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Barbershop: San Bernardino, Chicago And The Yellow Brick Road


Time now for a visit to the Barbershop - that's where we gather some interesting folks to hear about what's on their minds and what's in the news. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup today are Bridget Johnson. She is Washington bureau chief of PJ Media. That's a conservative-libertarian news and commentary site. Attorney Arsalan Iftikhar - he serves as senior editor for The Islamic Monthly magazine and blogger Jimi Izrael at WCPN in Cleveland. Welcome to all of you.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Thanks, and good to be here.


NEARY: Good to have you here. So I know we're all thinking about San Bernardino, Calif., and the terrible events there, the shooting that left 14 people dead. We still have a lot of questions, I know. But we do know it's being investigated as terrorism. Here's what I'm wondering - and maybe you guys can join in with me on thinking about this - which is that, you know, regardless of whether it's a politically-motivated terrorist attack or the random act of a lone crazy gunman, it just seems to me that we're becoming too used to these events in this country, that it's becoming like a new normal. And there's almost a way in which we're starting to adapt them in some strange way. What do you think, Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Lynn, in the year 2015 alone, thus far we've had over 350 mass shootings that have occurred around the country, and 99 percent of them have not been committed by Muslims. But sadly, if you look at the media narrative since San Bernardino, you'd have thought that everybody that's been killed in America has been killed by, you know, a brown Muslim. You know, just a week ago, we obviously had the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs, where the shooter, Robert Dear, his own wife had actually testified in court that he actually had a Christianist ideology going into this. And we never saw him called a terrorist. We had Dylann Roof in South Carolina in June who walked into a black church, a white supremacist with a race war ideology, who innocently slaughtered nine African-Americans, including assassinating a South Carolina state senator for whom he had asked for by name, we never called him a terrorist. And so what concerns me the most is that when it comes to mass shootings, we place a greater magnifying glass on those committed by folks with darker skin and foreign-sounding names than the vast majority of them that are committed by white people.

NEARY: Jimi, what do you think? I mean, I was posing that idea about it being a new kind of normal in this country, these kinds of shootings. Do you think it is?

JIMI IZRAEL: No, as a matter of fact I don't. I think - kind of an offshoot of Arsalan's point is that as a reporter, me personally, I'm sick of news organizations wanting to get it quickly and not necessarily wanting to get it right. You know, I remember this last shooting they were reporting it was three white guys that were running around; the next thing you know it was three black guys, and then we finally get something that looks like the truth. I don't want reportage. I want reporting when I hear about these things. And the second point is that I think the Republicans have a lot to - no shots GOP - but I think the GOP has a lot to gain by keeping us all in the state of paranoia, where we believe that trouble is just around the corner. And we all become kind of a country of Dirty Harrys, you know, where we've got one finger on the trigger and another on a doughnut. I don't know what Dirty Harry ate. I'm just saying it just - yeah, I don't think it's a new normal. But I think there are people that are motivated to make it, you know, the new normal.

NEARY: Yeah, and it brings the issue of gun control into the spotlight once again. Bridget, The New York Times had a front-page editorial - very unprecedented - calling for an end to the gun epidemic in America. It feels like we need to take that discussion to a new level though to me.

JOHNSON: It needs to be taken to a level that's more about what regulations are we going to pass because basically The New York Times' solution of confiscating high-powered weapons would just create a massive black market that would be an absolute nightmare for law enforcement. One line that really stuck out at me in that editorial said motives don't matter to the dead. And it absolutely matters when you're trying to keep more people from being slaughtered. It matters to delve into the white supremacist history of Dylann Roof to see if there are more attacks planned against African-Americans. It matters when you go into an inner-city with the intent of stopping gang warfare instead of just hoping they don't rearm. You know, it matters when you have a mentally ill individual who needs to get proper care instead of shooting himself or others.

NEARY: Jimi, let's talk about Chicago. The city last night released documents in which police officers describe a very different scene than the infamous video showing teenager Laquan McDonald being shot in the back as he walks away from police. These documents say he was threatening the officer with a knife. And as we know, Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for the resignation of his police superintendent. Is that going to solve anything, Jimi?

IZRAEL: It's not going to solve a thing. You know, politicians are who politicians are. This is politics as usual. The kind of guy I am, I like my politicians like I like my barbecue - a little familiar, kind of greasy but no real surprises. And this is that - this is politics as usual. Another thing is that sometimes when you see incidents like this where you wonder if something is being suppressed or something's been suppressed or it's just the process that had to go through its thing, you know, because sometimes it is about the process and sometimes it's about the politics. But if you can't tell which from the curb, then clearly - clearly it's about the politics. So yeah, getting Rahm Emanuel out of there - he's the devil you know. You might as well keep him. Why not? Yeah.

