Report from the Donbas: Shelling Intensifies in Severodonetsk as Russia Moves to Capture Key City

Report from the Donbas: Shelling Intensifies in Severodonetsk as Russia Moves to Capture Key City 1

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

Heavy fighting is continuing in the eastern part of Ukraine as Russia attempts to seize the entire Donbas region, where fighting began in 2014. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of turning towns and cities in the region to ashes. Some of the heaviest attacks are occurring in two cities that remained under Ukrainian control: Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The mayor of Severodonetsk said 60% of the city’s homes have been destroyed.

Last week, Democracy Now! spoke to independent journalist Billy Nessen in Severodonetsk. During the interview, a Russian shell hit the building located next to where Billy was standing.

BILLY NESSEN: There have been foreign fighters here, but I think a lot of them are, from what I hear from Ukrainians, not very effective ones. There are probably some. You know, it’s mostly not ex-special forces. [explosion] [sirens] [no video]

AMY GOODMAN: Billy?

BILLY NESSEN: [bleep] Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Billy, are you OK?

BILLY NESSEN: Yeah, I’m OK. Just right next door to us.

AMY GOODMAN: My god!

BILLY NESSEN: [bleep] That landed right here. [explosion] [bleep]

AMY GOODMAN: That was independent journalist Billy Nessen on Democracy Now! last week. On Thursday, Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to him again, shortly after he left Severodonetsk for the city of Kramatorsk, about 60 miles to the west. I began by asking why he left Severodonetsk and about reports that Russian shelling had killed six people in the city Wednesday.

BILLY NESSEN: For the whole time I was there, there was a lot of shelling, but it was mostly over the town. And it has increasingly landed in the town. And I think this — there is a good reason militarily for that. I think some of the troops from the frontlines have moved back, and they’re trying to hit batteries that pulled back into the town. But it’s hard to explain the increase in shelling and the increase in people killed.

I think it’s got to be at least twice that number of dead. We had one person die in the distribution center, you know, just a few feet away for me, whose — the bottom part of her leg had been blown off, and she bled out, despite two tourniquets and the best efforts of —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Billy, what that distribution center is. Take us back there, where we first interviewed you.

BILLY NESSEN: The distribution center is the place that organizes the evacuation of people who want to be evacuated to other towns west of there, and sometimes out of the country. And it also distributes aid that comes in by the road from the west to the people who want to stay.

Last night, after we had treated the wounded, there was an attack. The building was hit several times. It’s a very large warehouse. It has about five floors above it. And thankfully, it’s got another building at one end. And I think it was probably hit there by a couple of rounds, and the whole building just shook. This is the thing. I mean, people who haven’t been in this situation, artillery, it’s an unhuman sound and an inhuman shaking of the earth that’s hard to describe. I think at some point, hopefully, we can play some of the sounds. It’s almost like some deep sea monsters are battling under the sea, and you hear these echoes and the tremors. And it was — we gathered. The electricity — we have a generator — went off. It was knocked off. And we gathered in flashlights and were scared that the building was being targeted, and we thought this could be a terrible night. But it turned out, in the end, to be better than we feared.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Billy, can you explain, describe for us your journey to Kramatorsk? What did it entail? And why did you and the photographer you spoke of — why did you decide to go there?

BILLY NESSEN: Well, so, the Russians are trying to encircle two cities, both Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. And they’re doing that by trying to cut off the road west of Lysychansk. That road goes to Bakhmut. And so, this was an even — not necessarily much more safe place, but there’s a hospital here, and I thought I would come here and try and spend a day or two.

I was aware that I had reached a kind of limit, an emotional limit. And my colleague is seeing some — is with some other people. But it just got — I think we realized that there was a good chance that we were going to get killed. There were too many shells coming down all around the center and just throughout the city, and too many people were coming in and dying and almost dying. It was coming closer and closer to us. And we both felt guilty about leaving.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about other people still there? Were there any other evacuations, ongoing or planned, the old couple whom you spoke of earlier?

BILLY NESSEN: Yeah. Listen, people are hesitant to leave. That’s the tough thing. Despite the war, people are scared to go away. They don’t know — often these people have never been anywhere outside their city.

It’s starting to rain here, so I’m going to satisfy Amy and put on my helmet. There it is, folks.

So, there are going to try and be more evacuations, but the road even out of Severodonetsk might have been cut already. And then the road from Lysychansk to Bakhmut, the Russians are on it, and it’s very hard to get through. So the evacuations might be at an end. There are people, volunteers, still at the center. They’re all local people, and they’ve decided that they’re going to stay and brave whatever comes.

AMY GOODMAN: How do people communicate with each other from city to city, Billy? What means of communications, internet, is there? And in the last few days, have you seen a qualitative — I mean, this is in Severodonetsk — but a massive increase in the shelling? Take us from the significance of Luhansk to Donetsk, these two areas, to Kramatorsk and what it means in this battle.

BILLY NESSEN: Well, I think that the shelling has not necessarily increased; it’s just drawn closer and closer, and the Russians — there’s a Russian presence in Severodonetsk and a sense that they can take it and that they can take Lysychansk, which I hadn’t heard before. And I think there’s, you know, a movement to withdraw.

This is a — you know, it’s going to be a very big blow, I think, to some of the morale of the people here and to the troops. And I think it will be a big propaganda victory for Russia. And I think it’s especially dangerous in that it will begin to affect the politics and the support in the West, in the United States. As this war extends over time, you know, it’s inevitable that it drops from being the primary issue for American and European politics. I think it’s dropped down a notch already. And I think things like this will begin to pressure or see politicians saying, “Well, maybe we need to negotiate with Russia, with Putin. Maybe Ukraine has to give up something.” That’s not how Ukrainians feel. But I think there’s an awareness there that this is a danger.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you head from here, Billy? From Kramatorsk?

BILLY NESSEN: I’m just going to give it a good think a couple of days here. I’m going to stay in this hospital for a couple of days and have a good cry. You know, when you come out of these things — I’ve been there for a month — it’s like you come out — even though this is still a war zone, that was beyond — you know, I had experienced something similar when I was with the guerrillas in Aceh, which is daily battles with the Indonesian military and quite scary. But it’s like you’re coming from a different world. And the emotions on the way here, just earlier, I began to have that cry, and I became aware that I had really pushed down my fear and the pain.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Billy, we thank you so much for being with us, and we’ll get in touch with you again soon. Please be safe. Billy Nessen has just left Severodonetsk. He’s now in Kramatorsk, will stay there at a hospital for a few days. Thanks so much for joining us.

BILLY NESSEN: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent journalist William “Billy” Nessen, speaking to us from Ukraine.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon and Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. Our special on Monday, on Memorial Day, around Roe v. Wade. And remember, wearing a mask is an act of love. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us, from everyone at Democracy Now!

“Doubling Down”: How Minneapolis Elites Worked to Stop Police Reform After George Floyd's Murder

"Doubling Down": How Minneapolis Elites Worked to Stop Police Reform After George Floyd's Murder 2

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

This week marks two years since George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death spurred a global movement for racial justice and intensified the push for police accountability and abolition. On Wednesday, the city of Minneapolis renamed the intersection where he was killed as George Perry Floyd Square. On the same day, members of Floyd’s family attended a White House ceremony where President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to revise use-of-force policies, banning tactics like chokeholds and restricting practices like no-knock warrants, while establishing a national database of police misconduct. Biden’s executive order came as a reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, remains stalled in the Senate amidst Republican opposition.

On Wednesday, Juan González and I spoke with Robin Wonsley Worlobah. She’s a longtime activist in Minneapolis. Earlier this year, she became Minneapolis’s first Black democratic socialist city councilmember. She was part of a coalition successfully blocking the relocation of the 3rd Precinct police station, where Chauvin was based — which still sits vacant today. I began by asking Robin Wonsley where she was when she heard about George Floyd’s murder Memorial Day weekend in 2020.

ROBIN WONSLEY WORLOBAH: I was like many — you know, many residents at the time. I was, I believe, running errands when I first heard word of it, and then I had, you know, community members share the historic footage of Floyd be pinned against the ground, with Derek Chauvin, officer Derek Chauvin’s knee, you know, forcefully placed upon Floyd’s neck. That image, in itself, forced me to pull over, and I just remember being in a deep paralysis and shaking and crying.

And, you know, as you noted in my intro, I’ve been a organizer in Minneapolis. And unfortunately, a lot of my organizing work has revolved around police-related murders of Black people, from Jamar Clark to Philando Castile. And, you know, I was there with Philando Castile watching as St. Anthony and their officers washed the blood off the sidewalk, or the street, and now here I am watching George Floyd be killed, like millions of others around the world, and, of course, just was forced into a pause of, you know, all the things that have transpired that led to that moment, the failure of our leadership to really address the deep inequities that have been documented, here in Minneapolis specifically, for a number of years, especially around policing, and how, if we had better leadership, willing to exercise even the bare minimum of political will and political courage, especially with our police federation, with our officers, how we would not have had to endure the collective trauma of watching George Floyd be lynched, and then, basically, afterwards seeing our city burn nearly down because of this collective oppression. You know, Martin Luther King says, you know, the riots are the sounds of the oppressed.

You know, I just think there was so much that could have happened, that activists and residents had been organizing around clear demands, public safety demands, for a number of years that could have prevented that. And just the unknown of what was actually going to come in the wake of everything that transpired here in Minneapolis after George Floyd, and now being in this position of power and saying, two years later, we have not made much progress. Actually, if there was a way to go backwards, we’ve done it.

And that’s disheartening to say in this current moment where we’re honoring such a historic moment, in not only U.S. history but global history. As you noted, his murder sparked a national movement, one of the largest civil rights movements in U.S. history, and that will go on to prompt actions and protest in more than 50 countries around the world. And to be able to sit here as an elected official who ran, you know, in the wake of organizing for justice for George Floyd, being tear-gassed by our police in the midst of all that, and now have to see our leadership continue to fail to rise to the occasion to prevent another Black person from being murdered, another working-class person from being murdered — we have failed to rise to that occasion, even two years later, and it just makes you think: What does it take to get justice for Black lives at this point?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — in the wake of those protests after George Floyd’s murder, there did seem to be some attempts by political leaders, not only in Minneapolis but around the country, to institute some changes. There was a reduction of the police department budget initially in Minneapolis. But as often happens with these protests, the system figures out a way to basically let the movement spend its energy and then seizes back its power. I’m wondering how that happened, specifically in Minneapolis. How did the movement backwards occur?

