Democracy Now

How the Derek Chauvin trial broke down the 'blue wall of silence'

We get the latest on the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, with Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong. She says prosecutors in the case have successfully chipped away at the "blue wall of silence" by getting current police officials to testify against Chauvin. However, she says it's likely that "the only reason that these officers have testified is because the world is watching."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to talk about what's happening in Minnesota, now to the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, on trial for murdering George Floyd. The trial is taking place 10 miles from where a white police officer killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, Sunday.

On Monday, a cardiologist called as an expert witness in the Chauvin trial by the prosecution testified George Floyd died due to oxygen deprivation after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for over nine minutes. George Floyd's brother Philonise also testified and talked about how close George was to his mother, who died in 2018.

PHILONISE FLOYD: And when we went to the funeral, it's just — George just sat there at the casket. Over and over again, he would just say, "Mama, mama," over and over again. And I didn't know what to tell him, because I was in pain, too. We all were hurting. And he was just kissing her and just kissing her. He didn't want to leave the casket. And everybody was like, "Come on. Come on. It's going to be OK." But it was just difficult, because no — I don't know who can take that, when you watch your mother, somebody who loved and cherished you and nursed you for your entire life, and then they have to leave you. We all have to go through it, but it's difficult. And George, he was just in pain the entire time.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Sir, you indicated your mother passed away May 30. That was 2018. Is that right?
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Is that a picture of your mother and George when he was younger?
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Offer Exhibit 284.
JUDGE PETER CAHILL: 284 is received.
STEVE SCHLEICHER: Permission to publish? Sir, would you please describe this photo and what you know about it?
PHILONISE FLOYD: That's my mother. She's no longer with us right now, but — that's my oldest brother, George. I miss both of them. I was married. In May 24th, I got married. And my brother was killed May 25th. And my mom died on May 30th. It's like a bittersweet month, because I'm supposed to be happy when that month comes.

AMY GOODMAN: George Floyd's brother Philonise testifying Monday. Derek Chauvin's defense is due to call its first witnesses today.

To talk more about the trial of Derek Chauvin, we're staying with Nekima Levy Armstrong, the Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney, activist, executive director of Wayfinder Foundation, former president of the Minneapolis NAACP.

Can you talk about the wrapping up of the prosecution? Once again, one officer after another, the leaders in the Minneapolis Police Department, and then experts saying that it was not a heart attack, it was not drugs, it was the cutting off of the oxygen supply by Chauvin's knee — the significance of this? And also the significance of the defense asking to sequester the jury, given what happened with the murder of another African American man down the road? But, of course, the judge said no.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, prosecutors finished their case as strongly as they started, in terms of humanizing George Floyd, putting on extremely emotional testimony from the bystanders early on, as well as from George Floyd's brother, who provided what's called "spark of life" testimony in the state of Minnesota. One of the things that I think is important as a result of the testimony of George Floyd's brother is the fact that his testimony paints a picture for the jury of what George Floyd's life meant to the family and to the community, and how his death has impacted them.

I also think that the state did a really good job of providing expert witness testimony in the form of medical evidence, as well as use-of-force testimony, and also helping to break what some may call the "blue wall of silence" by having so many police officers testify in the prosecution's case against [Derek Chauvin]. We know that through one trial, that blue wall of silence is not going to crumble, but it is a start. And Chief Arradondo has been able to set the tone for the department in terms of his expectations and sending a signal to officers that they will not be allowed to get away with this kind of behavior.

Now, on the flipside, there are folks who feel that the only reason that these officers have testified is because the world is watching. And I believe that there is a lot of truth to that, because some of the underlying issues within the Minneapolis Police Department, as far as the culture, have not yet changed.

Now, in terms of yesterday's motion hearings, we heard from the defense counsel Eric Nelson that the unrest that happened on Sunday night would have an impact on the jury, so he was recommending that the jury be sequestered. Judge Cahill made the best decision in refusing to sequester the jury and articulating that these are two separate incidences. What happened in Brooklyn Center as a result of the killing of Daunte Wright at the hands of the police is not the same as what is happening in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nekima, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the decision by Governor Tim Walz to issue a curfew for several counties in the Twin Cities area from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. Tuesday, and given the fact that we're dealing with — this is the beginning of Ramadan, your thoughts about these restrictions?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: I think that the restrictions are ridiculous, from my perspective, as someone who has been out on the frontlines. I've been out both nights, along with Jaylani Hussein and many other activists and organizers.

It is really upsetting that the governor would issue a curfew rather than working proactively to curb police violence and set the tone by using his bully pulpit, pushing for policy changes and really advocating for the rights of Black people and other people of color who have been abused by police. Instead, what we're seeing is the governor push for more funding for law enforcement, bring in the National Guard, help to set up barricades and chain-link fencing around the courthouse and other buildings throughout the Twin Cities, and now this additional curfew.

Many young people last night intentionally violated the curfew because they're sending a signal that they are fed up with police violence in the state of Minnesota and not feeling safe as young Black people out in the community.

AMY GOODMAN: Nekima Levy Armstrong, we want to thank you being with us, Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney, activist, executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation.

When we come back, we'll be joined by the former head of the national NAACP, now president of People for the American Way. We'll be joined by Ben Jealous to talk about not only the Chauvin trial, but also the right-wing smear campaign targeting Kristen Clarke, President Biden's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Her hearing begins Wednesday. Stay with us.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: "When I'm 64" by The Beatles. This is Democracy Now!, I'm Juan González, with Amy Goodman. And, Amy, today we want to wish you a very Happy 64th Birthday! It seems only yesterday you were a young rebel reporter. Well, now you're a mature rebel reporter.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you, Juan. And it's wonderful to spend this day with you, or at least this hour, with our listeners, our viewers and readers. But such difficult times that we have to deal with. But no better group of people to deal with these critical issues. So thanks so much.

'I felt the need to call the police on the police': Witnesses describe seeing George Floyd’s murder

On the second day of the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, jurors heard chilling testimony from eyewitnesses who watched Chauvin kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine months.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is entering its third day. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges for killing George Floyd last May by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

On Tuesday, jurors heard chilling testimony from eyewitnesses, including Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 years old when she used her cellphone to film the killing of Floyd. Her image was not broadcast on the court television feed because she was a minor at the time of his death.

JERRY BLACKWELL: When you walked past the squad car there, did you see anything happening there on the ground as you were walking towards Cup Foods with your cousin?
DARNELLA FRAZIER: Yes. I see a man on the ground, and I see a cop kneeling down on him.
JERRY BLACKWELL: So, tell the jury what you observed, what you heard, when you stopped to look at what was happening there at the scene.
DARNELLA FRAZIER: I heard George Floyd saying, "I can't breathe. Please, get off of me. I can't breathe." He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew. It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help. …
JERRY BLACKWELL: Now, Mr. Nelson asked you a few questions about your video going viral and how that's changed your life. Remember that, at the end?
JERRY BLACKWELL: Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen how your viewing, experiencing what happened to George Floyd has affected your life?
DARNELLA FRAZIER: When I look at George Floyd, I look at — I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.
It's been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it's like, it's not what I should have done. It's what he [Chauvin] should have done.

AMY GOODMAN: Now 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, testifying at the trial of Derek Chauvin, who she says should have saved George Floyd's life.

The mixed martial artist Donald Williams, who also witnessed Floyd's death, told prosecutor Matthew Frank he called 911 after seeing Chauvin put Floyd in what Williams had earlier called a "blood choke."

MATTHEW FRANK: At some point, did you make a 911 call?
DONALD WILLIAMS: That is correct. I did call the police on the police.
MATTHEW FRANK: All right. And why did you do that?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Because I believe I witnessed a murder.
MATTHEW FRANK: And so you felt the need to call the police?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Yeah, I felt the need to call the police on the police.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawyers for officer Derek Chauvin attempted to counter the moving accounts by portraying the eyewitnesses to George Floyd's death as being part of an angry mob, but another one of the eyewitnesses was an off-duty firefighter and EMT. Genevieve Hansen told prosecutor [Matthew] Frank she urged the police officers to check George Floyd's pulse as he lay motionless on the ground.

GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I identified myself right away, because I noticed that he needed medical attention. It didn't take me long to realize that he was — had an altered level of consciousness. And in our training, that is the first time that somebody needs medical attention. So, my attention moved from Mr. Floyd to how can I gain access to this patient and give him medical attention or direct the officers. And I didn't pay much attention to George Floyd after that. …
MATTHEW FRANK: In terms of, you know, his face, when you're first there, or even the rest of him, what is it that you saw that made you concerned about his medical needs?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I was really concerned about — I thought his face looked puffy and swollen, which would happen if you are putting a grown man's weight on someone's neck. I noticed some fluid coming from what looked like George Floyd's body. And in a lot of cases, we see a patient release their bladder when they die. I can't tell you exactly where the fluid was coming from, but that's where my mind went. He wasn't moving. …
MATTHEW FRANK: What's the point of doing chest compressions?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Pumping — pumping the blood for somebody that's not doing that themselves, trying to get a pulse back.
MATTHEW FRANK: And were you able to do that, any of those steps?
MATTHEW FRANK: Why weren't you able to do any of that?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Because the officers didn't let me into the scene. I also offered — in my memory, I offered to kind of walk them through it, or told them, "If he doesn't have a pulse, you need to start compressions." And that wasn't done, either.
MATTHEW FRANK: Is this — are these things that you wanted to do?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: It would have — it's what I would have done for anybody.
MATTHEW FRANK: When you couldn't do that, how did that make you feel?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Totally distressed.
MATTHEW FRANK: Were you frustrated?
MATTHEW FRANK: Ms. Hansen, you know, as I told you, we can take our time, so feel free to just take a minute to — if you need a drink of water, go ahead.
MATTHEW FRANK: How were you doing that, trying to get the officers to focus on you and get help?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I think, in my memory, I tried different tactics of calm and reasoning. I tried to be assertive. I pled and was desperate.

AMY GOODMAN: Minneapolis firefighter and EMT Genevieve Hansen broke down in tears as she recalled seeing George Floyd die and being prevented from helping him. Visit to see all of our coverage on the police killing of George Floyd.

'Crisis of capitalism': How US policies fuel migration and instability

We speak with Salvadoran American journalist Roberto Lovato about how decades of U.S. military intervention in Central America have contributed to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border. Some 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in U.S. custody, according to the latest figures, and more than 5,700 are in Customs and Border Protection facilities, which are not equipped to care for children. This comes as a record number of asylum seekers are arriving at the southern border, fleeing extreme poverty, violence and climate change in their home countries. "You have the ongoing epidemic of U.S. policy and the crisis, that is not of migration as much as it's the crisis of capitalism, backed by the kind of militarism and militarized policing that you see not just in the United States, but in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, on and on," Lovato says. "The border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In California, over 60 unaccompanied migrant children being held in the San Diego Convention Center have tested positive for COVID-19. The convention center is currently holding over 700 children, according to local media.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting Border Patrol facilities across the Texas-Mexico border are so overcrowded that border agents recently started holding hundreds of refugees under a bridge near McAllen, where they're forced to sleep on the dirt. Border agents have also been dropping off hundreds of them at bus stations and even hotels.

This comes as a record number of asylum seekers are arriving at the southern border, fleeing extreme poverty, violence and climate change in their home countries. Almost 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in U.S. custody. Some 5,800 are in Customs and Border Protection facilities, which are more like jails, not equipped to care for children.

Tomorrow, the White House will be hosting a bipartisan congressional briefing on the border, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in attendance. During President Biden's first news conference last week, he faced a number of questions about how his administration is handling the growing number of unaccompanied kids arriving at the southern border. He said the majority of asylum seekers are still, though, being turned away.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing, are being sent back — are being sent back.

