Our Body Politic

Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother, on the Chauvin verdict, Yamiche Alcindor and April Ryan Talk about Holding the Powerful Accountable

Episode Notes

This week Farai Chideya talks with Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice and founder of the Tamir Rice Foundation, on what justice looks like to her. Our Body Politic contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi reminds us how to keep children safe until they’re eligible for Covid-19 vaccines. PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reflects on the responsibility of covering whoever is in power. And The Grio’s April Ryan joins our Sippin’ the Political Tea roundtable to analyze the week’s news.


0:48 Samaria Rice on what justice looks like to her and her family

12:16 Contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi on how to protect kids in the pandemic

19:58 PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor on lessons learned from the Trump era

30:49 Sippin’ the Political Tea invites The Grio’s April Ryan to talk about the news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we're only a few months into this show and we're shaping it with lots of input from listeners like you so I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcast on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much. 

This week, a look at what it takes to be a White House correspondent with the Yamiche Alcindor. First, the guilty verdict for police officer Derek Chauvin and what it means to Tamir Rice's mother.

Samaria Rice: I'm Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, and the CEO of the Tamir Rice Foundation, and founder.

Chideya: Earlier this month, Samaria Rice and her family sent a letter to the Department of Justice, asking them to reopen their investigation into her son's killing. He was just 12 when a Cleveland police officer shot him in 2014. Ms. Samaria Rice, thank you for being on the show.

Rice: I appreciate y'all having me. Thank you.

Chideya: So we are speaking with you on the day of the verdict of Derek Chauvin, Officer Chauvin, guilty on all counts. We're taping right after this happened. How are you feeling right now? What are you thinking right now?

Rice: For the most part, I am relieved to hear that we have a conviction, but with the conviction we see officers that go to jail and they serve 10 months, 18 months, 2 years, 5 years. That is not enough time for the death of anyone by the hands of the police. He should be in jail 20 years or plus, far as I'm concerned. And as far as Tamir is concerned Timothy Loehmann should be indicted and convicted along with his partner, Frank Garmback indicted and convicted for the murder of my son. My son was killed in less than a second, and they should both go to jail for the rest of their lives.

Chideya: Has it been painful for you to watch this trial, the Chauvin trial, knowing that your son's killing did not result in a conviction?

Rice: I'm never upset about someone receiving a form of justice. I mean, it has been very emotional and painful just to watch the trial itself because I know they wouldn't do another lying and look like a dog and pony show. That part was very painful because I can remember what I went through in my process of going into the grand jury and me and my children coming out crying. And they blaming us, like it was our fault that Tamir was dead and I prayed on it. I actually prayed on a guilty verdict because I did want to see our people attacked by the militant army of law enforcement people out there, or the army that's out there. I just didn't want to see our people get hurt.

Chideya: Yeah, a lot of people, including me were also worried about what might happen depending on the verdict. With Tamir's legacy, with George Floyd's legacy, with the legacy of so many people who have died, whether there was a conviction or not, what do you want these legacies to mean? What do we want to build from here?

Rice: Well, I will hope that each family can develop a way to honor and give back to the community. That's what I'm doing in the Tamir Rice legacy, building a center to offer after-school free programming for inner city children, creating a safe place, just to make sure that these children have the exposure that they may not get by living in the inner city, whatever they can do. I think my way of building Tamir's legacy has also given me a little bit of healing and it makes sure that my son did not die in vain and building him a legacy. So I will hope that other family members can develop something and make sure that they're involved in their community and stay connected.

Chideya: What do you want to see for the kids of Cleveland?

Rice: I just want them to know that someone actually cares about their education, their wellbeing besides their mom and their dad and maybe their family. That a total stranger wants to see them create magic, Black magic. We have so many talented children in the city of Cleveland as we probably have in a lot of our urban communities and they get overlooked and people don't pay attention to them. So I want to be able to create that uprise of children by investing in them, because that's what I did with my children. I invested in my children and that's how I was able to have three high school graduates all through. We went through a horrific trauma by losing Tamir.

Chideya: When people start talking about the political implications of the deaths of children at the hands of police, people who love their own kids sometimes forget what some of the stakes are in protecting everyone's children. So how do you think both police and lawmakers can make sure that everyone's kids are protected?