ROBIN WONSLEY WORLOBAH: I think, for one, I do want to note, there was never a reduction in police funding. There has been, you know, years of efforts from residents to say, “Let’s transition dollars from MPD into other, you know, holistic social services that actually deals with the root causes of crime.” And, you know, there have been very small investments into that work. But as we stand right now, of today, two years later, the police budget for the Minneapolis Police Department still stands close to $200 million.

And as you mentioned, the movement backwards, we really saw — in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the uprising, we saw this, you know, broad movement rallied around the demand to defund the police. You know, there was efforts by that coalition of organizations, Black-led organizations, to try to even put something on the ballot that would have allowed us to basically dismantle the police department as it currently stands and create a new Department of Public Safety, that would have, you know, not replicated many of the racist and violent components of policing as it currently stands.

And we had an unelected body, the Charter Commission. And we’ve seen this play out throughout all levels of government. You know, when we tried to pass 15 federally, we had a parliamentarian commission come in and say no. So we always have these unelected bodies that are able to assert themselves and block the changes that working-class people are demanding. We had that with the Charter Commission. They delayed that, and then that forced our movements to have to look into putting a charter amendment forward for the following year, which was our election year.

And what we saw was the status quo of Minneapolis fight tooth and nail to keep any transformative change around public safety from coming into fruition. And when I say “fight tooth and nail,” some of the things that they did was build a broad coalition of some of our most big business — powerful big business actors. We’re talking about the Chambers of Commerce, the downtown council. They formed these PACs where they pulled millions of dollars together to do, you know, repeated media blitzes, saying that, you know, this demand will get rid of police, it will defund the police. And also, we were seeing somewhat of a rise in community violence at the time, and they were leveraging, you know, the justifiable pain and trauma that many of our working-class Black residents were experiencing, you know, as it related to that community violence, and saying, “Look, you can’t have transformative change and be able to keep, like, your community safe. So you have to pick. So, either you’re going to keep the cops, to keep the bullets from flying, from keeping babies from dying, or you’re going to have like a new model of public safety. And that’s too risky. So let’s just keep the cops as they are.”

So, we had this whole powerful coalition. That was tied into an election year. So you had a number of candidates who were tying themselves to this anti-public safety amendment, you know, pro-policing agenda. Our current mayor was also at the helm of a lot of that and basically saying, “We don’t need to make any major changes. All we need to do is trust that our current police chief” — at that time, a well-respected Black man, you know, from St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We just need to trust him to carry out the reforms necessary to rein in the racist and terrorizing dynamics of MPD that led to George Floyd’s murder. Let’s just trust him to do that. Don’t trust these crazy activists.” And they were able to run a successful multimillion-dollar campaign, a fear campaign, to squash any type of efforts to make meaningful change around public safety.

But what I want to know is, while they were successful on November 2nd in defeating the public safety amendment and getting a pro-police majority on City Council, what has happened since is that whole thing has fallen apart. Their whole fear campaign, fear-based campaign promises have fallen apart. A month after we got elected, Chief Arradondo, the chief who was going to save the entire police department, retired. In February, Minneapolis residents watched another police killing of a young man by the name of Amir Locke while he was sleeping in an apartment at 6:30 a.m. Mind you, the officers involved in shooting that young man while he was sleeping have not been charged, and charges will not be brought forward to those officers, and they will likely come back on the force to police our communities.

We also have had a release of a damning human rights report from our State Department, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which has basically said — you know, confirmed Minneapolis Police Department is entrenched in racist, misogynistic and violent practices, that MPD leadership, as well as city leadership — we’re talking about our current mayor, who’s been there for five years, many of my fellow councilmembers, who have been there for a number of years. This report names that all of those leaders were aware of these human right violations that were taking place in our department, and did nothing. So, we’ve had that report come out.

And we’ve had our current mayor even resist talks — has made public declarations to walk away from all conversations with our state Human Rights Department around entering into a consent decree. We still have a mayor that is championing resistance to any type of reform. We’ve passed a police contract that has further emboldened our officers, given them incentives, monetary incentives, with no level of accountability in which they are being forced to be beholden to by our current leadership.

So, we’ve seen, again, just regression and regression, after communities have continued to rise up and say we must do better. We need a new Department of Public Safety. We need to address the fact that Mayor Frey and many of our council leadership, you have not — and MPD leadership — you have not enacted any meaningful and effective oversight over one of the most dysfunctional, racist and violent policing departments in the country right now. And you, in turn, to those residents are still resisting every effort from councilmembers like myself who ran on a platform for public safety beyond policing. You’re resisting any efforts from community members, even state departments, to create any meaningful reforms. So, we’re just seeing a full doubling down on basically protecting MPD policing as it currently stands.

AMY GOODMAN: Robin Wonsley is a democratic socialist member of the Minneapolis City Council.

Next up, we go to eastern Ukraine.

“Enough Was Enough”: How Australia Reformed Its Gun Laws & Ended Mass Shootings After 1996 Massacre

"Enough Was Enough": How Australia Reformed Its Gun Laws & Ended Mass Shootings After 1996 Massacre 3

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As we continue to look at the school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas, we’re joined by Rebecca Peters, international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. She led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, when a gunman shot dead 35 people at a cafe. After the attack, Australia cracked down on gun violence, outlawing automatic and semiautomatic rifles. More than 640,000 weapons were turned in to authorities in a nationwide buyback. Rebecca Peters is joining us from Guatemala.

Rebecca, thank you so much for being with us again. I feel like we keep having you back after all of these massacres, but it is so important, because there was complete paradigm shift in Australia, a country where so many didn’t think it was possible. Talk about what happened in 1996, the horror of the Port Arthur massacre, but then how the country responded.

REBECCA PETERS: Well, thanks, Amy.

Yes, I mean, thinking back, we had — back then, we had a situation — it was similar but not as bad, of course, as in the United States, which is that we did have — we had mass shootings every — about once a year, we had some kind of a mass shooting. And semiautomatic rifles were available in some states. The laws vary state by state in Australia as in America. And we also had a similar sort of standoff, where both of the major political parties were intimidated by the gun lobby, which said, “Whichever one of you moves to strengthen the gun laws, we will come after you in the election.” And so, it was a similar kind of scenario in that way, although we never had the very high rates of gun violence, not as high, because we did have — our basic level of gun control was higher.

What happened in 1996 was this massacre was so enormous, and it took place in a tourist location where a lot of people have been for holidays or for honeymoons and where — and people, because it was a tourist location, the victims came from every state and territory in the nation. And so, every parliament had a constituent or more who were affected directly by this massacre. And we had just had a new conservative prime minister elected, and so he had — I guess he saw that he had a few years ahead of him before he had to face another election. And also, I mean, it was just enough. Enough was enough. We had had too much of this. And what he was able to do was he called the states and territories together and said, “I’m going to fix this.” And the amazing breakthrough was that both political parties agreed to support the changes. And that left the gun lobby with nowhere to go.

And so, very quickly — also, the research, the policy recommendations, it had already been done, by us in civil society, by research institutes. I mean, it was pretty clear what the changes were that were needed. And in 10 days, we got an agreement that all the states and territories would change their laws to a much higher standard. And they did. And so, that meant outlawing semiautomatic rifles and shotguns; a much higher standard of background checks and licensing that was required, including the proof of a legitimate reason to have the sort of gun you want to buy; registration of all firearms, so that if someone displays some kind of behavior that suggests they shouldn’t have a firearm, that that firearm can be taken away, and also so that you can track the accumulation of arsenals; and a range of other things, as well.

But, basically, the laws became pretty much uniform across the country. And as part — as you mentioned earlier, as part of that, the ban on semiautomatics, those guns were bought back, so they’re no longer in circulation. And because the law changed at the same time, those — like, sometimes there are buybacks, but the law doesn’t change, so it’s kind of like just mopping the floor while the tap is still on. If you change the law at the same time, then those guns cannot be immediately replaced with similar weapons.

And really, the result has been a spectacular success. We didn’t have another mass shooting incident for almost 25 years. And we just generally have much lower rates of gun violence, and also a lower rate of fear. You know, we don’t think at all about the possibility of being murdered as we go about our daily lives in Australia.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rebecca, a couple of things that might be — apart from the fact, as you mentioned, that Australia, even prior to these changes, had much fewer mass shootings than the U.S., could you talk about the relative strength of the gun lobby there, whether the electoral system in Australia is so dependent on funding from lobbyists and corporations, number one, and then, second, that Australia, of course, had nothing like the Second Amendment — there’s no constitutional right in Australia to bear arms — and what impact that might have had?

REBECCA PETERS: Yes, that’s right. So, we had the — we never had the idea in — well, there are Australians who believe that it is a right to have a gun, but that was never legally acceptable, or even socially acceptable, really. And, in fact, with the new laws, they actually, most of them, say really specifically ownership of guns is a privilege that is subject to the overriding concern for public safety. So that’s really clear, that public safety trumps individual ownership of weapons. And that was a huge advantage we had, of course.

And also, as you mentioned, it’s true we had a gun lobby that was cranky and threatening and had succeeded, in some cases, in intimidating or in probably contributing to the defeat of some electoral candidates, but they did not have the power that the American gun lobby has, because our electoral system — well, we have a parliamentary system. But also, the role of money in politics, although we still complain in Australia that there’s too much money in politics, certainly, the ability to so kind of outright just buy the politicians and the policies you want is much less in Australia. It’s true that we had those distinct advantages before this all took place.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca, very quickly, we have less than a minute, but if you can talk about how the U.S. exports this violence around the world, the U.S. being by far the largest small arms exporter in the world?

REBECCA PETERS: Yes. I mean, the U.S. is the largest producer, the largest exporter, both illegal and legal. So, when we talk about exports, you often think of legal exports of weapons, but, of course, the trafficking of guns from the U.S., because of the loose regulation especially of the southern border states, means that the U.S. is also the biggest exporter of illegal weapons. And that means that the violence problems that occur, especially in Latin America, are very directly traceable, in large part, to the American production of weapons and of violence. And so, it’s why all of us in the rest of the world have a big interest in America doing something about its just unbelievably lax regulation of weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Peters, we want to thank you for being with us, international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre. She’s speaking to us from Guatemala.