AMY GOODMAN: And a warning to our audience: This includes a graphic depiction of police violence. This coming as protests have erupted in Mexico over the police killing of Victoria Salazar, a 36-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of two who had been living in Mexico with a humanitarian visa. Four police officers from the coastal city of Tulúm have been charged with femicide, after an autopsy concluded that her neck had been broken while in custody. Videos published by Mexican media show one of the four officers who arrested Salazar kneeling on her back, pinning her against the pavement as she cries out. She lays on the pavement face down, handcuffed, unconscious, while three other cops looked on, before they eventually pick her up motionless, her body, and put her in the back of a police car before driving away. This is Salazar's mother, Rosibel Arriaza, speaking from El Salvador.

ROSIBEL ARRIAZA: [translated] I feel indignation. I feel so powerless and angry. … Justice for my daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: Victoria Salazar had reportedly lived in Mexico since at least 2018, when she was granted refugee status.

Well, to look at how decades of U.S. intervention in Central America has contributed to this humanitarian crisis, we're joined in San Antonio, Texas, by the award-winning Salvadoran American journalist Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas, in which he recounts his own family's migration from El Salvador to the United States.

We welcome you, Roberto, to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what we are seeing on the border — that's what you're investigating down on the border between Texas and Mexico — the horrendous story of Victoria Salazar, and what this is emblematic of.

ROBERTO LOVATO: What Victoria — first of all, I'm happy to be with you again, Amy. It's been so many decades I've been on your show talking about some form of crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and in the Central American region. We've been here before. It's just there's different actors, different conditions — for example, like climate change.

And so, when you're looking at the murder of Victoria Salazar at the hands of Mexican police, who asphyxiated her, not unlike the way George Floyd was asphyxiated, when you hear the mother say "indignación," the indignity of the killing of this mother of two, you have a symbol, along with the cages that — you know, just in Donna, Texas, here in Texas, you have Biden making a major change in migration policy, which is going from iron cages to plexiglass cages, that were discovered. And so, between the plexiglass cages, which are expecting you to just not see them as cages, and the murder of Victoria Salazar, you have the ongoing epidemic of U.S. policy and the crisis, that is not of migration as much as it's the crisis of capitalism, backed by the kind of militarism and militarized policing that you see not just in the United States, but in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, on and on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Roberto, I wanted to ask you — with this latest incident of the death of Victoria Salazar, there was — it must be said, to the credit of Mexico, that the officers were immediately arrested, obviously because the video went viral, unlike what happened with George Floyd, that it took weeks and weeks before there were even indictments of the officers. And President López Obrador did immediately condemn as brutality what he saw of this video. But can you talk about this contradiction of a leftist leader in Mexico, supposedly, his government and his police participating in this constant crackdown on migrants coming from Central America, basically at the behest of either the Trump administration or now the Biden administration?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah, I would credit López Obrador very little for his announcements, because there's been plenty of other Central Americans murdered, many other mothers, children murdered, by Mexican police and military forces, and persecuted and hunted down like dogs. So, as a former participant in the war in El Salvador, as a leftist, I'm not sure I would even apply that to López Obrador at this point.

That said, you also have to look at the geopolitics behind Victoria Salazar's death that are happening right now. Just yesterday, in The Washington Post, you can read about a negotiation that the Biden administration and the López Obrador administration had, which was Biden giving the Mexican government something like 1.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccine in exchange, basically, for harder enforcement than what we're already seeing, as if the murder of Victoria Salazar doesn't tell us that things are going wrong in Mexico, as well. So, there's a big geopolitical game being played here.

And the way the debate is being shaped, we're kind of put the position, as an audience, to see just, you know: Are we going to be like Trump or not like Trump? Are we good Democrat, bad Republican? When, in fact, it's a deeper history of U.S. policy that's founded on a foundation of cruelty, devalued life and amnesia. As I say in my book Unforgetting, the border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies, neoliberal policies backed by the IMF, the World Bank. I mean, we've been here before, Juan and Amy. I mean, these are all familiar terms. The new animal and the new beast in the room is climate change. That is intensifying things. And we're not even talking about people as climate refugees, which is what we should be doing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of this issue of climate refugees, could you remind folks, who tend to forget even what happened five or 10 years ago or this past summer, the impact of climate change on Central America?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I mean, you're talking, when you — climate and other scientists talk about Central America as a "Dry Corridor." There's the corridor from Mexico all the way to Panama, being the driest, rapidly drying region in the Americas, a region that's been characterized by massive flooding, drying up of lakes, so that the people that are migrating, some are fishermen or fisherwomen who can no longer fish, or crop cycles that are destroyed by drought, so you have people that lived off the land now having to leave their land to go to the cities in their countries, not finding work and then coming north.

Or, you know, look at the fact that something like 54 to 67% of the populations in these countries, depending on the country, are living in the Dry Corridor. You know, you have in Guatemala half of the whole country is in the Dry Corridor. El Salvador surface water, 90% of it is undrinkable, of the surface water. And Honduras just survived Hurricanes Eta and Iota. So, among the people you see on your television screens, in these rather absurd news reports that are without context, are people that are migrant refugees and refugees of failed U.S. economic policies of decades, and the militarism and militarized policing that backs it up, as we saw in the case of Victoria Salazar.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your take so far on the appointments of the Biden administration for people to handle Central America or Latin America policy?

ROBERTO LOVATO: For me, they're actually predictable. OK? I mean, you can look on my Twitter feed, @robvato, and you'll see that I predicted in January that the Biden administration would introduce plexiglass cages. Their logic really becomes predictable after the 30 years I've been at this and that I talk about in Unforgetting.

And, you know, so, when — I was expecting precisely that they would have this kind of intersectional empire approach, where now, hey, let's celebrate that a Cuban American is heading up the most militarized bureaucracy of the federal government, that surveils, persecutes, hunts down and kills migrants and others, or celebrate that Kamala Harris is now going to go into Central America to push policies, the same failed policies that we saw with the Bush administration's Plan Puebla to Panama — you know, neoliberal economics, privatization, International Monetary Fund and other policies backed up by militarism, that's now disguised as "policing" and "security."

But it's still the same formula, when what's really needed is, I mean, some form of reparations, actually. These countries need to be — first of all, they need an apology, because the U.S. needs to acknowledge the failure of its model. Central America is nothing if not a mirror to the decline of the United States and the decadence of its foreign and domestic policy structures.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Roberto, you have Victoria Salazar's killing coming two months after 19 people, mostly migrants from Guatemala, who were shot to death, their remains burnt inside a truck in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. At least a dozen Mexican police were arrested for possible involvement in that massacre. So, if you can talk about — and it's something you do so beautifully in your memoir —


AMY GOODMAN: — the policies? Because now the questions are being asked of all the officials. Tomorrow, the Biden administration is going to brief members of Congress. They are trying to say, in Spanish, in English, repeatedly, the border is closed. But does that mean the U.S. policy toward Central America is closed, is changing, is ending? I mean, when you look at what you call those decades of the U.S.-backed military repression in places like Guatemala, where over 150,000 mainly Indigenous people were killed; in El Salvador, your country, tens of thousands of Salvadorans killed, U.S.-backed military death squads and government; and in Honduras, the staging ground for the U.S. for the war against the Contras in Nicaragua. How does the U.S. government change this, turn this around?

ROBERTO LOVATO: How does it turn it around is a Nobel Prize-winning question, Amy. I'm not even going to begin to try to answer this enormously complex problem. I think you do have to, firstly, acknowledge the failure of immigration policy that's increasingly informed by the Pentagon, believe it or not, as my friend Todd Miller and others have written about, in the way that the border is being militarized, the way immigration policy is being militarized. I mean, you know, if you look at the Quadrennial Defense Reviews of the Pentagon, the quarterly reviews that they give, they've been talking about migration and climate change as national security threats since the '90s.

And so, when I see the Biden administration introducing a gentleman named Ricardo Zúñiga, who — you know, on the plus side, he was involved in normalizing relations with Cuba, but on, I would say, the minus, from the perspective of the continent, he was involved in the destabilization of all these governments in Latin America as a member of the National Security Council under Obama.

And so, you know, it's plexiglass cages. It's, "Hey, we have people of color now heading up imperial policy." Hey, you know, I've been going across 30 years of mass gravesites, as you know, Amy, and watching as forensics experts reconstitute the bones of memory. And I think, really, we need a recognition of the absolute and unadulterated failure of U.S. policy, which is actually not even a failure. It's designed to do this. And so, the U.S. needs to just kind of — to start solving this, needs to stop interventionist policies and economics that bring about privatization of water. Like, something like —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

ROBERTO LOVATO: — something like 85% of the crises in Central America are based in water.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, we're going to have to leave it there, but we will continue this discussion, award-winning Salvadoran American journalist. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

1 in 5 Capitol insurrectionists tied to US military — soldiers are 'targets' for extremist recruitment

Nearly one in five people facing charges related to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol had some connection to the military, including at least two active-duty troops, prompting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to order a 60-day stand-down across the services to address extremism. Ahead of the first deadline on April 6, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing Wednesday on extremism in the U.S. military. We speak with one of the experts who testified. "People who are connected with the military are prime targets for extremists," says Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite the decades of inaction, she says, "the conversation is moving forward" in Washington, as lawmakers are finally speaking openly about white supremacy and white nationalism.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The Armed Services Committee of the House held a hearing Wednesday on extremism in the U.S. military, to look at how nearly one in five people who are facing charges related to the deadly January 6th insurrection at the Capitol had served or are serving in the military, including at least two active-duty troops. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in January ordered a 60-day stand-down across the force to address extremism. The first deadline is coming up on April 6th.

But Republicans on the committee used their time to cast doubt on the need for the hearing. This is Texas Congressman Pat Fallon.

REP. PAT FALLON: Let's look at the data we do have. Our office reached out to all four branches of the service and asked one simple question: How many members of your branch were separated last year due to extremist activities? The Marine Corps gave us the data: Out of 222,000 current and active-duty reservists and active-duty marines, a total of four were separated last year for extremist activity, leaving us, once again, with an infinitesimally tiny figure of one out of 55,475. This isn't a hearing about the readiness of our Armed Forces; it's nothing more, unfortunately, than political theater.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Republican Congressmember Fallon. He drew this response from the committee chair, Adam Smith.

REP. ADAM SMITH: Well, I'll just point out a couple of simple little math issues. Twenty percent of the people that have been arrested from the Capitol Hill riots had a history of serving in the military, one way or the other. To then say that, "Well, those are the only people in the military that could possibly be involved in extremism," is simply logically absurd. And I'm sure the gentleman would recognize that. We don't know for sure how large the problem is. That's why we're having the hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the experts asked to testify at Wednesday's hearing was Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who said the military has long failed to adequately address far-right extremism in the ranks.

LECIA BROOKS: Let me begin with two distinct points. First, the vast majority of those who serve in our Armed Forces have no connection to white supremacy or extremism, and strive always to uphold the best traditions of our nation's democratic ideals. Second, the military has a growing problem with white supremacy and extremism, because our country does. The white nationalist movement in the United States is surging and presents a serious danger to our country and its cherished institutions, threatening the morale and good order of those serving in our Armed Forces.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center, testifying at yesterday's Armed Services Committee hearing on extremism in the Armed Forces. She joins us now for more.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Lecia. Can you talk about this critical issue? I mean, one in five of those charged have served or are serving in the military, not to mention the police and in those intelligence, this part of the January 6th insurrection. The significance of this, an issue you've been covering for years?

LECIA BROOKS: That is correct. The Southern Poverty Law Center has really been looking at this issue for decades, dating back to 1986, when we first wrote Secretary Weinberger. And it's important to note that people who are connected with the military are prime targets for extremists. They have leadership skills that are valuable. They have intelligence that is valuable. They are actively recruited prior to joining the military. They're recruited while they're in the military. And we take great risk in not looking at their connections to extremism as they separate from the military.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lecia, could you lay out the recommendations that you presented to Congress yesterday?