Rice: I think at this point that the higher people up, the powers to be, they know that America has been infiltrated by white supremacy, so I don't know how they allow, because that's what they're doing, they're allowing the government, law enforcement to commit genocide on American citizens. So who's going to take responsibility for that? How does the police bill of rights trump the constitution of rights? That's what I don't understand. I just feel that the government needs to figure out what part of the country they want and just let us have the other part of the country and just leave us alone.

Chideya: Something you said really stuck out to me just then, which is that you said, "They need to give us one part of the country and take the other." And in some ways that's what Charles Blow, the columnist from the New York Times said. He wrote a whole book, The Devil You Know, arguing that Black Americans could relocate many to the south and control a whole block of the country. What do you think of a plan like that to sort of consolidate Black citizens in a place that is effectively Black controlled?

Rice: I do agree with him. I did not know Charles Blow said that. I did an interview with him many, many years ago and I did not read his book, but if that's what he said, to divide the country up, that way the whites can stay where they need to stay and we can stay where we need to stay, so be it. That's where I'm at with this, because there's no reconciliation with this. There's no having no conversations, no compromising. What are we going to talk about when we have video coverage of all of these murders?

Chideya: Let me just also say something that Charles Blow said, he called some of the protests last summer a social justice Coachella, and Coachella is a music festival so basically saying people were going out in his mind and sort of performing. What do you think of the protest? Have they been helpful or are they performance or both?

Rice: Well, I want to say both because some of the protests, people protest for freedom of speech and to say what they have to say on what's on their mind, make demands and things like that. I think those protests makes things uncomfortable if they're done right. When you're disrupting traffic or making a strong statement, not necessarily, destroying anything or burning anything down, I'm not talking about that but when you make people uncomfortable, that's what I have been people for years, make them uncomfortable. Because it's nothing comfortable about Black and brown people continue to get killed in America in the 21st century so continue to make these people uncomfortable. It is what it is. But to put on a show about the death of people's loved one, it's very disrespectful. And I did not know there was a hustle on Black death and that's disturbing because my son is no hustle. So the things that I have seen in the media when it comes to these protesters, these protests, these rallies, especially when I see certain individuals leading them, I can't never take them seriously. Because we've been taking them seriously for so long and we ain't got no change.

Chideya: I want to end on this note. You have really given so much of yourself just in this interview. What do you think Tamir would think of what you have done with his legacy?

Rice: He would probably be proud of me. He would be proud of me in knowing that I'm really, really trying to make some change. And it's just a tragic. It's a tragic that I have to live my life like this, but I know Tamir would want me to have some peace in my life. So that's what I'm trying to create. I'm trying to create some peace because whatever I do, I don't never regret.

Losing Tamir has destroyed my life. I'm going to be honest with you. Destroyed my family. America has robbed me of nurturing my son, has robbed me of allowing him to grow up to be a man. I don't even know what my son would never look like. Because I would never know where he... I only got a vision of him being a little boy, and how sad is that? But I'm still here and I'm working to make sure that we all are okay at the end of the day. That's all I can do.

Chideya: Ms. Rice, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Rice: Thank you guys for having me and it was a pleasure.

Chideya: That was Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice and founder and CEO of the Tamir Rice Foundation. We love to hear from our listeners so every week we invite you to call the speak line. Right now we want to know, if you were the mayor of your city or town, how would you handle law enforcement and public safety? To leave us your message called (929) 353-7006, that's (929) 353-7006 or go to ourbodypolitic.show for a Google form to respond in writing.

Each week, we bring you news of the COVID-19 pandemic and focus on how it's impacting communities of color. Today, we're bringing Our Body Politic contributor and epidemiologist, Dr. Kavita Trivedi back on the show to help us better understand this news.

Chideya: Hi, Dr. Trivedi.

Dr. Kavita Trivedi:

Hi, Farai, nice to be back.

Chideya: It is great to have you back and in the East Coast over here, you're holding it up on the West Coast for us. Things are getting springy and delightful, but what's going on with COVID?

Trivedi: Yeah, so we're certainly seeing in some states like Michigan and Florida and other states in the Northeast that cases are climbing. We are seeing some increase in hospitalizations, but I'm hoping that with the really solid rollout of vaccinations that the Biden administration has put into place and states have implemented, we will continue to see the virus kind of held at bay. And we will hopefully see those cases in certain states starting to come down.

