MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.
Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, joining us from Cleveland. Here is Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and columnist and contributing editor to TheRoot.com, Steven Gray. And with us from San Diego, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette.
And, guys, welcome. But before we dive in, I just wanted to note the passing of Gil Noble. He was a very significant figure in American journalism in bringing issues of particular to and about African-Americans and the urban scene into mainstream media.
He got his big break covering the Newark riots in 1967 for WABC in New York. He became a reporter, and then the longtime host and producer of the public affairs program, "Like It Is." The show ran from 1968 until 2011 in New York. It was a must see for many people who covered - you know, covered or watched or were interested in public affairs in that time.
Over the course of his career, he won seven Emmys. And he died yesterday at the age of 80, and we just wanted to acknowledge that and give our thoughts out to his family and those who cared about him.
So, with that being said, back to you, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, thanks for doing the acknowledgement, Michel. Yo, fellows. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
STEVEN GRAY: Good, man. What's up?
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: I'm good, man.
IZRAEL: S.G. from The Root.
GRAY: Hey, what's going on?
IZRAEL: My old stomping grounds, man. Thanks so much for making an appearance, and make sure you tell Lauren I said, what's up.
Anyway, all right. Well, let's get things started. First of all, everybody get naked. No, no, no. Don't do that. No one...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: That was not in my plan.
IFTIKHAR: I already am.
GRAY: No, no, no.
MARTIN: That was not in my plans for the day.
IZRAEL: Well, that's - if the Supreme Court - you know, that's how they ruled this week. They voted five to four that people arrested for the most minor offenses can be strip searched. Wow. So think twice before you jaywalk, my friends.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for that helpful advice, Jimi. Just to...
IZRAEL: I'm here to help.
MARTIN: That's right. You sure are. I just wanted to - just to bring people up to date on the facts if they're not aware of this case. The ruling came in a case where a man was arrested, jailed and strip searched twice for an unpaid traffic fine. And it turns out...
MARTIN: ...he had actually paid the fine, but there was a recordkeeping error. And he spent almost a week in jail before the whole mess was cleared up. And then, later, he sued, arguing that strip searching him for a minor offense violated the constitution's ban on unreasonable searches.
And, Arsalan, the court was narrowly divided. Why don't you tell us how the arguments sort of divided out?
IFTIKHAR: Sure. You know - well, first of all, the Supreme Court decision, you know, gives new meaning to the phrase put your hands on the wall and spread them, because this five-to-four decision, you know, anchored by Anthony Kennedy as a swing vote, essentially said that police officials can strip search anyone arrested, even for the most minor offenses, before admitting them to the general population, even in the absence of a shred of suspicion that they are carrying any sort of weapons or contraband.
Now, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said that it's, a quote, "a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy, and these strip searches should only be ordered for good reason." Kennedy writing in the majority, basically, said that it's hard to exempt classes of prisoners, which I find to be less than compelling, because, you know, if somebody's brought in for, you know, not putting his dog on a leash, as opposed to somebody for drug trafficking, I think it's pretty easy to be able to differentiate both of those classes of prisoners.
MARTIN: What do you guys think about this?
IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Me, Jimi Izrael, I don't know that the police need any more freedom to harass minorities. You know, I think just being of color sometimes makes you...
GRAY: Or anyone. Or anyone.
IZRAEL: Or anybody. But, being of color, come on. Being of color certainly makes you suspicious. This whole thing, it reminds me - it's too close to the no-knock warrants, you know, that let cops bust in your house without knocking or ringing the doorbell. All they have to do is kind of whisper, cops, and just, boom. Knock you joint down. And a number of people have been killed behind that, including Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old grandmother just minding her own business. And she's not with us anymore.
These kinds of laws, to me, they cater to these vigilante cops that don't have anything else better to do than just harass folks.
MARTIN: But Ruben, you and I share the experience of having family members who are police officers, so hopefully none of them are...
MARTIN: ...vigilantes. I don't know. What's your take on it?
NAVARRETTE: Well, I think the - you know, the decision itself is one of those that calls out for nuance. We have to understand and separate. I don't think the court did a good job of this. But you have to separate the difference between somebody who, for instance, is in prison and has given up a whole amount of rights for being in prison, regardless of the offense, versus someone who, in this particular case, is pulled over in a car and arrested for - they say he hadn't paid a fine. It turns out he had paid the fine.
It's a different thing. Right? I mean, putting them in a holding cell versus the jail, versus, you know, a five-year prison sentence. They are different levels of freedom and liberty you might give up there. Also, and we sort of talked about this at the beginning, the court's decision is troubling because you don't even have to be suspected of something, you can act without suspicion of a particular crime. This is one of those things that even law enforcement now uses very sparingly, and that's the best way to use it. You got to be able to sort of parse this out and say in some cases it's appropriate and in some cases it's inappropriate and you want to stay away from the broad brush approach that this court did.