“A Uniquely American Problem”: Pressure Grows for Gun Control After School Massacre in Texas

"A Uniquely American Problem": Pressure Grows for Gun Control After School Massacre in Texas 4

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AMY GOODMAN: Vigils were held in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, a day after an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 students and two teachers at the the Robb Elementary School. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States in a decade. All the victims were in the same fourth grade classroom. On Wednesday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Angel Garza, whose 10-year-old daughter Amerie Jo Garza died in the attack.

ANGEL GARZA: I’m a med aide. So, when I arrived on the scene, they said kids inside. They started bringing the kids out, and I was aiding assistants. One little girl was just covered in blood, head to toe. Like, I thought she was injured. I asked her what was wrong. And she said she’s OK. She was hysterical, saying that they shot her best friend, that they killed her best friend and she’s not breathing, and that she was trying to call the cops. And I asked the little girl the name, and she — and she told me — she said, “Amerie.” … She just turned 10. Her birthday was on the 10th, May the 10th, two weeks ago.

ANDERSON COOPER: Two weeks ago. You had a party for her.

ANGEL GARZA: We had — we just gathered family and had a dinner. She just got her phone. She had been wanting a phone for so long, and we finally got it for her. She just tried to call the police.

ANDERSON COOPER: She tried to — she actually tried to call.

ANGEL GARZA: Yes, I got confirmation from two of the students in her classroom that she was just trying to call authorities. And I guess he just shot her. How do look at this girl and shoot her? Oh my baby! How do you shoot my baby? Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the words of Angel Garza, father of Amerie Jo Garza, who was shot dead in her fourth grade classroom in Uvalde along with 18 classmates and two teachers. Amerie was just 10 years old.

As mourning continues across the nation, Republicans are facing increasing criticism for opposing any new gun control measures. On Wednesday, Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate, former Congressmember Beto O’Rourke interrupted a news conference held in Uvalde by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Listen closely.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: I will pass the mic to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

BETO O’ROURKE: Governor Abbott, I have to say something.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.

BETO O’ROURKE: The time —

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.

BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop this —

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.

BETO O’ROURKE: — was after Santa Fe High School.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Sit down!

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: You’re out of — you’re out of line and an embarrassment.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Hey!

BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop this was after El Paso, Texas.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Sit down and don’t play this stuff.

BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing.

MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: No, he needs to get his ass out of here!

BETO O’ROURKE: You’re offering us nothing.

MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: This isn’t the place to talk to us over!

BETO O’ROURKE: You said this was not predictable. This is totally predictable when you chose not to do anything —

MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: Sir, you’re out of line! Sir, you’re out of line!

BETO O’ROURKE: [inaudible]

MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: Sir, you’re out of line! Please leave this auditorium!

AMY GOODMAN: After Beto O’Rourke, the former presidential candidate and congressman, was escorted out of the Uvalde high school auditorium where the press conference was held, he spoke to reporters.

BETO O’ROURKE: Because the governor of the state of Texas, the most powerful man in the state, chose to do nothing. He went to Santa Fe High School after kids were killed in their classrooms, told the parents he would do something. He did nothing. He came to my hometown of El Paso after 23 people were slaughtered. He said he was going to do something. He did nothing. In fact, the only thing he did was make it easier to buy a gun. The only thing he did was make it easier to carry a gun in public. And he bragged about the fact that there would be no background check, no training, no vetting whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaking in Uvalde on Wednesday. President Biden is expected to visit the town in the coming days.

To look more at the gun crisis in America, we’re joined by Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, a gun violence prevention organization led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who in 2011 survived being shot in the head by a gunman who killed six people and injured 12 others at a constituent event in a parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, and has since become a leading gun control advocate.

Robin Lloyd, welcome to Democracy Now! First, your response to what took place? And the fact that the U.S. is alone in the world for these mass shootings, in schools or other places, the fact that of every 100 people in this country, there are 120 guns — more civilian guns in this country than people. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the world. If you can talk about this?

ROBIN LLOYD: I completely agree this is a uniquely American problem, and it’s happening with such frequency and such devastation, it’s almost hard to wrap your mind around. As you know, the tragedy in Uvalde on Tuesday was the third-deadliest school shooting in this country, second — or, third only to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting. It’s also the fourth-deadliest shooting in Texas. Of the most deadliest shootings in recent history in this country, four out of 10 have occurred in Texas in recent years. So, there’s definitely something specific to the United States and our lack of strong gun laws and our patchwork of gun laws that we have across different states that allow this to keep happening, in addition to the sheer number of firearms that exist in this country and how easy it is to access them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you explain: Why is it so easy to access guns in the U.S.? And also, who are the weapons manufacturers? Who is manufacturing these almost 400 million guns that are in civilian hands in the U.S.?

ROBIN LLOYD: So, here in the United States, we don’t have strong gun laws at the federal level. There’s very few updates to federal gun regulation in the past 20-plus years. The last kind of significant push occurred in the early 1990s. At the state level, it’s a different story. Some states, like New York, have very strong gun laws, but they are still susceptible to the lax gun laws of their neighbors, and it’s very easy for firearms to travel across state lines and to get into the hands of those that shouldn’t have them. Other states, like Texas, have virtually no strong gun laws.

Texas, unfortunately — at the Giffords Law Center, we give a letter grade rating to every state in the country. Texas has an F, which is probably not very surprising. But as you heard in the clip from Beto O’Rourke earlier, all Texas has done in recent years, despite the tragic shootings that have occurred — El Paso, Sutherland Springs, Odessa, just to name a few — they’ve only rolled back gun laws, and they’ve actually made it easier to carry concealed weapons, no questions asked, no training, no permit, no requirements whatsoever for anybody to carry a concealed firearm in Texas. So, that’s all they’ve done in recent years. They’ve made it easier to do that.

And really, this is by design. The American gun lobby, which is supported by American gun manufacturers, is alive and well. The National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been weakened due to self-inflicted wounds of greed and mismanagement of funds. But other organizations, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the lobbying arm for the gun industry and gun retailers, is alive and well. And actually, the National Shooting Sports Foundation spends more on lobbying against gun violence prevention measures here in Washington than the NRA does. So, they’re the true face of the American corporate gun lobby. And quite frankly, there’s a lot of money at stake. There has been an incredible surge of gun sales in the past decade, largely driven by fear and conspiracy promulgated by the corporate gun lobby here in the United States, and that has meant an incredible increase in their bottom line.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you explain how exactly this works? I mean, these gun manufacturers, do they fund these lobbyists, who subsequently give money and funding to politicians, or is it possible for corporations to directly engage with politicians? Because just the scale of the problem, the fact that 90% of Americans support minimal restraints, background checks, and yet that’s not occurred. So the scale of the problem seems enormous. What needs to be done also seems obvious. And yet nothing happens.

ROBIN LLOYD: Nermeen, you hit the nail on the head. It’s an incredible, concentrated, historic lobbying effort by the corporate gun lobby. So, manufacturers, other companies affiliated with the firearms industry, they pay into these trade associations, and then those trade associations represent their viewpoint in Washington and in state capitals all across the country. And again, the NRA has historically been the primary figure in that, but, really, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, NSSF, has really taken up the mantle in recent years and is, self-proclaimed, the new face of the American gun industry.

But you’re right, the overwhelming majority of Americans — and I’m not talking about a majority; I’m talking about a supermajority, you know, 85, 90, 95%-plus people — support doing something to address gun violence in this country by supporting meaningful gun safety measures, something like a background check on every gun sale. That has been politicized over the past several years, but really what it is is saying that no matter how you buy a gun, whether it’s at a gun dealer, whether it’s at a gun show, whether it’s online, whether it’s meeting somebody in a parking lot, you have to have a background check. And right now that does not exist in this country. It is left up to the states, and thus we have a patchwork of laws that make it very easy for criminals and other people who cannot pass a background check to get their hands on a firearm. So, there are very clear things that we can do to make our country safer, but we need to have our elected leaders to have the political will and the courage to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does it take political will and courage, Robin Lloyd, when the overwhelming number of Americans — Republicans and Democrats — support gun control? This is the part that’s so hard to understand, also with the NRA at its lowest ebb and facing all these corruption charges, etc. I mean, again, Pew Research Center: Support creating a federal gun database to track gun sales, overall, more than two-thirds of people in this country support this. Supporting banning high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, overall, 64% of Americans support this, 83% Democrats and Republicans. You have support banning assault-style weapons, 83% of Republicans, a third — I mean, of Democrats, a third of Republicans, overall, 63%. How is it that the elected leaders can go against the electorate every single year?

ROBIN LLOYD: You’re absolutely right. If we were talking about those numbers for any other issue area, it already would have happened. The fact that we’re talking about something that only has 66% of American public supporting it versus 90% of some of our other issues, like background checks, is really incredible. But the fact of the matter is, there’s a tremendous amount of money at stake. The gun lobby is in the business of selling more guns, period. And that impacts their bottom line. That’s how they make their money.

And they have hoodwinked American politicians and some members of the public into believing that the only way that we can protect ourselves is to arm ourselves. And that’s an absolute lie. It’s a strategy based on fear, but it is a lie. More guns do not make us safer. In fact, they make us far less safe, as we see play out time and time again in this country on a day-to-day basis, to say nothing of the recent tragedies in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, on the past 10 days alone.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you speak specifically about the issues surrounding assault weapons, assault rifles? Because you pointed out earlier that there’s more that’s been done at the state level than at the federal level, 400 pieces of legislation signed into law in states since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook. And yet only eight states have bans on assault weapons. So, could you explain why that’s the case?

ROBIN LLOYD: Absolutely. So, the proliferation of assault weapons in this country is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s something that’s happened really in recent years, in part because there was a federal assault weapons ban that went into effect in 1994, but it sunset in 2004. So this has been relatively recently that we’ve seen the proliferation of assault weapons. In light an absence of a federal ban, states have taken up the charge. And as you noted, seven states and the District of Columbia currently ban assault weapons. But in many other places, you know, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak. There are so many assault weapons in this country, it seems like it might be hard to address what to do with them now.

