George Floyd, MLK, and the Power of Discussing Race (with Keith Ellison)
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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has spent more than 20 years fighting for civil rights and racial justice, including successfully prosecuting the police officer who murdered George Floyd. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Andy calls up his friend to get his thoughts on what Dr. King would say about racism and inequality today. Rooted in the history of slavery and the civil rights movement, Keith’s perspective on policing, reparations, and how to talk about race is a must-hear.
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Andy Slavitt, Keith Ellison
Andy Slavitt 00:18
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. As reminder, email me at email@example.com. I want to hear from you. Keith Ellison is the attorney general in Minnesota and is the man who prosecuted the police officer who brutally murdered George Floyd, two and a half years ago. And then he was at the center of the controversy that followed over the protests, the looting, the defund the police movement, the backlash, and more, in my view. Today, there’s no one more fitting to talk about the state of Martin Luther King Junior’s legacy, than Keith, and this is a great conversation. And I’m very excited about it. It’s been 55 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a day that we use to remind ourselves of all the battles before and to come for freedom and civil rights in this country. For me, the day has some special meaning after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. Three years later, in 1971, I was entering the first grade. And I attended one of the first schools day for him, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. And for me, Dr. King, that became kind of a big part of our daily life as that was kind of how we learned about the world. And so it’s also a day to take stock of the privilege that many of us have in this country, the crimes that the US has been built on, and take stock of the fact that some of that legacy continues today. Now, I’m really mixed on what I believe about racial progress in this country. On the one hand, you know, so much overt racism has that has been accepted, or ignored, even a decade or two ago, is not permitted in this country any longer. It’s just very, very small part of society. And young people, by and large, are growing up in a multicultural society, and will accept nothing less than full inclusion in society. On the other hand, I think there’s some disturbing trends, as we’re going to get into with Keith a little bit. One is the near complete shutdown of dialogue on race. Rather than being on the defensive, a segment of white Americans decided to go on offense, attacking and forbidding the discussion of race and our educational system, labeling any corporate diversity program as woke ism, pushing for court rulings, forbidding the consideration of race in addressing any of the wrongs done in this country, and pretty much shutting down people’s ability to talk about racism as they experience it. It’s as if we’ve said enough, no more talking about race. So Dr. King, whose legacy is non-violent protest, whose legacy is educating us and speaking to us, is really being dishonored when we do this. Even talking about race and racism can be attacked by the aggrieved part of white society. They feel like they no longer need to suffer in silence. Trump’s Ascendance said one thing to them, it’s okay to push back loudly. It’s okay to cut off debate. And that’s just as conservatives very rightly, in my point of view, argue that their voices are being silenced on college campuses. They shouldn’t be. And that makes the other concern I have even more troubling and that’s the rise of more modern forms of racism, less explicit, but unquestionably damaging. Voter suppression, immigration policy, gerrymandering, black communities, health disparities, criminalization of poverty, police union rules, the most explicit racial vocabulary can’t be used. But euphemisms abound. We know what people mean when they harp about the southern border, about race, blind college admissions, about law and order. It’s hard to object to those words exactly. But the undertones should be clear. So taken together, it’s a pretty tough one to punch the subtle, modern forms of racism and the attack and any dialogue that calls into question anything is being racist. Now, Keith, who’s about to join us has found himself in the middle of all of this. He recently ran for reelection as Attorney General and Minnesota against a candidate who made public say Dee and Keith support for Black Lives Matter and police reform central to his campaign. And Keith didn’t run away from it. He’s used his office to say that we need to be safe from crime from all crime. And that includes crimes against people who are threatened by physical violence as well as people who are threatened by generational poverty and police violence. So this conversation is very direct. It’s a very needed conversation about modern experience with race. And it’s important, I think, on this day in particular, to have this dialogue. And in the course of this episode, you will hear some of Keith’s words after the verdict against the police officer Derek Chauvin, you will hear some of Dr. King’s words, the background music of my childhood. Thanks for being here, Keith, I really appreciate you doing this.
Keith Ellison 06:06
What a pleasure.
Andy Slavitt 06:07
We’ll start at the obvious place. You know, one of the seminal events in race relations that’s occurred in the last decade was the brutal murder of George Floyd. And you and your office, the attorney general office in Minnesota, ended up leading that prosecution and subsequently led to a whole bunch of conversations around how to hold the police accountable. And there was a lot of both reaction and counter reaction both from conservatives as well as you know, quite frankly, liberals in Minneapolis. And it feels like it’s soreness into a whole set of conversations. As we’re getting ready over the summer to close in on the three year anniversary of Georgia’s murder. Would you reflect what stands out to you about this moment, today, where we are when it comes to race and justice?
