The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. MacNeil: Good evening. I'm Robert MacNeil in New York.
MR. LEHRER: And I'm Jim Lehrer in Washington. After our summary of the news this Wednesday, we look at the drama of the shuttle astronauts' grab for a wayward satellite. We get four answers to the post Rodney King verdict question: Do American courts provide equal justice for all? And we close with a Jeffrey Kaye report on violence in the Hispanic neighborhoods of Los Angeles. NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MacNeil: Three astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavour are at this hour making a daring last ditch effort to capture a stranded communications satellite. They're outside the spacecraft in the world's first ever three-man space walk. A glitch in the shuttle's navigational software delayed the operation by more than an hour. Two previous attempts to grab the satellite were unsuccessful after a $7 million capture bar failed to work. This time, the astronauts are using a low tech approach to the problem. They plan to try and grab it with their hands. The $157 million communications satellite never reached its proper orbit after it was launched two years ago. The astronauts will try to attach it to a booster rocket which will send it into a proper orbit where it can begin operating. We'll have more on this story after the News Summary. Jim.
MR. LEHRER: The Los Angeles district attorney said today he wants to retry one of the police officers accused in the Rodney King beating case. Officer Lawrence Powell was acquitted of three charges but the jury did not reach a verdict on the fourth. A hearing will be held Friday to determine if a new trial will be held. President Bush said today he was making another $600 million in loans available to riot-damaged areas of Los Angeles. Residents have used the loans to rebuild homes and businesses or to purchase new homes. Mr. Bush spoke in Baltimore this afternoon.
PRES. BUSH: These loans made sure the community investment programs are good news for the people who lost homes and jobs, as well as the owners who lost businesses due to the unrest out there. And it's one way that we can underscore the fact that we are serious about helping Los Angeles recover. I think the nation is focusing on how well all levels of government come to bear on helping in the recovery and the restimulation of the community there in Los Angeles. And beyond our urgent emergency aid, we have got to take action to bring hope and opportunity to Los Angeles, but it's not just Los Angeles. It is to all American cities.
MR. LEHRER: Democratic mayors called today for $35 billion in federal aid to the cities. They said Republican and Democratic proposals now being discussed in Washington fell far short of their need. They spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill after meeting with House Democratic leaders.
MAYOR RAYMOND FLYNN, Boston: We are miles apart here in terms of where we need to go in order to bring hope, economic justice to the people of our cities. This is an emergency situation here in America. Wake up America. What you saw in Los Angeles could happen to your community.
MAYOR DAVID DINKINS, New York: It's important for everyone to understand this is not a reaction to Los Angeles. We've been doing this all along. There's a greater urgency we hope that people see because of what happened in Los Angeles and in some other cities. And so we need not the pittance that the President spoke of in his meeting the other day that is woefully inadequate.
MR. LEHRER: Vice President Quayle said today inner city problems were caused by welfare programs. He said they encourage dependency and discourage self-help. He made his remarks at a university in Tokyo, Japan. He also said the Los Angeles riots were not likely to become a major campaign issue or change the Republicans' reelection strategy. Both President Bush and Bill Clinton won easy victories in the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries yesterday. Mr. Bush received more than 80 percent of the Republican vote in both states. Clinton won 48 percent of the Democratic vote in Nebraska, 74 percent in West Virginia.
MR. MacNeil: The government reported some good news on inflation today. It said its index of consumer prices was up just .2 percent in April. Falling food prices helped keep the index down. In a separate report, it said retail sales rebounded in April. They were up nearly a full percent, following a sharp decline in March. Retail spending accounts for about a third of all economic activity. Strength in the retail sector is, therefore, considered crucial to a sustained recovery from recession.
MR. LEHRER: Another cease-fire took effect today in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Several others have failed. It was unclear whether this one would be any different. Terry Lloyd of Independent Television News reports from the Bosnian capital.
MR. LLOYD: The guns had flashed through the night until falling silent at the appointed cease-fire time declared by the Serbs. Just hours later, the men came out in the back streets to seek a much more gentle country. Their city may be lying in ruins, but these locals have unfinished business. The peace had given themthe time to resume their interrupted game of ball. But they like the people who took to the center were convinced that this precious time was short. The Bosnian newspapers have made no mention of cease-fires or peace, and so everyone accepted that this was just a lull in the war.
INTERPRETER: He hear something about that, but no sense. It will be nothing, as all the others.
INTERPRETER: She doesn't believe they want peace, no, not at all.
MR. LLOYD: Sarajevo is still under siege and the bread queues grow longer as food becomes increasingly scarce. This weekend, the United Nations refugee agency will attempt to break through with 50 trucks loaded with supplies for Serb, Croats, and Muslim families alike. Already, the U.N. has had six vehicles hijacked and the contents stolen. Now, talks are underway with rival militias to try and secure a safe passage through this time.
MR. LEHRER: U.N. Sec. General Butras Gali today ruled out any peacekeeping force for Bosnia. He said Serbian-led political violence made the situation too dangerous.
MR. MacNeil: North Korea today returned the remains of what it said were 15 Americans missing in action from the Korean War. They were handed over to U.S. officials in a South Korean border town. A North Korean commander said the soldiers all died in a U.S. air strike on a military hospital. Nearly 8200 Americans are still listed as missing from the Korean War, which ended in 1953.