Now, I will say this, though, and I know Arsalan will feel me on this - I think that we have, and I've said this and we have to own up to this, we have treated Muslim-Americans very badly since 9/11. We have walked all over their Fourth Amendment rights as U.S. citizens - not just with strip searches but all kinds of searches - and we in the minority community, Latinos and African-Americans, have not risen up often enough and complained about that. This is disturbing to a lot of folks because you can very easily see, you know, people in your neighborhood, in your family exposed to this stuff. But we ought to stand up against this stuff across the board even when we're not impacted by it.
MARTIN: You know, let me ask you this question though. Is the issue, being stripped search when you're and putting people into a contained space, which a jail or prison is - let's talk about a jail, because people who are in jail...
MARTIN: ...have not been generally convicted of a crime, or if they have, it generally is a minor offense.
MARTIN: Because if it were a major offense, they would be imprison...
NAVARRETTE: Prison. Right.
MARTIN: ...which is a whole different situation. But isn't the issue, why are people being arrested for traffic offenses or for doing something like falling asleep on the subway as opposed to, I mean, isn't that the issue? Because you could make an argument that any time you put somebody in a contained space, that law enforcement has the duty, not just to themselves, but to others in that space, to be sure that people can be safe.
MARTIN: I mean, for example, aren't you reminded of the fact that people who have been stopped for traffic stops have had, you know, shotguns in their car, have been wanted for killing people.
NAVARRETTE: Oh sure. Sure.
MARTIN: I mean we had a series of murders - random murders - in the Washington, D.C. area a number of years ago, and the guy was apprehended on a traffic stop.
MARTIN: A so-called a routine traffic stop. And so isn't that really the issue here? Why is somebody being locked up for not paying a traffic fine? Isn't that the question? Arsalan, maybe I'll ask you that.
NAVARRETTE: It is. It is. It is one of the questions, for sure. But I mean once you get into police custody - and I think we have to be very honest about the fact, the police are very aggressive and they're becoming more aggressive all the time. Now, another group that's been impacted out there are Latinos and Latino immigrants. And whether they're either legal or not, there's a big rush to get them to the jailhouse and get them processed under Secure Communities...
NAVARRETTE: ...and get them booted out of the country by this administration. That happens. And so this is going on already. I don't like and I don't want to encourage law-enforcement to become more aggressive. I think their aggressive enough already.
GRAY: This is Steve Gray talking. I think that law enforcement officers rightly need some flexibility and discretion to investigate individuals in cases as they see fit. But I think, as Jimi and other folks on the panel have said, the history of this country gives us great reason to be skeptical about the ability or the willingness of many of these officers to handle that power with - in a very careful way.
You know, people who are arrested on very minor offenses, like driving without a license or on an expired license or, you know, having a, you know, an improper - or not having a leash on their animal, they could be subjected to a strip search. So I, you know, I agree with Justice Breyer's key point, that this ruling opens the door to a severe invasion of privacy and human dignity.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, columnist Steven Gray, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar.
Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Wow. Well, it's really turned out to be kind of a Dirty Harry kind of Barbershop today.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: I don't know what's up with that. But I got to ask Steven Gray from The Root about a column he just wrote that deals with the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, Michel.
MARTIN: Well, you know, Steven was writing about the death of Trayvon Martin, as many of us have been, and the need for a meaningful debate on gun policy and gun rights policy. But you've got a lot of pushback, particularly, and I think surprising to you, from African-Americans. What did they say?
GRAY: Yeah. So about two weeks ago I wrote a column for TheRoot.com essentially arguing that the tragedy, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin should be a moment of reflection for the country about the growing number of very permissive gun laws and policies in this country. And also to look at, you know, the fact that recorded gun sales in the U.S. continue to rise even as violent crime is at a nearly two-decade low. You know, Americans own nearly a third of the world's estimated 875 million civilian guns. That's an astonishing figure.
You've got states like Utah passing laws that forbid public colleges from banning concealed weapons. That's hugely problematic.
MARTIN: OK. But the argument that others made to you was that African-Americans should be defending a liberal gun rights laws and policies because...
GRAY: Of the history, of the fact that, you know, for much of the country's history...
GRAY: ... African-Americans have had to fight for the right to bear arms simply to defend their very existence. And I get that argument completely. I was surprised in some ways because I just, you know, I was not aware of how problematic and tricky our history and relation - our historic relationship with guns has been.
MARTIN: Well, you know, and also the fact that, you know, this is - one of the issues in the black community has been the fact that there's a certain kind of genre in hip-hop that has kind of glorified gun and gun ownership.
MARTIN: For example, you know, there was Tupac's song, you know, "Hit 'Em Up." Does anybody want to hear it? Do you want to hear it or?
IFTIKHAR: I am.
IZRAEL: Hey, I'm always down for some Pac. Yeah.
MARTIN: You always down for some Pac?
OK. Here it is. OK. Here it is. OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIT 'EM UP")
TUPAC SHAKUR: (Rapping) Grab your Glocks when you see Tupac. Call the cops when you see Tupac. Who shot me? But you punks didn't finish. Now, you 'bout to feel the wrath of a menace. Sucker, I hit 'em up. Yeah.
MARTIN: And then, of course, Tupac and then Biggie Smalls...
MARTIN: ...died of gunshot wounds. So here you go. So does anybody - so Steven, briefly, did this change your mind about this? Does this change your mind about your original - this colloquy around this, change your mind about being more aware of the history?