Keith Ellison 07:01
You know, what stands out to me is that our country, given how it started, has a lot to be grateful for. I mean, let’s not forget, we went through 246 years as a slaveholding nation where if you owned a black person, you could sell their children, for profit for yourself, that took place not over one lifetime, but over about, you know, maybe 1213 generations. You know, if you ran away as a black person, you could be charged with the crime of theft, what yourself, you know, and it wasn’t just to the south in slavery in New York, and Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. And then in 1863, or five, whichever gear you want to use, it didn’t stop then, of course, it went on for another 100 years, except for a blink of the eye known as reconstruction, which was over by 1877. Course. That era that I’m speaking of now, is known as Jim Crow segregation, where we saw at least three black people a week lynched and hung by the neck, including in our great state of Duluth, Minnesota, where three were left hanging from a light pole in 1920. And then after 1965, it didn’t end then we have disparities in every aspect of American life. And all along the lines of race. So here we are, in 2023. We say all men and women are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And you know, what? We are pursuing that happiness, we are moving forward in terms of our ability, as a society to have liberty and justice for all. It’s just taking a long time. And yet we’ve started from so very far. So I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture. I’m trying to paint an accurate picture, it is just as inaccurate to say that everything is bad and getting worse. That’s an accurate, it’s not true. And it’s also an accurate to say everything’s rosy and no problem that’s inaccurate. So the accurate picture is, we have this legacy of legalized white supremacy, we have abandon it and become a multiracial democracy. And we are struggling to hold on to it at this very moment. And if you look at January 6, you know, there’s people who don’t like it so much, and they want to make America great again, back before America was a multiracial democracy,
Andy Slavitt 09:30
right. You know, it’s I listen to it definitely an impressive telling of race relations in this country from the beginning. It strikes me that racism has just continued to take different forms. As some forms have become less acceptable. Other forms take their place, right. I mean, on the one hand, what I think is undeniable is that particularly younger people, people in this youngest generation, there is an awareness Consciousness of race and racism, a willingness to talk about it and unwillingness to tolerate it. On the other hand, not only does it feel like that legacy hasn’t disappeared that you talked about, but in some ways, it’s got a little bit of wind into its back. Yeah, you know, this sort of sense of white grievance that’s become acceptable to talk about disparities in education and health care that just haven’t gone away. Sure, the way you can criminalize certain acts or behaviors or zip codes over incarceration, acceptance to universities, that doesn’t mention the word razor black or white, but sharp, the effect of it seems to be that they’re just new ways of getting it the same kind of discrimination.
Keith Ellison 10:45
You know, you got an excellent point there. Let me just say, you know, like our country said, Okay, we’re not gonna have slavery anymore based on race. And then what did we do? We said, well, we’re going to have racially restrictive covenants in say that if you’re this color, you cannot live in this neighborhood. And then our beloved Minneapolis and I do love Minneapolis. You can go into all kinds of parts of town where it said in the deed, yep, if you are of the Hebrew, that Negro, the Asiatic, you cannot live here. They’re written. If you don’t believe me, you can go look at him.
Andy Slavitt 11:24
The first house we bought in Minneapolis had those lines in them. And then they were lined out. They weren’t even a race. They were there was a line through them. Yep. But you could literally read them.
Keith Ellison 11:33
And thank God, they didn’t erase them, because then we wouldn’t know, right? If you want it to, I mean, you can pull that data out and show it to your kids and say, Look, guys, I don’t want you to ever forget this, because this is what we’re with. This is what we’re pushing against, you know, so we should keep it I’m for that. But I guess what I’m saying is, it was the state policy of the government to say, the FHA, the Federal Housing Administration, said that unless you had a racially restrictive deed, we would not insure the mortgage. So that’s the government dividing Americans by race, up until 1944. I mean, so the thing is, we’ve got these challenges. But again, I want to agree with you. I mean, we got some bold young people who are insisting on equal protection under the law. And I got a feeling that they got a lot more to say about where we’re at.
Andy Slavitt 12:27
In some ways, I do think that George Floyd’s murder ended up being somewhat of a watershed moment. I mean, I’ve never talked to anybody in the black community that was surprised by that murder. Yeah. But I’ve talked to a lot of White people whose eyes were opened. Yeah, not just to racism, but to their own privilege, to the fact that there are certain things that they never have had to worry about. That for the first time, I think they saw because they saw it so explicitly. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s lasted. But at least it felt that way at the time.