MR. LEHRER: And that's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to the grab for the satellite, the question of equal justice and violence among LA's Hispanics. FOCUS - HIGH WIRE ACT
MR. MacNeil: We lead with a satellite rescue attempt going on some 200 miles above the Earth right now. Astronauts from the shuttle Endeavour are making a last effort to grab a stranded communications satellite by hand and to attach it to the shuttle's robot arm. After two failed efforts earlier in the week, Shuttle Commander Dan Brandenstein came up with a plan to send three astronauts out of the shuttle to work on the problem. The plan calls for bringing the shuttle within eight feet of the four and a half ton satellite. It's the first time three astronauts have ever walked in space together and that's where they are right now. We'll have two earthbound observers explain what's going on and what's at stake for NASA. But first, Correspondent Kwame Holman has this backgrounder.
MR. HOLMAN: On March 14, 1990, a Titan rocket carried the ill- fated Intelsat satellite into space.
SPOKESMAN: We have not received confirmation of separation at were forced to give up. Yesterday the crew implored ground controllers to allow today's final effort to put three astronauts in place to grab the satellite manually. That tactic was used successfully three times before, but on satellites much smaller than this one.
MR. MacNeil: We're joined now by two people who can assess the risks involved and how important a successful rescue is to NASA. Jerry Grey is the director of science and technology policy for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He joins us from San Diego. Michael Lemonick is an associate editor at Time Magazine, where he writes on space, science and the environment. Dr. Grey, why is it so difficult to grab this satellite?
DR. GREY: Well, it's difficult because, first of all, that satellite was never designed to be grabbed. We're using a device that was designed to do something that is a process that we just didn't know how to do it in advance. The difficulty of a very large satellite moving in a way that'snot predictable in space is simply a hard problem to handle. And, obviously, the simulation that was done on the ground was just not adequate to reflect what actually happened in space. Now, they've worked for nine months developing this bar and simulating it in a swimming pool basically, which simulates what a satellite will do under microgravity conditions, and also using air bags in a major effort to try to simulate exactly what happens in space. But the key here is you can't always simulate exactly what is going to happen. We, for example, when we're designing and building airplanes, we design them to run on a computer, we put them in a wind tunnel and test models, but you always have to flight test them. We found out on this mission that in the flight things didn't work the way they were on simulation.
MR. MacNeil: How weightless is a four and a half ton object in conditions in space?
DR. GREY: Well, it is weightless. It has plenty of inertia.
MR. MacNeil: But I mean, could a man grab it, if he could get hold of it, could a man grab it and pull it towards him, something weighing on Earth four and a half tons?
DR. GREY: Possibly not one man, and that's why I think the astronauts wanted three. Now, in the past, as you mentioned earlier, the three satellites that were retrieved were retrieved manually, that is, an astronaut went out on the arm and with his arms was able to bring the satellite to a stable condition and bring it into a fixture whereby it could be brought back into the shuttle. This is a much bigger satellite. It's more than three times bigger than the satellites that we used previously. And therefore, three people sort of make sense, instead of just one person.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask Mr. Lemonick, what are the risks to the astronauts in what they're trying to do, the risk to themselves?
MR. LEMONICK: Well, once you get a four and a half ton satellite moving towards you, towards the shuttle, you then have to stop it moving. And --
MR. MacNeil: So it does acquire momentum once it gets to moving.
MR. LEMONICK: Absolutely, that's right. So they could be crushed if there are any kind of sharp edges protruding -- and they think there probably aren't, but, again, we can't predict how this thing's going to turn -- it could rupture the space suits, which exposes the astronauts to vacuum and possible death.
MR. MacNeil: Do you want to add to that? What dangers do you see to them from this maneuver, Dr. Grey?
DR. GREY: Well, I think they're going to have to be very careful. There are not going to be any sudden movements, certainly. They're going to try very gingerly to bring the satellite to a stable position and then begin moving it very very slowly. Four and a half tons is kind of a big elephant and you don't want to move it fast. And I agree with Mr. Lemonick if it starts to move fast, it could get to be a serious problem. One of the things -- and again the reason for having three, rather than just one astronaut there, is three astronauts can exert a fair amount of force and slow this thing up as long as they don't make any sudden movements or move it too fast. And I think that's probably the main directive of this activity.
MR. MacNeil: What about -- you mentioned to our reporter earlier the fuel jets that are used to maneuver the satellite being of some danger to the astronauts.
DR. GREY: Well, this satellite, remember, is not like the satellites, like the Solar Mack satellite that was recovered earlier. It covered -- on the outside the cylindrical portion is solar cells, photovoltaic cells. At thebase of the satellite, where there is access to grab on, is also where the rocket thrusters that keep this satellite in orbit, keep it in its position in orbit, are maintained. Those rockets are loaded with a chemical combination of nitrogen, tetroxide and hydrazine, which are hazardous propellants. They, therefore, have to be careful not to bang or rupture one of the tanks or one of the valves or lines that lead to those rockets, because they do have propellent in them.
MR. MacNeil: They're also, presumably, trying very carefully not to damage the satellite, itself, or the shuttle, which has got to take them home.
MR. LEMONICK: Especially the shuttle.
MR. MacNeil: What are the dangers of that, of the satellite moving too fast and banging into part of the shuttle?
