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The Trevor Noah Interview; Trevor Noah: "When Black People Achieve Justice, That Justice Is Felt By All". Aired 9:30-10p ET

Aired June 19, 2020 - 21:30   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, welcome to this 360 Special Report, The Trevor Noah Interview.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa and came to the United States in 2011. He replaced Jon Stewart as Host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central in 2015. And since then, he's made the show his, bringing a unique look at American politics and culture.


TREVOR NOAH, HOST OF THE DAILY SHOW, COMEDY CENTRAL: I know these comments about immigrants were upsetting to some people. But for me, as an African, there's just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home.

What I'm trying to say is Donald Trump is presidential. He just happens to be running on the wrong Continent. Now, in 2016, I say it's time to be bold once more and elect America's first African President.


NOAH: And when that happens, when a true African finally enters the Oval Office, the people of Africa will erupt into songs of praise. (FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Mexican rapists.


COOPER: In March, like all Late Night hosts, Noah began broadcasting from home. And, after the killing of George Floyd, Noah's shows have become even more personal and poignant. Nearly every night, these past few weeks, he's focused on race, inequality, and police reform.


NOAH: I don't know what made that video more painful for people to watch.

The fact that that man was having his life taken in front of our eyes, the fact that we're watching someone being murdered by someone whose job is to protect and serve, or the fact that he seems so calm doing it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Noah was born during Apartheid in South Africa. His mother was Black, his father, White. Noah's very existence was a crime. That experience and the transformation he's seen in South Africa is where we began our conversation.



COOPER: You know, one of the reasons, I really wanted to talk to you, particularly in this time, is that I've spent a fair amount of time in South Africa in the days before Mandela was elected.

I was able to be there on Election Day in Soweto, and which was one of the most extraordinary days of my life to witness.

NOAH: That's right.

COOPER: And have been gone back an awful lot, and it's a - it's a country I care a lot about, you - your former country, which has undergone this extraordinary transformation, a transformation that, you know, when I first went there in 1985, people said, "Oh, it's impossible. It's going to end up in a bloodbath."

NOAH: Right.

COOPER: And that has not happened. So, you are from a place where transformation and reform has taken place.

How - how optimistic are you that reform in police departments in America is possible, that reform in the inequalities in the healthcare system in America, in the education system, is actually possible?

NOAH: Well, here's one of the biggest things coming from South Africa taught me is that fixing the problem is the first step. You then have to deal with all of the effects that the problem created.

And so, I saw this first-hand. I come from a country where Black people were given the freedom that they deserved. But then they very quickly realized that freedom was the beginning. Freedom is where the work begins.

You now have to undo all of those years, all of those decades of systemic racism. You have to undo all of those years, where a giant chunk of the population wasn't afforded education, where a giant chunk of the population wasn't treated as human beings.

How do you catch all of those people up? And so, I always think that there's hope. I genuinely always think that there's hope. I think there's always work to be done, but there's always hope because we are where we are.

You know, I don't live in a world where I say "It's hopeless." I am where I am because of hope. COOPER: Well but--

NOAH: If I was hope - if I didn't - if I wasn't an optimist, then I would be denying my existence.

COOPER: Right. But even in - even in--

NOAH: Now, I was born to a Black mother and a White father in South Africa. And so, for me, I have to be optimistic. And I think America has an opportunity.

COOPER: And, as you've written about it, you were born at a time in South Africa where--

NOAH: Yes.

COOPER: --just being born to the family, to the - to a mother who is Black and a father who was White was illegal. And - and you actually--

NOAH: Right.

COOPER: --they used to hide you because of that.

NOAH: Right. And so, I - I've come from that world, you know? My mother suffered in ways that I can't even imagine, my family, my community, my country.

And what's interesting to me is, as any scholar of Apartheid would know, the stories are so similar to what's happening in America. The dynamics are different, but they're so similar.

And what gives me hope is the people who are in the streets. What gives me hope is seeing Black people, White people, Brown people, Asian people, everyone walking together, saying "Black lives matter." That gives me hope.

COOPER: You, you know, you come from a country, which, as we talked about, has gone through this extraordinary transformation.

One of the most moving things, I have seen, are some of the testimony that took place during The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, started back in 1995. And they were televised. I mean, people saw them around the world.


But, in South Africa, I mean, it transfixed the nation because you suddenly had, you know, White police officers who had been, you know, the torturers, and beating people, as part of the Apartheid system, you know, admitting to their crimes in some cases.

In some cases, they got immunity. In some cases, they didn't. I just want to show, for viewers in America, who don't know about this, just a clip from - from one of the hearings, which was broadcast, and then I want to talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it not true that you and Goosen assaulted me throughout the trip?

JEFFREY BENZIEN, APARTHEID-ERA POLICEMAN: If you say we assaulted you in the combi, then I would concede that in all probability I did.