Chideya: Let me tell you about something that happened to me. I saw one of my neighbors, lovely guy, Haitian immigrant. And I was like, yeah, how are you doing, blah, blah. Did you get the vaccine? And he was like, well, I heard all that news about them and I don't know. Now, literally there's a vaccine site a block away from us at a college, a block away. And I said to him, well, they're giving out the Pfizer vaccine, not the Johnson & Johnson, which is what he was specifically concerned about and he said he would get it. So that's a win in one way, he's going to get it. But I'm like, did I just imply that people shouldn't get Johnson & Johnson. I was thinking tactically, but was that bad? What am I even doing here, Dr. Trivedi?

Trivedi: So, first of all, you're encouraging somebody in your community to get vaccinated. So that is really important. And then the second piece about the J&J vaccine is definitely something that we should kind of delve into. So the J&J vaccine has been associated with six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which is a clot in the brain. The six cases occurred in about 1.4 million women between the ages of 20 and 50. So of all people that got the J&J vaccine so far, we know that the risk and the rate of having this rare complication is one in one million. So, I think it's important for us to understand what that risk looks like. For example Farai, getting into a fatal car crash is one in 103. So when we talk about looking at that risk, that most of us or many of us take every single day without a second thought, and then we're pausing when we think about a one in one million risk. We have to really think about what risk we're willing to take. And the bottom line is the J&J vaccine is extremely effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death related to COVID-19 and that has not changed even based on this rare complication.

Chideya: So, Dr. Trivedi you are a parent and we are in a kind of interesting space with kids and vaccines. So how close are we to kids being eligible to get the vaccine?

Trivedi: Yeah, I think we're actually relatively close. We had some really good information come out of Pfizer, BioEnTech, the clinical trial data looking at 12 to 15 year olds showed us that the Pfizer vaccine was extremely efficacious in that age group. It was actually 100% efficacious in preventing COVID-19 infection. And they've applied for an EUA and we should be receiving that go ahead in the next potentially few weeks. So we're hoping that the kind of middle-schoolers will be able to be vaccinated before they start school in the fall next year. For children under the ages of 11 clinical trials are ongoing with all of the currently available vaccines. Since this demographic group is slightly less at risk for severe infection in general, I think there will likely be a longer clinical trial period that will be required for regulatory approval. And again, we have to keep in mind that risk benefit analysis, given that they're at low risk we really have to ensure that giving the vaccine is safer for them than not receiving the vaccine. So the data will have to likely be longer and be a little more persuasive.

Chideya: Now, last time that we had you on you said that two fully vaccinated people can hang out together unmasked like two spoons in a drawer. But what about families getting together where the parents are vaccinated, but the kids aren't?

Trivedi: Yeah. So if parents and grandparents are vaccinated, kids are inherently safer because their bubbles are safer. So I'm not really concerned about kids interacting with vaccinated parents or vaccinated grandparents. But I think what we have to think about more is about what about kids interacting with other kids. And in this situation, I would probably recommend an individual risk assessment where you determine if the child themselves are at a higher risk for severe infection. So do they have obesity? Do they have uncontrolled diabetes? Do they have uncontrolled asthma? If they don't, you could determine it feels safe for kids to interact without the infection prevention measures in place, without masking, without distancing. If the individual risk assessment that you do reveals that they are at higher risk for severe infection, then you might allow them to maybe only interact indoors, but with masks on or only outdoors without masks on.

Chideya: Something else that comes to mind from my little personal experience and also from the show of course is travel. I want to go see all the places that I've always wanted to see, but I haven't and pandemic interruptus. What is the deal with travel? How safe is it for vaccinated people to travel? And is there any reason to hold off?

Trivedi: So again, once you're vaccinated you can, I think, feel really comfortable or more comfortable with traveling. Traveling by car is completely reasonable, by air when you're vaccinated also is completely reasonable. You may still want to take into account transmission rates. For example, I wouldn't probably recommend traveling to an area with high transmission rates, especially where variants are potentially more prevalent. Of course, masks should still be worn on the airplane, especially since you are mixing people on the plane from different parts of the world, with different transmission rates of COVID-19 and different circulating variants. So I think all of us who are vaccinated should be thinking about our travel plans and should also talk to our vaccine hesitant friends about the fact that they should feel so comfortable with traveling once they are too vaccinated.