LECIA BROOKS: Yes. Thank you. And we just really want to commend Chairman Smith for holding the hearings. And as we understand it, they've never held a full hearing ever on this topic. And as was brought up a lot yesterday, there's a lack of data. And as we know, data drives policy. There are inconsistent — inconsistent policies across our military forces. We're calling for data collection, additional training and — I'm sorry — and support services in terms of building resilience for those that separate and are reentering civilian life.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lecia, I'd like to turn to the first Black secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, speaking to 60 Minutes earlier this month during an interview about extremism in the ranks.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: There's probably not a job that I had, since I was a lieutenant colonel, where some people didn't question whether or not I was qualified to take that job. It's the world I live in, and I'm sure that the other officers that you talk to would probably say the same thing. There's not a day in my life, David, when I didn't wake up and think about the fact that I was a Black man.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Lecia, your response to that, the significance of Austin being in this position, and also the steps that he's taken so far to address the question of hate and extremism in the military?

LECIA BROOKS: Nermeen, we're very encouraged by Secretary Austin's ascension to the head of the Department of Defense, one, because — not simply because he's an African American, and as he mentioned in his own words, he has faced racial discrimination for his entire life. It's also important to note that he experienced firsthand white supremacists in the military. So he knows that it exists and that it has existed for some time.

That 60 Minutes broadcast was so, so difficult to hear. Not only did we hear from Secretary Austin, but we also heard from the head of the Air Force, who talked about similar experiences with racial discrimination. And we know that, based on Military Times surveys, they survey active-duty servicemembers, and each year, for the last three years, it goes up, where servicemembers report that they've seen and witnessed white nationalists or white supremacy on these and within the ranks.

So, the members yesterday who questioned the data, who questioned the prevalence of white supremacy or extremism — the Southern Poverty Law Center was certainly brought to talk about our expertise with respect to white nationalist infiltration. There is a problem with extremism, and we need to do a better job in terms of regulations enforcement across all branches of the military.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to yesterday's hearing. Let's go to a question to you about Confederate symbols from New Jersey Democratic Congressman Donald Norcross.

REP. DONALD NORCROSS: You speak about removing symbols across the military, in particular the Confederate flag. Why is that important? Give us a historical perspective. Here we are in 2021. Why that's a problem?
LECIA BROOKS: As you know, the Confederacy stood against the Union. And, in addition, the Confederacy was formed to protect and prolong the inhumane institution of chattel slavery in the United States. We believe that it is wrong for a military that embraces all people to hold up as heroes those who fought to continue the enslavement of African Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's our guest, Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center. There isn't a question: The military pours a lot into routing out and going after, if there were foreign infiltrators in the U.S. military, you know, related to al-Qaeda or whatever. Do you see anything like that kind of — those resources going in to rout out white supremacists — clearly, in all the reports of the Pentagon and intelligence, the number one domestic terror threat in this country?

LECIA BROOKS: That's true. No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, we are just getting at the place, Amy, where we can talk about white supremacy and white nationalism. The Southern Poverty Law Center, we presented last year to a subcommittee of the Armed Services, and they could barely say the word "white supremacy" or "white nationalism." So, at least we are thankful that the conversation is moving forward.

And again, I think it's extremely important that we have Secretary Austin, who recognizes that it exists. So, we are hopeful. And we're hopeful in terms of this president and the secretary of defense. I was more hopeful, prior to yesterday's testimony, about the committee. But they're — again, giving credit to Chairman Smith, I do believe that they will do all that they can to ensure that we engage in robust data collection, that regulations are uniform across all branches of service, that the regulations pertaining to active participation in these extremist groups is taken seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see what happened on January 6th as an attempt of white supremacists to take over the Capitol?

LECIA BROOKS: Oh my goodness, yes. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as you know, tracks and monitors hate and extremist groups. What we saw on January 6th was a coalescing of not only traditional bad actors or white supremacist groups, but also conspiracy theorists. So, when we talk about extremists, we're talking about groups that believe that their in-group success is dependent upon taking hostile action against an out-group. So what we're seeing is a coming together of people who adopt a true white supremacist ideology along with others who are feeling aggrieved and feeling — advance the false narrative that there's white displacement across the country. So, we could easily say that there are 50 million people who have been exposed to extremist ideology and have bought into a narrative of false information. And that is represented in the larger society, so of course it's represented within the military.

AMY GOODMAN: Lecia Brooks, we want to thank you for being with us, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, expert on extremism in the military.

When we come back, we get an update on a massive fire at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. And then we'll look at Yemen. Stay with us.

'Amazon is trying to intimidate workers': Why Biden's support of the Alabama union push was 'crucial'

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are in the final days of voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and become the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the United States. Ballots have been sent to nearly 6,000 workers, most of whom are Black, in one of the most closely watched union elections in decades. Amazon has fought off labor organizing at the company for decades, but workers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver and Southern California are now also reportedly considering union drives. "Amazon is trying to intimidate workers. They want them to be afraid," says Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. We also go to Bessemer to speak with Michael Foster, an RWDSU member-organizer leading the union drive at Amazon's warehouse, who says casting a ballot in the union election, amid Amazon's attempts to discourage warehouse workers from supporting the union drive, is "the only way that we can allow our voices to be heard." We also discuss how this week marks the 110th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest workplace accident in New York City's history and a seminal moment for American labor.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The final week of voting has begun in one of the most closely watched union elections in decades. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — that's the RWDSU — and become the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the United States. Voting ends March 29th. Ballots have been sent to nearly 6,000 workers, most of whom are Black.

Amazon has fought labor organizing at the company for decades, but Bloomberg is reporting Amazon workers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver and Southern California are now also considering launching union drives. Nationwide, Amazon has over 1.3 million employees, making it the second-largest private workforce in the United States, behind Walmart. The unionization effort in Alabama has attracted widespread support, even from President Biden.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. This is vitally important, a vitally important choice, as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and a reckoning on race. What it reveals, the deep disparities that still exist in our country. And there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmembers Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Terri Sewell and other lawmakers recently traveled to Bessemer, Alabama, to support the unionization drive. Last week, Amazon worker Jennifer Bates, who's helping to organize in Bessemer, testified before the Senate.

JENNIFER BATES: We hope, with a union, we will finally have a level playing field. We hope will be able to talk to someone in HR without being dismissed. We hope that we will be able to rest more, that there will be change in the facility to make some of the stress off our bodies. We're hoping we get a living wage, not just Amazon's minimum wage, and be able to provide better for our families. We hope that they will start to hear us and see us and treat us like human beings. It's frustrating that all we want is to make Amazon a better place to work, yet Amazon is acting like they are under attack. Maybe if they spent less time and money trying to stop the union, they would hear what we are saying. And maybe they would create a company that is as good for workers and our community as it is for the shareholders and executives.

AMY GOODMAN: Amazon worker Jennifer Bates, testifying on Capitol Hill.

This comes as a new study, out today, from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies has found Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his personal wealth increase by $65 billion since the pandemic began a year ago. That means Bezos's wealth increased on average by over $7.4 million every hour for the past year.

Meanwhile, Amazon workers in Bessemer and other locations are being forced to work 10-hour shifts with just two 15-minute bathroom breaks.

We're joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Stuart Appelbaum is with us, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. And with us in Bessemer, Alabama, is Michael Foster, a member and organizer of the RWDSU who's helping lead the Amazon unionization drive. He's also a poultry plant worker.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Michael, it's great to have you back. Let's begin with you in Bessemer. In this last week, what message are you putting out? And what are the tactics Amazon is using to fight the unionization effort?

MICHAEL FOSTER: Well, our efforts right now is just to encourage the employees to get their ballots out in the mail, to mail them out, because that's the only way that we can allow our voices to be heard. And Amazon tactics that they are using, instead, are steady going around from person to person, telling them, you know, to vote no, and just doing a whole bunch of other stuff. They're not having care for the meetings, but they are going to individuals at a time and telling them these things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Stuart Appelbaum, I wanted to ask you — these statements by President Biden, before the election or as the election is unfolding, I don't recall a president ever making a statement, of any party, before a major union drive in the country. The impact of that and Biden's stance so far on the right of labor to organize?

STUART APPELBAUM: Hello, everybody. You are right. It is the most pro-union, pro-worker statement that has ever been made by a president of the United States. And that is so crucial in this election. Amazon is trying to intimidate workers. They want them to be afraid. And what President Biden's statement says is that you may be up against perhaps the most powerful corporation in the world, the wealthiest person in the world, but the president of the United States has your back. And that is crucial for workers to be hearing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you and follow up on that. The National Labor Relations Board, President Biden won't be able to have a majority on the board until probably later this year, because the terms are staggered.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But he did appoint a general counsel recently to the NLRB that is much more pro-labor. Could you talk about the impact that that's having on the potential for future union drives?

STUART APPELBAUM: I'd also mention what it's having on this union drive, as well, because labor law in this country is tilted to favor employers and to make it difficult for workers to ever be able to achieve a union. And that's incredibly unfortunate. We saw that the Trump board often sought to make it even worse for workers trying to organize, lengthening time periods, giving employers more time to try to intimidate and interfere with workers.

We need to — we need to change the way we conduct union elections in this country, and that means two things. It means we need to have a board composed of people who are going to be supportive of what is the policy of this country, which is to promote collective bargaining and unionization. And it also means that we have to change the laws in this country, that now make it so difficult for workers trying to get a collective voice to be able to achieve unionization.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to journalist Kim Kelly with More Perfect Union, who produced a video report that shows the mail ballot dropbox has been placed right in front of the warehouse, even though the National Labor Relations Board said Amazon couldn't have one. This clip starts with Joshua Brewer with the RWDSU.

JOSHUA BREWER: When you see this box, as you see, it's right by the front door. Everything at Amazon is tracked. Everything is surveilled. So, this idea that this massive box that's 20 feet from the front door of Amazon isn't being surveilled is ludicrous. Somebody is lying. So, either Amazon is lying or the Postal Service is lying. We tend to believe that Amazon is lying. They've told a lot of lies throughout this process. …
That went up middle of the night. The second night, Amazon immediately sent out a text message that said, "Look, we — the Postal Service installed this box. We don't have keys." We've reached out to the postmaster in Bessemer. We haven't heard back. We've got a Freedom of Information request out there, and we haven't heard back. We've put a lot of pressure on different areas, trying to figure out, you know, look, number one: Did you even install this box, or is this Amazon's cluster box? Does the Postal Service own it or not? And then, who has the keys? Who actually has access to it? Because everything we're reading is showing that the Postal Service doesn't install these boxes.
DARRYL CRAIG: Even in an apartment complex, the tenant has one, and the mailman and the rent office. Who knows who has the key to that box?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Amazon worker Darryl Craig, that last voice. Michael Foster, talk about the significance of this.

MICHAEL FOSTER: Well, the significance of it is that workers just truly believe that something is going on with this mailing box, that — why would Amazon want them to bring their ballots from home and bring it to the plant and put it in their mailbox, when they can just literally put it back in their own mailbox? People called me and asked me, "Is Amazon stealing some of the ballots?" because they have seen people put their ballots in that mailbox. And it's just really scary. I believe it's an intimidation, so to speak.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to go back to Stuart Appelbaum to ask him about the — Amazon trumpets a lot on their advertising on television. They're constantly doing ads on television these days talking about their workforce, and they trumpet the fact that they pay $15 an hour. Could you compare the situation in, let's say, an average Amazon workplace to those of unionized warehouse workers in a different parts of America?

STUART APPELBAUM: Absolutely. Amazon is trying to hide behind a fig leaf of giving $15 an hour, but that wage rate is actually below what unionized warehouses in the area are providing workers. It's also below the median wage in Alabama. It's lowering the median wage. And it's not enough for people to survive on.

