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Does 'Rich Bigot' Sterling Deserve A Break?


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; Christopher Ave, political and national editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is with us from St. Louis Public Radio; in our Washington, D.C., studios, TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar; and Corey Ealons was nice enough to stick around. He's contributing - he is a communications adviser for - to the Obama administration former, now a senior vice president at VOX Global. We thought we could really use the insights of a communications adviser for the next story that we want to talk about so Corey, thanks for sticking around.

COREY EALONS: Good to be here.

MARTIN: Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, and thank you, Michel. Good to hear your voice. Fellas, welcome to the shop. How are we doing?



EALONS: Doing great.

IZRAEL: OK, I can't tell. Come on now.

AVE: Oh, it's good. It's all good. It's all good.

IZRAEL: It is all good. Everything is good. So let's get it started.

MARTIN: Except for...

IZRAEL: Well, right.


IZRAEL: The fallout continues for LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA this week after recordings of some racist comments he made went public. League Commissioner Adam Silver's moving ahead on efforts to push him to sell the team. Here's what basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had to say about Sterling. Drop that tape, please.


KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: There is no place for people with these types of attitudes. There's no place for them in public discourse. We don't want to hear that. We are a lot better than bigotry, and just the whole denial of equal opportunity that Mr. Sterling - he epitomizes it.

IZRAEL: Yes, yes. But Kareem "the Dream" had more to say. He wrote an op-ed arguing that people should be outraged that Sterling's private conversations were made public. And in my opinion, we buried the lead here. The fact that - listen, I woke up this morning, and it was still America. You know, you get to be rich and bigoted in America.

I don't know where you guys live, but from where I sit, it's OK for your views about race and gender and sexuality, politics to get time to mature. And you get time to consider your opinion. You get time to go through a period where you're intolerant, and then you get to grow up a little bit. And I think what happened to Donald Sterling is abhorrent. And it isn't - I don't care that he's a racist. If everybody that you work for that gets fired that's a racist, you might not have a job.

MARTIN: So he should keep the team?

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: He should be able to keep the team?

IZRAEL: Absolutely. And I'm disgusted - I'm disgusted that we're trying to push him out.

MARTIN: You know what? Can I just say this? I don't believe that you don't care that he's a racist.

IZRAEL: I don't.


IZRAEL: I don't, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: All right.

OMAR: It's a - this is Ammad - it's a fair enough sentiment. But I think that the thing is when the other NBA owners say this is affecting their bottom line, it's affecting their wallet - sponsors are bailing; there's a revenue-sharing agreement; players were apparently going to boycott not only the Clippers games, but all of the other games on that day when the announcement came in.

So in theory, yeah, you're allowed to say these things in America. But when you're in a business where other people are getting hurt, I think that's what the reaction was. It was a move by the league to protect their financial business interests. So I think that's the calculus you're looking at.

IZRAEL: True that.

MARTIN: Corey, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Corey, help me out here. It's not like he said it over the NBA - the loudspeaker. I mean, he was talking to his side piece. I mean, what's the deal?


EALONS: No, I think...

AVE: What's the problem with side piece?

EALONS: ...What was just said previously is exactly right. There are two things here. There's the moral issue associated with this as well as the legal implications associated with this, right? The moral absolute - I mean, his feelings are reprehensible; there's no doubt about that. What he said is reprehensible. For that, based on the NBA Constitution, he should be bounced; no doubt about it. And Silver did exactly what he needed to do - sent a very strong message.

Now, as far as what you're talking about, Jimi, the legal piece of this, that's going to play out in court. This guy is a lawyer. He's a billionaire. He's very litigious. So this is not over by any means, but I think that Silver did the exact right thing because you can't have something like this hanging over the NBA playoffs, which are the most lucrative and high-profile moment of any NBA season. So they had to deal with this, and I think they dealt with it in the right way.

MARTIN: Christopher, what do you think?

