Two million Palestinians live in the open-air prison that is Gaza. Last Friday, Israeli snipers gunned down 17 protesters and wounded more than a thousand others. This week on Intercepted: Yousef Mema, a 24-year-old nursing student in Gaza who witnessed the massacre, describes the killings and the aftermath, and he has a message for U.S. lawmakers. Then, key narratives about the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, and his motives and alleged accomplices are falling apart. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald talks about the new information, the dubious prosecution of Mateen’s wife Noor Salman and how the shooter’s father has been an FBI informant since 2005. While Jeff Sessions may be turning back the clock to ’80s-era “tough on crime,” a national insurgency is steadily aiming its sights at winning elections for district attorney. If successful, these new, progressive DAs could shake the criminal justice industry to its core and find themselves at war with the Trump White House. We speak to two DA candidates in California: Geneviéve Jones-Wright of San Diego and Pamela Price of Alameda County. These two women say they will take on out-of-control police, end cash bail, stop prosecuting nonviolent drug crimes, protect undocumented immigrants, and challenge mass incarceration. And, Frank from “Donnie Darko” pays a visit to the White House.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, and Mrs. Trump, accompanied by the Easter Bunny.
Frank from “Donnie Darko”: Wake up, Donnie.
President Donald J. Trump: I wish I had that voice. Well, welcome to the 2018 White House Easter Egg Roll.
F: I can do anything I want. And so can you. They are in great danger.
DJT: And look what we have. I love you people, I hear them a lot.
F: Wake up, Donnie.
DJT: Whatever you want to call it because there really is no name for it. It is — we call it, sometimes, tippy top special.
F: 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds.
DJT: Great, look at what’s happening. Nothing’s ever easy. It’s — you see what’s happening? Unbelievable.
F: That is when the world will end. Closer —
DJT: Thank you all for being here folks. Thank you. And now I’m going to come down, and we’re going to watch this Roll. Thank you all, and have a great time. Thank you, Happy Easter. Thank you very much.
F: Do you believe in time travel?
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 51 of Intercepted.
[Ambulance sirens in Gaza.]
JS: As I speak right now, hundreds of families in Gaza are continuing to mourn the death and injuries of their loved ones after Israeli forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators along the militarized border controlled by Israel.
Last Friday, Israeli snipers and other soldiers began firing live ammunition and other lethal projectiles into the crowd. At least 17 people were killed; some were shot in the back or hit as they prayed. Many hundreds of other Palestinians were wounded.
Newscaster: Palestinian medical officials say one of the dead was aged 16. Most of the casualties were struck by gunfire.
Israel’s military responded by saying its troops had used “riot dispersal means” in firing towards main instigators.
JS: The Gaza Strip is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians who are trapped in a 140-square-mile piece of land. They live under constant threat of Israeli bombings, incursions, drone strikes, and they suffer under a sweeping blockade that prevents even basic humanitarian and medical goods from getting into Gaza. Life inside Gaza has been consistently compared to living in an open-air prison. It’s one of the most shameful ongoing episodes in the world. It’s the very definition of collective punishment. And it’s aided and abetted, and sometimes even cheered on, by the U.S. government, by lawmakers from both political parties, and backed up by powerful lobbying groups and special-interest coalitions.
Last Friday, March 30, thousands of Palestinians began amassing at the Israeli border. They erected tents and other structures and planned to be there for more than a month of protest events. All of this was to mark Land Day.
On March 30th, 1976, six unarmed Palestinians, who were citizens of Israel, were killed as they protested Israel’s seizing of Palestinian lands by force. Some 70 percent of Gazans are refugees from other parts of Palestine that had their land taken by Israel. And this year, the protesters marched under the banner of “the great return.” Their focus was on the right of return to their original homes and land.
And the demonstrators knew that Israel was going to attack their demonstration by force. Israel had said as much in the days leading up to the protest. This is how Human Rights Watch, which is not exactly a radical organization, described the Israeli position on the demonstrations: “In interviews given on March 28th, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, announced that he would deploy 100 snipers to the Gaza border area to block ‘mass infiltration’ or damage to the border fence, saying that, ‘The orders are to use a lot of force.’ On March 29, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic spokesman posted a video of a man shot in the leg, stating, ‘This is the least that anyone who tries to cross the security fence between Gaza and Israel will face.’
[Ambient of gun shot in Gaza.]
On the morning of March 30, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted in Arabic that, ‘Anyone who approaches the border puts his life in jeopardy.'” That from the Human Rights Watch report on this incident.
Well true to its word, the Israeli military opened fire on the demonstrators, including with sharpshooters and snipers. As of this moment, the death toll is at 17 and the number of injured could be as high as 1,700 hundred people across Palestinian lands.
Benjamin Netanyahu praised the conduct of his soldiers and snipers, and the IDF spokesperson accused the demonstrators of, “hurling burning tires, throwing Molotov cocktails and attempting to harm or destroy Israel security infrastructure.”
Israel has said there will be no internal investigation and that Israel is not going to cooperate with any outside or international investigations, as both the United Nations and the European Union have called for. In the U.S., the reaction on Capitol Hill to this massacre of unarmed protesters who live trapped in a small slice of land surrounded by a nuclear power has largely been marked by silence or de facto support for Israel. Only one U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, has said anything about the killings, and his statement was tepid given the numbers of dead and wounded.
Senator Bernie Sanders: My assessment is that Israel overreacted on that. But, again, the bottom line here is that the United States of America has got to be involved in dealing with the terrible tragedy in Gaza.
JS: My colleague Mehdi Hasan wrote an excellent column this week for The Intercept; it’s about the hypocrisy of so-called liberal interventionists.
Mehdi Hasan: So where is the outcry from liberal interventionists across the West? Where is the call from former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair for a no-fly zone over Gaza? Where is the moral outrage from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, the famously pro-intervention, Pulitzer-prize-winning author of “A Problem from Hell,” which lamented U.S. inaction in Rwanda, over the sheer number of unarmed Palestinians shot killed and injured in recent days? Where are the righteously angry op-eds from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, or Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, or David Aaronovitch of the Times of London demanding concrete action against the human rights abuses of the IDF? And where is the appeal from former U.S. Secretary of State and arch-interventionist Madeleine Albright for economic and financial sanctions against the state of Israel, for an arms embargo, for travel bans on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff General Gadi Eisenkot?
Their silence is deafening and telling. Palestinians, it seems have been so dehumanized that they don’t deserve a humanitarian intervention. Their blood is cheap, their plight is unimportant and perhaps, above all else, their killers are our friends.