MR. LEMONICK: Well, for example, if it managed to dislodge the heat absorbent tiles, the shuttle, itself, could heat up dangerously on reentry, even burning a hole through the shuttle. If the satellite managed to bang into some of the attitude rockets, it would be hard to get the shuttle back into its earthbound trajectory.
MR. MacNeil: And what about if -- presumably, if they did serious damage to the satellite they're trying to rescue, Dr. Grey, the whole point of the rescue would be -- because they're not bringing it aboard to take it back to Earth to fix it up. It has to be perfect if they succeed in shooting it into its proper orbit, is that correct?
DR. GREY: Yeah, that's --
MR. MacNeil: How easily in this maneuver could they damage the satellite, itself?
DR. GREY: Well, you, know, there are three things to be concerned with, first, the safety of the satellites. They are not going to do anything that endangers themselves, tears their suits, causes them to be injured. Secondly, damage to the shuttle; as Mr. Lemonick says, if the satellite gets out of control, it's going to bang into the shuttle and that could cause some trouble. Again, I'm sure that in this process they're going to be very careful not to do either of those two things. The third thing is, of course, to preserve the satellite. But that is third. If in order to save the shuttle or to save themselves, if the mission looks like it's gotten out of control, damage to the satellite doesn't mean much, because if they can't get it back into the payload bay, they can't use it anyway. So, again, they're going to try to preserve the satellite, but not at risk to themselves or to the shuttle.
MR. MacNeil: Tell me, what kind of stress are the astronauts under under this kind of space walk, as we call it, which makes it sound rather easy, I mean, in terms of heart rate and respiration and everything, what would it compare to on Earth that we know?
MR. LEMONICK: Gee, that would be hard for me to say. They're certainly -- it's physically very hard to move in these very bulky space suits, so first of all, they're exerting a lot of physical force. They're also wrestling with this four and a half ton satellite which does take a lot of strength. In addition to that, I'm sure they are super charged with adrenalin going through their systems.
MR. MacNeil: What would you say, Dr. Grey? What comparable on Earth would give us an idea of the kind of stress they experience in these?
DR. GREY: Oh, I would suspect that people fighting an oil well fire or -- they're under constant stress. They can't make any mistakes. They have to be careful. I agree with Mr. Lemonick, they're under high stress, but, you know, that's what they're trained to do. And although they didn't simulate this particular activity, it illustrates this is why we would need people in space. When the pre-programmed effort doesn't work and the machines don't do exactly what they're designed to do, people need to innovate. And the idea of being -- having the opportunity to do something that's different, to use their imagination, to use, you know, to follow what's going to happen, must be very exciting. I kind of would like to be out there myself really in that job. I think I would really enjoy it, but it is a highly stressful activity.
MR. MacNeil: How, Mr. Lemonick, does it damage -- the argument Mr. Grey has just made is the argument NASA's used for continuing mass space flight against the arguments of many scientists who've argued that many things could be done without sending men up -- but how does it damage NASA's justification for the shuttle if it can't get this satellite rescued?
MR. LEMONICK: It damages -- it's really more damaging I think to NASA's argument for the space station, which it's planning to build about four or five years from now in space. The shuttle's a fact and it's here and, in fact, we've decided we're not going to build any more of them. We're going to start moving to unmanned rockets, or to booster rockets to launch astronauts into space. But the space station -- which NASA actually rescued from oblivion last year when it was killed by a House committee -- is infinitely more complex than this satellite, than the satellite rescue mission. And the idea that NASA is somehow going to assemble this massive object in space, having based its construction techniques on simulations, which as Dr. Grey has pointed out don't always predict what's going to happen in space, I think that's the project that really is damaged.
MR. MacNeil: Do you agree with that, Dr. Grey, that it would bring forward more doubts about the feasibility of assembling a space station if this doesn't work today?
DR. GREY: Well, it isn't a question of doubt. You have to look at why are we building a space station in the first place. Many people think of the space station as a big science project. It's not. It's a big engineering project. Its purpose is to teach us how to operate in space, how to build things, how to use them, how to demonstrate activities that we need to pursue in space. For example, if this particular satellite activity that we're going through all of these stressful exercises had been done on a space station, instead of simulating on the ground, it probably would have been much easier. We would have accomplished it like that. Remember, this particular satellite was not designed to be retrieved. It's not a user friendly satellite. In the case of the space station, everything that will be put together on it is designed to be assembled by people, to be handled by people. Now, I agree, there are going to be problems. There's no question that there are going to be problems. But part of the learning process in space operations is building the station, itself. If we can learn by building the station, adapting what we need to do in space as we are adapting right now to retrieve the satellite, that's one of the lessons we're trying to learn.
MR. MacNeil: Okay.
DR. GREY: And, again, it's not a science program. We're trying to learn how to do just what the building of the space station describes, how to operate in space and how to have people be effective in space.
MR. MacNeil: Well, thank you. Stay with us and we'll see how well they succeed. We'll leave this now. Thank you for this moment. Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, equal justicefor all and violence in the Hispanic community of Los Angeles. FOCUS - EQUAL JUSTICE?
MR. LEHRER: Now, justice in America and is it equal for all? That question was raised loudly and clearly after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King beating case. A Washington Post/ABC Poll conducted the day after the King verdict found that 89 percent of blacks and 43 percent of whites believe blacks are not treated equally in the courts. Is that perception backed by the reality is the question we ask now of four people, Pamela Alexander, a state court trial judge in Hennipin County , Minnesota; Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department attorney in the Reagan administration, now a syndicated columnist; Randolph Stone, director of the legal aid clinic at the University of Chicago law school, a former public defender in Washington, D.C., and Cook County, Illinois; and Robert Merkle, a criminal defense attorney in Tampa and former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Florida. Judge Alexander, is it real? Are blacks not treated equally in our courts?
