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Robin Williams' Depression; Eyewitness Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown's Friend, Speaks About the Shooting; U.S. Facing Questions about Strategy in Iraq

Aired August 12, 2014 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

As the news spread last night of Robin Williams' death, Conan O'Brien was wrapping up the taping of his show which would air a few hours later. It took a few moments along with Andy Richter and his guest Will Arnett to break the news to his audience.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": All right, this is unusual and upsetting but we got some news -- we got some news during the show that Robin Williams has passed away. And by the time we air -- we tape these shows a few hours early and by the time you see this now on TV I'm sure that you'll know. I'm sorry to anyone in our studio audience that I'm breaking this news. This is absolutely shocking and horrifying and so upsetting on every level. And we're at the end of the show and it just felt like we needed to just acknowledge. Obviously, we don't know much yet. We know that this has happened and we're absolutely stunned --


O'BRIEN: Stunned to get this news. And I know that everybody here, we've all worked with Robin over the years.



RICHTER: And he was an amazingly kind and generous person and it's got to be a terrible time for his family and our thoughts go out to them.

ARNETT: And as funny as he was, he's truly one of the all-time greats. He was even better as a person. He was even more fantastic as -- he was just the loveliest, sweetest, one of the kindest guys that I've ever worked with, such a -- just such a soft, warm, emotionally sweet guy, and it's a major, major loss for everybody. It's -- yes, like Andy said, our hearts go out to his family and it's a terrible loss.

O'BRIEN: Yes. There's not -- we're just processing this information literally right at this -- you know, at this moment and so we are thinking of -- we're thinking of Robin's family. We're thinking about everybody who he touched around the world throughout his life, and we're thinking about Robin tonight.


COSTELLO: All of us are still this morning.

Since learning of Robin Williams' death last night of apparent suicide, there's been a lot of chatter about the dark side of comedy. This is what comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted after learning the news. Quote, "we lose at least one great comic to suicide or OD's every year. Our jobs are to communicate, but we seem to not know how to ask for help," end quote.

So I want to continue that conversation with our entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner and with licensed psychologist Erik Fisher.

Welcome to you both.


COSTELLO: Nischelle, first to you. Years ago I interviewed Robin Williams. It was at the premiere of the movie "Flubber." And off camera, as he was getting out of the car and walking down the red carpet, I was amazed at what a quiet person he seemed. He seemed very different than his on camera persona. When that camera was turned on him, though, bam, he went right into the manic Robin Williams that I was so used to seeing. And I couldn't help but say to myself, that would be a -- that would be hard to maintain when you have two completely different personas, one off camera, one on.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: You know it's interesting that you say that because I actually have experienced that, not with Robin personally, but with a lot of other comics in the industry when you interview them. And a lot of them will even tell you that they're shy individuals in their everyday lives and they're sometimes withdrawn. And you know that line that we've heard for so long that comedy is borne out of pain, and a lot of them say that, that they work from the dark side of their souls and their selves and that's what brings all of that comedy out. That, you know, we hear it and we all know there's a little bit of truth in that.

But I also thought it was interesting because yesterday Chevy Chase put out a statement about his dear friend, Robin Williams, remembering him. And in that statement he also said, Robin and I shared a little talk about situation, and that is battling depression. So here we are seeing yet another comedian and actor say, yes, I'm going through that, too, and I'm battling those dark moments as well.

COSTELLO: I want to play a short clip of Williams in action from the movie "The Bird Cage" and then I'll ask you a question, Dr. Fisher.


ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: You do an eclectic celebration of the dance! You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!... but you keep it all inside.

All right, just work on that. I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: OK, there you see Robin Williams high energy, the shoot from the hip creativity, the unexpected that was this comedian. So, Dr. Fisher, whenever someone like Robin Williams dies this way, so many tie it to extreme personalities or a creative person. Should we?

FISHER: What I think we have to look at is, what makes a person who they are. And in Robin's history, he had a situation where he grew up with a father and a mother who weren't exactly emotionally present, so he -- he always -- he even said that he had the "love me syndrome" because he thought if he could make his mom laugh, then everything was going to be OK, and he didn't have the relationship with his dad he wanted.

Temperament wise, he seemed like a soft-hearted person, so that doesn't sometimes mesh well. The other thing we have to look at here is bullying. He was bullied as a kid and he often tried to make jokes to make his people -- his -- the bullies laugh with him rather than beat him up.

So there's definitely an artistic side of this as well in the extremes of behaviors, but we have to see that his -- a lot of his behavior may have been adapted, that -- and he was able to use as an asset. And I think what I think we need to remember here is, remember him as he was, and also remember him mostly for who he was inside, not just on screen, but the person inside that so many people are talking about, what a wonderful soul he was.

COSTELLO: I do think we have to look at Robin Williams' suicide in a bigger way, with a wider perspective. I want to read you some statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The highest suicide rate is among people 45 to 65 years old. And men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women.

So, Erik, this just isn't about a comedian with problems, this is about what some might call a typical man with problems that many men have.