JS: Those are the words of Mehdi Hasan writing in The Intercept.
We go now to Gaza where we’re joined by a young nursing student named Yousef Mema. He is 24 years old, and he was at the massacre last Friday in Gaza. Yousef only has electricity for about four hours a day and our connection with him is unstable. His modem is running on batteries, so bear with us.
Yousef, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
Yousef Mema: You are welcome. It’s my duty.
JS: So, let’s begin. What happened on March 30th in Gaza?
YM: So, we going to the borders of the Gaza Strip, rising and holding a Palestinian flag. We go to protest peacefully at the borders, there was a thousand of the Gazan people who were going to the borders to send a message to the world, as I said to you, to protest peacefully. And when I [went] I just witnessed the Israeli soldiers shooting fires toward the peaceful protestors at Gaza borders, and the Israeli snipers, they were behind Sandy Hill and they were full of weapons and guns. And they were shooting toward the peaceful protestors, and there were tens of injuries there, and the ambulances were transferring tens of injuries.
JS: And did you see people who were killed in front of you?
YM: Yes. He was away from me, about just 15 meters. Yeah. And [was] shot directly in the head. And he was just standing and he was away from the Israel soldiers. I don’t know why the snipers shot him directly in the head.
JS: What is the feeling right now in hospitals in Gaza?
YM: My friends working in the hospitals, they explained the situation for me in the hospital: it was unimaginable because, you know, the hospital conditions, are very poor. And there was a lot of injuries inside the hospital and the medical section in Gaza Strip, in general, is poor because of the shortage of the medical supplements here. After giving them the medical care, they were directly were discharging them to their houses because they won’t accept new injuries to the hospital.
JS: And did you see any Palestinians with guns or rifles or weapons?
YM: No. Never.
JS: Were any Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails, you know, on fire, at the Israelis, or rocks, or anything like that?
YM: Molotovs, no. But I think some Palestinian young men, they were throwing just stones, small stones.
JS: Why do you believe that Israel did this? That they killed so many people who were protesting inside of Gaza that had not crossed over? What do you think was Israel’s purpose in shooting and killing these Palestinians?
YM: Yeah, I think that Israel soldiers and snipers did this to the protestors to send [a] message to us as the Palestinians. They want to send [a] message to us to stop the protest at Gaza borders. They want to send us [a] message that “your protest would not benefit you,” and they want also to send [a] message to us that Palestine is not for us. It’s a type of terrorizing us, and, as you know, this marching and the protest will make the outer world aware about our issues as Palestinians, who are living under occupation.
They, as I said to you, are terrorizing us, to make us stop about this protest. But we will continue, and we will make the outer world aware about what is going on here because we are living in Gaza and suffering daily. And on the other side, inside our occupied land, Palestine, or some people are calling it, Israel, they are having our land and enjoying the life. And we will continue in the protest until we get and achieve our rights.
JS: My understanding is that Gaza is like being in a prison or a jail, that is open air. Describe what is it like to live in Gaza, on the Gaza strip right now, Yousef?
YM: Yes, exactly, we are living in an open-air prison. Why? Because you know, all Gaza borders are controlled by Israel, from the land, and from the air, and from the sea, except one side is controlled by Egypt.
The fishermen are facing many problems in Gaza strip because they, all the Gaza Sea is controlled by Israeli warships, and our air is full of Israeli drones, and sometimes F-16s are flying over us, but Israel drones are holding professional camera and rockets, and [are] always flying over us, and they can target anyone they want.
And, we just have four hours of electricity every 12 hours. This is simply part of the life.
JS: Benjamin Netanyahu is praising the soldiers. He says they did a good job at the protest. What do you say about Netanyahu’s words?
YM: I say that this is a type of racism against us, as he is supporting his soldiers to kill more people, and this is a type of racism. Because all of the protesters were [peacefully] protesting at the borders, and asking for their rights to return.
JS: In the United States, at this moment when I’m talking to you, only one U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, has even mentioned this killing in Gaza. What is your message to the United States Congress right now?
YM: Yeah, my message to the United States Congress is to stop supporting Israel and just to be — to stand up with us as a Palestinians and to support our issues and to stop supporting Israel with the money and with the weapons. They’re killing us, they’re killing innocent people there in Palestine, in Gaza.
JS: Yousef, you’re a student studying nursing. Why do you want to be a nurse?
YM: I want to be a nurse, because it’s about humanity, it’s a humanitarian job. Because you know we are living in a place where there is always wounded and killing by Israelis. So, it is my duty to stand up with my people and offer all I can.
JS: Well, both of my parents are nurses. My mother and my father are nurses.
YM: Yeah, that’s great!
JS: And I thank you for choosing that path.
YM: Thank you so much. I will do all my best to just to help my people.
JS: Thank you so much, Yousef. Stay safe.
YM: Thank you. You are welcome.
JS: Ma’a salama.
YM: Ma’a salama
JS: Yousef Mema is a 24-year-old nursing student in Gaza. You can find him on Twitter @joo_gaza. That’s @joo_gaza.
JS: I’m sure all of us remember the horrors of June 12, 2016. It was Latin night at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Many of the guests there that night were Latino, and as people danced and hung out with friends and partied, it was around 2 AM when the bartenders shouted out the last call.
As people began to down their final drinks and exit the club, a van pulled up. It was driven by a 29-year-old, off-duty private security guard. His name was Omar Mateen. He got out of the van and approached the club. He was heavily armed with a Sig Sauer semiautomatic rifle, a nine-millimeter Glock, both of which he had purchased legally.
Mateen almost immediately began spraying bullets at exiting club-goers. Dozens were killed or wounded, but the shooter didn’t stop. He proceeded to enter the Pulse Nightclub and continue on with his massacre.
In the end, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded nearly 60 others. During his rampage, Mateen called 9-1-1, and he reportedly swore allegiance to the Islamic State, and its leader Ab? Bakr al-Baghdadi.
911 Operator: 911. This line is being recorded.
Omar Mateen: (speaking Arabic)
911 Operator: What?
OM: (speaking Arabic) I want to let you know I’m Orlando, and I did the shooting.
911 Operator: What’s your name?
OM: My name is: I pledge allegiance to Ab? Bakr al Baghdadi of the Islamic State.
JS: Mateen said that he was attacking the club to oppose U.S. wars in Syria and Iraq, and he told the negotiator that his demand was that the U.S. stop its bombing. Mateen had also posted these same sentiments on Facebook just hours before the shooting.