Keith Ellison 13:00
Well, you know, interestingly, you know, you even saw, you saw a lot of white people, maybe even more white people in the protests, you know, I remember when the verdict was read. And that was truly a multicultural crowd that was outside waiting on that verdict. And I’ll tell you this, just for the cynics, right. The people who were standing on the corner on May 25 2020, of Chicago, and 38th, which you and I know that corner very well. Yeah, that was a multicultural crowd. It wasn’t just Black people saying, Get off of him. There were white people, there were people of all backgrounds. And here’s the other sad reality, that officers who did kill George Floyd were also a multicultural crowd, one of them was black. One of them was Hmong. Two of them were white. I mean, the bottom line is, as a society, we still have a long ways to go. But it’s not as if we have no sympathy for each other, based on skin color and background. That’s what gives me hope that we can really become that beloved community that MLK dreamed about and talked about.
Andy Slavitt 14:07
I think there were some of the best of us moments that happened. I recall. I don’t know if you recall this. But after protests, and a lot of stuff was broken, and there was a lot of glass in the streets, etc. A group of White women from the suburbs went each night, in each early morning. Yeah, to clean it up. And I remember talking to some of them, who said, We got to pay our penance. That’s part of what we have to do. And again, I don’t know if it lasted.
Keith Ellison 14:34
Well, can I say something about that real quick? Yeah. So like, after that I would drive up and down Lake Street and walk on Lake Street. And as you know, there’s a lot of Latino owned businesses there. And some immigrant owned businesses there. And these are, you all remember that Lake Street was dying man, nobody was showing up on Lake Street. But then these Ecuadorians the Mexicans, people from Bangladesh and Vietnam. In an African American business people showing up to start new businesses in this abandoned community, of which it was followed by other investments. And when the glass was broken, there were people who were of all colors, white people from the suburbs, white people from the city, black people, Latino people, all with their brooms in their dust bins. I loved it. And it was a beautiful sight. And it really did something for my heart. I’m glad it did for yours, too.
Andy Slavitt 15:27
Yeah, it was the best of us moment. Yep. We’ve had some words of this moment since then. But, you know, that’s, that may be how progress happens. Let’s take a break. I’m going to come back, Keith and talk about the case a little more detail and what it meant to our country, what it said about law enforcement and justice and a whole bunch of things that happened afterwards, some of them which were quite good and some of which were troubling. Before we get into the larger issues, I just have to ask you about the case in a sort of more personal way. Sure. How stressful was his prosecution of Derek Chauvin? And the reason I’m asking this is because this was an example of something that everybody knew what happened. Everybody knew what happened. This wasn’t a game of clue. This was who done it, everybody knew what happened. And yet, there was this feeling in all of our minds, because it hadn’t before that he was ultimately going to find a way to have a not guilty verdict. Yep, there was just an incredible amount of scrutiny and proof required, and it was all on you. How did you think about just very tactically, and from a stress standpoint? Can you give us a little bit of what but behind the scenes, what that situation was like, and I will say, I watched every minute of it on CNN. And I thought the two prosecutors, the two main prosecutors were unbelievable.
Keith Ellison 17:18
Well, let me tell you, man, you know, you’ve been in some stress moments. So you will know what I mean, when I say this. You compartmentalize, you just block it out, and use laser being tunnel vision on the problem. And what I kept telling our team, we don’t know what the jury is gonna say they’re gonna say what they say. But we’re going to put on the best case possible before the jury verdict is rendered before they come out there. And they say, here’s our verdict. We’re going to create an environment where we have done the best we can, not only substantively, but in terms of appearances. And you know, Steve and Jerry did a phenomenal job. But I tell you, we had a lot of folks who the world never saw it. I thought it was so sad. Yeah. I thought it was a little unfortunate.
Andy Slavitt 18:04
We saw a lot of them at the press conference. Yeah. And it was a sight to behold. I mean, sorry to interrupt you, but like, yeah, go, you could feel there was a culture on that team. Yeah. Of the people do with all of the legwork. Because the case that was presented was so meticulous, you knew there had to be an army that did amazing work.
