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A Rallying Cry For Gun Control; Anna Deavere Smith Reflects On Race, Poverty And Education. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, in the age of movement, grieving students have taken up safety as their standard, one week after the mass

shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The social commentator Van Jones tells me that lawmakers need to start listening to these future


Plus, "Notes From The Field", playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith joins me to talk about her one woman show, about race, education, and

criminal justice in America.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. In the weeks since the Valentine's Day school massacre

in Parkland, Florida, student survivors have been transformed into activists.

And today, they traveled 450 miles to march on the state capital, just a day after the Florida House voted down a motion to ban assault weapons and

rifles, including the one used by last week's shooter to kill 17 people.

Across South Florida, thousands of students are rallying in solidarity and President Trump has promised action and he has been holding meetings with

teachers and victims of school shootings today in Washington.

The political commentator Van Jones is a close observer of US activism and he's been traveling around America, trying to get people to listen to each

other on divisive issues such as gun control and immigration. And he joined me from New York.

Van Jones, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Yet another day of the most incredibly emotional and impactful images of the reality that is happening in Florida and around the country.

Young kids going to march on their state capitals to demand change.

The president says he is on their side. Do you think that he wants change and can effect change and what he's suggested so far will change and move

the dial?

JONES: Movements can change presidents. Movements can change politics. And you've seen that over and over again. The Tea Party movement, Black

Lives Matter movement, MeToo, Time's Up, now this movement, #Enough. These young people stepping forward.

But I don't think that the Republican Party right now is - they've go to have to really look in the mirror because they seem to have married

themselves to the worst ideas and to the money from the NRA in a way that's going to make it hard for them to do what I think common sense now


AMANPOUR: I want to play you a sound bite from a young man who's been passionately speaking as so many of his colleagues have from that school

and from elsewhere, and this is what he said.


LORENZO PRADO, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: To not change the law in our time of need will be a huge disservice to the 17 dead

in Parkland, the 13 dead in Columbine, the 26 dead in Sandy Hook, the 50 dead in Orlando, the 59 dead in Las Vegas.

For the good of the students, the parents, the family and the country, we beg for common sense laws that will prevent a terrorist because that's what

he is. A terrorist.


AMANPOUR: I mean, these are incredibly poised young people who come with experience behind their words. And we always ask after all those shootings

that he listed there, will this time be any different. Do you think it will? What do you make of these students?

JONES: Well, they're remarkable. And often - I mean, it's hard not to get emotional looking at these young people. They are acting like the adults

while the adults are acting like children in American politics.

And it's just so moving to hear them speak in such a straightforward manner. You just can't be any more proud of this generation of students.

And often, in the United States, it's the younger people who push the society forward. It was the younger people in the Civil Rights movement,

the younger people in the women's rights movement, younger people in the environmental movement, who have made the country be what it is.

And I think that you're going to see - listen, nobody my age - I'm in my forties, my late forties. Nobody in my age group went to school at a time

when no matter where you were, you were having to drill, so that you would be able to not have your brains blown out in your classroom.

There might have been some bad neighborhoods. There may have been some situations, but to have an entire generation of young people now

traumatized, drilling on a weekly basis to survive being murdered in a classroom, they're not going to take this. And I think that is a new


[14:05:00] And the NRA is now going to be in a position for a whole generation of almost being like the KKK was for my generation. These

people - you just can't understand why do they think the stuff they think, why are they putting my family at risk and I think the NRA needs to go back

to its earlier policies.

The NRA used to be pro common sense gun safety measures. Now, they oppose anything and everything, even when it comes time to - people with mental

health issues getting guns. That has to stop. I think the NRA is up against a generation it cannot defeat.

AMANPOUR: You are going to be examining guns in your next show on CNN. But in the meantime, you're talking about two very different and very

polarized parts of America.

And that's just a fact and that exists, this whole red/blue. And guns are one of the touchstones for this battle, this cultural battle. So, you

specialize in talking to people, again, of all different creeds and parties.