I also want to remind you that Amazon cut people's wages in the middle of the pandemic. At the end of May, they eliminated the $2 hazard pay they had been giving, even though the pandemic continued to rage, even though the hazards were just as bad, if not worse, as they had been before. And why did they do it? They didn't do it because they needed to. You talked about how much money Bezos has made during this period. They did it because they thought they could get away with it. Oxfam put out a report that said if Jeff Bezos had given every one of his employees a bonus of $105,000, Bezos still would have been wealthier at the end of the pandemic than he was at the beginning.

And it's not just wages. It's working conditions. Despite the wage that Amazon pays, it has extraordinary turnover of more than 100% a year, because people can't take those jobs at any cost, at the way they're being abused within the workplace. Amazon dehumanizes and mistreats its employees. It breaks them down and uses them up, and then just replaces them with other people. The working conditions are terrible. And that's what really needs to change.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a very significant anniversary, Stuart, that I'm sure you, being a labor leader here in New York, have been observing for years. Thursday marks the 110th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest workplace accident in New York City's history and a seminal moment for American labor. On March 25th, 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, Jewish and Italian, died after a fire broke out at the factory. Many of them leaped to their deaths when they tried to escape and found the emergency exits locked. I want to play an excerpt of a radio piece I produced 35 years ago, in 1986, along with Kathy Dobie. It was then the 75th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

PAULINE PEPE: I worked right near where the fire was. There was cutters there. They were cutting the material. And as soon as they were just going out, it was time to go home. It was 4:00 on Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: Pauline Pepe is a 94-year-old survivor of the Triangle fire.
PAULINE PEPE: I saw the fire in the tables, where they were all full with lingerie material, you know, and that had come up in a flame. When I saw that, I ran out. I went to the door that was closed. I didn't know that was closed. I went there, knocked on the door. Closed. I just stood there 'til they opened it. Forty people going down the steps, we all tumbling one right after another. And I saw people throwing themselves from the window. And as soon as we went down, we couldn't get out, because the bodies were coming down. It was terrible.
KATHY DOBIE: The women that died that late afternoon were young Jewish and Italian immigrants. When the fire broke out, they tried to escape down the stairs but found the doors had been locked. The owners believed that, given the chance, workers would sneak out with stolen material, and union organizers would sneak in.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the women climbed onto the single fire escape. It collapsed. As onlookers watched, women fell nine stories to the sidewalk below. Inside the factory, the fire spread quickly, and with no exit left to them, the women climbed through the windows and leapt to their death.
While some union members walked in the vigil, others took buses to a Brooklyn cemetery, where seven unidentified Triangle victims lie buried. Union members paid their respects and read the stone marker above the women's graves.
MONTAGE OF VOICES: "In sympathy and sorry, citizens of New York raise this monument over the grave of unidentified women and children who, with 139 others, perished by fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Washington Place, March 25th, 1911."

AMY GOODMAN: That report done for the 75th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I interviewed the last survivor of that fire. Now it's the 110th anniversary. Stuart Appelbaum, in addition to being president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, you're a longtime union activist, vice president of the national AFL-CIO. Can you talk about the significance of this moment in history and what it means for today?

STUART APPELBAUM: The importance of this election in Bessemer, Alabama, transcends this one workplace. It even transcends this one company. It's really about the future of work and how workers are going to be treated in our economy going forward, whether or not people are going to be abused, or whether or not they're going to be treated with dignity and respect. That's why this fight is so important. As Mike can tell you, many workers talk about how they feel like they are being treated as robots being managed by other robots. It's not the way we want workers to be treated.

We didn't want them to be treated they were at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and we saw what the extraordinarily horrific consequences of that treatment was. And we don't want workers anywhere to be treated the way workers at Amazon are being treated today. Something needs to change. And what the courageous workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are doing is standing up for that change. I don't see how we can't be more inspired by all of them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Stuart, we only have about 30 seconds left, but I wanted to get your reaction to the approval by the Senate of President Biden's nominee for secretary of labor, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the first time in 50 years that a union member, a former union member and leader, is named secretary of labor.

STUART APPELBAUM: I think that's very significant. Joe Biden said, when he was running for president, that he wanted a union leader to be in his Cabinet. And he's delivered on that promise. We have someone who understands what it means to be a working person as the secretary of labor, someone who's devoted a good portion of his life to working with unions and trying to make conditions better, and who understands what this is all about. And I'm delighted that Marty Walsh is our new secretary of labor.

AMY GOODMAN: Stuart Appelbaum, we want to thank you for being with us, president — Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union president, and Michael Foster, RWDSU organizer, leading the charge to unionize Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

That does it for our broadcast. There's a job opening at Democracy Now!, a senior producer. Check our website. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

'Jim Crow in new clothes': In first Senate speech, Raphael Warnock slams GOP assault on voting rights

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

Senate Democrats have introduced sweeping voting rights legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month. The For the People Act aims to improve voter registration and access to the polls, ends partisan and racial gerrymandering, forces the disclosure of dark money donors, increases public funding for candidates and imposes strict ethical and reporting standards on members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans have signaled they'll use the filibuster to defeat the bill.

This comes as voting rights are under attack in courthouses and statehouses across the country. Republican state lawmakers have introduced over 250 bills in 43 states to limit voter access. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appears poised to uphold controversial voting limits in Arizona, in a case that would further gut the Voting Rights Act.

We turn now to newly elected Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock's first Senate speech. He's the first Black senator to represent Georgia and the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate in the South. Reverend Warnock is also a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Now Senator Warnock focused on voting rights in his maiden floor speech, but he began by condemning the deadly shootings at the three spas in the Atlanta region on Tuesday that left eight people dead, including seven women, six of whom were of Asian descent.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Mr President, before I begin my formal remarks, I want to pause to condemn the hatred and violence that took eight precious lives last night in metropolitan Atlanta. I grieve with Georgians, with Americans, with people of love all across the world. This unspeakable violence, visited largely upon the Asian community, is one that causes all of us to recommit ourselves to the way of peace, an active peace that prevents these kinds of tragedies from happening in the first place. We pray for these families.
Mr President, I rise here today as a proud American and as one of the newest members of the Senate, in awe of the journey that has brought me to these hallowed halls, and with an abiding sense of reverence and gratitude for the faith and sacrifices of ancestors who paved the way.
I am a proud son of the great state of Georgia, born and raised in Savannah, a coastal city known for its cobblestone streets and verdant town squares. Towering oak trees, centuries old and covered in gray Spanish moss, stretched from one side of the street to the other, bend and beckon the lover of history and horticulture to this city by the sea. I was educated at Morehouse College, and I still serve in the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, both in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement. And so, like those oak trees in Savannah, my roots go down deep, and they stretch wide, in the soil of Waycross, Georgia, and Burke County and Screven County. In a word, I am Georgia, a living example and embodiment of its history and its hope, of its pain and promise, the brutality and possibility.
Mr President, at the time of my birth, Georgia's two senators were Richard B. Russell and Herman E. Talmadge, both arch-segregationists and unabashed adversaries of the civil rights movement. After the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board ruling outlawing school segregation, Talmadge warned that blood will run in the streets of Atlanta. Senator Talmadge's father, Eugene Talmadge, former governor of our state, had famously declared, "The South loves the Negro in his place, but his place is at the back door." When once asked how he and his supporters might keep Black people away from the polls, he picked up a scrap of paper and wrote a single word on it: "pistols."
Yet, there is something in the American covenant — in its charter documents and its Jeffersonian ideals — that bends toward freedom. And led by a preacher and a patriot named King, Americans of all races stood up. History vindicated the movement that sought to bring us closer to our ideals, to lengthen and strengthen the cords of our democracy. And I now hold the seat, the Senate seat, where Herman E. Talmadge sat.
And that's why I love America. I love America because we always have a path to make it better, to build a more perfect union. It is a place where a kid like me who grew up in public housing, the first college graduate in my family, can now stand as a United States senator. I had an older father. He was born in 1917. Serving in the Army during World War II, he was once asked to give up his seat to a young teenager while wearing his soldier's uniform, they said, "making the world safe for democracy." But he was never bitter. And by the time I came along, he had already seen the arc of change in our country. And he maintained his faith in God and in his family and in the American promise, and he passed that faith on to his children.
My mother grew up in Waycross, Georgia. You know where that is? It's way 'cross Georgia. And like a lot of Black teenagers in the 1950s, she spent her summers picking somebody else's tobacco and somebody else's cotton. But because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls in January and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.
Ours is a land where possibility is born of democracy — a vote, a voice, a chance to help determine the direction of the country and one's own destiny within it, possibility born of democracy. That's why this past November and January, my mom and other citizens of Georgia grabbed hold of that possibility and turned out in record numbers: 5 million in November, 4.4 million in January — far more than ever in our state's history. Turnout for a typical runoff doubled. And the people of Georgia sent their first African American senator and first Jewish senator, my brother Jon Ossoff, to these hallowed halls.
But then, what happened? Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters in a hard-fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters. And rather than adjusting their agenda, rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we've ever seen since the Jim Crow era. This is Jim Crow in new clothes.
Since the January election, some 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced by state legislatures all across the country, from Georgia to Arizona, from New Hampshire to Florida, using the big lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression, the same big lie that led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol — the day after my election. Within 24 hours, we elected Georgia's first African American and Jewish senator, and, hours later, the Capitol was assaulted. We see in just a few precious hours the tension very much alive in the soul of America. And the question before all of us at every moment is: What will we do to push us in the right direction?
And so, politicians, driven by that big lie, aim to severely limit — and, in some cases, eliminate — automatic and same-day voter registration, mail-in and absentee voting, and early voting and weekend voting. They want to make it easier to purge voters from the voting roll altogether. And as a voting rights activist, I have seen up close just how draconian these measures can be. I hail from a state that purged 200,000 voters from the roll one Saturday night, in the middle of the night. We know what's happening here: Some people don't want some people to vote.
I was honored on a few occasions to stand with our hero and my parishioner, John Lewis. I was his pastor, but I'm clear he was my mentor. On more than one occasion, we boarded buses together after Sunday church services as part of our Souls to the Polls program, encouraging the Ebenezer church family and communities of faith to participate in the democratic process. Now, just a few months after Congressman Lewis's death, there are those in the Georgia Legislature, some who even dare to praise his name, that are now trying to get rid of Sunday Souls to the Polls, making it a crime for people who pray together to get on a bus together in order to vote together. I think that's wrong. Matter of fact, I think that a vote is a kind of prayer for the kind of world we desire for ourselves and for our children. And our prayers are stronger when we pray together.
To be sure, we have seen these kinds of voter suppression tactics before. They are a part of a long and shameful history in Georgia and throughout our nation. But, refusing to be denied, Georgia citizens and citizens across our country braved the heat and the cold and the rain, some standing in line for five hours, six hours, 10 hours, just to exercise their constitutional right to vote — young people, old people, sick people, working people, already underpaid, forced to lose wages, to pay a kind of poll tax while standing in line to vote.
And how did some politicians respond? Well, they are trying to make it a crime to give people water and a snack as they wait in lines that are obviously being made longer by their draconian actions. Think about that. Think about that. They are the ones making the lines longer, through these draconian actions. And then they want to make it a crime to bring grandma some water while she's waiting in a line that they're making longer. Make no mistake: This is democracy in reverse. Rather than voters being able to pick the politicians, the politicians are trying to cherry-pick their voters. I say this cannot stand.
And so I rise, Mr President, because that sacred and noble idea — one person, one vote — is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their craven lust for power, have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights. They are focused on winning at any cost, even the cost of the democracy itself. And I submit that it is the job of each citizen to stand up for the voting rights of every citizen. And it is the job of this body to do all that it can to defend the viability of our democracy.
That's why I am a proud co-sponsor of the For the People Act, which we introduced today. The For the People Act is a major step in the march toward our democratic ideals, making it easier, not harder, for eligible Americans to vote by instituting commonsense, pro-democracy reforms, like establishing national automatic voter registration for every eligible citizen and allowing all Americans to register to vote online and on Election Day; requiring states to offer at least two weeks of early voting, including weekends, in federal elections, keeping Souls to the Polls programs alive; prohibiting states from restricting a person's ability to vote absentee or by mail; and preventing states from purging the voter rolls based solely on unreliable evidence, like someone's voting history — something we've seen in Georgia and other states in recent years. And it would end the dominance of big money in our politics and ensure our public servants are there serving the public.
Amidst these voter suppression laws and tactics, including partisan and racial gerrymandering, and in a system awash in dark money and the dominance of corporatist interests and politicians who do their bidding, the voices of the American people have been increasingly drowned out and crowded out and squeezed out of their own democracy. We must pass For the People so that people might have a voice. Your vote is your voice, and your voice is your human dignity.
But not only that, we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. You know, voting rights used to be a bipartisan issue. The last time the voting rights bill was reauthorized was 2006. George W. Bush was president, and it passed this chamber 98 to 0. But then, in 2013, the Supreme Court rejected the successful formula for supervision and preclearance contained in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They asked Congress to fix it. That was nearly eight years ago, and the American people are still waiting. Stripped of protections, voters in states with a long history of voter discrimination and voters in many other states have been thrown to the winds.
We Americans have noisy and spirited debates about many things — and we should. That's what it means to live in a free country. But access to the ballot ought to be nonpartisan. I submit that there should be 100 votes in this chamber for policies that will make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard in our democracy. Surely, there ought to be at least 60 in this chamber who believe, as I do, that the four most powerful words uttered in a democracy are "the people have spoken," therefore we must ensure that all of the people can speak.
But if not, we must still pass voting rights. The right to vote is preservative of all other rights. It is not just another issue alongside other issues. It is foundational. It is the reason why any of us has the privilege of standing here in the first place. It is about the covenant we have with one another as an American people: E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one." It, above all else, must be protected.
And so, let's be clear. I'm not here today to spiral into the procedural argument regarding whether the filibuster, in general, has merits or has outlived its usefulness. I'm here to say that this issue is bigger than the filibuster. I stand before you saying that this issue — access to voting and preempting politicians' efforts to restrict voting — is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights. It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society. Colleagues, no Senate rule should overrule the integrity of our democracy, and we must find a way to pass voting rights, whether we get rid of the filibuster or not.
And so, as I close — and nobody believes a preacher when he says, "As I close" — let me say that I — as a man of faith, I believe that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea: the sacred worth of all human beings, the notion that we all have within us a spark of the divine and a right to participate in the shaping of our destiny. Reinhold Niebuhr was right: "[Humanity's] capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but [humanity's] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
John Lewis understood that and was beaten on a bridge defending it. Amelia Boynton, like so many women not mentioned nearly enough, was gassed on that same bridge. A white woman named Viola Liuzzo was killed. Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway. Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two Jews and an African American standing up for that sacred idea of democracy, also paid the ultimate price. And we, in this body, would be stopped and stymied by partisan politics, short-term political gain, Senate procedure?
I say let's get this done no matter what. I urge my colleagues to pass these two bills, strengthen and lengthen the cords of our democracy, secure our credibility as the premier voice for freedom-loving people and democratic movements all over the world, and win the future for all of our children. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Georgia's new Democratic senator, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, giving his first speech from the Senate floor. In a rare display in the Senate, the people in the room gave him a standing ovation.