And I think there’s varying degrees — there are various proposals that can address that. It certainly can be done. But there is a reality that we have so many assault weapons already in circulation, and I think there is some reluctance by politicians, whether they should have it or not, to do more. But we absolutely can do more on assault weapons, I want to be very, very clear.

But it is absolutely driven by marketing, again, by the gun lobby. This is a way for them to, you know, kind of, quote, “militarize” civilians. If you see some of their marketing campaigns, they use phrases like “It’s time to get your man card,” and they show somebody who’s a civilian, but almost as — you know, dressed as a soldier or a law enforcement person in tactical gear with an assault weapon. And they’ve really made it seem like it’s, quote, “the cool thing to do.” But the reality is that assault weapons are incredibly deadly. They are designed to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time, given their firepower, their accuracy and, of course, the ability to accept extended magazines.

AMY GOODMAN: Robin Lloyd, we want to thank you for being with us, managing director of Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization.

When we come back, we’re going to talk to an Australian gun activist — Australia, a country of gun lovers. How, over a series of days after a massacre that took place several decades ago, did it have a complete paradigm shift and change all of its laws? Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by the Scottish musician Ted Christopher, a tribute to the 1996 Dunblane Primary School shooting in Scotland, when a gunman shot dead 16 children, ages 5 and 6, and a teacher. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.K. history. After the shooting, the U.K. changed its gun laws. There hasn’t been a school shooting there since.

Parkland HS Victim's Father, Manuel Oliver, to Parents of Uvalde Elem. Victims: Fight for Gun Control

Parkland HS Victim's Father, Manuel Oliver, to Parents of Uvalde Elem. Victims: Fight for Gun Control 5

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we end today’s show with Manuel Oliver, Manny Oliver, father of Joaquin, one of 17 students killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He’s an artist. He’s an activist. He’s never stopped that activism since his Guac was killed. By chance, he was in El Paso painting a mural against gun violence in 2019 when a far-right gunman carried out a mass shooting at the Walmart store there, killing 23 people, most of them Latinx. Yesterday it was Uvalde.

Manny, I want to just say our condolences again and again to you — you’re co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref — because I am sure, for you, this never stops. Can you respond to what happened yesterday, to what Senator Murphy is saying, your call to what you think needs to happen now?

MANUEL OLIVER: Sure. Thank you for having me on your show. It’s always a pleasure.

What happened yesterday, it’s not a surprise to me. What Murphy is doing, it is a surprise to me. I know Murphy personally. I know that he stands along with us in this fight, but it’s time to speak out to all his colleagues in Senate and Congress and do things like what he did yesterday. That’s why we elected these people, to do what he did.

Now, it was not for them to wait for 19 people to die, 19 kids, babies, to die, so they can take action, because we’ve been trying to put things together since the last five years. What they are doing today, we have done it every single day, without resting, trying to prevent this from happening. We talked to the president, members of Congress and Senate. And now you see how now they’re paying attention. So, I don’t see what’s going to happen after this. I still don’t believe until I see results. In the meantime, we’re going to keep on doing what we do best, which is fighting back gun violence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manny, I wanted to ask you — there have been over 27 school shootings in the United States in just the five months of this year. And we’re seeing also an alarming increase in suicides among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, increased 42% over the last decade, according to a recent report. Can you talk about the — I raised this to an earlier guest today — the NRA and the gun manufacturing industry focusing on young people, on marketing their products to young people?

MANUEL OLIVER: I think there are new demographics that are feeling attracted to guns. However, this is a result of that not having any restriction. This is the only industry in America, the land of restrictions, that actually has no restriction at all: the gun industry. So, they have the ability to put their products in the hands of whoever they want.

I also have to say that school shootings represent probably less than 2% of gun violence in America. But regardless that stat, we always react in a more shocking way, because now we’re talking about kids. But this is a usual life in the United States. A hundred people, 110-12 people will die today after that shooting yesterday. And the gun industry seems to not be concerned about it. They’re going to keep on moving on. And politicians who actually depend on them for their campaigns will also support those ideas. So it’s a hard battle, and it’s going to take way more than what we have done so far.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I also wanted to ask you about the remarks that were made by one of the most famous basketball coaches yesterday, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors. Golden State was playing the Dallas Mavericks in Texas. And I think we may have a tape of it. Yes, if we can, let’s go to the tape of Steve Kerr talking not about basketball but about what happened there in Texas.

STEVE KERR: Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher. And in the last 10 days, we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo. We’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California. And now we have children murdered at school.

When are we going to do something? I’m tired. I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m so tired of the — excuse — I’m sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough!

There’s 50 senators right now who refuse to vote on H.R. 8, which a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago. It’s been sitting there for two years. And there’s a reason they won’t vote on it: to hold onto power. So, I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings, I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s what we do every week.

So, I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We’re going to play the game tonight. But I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild or mother or father or sister, brother. How would you feel if this happened to you today? We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, “Well, let’s have a moment of silence. Yeah. Go, Dubs!” You know? “Come on, Mavs! Let’s go!” That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go play a basketball game.

And 50 senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage. Do you realize that 90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want background check, universal background check? Ninety percent of us. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote despite what we the American people want. They won’t vote on it because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic! I’ve enough!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, talking in Dallas, Texas, last night before the game with the Dallas Mavericks. Manny, your response to Steve Kerr’s plea to the nation?

MANUEL OLIVER: I texted Steve last night. We are friends. We know each other. He did the right thing. Steve lost his dad from gun violence, so he knows exactly what this means for a lot of people. And he just did what a regular human being will do. We are used to keep on going and then watch a game. That’s it. That’s how the majority of Americans live their lives. We are very arrogant to think that we are making a mistake. But we are making a huge mistake here. And Steve Kerr decided to stop that comfort zone for millions of Americans and say, “You know what? This is what’s going on out there, outside of the court. We are killing each other. And you should know that.” And that is more important than anything right now.

So, I would love to have celebrities and influencers doing the same thing. And they were at some point involved. I remember almost five years ago when in Washington we had a lot of Hollywood faces and performers and singers and rappers, and everyone was there, like, getting involved as a big movement. And now you don’t see them. This is not something where you show your face once in a while to get more followers. This is something that is not over. It’s actually worse than five years ago. So this is a big call to all those faces: Guys, it’s not over. This is actually the beginning of the fight. Get involved. And it’s not about your money; it’s about your potential words and how many people you can reach.

AMY GOODMAN: Manny, as you said, Steve Kerr, the coach’s father, Malcolm Kerr, was murdered in Lebanon in 1984. He was the president of American University in Beirut. But, Manny, I wanted to ask you about your message to the parents. You’re a parent who’s lost a son yourself. They were there at the Civic Center for hour upon hour. These guns are so powerful, these semiautomatic weapons, that when their kids were shot — apparently it’s just one class of fourth graders that were gunned down with their teachers. He was holed up in that space, the shooter. They had to wait hours to give DNA because the kids are unrecognizable — the power of these weapons. We still don’t know exactly if this is the exact number. Can you give a message to them? And also, talk about what the Parkland survivors did, people like David Hogg, who we had you on with him last time, Emma González and others, who, from the second this happened, demanded change.

MANUEL OLIVER: Well, the story is a little different in terms of the victims, because what happened in Parkland, it happened to a generation that was ready to go ahead and speak out, very vocal, very rebel, teenagers, most of them. So, they had that energy to go ahead and take everything by their own hands. That is not possible here, because we’re talking about babies. We’re talking about very young kids.

What the parents did, including myself, is totally something that we had no idea. We waited. Don’t ask me how I was able to survive those initial moments, those initial weeks and months, understanding or trying to convince myself that I lost my son and I won’t be able to hug him ever again.

Now, my only advice at this point — which I’m not in any position to give advices to anyone that has lost a kid, because I don’t do that; we all have our own personal way of reacting — is to take advantage of the media right now. Whoever is in that city has access to the media to send a message, of pain, of anger, of motivation, of whatever helps for all of us to solve this problem.

And the reason why I call for that is that those cameras won’t be there for long, because that’s part of the problem. We have a template. And those — the coverage of this shooting will last probably for the next week, and then we jump to the next one. So, this is our sad reality. And we need to change the reality as a big picture. This is not about video games. This is not about mental health. That happens all around the planet. This is about guns and easy access to guns. Whoever defers that is wrong and is not understanding where the problem is.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manuel Oliver, we only have about 30 seconds, but I’m wondering, in terms of — were you able to effect, if not at the national level, at the state level in Florida, after the Parkland shooting, some changes in gun policy?

MANUEL OLIVER: We got changes in the opposite way. Now we have Ron DeSantis as the governor, who is planning to leave us, before getting out of the office, an open-carry law. So, God bless us, unless we get rid of this guy, which I’m planning to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Manuel Oliver, our love to Patricia, your wife. Manny is co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref, father of Guac, Joaquin, one of 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this story, what’s happening in Congress, what’s happening in Texas, and what’s happening around the world. Families have begun sharing the names of the victims, and we’ll end with their names again, as we started: Xavier Lopez, 10; Jose Flores, 10; Uziyah Garcia, 9; Amerie Jo Garza, 10; Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; and two fourth grade teachers.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Cam Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director, Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Whose District Includes Sandy Hook, Begs to Pass Gun Control Laws: “What Are We Doing?”

Sen. Chris Murphy, Whose District Includes Sandy Hook, Begs to Pass Gun Control Laws: "What Are We Doing?" 6

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

After Tuesday’s massacre that killed at least 19 children, between second and fourth grade, and two fourth grade teachers at Uvalde elementary school in Texas, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy spoke passionately from the Senate floor in a call for action on gun control. Murphy came to Congress representing the district that included Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 10 years ago 26 people — 20 students and six staff — were killed. This is Senator Murphy’s full address.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Mr. President, there are 14 kids dead in an elementary school in Texas right now. What are we doing? What are we doing? Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing? There have been more mass shootings than days in the year. Our kids are living in fear every single time they set foot in a classroom, because they think they’re going to be next. What are we doing?

Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that, as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing? What are we doing? Why are you here, if not to solve a problem as existential as this?

This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids, as I have had to do, about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America. And it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue. What are we doing?