AMANPOUR: Surely, there has to be some kind of understanding of the story of the other. So, I'm asking you what you can do as a progressive, as a

liberal to bring in the other side, to get them to understand to hear this side of the story rather than bashing them over their head with it?

JONES: Well, I think both sides have to do a better job of listening. I think there is a culture of gun ownership, not gun violence, not massacring

people, but of gun ownership, responsible gun ownership in our country.

And I'm from the rural south. I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee. I went to public schools there. Church on every other Sunday, not every Sunday, but

I understand that culture.

And my father was a gun owner. My father was a former cop in the military. I understand how important his gun was to him. I was scared of his gun. I

never touched it. Never fired it. But I understand.

And I think that we have to recognize there are a group of people, who are responsible gun owners. They feel themselves to be a beleaguered group

that is being attacked by the press, the government wants to take their rights where they might be home invaded, and they feel under siege.

When you approach a group like that, whether it's African-Americans or Muslims or gun owners, you have to have some sensitivity to their

sensitivity. And often, I think liberals just say things over and over again that are so dismissive, so contemptuous, and sometimes ill-informed

that it triggers them, aha, this really is just an agenda to take my guns away.

I think liberals have to do a better job of saying we want you to be able to defend yourself in your home, we recognize you have a right to hunt, we

are talking about a particular set of super lethal weapons that we don't think have a place in civil society and, on those, we want to have more

restrictions. But, first, we've got to do a better job of giving that respect.

On the other side, I think the gun-owning community and the responsible gun committee has to recognize even the First Amendment is not without any

restrictions. You can't cry a fire in a crowded theater. All of our rights have to be balanced with certain responsibilities. And the Second

Amendment is no exception to that.

AMANPOUR: I know you talked to all different viewpoints in Las Vegas, which, as we know, is the site of the worst and most deadly shooting in

American history. And we'll hear that when your program comes out.

But in the meantime, you also do a similar thing around another divisive issue, and that is immigration. We do have a clip of you in your van - Van

in the van. Let's listen.


JONES: So, you both came to the United States when you're five years old?


JONES: That's amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually just became a citizen, a US citizen, and my first vote was for Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on the team, brother.

JONES: OK. So, we've got two kids from Mexico, basically the same age, one is now a citizen, one is a DREAMer and one voted for Donald Trump. Why

did you vote for Donald Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just look at what's going on right now. The economy is up. All the jobs are coming back to America. He's just the right guy.


AMANPOUR: So, it's really instructive that. What did you make of that, particularly for the culture right now that we are living in?

JONES: Well, it was such an amazing thing. My show is called "The Van Jones Show". We do it every other Saturday on CNN.

I go to these places, these iconic places. That was Houston where the storm had happened. The young DREAMer who was sitting there, he was a

paramedic, he saved lives, and then a week later he found out that DACA was being rescinded. His ability to stay in the country had been taken away by

President Trump. So, he a hero in the flood. And then, the next week, he is no longer welcome in the country.

Sitting next to his peer, who also came to the United States, but came legally and is now a citizen and they literally couldn't be any more


And I love doing that on my show, so that you take away some of these, oh, well, the white people think this, the black people think that. That may

be true in a big picture sense. But you always have people, who for whatever reasons just see things differently and the conversations get

very, very rich.

[14:10:15] What I learned in that exchange was that, for those young DREAMers, who came here because their parents brought them here, they feel

every much - every bit as American as any other kid who grew up here and they are fighting for their lives. I mean, they are really fighting for

their lives. They can't imagine being sent to a country they've never even visited.

And yet, their peer group who came here legally have a sense of, hey, listen, we did it the right way, you should've done it the right way and

it's a very fascinating conversation.

AMANPOUR: On a different issue, equally fascinating, you spoke to Jay-Z and you had a really nice long interview with him for the debut of your

program. And again, it's still talking about this kind of bring the other side in, don't try to nail them with your logic.

And I was fascinated to hear what he said to you about that instance where the former owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball said some racism stuff

and then had his team take it away from him. Listen to what Jay-Z said about it.


