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Fri October 4, 2013
New York Road Rage Video Raises Difficult Questions
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. In New York, Pablo Torre, senior writer with ESPN. Corey Dade is a contributing editor to The Root. That's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African-Americans. He's here with me in our Washington, D.C. studios. And with us from Austin, where he writes for the National Review magazine and works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mario Loyola. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we doin'?
COREY DADE: What's up?
PABLO TORRE: Que pasa, mi gentes?
DADE: Glad it's Friday.
MARIO LOYOLA: What up, dog?
IZRAEL: It feels like a family reunion. There's so many people we haven't had in the shop in a while.
MARTIN: I know. So glad to see you all.
MARTIN: Hear you all.
TORRE: Glad to be back.
IZRAEL: Well, check this out, check this out. It's kind of - we kind of got to get a rough start because we're talking about two tragic situations this week that didn't seem to offer a lot of good options, right, Michel?
MARTIN: Yeah, that is true, Jimi. So let's start with what happened in the capital yesterday. A 34-year-old woman, who's now been identified as Miriam Carey, reportedly tried to ram a barrier with her car near the White House. She took off. The police gave chase, which ended near the capital where she was shot and killed. She had her 1-year-old child in the car with her, who is OK. And information about Carey is still coming out. Her mother told reporters that she'd been suffering from postpartum depression, and her employer - she was a dental hygienist - had said that her behavior had become very erratic in recent months and they were very worried about her. So, that's what happened.
IZRAEL: Yes. Thank you for that, Michel. You know, people are giving props to the Capitol police for acting swiftly. and that's positive, you know, 'cause there's really no time to be tactical in that kind of situation where you believe the president or other people may be in danger. So you have to - you can't - there's no Monday morning quarterbacking for that kind of thing. You know, so - but some people are questioning if Carey's health - Carey's death could've been avoided, and whether police were too quick to shoot. Me - you know, Corey Dade, I say no, they weren't. But you're in D.C., so tell me what's the word.
DADE: Yeah, I'm here in D.C. and no one is second-guessing that. I mean, at this point, we are three weeks removed from the Navy Yard shooting. You know, for the rest of America, they need to understand here in D.C., these things are affecting people's everyday lives. We lived this stuff beyond the shenanigans that happen in Congress and in the White House. We live this everyday. So, you know, I have family and friends who worked either in the Navy Yard or next door in the Department of Transportation.
I have friends who work right there in the capitol. So they are directly affected by this, and no one's questioning whether or not she should have been shot or not. You know, the - it's just a horrible tragedy. And now they're finding - back in her apartment in Connecticut - they're finding antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs that she apparently was taking. So this is just a horrible tragedy all the way around.
LOYOLA: Yeah, I rarely question, you know, police acting according to procedure, but I wonder if these procedures are a little bit too, you know, precautionary. I mean, Americans have gotten into a habit of imposing lots of precautionary measures, no matter how much they cost. And I just think - I wonder if cooler heads could have prevailed in some - one cops could've said, look, this looks like a woman having a nervous breakdown. On the other hand, you know, it's hard to second-guess it. A car is a deadly weapon, and she was using it like one, so.
IZRAEL: Yeah. There was no time for...
MARTIN: I think - you know, I think he raises an important point, though. I mean, I think he raises an important point 'cause when you're in an environment where people sort of - where security is kind of the first thing that people think of, that's kind of the default is that, you know. I do - I mean, look, in the spirit of full-disclosure, you all know I come from a police family. I have six police officers in my family...
MARTIN: ...And I always think, what would it be if they were in that situation? They could see that there - I mean, they say they didn't know there was a baby in the car - she was in a car seat - but they knew eventually that there was one.
MARTIN: And you can imagine what those officers are feeling now.
DADE: Yeah. Yeah.
IZRAEL: ...I take your point because...
IZRAEL: ...My very best friend in the world is a police officer. So I take your point, but I'm mostly concerned about him. And also, a civilian who's whipping around a three-ton car at 40, 30 miles an hour, I don't know what the options are exactly. And there's no time to do a Dr. Phil intervention like, I wonder what's on her mind. No, no. No, no.
IZRAEL: I mean, you got to react quickly.
MARTIN: Well, let's think about that. Well, let's think about that. I mean, that in part, there is a difference between the Army and the police. I mean, the police are civilians who are sworn to protect us. The Army is different. Their job is to inflict maximum damage on the enemy. There's a difference. So...