AVE: Well, I agree with that. I think this is a horrific thing that he said and that he has a right to say it, but he does not have the right to own an NBA team. But my takeaway from this is more personal. I think that if you tape-recorded me in my worst moments of my 50 years and then broadcast them on NPR or TMZ or whatever, you know, I would be horrified. You would probably also be horrified.

IZRAEL: Right.

AVE: So to me...

OMAR: I denounce these hypothetical comments.

AVE: ...Here's the bottom line: It's time for, I think, us all to reflect on what we really feel deep down about other - however you define other - people, and repent. Now, you don't have to be a person of faith to understand repent. Repent is see evil, turn away from it. To me, that is the important thing here. Wouldn't it be great if this moment in our country was a moment where we all did that; where we repented and we tried to find some redemption? Condemn - condemn him. Yes, condemn Sterling. But let's add some confession in there, too.

MARTIN: It is interesting 'cause that was - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's op-ed made a similar point, though in a different way. I mean, he was kind of outraged with all the outrage. I mean, he said he was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record; we did nothing.

Suddenly, he says he doesn't want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram, and we bring out the torches and ropes. Shouldn't we have all called for his resignation back then? And he also does make the point that Jimi makes, that he feels the way in which this thing became public is also something that needs to be condemned more strongly. Although, you know, I'd assume that there's some legal avenue that he would, you know, pursue and that is being pursued, but I don't know. I mean, you make it so...

IZRAEL: You get to be evil in your house. In the privacy of your own home, you get to be evil in your house. You get to sort those ideas out, and you get to grow a little. How else is that going to happen?

MARTIN: Well, it's an interesting question, though, because a lot of people consider the locker room their house. And we're coming to a place of saying that people aren't allowed to say whatever they want to say in the locker room. Right?

IZRAEL: We just don't want to live in a country where people are walking around playing gotcha politics, trying to get you on tape saying something, you know, indiscriminate. I mean, you're going to be in - we're all going to be in a lot of trouble if that happens.

AVE: Well, that's the point, though, isn't it? Because you record any of us, and we're going to be in trouble for something.

IZRAEL: Right.

AVE: And to me, as I say, it's time to look at myself and to try to figure out, wow, am I really where I want to proclaim I am on - you know, in the public?

MARTIN: So just two more - just two quick points, just in this interest of fairness. No. 1, V. Stiviano, the woman in question, her lawyer denies that she is a mistress. That's No. 1. And No. 2, we still don't know how this tape became public. That still has not been confirmed. So I just think it has to be said. I mean, that's - people are assuming that she is the avenue by which this was distributed and that she was, in fact, kind of making a case on this tape, but we still don't know and until we know, we have to say that we don't know. That's the only thing I want to say.

And if you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael; Christopher Ave, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Corey Ealons, senior vice president of VOX Global, he's a former Obama administration communications adviser; and NPR's Ammad Omar. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. We're going to be shifting gears to a tough topic - whether Oklahoma's botched execution of a convicted murderer could change the death penalty debate, Michel.

MARTIN: And I want to pause to say, you know, we covered this subject earlier in the week, and this is a difficult conversation so I'm not sure everybody wants to hear this. I'm just being - be advised of that, that there may be something that you might find very difficult to listen to. This is about the case of Clayton Lockett. He was sentenced to death for the murder of a young woman in 1999. His execution - this planned execution did not go as planned. This is what Katie Fretland, a freelance reporter and witness, said happened just minutes after Lockett was declared unconscious.


KATIE FRETLAND: He began to strain and try to like, lift up off of the gurney. He lifted his head and shoulders. He grimaced. He tried to speak. He groaned, "man." At that point, the warden decided to lower the blinds.

MARTIN: So the execution was stopped, but he died of a heart attack about 10 minutes later. And what has been determined is that the drug combination had not been used before - that specific one. Reports today suggest that authorities did a search for almost an hour for a suitable vein for the injections, so there were other problems as well. So Jimi?