Keith Ellison 18:24
And, you know, in somehow, these lawyers who are renowned for their prowess, you know, they’re, they’re known to be great. They all kept their egos in check, you know, and, you know, Andy, you’ve kicked around Washington, and you’ve been in business and you know, you know, folks who have a high sense of self-worth, right. And yet, these guys who all get praised lavished on them all the time somehow, were very, very deferential and respectful. Well, one thing is that I made sure that how do I make this sound immodest? I made sure I was the boss, and everybody knew it. And I don’t mean to sound egotistical. I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew that I’m running this and so I want to charge right, someone accountable. And then the other thing is, I let people debate their points, but when it got a little bit, saucy and tight, which it did, sometimes, I’m like, okay, time for a break, time for a break. And then I would talk one on one to people and say, you know, look, he wants to win as bad as you do. He just thinks this is going to work. And that’s not going to, and somehow it all came together. You know, I looked back on it. And I thank God for it. But I didn’t know what the verdict was going to be until the judge read it quite honestly, I thought it really could go either way. Because I’ve seen these things year after year. And there have been a number of cases that went in a direction opposite
Andy Slavitt 19:54
and this one was unequivocal. Yeah, this one was unequivocal. And then you did something Keith that I thought was unusual. You made some remarkable comments after the verdict of Derek Chauvin. You were at 60 minutes. And you actually, rather than gloating about the case and taking a victory lap, you expressed actual sympathy for the police officer involved. Let’s play that. And we’ll come back and ask you about that. And I got very touched that I was very surprised by that. You were not out there doing a victory lap. You did not look glorified. You didn’t look happy, you looked saddened by the whole situation, what was behind that very human expression of sympathy for Derek Chauvin.
Keith Ellison 21:49
We’ll look, you got to know that Derek Chauvin didn’t join the police department to end up where he was. He thought he was protecting and serving when he started. Over the course of time, I do believe he strayed from that, but his intentions when he joined, there’s no reason to believe that he didn’t consider himself a protector of the public. And yet here we were him on trial for the murder of somebody who is it was his job to protect and serve. Now that said, you know that’s not about the day to celebrate. That’s a sad moment. And then, you know, I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer, I sat on the other side of the table. And I sat in rooms with one person, when their fate was about to be determined, and it wasn’t going to be good in some cases. And it is sad at his, and I guarantee you, his mom’s gone to prison with him, his loved ones are in prison with him, his friends are there. And he must wake up in the morning, say, How in the world that I ever learned here. And so I feel that that is a sad thing. And I will tell you that, you know, there are things that Derrick Shelby can do with his life is not over. He can pursue his education he can, there’s a lot of things left for him to do. But there’s got to be accountability in our society, we cannot allow a state actor to use arbitrary force resulting someone’s death like that. We can’t tolerate it, but at the same time, that does not take his humanity from him. And I really hope everybody keeps that in mind.
Andy Slavitt 23:24
That was another best of us moment. When you said that. I felt because it didn’t take anything whatsoever away from George Floyd’s family, or the crime or the tragedy. But it said to us remember, it’s a lack of compassion that gets us here in the first place. And the fact that you showed it was I thought remarkable. So let’s take a final break. And I want to come back and talk about how this entire case got politicized. And the backlash and the defund the police conversation that happened afterwards. After the murder, of course, there was a lot of calls for accountability. with law enforcement. Yeah. Including the defund the police movement. And people in Minneapolis had a ballot initiative. Yeah, that was to create the Department of Public Safety in lieu of the Minneapolis Police Department and it was rejected. And then the whole notion of public safety took a little bit of an ugly tilt in my in my view. It became a euphemism for, hey, let’s not go too far in making sure that we’re protecting people. Let’s start by frankly scaring people and you ran against an opponent who was seemed to be there and tie in 2022 election this evening. I don’t know if it’s fair to say, but it seemed to be his entire campaign was very much about that. If people lost the plot here, what’s happened to this desire for police accountability, how to balance that against people’s legitimate concerns for public safety?