OM: Well, you need to know that they need to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. The U.S. is collaborating with Russia, and they’re killing innocent women and children, OK?
911 Negotiator: I know what you’re saying.
OM: My homeboy Tameran Tsarnaev did his thing on the Boston Marathon; my homeboy [indistinct name] did his thing, so now it’s my return. OK?
JS: Almost immediately after news of the massacre began to spread, the dominant story that emerged was that Pulse had been targeted because it was a gay club. Pundits and so-called terrorism experts began tying it to ISIS’s execution of gay people, and claimed that this was the reason Pulse was chosen.
Brian Ross: Yet it is now clear he was attracted to gay men and gay nightclubs, including the very place he would target for his suicide attack, The Pulse, where employees and patrons said he was a regular, often seen cheering on the performers in drag. Mateen’s interest in gay men goes back at least ten years. Yet somehow, Mateen, a Muslim, was drawn to ISIS, which preaches that homosexuality is punishable by death.
JS: And then came reports that Mateen had been using apps like Grindr and Jack’d to find men to sleep with. A man who claimed to be a former lover of Omar Mateen’s told media that Mateen chose Pulse to get revenge for being potentially exposed to HIV/AIDS by a Puerto Rican man with whom he had a sexual relationship.
Law enforcement officials not only categorized it as a terror attack but also as a hate crime. Even Donald Trump and Mike Pence and other anti-gay political figures, condemned the shooting as an attack on gay Americans, just like ISIS throwing gay people off of buildings.
Vice President Mike Pence: We have been praying for the victims and those that are recovering from injuries, family members, friends and loved ones, especially those in the LGBT community who have been victimized by this horrendous attack.
Reporter: Does this change your opinion on adding protections for LGBT Hoosiers?
MP: I’m just deeply saddened at the loss of life. An attack on any American is an attack on every American. This was a terrorist attack.
JS: This narrative about Mateen choosing Pulse because it was a gay club and the reports of his sexual orientation and previous visits to the club has all become part of the universally accepted narrative of this heinous act.
But there’s a problem with this: It appears to be totally false. And the reason we know that is because of the U.S. government’s attempt to prosecute Omar Mateen’s wife as an accomplice.
During the course of her defense at the trial last month, many of those claims fell completely apart and something extraordinary happened in the prosecution of Noor Salman, on charges that she had supported her husband’s killing spree.
The FBI arrested her in January of 2017, and they claim that she had admitted to helping case the Pulse nightclub with her husband. FBI agents spent 17 hours interrogating her with no video recording, and they used her supposed confession to ask the court to hold Noor Salman without bond. And as a result, she was denied bail, and they charged her with providing material support to terrorism and obstruction of justice. And last month she went on trial.
And here is what was extraordinary: Noor Salman was acquitted by a jury of 12 — acquitted of all charges. That almost never happens, where people charged with terrorism-related crimes in the U.S. are found not guilty. Just doesn’t happen. In fact, it has only happened to other times since 9/11: two times out of more than 850 cases. The last time this happened was 12 years ago in 2006.
It became clear during Noor Salman’s trial and her defense that so much of what the public was told about this case was not true.
My colleague Glenn Greenwald has done some really important work on this case and he joins me now. Glenn, welcome back to Intercepted.
Glenn Greenwald: Thank you for having me, Jeremy.
JS: Now, a lot of information came to public light that calls into question almost every aspect of the Pulse nightclub shooting, except the fact that these people are dead and Omar Mateen was the shooter. Number one: That Omar Mateen had previously been to the Pulse nightclub. Number two: that he intended to shoot up the Pulse nightclub because of his hatred of gay people.
Your reporting and then the evidence that was presented, or has come out as a result of this prosecution, calls those key assertions, which continue to this moment to be viewed as the kind of dominant narrative on what happened at the Pulse nightclub, your reporting, and the trial showed what, Glenn?
GG: On the two questions that you just raised — namely, one: whether he had ever been to Pulse, or, for that matter, any other gay bar ever in his life; and number two, whether or not he went to Pulse with the intention of murdering LGBTs — everybody is in agreement — the prosecutors, the FBI, his lawyers, all the journalists who sat through the trial, who looked at the evidence, that neither of those things is true.
I thought for a year and a half, as just kind of a casual observer, until I started doing reporting on this, that that was why he chose Pulse. It seemed obvious. It was a very easy narrative to believe. We’re constantly told that Muslims hate gay people, especially ones who are radicalized by ISIS.
But the thing that made me start wondering was if you looked at all the reports about what he said, I mean the shooting went on for like hours, and he was talking to hostage negotiators, multiple calls with police and 9/11, no one ever said he ever uttered a word about gay people during the shooting. He wasn’t saying, “I’m killing you because you’re morally warped,” or “deviant,” or “because you’re homos” or “faggots” or anything like that, not a syllable of homophobia from him. Everything was “I’m doing this because your government is murdering innocent Muslim children and women.” So already, that to me seemed like a pretty big red flag.
And then the evidence uncovered during the trial showed that his real target were Disney properties. He had cased multiple Disney properties on the night of the shooting, he had gone to Disney Springs, which is this elaborate shopping complex and tourist attraction, but found it too fortified to attack. And the only reason he ended up at Pulse was because he then said: You know what? Since I can’t shoot a mall or a complex or a tourist attraction, I’m going to just pick a nightclub. And he went to Google, and he entered “nightclub downtown Orlando.” Not “gay nightclub,” not “LGBT nightclub,” just “nightclub Orlando.” And the very first result, if you do that, was Pulse, and that’s where he went.
So, the evidence is really overwhelming that his targets were non-LGBT related, that he ended up at Pulse for the first time that night by virtue of a Google search that had nothing to do with LGBTs, or any of the other things that we were all led to believe by media accounts, most of which ended up being debunked by investigators.
JS: There are two aspects to this that really also piqued my interest. One is that Omar Mateen worked for a very large, global private security, some would say mercenary, company, G4S, as a security guard, and was known to wear NYPD and other law enforcement gear. And his father, Omar Mateen’s father, Siddique Mateen, he was an FBI informant going back to 2005.
What can you tell us about those two facts?
GG: So, when the Pulse attack happened it was revealed shortly thereafter that the FBI had twice investigated Omar Mateen for possible terrorism ties because he was boasting of being part of terrorist groups to co-workers at the security firm that you referenced. And, at the time, people were criticizing the FBI for not having arrested him preemptively. And I found myself in the very strange position of defending the FBI, it’s something I don’t think I’ve ever done in my entire life. I actually wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying: We can’t expect and shouldn’t want the FBI to go around arresting anybody who has ever uttered a radical thought in their life, because that has a really dangerous potential and a bad history.