IZRAEL: Then there's the Secret Service...
IZRAEL: ...Who was on hand...
IZRAEL: ...Who had to protect the president.
MARTIN: I think - yeah, I think our - well, go-ahead, Pablo.
TORRE: No, I was just going to say, driving a car into a White House checkpoint, at any time, let alone after the Navy Yard shootings, I think is just - it's one of those things where you, unfortunately, cannot be surprised at the outcome. The optics - to use a political term - as Mario referred to, are bad. I mean, insofar as there could ever be a scale of good and bad here it being a mother with a child, certainly. That I think is the factor that makes us sort of - even consider second-guessing this. But at the same time, I mean, to me, I think the big take away here is the mental illness angle. It's the idea that if this woman had erratic behavior at work and at home - and they're not blaming anybody who knows her obviously - but certainly, I think mental health awareness is never something that you can beat the drum too much for.
IZRAEL: Amen, brother.
MARTIN: It's interesting, we were just talking about this in connection with the Navy Yard shooting. We were just talking about this like, what can you do if someone you're connected to - an adult, particularly - is showing signs of erratic behavior and seems - showing signs of mental illness? What can you do?
TORRE: Right. Erring...
TORRE: ...On the side of the conversation is always, in my opinion, preferable to saying nothing.
MARTIN: Well, then let's talk about that other situation that's also - poses dilemmas I think for many people. Many people don't know how they would feel about that.
MARTIN: And, Jimi, that was that situation between - in New York - between the motorcycles and the driver of the Range Rover. By now, most people have seen the video, thanks to a helmet camera. But the incident is still under investigation because - the question still becomes, what happened before and after the exchange? And what you know, if you've seen it, is that the driver of the Range Rover - a man named Alexian Lien - bumped into a biker on a New York highway. Lien stops, but then bikers circle his SUV, so he takes off. A couple of bikers were hit, and then other bikers chased after him, stopping the SUV again, and they drag him out of the car and beat him. So...
IZRAEL: Yeah, it's really, really unfortunate because there are a lot of reports - CNN is reporting, that, yeah, that the bikers had just kind of stopped 'cause, you know, 'cause there was an accident. And Lien looked like he was leaving the scene of an accident. And it just - this whole thing kind of spiraled out of control. His wife and 2-year-old child were in the car. And his wife said he drove away from the bikers the first time because they feared for their lives. You know, but here's what Miss Diana Mieses, the wife of the biker who was hit, this is what she said about the situation. Drop that tape.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
DIANA MIESES: When you look at the video, you can see he's running over something. It's not just a motorcycle, it's a human being that was under there. Whatever he did, he got scared. He went and peeled off, and he paralyzed my husband on the way.
IZRAEL: Wow, thank you for that. You know, so Mieses, she wants Lien charged, claiming the bikers are the victims. You know, when I saw this tape, I was reminded - and this is all jokes aside. I was reminded of the scene from "Color Purple" where Ms. Millie is having trouble with the car. And out of fear of all the black men that have gathered around her to offer her some assistance, she starts going back and forth. And to me, when I look at this situation, I see - this is just my opinion - I see Mr. Lien kind of reactionary, having been surrounded by, I mean, what is, obviously, almost - it seems like an acre of bikers. And he reacts for what he believes, you know, to be instinctively. Like, I don't know these people. I could be in trouble. I've just hit someone. I've just tapped somebody's bike, and I'm at the scene of an accident. I'm going to do what I feel like I have to do.
MARTIN: So what's your point here? Is it - you're saying that you think that he was reacting to the bikers or to the race of the bikers? That's what I'm wondering.
IZRAEL: I think this is one of those cases - I'm fond of saying that, you know, race complicates matters. You know, I don't think that race is - I don't think is a strictly black and white conversation, but I do believe that the race of - being surrounded by 300-odd black bikers, anybody would probably be fearful. So I think race definitely complicates the matter.
MARTIN: ...What about you?
MARTIN: Yeah, you're in New York.
IZRAEL: You're in New York.
MARTIN: What do you think?
TORRE: Yeah. I will be driving that stretch of road tomorrow, and I do quite frequently. I would say first off that the fact that there is a roving gang of bikers, period - and, I mean, an acre is about right. I mean, if you watch the video - and the fact that there's a video of this is just such an insanely perfect emblem of where we are in our society...