Chideya: Well, Dr. Trivedi as usual thank you so very much.

Trivedi: Thanks so much for having me again, Farai.

Chideya: That was Dr. Kavita Trivedi, Our Body Politic, health contributor.

My next guest makes race and racism a priority within her already very high profile reporting beat. Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for PBS News Hour and a political contributor for NBC news and MSNBC. She worked as a local and national print and television political reporter for many years and covered the Trump administration starting in 2018. Yamiche, thanks for coming on Our Body Politic.

Yamiche Alcindor:

Thanks for having me.

Chideya: I'm just so excited to talk to you. And I want to start with a little bit of a retrospective on what we should have learned from covering the Trump era.

Alcindor: It feels like we should have learned that we have to be really, really careful about how we air people's misinformation and lies. And we have to put everything that we put on the news, on the radio, on TV, in print in context. And it really means that we can't just kind of be stenographers. I remember when I was up to become a White House reporter, one of my mentors, a great woman named Athelia Knight, she was a long time Washington Post reporter. She said, the first thing I should tell you is make sure that you don't become a stenographer because it's very easy to say the president said this today that's news. When in fact that's not what it is, it should be the country's going through this, the president said this, here's what that actually means. That's the way that we need to be covering politics.

And as someone who has covered, really, I would say kind of ground level reporting as a local reporter, as a cops reporter, as a local beat reporter in a small town in long island and other places. I think what we need to also do is not lose sight of how people are impacted with politics in their daily lives and what they're talking about at their kitchen tables. And I say that to say, there's this idea that Donald Trump was not known to people and that Hillary Clinton was the person because she had been First Lady and the Secretary of State that she was the one who had the star power. But anyone in almost any single household knew that Donald Trump, at least, from my generation moment you said Donald Trump it meant money, it meant the Simpsons, it meant someone who had had a big reality TV show. So I think for me, we have to really-

Chideya: He showed up in all the rap lyrics.

Alcindor: Right. So I think we really have to understand it and really think through what we mean by star power. And it not just be this Washington centered thing when we think of the clout that people have.

Chideya: Yeah. And so what was it like moderating a presidential debate during one of the most important cycles in history? I mean, what was it like on that night or that day when you were preparing for that? How did you feel, what did you want to go in and do? And how did you feel afterwards?

Alcindor: It was nerve wracking. I was really, really nervous about knowing the information, about speaking clearly, about making sure that I came away with a sense that we had gotten to the issues that were really important to people. And especially in my case as a child of patient immigrants, being from a working class neighborhood in Miami, I wanted to feel like the people who I grew up with they felt like their voices were part of the debate. I think I came away feeling proud and I walked away feeling like we got to all the issues, including race. I think there was a real feeling that identity politics is how we got here and that people had leaned too much on race and that's how we ended up with President Trump. And I always kind of pushed back on it. And I said, I always think that identity politics, quote unquote, is really just about the fabric of America, how we started the country, who built the country and that you can not talk about race enough. And for me, I think that that was something that I always felt like I wanted to make sure I did it and be true to myself for me at my heart, I'm a civil rights journalist who really cares about race and social justice. And those issues, I think, had to be part of what I wanted to do in the debate.

Chideya: I heard a lot of compliments of that debate. And also to be honest, some regret, like why has this never happened before? Why have we never had a serious discussion of race as a political driver before? And one of the things for me, as you know, I have been speaking out a bit about how I feel the narrative of race as a driver of political choice was suppressed in the 2016 election coverage, at least in the newsroom where I was. And what do you think political editors and reporters need to understand now in the era of re-litigating voting rights, et cetera, what do we need to take into understanding how race is a driver of political choice and political power?

Alcindor: I would say the biggest lesson of 2016 and 2020 should be that white people really care about being white just as much as Black people care about being Black. Whether they're rich or poor or in different parts of the country, we found that white voters in particular, they also are very much motivated by race, very much motivated by the privilege that they think that they have and the privilege that they do have. And that, that has to be a part of the conversation. Race is not just a story about people of color quote, unquote, but a story of those who were assigned the race of white and what that means to them every single day, that whiteness can be really important. I remember interviewing this man in Wisconsin and wanting to ask him about why he was supporting President Trump. I wanted to ask him about healthcare. That was my story, I was focused on that. I kept asking, what do you think about healthcare? What do you think about healthcare? And he kept responding, well people think I'm racist, people think I'm racist. And finally I said, okay, well why do people think you're racist? And he went on this whole diatribe about how he didn't think that a Black girl like me should be working at the New York Times and there are too many Black people in his town, which was literally about 97 to 98% white when I was talking to him. What that exchange taught me was that he was trying to tell me what was motivating him and I wasn't listening. I was like, oh no, it's definitely the healthcare proposal and he was like, no, it's the race.