JAY-Z, RAPPER: There was a moment where Donald Sterling had been exposed as this racist on a private phone conversation that he was having and they

took his team from him. And it's like OK, that's one way to do it.

But another way would have been, let him have his team and then let's talk about it together, maybe some penalties, because once you do that, all of

the other closet racists just run back in the hole.

You haven't fixed anything. What you've done was spray perfume on a trash can. And what you do, you do that, the bugs come and you spray something

and then they come and then you create a super bug.


AMANPOUR: I mean, that pretty much is a brilliant description of what actually happens.

JONES: You've got to be pretty smart to make it to the top of any field. So, if you're the top of Hollywood or athletics or music or whatever it is,

there are not that many dumb people with no opinion, so you can get that far and have that staying power.

So, to have a Jay-Z, that was actually - from a Black Lives Matter perspective, which is all about, hey, we're going to call these people out,

blah, blah, blah, that was critical intervention.

He's saying maybe we're being a little bit too tough. Sometimes, we make it something worse than we expected. Those are the kinds of conversation,

surprising turns and wisdom, I hope we would make more and more room for.

Because you can't - listen, you get to disagree in a democracy. That's great. Dictatorship, you cannot disagree. Democracy, you get to disagree.

But you can't only disagree and fight and still have a country.


JONES: You've got to be able to disagree more constructively and find some areas of common ground sometimes, and that's what I'm up with the show.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And I tell you, you really have your work cut out for you, so does Jay-Z, so do all of us who believe that because the Russian bots

are now making it their business to create divisions even more profound than exists in the United States.

They've already leapt on to this latest shooting to create division. It is truly terrifying because its culture by algorithm. It's really terrifying.

So, I guess, I want to end on a bit of an up-note and ask you about "Black Panther". I mean, what an amazing film and a story to come out now of all

times. How did you react to it?

JONES: It's a revelation. The reason this film works - and there are some people who are not of African descent, who say, that was a good action

film, there's good stuff in there.

I don't understand why it's become literally a global hysteria. This is the biggest movie in the world. I think it's going to wind up being bigger

than "Star Wars". I mean, it's just - there's no letup in the after effects of this movie.

I've already seen it twice. Why? Fundamentally, entertainment is about wish fulfillment. And the big wish for most people of African descent is

that our continent had - what if we hadn't been invaded? What if we hadn't been degraded? What if we hadn't been enslaved? What kind of people would

we be? Would we be beautiful? Would we be dignified? Will we have technology?

And this movie delivers that. Inside of all the Marvel comics, superhero stuff, but you don't just have a black superhero, you have a black super

heroic nation that was never colonized in Africa. And it's so amazing to see dark skin lit properly and the accents, and yet it's - Wakanda is the

most technologically advanced country in the world. It brought people to tears.

The first time I saw it, I sat there in tears. It's an amazing breakthrough at the level of culture.

AMANPOUR: Van Jones, thank you so much.

JONES: Thank you.

[14:15:00] AMANPOUR: An amazing cultural moment indeed, and one no doubt recognized by my next guest, the formidable playwright and actress Anna

Deavere Smith.

She has spent decades chronicling American society. And her latest project is "Notes From The Field", a one woman play where she flawlessly transforms

into 18 real life people, delivering a work of art with powerful messages on race, education, poverty and criminal justice.

"Notes From The Field" premieres Saturday on HBO and Anna Deavere Smith joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Before I delve into your incredible work, can I just follow-up what you think probably from an African-American, but from a female

perspective of "Black Panther".

SMITH: I haven't had a chance to see it yet because I've been on this press tour. I feel very deprived.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, we will ask you when you have.

Now to "Notes From The Field". So, you spend, I think, over two years interviewing more than 200 people for this real tour de force and you spend

all this time onstage playing 18 different people.

What was the - if you could encapsulate what exactly was the mission.

SMITH: Well, the mission is to draw attention to the fact that we're losing some American children to the criminal justice system.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department released data to show that black, brown and Native American children in poverty are

disciplined more harshly than their middle class and wealthy counterparts. I now know this is also the case with poor whites.