In Sandy Hook Elementary School, after those kids came back into those classrooms, they had to adopt a practice in which there would be a safe word that the kids would say if they started to get thoughts in their brain about what they saw that day, if they started to get nightmares during the day, reliving stepping over their classmates’ bodies as they tried to flee the school. In one classroom, that word was “monkey.” And over and over and over through the day, kids would stand up and yell, “Monkey!” And a teacher or paraprofessional would have to go over to that kid, take them out of the classroom, talk to them about what they had seen, work them through their issues. Sandy Hook will never, ever be the same. This community in Texas will never, ever be the same. Why? Why are we here, if not to try to make sure that fewer schools and fewer communities go through what Sandy Hook has gone through, what Uvalde is going through?

Our heart is breaking for these families. Every ounce of love and thoughts and prayers we can send, we are sending. But I’m here on this floor to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues: Find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely. I understand my Republican colleagues will not agree to everything that I may support, but there is a common denominator that we can find. There is a place where we can achieve agreement, that may not guarantee that America never, ever again sees a mass shooting, that may not overnight cut in half the number of murders that happen in America. It will not solve the problem of American violence by itself. But by doing something, we at least stop sending this quiet message of endorsement to these killers whose brains are breaking, who see the highest levels of government doing nothing, shooting after shooting. What are we doing? Why are we here? What are we doing?

AMY GOODMAN: “What are we doing?” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy asks on the floor of the Senate in a passionate call for action on gun control, just hours after the massacre of 21 people at the Uvalde elementary school in Texas.

NRA to Hold “Republican Pep Rally” in Houston with Trump, Days After 21 Killed in Texas Mass Shooting

NRA to Hold "Republican Pep Rally" in Houston with Trump, Days After 21 Killed in Texas Mass Shooting 7

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As we reported, the NRA, the National Rifle Association, plans to host its annual meeting Friday in Houston, Texas, with more than 55,000 people set to attend and hear speeches by former President Trump, Republican Texas lawmakers including Governor Greg Abbott and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, this despite Tuesday’s massacre at a Uvalde elementary school. The death toll so far is 19 children, mainly age 9 and 10, and two fourth grade teachers.

For more, we’re joined by Michael Spies, senior staff writer at The Trace, where he’s reported extensively on the NRA and the fight for gun control.

Michael, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with the response of Congress, the division with the Republicans and Democrats, and what’s happening this weekend. It reminds me of, I believe after Columbine, there was also a major gun meeting. But what’s happening with this meeting of the NRA, and what it’s representing and pushing for?

MICHAEL SPIES: Well, you know, it’s their annual meeting, so it comes up every year, and it is planned well in advance, so the timing, as horrible as it is, is coincidental. But what it really represents, especially now, is — it’s sort of a — I guess you could call it a Republican pep rally. I mean, that’s the main point, is to hold this big event in a theater where some of the most important Republican lawmakers — or, in certain cases, former president — in the country come together to make speeches, to talk about an absolutist vision of the Second Amendment and how that particular freedom defends all other freedoms. And that’s sort of the purpose, to bring people together to rally around that idea.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mike, in terms — the NRA was wracked by major, major financial scandals just a few years ago. How has it been able to survive and remain intact as such a potent force on the right?

MICHAEL SPIES: Well, I think it’s barely surviving. And I actually think — and this is sort of a — you know, the president was mistaken when he talked about the country being beholden to the gun lobby, because I’m not sure that’s so much the case anymore. I think for a long time the NRA was a potent force and did an exceptionally good job at socializing its members — and most specifically, Republican constituents — into absorbing its ideas about the Second Amendment and its messaging and the fearmongering and all of that stuff. But I think it’s sort of the machine works on autopilot now, and I think that the Republican Party effectively absorbed that platform and is now just beholden to its platform and the sort of monster they created.

But I do think that if the NRA disappeared tomorrow, for example, I’m not sure that the party would be able to move its position or would be willing to. And that’s sort of the bigger issue, right? It’s just it’s now — I mean, there used to be a little more gray area, but now it’s now really just Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other. And I don’t think, for instance, if there was — if there was a Republican senator who was willing to break ranks, with the exception of maybe like Romney, who’s in a sort of different, unique position in the state of Utah — but if a Republican lawmaker in the Senate was willing to break ranks, I don’t think they’d have to worry about the NRA drafting a primary opponent. I think just somebody — I think just a primary opponent would surface and then would use the issue to sort of, you know, beat the incumbent over the head with. And that’s sort of the predicament that we’re in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve been following especially the Supreme Court and its possible upcoming case on pistol permits. Could you talk about that, as well?

MICHAEL SPIES: Yes. So, for a long time, in order to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the city of New York — or, in the state of New York, rather, there were a number of boxes you had to check off, one of which was you had to provide a good reason for needing to carry a gun. There are other things you have to do, too, along with training. You have to pay a fee. You have to undergo reference checks, which are especially important because, as you can see, when it comes to the background checks, there are a lot of factors that aren’t part of that process.

And that case has now been challenged in the Supreme Court, and a decision should be coming down imminently about whether or not the permitting system here in New York is constitutional. It seems obviously likely that the Supreme Court is going to find in favor of the plaintiff and will probably strike down the idea of whether or not it’s constitutional to require applicants to say whether or not they — or, to require applicants to provide a good reason for needing to carry a weapon. But there’s a larger potential issue, which is that it seems also plausible that the Supreme Court could do away with the concept of permits entirely and say that those constitute an infringement. And that would obviously be a — I mean, it’s hard to overstate what a change that would be in New York, and how also it’s not —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about open carry.

MICHAEL SPIES: No, not open — I mean, not open carry. Concealed carry, meaning that the — right now the permit that you need in order to carry a concealed handgun in New York, you need to get a permit and go through all the processes I just mentioned. So, in some ways, to be totally honest, open carry can be — I mean, it’s unnerving to see, on the one hand; on the other hand, you can see someone who’s carrying a weapon, and that provides its own — you know, there’s some sort of — it’s a signal. At least you can — you know, whereas when you’re living in a city of 8 million people, and now all of a sudden it’s the case, where it formerly was very unlikely that anybody would be legally carrying a concealed firearm, changing to virtually anybody could be carrying a concealed firearm is — I mean, I don’t know how — it’s very hard to imagine how law enforcement, which already struggles to deal with effective policing in the city of New York, I’m not sure that — how you deal with that.

And I’m not sure how that plays out on a subway — right? — where it’s not — this isn’t comparable to other states that have permissive gun laws that make it easy to carry concealed firearms. There’s no other city in this country that has 8 million people in it. There’s no other city where you have people crammed on — in that situation, where you have people crammed on subways, where they bump into each other on sidewalks, or there’s just excessive traffic all the time and people are in a bad mood. There’s any number of reasons why it’s a completely different situation here than it is anywhere else. Also true in other states that have restrictive permitting laws, like California, etc., where you have the city of Los Angeles or San Francisco. The cultures of those places are totally different than they are in, say, Tennessee or Vermont or any other — or Georgia, states that have fewer people than just the city alone does.

AMY GOODMAN: And today, Mike, the Senate is holding a confirmation hearing for Steven Dettelbach to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency has been without a permanent leader for seven years. In the past, Dettelbach has supported a federal assault weapons ban and universal background checks. Can you comment on this?

MICHAEL SPIES: Well, I think the ATF, as I’m sure viewers know, has been a largely toothless agency that hasn’t had much of — you know, that hasn’t been able to provide effective oversight at all, really, in quite a long time. And not having a leader is one of the ways in which that is made possible. I think one thing that the ATF should focus on, and has not been able to — and this, in part, is part of the larger issue — when it comes to illegal guns, is focusing more on how to better regulate gun dealers. One thing that’s routinely come up is this idea of straw purchasers, bad apple gun dealers, shops that are routinely and clearly selling weapons to people that are — or, selling weapons to people that intend to traffic them is a known issue that hasn’t been effectively policed at all. There’s also another problem, which is that, if you didn’t know, gun stores aren’t required to secure their wares in a way that is any different than any other place of business, which is to say that it’s incredibly easy, and it happens quite frequently, for — you know, incredibly easy for robbers and burglars to break into gun shops and steal, easily steal, a ton of weapons, and then those wind up also going through the illegal pipeline, adding to more guns on the streets. You know, as we were saying before, there’s hundreds of millions of weapons in the country right now, more than people.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Spies, we want to thank you for being with us, senior staff writer at The Trace.

Next up, we’ll speak with Manny Oliver, the father of Joaquin, “Guac,” one of 17 students killed in 2018 in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And we’ll also hear the Senate floor speech of Senator Chris Murphy, who had just been elected to the Senate but was still a House member when Sandy Hook took place in his district, the massacre 10 years ago. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Wildfires” by Sault. During that break, we showed images of George Floyd, killed two years ago today, and at the protests that ensued.

“We Can't Go On Like This”: 21 Killed in Elementary School Massacre; Texans Demand Gun Control

"We Can't Go On Like This": 21 Killed in Elementary School Massacre; Texans Demand Gun Control 8

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AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were shot dead at an elementary school in the city of Uvalde on Tuesday. The attack on the Robb Elementary School was carried out by a teenager armed with guns he had just bought on his 18th birthday. The gunman died in the attack. Earlier in the day on Tuesday, he shot and critically wounded his grandmother.

Families have begun sharing the names of some of the victims. They include Xavier Lopez, 10 years old; Jose Flores, 10 years old; Uziyah Garcia, 9; Amerie Jo Garza, 10; Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; and two fourth grade teachers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.

Robb Elementary School is a school with about 600 students in just three grades: second, third and fourth. The school is about 90% Latinx. Thursday was scheduled to be the last day of class for the year. The school district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell, spoke on Tuesday.

HAL HARRELL: My heart was broken today. We’re a small community, and we’ll need your prayers to get us through this.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest elementary school shooting since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, when a 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 6 and 7. On Tuesday night, President Biden addressed the nation.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?

AMY GOODMAN: The shooting in Uvalde came just 10 days after an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist attacked a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s African American community. He shot dead 10 people, all of whom were Black. Many of them were grandmothers. On Tuesday, a funeral was held for 65-year-old Celestine Chaney.

This comes as the National Rifle Association plans to host its annual meeting Friday in Houston, Texas, with more than 55,000 people set to attend and hear speeches by former President Trump and Republican Texas lawmakers, including Governor Greg Abbott and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

For more, we head to Texas, to the capital, Austin, to speak with Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense.

