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In the Crossfire

Should U.S. pay reparations for slavery?

(CNN) -- Supporters rallied in front of the nation's Capitol in Washington demanding reparations for slavery over the weekend. Among the speakers was Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who called for millions of acres of land to be given to African-Americans.

The issue of whether to compensate the descendants of slaves for centuries of free labor remains a controversial one, but supporters have said they want to start a national debate.

David Horowitz of the Center of the Study of Popular Culture and University of Maryland political scientist Ron Walters step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Tucker Carlson and James Carville.

CARLSON: Isn't the basis of Western justice the idea that you are responsible for what you do? You are not responsible for what your relatives do. You are not responsible for what your ancestors did. Given that, isn't it against the idea of justice in this country, maybe even immoral, to take money from people as punishment for a deed they didn't commit?

WALTERS: Well, it's not a question of taking money from people. It's a question of the government of the United States having a debt that they had owed for 245 years of unpaid labor, 137 years of racist oppression in this country. And that is as much a responsibility of the government of the United States as defense or anything else.

CARLSON: Wait a second. I mean, when you talk about government, I mean, government is, of course, funded by ordinary citizens, taxpayers. And I'm wondering if, say, the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died trying to end slavery, should have to pay for reparations? How does that work exactly?

WALTERS: Well, Tucker, they didn't die trying to end slavery. What was in their head was keeping the Union whole, the unity of the Union. And I don't think there were very many people who went on that battlefield talking about they were going to liberate slaves.

CARLSON: Well ... isn't that the point? I mean, isn't [it] that some of them died presumably to end slavery? Others didn't, but we can't know. So why tax their descendants then?

WALTERS: Well, the fact of the matter is we have a written record. We have a written record.

CARVILLE: David, we can all agree that slavery and the general treatment of African-Americans is the darkest chapter of our nation's history, can't we?

HOROWITZ: We can, but it has another side. Of course, I think all Americans today would support reparations for slaves and former slaves. The problem is they are all dead. And the other side of the story is the black people in America today are the richest and freest black people on the face of this Earth. And that's because a lot of Americans, white and black, gave their lives for certain ideals that this movement, and Ron Walters in particular, don't want to recognize.

When he speaks of 245 years of slavery that the American government is responsible for, he's going back to 1619. There was no American government in 1619. There wasn't one until 1776 or 1787. And that American government announced that, you know, all men are created equal, and the country was torn apart. And we paid a huge price not only to end slavery in America but in the whole Western Hemisphere and across the Atlantic.

CARVILLE: Just to start, we do know that from the beginning of the Constitution up until secession, that the government of the United States protected slavery as the institution, fostered it, set rules for it and everything else. That we know, don't we?

HOROWITZ: Well, the government was really split. Benjamin Franklin led a delegation in 1790 to the Constitution. ...

CARVILLE: If you were a slave, it wasn't split. You were a slave.

HOROWITZ: Oh, no. It was half free. ...

CARVILLE: But if you were a slave in Louisiana, you were a slave. It wasn't split, man. You couldn't leave.

HOROWITZ: Well, that's true ...

CARVILLE: You got sold.

HOROWITZ: ... but what was the alternative? The alternative was not to have a union. The alternative would have been that the South would have aligned with Britain, crushed the North and established slavery throughout the continent. The government ...

CARVILLE: I'm not necessarily. ...

HOROWITZ: If Ron Walters wants to sue a government, he should sue the Confederacy. I agree with you 100 percent. But the government of Lincoln freed the slaves.




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