And so, things that could have been considered mischief could get them expelled or suspended from school. And as the chief justice of the State

of California told me while I was on the road doing this work is that, when you're not in school, you're in trouble.

And so, they end up in juvenile hall and then into the cycles of mass incarceration that aren't good for them, aren't good for communities,

aren't good for families, aren't really good for the United States.

And I think that there's been a rise in understanding that we need to do something about mass incarceration, actually on both sides of the aisle,

Democrats and Republicans.

And really, what I'm trying to bring into the conversation is kids.

AMANPOUR: You talk about - at some point during the plays, you talk about the school to prison pipeline. I mean, it's stark, but it really does sum

up what you're talking about.

SMITH: Yes, exactly. I mean, that's exactly it. If you're not in school, you're in trouble.

Now, the only problem, I have to say, about that phrase, school to prison pipeline is it does seem to blame schools and teachers for something which

is, in the end, much more complicated, which has to do with poverty.


SMITH: And, frankly, if we -

AMANPOUR: Go ahead. Sorry.

SMITH: If we want schools to be the intervention, if we want schools to break the pipeline, then we have to really reinvent them and give schools

and teachers more resources.

AMANPOUR: Well, before I go to one of your clips, I want to ask you about that because I believe your mother was a schoolteacher and you have been

back to your neighborhoods where you grew up in Baltimore.

And you said it's just completely changed even in the couple of generations since you were at school.

SMITH: That's exactly right. Well, my mother was a teacher. Her friends were teachers. All my aunts were teachers. And that's actually, honestly,

what a black woman could do in those days with a college education.

But the good news was that they were really taking care of a whole generation of kids. And some of us ended up, for example, going to

different kinds of schools than their generation had and we had many more privileges. And I wouldn't be here today some doors hadn't opened. And I

believe that my mother and her friends and her generation were part of opening those doors.

And so, since education is in my DNA, for me, to hear that public schools in Baltimore and the kind of disarray that they are was a wake-up call for

me. And I see this project as my going home project.

I've made 18 plays this way, most things not about Baltimore at all. And then, I did end up in Baltimore right after the riot that followed the

beating and the death of Freddie Gray.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. Well, I'm going to get to Freddie Gray in a moment, but because we were just talking about schools, I want to first play this

unbelievable scene. In fact, the video went viral back in 2015 when this young girl, I think she was only 16 or so, was dragged from her chair as

she was sitting in class.

And it was really very, very dramatic. And you also interviewed her classmate Niya Kenny and you impersonate Niya and her observations. I

believe she's the one who took all this video.

So, one of your theatrical moments there is impersonating Niya. Let's watch.


SMITH, IMPERSONATING NIYA KENNY: Well, they was wrestling on the floor for, like, a minute. That's when I thought too she must be strong because

we talk about a ninth grader and he's a 300-pound bodybuilder. But I was like - you know, I was like, you know, is nobody going to help her,

somebody record this, put it on Snapchat.

And then, I'm asking (INAUDIBLE). I'm like, look, what it. And then, I turned (INAUDIBLE) and I said, look, you did this, like, what are you going

to do. I said, you didn't even have to call the administrator. And I was just like, oof.


AMANPOUR: It's really very powerful. And cast your mind back, not just to when you were delivering that speech, but what you felt when you saw that

video that had gone viral? What caused you to take this character?

SMITH: Well, I mean, I actually - I think all of us were just stunned when we saw a young Shakara being thrown like a rag doll across the floor of the

school. And many of these public schools now do have what's called school resource officers, police officers really, who take the place of what the

principal used to do in terms of discipline.

And we all saw that. We were all shocked. So, as I put together my route, I went to Northern California, Philly, Baltimore, South Carolina, I went to

Spring Valley High School. And then, I finally did find young Niya Kenny and I had an opportunity to sit with her and talk with her kid.

Now, this is a kid whose dream is to open a smoke shop and she finds herself in this particular moment in history standing up because that's a

part of who she is and says, what are you doing. When you see the video, you see the other kids just looking in their computers and they took her to

jail for it.