IZRAEL: Thank you for the details of that, Michel. I heard about this, and I think everybody in the Barbershop knows I'm a big crime and punishment kind of guy but, I mean, this is something akin to torture. And if we're going to be - if we're going to do this, then to the extent that this kind of thing can be done right, it needs to be done right. But what this gentleman went through is awful, awful. Corey?

EALONS: Well, I think it says a lot that the drugs that have been approved by the Supreme Court to conduct legal deaths like this in prisons across the country are no longer available. Drug companies won't even sell them, so the cocktail that they were using in Oklahoma is some - it's an experiment. And so basically, this guy - and quite frankly, the guy who was also scheduled to be executed on that night, they were human guinea pigs.

And just the week before, the Supreme Court in Oklahoma said, you know what? I think we need to take a minute to figure out if we got this right. And the governor insisted on moving forward with these executions because I guess she was trying to define herself as a law and order governor. But as you said, the way this guy died is absolutely horrific.

And here's the thing that I think is hanging out there as well - like you said, after we realized what this gentleman was going through, they closed the curtain. And so we - they say he died of a heart attack, but we really don't know.

IZRAEL: Oh, my.

MARTIN: Christopher?

IZRAEL: Christopher?

AVE: Yeah, that's a great point. You know, I am one of these folks that is - maybe one of the few who's not firmly in the pro or anti-death-penalty camp. I'm very torn by this, but I will say this: When an execution is botched this badly and, you know, there's these allegations that this guy suffered and suffered and - it makes me - it makes the whole thing even more distasteful.

What it forces us to do is look at the institution of the death penalty and really confront the question, do we, as a civilized people, want to continue doing that? I mean - now, I will say this, on the other hand, I have a good friend who on Facebook this week went out there and said, look, you know that woman that he shot and then let his friends bury alive? You know, she suffered, too. And to me, you know, that resonates with me. So I'm still...

MARTIN: Yeah, but then there are those who would argue that we're putting ourselves on par with that conduct, as a state...

AVE: You're exactly right.

MARTIN: ...Basically if the state engages in that kind of conduct, then how can you claim the moral high ground of a murderer?

EALONS: 100 percent correct.

AVE: That's exactly right, and I'm with Jimi in that if you're going to do this - if you're going to kill a human being and call it justice, then you better make sure that it is 100 percent locked down. Absolutely he was guilty, absolutely the most humane way to do it. And this clearly was a far cry from that.

MARTIN: Ammad, you have something you want to add?

OMAR: Well, you know, it's interesting that you're talking about the Facebook comment, Christopher, because we had - I think a lot of people - the general consensus was, you know, this was terrible, and it wasn't a good thing. But there were people that posted on our NPR Facebook or just our website that, you know, he died too quickly. He didn't deserve to die that fast because they have no sympathy for him. He buried someone alive, you know; what can you do?

But I think that the bigger question, of course, is whether or not this is cruel and unusual punishment, as far as the legal courts will decide. And what was interesting to me is just this morning, I was kind of digging into some of the articles that came up before the executions were scheduled. And there were people in Oklahoma who were kind of saying that this is what was going to happen.

And there was another inmate in Oklahoma a few months ago -, his name was Michael Lee Wilson -, and when he was getting injected, he said - his last words were, I feel like my whole body is burning. And the spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said, you know, don't be surprised if you hear them say something like that again tonight. And there are questions about whether this guy was lying, you know, to make some sort of pro-anti-death penalty stance on his deathbed. That's what proponents say. But, you know, it's definitely very troubling, and I think it's re-raising this question about whether these new drug cocktails are sufficient to carry this punishment out.

MARTIN: Well, I just think that this is the kind of issue that people, as citizens, need to grapple with because this is the rare life-and-death decision that any of us as a citizen could be called upon to make.