Nicole, welcome to Democracy Now! on this horrific day. First of all, our condolences on the horror that has taken place in Uvalde. I mean, I was just saying this 10 days ago to the people of Buffalo. But if you can respond to what happened and the climate in Texas and what you think needs to happen?

NICOLE GOLDEN: Yeah, I’ll be honest. You know, we’re all barely hanging in there. It’s nothing compared to what this community must be experiencing. I’m sitting here talking to you while I’m exhausted and my own kids are getting ready for school. You know, I have to compartmentalize what happened in order to do the work that I do, but it’s so critically important.

You know, I’ve been involved in gun violence prevention in Texas for almost a decade. I have sat through brutal hearings at the state Legislature. I have heard unbelievable arguments to our very sensible ask for commonsense gun laws, laws that most Texans support, laws that law enforcement supports, laws that are working to prevent gun violence in other states. But we have a political climate here that makes it such that it’s been — you know, our work has basically been shut down.

But we’re here for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere. And I’m certain that at some point when the political will is there, we will have built the infrastructure to see real change here. Until then, we’ll keep chipping away, working in our communities to pass meaningful change and continuing with building this extremely strong movement that we’ve created over the past decade.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nicole Golden, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, only hours after this shooting, this horrific massacre that occurred, said that teachers should be armed, as well. Your response?

NICOLE GOLDEN: Look, you’ve probably heard this said before: If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world. That experiment has obviously failed us and failed our children completely. Guns in schools is not supported by educators. They are not teachers so that they can be armed during the day while they’re trying to love and support and educate their students. We do not think that that is the answer, and we will push back if that is brought forward next legislative session.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the alleged gunman here, Salvador Ramos, reportedly bought two assault rifles just last week. How easy is it to get a weapon like that in Texas? Are there any age restrictions at all?

NICOLE GOLDEN: You know, that very well could have been a legal purchase. That doesn’t make it right, of course. It is far too easy to walk into any number of gun retailers. Federally licensed dealers have to run a background check here in Texas, according to federal guidelines, but you can also purchase a gun through an online sale or at a gun show from a collector, for example, with no questions asked. So, there are many different ways somebody can purchase a deadly firearm. Some states have closed their loopholes so that there’s a background check required on every gun sale, to prevent — you know, we can’t prevent every shooting, but we can definitely prevent some by trying to keep guns out of hands of potentially dangerous individuals. But that measure has not succeeded in Texas to close those loopholes, as well as other measures that we’ve tried to pass at the state level.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Golden, the NRA is meeting on Friday in Houston. You have Cruz going to speak there. It’s not only Paxton, but Cruz, too, decried Democrats for saying they’re going to make this a political moment and call for gun control; this whole issue of the answer is to arm the teachers. The studies that have come out that show that there are 400 million guns in the United States right now — more than every man, woman and child in this country. And the difference between the number of shootings — for example, I think there have been 30 shootings in schools in the United States this year alone, over 300 over the past 10 years. Comparing it to Mexico and Texas, I mean, it is alone in the world.

NICOLE GOLDEN: Yes. We already had so many guns in circulation, and then, during the pandemic, that number increased. And so did gun violence. The most recent data show us that here in Texas we had over 4,000 Texans killed by guns in 2020. That was an increase from previous years. So, we have a clear crisis, and this “more guns is the answer” narrative that we’ve been — that’s been peddled, it’s truly outrageous. It’s, again, not supported by the people teaching our kids. It’s largely not supported by law enforcement.

Last legislative session, when lawmakers removed requirements for training and licensing to carry a handgun in Texas, we stood side by side with people from major law enforcement associations, faith leaders, survivors, teachers — I can’t name the full list — pleading to please not do this. The Legislature passed it anyway. The gun lobby here in Texas seems very proud of itself. And look where we are.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you also about the gun lobby’s efforts in recent years to market weapons, and especially high-powered weapons, to children. They developed in recent years a version of the AR-15 assault rifle, the JR-15, the Junior 15, where they actually say, quote, “Our vision is to develop a line of shooting platforms that will safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sport.” And this new JR-15 is supposedly built with ergonomics geared towards children. It’s lighter than an adult version, at 2.2 pounds, and 20% smaller. So there’s an actual effort by the industry to market. And many of these shootings that we’re seeing in recent years are being committed by 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds. Your sense of the responsibility of the arms industry in terms of this new marketing effort of theirs?

NICOLE GOLDEN: Yeah, I think not only is it — it’s shameful, and it’s dangerous, and it’s disturbing, but also I really think that that is not in line with what most voters think across this country and in Texas, regardless of your background politically or whether you’re a gun owner or not. I don’t think most think that this extremist direction is reasonable. I think most people stand with us when we say we need some reasonable guardrails on this.

When it comes to children and guns, I think there are families who can responsibly own guns, and if families choose to do that together, I think there’s a way to do it that’s safe. They have to lock up their guns safely. That should not — that should be mandatory. Everybody should be telling everybody to do it. Everyone should be asking, when their kids go somewhere, “Are guns locked safely at your home?” This is just the most simple way to prevent unintentional shootings and suicides or guns being stolen or lost and then used in a crime. So, safe gun storage has a huge role to play. And it is an adult’s responsibility to do that; it is not a child’s responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a race that’s still not fully counted, that happened yesterday in Texas, the incumbent anti-choice, pro-gun Henry Cuellar versus the progressive Jessica Cisneros. Responding to Tuesday’s mass shooting, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, quote, “On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it. Accountability isn’t partisan. This was an utter failure of leadership,” AOC said. I know you have to leave for another interview. Your thoughts?

NICOLE GOLDEN: So, we’re a bipartisan organization. We’re proud of that, because people join us from a variety of backgrounds, and we all stand together with one strong voice on the need for gun violence prevention strategies in Texas. I can’t really comment on specific races except to tell you that I do think that Texans and voters across the country are going to be looking for leaders who can lead us into a safer direction. And I think people should continue to push that message in their campaigns and that voters should be paying attention, because we know we can’t go on like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Golden, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, speaking to us from the capital of Texas, Austin.

When we come back from break, we’ll be talking about the Supreme Court. It is poised to deregulate guns even further. And we’ll talk about that meeting at the end of the week with the National Rifle Association in Houston, Texas. Stay with us.

Biden Says U.S. Will Defend Taiwan as China Accuses U.S. of Forming “Indo-Pacific Version of NATO”

Biden Says U.S. Will Defend Taiwan as China Accuses U.S. of Forming "Indo-Pacific Version of NATO" 9

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

President Biden is in Tokyo on his first trip to Asia while in office to meet with members of the Quad — that’s the prime ministers of Japan, India and the new prime minister of Australia — as part of efforts to counter China’s power in the region. China has called the Quad a, quote, “Indo-Pacific NATO” and accused it of, quote, “trumpeting the Cold War mentality” and “stoking geopolitical rivalry.” This comes as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resisted U.S. pressure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tension has also hung over the Quad summit since Monday, when Biden contradicted longstanding U.S. policy on Taiwan, vowing to defend Taiwan if it’s attacked by China. He made the comment when questioned at a news conference.

NANCY CORDES: You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.

NANCY CORDES: You are?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That’s the commitment we made. That’s the commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with the One China policy. We’ve signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there. But the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: White House officials tried to walk back Biden’s comments, as they’ve done before. But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Biden’s comment “highlighted our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself.” Today Biden was again asked about Taiwan. This time, he insisted there’s been no change to U.S. policy.

JEREMY DIAMOND: Mr. President, is the policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan dead?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No.

JEREMY DIAMOND: Could you explain?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No.

NANCY COOK: Mr. President, would you send troops to Taiwan if China invaded?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Our policy has not changed at all. I stated that when I made my statement yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Michael Swaine, director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia program, longtime U.S.-China relations analyst. His books and briefings include Remaining Aligned on the Challenges Facing Taiwan.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael Swaine. Why don’t you start off by responding to the significance of what Biden has said — by the way, not just yesterday, and clearly very deliberately, but he has repeated this several times — and then China’s accusation that the Quad, this group of four countries that are meeting — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — are an “Indo-Pacific NATO”?

MICHAEL SWAINE: Right. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Yeah, President Biden has spoken now — I think it’s the fourth time he’s said something like he said yesterday, that the United States is committed to come to the security of Taiwan, implication being that if Taiwan were attacked by China. This, if he meant that exact meaning, it is literally not in line with U.S. policy. U.S. policy states that the United States would regard with grave security — grave concern, pardon me, any attack on Taiwan and would — the president would consult with the Congress on what exactly to do about it. That is in U.S. law. There’s no commitment to deploy forces as if Taiwan were a security ally of the United States, which it is not. But there is a commitment to provide defensive articles to Taiwan — i.e. military sales — as the United States judges the security situation becoming more threatened for Taiwan. And the U.S. is providing those military sales now for many, many years. But this idea that the United States is obligated to come to the defense of Taiwan if attacked is simply not U.S. policy. U.S. policy is what’s called strategic ambiguity. It doesn’t want to be clear on this issue, because, A, it doesn’t want to provide what you might call a blank check to Taiwan through possibly endless types of salami slicing or provocation that the U.S. would then need to come to the defense of Taiwan to sort of bail them out of a problem.

And also, such language reinforces Beijing’s impression that the U.S. is revising its policy and viewing Taiwan as a de facto security partner and an independent nation. And this would absolutely undermine the One China policy that the United States has held now for many decades. Under that policy, it traded a credible U.S. One China stance, that did not challenge the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China — it traded that for a Chinese assurance to pursue peaceful unification as a top priority, while not completely giving up the possibility of using force, but not putting that as a top priority. Now, both sides have this understanding as the basis of normalization, and it’s being steadily weakened now by both sides. And President Biden’s recent comment weakens it even further.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Michael Swaine, I wanted to ask you — when you talk about this strategic ambiguity, this policy, could you talk a little bit about the origins of it in terms of — there was a period of time, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, when the U.S. tried to ostracize and not recognize the existence of the People’s Republic and saw the nationalists in Taiwan as the legitimate rulers of all of China.

MICHAEL SWAINE: Correct.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the change that occurred back during the Nixon years and the possible implications of President Biden attempting to change that policy?

