.
JONES (voice-over): All right. Well, I'm back here in Trumbull County, Ohio. Right after the Trump election, I've visited with the Seitz family here. They had been loyal Democrats for years and years, but they voted in 2016 for Donald Trump. They were getting hammered out here economically. So I want to go back and talk to the family to see how they are feeling.
JONES (on-camera): Hey, buddy. SCOTT SEITZ, VOTED FOR TRUMP IN 2016: How are you doing?
JONES: Hey, I'm back.
[19:05:00] S. SEITZ: Good to see you. Come on in.
JONES: Thank you. The last time I was here, it was right after the Trump election.
S. SEITZ: Trump seemed to come through here and he's speaking change again. And we're always wanting something more. We wanted something better. And we're hoping he does that.
JONES: Oh, yes. As hopeful today as you were the last time I saw you.
S. SEITZ: Well, Van, to be honest with you, things have gotten a little bit worse. The company I work at, Arconic RMI Titanium in Niles, Ohio, we build the F-35 fighter jet, and we currently - we're 11 months without a contract. But even more importantly, Lordstown General Motors, they've lost 4,000 employees. We're currently about 5,000 jobs down since Trump has taken office, here locally.
JONES: But that's kind of hard to imagine because he is out there saying he's been a miracle for this economy. Wall Street is happy, the stock market is happy. What's the disconnect?
S. SEITZ: I think he sold us on broken promises in this area. I think he sold us on promises he knew he couldn't keep. I don't believe he understands the devastation in this area. I mean, a lot of families are moving away from this area. And where Trump told us, don't go, don't pack up, don't leave, (inaudible) this is all going to stay here, this is all going to work out. And well, where is it at? Like, what's happening? It's just going downhill from here.
JONES: So the bleeding has not stopped basically. The - you were bleeding. And--
DERINDA SEITZ, DIDN'T VOTE FOR PRESIDENT IN 2016: And we're still bleeding.
JONES: And you're still bleeding.
D. SEITZ: We're not that realistic that the steel mills are going to come back and flourish in this area. It's just not going to happen. But things need to replace what they are taking away.
S. SEITZ: Mark Wanning (ph), a good friend of mine. He was a car enthusiast. Getting a job at General Motors was his dream job. He was given the ultimatum to either lose your job or take a transfer to another location. And it took him away from his family.
JONES: That's too hard.
S. SEITZ: He ended up taking his own life through depression and whatnot, ended up committing suicide. We need some real help in this area. JONES: The Trump tax bill was touted as something that was going to
help the economy a great deal. A lot of people said that that Trump tax bill helped rich folks more than it helped working people. What is your view of the Trump tax bill?
S. SEITZ: We spend in taxes this year $3,400, we just had to pay in this year. And my actual paycheck was $2.46 more each week.
JONES: So what? You used to get a refund and now you had to pay in or --?
S. SEITZ: Yes, we used to get a refund.
JONES: So you did not get a refund this year?
S. SEITZ: No. We actually ended up paying in more this year than we did any other year.
JONES: Health care costs. He said everybody is going to have the best doctors, everything is going to be great. He said it's going to be easy.
S. SEITZ: Van, you know, I help my mother out every chance I get. And I moved her home from Arizona so I can help her and be closer to her. Six or seven years ago, when Obama institutionalized Obamacare, of course, her prices went up a little bit. And we were a little upset about that. But you know what happened since then? They've doubled. She's barely making it. Things that we thought were going to get better have actually gotten worse under Trump.
JONES: Democratic Party had you guys, had you since 1972, since before you guys were born, had you and lost you. What do Democrats need to do to get you guys back on this side of the fence?
S. SEITZ: It wouldn't take much to get us back. Just one thing. Jobs. That's it. Come through here--
D. SEITZ: Come through here.
S. SEITZ: --and promise us jobs and actually produce them.
D. SEITZ: There's a lot of candidates in the Democratic Party. And I'm anxious to hear all their sides. Joe Biden was who I wanted to run last time and he did not run. And so he's in it. So - but I want to see how - he still needs to lay it out for me what he's planning on doing.