But as it turns out, there was a lot more to it than that. His father, as you said, was working as an FBI informant, directly with the FBI, 2005 to 2016. They never told anybody that. They decided they were going to call Siddique Mateen to the stand because they wanted him to testify in ways they thought would help convict Noor Salman. But had they done that, the defense would’ve found out that he was an FBI informant, so they decided they weren’t going to call him, and they took them off the list because they wanted to prevent anybody from knowing that he was an FBI informant.
Near the end of the trial, sort of in the middle, the defense discovered for the first time that he was an FBI informant, and they were furious because there’s a lot of theories they should have pursued and would have pursued, had they known that — including: Is Siddique Mateen the person who helped his son carry out the attack on Pulse and they were scapegoating Noor Salman? Is the reason the FBI chose not to arrest Omar Mateen was because his father intervened on the behalf of his son to have the FBI not arrest him? There’s evidence that the FBI was talking to Siddique about the investigation into his son at the time that they decided not to arrest him or go forward with the investigation. So there was a lot of really interesting aspects that never got explored, because just as was true of the FBI’s conclusion that she never went to Pulse, the FBI also, or the DOJ also, concealed from the court and from her lawyers that the father was working directly with the FBI.
One last point about the father: The FBI actually opened a criminal investigation into the father because they had received tips that he was sending money to Afghanistan and Turkey with the intention of having an attack launched on the government of Pakistan. He’s ethnically Afghan. And so, they opened a criminal investigation once they found money transfers in his name both to Afghanistan and Turkey, as these tips had revealed, leading the defense to wonder: Was the real radical the father? Was he the one who helped Omar Mateen carry out the attack, and that’s the reason why they decided to prosecute Noor Salman, to protect their own informant?
JS: We have so many cases where the FBI’s own informants are essentially the go-betweens for the FBI and then unsuspecting, in many cases, Muslims and it’s the FBI informant who, you know, at the spurring of the FBI, is actually, sort of, the one creating the plot.
And so, it seems like it would be very significant to understand, and I understand we don’t have that information right now, but it’s significant to understand how Siddique Mateen’s relationship began with the FBI?
GG: Yeah. It’s a really great question. I’ve written about before how the way that I became so devoted to writing about civil liberties, and particularly the attack on the civil liberties of American Muslims in the wake of 9/11 was that I went around in that era to a lot of Muslim communities and constantly heard from Muslims that when someone new at the mosque showed up, instead of being able to welcome them and be hospitable and embrace them the way that most religions call for, and certainly Islam, they instead assumed that the new person was sent by the FBI to infiltrate their communities and to try and manipulate and trick them into saying and doing things that the FBI could use to prosecute them.
JS: You know, you cite, Glenn, in some of your reporting on the Noor Salman case, this major investigation that is ongoing at The Intercept, this “Trial and Terror,” where our publication collected and analyzed the profiles of 850 terrorism defendants that have been prosecuted by the Department of Justice since 9/11. And, I mean, the big picture of this is that the U.S. has prosecuted 850 people on terrorism since 9/11, and the overwhelming majority of them never even got close to committing an act of violence, and just two of the people that have been prosecuted, just two of them have been acquitted, three have had their charges dropped or dismissed, but the vast majority of them have been quickly convicted, usually through plea agreements.
GG: So, it’s interesting, because I didn’t realize this until the jury acquitted her, I found myself in a state of utter shock that justice had been served. Because even though the more I reported on this story, the more I came to believe, vehemently, that not only was she not guilty but that it was one of the most — it was one of the weakest and most dubious prosecutions I had seen in a long time. But I nonetheless just assumed that she would be found guilty because she’s a Muslim in the United States judicial system charged with terrorism-related offenses and Muslims charged with terrorism have no chance in the American justice system, as our database demonstrates. Virtually no chance.
JS: Well, you know, I find it also really important to discuss how the broader public, all of us, I think — I would assume you and I are in that camp, too — when this shooting happened, and it was at a gay nightclub, it seemed like it combined both the kind of threat of terrorism, but also the fact that the LGBTQ community is under constant attack already in this country, including from the highest levels of power in this country, namely Vice President Mike Pence and his ilk. And now to have that fall apart, I’ve seen people, even though you’re showing the proof, Glenn, I see people saying, “No, it had to have been motivated by his hatred of gay people.”
GG: Obviously, just as a journalist, I think it’s important if there is a pervasive myth believed by the public that’s false to correct it in an important case. But in this particular case, I thought it was extra important because there is this really insidious effort on the part of people in the West to campaign against Muslims and try to spread anti-Muslim animus to argue that being Muslim is incompatible with being a Westerner.
Bill Maher: Vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person. Not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.
GG: Interestingly the people who do that have the same view as ISIS, and our colleague Murtaza Hussain has written about this before, that the strategy of ISIS is to eliminate what they call “the gray zone” which is where Muslims integrate into the West. They kind of feel like they have one foot in the Muslim world, one foot in the Western world — to make that impossible, to drive a wedge so that you either have to choose: You’re Muslim or you’re Western, and there’s an incompatibility.
There’s a big group in the West who hate Muslims who also try and create that framework. And this Pulse attack and the false narrative that arose from it was the perfect weapon to promote that narrative.
DJT: Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country and who suppress women, gays, and anyone else who doesn’t share their views or values.
GG: It was saying: “Look, all of you liberals who have been resistant to the idea that Muslims and Islam in the West are a threat to your values, here’s the perfect proof.”
DJT: They enslave women and they murder gays. I don’t want them in our country.
GG: They didn’t go and they didn’t attack a conservative synagogue or the Pentagon. They went in attacked, you know, kind of one of the most sacred places for American liberalism, which is the meeting place, a safe space for LGBTs, and, I mean, I know as a gay man I had a kind of visceral reaction to it that way also. And very much that was exploited on purpose.
DJT: Ask yourself: Who is really the friend of women, and the LB — and LGBT community? Donald Trump with actions or Hillary Clinton with her words? I will tell you who the better friend is. And someday, I believe that will be proven out — bigly.
GG: And that’s why I thought it was so important to debunk what had been this very damaging falsehood because it just isn’t true that that’s why he chose to do the attack. What really motivated him was the same thing that motivates most people who engage in violence against the West in the name of jihad or radical Islam or allegiance to ISIS, which is anger over 17 years of American killing of innocent Muslim women and children and men in the Muslim world.