When we come back, we speak to Heather McGhee, author of the new book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "We'll Never Turn Back" by Mavis Staples. The 81-year-old legend just got her second dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

'Huge victory': Black farmers hail $5B in new COVID relief law to redress generations of racism

A major provision in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill aims to address decades of discrimination against Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American farmers who have historically been excluded from government agricultural programs. The American Rescue Plan sets aside $10.4 billion for agriculture support, with about half of that amount set aside for farmers of color, and allocates extra federal funds to farmers who were "subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group." The U.S. Department of Agriculture has faced accusations of racism for decades, but little has been done to address the problem of discrimination in farm loans. John Boyd, a fourth-generation Black farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, says the new funds begin to address issues he has been fighting for 30 years. "This is a huge victory for Black farmers and farmers of color," says Boyd.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

We begin today's show looking at a major provision in President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that aims to address decades of discrimination against Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American farmers, who have historically been excluded from government agricultural programs. The American Rescue Plan sets aside $10.4 billion for agriculture support and allocates about half the funds to farmers of color who were, quote, "subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group," unquote.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights confirmed, as long ago as 1965, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against Black farmers, but little was done to address the problem, and the number of Black-run farms dropped 96% in the last century. By 1999, 98% of all agricultural land was owned by white people. In 2010, Congress approved a $1.2 billion settlement for thousands of Black farmers denied USDA loans because of their race. But a 2019 study by the Government Accountability Office, based on the USDA's own data, shows farmers and ranchers of color continue to receive disproportionately smaller farm loans.

The provision in the new COVID relief package is drawn from legislation introduced by newly elected Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who is Georgia's first Black senator and also the first Georgia Democrat to serve on the Agriculture Committee in three decades. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the measure.

AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK: The history of USDA, unfortunately, involved a level of discrimination against a number of minority producers — Black farmers, Native American farmers, Hispanic farmers. And there is an effort, I think, with this package to try to deal not with the specific acts of discrimination, but the cumulative effect over a period of time. When people are discriminated against, they basically get behind, and it's really hard for them ever to catch up. And the result, of course, is that we've seen a significant decline in the number of minority producers around the country. So, this is providing some debt relief for those minority producers, those socially disadvantaged producers, to impact and affect the cumulative effect of — to offset the cumulative effect of discrimination over a period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: But the effort to address the USDA's history of racism has come under fire from some Republicans, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who lashed out against the measure during a Fox News interview.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Let me give you an example of something that really bothers me. In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven, up to 120% of your loan — not 100%, but 120% of your loan — if you're socially disadvantaged, if you're African American, some other minority. But if you're a white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness as for reparations. What has that got to do with COVID? So, if you're in the farming business right now, this bill forgives 120% of your loan based on your race. These people in the Congress today, the House and the Senate, on the Democratic side are out-of-control liberals.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Graham's comments prompted a stern response from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who's also from South Carolina. He was speaking on CNN.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Mr. Graham is from South Carolina. He knows South Carolina's history. He knows what the state of South Carolina and this country has done to Black farmers in South Carolina. They didn't do it to white farmers. We are trying to rescue the lives and livelihoods of people. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the fight to end discrimination at the USDA and restore land to Black farmers, we go to Boydton, Virginia, to speak with John Boyd, fourth-generation Black farmer, founder and president of the nonprofit National Black Farmers Association.

John, welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about this $5 billion and what it means? Give us the history.

JOHN BOYD: The $5 billion is historic in nature, Amy — and thank you for having me again — in what it's going to do to help Black farmers and farmers of color in this country. You know, as you know, we've been suffering. And the $5 billion calls for debt relief. So, that would give many Black farmers a jumpstart, if they can get rid of the debt at the United States Department of Agriculture. And there is $1 billion that's set aside for technical assistance and outreach and to really dig down into the core of the discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Both of these measures, I've been fighting for for over 30 years, so I don't anybody who's watching this show to think that this is some new measure or new idea or concept that happened overnight. I've been trying to fix this, this measure, for over 30 years at the United States Department of Agriculture. And, Amy, I probably spoke to you about it 10 years ago. So, we've been trying a long time. And this is a huge victory for Black farmers and farmers of color, Native Americans and Hispanics, and other socially disadvantaged farmers.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how, over the last century, Black farmers lost 90% of their land?

JOHN BOYD: Yes. And at the turn of the century, we were tilling about 20 million acres of land, primarily in the Southeastern Corridor of the United States, and we were close to 1 million Black farm families strong. And for those who don't understand the history, every Black person in this country, we're one or two generations away from somebody's farm. And we survived slavery. We survived sharecropping. We survived Jim Crow. And here we are in the year 2021, and I'm talking to you about discrimination at United States Department of Agriculture. We lost this land by discrimination, from receiving discrimination at USDA.

And I was one of those recipients, where the government clearly discriminated against me. I have a 14-page letter from them admitting to the guilt in those egregious acts that I faced by this this county official. The person responsible for making farm loans spat on me and used racial epithets, referred to me and other senior statesmen in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, as "boy." He came to my farm, wanting me to sign a check over to him personally, with a loaded handgun. And I can tell you, Amy, he didn't treat white farmers that way in Mecklenburg County. He would only see Black farmers on Wednesday. All of us would be lined up in the hallway with the same date and time on it. And he was referring to these elderly Black farmers — many were deacons and preachers and leaders in the community — as "boy" and talking downward towards them. So, this is deep-rooted discrimination that's been going on in very pervasive ways for a very, very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to Senator Lindsey Graham?


AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the history of Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, when it comes to this issue.

JOHN BOYD: Yes. Well, first of all, I've lobbied Senator Graham when he was in the House and in the Senate, and I've had meetings with him, in buttonhole meetings, trying to get him to support the Claims Remedy Act of 2010. He has over 6,000 Black farmers in his state. He knows the discrimination that I'm describing. And I've spoken to him personally about this discrimination. Amy, he never once used his megaphone to talk about or investigate the acts of discrimination that Black farmers like myself faced.

So, I'm calling for, today, on your show — I want him to apologize to the Black community, to Black farmers, and apologize to this country for his wrong stance on this. Forty-nine members voted on 10 different amendments to strip or lessen the language that was in the COVID spending bill for Black farmers. Forty-nine senators, Republican senators, voted to take that out. And Senator Lindsey Graham was one of them. He has never tried to help. He is divisive. He is wrong for this country. And that message, that concept, the message of hate, hatred and division, that he continues to preach on Fox News, isn't the American way. That's not the way to bring America back.

Here we are, for 30 years, trying to get this done. He should have took some time to say, "What can we do to help this measure, to make farming better for Blacks and other farmers in this country?" And he never once spoke about all of the money going to white farmers. Just, for example, under the Trump administration, $29 million — $29 billion, with a B, went to white farmers. What is his definition of that? All of the subsidies and programs and loans and all these incentives at USDA, for all of these decades, have went to white farmers. What is his definition of that?

So, that's what we've been talking about, clearly, for a long time: a system that has discriminated and mistreated and took and stole land from Black farmers for decades. And it went unchecked in this country. If he wanted to check something, he should have been checking about discrimination at USDA. He should have been checking about sharecropping in his historic state, South Carolina. These are things that Senator Lindsey Graham should have been doing.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of it being Reverend Warnock, now Senator Warnock, from Georgia, the new Democratic senator, being the one who pushed this forward and sitting on the Agriculture Committee?

JOHN BOYD: Yes. This is a historic nature, and my hat goes off to Reverend Warnock, Senator Cory Booker. For the first time in history, Amy — this is a new day in America — we have two Blacks on the Senate Ag Committee. We have the chairman in the House, Chairman Scott, also from Georgia, a chairman of the [House] Agriculture Committee.