CAMERON SEITZ, VOTED FOR TRUMP IN 2016: I think me and my mother will disagree on this. I just - I'm not a huge fan of Joe Biden. I think if Bernie gets the nominee, I think he would - I think he could win. We need someone that can actually stand for something. I think there's 23 Democratic candidates right now. And a lot of their ideas are just take-down Trump. And I don't think that's going to do it.
S. SEITZ: See, a lot of us here, Van, are old-school Democrats.
D. SEITZ: Yes.
S. SEITZ: We firmly believe that the Democrats that come through here should represent the American blue collar worker. We're the ones that built the system. And I firmly believe that if they come through here and give us some hope, we could certainly go back.
JONES: Some people might say when you say stick up for the blue collar worker, they might think you're saying don't talk about the black community, don't talk about the gay community, don't talk about those communities. Is that your view that those issues have crowded in too much?
S. SEITZ: Well, the Democratic Party has actually switched focus.
[19:10:00] Instead of representing the American blue collar, they're representing immigration, they're representing the gay community and whatnot. What they fail to understand is this. When you're a union brother and sister, you're working with blacks every day. You're working with gays every day. You're working with women every day. And in this area, we're all in it together - as true brothers and sisters, together.
JONES: I think there was a time when right after the election, people who were critical of the Trump voters, saying, these guys, they don't care about this group, they don't care about that group, they don't care about that group. He had the Muslim ban, he's doing the family separation stuff. Does that move votes up here?
S. SEITZ: We are so economically strapped here that that's all we really concern ourselves with. And I know that's terrible and it sounds terrible, but it's the truth, Van. And the basic thing that we talk about in all of our break meetings and in our lunchrooms and whatnot at work is what we're going to do here financially. It's not build the wall. It's not not-build the wall.
JONES: What about this impeachment stuff? Some Democrats say there is enough evidence now, he should be impeached. Other people say, let's move on to other topics. How does the whole impeachment, Bob Mueller, how that stuff playing up here?
S. SEITZ: For what he has done here in Trumbull County, I'd like to kick his ass. But I don't understand the whole process of the Mueller report. They say that they didn't find anything, but some people say they did. We concentrate more on jobs than anything else so we don't get into that drama.
JONES: So who is still open to voting for Trump possibly?
C. SEITZ: I'm still open. I just - I need to see what the other candidates can offer.
S. SEITZ: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. And that's what I think about Trump.
We really thought Trump was going to help us. And he hasn't. He's made it worse. He's not pulling through on his promises. He came here like the businessman that he is and a salesman that he is and he sold us on things that he knew he wasn't going to be able to make true. And we fell for it.
We need to get him back here in a positive way. And I want him at my plant. And I want him to walk through and see what's actually going on because these are real life stories here. We got real life here in Trumbull County.
JONES: President Trump, 2020 Democrats, here is your chance. That's real wisdom, powerful, powerful insight from real people who made the difference in the last election. Now these Presidential hopefuls today are making strong stands on a lot of hot button issues from abortion, impeachment. Some are causing division inside the party. But what do voters want? What do real people want? We're going to get some incredible insight from grassroots leaders who are on the ground every day talking to very different kinds of primary voters. You're going to hear from them when we get back.
[19:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JONES: Welcome back to THE VAN JONES SHOW. And we've got abortion, immigration, tariffs, healthcare. We hear all these pundit and pollsters talking about this stuff. We wanted to get a better sense of how this is resonating with real people. Here we've got two progressive community leaders who spent years on the ground talking to regular folks.
Please welcome to THE VAN JONES SHOW, Alicia Garza. She is a co- founder of Black Lives Matter. Currently she's a Special Products Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. We also have Patty Judge, who's a former Lieutenant Governor of Iowa. And she now chairs the group, Focus on Rural America. Welcome to THE VAN JONES SHOW.