MICHAEL SWAINE: Yes. I mean, the change occurred back during the Nixon period in the early 1970s with the opening to — so-called opening to China, when Nixon flew to Beijing and met with Mao Zedong, met with Zhou Enlai. And then, later on, several years later on, actual formal diplomatic relations were normalized in 1979, and the United States transferred its recognition from Beijing — from Taiwan to Beijing, having Beijing and the People’s Republic of China being the sole government of China.

Now, that happened because of largely strategic reasons at the time. The Soviet Union had become the adversary of both the United States and the People’s Republic of China. And President Nixon thought it would be a much better strategic thing for the United States to have good relations with China as it developed relations or tried to develop relations with Russia, rather than have Russia and China have good relations. So, both China and the United States had a common interest in working with each other to try to maneuver against, counter, exert leverage against the Soviet Union at that time. So that’s the origins of the shift.

But Nixon also wanted to have contact with China because he thought it was ridiculous to be shunning a billion people — or, I guess at that time it was less than a billion people, 800 million people — on the planet for many decades as we had done, and that it was serving no positive purpose and that we needed to have a normal relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

So, for Taiwan, although we ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan and no longer regarded Taiwan as a government that represented China and that was a sovereign independent state, we acknowledged — without formally recognizing, but we acknowledged and did not challenge the Chinese position that Taiwan is a part of China. And so, we also established relations with Taiwan, but unofficial relations, nondiplomatic relations, which included contacts in the economic, social, cultural level, some degree of governmental level, but not through diplomatic means. And then —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MICHAEL SWAINE: — the sale of arms. Then the sale of arms. So we have this kind of a balance now that the United States has tried to keep in its relations with Taiwan, which is now fraying badly.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is something we will continue to cover, Michael Swaine, director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia program, longtime U.S.-China relations analyst.

And that does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

Debt, Coups & Colonialism in Haiti: France & U.S. Urged to Pay Reparations for Destroying Nation

Debt, Coups & Colonialism in Haiti: France & U.S. Urged to Pay Reparations for Destroying Nation 10

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “The Ransom.” That’s the name of a major series of articles published by The New York Times detailing how Haiti became one of the poorest countries in the world, while bankers in France and the United States made a fortune.

The story dates back to the early 19th century. In 1804, the enslaved people of Haiti rose up, leading a rebellion against French colonial rule, founding the world’s first Black republic. Under military threat from France in 1825, Haiti agreed to pay reparations to France for lost so-called property, including enslaved people, that French owners lost in the rebellion. France threatened to invade and reimpose slavery if Haiti did not agree to a staggering amount in reparations: 150 million francs — 30 times Haiti’s annual revenue. Haiti began taking out loans from French banks, leading to an economic crisis that continues through to this day. The New York Times estimates Haiti paid the equivalent of what’s now $560 million to France over the next seven decades. The true economic cost to Haiti is estimated to be an astounding $115 billion. And that only tells a part of the story.

In 1880, a French bank established Haiti’s first national bank, essentially putting France in control of Haiti’s treasury. That bank, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, used some of its massive profits to help finance the Eiffel Tower. The bank’s current owner has just launched an investigation into its dealings with Haiti and its role in what’s called the ecosystem of colonialism — that bank, CIC.

The Times series also looks at the U.S. military occupation of Haiti that lasted from 1915 to 1934. A key backer of the U.S. occupation was the National City Bank of New York, the predecessor of Citibank. Former U.S. diplomat Patrick Gaspard, who now heads the Center for American Progress, has called on Citigroup to pay reparations to Haiti. Gaspard wrote on Twitter, “A silent scream has been in throats for decades about the role U.S. played in depleting Haiti. No one would listen. Finally some truths,” he said.

Over the years, Haitian demands for reparations have been repeatedly shut down — sometimes with force. France’s former ambassador to Haiti, Thierry Burkhard, admitted to The New York Times that France and the United States effectively orchestrated the 2004 coup that ousted Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Burkhard said one benefit of the coup was that it ended Aristide’s campaign demanding France pay financial reparations to Haiti.

To talk more about Haiti and the devastating impact of colonialism and this massive series in The New York Times, we’re joined by two guests. Westenley Alcenat is a Haitian American professor at Fordham University, where he teaches courses on the Atlantic slave trade, the American abolition movement and Afro-Caribbean history. Gerald Horne also joins us. He’s professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston, author of many books, including Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Alcenat, let’s begin with you. So, this series has come out in The New York Times to both criticism and praise. It’s come out in both Creole and in English. That’s a first for The New York Times. Can you explain the significance of what many are calling revelations — at least, to the general public — but certainly people in Haiti have been alleging for centuries, not only alleging but, of course, having proof of this?

WESTENLEY ALCENAT: Yes. Thank you, Amy. Thank you for having me today. I’m glad to be here in conversation with you.

So, first, let me start by saying that — a great acknowledgment to the many reporters and producers who put this very special issue together and to have given it a front-time exposure. And it will mean a lot — not really for Haitians per se, because the facts that are being revealed throughout the report are very well known even to the most illiterate Haitian and even to the youngest Haitian growing up. In fact, given the level of underdevelopment that is prevalent in Haiti today, one knows — at least the Haitian people know — that this could have only been the legacy of an external force, rather of their own making.

So, I think the significance of the piece will be that it exposes the rest of the world to a knowledge that actually has existed for over a hundred years and shares multiple partners, both in the private sector with regards to the financial industry, as well as United States government, Germany, Great Britain and, most certainly and most influential, France, having played a role in imposing the debt that in many ways will explain Haiti’s poverty today.

So, I welcome the piece. I think it’s great in terms of the many research that it brought together both from academic literature that had already existed, as well as new revelations that are coming up. But in terms of calling it “revelations,” that would be a misnomer. I myself have written very extensively on the subject. Many other fellow academics, historians have written about it. There have been movements over the decades to get the United States, France and the other parties responsible for this, to get them to some accountability. And I believe a large reason why this never got the fair sort of ear of listening that it should have gotten is because it’s coming from Haitians, whom many people view as sort of the Africans of the Western Hemisphere, but which is an identity that Haitians pridely wear — wear proudly, for reasons that reasonably make sense in terms of the freedom that they fought and established for all Black people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I’d like to bring in professor Gerald Horne to the conversation, another historian who has covered the issue of colonialism, imperialism and slavery throughout the Americas for decades. I, too, had the same feeling that a lot of this is only new to people who haven’t paid attention to the history of the Western Hemisphere over the last several hundred years. I’m wondering your reaction to the piece, because the Times really is delving into history much more than news. I think the most interesting aspect of it was the particular individuals in France and the institutions that directly benefited from the ransom that Haiti was forced to pay, but, largely, this is history that is known by people who know any part of the history of Latin America and of the Western Hemisphere. So I’m wondering your reaction to the piece as a historian who’s studied this carefully?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, I would urge and encourage The New York Times to follow through with their point that they have uncovered new documents, by putting these documents online so that other historians can take advantage of their excavations and/or, secondly, placing them at The New York Times archive, which I believe has been sited at the New York Public Library.

But I think that the story also is of significance and of moment for us in the United States, for we in the United States, because there has been this myth that has been created that the United States and the Haitian Revolution were twins, even though we know, as I begin my book on the Haitian Revolution, George Washington, the Founding Father of this country, was quite nervous about the eruption in Haiti in August 1791. And this was understandable, because the Haitian Revolution, culminating in 1804, led to a general crisis of the entire slave system in the Americas that could only be resolved with its collapse. Therefore, the United States was probably second to France in being an antagonist of the Haitian people. From their point of view, this was a reaction to the fact that many of the slave revolts in the United States had Haitian fingerprints all over them. I’m speaking of Gabriel’s revolt in Virginia in 1800, the revolt in Louisiana circa 1811, Denmark Vesey about a decade later in South Carolina. In fact, Vesey had sailed in and out of Haiti before that eruption in Charleston, South Carolina. And then, culminating this hostility to Haiti, there is substantial evidence to suggest that when the island, the island that we refer to as Hispaniola, was split in 1844 with the secession from Haiti of what became the Dominican Republic, that this was an early success for U.S. covert operations.

So, this story in The New York Times is of significance for we in the United States. Hopefully, it will cause us to reexamine the history of this country and move away from the propaganda point that somehow the United States was an abolitionist republic, when actually it was the foremost slaveholders’ republic.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m wondering also if it wouldn’t have been worthwhile for The New York Times to do another piece on its own coverage of Haiti over the past hundred years or so. I’m thinking back, for instance, during the first coup against President Aristide, when there were numerous articles in The New York Times about how Aristide was considered to be mentally unstable and erratic in his behavior, all of it fed to it by intelligence sources, and even the Times‘s coverage perhaps of the U.S. occupation, that long occupation in the early 20th century. The Times seems to be willing to go after France and the U.S., but really doesn’t look at its own role in creating the narrative of Haiti as a dysfunctional country. I’m wondering what you think about that, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Well, you’re absolutely correct. Obviously, criticism should be accompanied by self-criticism, and there is much work to be done in that sphere by The New York Times. You mentioned the occupation, 1915 to 1934. The United States did not — excuse me, The New York Times did not necessarily stress and emphasize in their coverage the mass opposition to the U.S. occupation, particularly by Black Americans, particularly by a founder of the NAACP, speaking of W.E.B. Du Bois, who, as you know, his ancestral roots were in fact on the island. And he led a vigorous campaign against this murderous and bloodthirsty occupation, that in some ways involved the reassertion of unpaid labor, the so-called corvée, as it was called euphemistically, in Haiti. And The New York Times would do well to reexamine its own coverage, because hopefully that would improve today’s coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go back to 2004. Juan just referred to this. France’s former ambassador to Haiti has admitted France and the United States effectively orchestrated the 2004 coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. The former French ambassador, Thierry Burkhard, told The New York Times one benefit of the coup was that it ended Aristide’s campaign demanding France pay reparations to Haiti. I want to turn to an interview we did with Kim Ives of Haïti Liberté. This was right after President Aristide was put on a plane and sent to the Central African Republic. This was what Kim Ives described.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a U.S.-French-led operation. In fact, didn’t Aristide say he holds the French ambassador to Haiti, as well, responsible for his kidnapping and wants to bring charges?