We have now a president, President Biden, and a vice president, who wants to help rectify some of the problems that we've faced. And I spoke to the president about this last February. And he committed to me that he would help me fix the issues at the United States Department of Agriculture. So I would like to recognize President Biden for signing that bill and making sure that we stayed in there. So, my hat is off right now to this administration for doing the right thing and having the guts to stand up to people like Lindsey Graham and the other 49 senators, who simply don't want to help people, Black farmers and poor people in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Tom Vilsack, the new, once again, head, but also past head, of the USDA. The NAACP has noted Vilsack had lied to conceal decades of discrimination against Black farmers. The NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, responded to Biden's nomination of Vilsack to head the USDA, calling it "extremely problematic for the African American community." He cited the 2010 controversy when Vilsack served as agriculture secretary during the Obama administration and fired Shirley Sherrod from her USDA position overseeing rural development, amidst a misunderstanding over racial comments. Vilsack would later apologize. Johnson told The Washington Post, quote, "We think that an individual who unjustifiably fired Shirley Sherrod — who is a civil rights icon, a legend, who worked with John Lewis — should not be considered. … We should not go backward, we should go forward." Well, in fact, Vilsack is once again the head of the USDA. John Boyd, have you spoken to him? And what are you demanding?

JOHN BOYD: Well, two things. Yes, I have spoken to him. And one of the things that President Biden also committed to me during our one-on-one visit in South Carolina, that there would be change in leadership at USDA. So, when they announced that Secretary Vilsack was coming back to USDA, he was not my pick. And he wasn't the pick for Black farmers. He was the pick that President Biden wanted to come back. I wanted new blood and new leadership, someone who will take a much more aggressive campaign against this discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture.

And, Amy, when I lobbied all of those years for the Claims Remedy Act of 2010, that put in place $1.25 billion for Black farmers, Secretary Vilsack was, in my opinion, too slow to act. I didn't get the help on Capitol Hill, neither in the House or the Senate. And Valerie Jarrett, from the White House, the last five or six months, got on board and began to campaign to help me pass that measure in the House and Senate. So, I didn't think he was the right person.

But I spoke to him here a couple days ago, and he congratulated me on the measure in the bill. But I also urged him to put in swift action to make sure that these payments and the debt relief and all of these measures, the outreach and technical assistance, reach Black farmers and farmers of color expeditiously, not to sit on it and try to figure out a plan of action. If we can get $1,400 in the mailbox and direct deposit into Americans, then we can disperse and relieve debts for Black and farmers of color expeditiously. And I urged him to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you mentioned the Trump administration and Black farmers, farmers of color. How does it fit in to past presidents? How would you assess the Trump administration?

JOHN BOYD: Worst administration in history for Black farmers, since my 38 years of doing this kind of work, Amy. My visit — and I've had the opportunity to sit down with every agriculture secretary, both Republican and Democrat, in the cage at USDA. And Secretary — former Secretary Sonny Perdue, in my visit with him, was the worst conversation I ever had. He said, "Mr. Boyd, it's your farmers, i.e. Black farmers, are going to have to get large or get out of business."

And when I urged him to have more Blacks on the county committees and all of the USDA commissions, he said he didn't need people that were lazy and didn't want to work. How egregious and — for former Secretary Sonny Perdue to say that. I told him that I didn't know any Black farmers, that are still farming, that have been treated worse than dirt by USDA, that are lazy and don't want to work. Now, Amy, I work seven days a week, including holidays and Christmas, and I've been working all of my life. And that's the way many Black farmers have. The issue here is, is we haven't had access to credit the way that the white farmers have.

And for that type of position from the Trump administration, set us back a little further. And not only just in Black farming, but in race relations in this country, the Trump administration set Black people and divided this country. And former Secretary Sonny Perdue was at the core of that, taking land away from Black farmers. He didn't even have an assistant secretary for civil rights, a position that I lobbied for and campaigned for, for many years, to get into the farm bill. They didn't even fill that position. So what does that tell you about the Trump administration's commitment on civil rights and resolving complaints from Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers? Sonny Perdue gets an F from me. And I hope he heads to retirement in politics, because he really done a bad number on Blacks and other farmers of color in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: John Boyd, I want to thank you so much for being with us, fourth-generation Black farmer, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association.

When we come back, we go to Steve Donziger, the environmental lawyer who sued Chevron for ecological devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. After Chevron was ordered to pay billions of dollars, Chevron went after him personally. Donziger has spent nearly 600 days under house arrest. We'll speak to him at his house. Stay with us.

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Journalist slams the racism of the UK monarchy: 'An institution ... premised on the superiority of bloodline'

The British royal family is facing intense criticism over its treatment of Meghan Markle, who revealed shocking details about life as a royal in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, including mistreatment and bullying from other royals, relentless harassment by the British press, and racist comments about Markle, who was born in the United States to a Black mother and a white father. One member of the royal family, according to Markle, even speculated how dark her child's skin would be. Markle and her husband Prince Harry stepped down as senior members of Britain's royal family last year. Pioneering British journalist Trisha Goddard says Markle's revelations were "shocking, but not surprising," and that coverage of Markle in the U.K. has always carried an "undercurrent" of racism. We also speak with Novara Media's Ash Sarkar, who says the monarchy is a "feudal institution" that entrenches class inequality in British society. "You can't have an institution which is premised on the superiority of bloodline and have it not be racist."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

The British royal family is facing increasing criticism after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry revealed shocking details about life as royals, including the racism suffered by Meghan Markle, who was born in the United States to a Black mother and a white father. Last year, the couple left the United Kingdom and stepped down as senior members of Britain's royal family to raise their child Archie in North America. During a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, Markle revealed they felt forced to leave in part due to concerns about Archie.

MEGHAN MARKLE: In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time, so we had in tandem the conversation of he won't be given security, he's not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born.
OPRAH WINFREY: What? … There is a conversation — hold up. Hold up. Stop right now.
MEGHAN MARKLE: There are several — there are several conversations about it.
OPRAH WINFREY: There is a conversation with you —
OPRAH WINFREY: — about how dark your baby is going to be?
MEGHAN MARKLE: Potentially, and what that would mean or look like.
OPRAH WINFREY: Ooh. And you're not going to tell me who had the conversation?
MEGHAN MARKLE: I think that would be very damaging to them.

AMY GOODMAN: Meghan Markle said she was surprised by the racism she felt inside the royal family.

MEGHAN MARKLE: I lived in Canada, which is a Commonwealth country, for seven years. But it wasn't until Harry and I were together that we started to travel through the Commonwealth, I would say, 60, 70% of which is people of color, right? And growing up as a woman of color, as a little girl of color, I know how important representation is. … And I could never understand how it wouldn't be seen as an added benefit and a reflection of the world today — at all times, but especially right now — to go, "How inclusive is that, that you can see someone who looks like you in this family, much less one who's born into it?"

AMY GOODMAN: Meghan Markle also opened up to Oprah Winfrey about feelings of suicide during her time as a royal.

MEGHAN MARKLE: I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening, constant thought. And I remember — I remember how he just cradled me, and I was — I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, said that I've never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere. And I was told that I couldn't, that it wouldn't be good for the institution.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Meghan Markle speaking to Oprah Winfrey.

We're joined now by two guests. Ash Sarkar is a senior editor at Novara Media. Trisha Goddard is a British journalist and pioneering talk show host. She's been credited with being the first Black woman to host a talk show in Britain.

Trisha, let's go to you first. If you can just respond to your feelings as you watch this interview and what was revealed?

TRISHA GODDARD: Well, yes. It was bombshell after bombshell. It was absolutely shocking, but not surprising. I remember the headlines that came out around the time when Prince Harry just started dating Meghan Markle: "Straight Outta Compton," as one newspaper put it. Another newspaper article, written, actually, by Boris Johnson, our prime minister's sister, Rachel Johnson, called her "exotic," with a "dreadlocked mother" "from the wrong side of the tracks," and what have you. And, you know, it started there. And although the British media would have you believe that this was a fairytale wedding and everything was gorgeous and they were wonderful to Meghan Markle from the word go, there was always that undercurrent running through it. So, when she talked about her feelings and when she talked about the conversations around the color of the baby when she was pregnant, it didn't really shock anybody of color, I don't think, not in the U.K., anyway.

And the talking about her mental health — I've been a mental health campaigner for some 35 years. I was an Australian government adviser on mental health for 10 years. I was a member of the World Psychiatric Association. I've been all over the world trying to chip away at the stigma of mental health with Mind, a charity, and what have you. Now, when Meghan Markle actually spoke about how low she had got, and Harry did, as well — he said he went to a very dark place — what we saw was almost an upswing of people saying, "You know, if she can talk about how desperate she was, then I can." And then, unfortunately, we had somebody in the British media kind of discount or say they didn't believe a word she said. And then the door shut again. So, this whole interview has had a massive impact in the U.K.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip from the show Good Morning Britain. The issue of the media is so critical.


AMY GOODMAN: We all know now that Piers Morgan has quit. But this is before he quit. And this is you, Trisha Goddard, clashing with Piers Morgan over his ongoing attacks against Meghan Markle.

PIERS MORGAN: Sorry, I'm calling this out for what I see it as, which is somebody who is a ruthless social climber and is now destroying, or trying to destroy, the image of the monarchy in this country. And I think it's shameful.
TRISHA GODDARD: Piers, listening to you this morning, I am saddened. You know what I wish for you? I wish for you only really wonderful things. I hope that one of your sons meets a beautiful Black woman and gets married to them, and then you will understand.
PIERS MORGAN: Actually, I would love that. Why would I would have any problem with that? Why does every criticism of these two have to be framed as racism?
TRISHA GODDARD: You won't have a problem if you'll have to hear her problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Soon after this, the British journalist Piers Morgan quit his position as host of Good Morning Britain, after he was widely criticized for his response to Meghan Markle's interview. Morgan walked off the set of the show Tuesday after the weather presenter, Alex Beresford, who is biracial himself, finally confronted Piers Morgan on air.

ALEX BERESFORD: I understand that you've got a personal relationship with Meghan Markle, or had one, and she cut you off. She's entitled to cut you off if she wants to. Has she said anything about you since she cut you off? I don't think she has, but yet you continue to trash her.
PIERS MORGAN: OK, I'm done with this.
PIERS MORGAN: Sorry. No, sorry.
ALEX BERESFORD: Oh, do you know what? That's pathetic.
PIERS MORGAN: You can trash me, mate, but not on my own show.
ALEX BERESFORD: No, no, no, no. I'm being —
PIERS MORGAN: See you later. Sorry, can't do this.
ALEX BERESFORD: This is absolutely diabolical behavior. I'm sorry, but Piers spouts off on a regular basis, and we all have to sit there and listen. 6:30 to 7:00 yesterday was incredibly hard to watch.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Alex Beresford berating Piers Morgan, finally, he said, after the nonstop barrage against Meghan Markle. And I'm wondering, Trisha, if you could talk about the significance of this? There were 43,000 complaints against Piers Morgan, and Meghan Markle has filed a formal complaint against Piers Morgan to the — you can explain what it is — the British regulator and the channel.

TRISHA GODDARD: Yeah, Ofcom, yeah. Well, there was more of my disagreeing with Piers. Now, we're longtime colleagues, because I report from the States for Good Morning Britain. I've known him for a while. But I have no problem in calling out a colleague or anybody, you know, about issues of racism. And earlier in our conversation, I said that he didn't get to determine what was and wasn't racism against a Black person and that he should leave that to Black people.

And then, afterwards, Alex — that day, Alex reached out to me, and we had a private, short exchange about that. He thanked me, and he said — you know, he said it was difficult for him. And a lot of us support each other in — Black journalists have to support each other. And then, the next day, Alex said something himself. I note — and again, I note that Piers walked out when Alex actually talked about the fact that — and Piers has said this himself, that he was quite hurt when he gave Meghan Markle his number — they exchanged numbers — and he never heard from her again. So I think there may be some misogyny in there, as well as everything else.