I grew up in rural America and I've been black my whole life. So I am excited about this whole conversation. This is good for me.
Help me understand - we've been talking this week a lot about the Mueller investigation and impeachment, that kind of stuff. With your constituencies, how big a deal is the Mueller report and all that stuff? Number one, number zero, where are we on that?
PATTY JUDGE, FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF IOWA & CHAIR, FOCUS ON RURAL AMERICA: Well, it is not number one. As I travel in rural Iowa, talk to people, very rarely, if ever, does a voter bring up the Mueller report, possible impeachment, so forth and so on. That is just not where the heads are. They're really talking about jobs, economic opportunity.
JONES: What about you, Alicia? ALICIA GARZA, WRITER AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST & CO-FOUNDER, BLACK
LIVES MATTER GLOBAL NETWORK: Similarly, I don't hear a lot from black folks about the Mueller report or what's happening in that realm of things. And what I do hear is that people are not excited necessarily about impeachment, that impeachment doesn't mean that Trump is leaving the White House and so why expend all that much - all that energy.
JONES: Should Democrats just drop it then? What do you think?
JUDGE: I think Congress has a duty to investigate. They've also got to be able to walk and chew gum. They need to be doing business that's in front of them and looking at the real issues that voters care about.
JONES: You've had the biggest survey of black voters ever, 31,000 black voters, all 50 states. I didn't know there were black people in all 50 states. You found the black folk in Alaska.
JONES: I mean - so--
GARZA: There's a lot in our state actually.
JONES: So what did you discover? What do you think that Democrats running for office need to know about black voters as they go into South Carolina?
GARZA: Here's what we found in the black census is that the number one issue that people cared about was wages that were too low to be able to support a family. And we saw that in the last clip. Right? The economic issues--
JUDGE: Yes, absolutely.
GARZA: --are pressing on people's spirits, on their dreams, on their hopes. The brother on the clip just now said, we need hope. And I think that that is exactly what people are looking for. And people have solutions for what that hope can look like if only politicians would ask.
JONES: So economic stuff, I mean, does it sound familiar to you?
JUDGE: Absolutely. And again, the clip that you just ran, I see that over and over. People are working at two or three jobs to make a living for their families. They feel like they've been left behind. And I think I hear that as you're saying the same thing about the black community. Somehow this good times has missed part of us.
JONES: I mean, it's so interesting because - so you guys sitting here, you're literally saying the same things about what's going on for your various bases of support. I want to just play one clip that stood out for me, though, from my friend Scott Seitz and get your reaction to it. Can you put - roll the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: He had the Muslim ban, he's doing the family separation stuff. Does that move votes up here?
[19:20:00] S. SEITZ: We are so economically strapped here that that's all we really concern ourselves with. And I know that's terrible and it sounds terrible, but it's the truth, Van.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: So let's get into that because if we're going to have a Democratic coalition, we need to kind of care about each other somewhat. But are we asking too much? How do you think about this empathy gap that sometimes gets exploited to split the party?
JUDGE: Well, I think the voters first care about that economic opportunity. And then if that's taken care of or if that - if there is a solution, then it's easier to think about and worry about the other issues, like the Muslims or LGBTQ rights or women's rights.
JONES: Does it bug you to hear a white guy, union guy saying he doesn't care about these groups or do you understand?
GARZA: I understand it. And I think that the strategy of the GOP in particular has been to use groups like Muslims, like immigrants, like gay people, like black people as the reason why people are not advancing economically. And so while I agree that people are saying, well, there's a hierarchy, the thing I care about the most is economic issues, what people do who want to distract you from the reason that the economy is not working for you is they try to point your attention towards the people that they are saying are taking what you should be having.
JONES: Right. Right.