Chideya: Yep. Yeah, no, believe me. I have learned so much about this country and learned so much as a field reporter, which I think really shapes who I am and you've done so much field reporting, including in your family's nation of origin, Haiti. And so what was that like? Let's go back to that when you went to Haiti, what was it like as a Haitian American to go there and report? It's such a heavy time for such an incredible nation, which fought for and won its freedom.

Alcindor: There's that saying, this is my ancestor's wildest dreams. And the moment I touched down on Haiti as a reporter, a working journalist who had interviews with the foreign minister, I thought, "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams," because I have family members who were jailed under the dictator in the 1980s who could not dare have thought of being a journalist on the island nation of Haiti, and that had such pride being the first Black nation, the most successful slave rebellion in 1804. It's such a date that Haitians have such pride in. But, at the same time, it's a country that has just really, really had so many different struggles. I try, every time I'm in a job, to really write about Haiti, keep it top of mind. My father, who still lives there, he's often reminding me, "Guess what? You are so much a child of Haiti. Don't forget that."

Chideya: My neighborhood in Brooklyn, Crown Heights, is very, very rich with Haitian Americans and Haitian immigrants. During the Trump years, many of them were thrown into a limbo of whether the temporary protected status which ensured they could stay would be upheld. Among many things, you and I bring a lived experience of what it means to have these intergenerational ties to the African diaspora. This may not be true, but do you feel like your objectivity has ever been questioned as you report on Haiti because you have ancestry there? I think it's fascinating, and by fascinating I mean troubling, that, for so many Black reporters, anything related to our Blackness makes people question our objectivity. But that doesn't happen for whiteness, to return to these constructs.

Alcindor: Yeah. I think, for me, I've still been a journalist who wants to get the story right and wants to get the story fair. But, also, I think I'm a journalist that definitely has deep convictions about what's unconstitutional, what racism looks like, and that it's bad. That racism shouldn't be this thing that should be allowed to continue, and grow, and fester, and mutate, and that we should be shining a light on that. I think that that is definitely, if there's any bias, the bias that I have is that racism is wrong, and that treating people who are vulnerable in a way that's unfairly is wrong. I think I bring that to the job, for sure. But I also think that I bring this feeling that I want to make sure that all sides, of the sides at least ... I'd say the credible sides. Not scientists who say that climate change isn't real, the sides of the government. The sides of different warring factions, that they should be heard. But I also think that we have to be very wary of false equivalencies. That means that, if I'm going to be doing a story about civil rights and voting, I can interview Republicans who say, "This is what we think about voter fraud," but we should also say, "Here's the percentage of voter fraud that actually happened," which is about zero.

Chideya: Yeah. I'm also fascinated by ... This political era seems to be one where some people feel like reporters should be a little less aggressive with the Biden-Harris administration. Tell us a little bit about what your expectations are for covering the Biden-Harris administration fairly, and what that means to you.

Alcindor: For me, what it means to cover them fairly, to cover the Biden administration fairly, is to bring up the issues that are on people's minds and to bring up questions where the administration is having challenges. Immigration is a big one. It's a colossal endeavor. The vice-president has been handed part of this to deal with the Northern Triangle countries. But, in a lot of my questioning during the last press conference, it was about what we're seeing, these rising numbers of unaccompanied minors. I think there were some people who definitely took issue and felt like the media was focusing too much on something that President Biden couldn't control, but we also have to point out that he made the decision to follow US law, to stop breaking US law, to allow unaccompanied minors in. That has led to his own Department of Homeland Security secretary said we're going to see something like a 20-year high when it comes to the number of migrants coming to the border. I think that there are some who feel like that's the media beating up on Biden, but, in fact, it's just asking tough questions. It's holding them accountable. It's fact checking them if they need to be fact checked. It's asking about how they plan to deal with some of the biggest issues of our day, which include COVID, and immigration, and race, and a number of other topics.