But, look, Piers is a great journalist. That doesn't exclude him from holding opinions that he doesn't see as racist. Now, there is a bedrock to this, Amy. There's an absolute bedrock to this. Reporting from the States and being in the U.K. and in Australia, this last week has really brought something home to me. In the United States, you had slavery on this soil. There are people, like my partner, who can remember segregation. The fallout from redlining with housing is still going on. You have George Floyd, you have Breonna Taylor, and so on and so forth. But it happened on this soil. Slavery happened on American soil. In the U.K., slavery did not happen at home, if you like; it was outsourced to the West Indies, where slaves were put in the West Indies, where my heritage is from, Africa, and so forth. So, the British people didn't have it in their face, so they don't think they're racist.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ash Sarkar into the conversation, senior editor at Novara Media, speaking to us from London. Ash, respond to the whole controversy that has erupted. I mean, Noam Chomsky said Meghan Markle could possibly bring down the royal family, the monarchy. Talk about the family and the media.

ASH SARKAR: Well, I don't think Meghan Markle is necessarily going to bring down the monarchy, because it has survived some very dysfunctional and very nasty family dynamics before, going right from Henry VIII and his many, many marriages, right through to the abdication crisis of Edward VIII and then, of course, the divorce between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

But the reason why I think this has really gotten to the heart of the clash between this feudal institution, which in many ways entrenches class inequality at the heart of the British non-Constitution, and also some more modern values and progressive values, is because, essentially, you can't have an institution which is premised on the superiority of bloodline and have it not be racist, and have it not be controlling of women and, indeed, quite misogynistic. One of the things that Meghan Markle said in the interview was that when she married into the family, she had to hand over her passport, her driver's license and her keys. Now, if any one of our friends was entering into a relationship where they had to hand over their passport, we'd be saying, "Get out of there, babe! What are you doing?" So I think we've got to see these features as very, very, very well entrenched within the royal family itself.

Now, as for, I think, you know, how firm support for the monarchy is in this country, support for the abolition of the monarchy and the establishing of an elected head of state rose by plus-four percentage points, according to a recent poll. And that is due to the Meghan Markle and Oprah interview. However, it's still very low. It's around a quarter of the population. And I think a big part of that is because, for most of the country, we've only known the queen when she's already quite old. And so she's been able to play into these images of almost grandmother of a nation. She also came to the throne in the 1950s, when broadcast and televisual media is still kind of in its infancy. And so, she solidified her reign at the same time as —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, Ash.

ASH SARKAR: Oh, sorry — as her image was being broadcast into our homes. So, the legitimacy crisis, I think, it's going to come when Prince Charles ascends to the throne, who's also meddled in one or two political matters, which a monarch really shouldn't do.

AMY GOODMAN: Ash Sarkar, I want to thank you very much, and we're going to link to your piece, "How Harry and Meghan Quit the Royal Family to Join the US Aristocracy." Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media. And Trisha Goddard, British journalist and pioneering talk show host.

That does it for our broadcast. I'm Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wear two.

Asian American communities push back against rising hate crimes -- but say more policing is not the answer

Anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked across the U.S. over the past year, fueled in part by Donald Trump's racist rhetoric about the coronavirus. One recent study found a 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in 2020, even though overall hate crimes fell last year. Ron Kim, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District in Queens, New York, says anti-Asian sentiment tends to flare up during times of crisis.

"There's a long history of Asian Americans in this country feeling targeted and scapegoated whenever we experience economic downturns," says Kim. We also speak with Kim Tran, an antiracist writer and organizer based in the Bay Area, who says anti-Asian violence is "diffuse," affecting people in different ethnic and cultural communities in various ways, "but there is a common sense of racial scapegoating."


AMY GOODMAN: It's been a devastating year for Asian Americans as hate crimes spiked across the country, fueled by Donald Trump's racist rhetoric about the coronavirus. One recent study found a 150% increase in anti-Asian American hate crimes in 2020, even though overall hate crimes fell last year.

Here in New York, police investigated 28 hate crimes in 2020 targeting Asian Americans — a ninefold increase over the previous year. On Saturday, the Asian American community, allies and elected officials rallied in New York City to call for action. This is New York Democratic Congressmember Grace Meng.

REP. GRACE MENG: We've been taught our entire life to just fit in, just be quiet, don't speak up, be invisible. If you are invisible enough, you will be seen as American. But we are here to say that we will be invisible no more.
CROWD: No more!
REP. GRACE MENG: We will speak up.
CROWD: Speak up!

AMY GOODMAN: The rally came after at least two more attacks against Asian Americans were reported in New York. Last week, a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed while walking down the street. And 61-year-old Filipino American Noel Quintana was slashed across the face while on the subway. He also spoke at this weekend's rally.

NOEL QUINTANA: When the train stopped at Bedford, a man came and stood beside me. So, after a few minutes, he kicked my bag. And when I looked at him, I moved away from him, so that if my bag touches him or disturb him in any way, it's no longer that case. So, a few more minutes, he kick again my bag. And that's the time when I move inside the train and told him, "What's wrong with you?" And that was also the time where the train stopped on the next station and opened the door. And before he left, he moved forward toward me and slashed my face. I thought I was punched on the face, but when I saw the box cutter holding — holding on his hand and the reaction of other people in the train, I knew I was slashed. And I called for help, but nobody came for help.

AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-one-year-old Filipino American Noel Quintana, speaking at a rally Saturday.

One of New York's most popular Chinese noodle shops, Xi'an Famous Foods, has begun closing early, after two of its employees were attacked in recent months. The company's CEO, Jason Wang, spoke to NBC4 in New York.

JASON WANG: My employees were attacked, but, you know, in separate incidents. Both, I believe, are to be racially motivated hate crimes. And, you know, while keeping their identities anonymous, but at the same time shedding light to this, I'm hoping that this will paint the picture of what is actually going on.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by two guests. Ron Kim is a member of the New York State Assembly representing a district that includes Flushing, Queens, which is home to more than 30,000 Chinese immigrants. And joining us from Oakland, California, is Kim Tran, an antiracist writer and organizer based in the Bay Area, currently writing a book titled The End of Allyship: A New Era of Solidarity.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Assemblyman Kim, let's begin with you, here in New York. Can you talk about this increase in Asian American hate crimes?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Thank you, Amy, for having me on.

There's a long history of Asian Americans in this country feeling targeted and scapegoated whenever we experience economic downturns or racial injustice, from Vincent Chin, almost 40 years ago, who was murdered because workers lost their jobs to Japanese car manufacturers, took out their anger on him, to the L.A. riots, when Black and Korean communities were pitted against each other.

I think the knee-jerk reaction is to focus on punishing the crime. I get that. It's heartbreaking, and it makes people feel so angry when we see videos, Asian older adults violently attacked. The 20-year-old in me would have gone out with a bat if I witnessed such a crime. When you feel like your people violently are targeted, the immediate reaction is to respond with more violence, either direct violence or through state-sanctioned violence. This means more policing, more punitive measures. This reaction, Amy, just to be clear, but only solves the symptoms, but do not address the underlying cause of the disease.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Assemblyman Kim, I'm wondering your sense of the impact, for instance, over the past few years, of the remarks by former President Trump talking about the coronavirus as the "Chinese flu" and constantly raising issues of China as an adversary of the United States. I'm wondering to what degree you think these words from the top leader, or former leader, of the United States has had an impact on public consciousness.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Of course it had a tremendous native impact, you know, but there — we could respond in three different ways to the current situation: We could point to Donald Trump for fueling attacks on Asians by his "Chinese virus" rhetoric, we could increase policing presence, or we could fix the underlying issues of crime and systemic racism that has pitted people of color against each other. There are plenty of politicians with the first and second reactions, but not enough with the third. I think the third reaction requires much more difficult work. It requires investing in people, ending tax breaks for the ultrarich to recirculate wealth into our marginalized communities, and holding politicians accountable so people's basic needs are met — housing, education and healthcare.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to bring Kim Tran into the conversation, as well. If you could talk about the situation in the Bay Area and also this issue of the systemic historical nature of anti-Asian sentiment in United States? I think back, for instance, to the almost forgotten Rock Springs massacre of 1885 in Wyoming, the anti-Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Could you talk about some of that historical legacy that we still face?

KIM TRAN: Absolutely. So, when we see anti-Asian violence in the United States in 2020, it's the byproduct of a much longer history of anti-Asian policy and anti-Asian sentiment that stems, as you said, all the way back to 1882 with Chinese people being the first nationally barred country from entry into the United States. That being said, we can see glimpses of that same sentiment from the 1871 massacre of Chinese people here in California, all the way up until the post-9/11 Islamophobic violence in South Asian communities. So, anti-Asian violence in America is diffuse. It happens in a lot of different ethnicities and for a lot of different Asian groups. But there is a common sense of racial scapegoating.

That being said, there is phenomenal work being done by grassroots organizations and activists here in Oakland, California. So, just like Assemblyman Kim said, we need to put our communities first. We need to put resources for our communities first. And here in Oakland, what that looks like is a Chinatown accompaniment program, an Ambassador Program, where folks are accompanying our Asian elders and our Asian seniors through Chinatown safely. It's this really beautiful idea that you can turn to your neighbor and turn to someone that you know to keep you safe. We're also doing work around making sure that we can turn to someone other than police for these safety measures. So, Anti Police-Terror Project here in Oakland is launching its own mobile mental health crisis unit, so that we can really rely on each other as opposed to something like police, which can increase violence in communities of color.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the response, Kim Tran, of the violent attacks on — you have Vichar Ratanapakdee, who was well known in his San Francisco neighborhood for his hour-long walks. He had just gotten the vaccine. He was 84 years old, a Thai immigrant. And then you have the 91-year-old man who was shoved to the ground in Oakland, California's Chinatown and ultimately died. The horror of these, and how people have rallied around, both the Asian American community and the larger community?

KIM TRAN: Yeah. Thank you so much for that question, Amy, because I think whenever you see viral footage of an attack, especially when it's racially motivated, we start seeing movements happen, right? And we saw that all the way back to Rodney King. We saw it again with Alton Sterling and the Black Lives Matter movement.

And what we're seeing now is a spotlight on the precarity of being an Asian American person in America. So, when we see these really viral images of folks in California, folks in New York, who are incredibly vulnerable — and I want us to keep in mind that these attacks actually happened around a time of celebration for a lot of Asian American communities. These were around Lunar New Year. So, it was kind of a gut punch — right? — of having these videos start circulating in social media. And we started seeing things like Asian Pacific Environmental Network, APIENC out here in Oakland, California, start creating safety nets because we were seeing these attacks over and over again on Facebook, on Twitter.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'd like to ask Assemblyman Kim: Could you talk about — what's your sense of the response of the New York Police Department to this rash of incidents in New York City? Do you feel the department is properly equipped to be able to handle and identify these kinds of incidents?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Listen, I think we all want to know that when we call 911, that police will show up and protect us. But to hand over everything, in terms of addressing the systemic reasons for the violence and hatred, to the police is not the solution. That requires much more resources and accountability from elected officials. It's easy to individualize the hatred, to point fingers at the young Black and Brown teenager who are attacking the Asian older adults, and call it a day. It's much harder to go back and improve the social conditions that's brewing the violence. You know, if you just allow thee police to handle everything, that is a copout by politicians saying, "We can't address this systemically, so we're just going to take punitive measures and rely on state-backed violence to check the communities who are attacking Asian Americans." And that's not good enough.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Connie Wun, co-founder of Asian [American] and Pacific Islander Women Lead, speaking at a protest last month.

CONNIE WUN: What about that violence of living in poverty under a system that doesn't seem to care about our people? That's the violence we need to answer to. The vigilantes coming out here calling for more police, I need you to answer to that violence. I want you to represent for that. Our communities are also suffering deportation. Answer to that violence! Our people are in detention centers for indefinite amount of times. I need you there for that, too. And then, you're not even accounting for the gender violence that our women are experiencing. I need you to account for that.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Connie Wun in Oakland, California. Kim Tran, your final response? And also, do you see an issue of foreign policy — I hate to say the word — "bleeding" into this, but the vilification of China, not only around coronavirus, but in a lot of ways?

