Eugene Robinson Live: How can we stop police shootings?

Oct 15, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. Well, we've got a hot mess in the White House. I know, we've had a hot mess for a while now, but it's getting hotter and messier. We know now that ousted NatSec advisor John Bolton refused to get involved in whatever "drug deal" Rudy Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney (!) were cooking up with Ukraine. That illicit deal, we now understand, was a sustained and intense campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden. Meanwhile, President Trump's abrupt decision to pull out of Syria has turned into such a debacle that even GOP senators are disgusted and outraged. And almost as an afterthought, there's a Democratic candidates' debate tonight, coming at a point when Sen. Elizabeth Warren is close to overtaking Biden as the frontrunner for the nomination, according to some polls. Whoever defeats Trump next year is going to have to rebuild the institution of the presidency pretty much from scratch.

And if you missed it, here's my latest column on the police killing of Atatiana Jefferson. Let's get started.

Do you think Trump borrowed the phrase "great and unmatched wisdom" from his soulmate, the President of North Korea?

I think maybe now people will believe me when I say (as I've said in my column many times) that President Trump's mental state is a serious issue. And it's deteriorating.

Are police depts across the country purposely hiring white supremacists/ racists in their effort to make America great again, eg, like white in the 50's when Blacks had no rights? It's scary because there are too many racial incidents in today's world. Most cops involved in shootings are fairly new recruits. Has anyone done statistics on this.

You're referring to today's column, which is about the horrific killing in Fort Worth of Atatiana Jefferson, whose only crime was staying up late -- in her own home -- playing video games with her nephew. I don't believe in any conspiracy by police departments to hire white supremacists or anything like that. I believe that obviously training has to be looked at and improved. But I believe the biggest problem is how police officers are enculturated to see African Americans not as citizens but as objects to be feared, confronted and subdued. That's what needs to change.

Are there law enforcement groups who understand the racist, deadly mindset that leads to the many killings of innocent African-Americans? Who inside law enforcement already understands the issues, sees the desperate need for change, and is working to develop ways to change the dangerous culture inside law enforcement circles? Are there programs that address these issues that governments can mandate for their law enforcement agencies? Thanks.

There are police departments that get this stuff right. Here in Washington, for example, the police department has managed to avoid these shoot-first tragedies. I think it reflects the hard-won understand that policing is something you do WITH a community, not TO a community.

Suppose Trump actually does get impeached and barred from public office for 20 years. (I know I’m dreaming bigly). Who would Republicans put on the 2020 ballot? Pence seems rather lame.

I think it might be Pence vs. Romney for the nomination.

I despise right wing conspiracy theories, so forgive me if I am inciting a left wing theory, but...is it possible to even consider that Donald Trump is a Russian agent? If not, what could possibly be his motivation for SO overtly aiding and abetting Russian interests?

I can't go that far down the Manchurian Candidate road, although some others do. I think that if you're looking at deeper motives, you should look at blackmail and money. Does Putin have something on President Trump? Is Trump's foreign policy predicated on what's more profitable for the Trump Organization?

How does Trump provide explicit approval for Turkey's actions in Syria, and then turn around and slap sanctions on them? In whose world does this make sense? How's the administration spinning this? Thanks as always!

You'll hurt your head trying to figure it out, because it makes no sense at all. None. The administration is scrambling to try to correct a huge unforced error, but the damage is irreparable. 

Gene, first, your op-ed today was spot on. What a tragic situation; as a 50-something white woman, I can't even imagine - but I sure want things to change so this never happens again. Second, reading all of the stuff re. Bolton and ex-aide Hill, etc., I'm left to wonder, why didn't anyone speak up before this? What is being reported is simply amazing (and not in a good way). Makes me wonder if the whole Syria situation could maybe have been avoided, had someone spoken up earlier. Makes one even more grateful that the whistleblower did speak up. Also as an aside-speaking with friends about the whole impeachment thing-we do want Trump out before he takes down *everybody* - but I do think Dems have to be worried about the possibility of Pence in office and going up for election, as a "President Pence" would be seen very strongly, we think, as the "get-all-to-be-all" by many...I think he would be more difficult to defeat at the polls than Trump...

A lot to cover here. Thanks for the nice words about the column. On Bolton and why nobody came forward earlier, that's a great question -- one that history will ask. What disasters and outrages might have been prevented had insiders spoken out sooner? As for Pence, I would disagree strongly with his policies -- pretty much all of them -- but I do believe he's sane, and that would be an improvement. And I do not believe he would be as formidable a candidate as Trump.