JUDGE ALEXANDER: I think that it is, indeed, a real perception. And we have to do a number of things to make sure that that perception isn't carried out in reality. The thing that we need to do is to make sure that judges understand what biases that they may have through cultural diversity training. We need to do a number of things to make sure and ensure that all people who come into the courts are treated equally.
MR. LEHRER: We'll get to --
JUDGE ALEXANDER: Racism -- pardon me.
MR. LEHRER: Excuse me, Judge. We'll get to what we do about this in a moment, but tell me why you say that -- on what do you base that, your statement that blacks are not treated equally in the courts?
JUDGE ALEXANDER: I think that racism exists in every part of our society and we need to address it and be up front about it. I think the problem that we have a lot of times is that race issues are very difficult to talk about and very difficult for people to want to perceive about themselves. But we need to hit it head on. It does come into the criminal justice system just like any other part of our society. And we have to work toward keeping it recognized and working with it, and keep it out of the system if we can. And there are ways in which to do that.
MR. LEHRER: Where -- give me an example of where it comes into the system, in other words, an end result of this lack of equal justice for blacks.
JUDGE ALEXANDER: I think that where I see it very often is just the numbers of African Americans that come into the system disproportionate to the population. I also see it in terms of when we pick juries, we ask jurors questions, and I've been very fortunate to get very honest answers from jurors who will point blank tell me that they cannot be fair to African Americans if they're involved in certain crimes. Also, our judges have worked very diligently to understand their own biases and have admitted them as well and are trying to work them out so that it doesn't come into the justice system. But I understand that all judges do not do that and our bench is probably fairly unique in that regard.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Merkle, in Tampa, what do you say to the question of whether or not blacks are treated equally in the courts?
MR. MERKLE: Well, I would say first of all that the criminal justice system as a democratic institution is going to be a collecting pool for the biases and prejudices that exist throughout society. I believe the institution as an institution has made tremendous strides, particularly in the last 25 years, to protect the individual rights of minorities, including blacks. And it is a fact that when you reach out into the community for jurors or perspective jurors, the institution recognizes that you're reaching out for all the biases and prejudices that exist within a community. On the whole, I would disagree with the proposition that the Rodney King verdict was a racist verdict as irrational as it was and as inconsistent with the clear evidence of criminal conduct on that tape. I think there are more apparent biases than can be advanced for that verdict than having to invent a reason of racism.
MR. LEHRER: What about -- what has been your experience both as a prosecutor, Mr. Merkle, and as a defense lawyer now, as to whether or not it is possible for a jury of whites to mete out fair justice to a black, or a jury of blacks to mete out fair justice to a white, or his -- or any other racial group that you want to add in there to that question?
MR. MERKLE: My experience is, is that jurors take their duties extremely seriously. Every day of the week in this country thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life are making tremendous sacrifices to sit on jury duty. They are told by judges a minimum of four to five times a day that they are not to even think that the defendant could be guilty of a crime. They are reminded that they take an oath. And my experience, which is considerable with juries of all compositions and defendants of many different backgrounds, is that jurors go through a tremendous emotional trauma in making a decision that someone is, in fact, guilty of a crime and must possibly go to jail because of that guilty. So I think they take it very seriously. That's not to say that they cannot disregard their duties and that's not to say they can't be fooled, because they are fooled.
MR. MacNeil: Mr. Stone in Chicago, what has been your experience as far as this question of whether or not it is possible for people from one race to give fair justice to members of another race?
MR. STONE: Well, I think it's certainly possible. Anything is possible. But I think it's rather remarkable that we're having this discussion about can an African American -- do African Americans receive equal justice in the criminal justice system. All we have to really do is to look at the results. We have today more African American men in jails and prisons than we have in colleges and professional schools. We have an incarceration rate in America that is higher than the incarceration rate for black men in South Africa. We have a situation where despite the drug czar's report that indicates that the typical drug abuser is a white male from the suburbs, if you walk into any courtroom in the United States, you see black faces. So I think it's pretty remarkable that we're having this discussion as to whether or not African Americans receive equal justice. The answer is for the most part no. You can even look at the system that's designed to provide representation. African American men in our urban cities are primarily represented by public defender offices and in those offices, the caseloads are extraordinary. Individual lawyers are representing hundreds of people at the same time. So the quality of justice that our system affords to African Americans and other minorities in this country is very low. And there's no question in my mind that the idea of equal justice for African Americans, as your poll indicated, 90 percent of blacks believe that it doesn't occur, most lawyers and professionals involved in the system know that it doesn't occur. Racism infects the criminal justice system just like it infects every other major institution in America.
MR. LEHRER: And the system does not have mechanisms in place to wring that out of the system?