Keith Ellison 25:16
Well, you know, here’s the thing. George Floyd was looking for public safety on the day he was killed. Keeping him alive in a situation like this is in fact, public safety, too. There’s always backlash it the pendulum always swings, you know, and I don’t think as a society, we ever really took stock of the psychosocial impact of COVID. Right? We’d never really did, where he really is, you know, there were a lot of people who lost loved ones, you know, they didn’t get to grieve them properly. All kinds of bad conduct, you know, crime did in fact spike, people have a right to want to avoid being a victim of a crime. That’s for sure true. And, you know, but so many other things happen. And I think we’ve never kind of said, you know, we’re all going through some collective trauma right here. And it’s manifesting in various ways. What I think my opponent wanted to feed into is, you know, this sort of like, Get tough thing, because it gives you a sense that you have control that you don’t really have, right? I mean, the way to make the community safer, is hard work. And it takes all of us. And some of it is some of the way to make community safe is to be compassionate, right? So think about this, we had a spike in opioid usage and a spike in deaths. And yet, channeling money into treatment is in fact public safety. I could tell you this being unhoused leads to greater contact with the criminal justice system, housing people isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t make you seem really macho. It’s not a testosterone moment to say we need more public housing, or affordable housing, but it would reduce crime. Or, you know, things like that. And then here’s the other thing. It did feel a little bit like we lost sight of the fact that just the absolute proliferation of guns, drives danger, you know, and loss of life. And like, you know, you cannot talk about public safety and ignore the conversation around guns. It’s just silly. It’s crazy. It makes no sense. So at the end of the day, I think that it’s a predictable pattern. You know, I mean, look in the 1960s, you had urban rebellion and urban people call it some people call them riots, some people call it rebellion. I think it’s a matter of perspective. Then you had sort of a tough on crime thing that brought Nixon into power. And then in the 1990s, you saw, you know, Rodney King, police brutality protests all over the early 1990s. And then we see the crime bill in 1994. So whenever you see these massive upsurge is, again, you know, for essentially, what is a civil rights purpose, you’re probably going to see some backlash in about 18 months. And that is exactly what we saw. But I’m gonna tell you, I think we’re already on the other side of it. Because I want, you know, yes, I could run on a position of hope. And I can talk about people, I actually have criminally prosecuted and held accountable because of their murders, you know, and he could not he never set foot in a courtroom didn’t know the first thing about it. And again, I never, I never spoke ill of him personally, and I never would.
Andy Slavitt 28:39
You didn’t take the bait. You didn’t take the bait that he put out there. But it was interesting, because there was a narrative, which was suggesting at the time before the race, that oh, he’s gonna get secret votes from Minneapolis liberals. Because he’s, he’s scaring them. He’s worrying them. And, you know, in some ways, it was the ultimate litmus test for this question. And I think you refuse to take the bait, because as I’ve read comments you’ve made, it’s more along the lines of how do you as you said, how do you solve these problems? And what kind of police force do we deserve? It’s not as if there’s people in the black community saying we don’t need a police department. But the more difficult question, you know, is you’ve got police unions, which have, as we learned, in this case, so many rules, yeah. Which make it okay, for police brutality to occur that just lands the system in favor of a police officer who commits violence. And I don’t think a lot of us knew those things before this case. And they were brought out, we were beginning to have an intelligent conversation with them, about them. And then as you said, it felt like this became an politically expedient way for someone to push back.
Keith Ellison 29:52
Yeah, you know, people don’t like politicians to manipulate crime. I know that based on you know, studies and in polls. that I’ve read that they want people who have a public responsibility to take public safety seriously, but they don’t like it, if they get the sense that the politician is trying to, you know, manipulate fear of crime in order to get a political advantage. And let me just say this, you know, years ago, and I don’t know, Andy, if you’re a rap fan or not, but there was a guy named Flavor Flav who did a song called 911 is a joke. And it was a rap song. And basically, the whole premise of the song is a look, we hear in the black community need police protection, and they don’t respond fast enough. That was the premise of the song. And I can tell you that if you go to North Minneapolis, or South Minneapolis, you talk to African American people. Or if you go to a little Earth and talk to indigenous people, they will never tell you, we don’t want the police. They will tell you, we want good police. We want police who care about us. We want police who listen to us and see our humanity. That’s what people want, you know. And so it’s funny, because my opponent said I said defund the police. I’ve never been afraid to say that. I said what I said, but I didn’t say that, because I do believe we need more people helping keep us safe in law enforcement, more police officers do an investigation, more clearing homicides, more helping rape victims, more helping to do neighborhood watch, and helping neighbors protect each other. And the whole idea behind the Commissioner of Public Safety. Well, you know, the state of Minnesota as a Commissioner of Public Safety right now, always has the state, the top cop in Minnesota is the Commissioner of Public Safety. And it’s been that way ever since I can remember. So the shift over, I just always thought it might give us a broader view, you know, and give us more tools in the toolbox, which would include police, yeah, but would also give us mental health violent intervenors. And that’s kind of what I thought would work better. My opponent, he doesn’t really know the community that he wants to represent. So he didn’t really understand that.
Andy Slavitt 32:01
Well, I think the part about the dialogue that was there at one point that you just were pointing out and that got lost. Yeah, eventually because someone demagogue the issue was this notion that you deserve to feel like the justice system. It’s got your back. Not that the justice system will treat you unfairly. And if you do feel like that, that you feel like this country isn’t yours. Right. And that’s to me, when you tie it back to the legacy of slavery. Yep. That is a very strong notion that people were expressing that this is a country for other people. When the official people with uniforms, people in elected office, are there to protect others at our expense.