Chideya: Yamiche, that is great stuff to remember as we look ahead at your coverage on PBS. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alcindor: Thanks so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Our Body Politic contributor Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th. Hey, Errin.

Errin Haines: Hey, Farai. I think we may need to sip something a little stronger this week.

Chideya: And April Ryan, White House correspondent for theGrio and political analyst at CNN, is joining us as our special guest. Welcome to Our Body Politic, April.

April Ryan: Hello, Farai. Hello, Errin.

Haines: Hey, there.

Chideya: So great to have you. Errin, what have we got on tap today?

Haines: I think we have to start by talking about policing and police reform. You had the Derek Chauvin verdict come out in Minneapolis. At around the same time that verdict was being announced, you had a 16-year-old girl, Ma'Khia Bryant, being shot and killed by a Columbus police officer. You also had, this week, the wake and the funeral for Daunte Wright. A lot of the Black lawmakers I'm talking to this week are saying that they're building momentum to do something about police reform in this moment via the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act. A lot going on in politics. I want to stay on the Chauvin trial. I know it's been top of mind for all of us this week. Let's start with Vice President Kamala Harris, who addressed the nation shortly after the verdict was passed.

Vice President Kamala Harris:

Today we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn't the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer. The fact is, we still have work to do.

Haines: April, I'm wondering how you've been processing the Chauvin trial and the verdict.

Ryan: How have I been processing it? It's actually different, Errin. I've watched, over the years, many of these cases, particularly during the Obama administration. I processed it by watching history being made. We have seen so many police officers have qualified immunity, and they get the benefit of the doubt, and there's no accountability for the death, i.e. Freddie Gray in Baltimore. He should've never been brought into custody, but he just made eye contact with a police officer and therefore he was considered guilty, and then ensued a chase. At the end of the day, no one was held accountable for this. But now, in Baltimore, they have cameras in police vehicles. They're also training for deescalation. That's in Baltimore. In other places, let's go to New York, Minnesota, Charleston. Okay? Walter Scott, remember that? In that case, the police officer tried to obscure the scene. A lot of these officers are not held criminally liable. This was history being made. Then, after that issue, when the Derek Chauvin verdict came in, you know what I thought about? I thought about Sybrina Fulton. I thought about Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who said, "I can't breathe," 11 times. It's victory, but yet heartache. "Why could my son not be here?" and then, "Why could that not happen for my son?" The victory. It's a lot that goes into this. I look back at the history to today. Will the momentum continue? We have to wait and see how this plays out, because you still have a Republican faction that is pro policing. It does not want to see any kind of deescalation training or tactics. It's a strange dynamic. Just, I want to see how it plays out.

Haines: Yeah. As a journalist who's also long covered these cases, now this is the third president to be here in the Black Lives Matter era. I am right there with you. You saw President Biden addressing this verdict as well, and calling this verdict a rare guilty verdict, something that doesn't happen hardly enough, as Black Americans know all too well, in these cases. Farai, I want to turn to you. How have you been processing the Chauvin trial and the verdict?

Chideya: There's so many things. I don't have children myself, but of course I have a lot of children that I love. I've been thinking especially about all the people I know who have children who are entering that smelly stage of adolescence, and entering being seen often in ways that make no sense, and are completely culturally deterministic as adults when they are still children. Those 13 year olds or 12 year olds, the age of Tamir Rice, who start getting a little height on them. Who's a man and who's a boy is completely culturally deterministic-

Haines: Yeah. A double standard.

Chideya: In this society, and is often used to paint some people as having moral agency and others as being defenseless, regardless of their age and regardless of what they've done. I've been thinking a lot about that transitional age, which is awkward for everyone, but hopefully you get through it alive. Not always. Not like Tamir Rice. Then I'm thinking a lot about, to the extent that I have a fixed ideology, it's that I'm a structuralist. I believe that structures determine outcomes. Many things do, but if you have a structure that is biased, you will get biased outcomes. If you look at the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill Of Rights that Maryland had and was a pioneer in in the 1970s, it pretty much gave something close to blanket immunity for many aspects of policing. Now Maryland, having led giving that kind of blanket immunity, is now leading in reforming that, and saying, "All of us should live under the same constitutional rights." Being a member of law enforcement ... I have a lot of respect for great law enforcement officers. I've interviewed a lot of them. There are some great law enforcement officers. But the reason that there is such a pervasive history of law enforcement officers killing people and nothing happening is a structural issue. It is a legal issue. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the structural issues can change.