JS: Well, you know, it reminds me, Glenn, of a case that I’ve written about and you also have written about, and that is the 2009 Fort Hood shooting where you had this U.S. Army Major named Nidal Hasan who opened fire on his fellow soldiers and others on the base, back in November of 2009. Thirteen people were killed there, more than 30 others were injured, and he was convicted in the military court of premeditated murder and he was sentenced to death in August of 2013.
What’s interesting about that case is that, again, it’s been portrayed as “Oh this is an al Qaeda sympathizer or a guy that said he was a soldier of Allah that just opened fire on these infidel forces.”
Newscaster: The FBI says Major Hasan first came to the attention of intelligence officials in December 2008, when he reached out to Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born cleric who now lives in Yemen.
Investigators say the two traded 10 to 20 Internet messages over a number of months. But the communications appeared to benign, with Hasan asking for help on a research paper, studying the effects of war on Muslim-American soldiers and Awlaki responding with spiritual guidance.
JS: When in reality if you know anything about Nidal Hasan’s background, he was a psychiatrist. Nidal Hasan was seeing soldiers who were coming back from the U.S. wars abroad, particularly in Afghanistan, and he listened to the stories of these soldiers that he was treating as a psychiatrist and heard what he believed were confessions to war crimes.
Newscaster: This morning near the Palestinian town of Ramallah, Hasan’s uncle told CBS News his nephew was deeply affected by his work treating soldiers returning from war zones.
Rafik Hamad: In fact, one time he told me about one of his patients. Describing his situation to me, I saw the tears come from his eyes.
JS: He then tried to notify his superiors. He said that under certain military laws, you are allowed to refer specific certain criminal matters, and he wanted to do that. He was told to stand down. And in fact in his writings, his own writings, he describes his utter frustration and hopelessness facing all of these stories of war crimes and nothing being done about them.
Now, that doesn’t justify, by any means, what he did that day in Fort Hood by killing 13 people. At the same time, that’s an important fact to understand if our real goal in understanding this is to try to reduce terrorism or trying to understand why people may want to commit those kinds of acts.
And yet when you try to say that, it’s “Oh, you’re defending the Fort Hood shooter.” Or, “Oh, you’re defending the Pulse nightclub shooter.” No, but facts actually matter, especially to those of us who have been trying to crack the code on how we might be able to hit a reset button with huge parts of the Muslim world based on American foreign policy and support for Israel.
GG: For me, that is the whole critical point of this Pulse case, and virtually every case of so-called terrorism against the United States for the last 17 years, and the entire War on Terror. If you remember, starting immediately after 9/11, the number one propagandistic goal of the U.S. government and then the U.S. media was to conceal the actual grievances expressed in the Muslim world that led to 9/11.
So, after 9/11, people in America wanted to know one thing, quite reasonably: Why do they hate us? That was the question that sort of became a cliché because it was so widely asked: Why do they hate us so much that they would just want to destroy two of our biggest civilian skyscrapers, and fly planes into buildings, and all of these things?
President George W. Bush: Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: Our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
GG: And the real reasons for it were things that people like David Frum, and Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol, and Donald Rumsfeld were petrified for people to know, which is: We’re interfering in the Muslim world, we have bases all over the land that they consider sacred, we starved hundreds of thousands of people with sanctions in Iraq, we have supported Israeli aggression against numerous Arab countries, including the Palestinians. These were all the grievances articulated by al Qaeda, and those weren’t allowed to be aired. So they had to invent a fictitious narrative which became: They hate us for our freedoms. They don’t want women to be able to walk around unveiled. They hate gays. They hate freedom of speech, freedom of religion. That became the fiction that was designed to suppress the actual truth of what the case expressed in the media or in the Muslim countries were about what their grievance was against the United States.
To this day that remains the number one propagandistic goal. And so, when Omar Mateen spends hours saying: The reason I’m doing this is in retaliation to your killing Muslim, innocent civilians in Syria, and Iraq, and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen — none of that makes the media narrative. Instead, we hear he did it because Muslims hate gays, even though he never uttered a syllable about that and it turned out to be totally false.
So that is really the goal of why these myths persist, is because if we did stop and think about it, we would realize that the policies we’re supporting in the name of stopping terrorism, constantly bombing the Muslim world, locking up people up without due process, all of that, are actually the things that are fueling terrorism more than anything else and the people who say that are the people who keep engaging in these attacks.
JS: Alright, we’re going to leave it there. Glenn Greenwald, thanks so much for being with us on Intercepted.
GG: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
JS: Glenn Greenwald is my fellow co-founder of The Intercept. Make sure to check out all of the reporting that Glenn and Murtaza Hussain have done on this case. You can find it at theintercept.com.
Coming soon from The Intercept: “Evening at the Talk House,” new audio drama from playwright and actor Wallace Shawn.
Wallace Shawn: Why are things different? I want the old days back. Where are they?
[“Evening at the Talk House” promo.]
JS: We’re really looking forward to sharing this radio drama with our listeners in two weeks. If you become an Intercepted sustaining member today, you will get early access to the play and also the chance to participate in an online Q&A with the play’s writer and one of its stars.
I’m talking about Wally Shawn. You may know Wally from “The Princess Bride.”
The Man in Black: You guessed wrong.
Wallace Shawn (as Vizzini in “The Princess Bride”): You only think I guessed wrong. That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha, ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less-well-known is this: Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line (laughs).
JS: Maybe you know Wally as the dinosaur in “Toy Story.”
Wallace Shawn (as Rex in “Toy Story”): Were dinosaurs hot-blooded, or were they cold-blooded? I’m overwrought with anxiety over this issue. I mean, what temperature was their blood? There’s even a third camp that theorizes that larger designers may have been born hot-blooded, and after growing to a sufficient size, they suddenly switched to cold-blooded. Who am I supposed to believe?
JS: Well, this is the real deal, Wally Shawn. Don’t miss it. If you’re already a sustaining member, don’t worry: You already have your place reserved and you are going to get this play ahead of time. If not, go to theintercept.com/join, sign up and you’ll get early access to the play and a chance to ask Wally your questions during a live, online chat on April 12th at 7 PM EST. Once you become a sustaining member, we will send you info on all of this.
If you can’t afford to become a sustaining member, don’t worry: We’re going to be making the play and the Q&A available after the sneak preview for sustaining members.
DJT: We are going to be doing some things, I’ve been speaking with General Mattis. We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall with proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. It’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, certainly not very much before.