GARZA: So I think that what we've got to be mindful of is that it's not so much that people don't care about what happens to groups that they may not identify with. It's that they're being told that those groups are to blame for them not being able to--
JUDGE: Right. Absolutely.
GARZA: --have food on their table or make rent or pay their mortgage--
JUDGE: Right. Right.
GARZA: --or be able to take care of their loved ones who might be sick or ailing.
JONES: So part of this being pitted against each other may be tricked, but there are some differences now. I mean--
GARZA: Of course.
JONES: --what about the issues like guns, issues like abortion? Those are not economic issues where people being tricked. Those are actual values based issues. What about abortion? JUDGE: Well, that's a tough one because that is one of the wedge
issues that the Republicans have used to get - gain the stronghold in rural America that they have today. And maybe we'll never agree on the abortion issue. But if we agree on issues around economic opportunity, if we agree on issues around good schools and healthcare, then it makes it much much easier for people to decide to vote Democrat.
JONES: Can you do that and get those rural voters to feel good without making the black voters feel left out? Because you have black women who are the base of this party, they're the back bone of this party. Can you deal with the rural folk and at the same time deal with your folk? And let's get into it. You guys are so nice. If you guys - if everybody was like, we'd have 100 percent of the vote.
GARZA: Well, I think we're just clear that black people live in rural areas. I mean, you just said you grew up in a rural area.
GARZA: What we are arguing with the black census report that we just put out is that what candidates in their campaigns actually do is they engage us symbolically and they don't engage us around the substance of our experiences.
JONES: What does the substance look like?
GARZA: Well, substance would look like talking to us about how you're going to deal with the health care issue in this country, but looking at it from a racialized lens. So, understanding that in communities throughout the south, which are concentrated with black communities, that GOP legislators are refusing federal dollars to expand programs like Medicaid.
What that means is that there are a whole swath of people who don't get access to affordable healthcare. It's not just healthcare broadly that black folks in the south care about. Black folks in the south care about not being able to have access to things that other people have.
And I think what candidates in their campaigns sometimes try and do is they say, well, we're only going to talk about the things that we think can reach the most people. But the reality is the way that we live, we wear race on our backs every day. I can't take off the fact that I'm black and I can't take off the fact that being black shapes my life outcomes.
And so if you don't have solutions to talk about how you're going to remove the racialized barriers to me accessing healthcare, to me accessing education, to me being able to get a job or even make as much money as my sister who is working in the same place that I am, but she happens to be white, we're not going to be able to come together as a country because I'm going to be making $0.20 less than you're making and you're making $0.20 less than the white guy next to you.
JONES: I want to ask two final questions. Short answers. The farmers are getting hit by these tariffs.
JUDGE: Oh, boy.
JONES: Is Donald Trump going to lose the farmers' vote or are the Democrats going to blow it?
JUDGE: It is a great big deal. This is a mess.
[19:25:00] And farm income is down about half since 2013. People are on the ropes. And we're in - we're in a world of hurt. You know it. International trade is about relationships. And this President, he seems to be unable to build those relationships that have to happen.
JONES: So there's an opening there. And then you. You didn't back Hillary Clinton because she voted for the 1994 Clinton - well, she was--
GARZA: I voted for her. Hold on.
JONES: Oh, you - you voted her?
GARZA: In the general, I just didn't endorse her.
JONES: You didn't endorse her. So--
GARZA: I'm like, hey, hey.
JONES: Fair enough. Is the Clinton crime bill going to prevent folks like you from supporting Joe Biden?
GARZA: What's going to prevent people like me from supporting Joe Biden is Joe Biden not telling the truth about the role that he's played in the issues that impact my life. Don't treat me like I don't understand history or that I don't know where you stood on things that I cared about.
We have to be very, very clear that right now voters are increasingly cynical. They're cynical about the role of government, they're cynical about the honesty of elected officials. This is an opportunity for us to get real so that we can reconcile what's going on in this country.