GRAY: No. Because, you know, I think that, you know, I think that we are living in a - in a very different time. Look, the Second Amendment clearly says that, you know, gun ownership is a right in this country. But I have huge reasons to see, to question why we need guns on public colleges and why we need guns in churches, as laws are making it very clear is allowable. And so I think that, you know, I'm not suggesting that people suddenly give up whatever guns or firearms they own, but I do think that we need to really be reflective in considering the trajectory of gun policies in this country.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
IZRAEL: Well, you know, I did a piece about the local chapter of the Pink Pistols, the gay gun club, some time ago. And the argument they made to me was that guns actually kind of increased the peace because if you think that, you know, if you walk in the street and you think that guy that's starting a beef with you might be carrying a gun, you might be more inclined to work it out, you know, verbally. But I don't know that that works well in real life, and I guess that's probably a case-by-case thing. But me personally, I think if it's in the interest - first of all, I think people that carry guns are cowards. You know, no, well, I'm not going to go into that, but that's just what I think, me personally.
If it's your home that you have to protect, well, OK, I guess I can support your right to gun ownership. But walking around carrying a gun, guns find guns. Anybody that carries a gun will tell you that, that if you carry a gun around long enough, you're going to run against some, you're going to run into somebody else that has a gun. And...
MARTIN: What does Ruben think about that?
IZRAEL: And you're going to find a reason to draw it. Ruben?
MARTIN: Ruben, what do you think?
NAVARRETTE: I think it's too bad this isn't television because our folks could see that my brother out there in Cleveland is like, what, 6'3, 220, so he doesn't need a gun.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NAVARRETTE: You come into Jimi's house, guns are least of your worries. I'm going to tell you, though, I think - I grew up around guns in the house, you know, my dad used to have at any given time, three or four guns in the house and, you know, I grew up, you know, I'd go with him to the range and all that stuff. But I have a very uneasy relationship with guns, maybe because I grew up around them. They don't have the kind of mystique that I think that carry for a lot of folks out there who really love their guns and sleep with them under their pillow and I think have a really unhealthy attachment. They have multiple guns and they go out and buy lots of guns and they stockpile guns and whatever else.
And as a law enforcement officer, I know my father would sometimes walk into homes and the first question he asks, you know, coming in on a domestic surveillance call or something or a domestic violence call, your husband's in there? Yeah, in the house. Yeah, he's upstairs. Does he have any guns? Oh, yeah, he's got plenty of guns. That's just not what you want to hear, you know, at a late-night call. So I think that just like I said in the last segment, it's all about nuance.
Second Amendment, absolutely important. African-Americans and everybody else deserves the right to protect themselves, but we ought to have and we do have, hopefully in the law, enough background checks and waiting periods and they ought to close some of the loopholes that exist with gun shows. You know, I don't think that talking about guns extends to high-powered ammunition that can pierce through, you know, a cop's bullet-proof vest, for instance. We push this stuff too far, you know. We don't have to make it this complicated. You have a right to bear arms. You don't have a right to bear a bazooka.
MARTIN: Hmm. Arsalan, you're our lawyer here.
IFTIKHAR: I hate guns. I mean most estimates show that there are approximately 300 million guns in circulation in the United States. For every man, woman and child in the country. If every baby, if every Stewie Griffin in the world, in this country can have a gun, you know that we are far too militaristic of a nation.
MARTIN: Well, OK, but pushing back a little bit on this, you know, people have a lot of shoes too. I mean for a lot of people, you know, guns are a hobby. They are part of sporting. We have a lot of basketballs and, you know, bats in the house too. I mean a bat can be used as a weapon. It's a sporting good. I mean for a lot of people it's about sports.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. But, you know...
MARTIN: It's a history. It's marksmanship. It's something to do.
IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah, it's, you know, I've never heard of a, you know, a drive-by stabbing. What's interesting to me is the fact that to me the Second Amendment is probably the most cherry-picked amendment in our Constitution because it says you have the right to bear arms in order to form a militia army. We do not have a militia military system anymore and therefore I think that it's the NRA who has a disparate influence on our American politics and that's why we are such a militaristic nation.
MARTIN: Steve, I'm going to give you the last word here, because you brought it up. You started this.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: It's your fault.
GRAY: You know, I just think that when we're walking down the street or sitting in a bus or sitting in a classroom, we don't know if the person sitting or standing next to us has a gun, and that is a very chilling thought, right? The second -and the mentality in this country essentially is the second that we, you know, get into a fight, someone's going to pop a weapon, and that's just not - it's not cool.
MARTIN: All right. Steven Gray, good to see you.
GRAY: Thank you.
MARTIN: Columnist and contributing editor to TheRoot.com, that's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African-Americans. He was here with us in Washington, D.C., along with Arsalan Iftikhar. He's a civil rights attorney and founder of TheMuslimGuide.com. With us from Cleveland, Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. He was with us at member station WCPN in Cleveland. And Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for The Washington Post Writers Group, Latino magazine and PJ Media. Ruben, we missed you. He was with us from San Diego. Thank you all so much.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.