Keith Ellison 32:44
Well, let me tell you, and here’s the thing if there’s any group of people who have earned the right to claim America as their own, it is the descendants of the slaves, right? I mean, before when slavery ended, you can tabulate the value the dollar value of every asset in America. You can tabulate the value of the land, tabulate the value of every ship. Every farm, every bundle of cotton or sugarcane in the numeric dollar figure put on the slave was more than all of it, America’s been you know, it is no I mean, look at all the universe Georgetown’s built based on slaves, they sold slaves and got the money to keep school. Equitable insurance. I could go on all day with this. I mean, the bottom line is, if anybody could say this is my land, is the descendant of the people who helped to build it. Now I’m not saying black people are the only ones who helped build it. It was always a multicultural project, but it was white people, black people, indigenous people, Asian people, Latino peoples are all of us together, you know, people of all faiths, but there’s no denying the contribution of people of African descent.
Andy Slavitt 33:59
The middle class and the upper middle class, the people who build wealth in this country in large extent, as we know, build them on the value of getting homes and getting real estate right around the time the GI Bill. Oh, yeah. And the fact that that the black community was prohibited from participating in having a small asset that could become a large asset at the great expansion of this country. It reinforces the same point and I want to use that to tag it to be back to Dr. King. You know, we’ve legalized Dr. King. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this case. I went to first grade through fifth grade, I went to Dr. Martin Luther King, was my school.
Keith Ellison 34:40
Andy Slavitt 34:42
I love it every Tuesday. For my entire childhood. We saw a filmstrip of a speech given by Dr. King. Perfect. Yeah, we grew up this was you know, early 1970s a few years after Dr. King was assassinated. Yeah. But if it Time. Like it’s easy for people who maybe weren’t around then or to think that he was just lionized by everybody. When in fact, much like you were talking about earlier, for every positive, you know, he really were people who were pushing against him. And I think about that in the context of, you know, what are the modern legacies of Dr. King? And I often wonder, what would be the issues of importance to him today? I’m curious how you think about that?
Keith Ellison 35:28
Well, I’ll tell you this, I’m sure that Martin Luther King would say that the wealth disparity is unacceptable. A year before he met his end, he was in a church in New York City, April 4th, 1967, where he talked about war, the Vietnam War, in particular became the enemy of the poor, and that the twin evils of militarism and racism, were basically taking this great country and forcing us to pour money into a war that was immoral and unjust. And neglecting the needs of a whole wide range of people of all colors who were struggling economically. And he would say, it’s worse today. You know, I think he would, he would say, Look, you know, in 1940s, Black people couldn’t get FHA loans based on the law. And the Black people might like my dad did get the GI Bill and did get the VA loan. But these things were decided by the state. So if you were a Black veteran in Mississippi, or Louisiana, or Alabama, you probably did not. But my dad was, he happened to be in Michigan at that time. So he was able to take advantage of those things. And so you had a lot of folks who just never were able to. So Wow. So while Black families were renting, White families were owning that little spot. And there were places like Levittown, which was publicly subsidized, which black people could not live in, you could not live in Levittown. And it was a publicly subsidized post-World War Two housing development subsidized by the government. And based on your melanin content, you could not live there. So he would probably say in 2023, we have got to correct this grievous injustice. It’s provable, it’s demonstrable. The FHA should apologize to what it did to exclude black people. And we should figure out how to make Pete give people the chance that they never had. I mean, you know, that kind of speaks to the issue of reparations, but my thought is, can we at least discuss it before we just reject it out of hand?
Andy Slavitt 37:35
Let’s talk about that. And the notion of reconciliation, right notion of owning up to your past, the notion of trying to make right out of wrong. I looked at something like student loan forgiveness. Sure. I look at things like baby bonds, I look at things that recognize that we did not give a number of people a chance to build wealth. And they built wealth for the rest of the country, as you issue very, very articulately put it. So is it possible to make the progress you need to make without some sort of reconciliation?