So what's going to prevent me from or encourage me to vote for someone is somebody who can talk to me about the issues I care about from the way that I'm experiencing them and somebody who can tell the truth if their mind has changed about their stances that they may have taken 20 years ago.
JONES: (inaudible). Well--
JONES: Look, that - that, yes, was really good. Patty and Alicia, I want to thank you for being here.
When we come back, President Trump is attacking Joe Biden for his role in 1994 crime bill. I'm going to tell you why I'm actually happy that they're having the fight. And we're going to discuss the actual impact of that legislation with one of America's greatest criminal justice champions when we get back.
[19:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JONES: Welcome back to THE VAN JONES SHOW. President Trump keeps going after Democratic front runner, Joe Biden. This week he tweeted, "Anyone associated with the 1994 crime bill will not have a chance at being elected. In particular, African-Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for criminal justice reform, which had tremendous support, and helped fix the bad 1994 bill!" He went on to say, "That was a dark period in American history, but has sleepy Joe apologized? No!"
OK. Now, look, we're going to--
JONES: We're going to talk about the nonsense in a second. But I can say - you might be surprised. I was actually thrilled to see these two big heavyweights fighting over who is the best person on criminal justice reform. I've been working on criminal justice my entire adult life.
And for most of that time, these two parties were working to prove who was tougher on crime, who's going to build more prisons, lock more people up. And now we've got leaders from both parties feuding about who is a better advocate for criminal justice reform to have fewer people locked up. To me, that's amazing. I hope the fight continues all the way into 2020.
And there is no better person to talk to about this than my next guest. He is a lawyer who has dedicated his life to making America a more just nation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls him America's Nelson Mandela. He has saved dozens of people from the death penalty. Michael B. Jordan is playing him in a movie next year.
JONES: He is the subject of an HBO documentary called True Justice out in the end of June. I could go on and on. He is my mentor, he is my friend, he is my hero. Please welcome to THE VAN JONES SHOW, Bryan Stevenson. Oh, my goodness.
JONES: Oh, man. It is just an honor to have you on this show.
BRYAN STEVENSON, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE, AND PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: Thank you. Thank you.
JONES: You know, let's just talk really briefly about that 1994 crime bill. How bad was it? What was the impact?
STEVENSON: Yes. Well, it was bad. And there's no question about it that it subsidized many of the problems that we have today. But as you know, first of all, we need to remember that crime justice policy in this country is mostly controlled by states, not by Congress. Only 10 percent of the people in prison are in federal prisons.
What the crime bill did though was actually export federal dollars to states to do some really bad things. Our prison population went from 300,000 in the early 1970s to over 2 million because the crime bill subsidized the construction of prisons. We were spending $6 billion in 1980, $80 billion last year. And that has changed the landscape, because now that we've built these prisons, states needed to keep them filled.
And that problem has made us the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world. But it did some other things. It expanded the death penalty. It legitimized mandatory sentencing. This is when we started putting people in prison for life for drug possession. These horrific kinds of laws.
Now, it did some things that many people thought were good. It banned federal machine guns, automatic weapons. There was the Violence Against Women Act. But the price that was paid for those provisions, I think, was way too high. And some of what the bill did was just straight up mean. We ended education to people in prison.
JONES: That's correct.
STEVENSON: Here we have the highest number of people in jails and prisons, and we said we don't want to educate them, we don't want to provide them training, we don't want to provide them opportunities. We want to create conditions where they'll just suffer and come out angrier than they went in. And the legacy of that bill is a devastating legacy for this country today.
JONES: Well - I mean, you were loud against this stuff the whole time. I mean, do you feel encouraged when you see Republicans and Democrats now beginning to at least rethink these, I guess, unintended consequences that some people already predicted?
STEVENSON: Yes. I do have some hope because it is worth pointing out that this was a completely bipartisan effort.
JONES: Yes, both parties.