JS: Donald Trump has consistently shown the world, and the United States, that he has very little understanding of the Constitution and U.S. laws. There are technical ways in which Trump can legally deploy the U.S. military on the border with Mexico. Trump is definitely wrong about some of his assertions: Barack Obama used the military in some capacity on that border, as did George W. Bush. There are other exceptions, as well, throughout American history.
But what Trump is proposing sounds to be of a much larger scale and duration. And he says he’s sending the military to the border until his atrocious border wall gets built. Now, that may never happen, by the way, and if the purpose of deploying the U.S. military is to snatch people who cross the border, that sounds a lot like a law enforcement activity, and that is a generally banned activity for the military to conduct inside of the United States.
Depending on what Trump actually authorizes, this deployment of the U.S. military to the border could result in legal challenges based on the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. It was updated in the 1950s and again in 1981. This move is the latest in a series of potentially far-reaching edicts that have been issued by Trump and his administration that seek to change some fundamental realities on immigration, on mass incarceration, on police shootings of unarmed people, and on and on. Trump has gone so far as to imply that drug dealers should be executed as they are in his Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines.
DJT: We have pushers and we have drug dealers that don’t — I mean, they kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don’t even go to jail. You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life; they give you the death penalty.
These people can kill 2000, 3000 people, and nothing happens to them. And we need strength with respect to the pushers and to the drug dealers. Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do.
JS: Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions entered office, he has been methodically reversing policies aimed at reducing mass incarceration. Last May, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to go after defendants in cases with a passion and to hit them with the most serious charges possible.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires. It means that we’re going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It is simply the right and moral thing to do.
JS: Jeff Sessions intent was clear: He wants to wipe out an Obama-era policy instructing prosecutors to avoid criminal charges for nonviolent or low-level drug offenses that could trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that a judge must almost always give the mandatory minimum sentence to anyone convicted on charges brought by the prosecutor. And the sentences can be very lengthy. Enacted in 1986, federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws in drug cases can range from five to forty years, and from ten years to life in prison.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor, and I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments. They deserve to be un-handcuffed, and not micromanaged from Washington.
JS: Mandatory minimum sentences are one of the main reasons that the U.S. incarcerates many more people than any other country in the world. There are about 2.3 million people held in the American criminal justice system, and one in five are locked up for drug offenses.
While Jeff Sessions may be turning back the clock toward 1980s-era, tough on crime policies, there are district attorneys across this country pushing back and using the powers of their offices as the chief prosecutors in their communities to implement criminal justice reform. Now that may seem odd, considering the traditional role and relationship that district attorney’s offices have had in implementing the very policies that have led to this horrible state that the criminal justice system is in today. Prosecutors are generally a key part of criminal justice reform since they ultimately decide who to prosecute and what to charge them with. But they can also instruct their deputies not to prosecute certain crimes.
As of 2016, more than 70 percent of district attorneys in the United States ran for reelection unopposed — meaning they’ve just sailed from term to term without being challenged. But that’s changing now. From Philadelphia to Texas, a new wave of prosecutors are being elected, and they’re already shaking up the status quo.
Philadelphia’s new district attorney, Larry Krasner, won his election in 2017 in a landslide.
District Attorney Larry Krasner: This is a story about a movement, and this is a movement that is tired of seeing a system that has systemically picked on poor people, primarily black and brown people. [Audience cheers.] This is mandate for a movement that is loudly telling government what it wants, and what it wants is criminal justice reform in ways that require transformational change within the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
JS: Jeff Sessions may be the attorney general, but in communities across this country, district attorneys are subverting his attempts to keep draconian prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Voters in California are going to head to the polls in June and, in some communities, there is going to be a serious fight over who is going to set the tone for prosecutions, and sentences and criminal justice reform in communities across the state.
I am joined now by two candidates for district attorney in California. Geneviéve Jones-Wright is running for San Diego County district attorney. She’s currently a deputy public defender.
And I’m also joined by civil rights attorney Pamela Price. She’s running for Alameda County district attorney — that includes Oakland and much of the East Bay.
Welcome, both of you, to Intercepted.
Geneviéve Jones-Wright: Hello! Thank you so much for having me.
Pamela Price: Thank you for having me as well.
JS: Geneviéve, for people that don’t normally vote in their district attorney elections or have no clue what the district attorney does, explain why it is important for people in communities across this country to care about who their district attorney is?
GJW: The DA makes the decisions on who is charged with what crimes, when, how and even why. And so the flip side of that is: The district attorney has the decision-making abilities to not charge, and they are in charge of making those decisions with very, very little oversight.
It is important for everyone to vote for their district attorney because the DA touches the lives of every single community member. Even if you’ve never been justice involved, you may have had a family member, or a neighbor, a friend, someone — we all know someone who’s been justice involved. They are justice involved because of the discretion that was exercised by the district attorney. And how the case would be resolved, in whether there was a plea bargain that was offered, whether there was diversion as an option, all of these things come into play through the power of the district attorney.
JS: Pamela Price, why are you running for district attorney in Alameda County?
PP: Because I’ve dedicated my life for the last 27 years as a civil rights lawyer, fighting against racial inequities, fighting for gender equality and civil rights. And our county is desperate for police accountability, and we have tremendous racial disparities in our criminal justice system. And we voted overwhelmingly for criminal justice reform. And our current district attorney is out of sync with the electorate.
In Alameda County, black people are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person. Black folks are less than 12 percent of the population in Alameda County, but we are 50 percent of the people on parole or probation and 49 percent of the people in the Santa Rita County Jail.
Black children are less than 11 percent of this county’s population, but they are 53 percent of all felony arrests. The record that we have from the district attorney is that when you are arrested in Alameda County, you have a 93 percent chance of being charged with something. Most of the people who are charged with something are black or brown people. Most of them cannot afford to post bail. Most of them are ultimately compelled to plead guilty to something. And so we have a criminal justice system that not only over-criminalizes and decimates black and brown communities, and poor communities, but it has been happening for the entire time that the incumbent has been a part of that office.
JS: Geneviéve, you are running in San Diego County and your opponent, Summer Stephan, has been endorsed by local law enforcement associations, some, even, establishment Democrats. What would the district attorney’s office under your leadership look like?
GJW: It will look more balanced. I would bring a cultural shift and a change in the mentality to the district attorney’s office, here, that is very much needed. We have a district attorney’s office that has been completely out of touch with the voters and the will of San Diegans, and as a person who’s been involved in the justice system as a defense attorney for many years — all of my career — I will bring a much-needed perspective that the current administration doesn’t have and can’t offer because they are entrenched as prosecutors, and they have a certain mentality that doesn’t take into account the people that they’re actually supposed to represent.