Keith Ellison 37:46
I recognize the political danger of this conversation. But I think that is important to say, we don’t have to go back to slavery to talk about how we do something for people who were excluded by the law. Right? You know, and like, as I said, if the FHA just said, we were not around in 1945, we did not do it, but we’d recognize that it was wrong when it was done. And if you can show that somehow you were excluded. We want to make sure that we do something about that. I think that’s okay, now there will be people who don’t like it. Because here’s the thing. I mean, if you were a White person of average, education, exposure and intelligence, you could have the idea what the reason that Black people don’t, are poor and living in the ghetto, and that don’t have all these problems, because they’re just not industrious, like us. And nobody even told, you know, these people were legally excluded from owning a home, and they would redline people, you had to rent that was your only option for 90% of the populace. So they don’t even know that right. So part of what I think is important about even discussing reparations is it drives a conversation to help Americans understand things, and to tell you how dangerous understanding can be. That’s exactly why the 1619 opponents are making such a big fuss about CRT, they don’t want Americans to know because if Americans knew better, they would do better. If they knew better, they would do better, and they don’t want them to do better. So they don’t want them to know better. And it’s as simple as that. But we’ve that’s why we got to continue. That’s why I’m so glad you’re doing the show because people you know will do amazing things once they get a chance to once they’re exposed to a little bit of effort. Measure,
Keith Ellison 38:11
right? Because we do have this best of us moments. And yet we have. It feels like the Ron DeSantis is of the world. They preemptively villainize attempts to make us just even recognize and have a conversation. And, you know, it is just as much as they walk around saying in college campuses, we conservatives need to be heard. And I, by the way, I agree with that. I think college campuses don’t, yeah, let conservative voices be heard are wrong or wrong for that. But until they give the same respect, it’s saying, Hey, listen to us. This is what it is to be Black in America, or Hispanic, in America or indigenous in America, and to have that conversation and to listen to it, I find their talk of what do they call an anti-woke ism, I find that to be very hollow.
Keith Ellison 40:56
Now, these are the same people mad at Colin Kaepernick for taking the knee. I mean, when it came to him expression, so they will tell you that you’re a snowflake, if you want to stop people from saying homophobic and sexist things. You’re woke if you want to respect trans people, for example, right, but at the same time, Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, and they’re so deeply offended. I mean, talk about snowflakes. I mean, this law in Florida, they’re trying to push you say it if it makes white kids feel bad to hear about America’s history, regarding segregation, and they can’t be taught. I mean, that’s a crazy notion for somebody who says that you don’t have a right to not be offended. And I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I want. I believe that the First Amendment is one of the best things about our country. And so that’s why I join you and saying, let the conservative speak to, you know, let’s have a marketplace of ideas. Let’s share some points of view. Maybe we’ll learn something, you know, but let’s not go down the path of protect me from hearing perspectives. I don’t want to hear, let’s hear him. I don’t mind. You know, what’s funny, I never I never mind. Richard Spencer, or any of these, you know, people from these racist movements. I don’t need them to be arrested for saying their position. In fact, I would protect them from say, for the right to say what they want to say. Because then people see how stupid in empty, what they have to say is, if I just suppressed him, people might get curious and say, well, what are they saying? Now? You can hear him, listen to him?
Andy Slavitt 42:35
And people reveal themselves. And actually think the danger is when people can say, hey, there is no racism. See, I don’t see any. Right. And, you know, as we finish up, I want to begin a couple of other topics in the Supreme Court. There are things today that if you were going to say, the civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, voter restriction, sure. All that public health policies during COVID, women’s reproductive rights, marijuana policy, the denunciation of the election in the voiding of votes from minority communities. They might not sound to the average air like racism, but because some of them are legal maneuvers. There, they’re potentially just as lethal. Yeah, and maybe more lethal, because they don’t actually say the words that offend people. But they have a similar impact of saying, We’re going to keep you, you know, away from what is available to everybody else. college admissions Supreme Court case was the one that I had forgotten to mention that I was thinking of is the same shirt, same category.
Keith Ellison 43:41
Yeah. Well, so look, you know, one of the interesting things about Martin Luther King’s time, is we actually had a Supreme Court that wanted America to meet its promise. Right? You had, you know, Thurgood Marshall joined the court. You had Brennan, you had Warren, you had all these others who were open to an expansive view of our nation. And today, go back to 2013 the clamping down on the voting rights and oh my god, I can’t believe I can’t call that case where they struck the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County. I mean, in that particular case, that 2013 Supreme Court case on the Voting Rights Act, the Congress had passed the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming support in the House and 100% in the Senate. I had made sample records that this is what the policy of the country should be. And Justice Scalia struck it down anyway, and it struck the Voting Rights Act down anyway. You know, and it’s just been decision after decision. And I’ll tell you one decision that has no racial connotations, but it has very, very bad implications for a free and open society and that is the Citizens United decision. You know, because it said that companies to just pour money into election, so you don’t really have an election, you got an auction, you know, and all these things are decided by who can spend the most money in the gerrymandering case. So we’re not going to take that when well wait a minute, you’re basically allowing one side to engineer an outcome. Without regard to voter wishes.
Andy Slavitt 45:23
We’re going to draw an odd shaped figure out where all the African Americans live and make that one district.