FISHER: Well, we have so much tied to our worth and value, and sometimes people reach their midlife or later life crisis when they wonder, what is the sum of my life? Well, depression can be blinding to the reality of those that love us. I think the thing we need to see is how powerful depression can be, how powerful suicide can be. And, you know, looking back, I wonder if sometimes people, if they can look down from above and see the impact that their suicide has had on the people that love them, I think they'd make a different choice. And for those people who are watching the show now who feel like Robin Williams' success in suicide may be a reason for them to attempt or commit suicide, please don't. See this as a reason to live rather than a reason to die. COSTELLO: I know. Just realize the joy you bring to so many people and

to the people that love you and who are closest to you. Erik Fisher, thank you. And Nischelle Turner, thank you.

We want to continue to remember the joy and the laughter Robin Williams brought to us over the years. So, here's one of his iconic moments from "Good Morning Vietnam."


WILLIAMS: Good morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test. This is rock 'n' roll. Time to rocket from the delta to the DMZ! Is that me or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie, "Viva Da Nang." Oh, viva Da Nang. Da Nang g me. Da Nang me. Why don't you get a rope and hang me. Hey, is this a little too early for being that loud. Hey, too late. It's 0600. What's the "o" stand for, O my God, it's early.


COSTELLO: For the first time, we're getting more details from a friends of a St. Louis area teenager who was killed by police on Saturday. Dorian Johnson was with Michael Brown when the incident happened. Here's what he said happened when he spoke to a reporter from our affiliate KMOV.


DORIAN JOHSNON, MICHAEL BROWN'S FRIEND: Me and my friend was walking down the street, in the middle of the street, and we wasn't causing any harm to nobody. We had no weapons on us at all. We're just walking, having a conversation. No cars were blowing at us or honking at us like we were holding up traffic or anything like that.

Now, a police officer squad car pulled up, and when he pulled up, these were his exact words: "Get the eff on the sidewalk." And we told the officer we was not but a minute away from our destination and we would shortly be off the street, we was having a conversation.

He went about his way for about one or two seconds, as we continued to walk, and then he reversed his truck, his car, and in a manner to where it almost hit us, and it blocked both lanes off, the way he turned his car. So he pulled up on side of us, he tried to thrust his door open, but we were so close to it that it ricocheted off of us and bounced back to him. And I guess that got him a little upset.

And at that time, he reached out the window -- he didn't get out the car, he just reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck and was trying to -- as he was trying to choke my friend, and he was trying to get away. And the officer then reached out and grabbed his arm to pull him into the car, so now it was like the officer is pulling him inside the car and he's trying to pull away.

And at no time the officer said that he was going to do anything until he pulled out his weapon, his weapon was drawn and said, "I'll shoot you," or "I'm going to shoot," and in the same moment, the first shot went off. And we looked at him, he was shot and there was blood coming from him.

And we took off running. And as we took off running, I ducked and hid for my life because I was afraid for my life, and I hid by the first car that I saw. My friend, he kept running and he told me to keep running because he feared for me, too. So as he was running, the officer was trying to get out of the car, and once he got out of the car, he pursued my friend, but his weapon was drawn.

Now, he didn't see any weapon drawn at him or anything like that, us going for no weapon. His weapon was already drawn when he got out of the car. He shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and he put his hands in the air, and he started to get down, but the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and he fired several more shots, and my friend died.


COSTELLO: Dorian Johnson's attorney says police have yet to interview his client about what he witnessed. The FBI will also likely want to speak to Johnson. They're doing their own investigation as Brown was shot Saturday while walking back to his grandmother's house with Johnson. So far, authorities have not released the police officer's name or the autopsy results. The question is -- what's taking them so long?

With me now, Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman. Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: Why do you think it's taken police so long so release this officer's name?

FRENCH: I'm not sure why it's taking so long, but I think some details coming out about this would really help to give people a sense of hope that justice will be served, and hopefully give these young people something so they won't go out and be so violent in the evenings.

COSTELLO: The autopsy, and police aren't releasing that in its totality either, and that would, of course, tell us how many times Brown was shot. Should they release it immediately, as soon as they get those results?

FRENCH: They should. I mean, obviously we have conflicting reports, eyewitnesses -- you get one version of accounts and then the Ferguson Police Department gives a completely different account. To me, the two stories differ so much that the autopsy would really clear a lot of this up.

COSTELLO: Because there is a lot of tension in Ferguson right now with the looting going on and then police carrying -- dressed in flak jackets and carrying guns and throwing tear gas cans. I know you took some Vine shots. Can you walk us through these?

FRENCH: So last night I was in the crowd as they demonstrated at the burned down QT gas station, which has really become a rallying point for a lot of the young demonstrators. They were peaceful. They were out there for a while, as police watched and kept their distance.

As the numbers grew and they moved out into the street, some of them did start jumping on cars, shaking cars. At that point, the heavy gear came out. Police in riot gear with assault vehicles, assault weapons loaded with rubber bullets, and tear gas started being sprayed into the area. The crowd quickly dispersed. Some remained and they were fired upon with rubber bullets and more tear gas.

COSTELLO: Well, there was looting a few nights ago. Stores were set on fire. Police say they had shots -- somebody fired shots at them. Do you think that police went overboard last night or were their actions understandable?