And so when you talk about her having law enforcement endorsements, that goes to the heart of it. On her website, I’m not sure she’s taken this down yet, but she has a banner that says she’s law enforcement choice. Well, we need a district attorney in San Diego County that’s going to represent the people whose names we file complaints in. And so that’s the biggest difference, is that I’m going to end the win at all costs. Justice is not about winning or losing. And that’s what this DA’s office currently represents. I will change that.
JS: Pamela, you have a ten-point platform. Number one: End mass incarceration; number two: stop criminalizing our youth; number three: eliminate use of the death penalty; four: protect immigrant communities; five: hold police accountable.
I want to stop on that one and ask you: All of these shootings that we see of a lot of young black males, most recently we have the Stephon Clark shooting, how do you take that on and still win election, in any meaningful way, how do you take on these police killings of, many times, unarmed young black men?
PP: In Alameda County, it is, in fact, the will of the people to hold police officers accountable. I have said over and over again, I will hold bad cops accountable for bad acts. And we have found that this is a community that is desperate for police accountability. We have had our own legacy of killing of unarmed black men, as well as unarmed people in our community.
Right now, we have a situation where a young, 16-year-old girl was in a car riding with a 19-year-old person who apparently was wanted by the police, and in their overzealous efforts to apprehend him, she was shot five times with rifles by our local police department. And while that case was under investigation by our district attorney, the district attorney accepted a $10,000 contribution from the Fremont Police Officers Association. It just happened that one of the officers who engaged in this murder of this young girl is the president of the Fremont Police Officers Association.
And so, we have a tremendous disconnect between what justice should look like and what ethical conduct should look like in our relationship with local law enforcement. Oakland has been under a negotiated settlement agreement for over 13 years, and we have never had adequate accountability over the Oakland Police Department.
As the new district attorney, I will enforce the requirement in the negotiated settlement agreement that Oakland report any allegations of officer misconduct to the district attorney’s office within 24 hours. That mandate, that requirement has not been enforced. It will be enforced under my administration, and it will be expanded to include all law enforcement agencies throughout Alameda County.
JS: Geneviéve, on that same issue, when we’ve seen district attorneys or the justice system spit out indictments of police officers or when there are attempts to get justice in some of these cases, it seems like the outcome has become predictable: Either nothing is going to happen to the officers, or they’ll have some kind of desk duty or suspension. Maybe they’ll get fired. Is there anything you can do to change that reality and to criminally hold officers accountable when they conduct these unjustified shootings, particularly of on unarmed people?
GJW: Yes. I believe that the first step is actually being willing to hold officers accountable, and that has not been the case in San Diego. Between 2005 and 2015, there were 155 officer-involved shootings, and for each of those officer-involved shootings, the district attorney’s office here has said that they were all justified.
So let’s just think about those odds: We have not had a district attorney here who was willing to take the first step in asking the necessary questions in investigations, and to stand and say, “I will hold everyone accountable under the law, even when you wear a badge.” So, unfortunately, even after 2015, we’ve seen more officer-involved shootings here in San Diego. They haven’t stopped.
And about a month ago the current, interim DA had a press conference where she lumped in four officer-involved shootings all together, justified all four, and they all involved sheriff deputies.
Jonathon Coronel was shot by a sheriff’s deputy. This deputy was found to have fired at least 16 rounds into Mr. Coronel. The medical examiner stated that Coronel’s body had 22 bullet wounds in his body. This was deemed justified, even though Mr. Coronel was lying prone on his stomach when he was shot. He was unarmed.
And 11 months before shooting Mr. Coronel, this same sheriff’s deputy shot and killed another young man. And it was round after round after round fired into both of these young men. These deaths have all been determined to be justified.
So, the very first step is we need someone in the DA’s office who’s willing to hold officers accountable. We have to have that desire. We need an independent unit established in the DA’s office that will review all allegations of excessive force, whether or not it is a fatal shooting or not. We need a unit that is independent from the DA’s office where it is not deputy DAs who are in court every single day with these officers they have personal connections. Someone that would be independent so that we can have a transparent process so that when we have allegations of misconduct, whatever it is, and it relates to law enforcement, we’re willing to look at those things.
And so I think we also have to be amenable to asking the AG to review whatever decisions come out of that unit because we want to make sure that the public understands and trusts the process, and that has not been happening in San Diego. And so, I think that that is something that is absolutely important.
JS: Pamela Price, Larry Krasner who won, shocking to a lot of people, won in a landslide election to become the district attorney of Philadelphia. And he is implementing as the DA in Philadelphia many of the policy changes that you and Genevieve have been laying out here. He also is meeting a lot of resistance from Philadelphia police and other law enforcement entities in his city.
If you’re setting the policies as DA on what you’re going to prosecute and what you’re not going to prosecute, for instance, minor possession charges of drugs, but the police keep ticketing it, what do you do in that situation if the police basically say, “All right, Pam. We get it. You campaigned. You made all these promises, but here’s how it works really in our streets, and these are crimes that we are going to continue to ticket these crimes, and we will battle you if you try to drop these prosecutions.”
PP: Bring it on. I’m ready. We are not going to tolerate that in Alameda County. The people of Alameda County are going to expect officers to follow the constitution, to comply with the policies that they have voted overwhelmingly for. This county has voted overwhelmingly for criminal justice reform.
California is a sanctuary state and we’re going to require our law enforcement agencies in Alameda County to respect and follow that policy. California has legalized marijuana. We are not going to tolerate the flaunting of the law. I am not going to tolerate that as the new district attorney. So I am prepared to, if necessary, do battle with officers who do not respect the law. I am prepared to partner with officers who do respect the law, who do respect the will of the people and who are, in fact, committed to protect and serve this community.
JS: Geneviéve Jones-Wright, on the issue of undocumented immigrants, sanctuary cities and this mass crackdown that we’re seeing now from ICE agents across the country, what would be your posture on undocumented immigrants who would come into courts that you are running the show in as the district attorney?
GJW: San Diego is home to about 200,000 undocumented immigrants, and I believe it is our responsibility to protect our community members, whether they are documented or undocumented.
To that point, I do not believe that ICE has a place in our courthouses. I would work to keep immigration agents out of our courthouses because it has an adverse effect. We can never gain the trust of community members if community members feel that they’re being targeted. I believe wholeheartedly that our courthouses should be safe havens and they should be sanctuaries. They should be places where community members feel comfortable and welcomed to come and support family members who are just as involved. As well, they should be able to come in as witnesses, and the victims of crimes, and stand up to the perpetrators of those crimes.