Haines: Both of you make such great points. We know from the civil rights era that, just because certain things are legislated, the enforcement of that legislation does not always happen. That is the thing that matters. That is the thing that could potentially make a difference. So I want to also go to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was at the Congressional Black Caucus press conference after the Derek Chauvin verdict. She said this soon after the guilty verdict was delivered on Tuesday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice, for being there to call out to your mom. How heartbreaking was that call out for your mom? "I can't breathe." But because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.

Haines: People had a lot of thoughts on this that I saw. Pelosi's sentiments have been roundly criticized on social media. April, I want to come to you, because I'm wondering what you think about what this says about how the guilty verdict in this particular case is understood by certain segments of the population.

Ryan: People are hurt. People are upset. People are tired. Do I believe that Nancy Pelosi meant to diminish what happened? No. But there is a sensitivity from a community that's been hit so hard by this, not just this year, last year, the last eight years, the last 20 years. This has been going on for 402 years, from these slave patrols, up to Jim Crow, to civil rights, to now. People are finally seeing some light, not a lot of light, but some light at the end of the tunnel. They want to call a thing a thing. He was brutally murdered because ... What is it, four people were on him, one on the neck and three on the back. He was murdered and I get the sensitivity. So I do not believe that she meant to offend anyone, but we have to realize, we have to call a thing, a thing in this moment in time to keep moving towards a brighter light of justice and equality.

Haines: I want to talk about the expectation that Black journalists provide analysis on the news about police brutality while they themselves are experiencing trauma. There's not really the same expectation for white journalists to really analyze white violence. I'm thinking specifically just back to the January 6th insurrection, and Farai, I want to come to you because I'm wondering what you think accountability looks like for white journalists and predominantly white news organizations in this moment.

Chideya: First of all, nothing happens until it happens. But this will be part of what I am hoping to cover in a book that I'm working on. It's in the stage of me writing the proposal. The main frame of the book is not race itself, but one of the case studies is what I call the invisibilization of whiteness. Blackness and Asian-ness and Native American identity, et cetera, are all considered for the purposes of journalism, deterministic categories that come with certain markers of whether it's criminality, income, whatever, but whiteness is not studied as a race. And I think one of the most revolutionary things that could come out of the past five years in politics and the current era is to realize that whiteness is a socially constructed racial identity with its own patterns and deterministic qualities just like Blackness or Asian-ness. They're all social constructs. There is no biological Black race or biological white race, but they're social constructs that have meaning because we give them meaning. And most of the world that we live in every day is socially constructed. And so white reporters will be asked to study Blackness sort of like a foreign country or Latino-ness, but not asked, "Well, what's your home country like?" I'm not asking for anything different for white reporters than Black reporters. White reporters should confront that whiteness has its own qualities, whether you like them or not, or whether you support all of them or not. Whiteness has qualities. And as someone I often question why I, as like a 25 year old Black woman was meeting people from the Ku Klux Klan, face-to-face... Part of the reason I was, is because white reporters weren't doing the work. Because they didn't believe it was important. They thought it was like, "Oh, that's something that Black people went through in the 1800s." It's like, "No, actually it's completely relevant." And January 6th showed us that. So we've had people leading newsrooms who fundamentally got the story wrong and are still getting paid. And I'm just going to say that right here.

Haines: Ooh. Okay. The tea is hot and getting hotter. And Farai, please hurry up and write that book because I have long said, whiteness is also an identity. It is an identity that needs to be covered, because again, that helps us understand who and where we are as a country and as a democracy. So look, I want to stay on talking about the media and how it covers the Biden-Harris administration. Our friend Yamiche Alcindor was just on with you, Farai, earlier in the show, talking about her expectations about covering the Biden-Harris administration. So I probably want to come to you as somebody who was covering the White House, who has been covering multiple white houses. What are your expectations as you covered this current administration? And is your process now any different from the way that you covered the previous administration?