COOPER: And I mean this went on and on and just it was extraordinary. And - and I'm wondering - I mean, is that a step toward overcoming this country's original sin?

NOAH: I don't think there's any perfect system, when you're trying to fix the legacy of racism.

What I do know is, as a South African and I can only speak for myself, and my family, and the people I experienced this with, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave us something that is so badly needed in the wake of a system that has oppressed people, and that is closure, the catharsis of the acknowledgement of what happened to you by the people that did it to you.

And what I've noticed in America is there is a certain reticence around accepting America's history. People feel like that if they acknowledge today, what happened 400 years ago, they then have to somehow pay a price now for what - when, in fact, that's not the truth.

The acknowledgement of that helps everybody move forward. When you agree on how people got to where they got to today, you can then have a better understanding of how to get them where they need to be.

But until you do that, you're not dealing from an agreed place. You're not - you're not dealing from an agreed history.

And that - that, for me, is a fundamentally dangerous place to be, because how do we know where we're going, if we can't agree on where we've been? And so, in many ways, that's what America has been forced to go through in an ugly way right now.

Cellphone cameras have brought you a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you know. And, right now, there hasn't been reconciliation.

But the truth is definitely coming out, because, for many years, Black Americans have said, "Hey, I'm living in a world where I might just be walking, I might just be driving, I'm just being Black, and the police are treating me in an inferior way to my fellow White countrymen."

And for so many years, people said what? "This is insane. This is impossible. This is not true." And I can believe that many people didn't believe it because they had never seen a policemen do such a thing.

But as videos and as cameras have become, as ubiquitous as they are, it's - it's becoming that Commission. It's becoming - it's becoming a world where people are forced to see the truth of the America that they live in.







COOPER: I'm always interested in how we see things through our own lenses. We see things through different lenses, whether it's lenses that were based on where we're born, or the color of our skin, our socioeconomic status.

You know, some people see the huge numbers of protesters in the streets. They see it as overwhelmingly peaceful, which it is, and an opportunity for change. Others focus on they see looting and rioting, and that defines how they see everything.

And you talked a little bit about this on your program. I just want to play something that you said about - about looting.


NOAH: Maybe it would help you, if - if you think about that - that unease that you felt watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for Black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day because that's fundamentally what's happening in America. Police in America are looting Black bodies.


COOPER: I wonder if you'd talk a little bit more about that because I think it's an - it's an image that I think that startles some people.

NOAH: Here's the thing I think a lot of people don't understand.

Black Americans and people who are marching in the streets, all of these activists and organizers, when they're fighting, when they're out there in the streets, what they're protesting for, is law and order. They're fighting for an equal application of law and order.

And I think that's what a lot of people don't realize. A lot of people see a video of Target being looted, or a Wendy's being burned down, and - and I understand why that freaks you out, because none of us wants to live in that society.

I don't want to live in a world where things are being burnt down. Nobody does. But what do you think it feels like to be a person, who lives in a world, when the people who are tasked with protecting and serving you, do neither of those things?

And so, if police are not following the laws, and if police are the people who are meant to be enforcing the laws, that is a - that's a fundamental breakdown in the contract that people have with their society.

And so, I think a lot of the time people don't ask why. People go "Is looting good, or is looting bad? Is rioting good? Is rioting bad? Is protesting good, or is protesting bad?" But they don't go why. Why is this happening?

And so - and so what - what really gets me is, is when I - when I see like an argument that that sometimes people don't look at holistically, I see people say, "Oh, yes. But, you know, George Floyd had a - had a criminal history. You know, George Floyd had an issue with drugs. George Floyd," and I go, "Yes, but understand what you're saying right now."

So many people say George Floyd died because he had a criminal history. But I don't think enough people are looking at this holistically, and asking themselves this question.


Why do you know that he had a criminal history? Because he paid the price for the crimes that he committed, right? That's why we say that somebody has the history because they've done the - you've done the time. That is the purpose of what you've done is you've done the time.

He didn't die because of his criminal history. He died because the man who had his knee on his neck, for that 8 minutes and 46 seconds, never paid the price for his history of infringements. He never paid the price for the things that he did wrong.

The reason George Floyd is dead is because the person who had the power to put his knee on his neck never paid a price for that 18 things or 20 things that we know about, from his record that got him to that moment in time.

And the differences in that video is you have two men, two men in particular, where one has been forced to pay the price for every transgression that they've made against society and one has not. And because of that, the other has lost their life.

COOPER: It's also you hear a lot, and, you know, use the - the phrase you hear sometimes, "Well, if - if, you know, he had a criminal history, or if he - he resisted arrest, and if he hadn't done that, none of this would have happened."

And then, you know, another incident occurs, and it's - it's Breonna Taylor asleep--

NOAH: Right.

COOPER: --in an apartment, and it's a no-knock warrant, door busts in, they weren't there for her, and she gets shot and killed. And, you know, and then it's, "Well, you know, the kid shouldn't have been in the park with a"--

NOAH: Right.