STEVENSON: Both parties were preaching what I call the politics of fear and anger. And my own view, Van, is that fear and anger are the essential ingredients of injustice. When we allow ourselves to be governed by fear and anger, we tolerate things we shouldn't tolerate. We allowed children to be called super-predators in that era. And we put thousands of kids in adult jails and prisons. We started condemning children to die in prison. We've got 13 states today with no minimum age of trying a child as an
adult. I sometimes represent nine-year-old kids facing 40 and 50-year prison sentences. And all of that was created through that mindset. I'm encouraged that through the work of a lot of people, we've made it safer, easier for people from both political parties to talk about criminal justice reform. But we're still in the very early stages.
[19:35:00] And as you know, if we don't articulate real goals, if we don't start talking about reducing the prison population by half, if we don't talk about eliminating excessive punishment, we'll celebrate too early.
JONES: Too early.
STEVENSON: And that's what I see happening. The first step back was really important, but it was called the first step because it's a first step.
STEVENSON: We haven't even made it to the five-yard line, let alone gotten a touchdown. And I don't think we appreciate that until we see the scale of the problem. One in three black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison during his lifetime. One in three.
JONES: That's crazy.
STEVENSON: One in six Latino boys. That wasn't true in the 20th century when you and I were born. It wasn't true in the 19th century. But it has become true today. And the worse thing I see is going into poor communities and having honest conversations with 12-year-old boys, who when they get honest with me tell me that they expect to be in jail or prison by the time they're 21.
And they're not saying that because they've seen it on TV, they're saying it because it's happening in their communities. And we've just failed. And we said in the '90s - and this is what the crime bill did too - people with drug addiction and drug dependency, we said those people are criminals. And we didn't have to say that.
JONES: That's right.
STEVENSON: Alcoholism, we say, that's a disease. And if we see somebody who's an alcoholic going to a bar, we don't think let's call the police. We should have said that people with addiction and dependency have a health problem. And we need our healthcare system to respond to that problem.
And those are the kinds of ideas that I hope our elected leaders will start restoring to the conversation because we need a healthcare intervention to deal with this crisis of addiction and dependency. We need to provide infrastructure for people coming out of jails or in prisons. We do need to create hopeful strategies that reduce crime. And I still don't hear enough about that. JONES: Part of the thing that's so amazing about you is you have this
deep level of empathy for people that most people run away from, you run toward. And I think you have a strategy for building more empathy and you talk about proximity.
STEVENSON: Yes. Well, I do think one of the problems politicians make is that they make policies from a distance. And I don't think we can understand problems until we get closer to people who are suffering, people who are excluded, people who are marginalized, people who are poor. When you get close to parts of the communities where people are struggling, you hear things you can't hear from a distance, you see things you can't see from a distance. And that dynamic is what allows us to come up with solutions.
If you come in with a solution, you're not going to hear things, you're not going to listen. You got to get there and you're going to listen. Most of us were taught that if there are bad parts of our community, we should stay as far away from the bad part as possible. I think if you're an elected official, I think if you're somebody who cares about justice, you've got to do the opposite.
JONES: That's right.
STEVENSON: You've got to get closer to the people who are marginalized and struggling. You got to go into jails and prisons. And I just think we have an opportunity when we get proximate to see things and hear things that will change perspective. Proximity, for me, has taught me some really basic things. I believe that we are all more than the worst thing we've ever done. I believe that for every human being.
I think if somebody tells a lie, they're not just a liar. If they take something, they're not just a thief. I think even if you kill somebody, you're not just a killer. And justice requires that we know the other things you are. And you'll not get that until you spend time with people who've made terrible mistakes, who are struggling for redemption, who have the capacity to forgive other people and help other people and show remorse.
And that's the dynamic that I think we haven't captured in American politics or in American society because everybody has to do that. Right? You don't have to be just an elected politician.
JONES: Elected politicians. And you're not a politician and you're doing it.
And I tell you what. We have so much more to talk with Bryan when we come back. He also wants us to overcome the legacy of racial inequality. And to do that, he says we've got to confront our history. He is doing that in an incredible way. We're going to talk about it when we get back.