I mean, the fact is, most of us don't serve in the military, right? Most of us are not doctors, and most of us are not called upon in life-or-death situations. This is the one situation where any of us, as a citizen, could be called upon to render judgment. And so that is the reason why I feel it is important that people grapple with this, as distasteful as it may be to do.

OMAR: And I think the question is - as far as this Oklahoma case with Clayton Lockett - is whether it was the cocktail that wasn't effective, or whether it was just a tech kind of botching the injection. So I think that's an important thing; and they're investigating, and we'll find out more about that.

MARTIN: Well, look, I want to end on a high note. And so thank you all for, you know, grappling seriously with something that I know is not difficult - that I know is not easy to talk about. And I also thank people who are listening for being willing to listen to something that is not easy to listen to. I think it's important, so thank you.

But we do want to end on a high note 'cause "Star Wars" fans - including myself - are excited to hear that Episode VII is due out in December of 2015. A lot of the old crew is back. I just have to play from the 1977 trailer. Sorry, I have to bring back old times. Here it is.


MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) They're coming in too fast!

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: It's a story of a boy, a girl and a universe.

CARRIE FISHER: (As Leia) Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.


MARTIN: It sounds so lame. I'm sorry, the trailer sounds so lame. I'm just kind of...

OMAR: No, no, not at all.

IZRAEL: Coming back?

EALONS: "Star Trek VII: The Search for Fiber."


MARTIN: Oh, stop. Oh, that's so wrong. OK, is anybody else sharing my excitement? Ammad, are you sharing my excitement?

OMAR: Well, I heard that they're reuniting, you know, all the cast members. I want the voice of James Earl Jones to be in here somehow. I haven't read the books, I don't know that he's in there, but the voice of James Earl Jones. They could like, you know - Darth Vader's ghost or something. We got to work that in somehow.

MARTIN: All right. That's right, that's right. Corey, what about you?

EALONS: Oh, I remember seeing the first "Star Wars" - sitting in the very first row of the movie theater with my parents, looking straight up at the ceiling and just mesmerized by "Star Wars." I'm a huge fan. And when I heard that the old guys were coming back, I was like, OK, this is going to be hot. I'm really looking forward to it.

MARTIN: Anyway, Christopher, are you going?

AVE: I'm with Corey. I'm going, I'm there. I was so excited as a young teen when this - the first one came out. I think it lost some steam, honestly, in the second three - Jar Jar Binks just spoiled it for me. But I - despite Jar Jar...

MARTIN: Had to bring that up.

AVE: ...I will - talking about the death penalty, you can - no, no, just kidding.

MARTIN: No, no.

AVE: No, don't go there. You can count me in at the new one. I'm there.


IZRAEL: Yeah, I do want to see...


OMAR: Surprise, surprise.

IZRAEL: ...Listen, listen, I do...

MARTIN: Hater.

OMAR: Come on, Jimi.

IZRAEL: ...Want to see them develop Lando Calrissian's story. Although, you know, Billy Dee Williams is looking like he's had maybe one too many burgers at the CC Tatooine - Tatooine Cantina.

MARTIN: No, not after "Dancing with the Stars," man. He's been working it out.

IZRAEL: I saw him. He - he wasn't dancing; he was doing a little more sliding with the stars.


IZRAEL: But having said that, I'll be there. I'll be there.

MARTIN: All right. Well, may the force be with all of you. I'm totally going to be there. That was, like, my first midnight show. That was like, my first time I'd ever gone to one - when the "Star Wars" first came out. So I don't know if I'll be going to the midnight show this time, but I think I might have to wait. Well, thank you all. Jimi Izrael's a writer; you can find his blog on at JimiIzrael.com. Ammad Omar is an editor with TELL ME MORE. Christopher Ave is the political and national editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Corey Ealons is a senior vice president with VOX Global, a former Obama administration communications advisor. Thank you all so much.

OMAR: Thank you.

EALONS: Good to be here.

AVE: Thank you.


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 and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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