KIM IVES: Yes, the French were involved in all this pressure and, in fact, were in some ways leading the charge. … This was a purely U.S.-French operation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, France, probably more than the United States, had more to lose from Aristide continuing in the presidency, since he was beginning to lay claim to reparations from France —

KIM IVES: Right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — for the period of colonialism and slavery.

KIM IVES: Well, this is precisely it. You had the restitution for $21.7 billion, which was on the table, and we saw a lot of rivalries were put aside to get Aristide out, between the ruling groups in Haiti of the comprador bourgeoisie and the big landowners, who generally are constantly squabbling throughout Haitian history for power. They put aside their differences to get together, which we see with Andy Apaid representing the bourgeoisie and Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain, more the Macoute wing. And we saw France and the U.S., who have also been sort of vying, put aside their differences. So you saw this union, unity, come between rivals against Aristide, because he represented the people and because he was a representative of popular will in Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: So, just to be clear, this is mid-March 2004 that Kim Ives was speaking. Right after that, Democracy Now!, I flew to the Central African Republic on a small plane, covering a group of African American activists and politicians, including Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, as well as Congressmember Maxine Waters, who went to the Central African Republic to retrieve the Aristides and then brought them back to the Western Hemisphere as the U.S. government was saying, “How dare you bring them to this hemisphere?” to which Randall Robinson responded, “Whose hemisphere?” They eventually brought them to Haiti, and the Aristides then went into exile in South Africa for years, before they eventually went back to Haiti, where they are today. I’d like to get response, starting with Professor Horne and then Professor Alcenat, about the significance of these coups, whether we’re talking about Aristide in the early ’90s or again in 2004, the coups against them, and what that meant for this country. I mean, no president again would demand reparations.

GERALD HORNE: Well, the reparations question is obviously key. Keep in mind that what makes the United States unique is that the slave owners were expropriated. Their property, in the bodies of enslaved Africans, was taken without compensation. That helped to give rise to the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. In Haiti, as we’ve been discussing, the Haitians were obligated to pay back, believe it or not, the enslavers. And likewise, if you look at the British possessions, so-called — Jamaica, Barbados, etc. — you had London compensate the enslavers, and, by some measures, that total was not paid off until just a few years ago. And so, this question of reparations is quite key.

And also quite key is the role of Haiti in helping to ignite this entire process of abolition, leading to capital loss, not least in the United States of America. The enslaving class and their descendants have a very long memory. They have not forgotten Haiti’s role. That’s why they continued to punish Haiti for having the temerity to rise up against slavery. And even today, they continue to punish Haiti because they see Haiti as a haven for low-wage labor. U.S. baseballs in the U.S. national pastime are largely manufactured by cheap labor in Haiti. So there is still much to sort out with regard to this entire controversy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Alcenat, if you could also respond, right through to today, to the U.S. diplomat Patrick Gaspard, who now runs Center for American Progress, demanding Citibank launch an investigation, and the whole issue of reparations, whether you could see it actually being real, given the devastation of Haiti?

WESTENLEY ALCENAT: OK. Thank you, Amy. I think I want to quickly go back to what was asked with regards to The New York Times. Let me remind our audience that it was in 2010, just days after an earthquake had devastated the country and killed upwards of 200,000 and more people, that The New York Times provided a platform for one of its columnists, David Brooks, to say some of the most racist things that I’ve ever read in The New York Times about Haiti. So, if we are going to also give The New York Times the credit for what is a phenomenal job about talking on this issue, they should also start by apologizing for what Mr. Brooks had said then, which — let me quote real quick:

“Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

“We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.”

So I call on The New York Times to both acknowledge the statements of racist demagoguery on its pages from Mr. David Brooks, as anyone can judge for themselves. They can go back and look at the op-ed and its pseudo-intellectual anthropologizing of Haitians. So, that’s one.

And with regards to Mr. Gaspard, I believe he actually served in the Obama administration. And most people should know that President Obama, being himself the first Black African American president of the United States, actually never made an official visit to the first Black republic in the world, the very nation without which Mr. Obama would have not assumed the role of leading a society like the United States as he had. So, I would like to know from Mr. Gaspard why is that the administration never actually took the very official position that he is taking right now with regards to Haitian poverty and underdevelopment and the explicit role that the United States, France, Canada and Germany have played in all of that.

And then, lastly, I just want to respond to your question with regards to just the immensity of the debt and the destructive legacy it has had for Haiti. The tragedy of all of this is that even once this debt is paid, if it were to ever be paid, which, like Professor Horne, I believe there are parties that are invested in never actually making realizing that possibility — even if that debt were to be paid, we are already talking about decades of gaps in development that were missed in the process because of where the money was going — something like upwards to 80% of all Haitian expenditures up until the early part of the 20th century was going to financing the debt — and the fact that American firms from Wall Street in cahoots with the federal government in terms of the State Department, the Navy. And you have names like General Smedley Butler, who actually wrote about his role as the Marines in Haiti and how he secured the interest of the financial corporate groups, as well as working with the State Department to make sure that Haiti becomes a haven for capitalism, as he said. And also, we can even see FDR, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself had been secretary of the Navy upon the time that Haiti was invaded and becoming a protectorate, essentially, of the United States. And he, too, had professed to actually amending the Haitian Constitution to take out a very revolutionary constitutional clause that had banned white males from owning land in Haiti. Among the first constitutional clauses that the occupation targeted was that, and therefore opened the country up to internal meddling by the international powers.

But lastly, I just want to also note the fact that with regards to what you had said about the Eiffel Tower, Crédit Industriel, which is now a part of Crédit Agricole, one of the largest banks in the world, I think among the 10th largest banks in the world, having funded the building of the Eiffel Tower, which is now this massive monument to French industrial progress, that was happening at a moment in which the United States, France, Germany and parts of Western Europe were developing rapidly from the capital that they were extracting from many of their former colonies or their current colonies. So, imagine: What would the history of development in Haiti be today, if at the same time that the world is undergoing industrial transformations the likes of which we see today in the form of the Eiffel Tower — what if that money that was taken from Haiti, financing French infrastructure, was financing Haitian infrastructure instead? The fact of the matter is, there is no progress-resistant genes that somehow Haitians are born with. Perhaps someone like David Brooks was born with that, with some progress-resistant gene, as he is unable to fathom that Haitians can take care of themselves. But the truth goes to show where the receipts are in terms of why we know Haiti is in the position that it is today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Gerald Horne — the bank aspect of this reporting, which to me is, I think, the most newsworthy, in that the Times actually was able to get a hold, in French archives, of financial arrangements that were made between banking interests in France and Haiti, as well as its uncovering — more deeply uncovering the role of First National City Bank in the early 20th century in Haiti. So, I think that this is some of the best stuff in this report, but it’s almost like, “Hey, New York Times discovers imperialism.” Isn’t the role of Wall Street and European banks in controlling the economies, not just of Haiti but of Honduras, of Nicaragua, of Cuba, of many of these countries in Latin America, part of the operational mold of American imperialism?

GERALD HORNE: Most definitely. And I think that the series, laudable as it has been, could also have made a contribution if it had pointed out the close connections between France and the United States. That is to say, in the 20th century, they began to talk about Citibank and Citicorp and how it was involved in the depredations inflicted upon Haiti, but I think if you were to go back to the Haitian revolutionary period, you would also find similar connections. After all, we know that what became the United States was involved in a revolt against London that would not have succeeded without the assistance of France. We know that there was substantial French migration to [inaudible] States and that Frenchmen were involved in similar depredations in Louisiana and slave owning, for example. We know that when Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836, that Texas’s major diplomatic ally on the international front happened to be France. And we also know that when the United States Civil War erupted, 1861 to 1865, it was France that opportunistically chose that moment to try to seize and occupy Mexico, and then extend the lease on life of slavery in Texas and throughout the South by welcoming slave owners from Texas and from Dixie into French-occupied Mexico. And it took a mass revolt by the Mexican people to overturn that particular scheme. So there is much more digging and excavation that needs to be done. And I would like to reiterate my call for The New York Times to open the kimono and to disgorge these documents they say that they have uncovered in France, so that other scholars and other researchers can examine same.

AMY GOODMAN: We haven’t even talked about the Louisiana Purchase, but we can’t in this show. However, I want to end on the crisis that Haitians confront today when they try to come into the United States. I think it was last September the U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigned in protest over the Biden administration’s policies. In a letter, the longtime diplomat, U.S. envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote, wrote, “I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees.” Foote also criticized the Biden administration for meddling in Haiti’s political affairs, including its support for Ariel Henry as prime minister following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July. Foote’s resignation came just days after U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback were filmed chasing, grabbing and whipping Haitian asylum seekers who had gathered in that makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas. We only have a minute, Professor Alcenat, but the issue of Haitian refugees being deported by the thousands back to a devastated Haiti?

WESTENLEY ALCENAT: Well, real quick, I think what you’ve just demonstrated is that Haiti stands as a singular metaphor for understanding the racial legacy of imperial powers like the United States and France. In fact, as the war in Ukraine is happening, the sheer magnitude of the difference in the treatment of certain refugees because of their European background relative to, say, Haitians, as you just showed in terms of what’s happening at the border, that’s a very revealing example of what Haiti not only means to the United States, but what it means to the world at large in terms of populations from formerly colonized geographies, as well as Black, Brown and Indigenous people in this country, who knows something about the treatment of racism at the hands of the U.S. government. So, in many ways, Haiti should be looked at as a singular metaphor for explaining so many of these various mistreatments and levels of preference for different groups. And I think the more we learn about Haiti, the more we realize how our fate — and this is not an overstatement — our fate is actually directly connected to it, if we are going to better understand what world we’re living in with regards to how the powers that be intend to engineer the world towards imperialism.

AMY GOODMAN: Our fates intertwined, going right back to the U.S. not recognizing Haiti’s independence for decades, fearing that a slave uprising would inspire enslaved people in the United States to rise up. Westenley Alcenat, thanks so much for being with us, Haitian American professor at Fordham University, where he teaches courses on the Atlantic slave trade, the American abolition movement and Afro-Caribbean history. And thank you, Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston, author of many books, including Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic.

Next up, in his first trip to Asia as president, Joe Biden has promised to defend Taiwan militarily if it’s invaded by China. Is this new U.S. policy? Stay with us.