COOPER: --"with an air rifle," or I can't remember the particular situation of, you know, a toy handgun or a toy air rifle.

NOAH: Yes, Tamir Rice, yes, yes.

COOPER: Yes. After a while, you lose - after a while, you run out of possible explanations.

NOAH: I don't think we run out of possible explanations. I think we avoid the most obvious explanation, and that is--


NOAH: --that Black people are seen as an inherent threat. And the darker your skin, the darker your skin, the more threatening you seem. The bigger you are, the more threatening you seem.

And I think people forget - people always focus on the people who have died, which we always have to do. We have to think about all those names, the Walter Scotts, the Tamir Rices. We have to think about the Breonna Taylors. We have to think about the Sandra Blands.

But I think people forget that people are fighting for Black lives. People are fighting for the Black people, who are still alive, so that that doesn't happen to them.

You know, when you say that to me, and I like that you bring that up, is "The ifs, the ifs, the ifs, the ifs, if you weren't this, if you weren't this, if you weren't this, if you weren't this," there is one common thread, and that is that the people are Black.







COOPER: You compared our current situation to, you talk about dominos, for the kind of a domino effect of one thing happening, another, in a very short period of time.

The video of Amy Cooper in the park calling the police on a Black man who was bird-watching in Central Park and--

NOAH: Right. COOPER: --and the particular verbiage that she used, I thought, was very illuminating, about she - she said to him, "I will tell them"--

NOAH: Yes.

COOPER: --and I'm paraphrasing. "I will tell them an African American man"--

NOAH: "That an African American man is threatening my life. I will tell them that an African American man is threatening my life." That's what she said.

COOPER: Yes. Which is not saying - it's not saying, you know, I'll tell them you're threatening, you know, I'll - I'll tell them you're threatening - you're threatening me. It's "I will tell them an African American man is threatening me."

You know, it's - I don't know. I assume she was thinking - she knew what she was saying.

NOAH: I don't even - I don't even assume it.

I think that was one of the most powerful moments that we've seen on camera because oftentimes we aren't given a glimpse into the mind of these people who use the police as a weapon or as a tool to - to dole out justice, in their opinion, or to dole out revenge against Black people.

We're not in their minds, you know. Whether it's the "Permit Pattys" or the "Karens" as they call, we're not in their minds.

But in this instance, in this instance, I'm genuinely grateful that on camera, Christian Cooper was able to catch Amy Cooper explicitly saying what is going on.

"I will use how the police react to you, and your skin color, against you. I will tell them - I won't tell them I'm in danger. I won't tell them that I'm afraid. I won't tell them that there's a man.

No, no, no. I will tell them exactly what I know they need to hear to approach the situation in a way that will give you, that will deal to you, the most egregious bodily harm possible."

That was a threat.

But, in that moment, she showed that rarely sometimes it's just going "I know how the structures of power work in this world. I understand systemic racism, and how it works. And I'm going to use it against you because you dared to challenge me for breaking the rules."

COOPER: What's interesting, when you compare it to the, you know, the woman in the park with the - the dog, she had - I mean, picking up the phone, and calling the police, there was not an ounce of doubt, in her mind, how that would go. I mean--

NOAH: Right. COOPER: --she had complete confidence in the police, and the fact that there's such a division in how, you know, my experience as growing up with the police, are different than, you know, Mr. Cooper in the park's experience with the police.

NOAH: I think - I think that's - that's the disconnect.

And that's - that's the awakening that America is going through, has been going through, and maybe will continue to go through is that there are White people in America, who have woken up to the reality that the police they know are not the police that Black people know.


And - and I found it - I've genuinely found it so inspiring to see White people say "No. Hey, I genuinely didn't know this was happening. And now I'm seeing this. And the more I'm seeing it, I'm like this - this is insane. I - this is crazy," because it happens to us as human beings.






NOAH: The one thing I would ask people to try and do is this. Ask yourself this question. When were laws ever written in America that favored Black people, that hurt White people?

And not fictitious examples, because I know people will try and think of "Oh, in schools and affirmative," no, real, real examples, because we've seen time and time again that when Black people achieve justice, that justice is felt by all.

When police stop shooting Black people, when police stop treating Black people as less than, there are so many White poor Americans who will not be treated the same way because these rules will affect all police.

And I think that's what people need to realize is that this is about everybody winning. "Black lives matter" is people saying, "Hey, we want you to fight for Black people's rights. And you know what? You're going to benefit from that as well," because nobody will live in a society where people are being killed for the color of their skin.

Nobody will be having to deal with the trauma of seeing these images on their phones. No one will have to deal with the people who are protesting for rights because now they have been given them, and the society is more just.

COOPER: Trevor Noah, thank you very much. Really appreciate it. NOAH: Thank you so much, Anderson.



COOPER: Trevor Noah, from The Daily Show, that's our conversation tonight. Thanks for watching.