That will not happen when we allow for immigration agents to come into our courthouses. Here in San Diego, all over the county, in North County and down in South County, we are seeing that immigration agents are taking people off the streets in front of their children while they are crying, simply because they left out of their apartment doors and went to the store or went to pay rent. This cannot happen. ICE agents are in our jails. And so, clients of mine who thought they were walking out as they were released were met by ICE agents who then took them into custody and detained them. And then bench warrants went forth because no one knew they were going to be deported.
And so this is what happens when we have ICE in our courthouses and in our jails — it alienates a whole community where folks will not feel comfortable, no matter what the law says, to cooperate and speak with law enforcement about crimes that are happening in their communities, things that they have witnessed, and it creates this underworld where perpetrators of crimes know who they can target. And so it has an adverse effect on public safety and having safe communities.
JS: Pamela, you are also running in a race against an incumbent, Nancy O’Malley, and her campaign would say, you know, she has a long public record and that she is pushing for many of the same criminal justice reforms as you, including diversion programs instead of convictions, and taking on the cash bail system. Why was it necessary for you to run against Nancy O’Malley, and what would be different about your time as DA versus what we already know of hers?
PP: So, my opponent is now painting herself as a progressive reformer, change agent. But that has not been her legacy. Nancy O’Malley was raised by the Contra Costa County district attorney. Her father was the DA of Contra Costa County for 16 years. She came to Alameda County. She served as the chief deputy district attorney under Tom Orloff, who was someone that fought our community, who prosecuted the Black Panther Party, who was against criminal justice reform.
Nancy O’Malley is an executive board member and a leader in the California District Attorneys Association, which has actively advocated and campaigned against criminal justice reform, both in litigation as well as in our state assembly, in our state legislature.
Nancy O’Malley’s leadership has been focused on one piece, one small piece, of sex trafficking. But the kinds of racial disparities that have been tolerated, encouraged and taken root in our criminal justice system have never been addressed by Nancy O’Malley, and our community deserves a better, more compassionate form of justice.
We have to look at the whole community. We have thousands of people whose lives have been thrown away by mass incarceration.
JS: Geneviéve, what has driven you to make the decisions you’ve made to become a public defender — you’re now deputy public defender — and this race for district attorney? How did you get to this place?
GJW: So, when I was in fourth grade, I learned about Justice Thurgood Marshall, and there I decided that I would be just like him and I would use the law to make our nation better and to make our world better.
I actually wanted to be a prosecutor when I was in high school, because of the OJ Simpson trial. And it was because I have a sincere desire to bring justice to victims and I felt that the prosecutors, in that case, failed to do that through their own inabilities. And, at the same time, I had a war inside of myself because of the community where I lived in and where I grew up. It created this conflict where I believe in justice, I believe that victims should have justice done in their name and on their behalf, but every time I saw a police officer in my community, or when we talked about going to court or a prosecutor in my neighborhood, it was nothing that was positive.
And so, early on I decided that I couldn’t be a tool in the mass incarceration machine. That was something that was solidified even in law school when I interviewed for prosecutorial agencies around the country. And so the first time that I ever took a case was as a student attorney in law school, at Howard Law, and I really fell in love with this idea of bringing justice and fairness to indigent people who were charged with crimes.
But I’m running for district attorney because I still want to bring justice to victims. I want to give voice to the people who are very vulnerable and marginalized. And unfortunately, because the way the justice system is set up and structured at this point, that includes the people who are defendants as well. And so we have to think about: How do we bring dignity to the process and ensure fairness and justice for every single person? Because everyone has rights in this system, and yet some of these rights are not being respected, they’re being trampled on. And so the only way that I can see that change locally in San Diego, where I am and where I serve my community, is to be the district attorney. So I can ensure fairness and justice all throughout the process for everyone involved.
JS: Pamela Price, in reading about your background, it seems like your entire life you’ve been in struggles that in some way or another are connected to the justice system, from foster care to juvenile justice systems and then your own legal battles as a young, single mother in an abusive relationship. How did you get to this point today where you are running to be the district attorney of Alameda County?
PP: As you pointed out, my whole life I’ve been involved, really, as a civil rights activists from the moment that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. My life changed. I was both traumatized and radicalized. I got arrested when I was 13 years old in a civil rights demonstration. And I made it, literally from the streets of Cincinnati to Yale College, by the grace of God. And I’ve just been, my life has been going forward every step of the way I’ve had these experiences, not all of them good that have shaped my understanding of the law.
I, like Geneviéve, have a compassion for people, for the disenfranchised, for the disinherited. My mom always knew that I was going to fight for the underdog, and so that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. As a civil rights lawyer, that was my passion and I was literally living my making, to represent kids and people who were victims, of state violence, sometimes, or people who were experiencing discrimination and injustices in their employment.
My decision to run for district attorney was a process whereby I became an advocate on behalf of victims of sex trafficking; particularly the young woman who was sex trafficked in the Bay Area by law enforcement. That triggered me to get involved in district attorney accountability because I thought who can hold officers accountable but the district attorney in this moment? And so, it didn’t take law for me to realize that this is the moment, where I am called to do something that seemed completely unlikely to me in 1968.
JS: Well, Pamela Price we’re going to continue to follow your campaign and I want to thank you very much for joining us here on Intercepted.
PP: Thank you for having me. Thank you very much.
JS: Geneviéve Jones-Wright, we will also be following your campaign closely. Thank you so much for being with us.
GJW: Thank you.
JS: Geneviéve Jones-Wright is a deputy public defender. She’s running for California’s San Diego County district attorney seat.
And Pam Price is a civil rights attorney, running for California’s Alameda County district attorney seat. Both of those elections take place on June 5 in California.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join.
Remember, if you become a member, you’re going to get access to my live chat with Wally Shawn, and an advanced sneak-peak at our new radio drama. It’s called “Evening at the Talk House.” You can do this by logging onto theintercept.com/join. Also! Don’t forget to vote for Intercepted in the Webby Awards. We’re honored to be nominated for two awards: one, the best political and news podcast; and two, also for best host. Not sure who that is. In that one, I’m up against Oprah, RuPaul and Questlove. So every vote counts. You can vote at webbyawards.com. Just search for Intercepted.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
Correction: April 5, 2018
This transcript has been updated to correct an error made in the audio. Philadelphia’s district attorney, Larry Krasner, won his election in 2017, not in 2016.