NEARY: Because there a lot of people calling for Rahm Emanuel to resign, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as somebody who grew up in Chicago, we all know that that's not going to happen. The Democratic machine that was previously the Daley machine is now the Emanuel machine. But I think for me at least, again, as a civil rights lawyer, you know, for me this is more about the systemic problem of police brutality that we're starting to see all across the country. And I think that, you know, it actually originates from the, you know, gaping deficit and divide between law enforcement and community policing. And I think that there's so much mistrust that is - that's mutual on both sides that, you know, we really are going to have to have a very self-reflective national, societal self-reflection to see how can we actually bridge this divide because sadly, we're going to continue to see tragic cases like Laquan McDonald's moving into the future.

NEARY: Bridget, what are your thoughts on this?

JOHNSON: OK, so Rahm Emanuel, his solution to the criticism that the video was not released was to create a commission to discuss when to release police videos. I mean, I think this is just absolutely incredible, and I hope the activists who are, you know, calling for a probe into whether or not his decision to kind of sweep this under the rug had to do with his re-election campaign - those activists need to keep at it. And I think it's actually even going to bleed into campaign 2016. We had Bernie Sanders putting out a statement yesterday saying hey, you know, any individual of any position of power in Chicago who was found to have concealed this video needs to go.

NEARY: Do you think there would be anything accomplished if - for Emanuel to resign?

JOHNSON: At this point, it's almost like you need to just, like, import a new government from, like, Park City, Utah, or something into Chicago (laughter)...

NEARY: Oh, that wouldn't accomplish anything either.

JOHNSON: ...To kind of...

IFTIKHAR: Or from...

JOHNSON: Kind of sweep the corruption out.

IFTIKHAR: Or from "Parks And Recreation." You know, what's interesting is that - you know, he was - he was going through a mayoral campaign last year against Chuy Garcia. But even if he had released the tapes - I mean, again, being from Chicago - you know, he wasn't going to lose that race, even if he had released that video then.

NEARY: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: If anything I think he could have used it to bolster the conversation. I think it was a catastrophic failure on his part.

NEARY: But, you know...

IZRAEL: Where is Ms. O'Leary's cow when you need her?


NEARY: You know, these videos keep turning up in one town after another, one city after another. So, you know, changing governments from one town to another...


NEARY: ...One city to another isn't going to do anything either, right Jimi?

IZRAEL: Right. (Laughter) That's what I said, you know, cue the cow.


NEARY: All right, well, while we're laughing, let's move on to a lighter subject. I'm just wondering if any - I didn't happen to see "The Wiz" on television on NBC this week, but a lot of people did. I - that night I went to my Twitter account just before I went to bed, and there was all this stuff about "The Wiz." And I was kind of amazed to see that. Why did it get such a big reaction on Twitter, or is that just Twitter?

IZRAEL: Well, it is just Twitter. But also - I mean, they did something that they didn't do with "Peter Pan." They chocked it full of names - some name people - some names that people knew as opposed to chocking it full of actors. You know, so it made David Alan Grier - you know, the MFA from Yale drama school - he had to put the entire cast on his back. You know, I mean, he has more acting - he had more acting chops than, like, anybody in - probably in the building, so shout out to David Alan Grier. But it was a pretty tight performance, although Mary J. Blige - respect because I love her, I've seen her in concert - but Mary J. Blige is no Mabel King. Once you've heard Mabel King sing "Don't Bring Me No Bad News," you can't go back. It's kind of like having a Patti pie or your grandma's pie. You really need your grandma's pie. Patti's pie is all right, you know? But grandma - you know, yeah that's - that's the realness right there, so shout out to Mary J., though. She did her thing.

NEARY: All right, there were some people that were saying, you know, this is racist to have a black "Wiz."

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, it's hilarious, you know, all these faux controversies...

IZRAEL: Yeah, you guys fell for that.

IFTIKHAR: You know - no, nobody fell for that.

IZRAEL: You guys fell for the banana in the tailpipe. That was just a troll. That was just a standard Twitter troll.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and as you know, ubiquitous nature of social media, trolling happens everywhere. And you saw thousands and thousands of people, you know, saying well, you know, when are we going to have a white version of "The Wiz?" And it was called "The Wizard Of Oz." You know, we've had...

IZRAEL: Do you know how white you'd have to be to not know that there was a "Wiz" that - that "The Wiz" was just an African-American reimagining of the film/book? I mean - real talk, I mean, yeah - no, no one fell for that. No one I know fall for that (coughs) cough.

NEARY: Bridget?

JOHNSON: I will say that those people who are trolling on Twitter are the same ones who think that there should never be a black Bond, the same people who think it's diversity when you have a horror movie with all white people and one black person who gets bumped off halfway through. So those are the types of people who are trolling on Twitter.

NEARY: Yeah, maybe they should just do a quick Google search next time before they start thinking that...

JOHNSON: Exactly...

NEARY: "...The Wiz" is a racist version of "The Wizard Of Oz." And they've never heard Judy Garland sing. That's my last...

IZRAEL: Who hasn't heard Judy Garland sing?

NEARY: Well, we'll leave it there for a week. Bridget Johnson, Arsalan Iftikhar and Jimi Izrael, thanks so much to everyone and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Lynn.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.