TORRE: ...That there's a helmet cam of all this happening. The fact that there's a roving gang of bikers is troubling to begin with, and...
MARTIN: But why are they a gang? What makes them a gang?
TORRE: No, it's literally...
MARTIN: Is it?
TORRE: ...A collection of...
IZRAEL: Yeah, they're called the Hollywood Stuntz.
TORRE: ...People riding together with a purpose and with a - under a common, you know, association.
MARTIN: If they were using regular two-wheeled bikes - I don't know what you call a bike that's not a motorbike.
IZRAEL: You mean bicycles.
MARTIN: A bicycle. Would they be a gang? I mean, I see groups of guys riding their bicycles in the park every Saturday.
TORRE: No. Well, I think...
MARTIN: Is that a gang?
TORRE: I don't even mean that in a racial way. I think being in a motorcycle gang is just a term that's applied to the Hells Angels, who were, obviously, very white in a lot of respects. And certainly, in this case, I think with a group that's certainly colored, or at least is various shades of brown and black. We don't exactly know who everybody is with the helmets on. But all of that said, the fact that there is this collection, this acre of motorcycles surrounding cars is ridiculous to begin with.
And the fact that something horrible - and I obviously feel tremendously horrible for the guy who was paralyzed - but the fact that they were all in that situation and something like this happened cannot be surprising. What I would - where I would put the most blame, though, honestly, is where - I mean, and we're talking about police - where in Mike Bloomberg's New York is the police department? Because this video went on for a really, really long time, and I did not see a single siren or flashing light.
LOYOLA: Well, I just want to give a shout out to all of those people in law school who are going to see this on their final exam because this is, like...
LOYOLA: ...A perfect law school exam question.
MARTIN: Of what?
LOYOLA: And the question is...
MARTIN: That's a good - yeah, what is the question?
LOYOLA: Well, I mean, look, it would be tortes and it would be all about contributory negligence and foreseeable consequences and proximate cause. I mean, the basic question is, you have the initial negligence of the initial motorcyclist who slowed down and then, foreseeably, you know, getting the Land Rover to bump into him. Everything that happened after that, was it foreseeable or who contributed negligence? Who was criminally negligent?
And, I mean, you could spend the entire - you could spend an entire hour in a law school exam going through the analysis of this chain of events. But I think, you know, if you're in a gang of bikes and you start harassing and intimidating someone in a car, someone's going to get hurt.
MARTIN: What I'm asking is, is it inherently intimidating that they were on bikes and that there were many of them? You see what I'm saying? Would a bicycle have been - if there were a group of guys on bicycles - 300 bicycles - is it the motorcycle that makes it inherently intimidating? Why? Why are they inherently intimidating?
DADE: I think it's all of the above, yeah.
IZRAEL: Well, Michel, they were doing motorcycle tricks that were...
IZRAEL: ...Intended to intimidate drivers, and put them in close proximity to cars - e.g., the trick that he was trying, where he was bumping the front bumper of the car...
LOYOLA: That's right.
IZRAEL: ...You know, I mean, you're not going to do that on a Huffy, you know. You're not going to do that on a Schwinn, you know.
MARTIN: But I'm asking, were they intended to intimidate drivers or were they intended to show off?
MARTIN: And is there a difference?
LOYOLA: I think it's both. I can't derive any other logical reason...
LOYOLA: ...Why you would be riding around like that.
DADE: When you're driving...
MARTIN: It's Corey.
DADE: ...A vehicle, especially if you're on a freeway or a highway, when bikes, groups of bikers come - of any shade, of any type of bike, it doesn't matter - when they come close to your vehicle, when they're zooming past you - like they were in this case - the automatic reaction for a vehicle driver, for a car driver, is to get nervous, period. And they were weaving in and out of traffic. They did cut the driver off - the Range Rover off - and then back up and slowed down. And they created a circumstance where this driver's going to get nervous. And once the driver's nervous, especially driving a big car like a Range Rover...
MARTIN: With your family in the car.
DADE: ...All kinds of bad judgment can happen.
LOYOLA: With your daughter and your wife. Yeah.
MARTIN: Yeah. OK.