[19:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JONES: I am back with Bryan Stevenson. He's the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He also helped to create the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors more than 4,000 African-Americans who are lynched in the south. It's a powerful thing. Oprah went there when it opened up. I mean, people were in tears. But - why did you do this? I mean, people say it's 100 years ago, 150 years ago. Why do we need to talk about lynching and slavery today in 2019?
STEVENSON: Yes. Well, I went into law because I'm a product of Brown versus Board of Education. I grew up in a community where black kids couldn't go to the public schools. I actually started my education in a colored school. And lawyers came into the community and made them open up public schools. And that's how I got to high school. That's how I got to college. That's how I got to law school. And I believed in the power of the law to protect disfavored groups.
If we were trying to end life without parole for kids, we couldn't do it through the political process. We needed rights. And that was true for many people of color when it came to voting. And I've gotten nervous about that. About 12 years ago, I began to fear that we might not be able to win Brown versus Board of Education today.
I'm not sure our court would do something disruptive on behalf of disenfranchised or disempowered people. And that's largely because they haven't actually evolved narratively with this history. And because of that, I just decided we had to start talking more honestly about this environment outside the court.
I see courts turn their backs on claims of racial bias. They see them indifferent to people who are innocent or wrongly convicted. It's almost as if they don't care about people a lot of people who are poor, who are black, who are brown. And that history of not caring is the history that we have inherited. And for me, we have to change that.
I don't think we're really free in this country. I think we're burdened by a history of racial inequality that's created smog in the air. It doesn't create much to create conflict or division. It's exploited by politicians, as you pointed out in your last piece. And I think we have to change that. And I think it means we're going to have to talk about things we've never really talked about because they continue to weigh us down.
There's a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that gets assigned to black and brown people that manifests in these disproportionate consequences in our criminal justice system. And to get to that, we're going to have to go back and talk about now this narrative of racial difference, how this ideology that black people aren't as good as white people, that brown people aren't as good as white people, that some people are better than other people just because of their color evolved. And then we're going to have to confront it.
[19:45:00] JONES: A lot of people would just say, look, I don't feel that way. I've got friends that are black. I've got friends that are - and they mean it. And they're going to say, you're picking at old scabs, you're picking at old wounds, you try to - if we just stop talking about all those bad stuff, we could just move on and be better. What do you say to those people?
STEVENSON: Well, I say that they're not scabbed. We haven't actually got a scab on. It's an open wound, and it's bleeding. And it's creating - listen, I live in Montgomery, Alabama. And Alabama, Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday. Jefferson Davis's birthday is a state holiday. We don't have Martin Luther King Day in Alabama. We have Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. The two largest high schools are Robert E. Lee High and Jefferson Davis High.
We love talking about mid 19th century history in this country. There are thousands of confederate monuments and memorials littered all across the American south. To save that, we should just stop talking about that. That's a long time ago. It doesn't make any sense if you grow up and you're black and you go to Robert E. Lee High or Jefferson Davis High.
When I moved to Montgomery, you couldn't find the word slave or slavery anywhere in that city. We had been talking about history all the time. We just haven't talked about the history of native genocide and what we did to native Americans when Europeans came. We haven't talked about slavery. Then there is this narrative that we haven't confronted. And because we haven't confronted it, we see these horrific disparities. And so I just think we're not being honest. We believe in memory and memorial. That's why we built this national memorial. We had the 9/11 tragedy and we had a memorial in less than 15 years. And I think that's a good thing.
STEVENSON: But we haven't actually done anything to talk about what happened to black people.
JONES: What are people getting out of this? Now it's becoming a pilgrimage--
JONES: --to this site over the past few years. It's literally become a pilgrimage. What are people getting out of this pilgrimage to this--
STEVENSON: I think what they're getting is that if we have the courage to tell the truth about our history, some amazing things could happen. I'm not interested in talking about our history because I want to punish America. I'm not interested in time to kind of make people just feel bad. I'm interested in talking about this history because I think we need to be liberated.