Keith Ellison 45:29
Yep. And so what we have now is a series of decisions by the Supreme Court, which basically sort of lock in privileged for some an exclusion for others. I mean, you know, it’s sort of like the essence of the sort of the opposite of what MLK was facing, which was a more hopeful America. Now we have America in retrenchment and America trying to hold back opportunity and take it away. And this is something that I can tell you that, you know, I really admire our senators for Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith, they have been very, very serious about getting good judges. As a matter of fact, one of our lead prosecutors in the Floyd case, is now a federal district court judge. Jerry Blackwell. He is nominated by Senator Klobuchar, and he is a federal district court judge at this time. And that’s sort of the incremental change that we need to make. We’ve got to get back, you know, Ketanji Brown-Jackson, great, one and rarely no in so things there are there are some bright spots on the horizon. But from a judicial standpoint, we are in a tough spot. And the court is not on the side of justice at this point.
Andy Slavitt 46:47
Yeah, we both expressed the same comment about younger people. But boy, you know, having very conservative justices that don’t represent the interests of the country that were appointed by presidents that did not win the popular vote, right, And they make big decisions that impact all of us, is not the kind of country that I don’t think Dr. King or any of us hoped for. So we have a day to celebrate, and honor Dr. King. Yeah. And it’s a day that I think we’re supposed to, what I want you to tell us what we’re supposed to remember, and how we’re supposed to honor his legacy. And I’m curious, if you and your family have any particular ways that you think about and observe the day?
Keith Ellison 47:36
We absolutely do, you know, we, we tend to go to this breakfast, like a like a breakfast in the morning, it’s common for me to get an invitation to speak somewhere. So we go to that. If I don’t, we’ll all just go to the governor’s observance. But then we go home, and we’d like just, we just, you know, have some food, and we watch YouTube videos of MLK speeches. And then so this is a very important thing. And it’s one of the things I try to emphasize to my kids who are now adults now, is that look, you guys, this country is great, because people made it that way. This country is a country that observes human rights opens the doors for all people, women, men, people of all backgrounds, called colors, all cultures, all faiths, because people sacrifice for that people put their lives on the line for that. I’ve always told my kids, you know, you don’t want to just look at the Constitution and say, this is the pinnacle of human thinking. No, in fact, that document is scarcely the same document that it was when they wrote it, because it’s had multiple amendments, to expand rights for people. So if we’re going to have justice into the future is going to be because you make it so now because some old guys in Philadelphia way back in the day, wrote a document.
Andy Slavitt 48:58
That’s well said, well, Keith Ellison, we’re going to end the show with a speech with Dr. King. But before we do that, I love it. I really want to thank you. Thank you. It’s meant so much this dialogue was so powerful, and what you have continued to fight for, sometimes bravely against the wind sometimes, with everybody rooting you on but with the same determination, no matter what I just said, I just really you know how much I admire.
Keith Ellison 49:28
Well, I admire you too, man. We together right? So let’s keep on trudging ahead. And I’m so glad that you got this podcast, more information is better. So see you later, Andy. Happy MLK Day.
Andy Slavitt 49:42
Thank you, you too.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe. Men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wounds of a frail world new systems of justice. and the quality of being born, shirtless and bath with people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, we in the West, must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that because of conflict, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world, have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven minute to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our own. The hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall bold to challenge the status quo, and unjust mores. And thereby speed the day whenever it valleys shall be exalted in every mountain and heels shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis, that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in the individual societies. This call for worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.
Andy Slavitt 52:23
Well, we had to cut the speech at some point, but I could listen to Dr. King forever. As I said to Keith, it was an enormous part of my memory of growing up. Wednesday, Dr. Celine Gounder, the amazing public health official who also happens to be the recent widow of Grant Wahl the really remarkable soccer journalist who you may have all seen died suddenly have an aneurysm during the World Cup. And rather than be permitted simply to grieve this tragic sudden death. Selena is found herself as others have the victim of misinformation trolls who spread vicious rumors that vaccines were the cause of her husband’s death. And we’re going to talk about that and it both an emotional and an important conversation. That is a really personal lens. And how vicious these misinformation trolls can be. Friday, we’re going to talk about violence in American football with a specialist on concussions after the recent, very well publicized, visible, near death experience and recovery of the Buffalo Bills, football player Damar Hamlin. In Monday, one of the OG pandemic specialists, you all know him, you’ve all heard from him. You’re gonna hear from him again. Mike Osterholm will be on the program on coming Monday. So some great episodes coming up really proud of the work of the team. Have a remarkable day today. Celebrating and remembering Dr. King.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.