DADE: Before the circumstances went awry, the circumstances - and first of all, I don't know about a gang or anything, this could be just an affinity group. We have affinity groups that, you know, all own Cadillac's. You have affinity groups that all own, you know, IROC-Zs. I mean, that's not unusual. But anytime you have motorcyclists in this group, in tight quarters, on a highway, at high speeds, they do intimidate vehicle drivers, period.
MARTIN: Well, I wanted to hear the guys' perspectives, that's why we talk about it. I appreciate it. We're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable with writer Jimi Izrael, lawyer and commentator, Mario Loyola, journalist Corey Dade, sportswriter Pablo Torre. Can we just do a quick check-in on the government shutdown? I just feel that it's important to ask all of you about. And I just want to know...
DADE: Is that still happening?
MARTIN: Yes, it is. Who's the hero and who's the zero in this, Corey?
DADE: Well, you know, I will say, for a hero, I have a tie. Well, zero - let me back up. The zero is John Boehner. You know, he just punked out. He can't get his caucus to do what is necessary. He doesn't want a shutdown, but he couldn't get his caucus behind it. So, you know, he's a - everyone talks about lame-duck presidency. At this point, he's kind of a lame-duck speaker, all right. Now, on the hero side, I will say that there's Obama. But really, my big hero...
MARTIN: All right.
DADE: ...Is Rand Paul.
DADE: Rand Paul. You know why?
DADE: Because he hates Obamacare just as much Ted Cruz, but he is staying clear of this effort to tack Obamacare to the shutdown. He's called for a clean resolution because he wants to run for president in 2016. He's being very smart.
MARTIN: And he'd like there to be a government to run for, right? To head up, right?
DADE: That's right.
MARTIN: OK. Super Mario, what about you? Who's the hero, who's the zero in this?
LOYOLA: Well, my hero is the backroom deal that is going to get us out of this situation, and I hope that Americans are requiring a new appreciation for backroom deals because they're much better than the schoolyard spat where nobody's backing down. But I mean, look, the president's - what is the president's position? That he's not going to negotiate with the Republican House until they turn into Democrats? I mean, I don't think that's reasonable either, and you know.
LOYOLA: It's one half of the government. I mean, it's one half of Congress. Elections have consequences. I think Obama's got to negotiate with the Republicans here.
MARTIN: Pablo, what about you?
TORRE: I'm inclined to say that - I mean, the losers are - I mean - it's everybody who elected this Congress. And I think the idea - I think the gut-check moment has arrived many times before, but now it's kind of like, if you're not going to get outraged about this happening, and if you're not going to do anything or talk to your representative or vote a certain way the next time, then what are you waiting for? And if we don't do it again - if this happens again and we do the same thing, who else do we have to blame but the people who elected these people?
MARTIN: Jimi, what about you?
IZRAEL: Michel, there are no heroes, too many zeros to count. You know, I said a few weeks ago that if we had a shutdown, this would be a failure of government, also a failure of leadership. You know, we all lose in this. You know, and this is, like, an American embarrassment. I just - if I could, I'd put a bag over my head and be like, you know, for shame. But, you know, I do love this country.
TORRE: You're the Brown's fan on America, Jimi. Is that what you're saying?
IZRAEL: Maybe. Although, I'm not fair-weather like Cleveland Brown's fans. Sorry, Cleveland. But, yeah, like that, like that.
MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, I just wanted to take a minute, if I may, gentlemen, to recognize a woman who is - I know this is the Barbershop - but I did want to take a moment to recognize a woman who was very influential for journalists of color and many women in the field. Lee Thornton was the first black host of All Things Considered on this network. She was the first black woman to cover the White House for a major news network. She worked for CBS beginning in 1977, and she died last week at the age of 71. And as you know - I may have mentioned - I also served as a White House correspondent, and she definitely made a mark on my life.
She was certainly a role model for many of us, not just as women, not just people of color, but just as an elegant, forceful, caring person, and went on to have an important career as a professor of journalism. And I just wanted to just take a moment to thank her and to remember her, and to say that our thoughts are with her family. So that's all we have time for today. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root, with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Jimi Izrael's a writer, adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College, with us from WCBN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre's a senior writer for ESPN, with us from our bureau in New York. And Mario Loyola is chief counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, also a columnist for National Review, with us from Austin. Gentlemen, thank you all so much.
LOYOLA: Thank you.
DADE: Yes, sir.
TORRE: Chao, chao.
MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.