MR. STONE: Oh, certainly, it does have mechanisms to wring it out, but people run the criminal justice system. People administer the mechanisms that are supposed to wring it out. And if you look at the judiciary in this country, it's primarily white male. If you look at the prosecutor's offices in this country, it's primarily white male. I received a letter from a woman about a year ago whose son was arrested and was participating in the criminal justice system. And she noted that the judge was white, the prosecutor was white, the defense -- public defender was white. Everybody in the system was white but for her, her son, and the victim. On the other end of the scale, we know that the number one cause of death for black men in this country between the ages of 15 and 24 is murder, homicide. So the question of criminal justice and crime has to be connected to issues of racism, poverty, and social justice. And you can't just look at the criminal justice system and mechanisms. You have to look at the society as a whole and the criminal justice system merely reflects the society that we live under.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Fein, do you agree with that?
MR. FEIN: No, I utterly disagree. I think that it speaks volumes that none of the critics of the system have identified a single case where they thought someone was wrongly convicted because of race or wrongly acquitted because of race, not a single particular case.
MR. STONE: I can identify a number of instances --
MR. FEIN: If I could continue, please.
MR. STONE: -- if that's what you'd like.
MR. LEHRER: Just a moment, Mr. Stone.
MR. FEIN: In the Los Angeles situation, we had a black prosecutor and the black prosecutor, himself, stated he did not believe racial prejudice entered into the jury verdict. And we've seen mirrors of this situation out in Los Angeles, occasionally in Washington, D.C. Many were astonished at the verdict in the Marion Berry case. And - -
MR. LEHRER: Here was a black mayor with an all black jury found him guilty, is that what you're --
MR. FEIN: The jury found him either acquitted or hung on all counts except one, and they did find him guilty of one possession count, although there was a videotape that was parallel to the video that was existent in the Rodney King case.
MR. LEHRER: I'm sorry, what's your point there then?
MR. FEIN: That the possibility of aberrant jury verdicts is present whether or not you have a black defendant or a white defendant. And we have in our system of justice mechanisms that have been overlooked, that demand that anyone who is excused from a jury pool, from a particular minority, there be a proper explanation that disproves any claim of racial prejudice. These arguments that the system is purposely biased against minorities has been taken to the United States Supreme Court and has been lost, not because of insensitivity, but because the proof of facts was lacking. And what we need to see here if we're having, in my judgment, a very pointed debate, is factual cases where someone alleges and is able to demonstrate with some persuasiveness that person A was actually acquitted when they were innocent because they didn't get a fair trial.
MR. LEHRER: What about Mr. Stone's statistical point, that the - - well, you heard what he said -- the number of black males that are charged with crimes, who are in the system et cetera?
MR. FEIN: That just proves statistics. It doesn't prove that any single individual was shone to be innocent of the accusations. All it shows, that there happens to be for probably many tragic reasons --
MR. STONE: Let me list to you specific cases --
MR. FEIN: -- some of them related to --
MR. STONE: -- if that's what you'd like to hear.
MR. FEIN: -- disunited households, poverty, demographics, and otherwise, that they make up a disproportionate percentage of those who are accused, but where is the evidence that their convictions were wrong?
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Stone, you're on.
MR. STONE: There's much evidence. I mean, I had a case, if you want to talk about specific cases, we had a death penalty case right here in Chicago a few years ago, two young black men accused of killing two white businessmen on the North side. The case was tried in front of a jury, the jury hung. It was tried the second time, the jury hung. At the third trial, the prosecutors excluded every black person from the jury panel and both defendants were convicted and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the case was reversed on appeal on other grounds. There's a Stanford Law Review article that lists, documents 350 capital cases where wrongly, individuals were wrongly convicted of crimes. There are many specific examples of individuals convicted of crimes for which they were innocent, just as there are many white police officers who have been acquitted of brutality cases where it was obvious that their actions deserved conviction.
MR. FEIN: But one thing --
MR. STONE: If you look at --
MR. FEIN: -- you didn't say is that the appeal process did not ultimately exonerate these people. You've identified cases at the jury level, that there was a conviction that was wrong.
MR. STONE: Do you recall the case --
MR. FEIN: But the system has to be looked at in toto.
MR. STONE: -- in Miami? Do you recall the case in Miami, where the police officers were acquitted of killing the black pedestrian? There's been no appeal in that case. There was a pure acquittal and it was a racially motivated case.
MR. FEIN: We are talking about convictions.
MR. STONE: There are many cases.
MR. LEHRER: Let me ask Judge Alexander, how do you respond to Mr. Fein's point that it's not enough just to say that there are so m any blacks -- you can't make the statistic argument, you have to make the specific argument about whether or not Defendant A was acquitted or convicted based on racial reasons?
JUDGE ALEXANDER: I think that we hear that argument quite a lot and I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Stone. If we can go through and pick up statistics other than statistics in specific cases, we can probably do that, however, you know, we hear that a lot, if you can't show us anything specifically, then of course it's not true. Well, we know that it's true and it's a very naive view that he has that racism plays no part in the criminal justice system when we know that it does because we can see the results of that. And it's a game that's kind of played back and forth with African Americans, specifically saying, if you can't show us a specific case, then, therefore, it does not exist. Well, I will show you a specific case in Minnesota, where we had a law that was racially discriminatory toward black Americans that our Supreme Court was enlightened enough to find to be unconstitutional on the appellate level and that included 97 percent of all African Americans which were arrested under our crack statute her which was my case. And obviously the law itself was biased and was used in a biased fashion. So there are a lot of examples that we can give him and I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Stone, yeah, there are mechanisms in place to rule out people's biases, but we also know and studies have shown that jurors actually identify more with the judge than any other person in the courtroom and if the judge is biased, then the outcome of the case can be affected by their bias.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Merkle, how do you respond to that point, that - - and also to the point that was made earlier that in a particular case the prosecutor was white, the judge was white, everybody was white, except the defendants, and that, in and of itself, can lead to racial bias in the justice system?