AMANPOUR: It's really remarkable. And I just want to now play the part where you are again impersonating the young man who actually recorded the

arrest of Freddie Gray.

And as we know, Freddie Gray died in police custody. But this is the young man who witnessed it.


SMITH, IMPERSONATING KEVIN MOORE: The screams just woke me out of my sleep. The screaming - I was, like, well, wow, what's all this screaming

about. And then, they came to me pull me up. Like, dude, they're tasering him, they're tasering him. Like, I jumped up, I put some clothes on and I

came out that way.

By then, they had him all bent up. He was face down on his stomach. He was handcuffed. And they had the heels of his feet almost to his back and

he was handcuffed and they had the knee in the napkin.

That pretty much explains the three cracked vertebrae, (INAUDIBLE) and 80 percent of his spinal cord being severed and stuff.

And then, I had to zoom in to get a closer look on his face. You can see the pain in the man's face. You know what I'm saying? And then, they

pulled around on Mount Street and they pulled him out again.

And they put leg shackles on him. You put leg shackles on a man that could barely (INAUDIBLE). That don't make sense to me. And I've never known an

on-the-beat officer to carry leg shackles in on his person in a van. That's something that you do when you're going to another compound or when

you're being transported to the court or something like that.


AMANPOUR: You really do transform yourself. I think you are that guy.

But how do you get to your audience to act and not just to care, not just to be moved by your art, but presumably you wanted to have a knock-on


SMITH: Absolutely. And, in fact, when this play was in the theater, I stopped the show in the middle and I asked the audiences to go out and talk

in small groups to facilitate a conversation. So, really, really confront that. You know, what am I going to do.

And we do have a moment in the country now that people have been more active than they have before, people taking to the streets. And I think

for the matter of race relations, proximity is always something that is very, very useful.

And we do live in silos. We do live in some ways in a segregated society. So, what we have to ask is a question of what kind of investment do we want

to make in our country. (INAUDIBLE) with who I perform in the movie says that.

Do we want to invest in education or do we want to invest in prisons? And we know now that the investment in prisons is just a very bad route to


And so, does it mean running for office? More people are getting involved in local politics. Does it mean for young people, who are in high school,

to learn something about kids across the city who may not be as well-off as they are? Wouldn't it be great if they came together and worked together,

so that they could get equal opportunity for all of them?

One of the people who I perform is Bree Newsome who many of your audience - much of your audience might remember climb the flagpole in Columbia, South

Carolina and took down the Confederate flag in response to Dylan Roof having gone into Mother Emanuel Church and killed those people while they

were praying under the banner of white supremacy and the Confederate flag.

[14:25:04] And there's a moment in that that the police officers, while Bree is on the flagpole, about to taser in which case she would've been

electrocuted and there is a white friend of hers at the bottom of that flagpole and he grabs the flagpole and he says, well, if you electrocute

her, if you taser her, you're going to have to taser me.

And so, I think this is one of those moments where we have to really come together.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's really powerful that because it is what we were just talking about with Van Jones as well, how to bring people together of

different colors, different parties, different creed.

And I want to - just in the idea of hearing the story and being heard, you say that some of Freddie Gray's friends saw the play, how did they react

when they saw you perform?

SMITH: Oh, well, I've been in the theater now for the greater part of my life. And one of the most extraordinary, beautiful things that happened

was that one of the people who was on my team, a young journalist from Baltimore, brought one of Freddie Gray's best friends to the theater when I

was performing the play in Baltimore.

And she said that it was the first time he'd ever seen a play and he cried and he cried and he could not be consoled. And he said that this was the

first time that he had been able to grieve the death of Freddie Gray. And, of course, she had to then drop him off on the corner where he'd be selling

drugs through the night.

So, that meant so much to me that a piece of theater could actually get to his heart, help him get to grieve, and sometimes we have to go through rage

to grief to transformation.

AMANPOUR: And, really, perhaps there is hope in the stories that you're telling and the stories that we're seeing playing out in the aftermath of

Parkland, Florida as well.

Anna Deavere Smith, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.