Hi Gene! Why don’t the Bidens defend themselves on the position that we don’t investigate people without proper probable cause? The Republicans can’t name a crime they think was committed, they have no evidence of one, and they have no probable cause that anything improper happened. So why aren’t the Bidens making the case that in this country, we don’t launch investigations based on rumors and the fantasies of Jim Jordan?

Because this isn't about due process, it's about innuendo and implication. And I believe the Bidens struggled with the fact that aggressively defending themselves has the unintended consequence of giving the story oxygen.

It appears the Ukraine scandal doesn't matter to Republicans in Congress. However they are 100% against Trumps actions in Syria. Can Democrats use Syria as an article of impeachment? If so do u think Republicans will vote to impeach and remove on that basis?

I don't think the Syria debacle is impeachable, unless we find out that it has some direct relationship to Trump's investments in Turkey or something like that. The Founders clearly believed that just being a bad president and making awful decisions was not grounds for impeachment.

I have to believe that one of Putin's greatest wishes is to see Turkey leave and/or get kicked out of NATO. Telling Turkey to go ahead and kill all the Syrian Kurds they like and then threaten to destroy their economy over it is a decent step towards that goal. If that doesn't work, at least getting the US tactical nukes out of Turkey is a nice consolation prize. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Putin is basically getting what he can out of Trump right now just in case he gets impeached and removed or at least doesn't get re-elected despite Russian assistance. Does anyone know if Jared ever succeeded in setting up the back channel he was so desperate to have before they took office? He has a security clearance. All his devices should be subject to random inspections.

It is clear that Putin is the big winner in all of this. Someday we'll get to the bottom of why so many of Trump's wrongheaded actions accrue to Putin's benefit. 

Besides possibly breaking federal law as a representative of a foreign government, do we think they might be investigating tax fraud? I didn't know until this morning that he'd in the middle of another expensive divorce, and would have a strong incentive to hide his income. It's tough to pay your bills if you spend all of your time working for Trump for "free"/

Rudy Giuliani -- who once, amazingly, was a great lawyer -- needs to hire himself a great lawyer.

Is there any path for reclaiming our role in Syria - aiding the Kurds and containing ISIS?

No. The Islamic State is already regathering its forces. And the Kurds, who fought for us, are screwed.

Which will you be watching tonight?

Split-screen, definitely. Go Nats! 

At a time when most responsible jobs require a college degree. most police departments hand new cops a gun, a badge and life-and-death authority with a high school diploma. A college degree isn't everything, but it does mean that the holder has been exposed to a range of people and ideas outside his own life experience. Is lack of education and life experience part of the problem?

I don't think a college requirement is necessarily the answer. I think police training has to including coming to know and respect the community that the recruit will soon be policing.

Something else that troubles me re the killing of Atatiana Jefferson is that Blacks will become more afraid to call police even when it's appropriate, for fear that an officer will shoot prematurely and/or shoot an innocent person.

The neighbor who called police because Jefferson's door was ajar is devastated, according to published reports, and feels he was responsible. But of course he wasn't. The problem you identify is real, and it's one that police departments ought to realize they need to address. 

Thanks for taking questions. Any chance that Trump becomes so toxic, and his actions are revealed to be so indefensible that a half dozen vulnerable Republican senators decide they have no choice but to impeach, and that number then snowballs in order to save GOP control of the Senate? Like the other questioner, I'm dreaming big.

That is an entirely plausible scenario. At the moment, it seems improbable. But one thing we should have learned in the past four years is that improbable things sometimes do happen. So dream on.

Hi Gene, What are your thoughts on the recent controversy re: Ellen & her comments re: friendship "with people we disagree with"? I draw a line between civility and actual friendship. George W. Bush is, like almost everyone, worthy of at least civility and respect. But given the destructive impact his admin. had on the country (and the world), how should we look back on him now, in the Trump era? I feel that a lot of much of the country still looks too kindly on him simply because he's a very decent man personally. Still time left of course, but there's a solid chance that Trump - who is horrible, don't get me wrong - will leave office having not done nearly as much material damage as Bush/Cheney did.

I'm basically with Ellen on this. I don't know what the line is between civility and actual friendship. Is faux friendship okay? I do think there's a line between the personal and the political, but I think it's up to each of us to decide where that line should be drawn. 

I thought that I heard a rumor that congress was going to take up a measure that would reverse this Syria situation that Trump made? Can congress reverse his decisions regarding the military and if so why haven't they?

Congress can do whatever it wants. The situation on the ground looks irreversible. Are we going to send troops to drive out the Turks AND the Syrians AND the Russians, and give that territory back to the Kurds? No, we're not. We can apply sanctions to Turkey but that won't undo the damage.

 

That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating in a lively discussion, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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