MR. MERKLE: I don't believe that that is -- that there's a logical nexus between that observation and the results you might obtain in a given case. The judge just made an interesting point. Jurors identify with the judge, and that's correct. And the law is biased. The law has a built-in bias that we are taught is appropriate, and that's a bias in favor of defendants. We are also taught it's appropriate to have a bias in favor of public officials, in the case of policemen that their conduct is appropriate and our culture has created and enhanced the bias that police conduct which is beyond the pale is legitimate in the sense that the end justifies the means, from Dirty Harry on forward. We do have a rising instance, in my opinion, of police brutality. But it is not particularly racially directed. In my experience, it's directed against anybody who's on the street who may pose a threat to the police, whether real or imagined. But the fact remains, is that it is improper, in my opinion, to argue generally from the results to the particular cases. I agree with Mr. Fein's point, there may be more black people prosecuted in a given community or a given environment. When I was U.S. Attorney, the majority of my defendants were white. What does that mean? Does that mean that we were ignoring black people, or ignoring the plight of people in the black community who were being victimized by black criminals? Of course, it doesn't. So, you know, these observations, it seems to me, are sensationalistic. They are not particularly logical and they don't address the real questions and that is: What can the institution do to further the process of removing the prejudice which comes in from the community into the institution? I reject the notion that prosecutors and judges merely because the majority of them are white males are therefore necessarily biased or prejudiced. We have screening processes in law schools, in Congress, in the appointment process, and the judge, herself, I'm sure went through that process. And I don't think it would be fair for anybody to suggest that she could not give a fair trial to a white person any more than she should suggest that a white judge can't give a fair trial to a black person. So let's deal with reality.
MR. STONE: Can I respond to that.
MR. MERKLE: Beg your pardon.
MR. STONE: May I respond to that?
MR. LEHRER: Let me ask Judge Alexander to respond. Are you suggesting -- what about his point -- can you give equal justice to a white?
JUDGE ALEXANDER: Of course, I can, but I understand exactly what my biases are and I make sure that they do not come into play, but I also understand that a lot of judges don't want to look at that and actually know that it's a real situation. Some of them don't even want to talk about the fact that racism may be a factor. I know it because I live it every day, so I know it can be a factor. And I think some of these gentlemen are fairly naive to think that racism does not play a role in everything that we do.
MR. MERKLE: I didn't say it didn't play a role.
MR. FEIN: But the allegation is that it's so unspecific and anonymous. One of the things we learn as lawyers is that you need facts and fair hearings to determine whether, in fact, there is bias and prejudice. We've heard these blanket allegations that there's racism that affects other judges. She can act without bias, but others can't, no names, no evidence. And one thing that --
JUDGE ALEXANDER: Excuse me --
MR. FEIN: -- our system of justice teaches is that we don't want the sentence first, verdict afterwards, like the Queen of Hearts. We want to hear all the evidence first and then make an impartial determination of whether there's bias.
MR. LEHRER: You're not -- are you saying -- you're not saying, are you, Mr. Fein, that there is no racial bias in some cases in the system?
MR. FEIN: Of course not.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
MR. FEIN: And those racial biases, when they affect a verdict, should result in overturning instantly, and moreover, that's what the law requires. The law clearly states from the Supreme Court that if race enters into either the charge or the sentence or the conviction or the jury selection process, the entire situation is voided. Now, there may be some imperfections. After all, we're human beings and there can be flaws. But to throw away a system and condemn it as racially discredited because there may be some imperfections is to risk anarchy because we can't have perfect fairness.
MR. LEHRER: All right. We have a few minutes left. Let's go back to the point that Judge Alexander was raising at the very beginning. Beginning with you, Mr. Stone, we're not going to resolve the overall argument, but what do you think could be done to eliminate what you see the problem to be, assuming that we're not going to be able to wave a wand and change society as a whole, what do you do about the system, the legal system right now to fix what you see as the major problem?
MR. STONE: Well, first, we have to have an honest debate. I mean, I think it's important to have people that are knowledgeable about the criminal justice system and who are, can speak with some profundity about it. I mean, you have an individual here who's denying the evidence that's before his eyes, so clearly that's part of the problem. You have individuals who are afraid or refuse to see the evidence, refuse to look at our prison system and our jail system in this country and see the results that it's had on the African American community. And when you talk about anarchy in the streets, that's what we have in Los Angeles. And the reason we have it is because, as your poll indicated, 90 percent of the African Americans polled indicate that the perception is there is no justice in this criminal justice system. You have a prosecutor here who talks about most of his defendants were white. Well, clearly, he was prosecuting in the U.S. Attorney's Office, federal crimes, where most of the people that are involved in the system are white. We're not talking -- the primary criminal justice system is our state and local government system. That's where people are arrested and prosecuted for state crimes and that's where the problem resides. And so there are a number of things that can be done. First of all, you have to have leadership from the top. You can't have a President who uses Willie Horton as an example of a criminal defendant.
MR. LEHRER: All right. I'm not going --
MR. STONE: When you don't have any leadership from the top, it's going to be very difficult to resolve the problems.