I think there's something that feels more like freedom and equality and justice than we have experienced in this country. I don't think we should look at each other burdened by all of these presumptions about what people mean. And I think that's what I've seen. People have had the courage to come and they were worried. And when they came out, they were motivated to do something they wouldn't prepare to do before.
Across the world, we've seen truth and reconciliation change societies. But in this country, we haven't done that. And so these tensions persist. And what I see is people being willing to have conversations they haven't had before. Being willing to think about why segregation can be wrong, bigotry can be wrong, why this violence is wrong.
And just think when we open our minds to what happened, then we can open our hearts. I really do believe that. I've always believed that the truth shall set us free. And we haven't told the truth about our history. And because of that, we're not yet free. And if we can create spaces like this, I mean, for me, the hope is we have a holocaust museum in D.C. It's a powerful place. And when you walk through that museum, you get to the end of it, and you're prepared to say never again. I was prepared to say never again.
JONES: Never again.
STEVENSON: And I just want to create some places in this country where we look at the history of what happened to native people and black people and brown people and immigrants. And we say "never again" because we make that commitment, we can create a different future.
JONES: I'll tell you, it's beautiful. When you talk about the truth, setting people free, your work has set a lot of people free. There are people who would've been put to death are now in home with their families because of you. I cannot tell you how much you mean to me and to this country. I want everybody to watch this documentary called "True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality." It's premiering on HBO June 26th at 8:00 p.m. (inaudible). It is powerful.
Up next, June is pride month. This year, there's renewed concern about LGBT rights. We're still fighting for rights. We're going to talk about that when we get back.
[19:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JONES: So here I am in New York City. I'm in front of The Stonewall Inn, which is the site of the famous uprising in 1969 that really started the civil rights movement for LGBTQ Americans. 50 years later, we made a lot of improvements in this country.
And a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriages.
But the fight for equality is far from over.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.
JONES (voice-over): Donald Trump made history back in 2016 as the first Republican Presidential nominee to mention LGBTQ Americans in his convention address. Instead of being a champion, his administration is actually rolling back protections that could hurt lots of people.
For instance, Trump's Health and Human Services Department just announced it wants to get rid of a rule that bans healthcare providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients. If that happens, it would be even easier for doctors and clinics to refuse services to trans people. And that could affect the lives and health of the estimated 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender in the U.S. today.
Also, Trump's Housing Department has announced plans to reverse a law that says that federally funded homeless shelters cannot deny access to people based on their sex or their gender identities. This proposal is especially cruel because homelessness is a big problem among LGBTQ youth. A 2012 UCLA study found 40 percent of homeless kids identify as trans, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Earlier this year, Trump's Defense Department instituted a policy based on an out-of-the-blue tweet from the Commander-in-Chief they're having trans-Americans from serving their country in the military.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know from experience that there is nothing about my being a transgender that has any impact on my ability to put on the uniform and serve my country.
[19:55:00] JONES (voice-over): And Trump is also stopping and blocking the passage of any new protections. In May, the Democratic House passed the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and employment, housing, education, and other areas. It's an extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The Trump administration is now opposing the bill saying it undermines "parental and conscience rights." Now, compare that with what Donald Trump told the advocate back in 2000. Then he said, "I like the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans. It's only fair."
JONES: If only you would go back to that Donald Trump, we'd be all right. But look, this pride month, let's remember the brave Americans at Stonewall 50 years ago who launched this movement and let's never stop this fight. It's so important.
Listen, my other show, "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT" airs tomorrow at 9 p.m. here on CNN. This week's episode is incredibly suspenseful. It's got an ending, I promise, you will not see coming. So please check that out too.
I'm Van Jones. This is THE VAN JONES SHOW. Peace and love for one another.