FRENCH: Well, listen, I think that one of the reasons this situation has escalated is that, from the very beginning, even from the time young Michael Brown's body laid on the ground, police have taken somewhat of a heavy-handed approach at times over the last three days. I will also say sometimes they have done the right thing, which is to keep their distance and just let people demonstrate. But I think last night we saw another heavy-handed approach, and I was out there last night and I was really worried about those young people's safety. You know, they can't win that fight.

And so I think what we don't need right now is an escalation. I think these young people feel like they aren't being heard. They have frustrations, anger, justifiably angry, and I think what we need to do is embrace these people, let them know they are a part of our community, and that we will stand with them in the long haul and make sure that justice is served for Mike Brown and his family.

COSTELLO: Alderman Antonio French, thank you for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

In the next hour of NEWSROOM, we'll talk live with the NAACP national president Cornell William Brooks, as the civil rights organization pushes for answers and justice in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

I'll be back.


COSTELLO: The Obama administration is now facing a tough decision in Iraq -- how to adjust its strategy against ISIS? Four days of air strikes may have stalled the sweep of ISIS fighters, but U.S. military officials concede that more has to be done to defeat the militants. One step already taken, the U.S. is directly arming Kurdish forces, also known as the Peshmerga, who were fighting ISIS on the ground. But for now that assistance is in small arms and ammunition.

Joining me now, Harras Rafiq, Quilliam Foundation outreach officer. He was part of a British government task force that looked into countering extremism. Welcome. I'm glad you're with me this morning.

HARAS RAFIQ, OUTREACH OFFICER, QUILLIAM: Thank you, nice to be here.

COSTELLO: So the air strikes seemed to be working for a time. They at least slowed ISIS down. What's the next step for ISIS now that they've sort of figured things out?

RAFIQ: You are absolutely right that the air strikes have actually slowed ISIS down, but it's not stopped them. ISIS now are regrouping and they're actually considering whether to go south or whether to go in towards Jordan.

What we're actually dealing with here is a terrorist negotiation that you can't negotiate with. They actually have to be taken out and they actually have to be reduced to just no men standing, I guess, without anybody left.

And the only way that we're going to do that is by arming the Kurds to a greater extent, arming the Iraqis and forcing Baghdad, really, to go north, creating bit of a pincer movement, and then actually providing air strikes from both the U.S. and I think from an international coalition. Because one of the things that we can get accused of by the group known as ISIS is that this is a crusade, this is the Americans interfering in the region again. I think to combat and alleviate that, if we can get some form of coalition with other Arab states in the region, that's one way that certainly we can actually make this into a everybody else versus ISIS, rather than just the U.S. and Britain and the western countries.

COSTELLO: Well, is that possible? Because we've not been successful at doing that in the past.

RAFIQ: Well, we did it well certainly when we liberated Kuwait against Saddam and I think we can do it again. The problem we have in the region is that there are still some states like Qatar which are actually still supporting the Islamists. They may not be directly funding, but they're certainly providing assistance and finance to Islamist organizations.

And of course Turkey certainly has some sort of leaning toward them and certainly doesn't want to work with the Kurds, because they have got their own problems. Iran is another factor in this.

But I think cretainly ISIS is a threat to every single country in the region and I think that that's something that can actually bring people together.

COSTELLO: When you say we should arm the Kurds, what kind of weapons are you talking about? What kind of ammunition?

RAFIQ: Well, we're certainly talking about heavy ammunition. We're talking with giving them more expertise. At the moment, they are -- they're actually facing an ISIS group that actually has heavier ammunition that they've taken off the Iraqi army. So without intervention, without air strikes that we've certainly seen from the U.S. at the moment, they were -- I guess they were in danger of being pushed back themselves.

They need more heavy artillery, more heavy ammunition. They actually need better training as well. Because in the past, there has been some reluctance to arm them to the extent that we need to see the armed because obviously Turkey has their own problems with them on the border. Heavy artillery, heavy ammunition, and getting Baghdad to actually go north as well and motivate them to actually take ISIS on. Because, at the moment, all Baghdad seems to be doing is consolidating its own city and its own position, and ISIS are getting stronger. They're recruiting heavily from around the world for foreign fighters.

COSTELLO: I think the problem with further arming the Kurds is, like you said, ISIS, they got the weapons from the Kurdish army and from the Iraqi military, so -- and we can't go in and train the Kurdish army right now. It's too late for that, isn't it?

RAFIQ: Well, it's not too late, because, at the moment, as has been reported, ISIS are being just held where they are at the moment. I think we need to go in there and certainly give them the ammunition and give them better training, but certainly we have to -- we actually have to provide more air strikes.

We have to realize that, at the moment, all we're doing is we're working on a humanitarian basis. We're working on actually helping free the innocent people that are stuck on the mountain and stop some form of ethnic cleansing. But we actually have to provide more air assistance, we actually have to provide more drone attacks, we actually have to start bombing ISIS strongholds, but this has to be a coalition. This has to be a concerted effort by many rather than just one.

COSTELLO: Haras Rafiq, thank you so much for your insight. I appreciate it.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.