MR. LEHRER: Okay, Mr. Fein, from your perspective, how could the system be improved to get what racial bias you believe is left -- is in the system to get it out of there?
MR. FEIN: Well, I think there needs to be public sentiment, and I would agree some leadership to denounce bigotry in whatever form. And one way to do this is to have the law automatically enhance punishments for any crime that's motivated by racial bigotry the same way we do with firearms, because it's so damaging to the social fabric. Another way could be -- would be to make racially bigoted speech a crime. That is the only way that we can get at the subtleties that may otherwise escape the scrutiny of the judicial system.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Merkle in Tampa, what do you -- are you stunned by the results of that poll that almost 90 percent of blacks in this country believes the system does not work for them?
MR. MERKLE: No, not at all. You know, I think to an extent perception yields to a form of reality and when you had such a dramatic presentation of brutal conduct, as that videotape presented, you have something to the average man and woman on the street, black or white, which is incomprehensible in terms of its rationale and justification. And no matter what apologists say about that verdict, it's never going to turn it from the sow's ear it is into a silk purse. So I think first of all it's not necessary to engage in attack to have an honest debate, and I think this is an honest debate to the format and time allows. But what I would like to see --
MR. LEHRER: We --
MR. MERKLE: -- is a recognition that a democratic institution is precisely that. Unless we're going to yield our democratic principles to a class in philosopher Kings as it were, or platonic guardians, people who presume themselves above prejudice, then we have to maintain our fidelity in these institutions.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
MR. MERKLE: We need to have more --
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Merkle, sorry.
MR. MERKLE: -- diversity in this criminal justice system. We do need more black judges, in my opinion. We do need more black prosecutors and more females.
MR. LEHRER: We have to go, sir. I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. We are way, way out of time. Judge Alexander, gentlemen, thank you very much. UPDATE - ROOTS OF VIOLENCE
MR. MacNeil: Next tonight, we examine a dimension of the Los Angeles riots that has received comparatively little attention. Graphic images of violence tended to portray the disturbances as a conflict between blacks and whites or blacks and Koreans. Scant attention has been paid to the role of the Latino community. Correspondent Jeffrey Kaye, public station KCET, has our report.
MR. KAYE: All around Los Angeles, the charred holes of burned out buildings remind residents of the chaos of just two weeks ago. As the flames and looting erupted, so too did the comparisons between 1992 and Watts in 1965. But there are big differences. In 1965, the unrest was confined to the South Central area, then a mostly black neighborhood. In 1992, the fires and looting were widespread. South Central LA, now a black and Latino neighborhood, was affected, but rioting also took place in poor communities throughout LA. Nearly 8,000 people were arrested in the city of Los Angeles.
MR. KAYE: [talking to LA councilman] Compared to 1965, why were the disturbances so spread out around Los Angeles?
MIKE HERNANDEZ, Los Angeles Councilman: I think you have many more communities with have-nots. I think that's the reality is we've been spread out more.
MR. KAYE: LA City Councilman Mike Hernandez represents one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, Pico-Union, close to downtown, where 61 buildings were burned down.
MIKE HERNANDEZ: This is a neighborhood that's very much people rich and resource poor. You have over 150 people living per acre in this particular area. We have an elementary school down the street with 2,000 kids and we're trying to figure out where they're going to go to junior high school. We have no park space, no open space in this immediate area. High unemployment rate, it tends to be a first stop center for people from Central America.
MR. KAYE: In the shadow of downtown, the Pico-Union neighborhood has the densest population in Los Angeles. Thousands of immigrants who fled El Salvador and Guatemala have turned Pico-Union into a neighborhood reminiscent of a Central American barrio. Not only are some street scenes similar, so is the poverty. Homeless people take up residence on the sidewalk. Street vendors hawk their wares. One, Sarijo Maranda, witnessed the outbreak of violence last Wednesday night.
INTERPRETER FOR MARANDA: He said, "I was cleaning up."
MR. MARANDA: [Speaking through Interpreter] There was a van that was coming down Bonny Bray with a molotov cocktail that was already on fire and they threw it and it hit La Varata.
MR. KAYE: So you saw a molotov cocktail --
MR. MARANDA: [Speaking through Interpreter] Yeah. I saw it come from a van. I saw it hit the La Varata and I saw it blow up.
MR. KAYE: That fire reduced a thriving appliance store to a heap of charcoal. Some local residents were burned out of their homes in the violence. At the Central American Refugee Center, or Caressent, the needy picked up emergency supplies. Caressent also helped refugees apply for work permits. Some said when the rioting took place, they felt they were back in a war zone, among them a Salvadoran woman named Marta.
MARTA: [Speaking through Interpreter] It's exactly what happened in my country. Buildings were looted. They were burned up. People were killed. Just when I go outside of my building and I see all of that happening, I feel like I'm in my country. There's no peace.
MR. KAYE: Andres Candido, a Caressent staff member, says a lack of jobs for immigrants led to crime before and during the riots. Candido, himself, lives with his wife and seven children a few blocks away in a one-bedroom apartment, an apartment that costs $800 a month to maintain. Candido earns a thousand dollars a month. The place is so crowded he and his wife have to sleep behind a cardboard partition in their living room.
ANDRES CANDIDO: [Speaking through Interpreter] I know many people, many Salvadorans, who have come to this country looking for work and when they didn't find the work, I've seen many people who were honorable turn to drugs, to selling false documents, and becoming pirates in the street and sell drugs for ten or fifteen dollars in the street.