KIM TRAN: Yeah. We've seen a lot of racial scapegoating at the domestic, absolutely, but also the international level, right? The dehumanization and the kind of geopolitical pitting of China against the United States has tremendous repercussions for what we experience socially on the ground. And it also serves as a means of us not talking about those realities that, as Connie Wun from AAPI Women Lead is talking about, the reality that 30% of people in Chinatown live under the poverty line. I, as a Vietnamese woman, have the same pay gap as a Black woman. And so, we're creating certain narratives that make this kind of violence acceptable. And we're creating these certain kinds of ways of substantiating and perpetuating this violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Kim Tran, we look forward to reading your book. Kim Tran is an organizer in Oakland, California, currently writing a book called The End of Allyship: A New Era of Solidarity. And, Ron Kim, we'd like to ask you to stay with us to address another issue, and that is the future of Governor Andrew Cuomo here in New York. You have a lot to say about a phone call he made to you, when you said he threatened you with "destroying" you. This is around a couple of issues here. We're talking about sexual harassment and also not telling the truth about thousands of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "The Oppressed Song" by Bunny Wailer, the co-founder of the legendary reggae band The Wailers. He died Tuesday at the age of 73.

Cuomo must go: Calls grow to remove NY governor over COVID nursing home cover-up and sexual harassment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women — two former aides and a woman who met Cuomo at a friend's wedding reception — accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

"Credible accusations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power," says New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is calling for Cuomo's resignation. Kim also discusses a threatening phone call he says he received from Cuomo after he spoke out against the cover-up of nursing home deaths. "He personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth," Kim says.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Many of the calls to resign are coming from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party, which said Tuesday, "Andrew Cuomo's reign of fear, harassment, and intimidation cannot continue."

New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. In late February, a former top aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of kissing her during a one-on-one meeting and once suggesting they play strip poker. She described years of sexual harassment by the governor, who she claims went out of his way to touch her lower back, arms and legs. Another aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of making comments suggesting he wanted to sleep with her. On Sunday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, described meeting Cuomo at a friends' wedding reception in 2019. A photograph from the wedding showed Cuomo with his hands on Ruch's face as she looks visibly uncomfortable. She says he also grabbed her lower back right before that and loudly asked if he could kiss her. Cuomo has issued a statement saying his interactions may have been, quote, "insensitive or too personal" and that his actions may have been, quote, "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," unquote.

On Tuesday, top Democrats in the New York Legislature agreed to move to strip Cuomo of emergency powers granted him during the pandemic. This comes less than a month after New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo of drastically undercounting the number of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%, forcing the Cuomo administration to admit the true death toll to be nearly 15,000. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Brooklyn are now probing the cover-up. He's also being accused of secretly giving nursing homes legal immunity.

In February, Democratic New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, the chair of the Assembly's Committee on Aging, which oversees the nursing homes, revealed Cuomo called him at home and threatened him for speaking out. Kim said Cuomo threatened to, quote, "destroy me." New York Assemblyman Ron Kim is still with us.

Can you explain, first of all, that conversation and what it came out of? Talk about the nursing home scandal and why you feel it's so significant, Assemblyman Kim.


You know, I came forward with that governor's threatening call not because I fear being bullied, but because I fear that the governor would escape accountability. You know, that phone call is less about him being a bully and more so about the length that he would go to use his position of power to implicate lawmakers in covering up for his corruption. He wanted me to issue a statement to feed his narrative on why his administration withheld nursing home data, life-and-death information, that the delay was because a DOJ inquiry had to be satisfied before the state's questions. That is complete BS.

You know, he personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth. He called me that night because he was desperately trying to avoid more investigations into his cover-up of nursing home information and data, you know, and his deadly decisions to transfer 9,000 COVID patients to unprepared nursing home facilities, and the fact that, as you mentioned, Amy, he gave his donors, corporate nursing home executives, an immunity from criminal prosecution at the peak of the pandemic.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Assemblyman Kim, as somebody who has known Governor Cuomo now for more than 30 years, what I heard about the story, what had happened to you, was perfectly understandable, because he has always been known as someone who is not only arrogant, but very much of a bully toward his critics. I remember numerous times as a columnist at the Daily News, after writing even a mildly critical column of the governor, suddenly getting a call from him and having to endure a tirade of profanities and yelling and screaming from him just because he didn't like a particular article. So this is perfectly part of his personality. But I'm wondering: In terms of this issue of the nursing homes, how did you first begin to understand the depth of what was happening and to begin to raise questions about this?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Thank you, Juan, for the question. I was on the ground since last year, because my constituents were reaching out to me. They couldn't get inside the nursing homes. They knew that COVID was transmitting. And they were seeing their loved ones die of agony alone. And they were seeking for desperate — they were desperate for help.

As I'm looking at what's going on, I'm reaching out to the Governor's Office. They're not responding. I'm reaching out to the Department of Health. A week goes by, a month goes by, and there's absolute no accountability and communication.

And just around that time, he issues that mandate to send thousands of COVID patients to unprepared nursing homes and issues a corporate legal shield — what I call a license to kill older adults at that time. That's when I started to push back. I introduced a repealer bill. And all of a sudden, the data disappears. It doesn't look that bad, because they delinked the information. They stopped counting the hospital deaths. And all of a sudden, New York went from number two, number three in the country to number 30 or whatever, and it no longer became a hot-button issue. And all the while, he goes out there, and he writes a book, and he publishes it around that same time, in October.

So, all these things, you know, when you look at — when you go back and connect the dots, I think the cover-up, the suppression of information, he took away our right to legislate, our right to repeal some of the toxic bills. He took away our ability to save people's lives. And for that, he needs to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little more about the role of the Greater New York Hospital Association, this powerful industry group, and its support of the governor?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Cuomo prioritized the interests of his top corporate donors, including the hospital lobbyist, the nursing lobbyist, over saving lives. His administration admitted to deliberately withholding data. I believe he did this for two reasons: one, because it would make him look bad, and, two, to prevent the repeal of his toxic poison bill, which he bullied his way — he forced his way into, the last hour, in the budget, the 5,000-page budget, which shielded nursing home executives at the cost of people's lives. For this, again, he needs to be held accountable. Fifteen thousand families deserve justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it was the same legislation that was then copied by many other states around the country, and even the Republicans have been seeking immunity on a much broader scale for other companies, as well. Is that not right?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: That's right. It became — the industry released a press release immediately after it was passed by the governor, bragging that they wrote and put it in the budget. They immediately took down their press release the week after we called them out.

But, yes, they took the same language from state to state. They literally clicked copy and paste, word for word. And Mitch McConnell literally took word for word and tried to put it into the Washington stimulus package. But luckily, in Washington, there's a lot more people watching, and the public was aware, and it never made it out.

But in Albany, in the last hour, when no one was paying attention, Governor Cuomo was able to force that language into the budget, when even the chair of the Health Committee, Dick Gottfried, my good friend, didn't even know. And he reads everything. And didn't even know it got snuck in, the last minute, into the budget.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it's amazing you didn't know, Ron Kim, because you were head of the subcommittee that's in charge of the nursing homes, to show how last-minute this was. Is there a move to — I mean, there's a move to strip his executive powers, his expanded powers during COVID. Is there a move to actually just strip that bill, to take it out now, that immunity? And before we go on to the issue of sexual harassment, the number of families who trusted the system and were told that it would be safe to put their parents in nursing homes, and what exactly he demanded of these nursing homes, that hospitals — that they accept COVID patients from hospitals, and then, ultimately — explain how the cover-up of the numbers, of the number of people who died as a result of this decision.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Just around that time, when I was on the ground, the nursing homes that I was interacting with, they were screaming. You know, the workers were sick of COVID. Even the directors were out for weeks because they were sick. There were saying, "We don't have enough staff. We don't have PPE. You cannot send COVID-positives to our facilities. We're not a hospital."

But he did it, and he gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card as part of the deal. It was almost as if he normalized the duty of dying for older adults. He almost made feel like, for these nursing home residents, as if their ultimate fate was to die in these facilities. And imagine being a loved one being stuck outside, seeing this happen, and you're trying to tell the truth, and all you see when you turn the TV on is Andrew Cuomo and his brother cracking jokes on national TV. I mean, it just was one of the most demoralizing moments for my constituents going through that episode in New York.

But, yes, the suppression of data is so critical, because if we had real-time information, we would have had the data to repeal these toxic bills, to mandate — and go the other way, to mandate the for-profit — which, by the way, Amy, 65% of the industry in New York is for-profit nursing homes. We could have mandated them to spend every dollar they had to save people's lives. And if you can come back at the end of the pandemic and you show the receipts, that you spent everything that you had, you did everything, to buy PPE and hire staff, and people still died, then we can openly discuss what kind of liability protection we may provide, with the families and everyone involved, with the public's input. But that's not what had happened today — this year — last year. The legal immunity served as a disincentive for the for-profits to investing further into the staff hiring and buying PPE. It gave them an out to let people die.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are calls for his impeachment or resignation just on this issue alone, but then there's the issue, the growing scandal, around sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett, one of the aides who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, told The New York Times Monday, "As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. … These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice." Bennett said Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with younger women — she's in her twenties — and complained about being lonely and being unable to hug anyone because of the pandemic. She said, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared." She shared texts that he texted her with The New York Times. That's one of the three women who have now accused him. Then, of course, there's Lindsey Boylan, his aide, in her thirties, who talked about the constant harassment — not only of Cuomo, but messages sent by his aide to her, as well. Your response? What do you want to see happen here?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I believe the women. The credible allegations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power. And I believe the governor will be held accountable for sexual harassment.

This is a long pattern of toxic behavior that we all know that exists in places like Albany. And at the helm of it all is a person at the top who normalizes verbal abuse against women. Case in point, even his top aide have called some of my closest progressive young women colleagues in this Legislature "F—n' idiots," on record, in The New York Times, when they called him out for having fundraisers with the budget director in the room. These are the type of verbal abuse that he helped normalize, because at the very top, you know, he does it himself in those closed rooms. He cracks jokes. He sexually harasses. He preys on people, and he abuses his power all the time. And that's why he has an orbit of staff members that reflects his values every single day in his administration. And they all need to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Assemblyman, I wanted to ask you — the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both the New York state — in the Senate and the Assembly, but yet there are very few Democrats like yourself who are taking — daring to stand up and demand accountability from the governor. What do you think are the prospects for that to change over the next few weeks?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I think you will see changes. I think we are already seeing every day people calling for resignation, more people in our Democratic Conference. And I know that people in positions of power, they're making this about Democrats or Republicans. But I tell them that this is about the Democratic Conference and our credibility. We spent months telling Republicans in Washington to hold Trump accountable, to do the right thing, and we called them hypocrites. So, if we do not act and if we do not lead in this moment, what are we doing to our values and our credibility? Are we reciprocating their hypocrisy with our hypocrisy? So, we have —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling on Governor Cuomo to resign?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I have already called the governor to resign. But resignation doesn't mean accountability. He still needs to be investigated after his resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: And if he doesn't resign, will you make a move to impeach him?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I've called — I made my case, early on, to my colleagues of the moment that he tried to implicate my colleagues and the institutions in his wrongdoing. I believe that is a clear case of willful, corrupt conduct, which obligates us to pursue the impeachment procedure under the state Constitution. There's only a few of us at this point that are moving in that direction, but I believe every day, if he doesn't resign, more will join in the call for impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Kim, we want to thank you for being with us, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District, co-chair — rather, chair of the Aging Committee. His recent opinion piece, we'll link to, in Newsweek, "It's Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo."

Next up, we look at why some of the two-and-a-half million farmworkers around the country are facing an uphill battle to get vaccinated. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Out on a Limb" by Yuval Waldman. The conductor and violinist died last month at the age of 74.


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