Democracy Now! December 2, 2014
One week after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case, President Obama has given his first major policy response to the protests from Ferguson and beyond over racial profiling and police brutality. At a meeting with activists and officials from around the country, Obama unveiled a process to address what he called "simmering distrust." The administration’s response comes as protests continue nationwide over the non-indictment of former officer Darren Wilson over killing Brown. On Monday, demonstrators walked out of workplaces and classrooms in some 30 cities with their hands raised, the symbol of Brown’s death and the movement that has emerged since. As the "Hands Up Walk Out" took place, some of the movement’s key leaders were not out in the streets but inside the White House. Obama’s guests included seven young activists who have helped organize the protests in Ferguson and in other communities of color. We are joined by one of those activists: Ashley Yates, an activist, poet and artist who is co-creator of Millennial Activists United. "While that is a step towards ending this real problem," Yates says of Obama’s reforms, "the real root of it has to be addressed. And the real root of it is racism in America, the anti-black sentiments that exist. Until we begin to address that, we really can’t have any real change — all we have are these small steps towards justice. We need leaps and bounds."
Responding to the protests in Ferguson and cities nationwide, President Obama has announced several new actions: a new task force to come up with concrete steps for "building public trust" in police forces nationwide; a $263 million "Community Policing Initiative," which includes $75 million to provide body cameras for around 50,000 police officers; and an executive order that will tighten rules on the provision of military-grade equipment and weapons to local police forces, such as those used in the crackdown on the Ferguson protests. But in a rejection of activists’ demands, Obama vowed to leave the transfers mostly intact. Obama has also sent Attorney General Eric Holder on a tour of communities nationwide. Holder will soon release new federal guidelines to limit racial profiling, but they will not apply to state or local police agencies, such as in Ferguson. We are joined by James Peterson, director of Africana studies at Lehigh University and the author of "The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture: Beneath the Surface."
We look at the case of a Texas prisoner scheduled to be executed Wednesday despite the wide belief he is mentally ill. Scott Panetti was convicted of killing his wife’s parents in 1992, more than a decade after he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. His mental health history until that point included hallucinations that prompted his dismissal from the Navy, and 14 hospitalizations for schizophrenia and depression, often under a court order. His previous wife divorced him after he buried their furniture because he said it was possessed by the devil and also nailed his curtains shut. Panetti’s murder trial drew headlines when he was allowed to represent himself after dismissing his court appointed attorney. He dressed as a cowboy in a purple suit and a hat, and the witnesses he tried to subpoena in his defense included John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. At one point, he assumed his alternate personality of "Sarge" and testified in the third person about carrying out the murders. Then in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Panetti lacked the understanding of why he was being put to death, and asked a lower court to re-evaluate whether he was sane enough to execute. But the courts accepted the argument from the state’s lawyers that Panetti was faking his illness and reinstated his death sentence. We speak to Panetti’s attorney, Kathryn Kase, and Ron Honberg, national director for policy and legal affairs of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.