MR. KAYE: Not every Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles was affected by the violence in the same way as Pico-Union. On the other side of downtown is East Los Angeles, the traditional heart of the Mexican American community here. Although this area, made up largely of blue collar families, has its share of problems, it remained virtually immune from the violence that beset other neighborhoods such as Pico-Union. The main reason, according to supermarket owner and businessman Joe Sanchez, a class difference. East LA is better off than Pico-Union.
JOE SANCHEZ, Businessman: There's a problem of the haves and the have-nots. These were the have-nots that really didn't have a lot to lose. In East LA, it wouldn't happen because most of the people have jobs.
MR. KAYE: So you felt that -- you believe that people here feel they've got more of a stake in this community?
MR. SANCHEZ: Yes.
MR. KAYE: Similar points were made at a press conference attended by Sanchez and other members of the influential Mexican American Grocers Association.
SPOKESMAN: Latino households are more likely than any other household to have your classic nuclear family, mother, father, brother, sister, your dog Spot, and your cat, increasingly is the Latino situation.
MR. KAYE: These community leaders were trying to ensure that Latinos are included in plans to rebuild LA. Their pleas were made in East Los Angeles to an attentive crowd of local news people. It was quite a contrast to a similar appeal made at the same time by Councilman Hernandez in the Pico-Union neighborhood. There was little press interest in Hernandez' attempt to publicize rebuilding efforts here.
MR. HERNANDEZ: This is the area where we weren't getting police response. This is the area where the fire department could not attend because they didn't have that police protection. And a lot of these buildings just went down.
MR. KAYE: But the problems in this neighborhood go beyond just physical devastation. Madeline Janis is Caressent's executive director. She says that the riots added a new layer of fear to the normal level of anxiety many people here feel.
MADELINE JANIS, Central American Refugee Center: On Saturday and Sunday of last week, when everyone else was talking about healing and reconciliation and calm, the federal government and the LAPD sent 400 border patrol agents right into the heart of the immigrant neighborhoods, struck fear and terror into the hearts of many, many people, and the police called upon the INS, the Immigration & Naturalization Service, to assist them in the arrest, detention of not only looters, not only people involved in the destruction and the rioting, but a lot of people just because of their ethnicity.
MR. KAYE: This man was one of 700 turned over to the Immigration Service out of thousands picked up by police during and after the rioting. He was kept in a cell with other deportees. With no air conditioning, the place seemed like a sauna. Civil rights lawyers complained that detention facilities are inhumane and that law enforcement officials used the riots as an opportunity for wholesale round-ups of immigrants. Edward Flynn is Caressent's legal director.
EDWARD FLYNN, Immigration Lawyer: There's been appalling violations of people's civil liberties in Los Angeles in the last week and a half. Both the Los Angeles Police Department and the INS have been stopping people in huge numbers on the barest of pretexts or on no pretext at all and have been demanding to know their immigration status and if people respond that they're from another country, they have been taken immediately into INS custody. There appears to have been a concerted effort to root out people who are allegedly undocumented and to deport them as quickly as possible.
MR. KAYE: Robert Moschorak is district director of the Immigration Service. He described detention facilities as nice and said there was no wholesale round-up of immigrants.
ROBERT MOSCHORAK, U.S. Immigration Service: So there were arrests being made, but not in such dramatic numbers as you would say were painted as a round-up in the streets of illegal aliens. That was certainly not the case. Those efforts were targeted at specific individuals who were suspected of criminal violations either because of thievery, looting, or that they were involved in some kind of gang activity. I think the numbers speak for themselves and the numbers I think are dramatic. We know that over 700 people were taken into custody by INS as deportable aliens, people who were not supposed to be here, and their arrests were attributed directly to the civil unrest.
MR. KAYE: Since the riots, there have been calls for greater crackdowns on illegal immigrants, but Latino concerns go way beyond immigration matters. Latinos comprise some 40 percent of the LA population. Most have stable family ties and a strong work ethic. But the pattern of success and mobility goes just so far. There are still many neighborhoods where success and mobility have no home. That became painfully clear two weeks ago in places like Pico- Union, places that were ripe for burning. RECAP
MR. MacNeil: Again, the main stories of this Wednesday, shuttle Endeavour astronauts made a third and final attempt to rescue a stranded communications satellite during an unprecedented three- man space walk. If all goes as planned, they will capture it and relaunch it to its proper orbit from the shuttle cargo bay later tonight. A Los Angeles prosecutor said he would seek a new trial for one police officer in the beating of Rodney King. The jury failed to reach a verdict on a charge of excessive force. President Bush announced the $600 million loan package for the rebuilding of Los Angeles homes and businesses burned in the riots. Good night, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Good night, Robin. We'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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- This episode's headline: High Wire Act; Equal Justice; Roots of Violence. The guests include JERRY GREY, Aerospace Engineer; MICHAEL LEMONICK, Time Magazine; PAMELA ALEXANDER, State Trial Judge; ROBERT MERKLE, Former U.S. Attorney; RANDOLPH STONE, Public Defender; BRUCE FEIN, Former Justice Department Official; CORRESPONDENTS: KWAME HOLMAN; JEFFREY KAYE. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil; In Washington: JAMES LEHRER
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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Identifier: 4333 (Show Code)
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- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1992-05-13. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-251fj2b044>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-251fj2b044