Ryan: 24 years, five presidents. Sometimes, you say, oh, there's not going to be anything new or different. With each president, I should have never said that. With Bill Clinton, I said, "Oh, there will never be any president newsier than Bill Clinton." Then comes George W. Bush. I said, "Oh, there will never be another president newsier than George W. Bush." Then comes the first Black president. "Oh, there'll never be anyone newsier than Barack Obama." Then comes Donald John Trump. Then I said, "There will never be another president newsier than Donald Trump." And here comes his transformational new administration, Biden-Harris. The way they approach this... I think back to Bill Clinton, how Bill Clinton was ahead of his time when it came to issues of the Browning of America and race. This was the impetus of Joe Biden coming into this administration. He's got a year, he's got a year before 2022 and the Republicans try to unseat many of the Democrats in the Senate and in the House. And he's got a year to make a lot of major changes. And he's on the verge of doing this. I believe he could go down as the civil rights president, as he's dealing with these colliding crises. We, in our lifetime, we've never seen anything like this. Okay. Death, destruction, pandemic, job loss, vaccinations, mass vaccinations to stay alive, education virtually, but we are moving. And this administration sees that this is a moment that they have to lift up these babies who are in school to help them learn because we have so many children who are falling behind. And then dealing with the racial reckoning, changing policing that is centuries old. Changing mindsets as it relates to structure. This is an administration like none other, because we have seen times like none other. So I just watch and wait. He's someone, he and Kamala Harris are people who understand governance, understand humanity, understand politics, understand diplomacy, and understand the needs of the people and also the wants of the people. So we'll just see, but I think it's a different administration than we've seen ever before.

Haines: To your point, there are a lot of moving parts happening as this administration rounds its first hundred days. And with that, there's some criticism of the horse race type coverage instead of focusing on some of these issues, on some of the policy, in the media of what the Biden-Harris administration is working on. Coverage that focuses on how Biden is winning or losing against his Republican rivals in Congress, for example. Meanwhile, here we are talking about, to your point, issues of infrastructure, gun control, climate change, withdrawing from Afghanistan, voter suppression. So, Farai, what gets lost when the media pays more attention to wins and losses rather than the issues? Is there a better way to do this?

Chideya: There definitely is. And I think part of the question is, who are you talking to? So wins and losses matter more to the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill crowd, people who are directly influencing policy on a granular level. Most people are, even those who are engaged citizens are not looking at it from that same tactical background. And I think a lot of times, especially prominent news organizations end up as if they're writing just for the congressional aides instead of for a broader audience, which is one reason why some people hate political news because it seems intimidating, there's too much jargon. So I would ask all of our colleagues to say, who are you writing for? If you're writing for an insider audience, go there. And if you're not, what are you doing to frame things? One of my biggest concerns with news coverage is the lack of context, especially historical context. We have to ask ourselves, how are we serving civil society and democracy with the news coverage we do. And I think that this show that we're doing here goes deep into politics, but we're also accessible. We are here for people. I know that people on Capitol Hill listen to this show, but this show is not for Capitol Hill, it's for everybody. So let's just be cognizant of who we're trying to reach.

Haines: That's exactly it. This is why you had to create Our Body Politic. This is why we created the 19th, so that we weren't doing horse race journalism so that we were thinking about the winners and losers in the country. The voters, the American people who are the winners and losers. And frankly, April knows this too. This is why diversity matters. When you have journalists who are bringing not only their lived experiences to the work, but are coming into spaces with their communities in mind, with the issues that they care about. You're simply going to get a different perspective and a different kind of political journalism. And the corner of the realm, you're exactly right, cannot continue to be something that feels more insular than about who and where we are as a democracy. So with that, the political tea was hot this week again. We have to leave it here for now, but April, it was great talking to you.

Ryan: It's wonderful to be with these great minds who happen to be Black women. That's just awesome.

Chideya: That's right.

Ryan: That's awesome.

Haines: Amen. And it was nice to chat with you again, Farai.

Chideya: Oh, it is always great to talk to you, Errin. And April and Errin, this has just given me so much pleasure. It's just a joy.

Haines: Same.

Chideya: Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Natyna Bean and Sarah McClure. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, from BME Community, a network designed to build caring and prosperous communities inspired by Black people, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother, on the Chauvin verdict, Yamiche Alcindor and April Ryan Talk about Holding the Powerful Accountable.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. April 23, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/