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2009-02-19

Critics Charge Executed Chimpanzee Cartoon is Veiled Racist Reference to Obama

Guests

Eric Adams, New York State Senator and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.

Dedrick Muhammad, Senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the former national field director for Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

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A series of protests are scheduled outside the New York Post today to condemn the publication of a cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as an ape. We speak to New York State Senator Eric Adams and Institute for Policy Studies organizer and researcher, Dedrick Muhammad, the former national field director for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: A series of protests are scheduled outside the New York Post today to condemn the publication of a cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee. The cartoon, drawn by Sean Delonas, shows a white police officer shooting dead a chimpanzee in the street. His partner, another white officer, says, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” The cartoon appeared in the paper two days after police in Connecticut shot dead a chimp in the streets of Stamford and one day after President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill.

The Reverend Al Sharpton said, "The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling, at best, given the historic racist attacks of African Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.” The National Association of Black Journalists called the cartoon "the lowest common denominator of taste and class."

AMY GOODMAN: New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan denied the cartoon was racially charged. In a statement, Allan said, "The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist," he said.

We’re joined now by two guests. Eric Adams is a state senator here in New York. He protested outside the New York Post on Wednesday. He’s planning to be there again today for a major protest at noon. He’s the former head of the organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. We’re joined in Baltimore by Dedrick Muhammad. He’s a senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies, former national field director for Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! State Senator Eric Adams, your response?

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: I believe that the — when you look at the drawing, the caricature, and on the same — the next page you saw that you had Obama actually signing the bill, to state that it was a broad description of what took place in D.C., I think that’s ridiculous. That, in itself, is a joke.

The fact is, there weren’t several chimpanzees being shot, there weren’t hundreds of legislators being shot; there was one. There’s one author of the stimulus package. That’s Barack Obama.

That correlation, I believe, clearly showed that this was a way of just continuing the method of just degrading not only Barack Obama, but African Americans in power. There are those who are troubled by the fact that we have an African American president. We have an African American governor, an African American leader of the Senate for the first time in almost sixty-some-odd years. So there’s a pattern that’s developing, and we need to put it to the —-

AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York.

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: Yes. We need to bring it to the forefront.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Eric Adams, the New York Post has had a checkered relationship obviously with the black community for many years. Now, I heard that City Councilman Charles Barron is calling for an all-out boycott now, an extended boycott of the paper. Do you get a since that this is going to have much resonance or support within the black community?

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: Yeah. What’s interesting here, what I was surprised of, is that, historically, I think that what is often hidden is that even the communities of color is broke into sections. You have those who are affluent New Yorkers, those who one would consider everyday middle-class New Yorkers, and those who are just basically making it every day. Obama had the ability -— his campaign had the ability to bring a common denominator for all those groups. And when I started receiving calls from individuals who I know who are developers and doing very well, individuals who are accountants or engineers, as well as those who are just basically trying to hold onto their home, everyone was motivated by the campaign. And that same level of motivation is wanting to see the Post close down.

So I think the Post hit a nerve that went throughout the entire anatomy of the communities of color and also outside the community of color. When you look at my district, it’s a district that is one of the most diverse districts in the country, and all of the groups in that district were concerned about the Post article.

AMY GOODMAN: This isn’t the first controversial cartoon of Delonas. A 2001 cartoon depicted Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx Borough President seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, kissing the buttocks of Mr. Sharpton, a depiction that was widely criticized as demeaning and racist. I’m looking at the web piece in the New York Times last night. And it goes on to talk about how the cartoonist has drawn ire from a number of groups for past cartoons. In 2006, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation denounced a cartoon of his that showed a man carrying a sheep wearing a bridal veil to a New Jersey marriage licenses window, a reference to the state Supreme Court’s ruling that year requiring the state to grant same-sex couples the same legal advice — rights and benefits as heterosexual couples through civil unions.

Dedrick Muhammad, you’re in Baltimore. These protests are taking place, a big one today, at noon in front of the New York Post. Your response to this ad and to the New York Post simply denouncing the man you used to work for, Al Sharpton, saying he was simply a publicity seeker and saying that this just referred to those in Washington?

DEDRICK MUHAMMAD: Well, I mean, again, as Eric had pointed out, I mean, the New York Post has a history of being quite reactionary and of being generally offensive to African American leaders, whether it’s Reverend Al Sharpton in 2001 or whether now it’s Barack Obama, President Barack Obama in 2009. And, you know, outside of just this being a New York issue, clearly, I know African Americans and supporters of Barack across the country are outraged by this.

And I think the New York Post is going to find itself that it can’t just blame this incident on Reverend Sharpton, who simply put forth a comment that I think many Americans agree with, but are going to have to take responsibility for their own actions. And it’s one thing for a cartoonist to draw this; it’s another thing for the editorial board or the editors at the New York Post to decide that this is something appropriate and that they’re going to defend it.

AMY GOODMAN: This controversy is flaring as Attorney General Eric Holder gave an historic speech yesterday marking Black History Month. Holder told employees at the Justice Department that the United States is a, quote, “nation of cowards” when it comes to discussing race. Eric Holder is the nation’s first African American attorney general. This is an excerpt of what he had to say.

    ERIC HOLDER: One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country, one must examine its racial soul.

    Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial. It is an issue that we have never been at ease with, and given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

    But we must do more. And we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example, the Department of Justice, this Department of Justice, as long as I’m here, must and will lead the nation to the new birth of freedom so long ago promised by our greatest president. This is our duty. This is our solemn responsibility.

    We commemorated five years ago the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Brown v. The Board of Education decision. And though the world that we now live in is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so, I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history, but also to foster a period of dialogue between the races.

    Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with and would like to not have to deal with racial matters. And that is why those of us, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief and easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, people like that are too often embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race-protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever faced — and remember, there will be no majority race in the United States in about fifty years — the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will instead become a reason for stagnation and polarization.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Eric Holder, giving a major address yesterday. He is the first African American attorney general. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Eric Adams, I’d like to ask you — obviously, after the election of President Obama, many people were saying that the country had made major strides now in terms of dealing with the racism in the country. And then you get something like this at the New York Post, and you say, “Wait a second. What kind of strides are being made by some sectors of the population?” Your sense, in terms of — especially in terms of what Eric Holder said and in terms of what’s happened in the last few days with the New York Post?

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: Well, I think we’re at a crossroad. And I think one of the dangers, believe it or not, of Barack’s, President Obama’s election is the fact that many people are going to say everything is fine now, when, in reality, it is not. And I’m hoping that what we saw with Eric Holder and others, now that the door is cracked, we need to kick it open. We need to look and see diversity on the editorial boards, look at diversity in the newsrooms across the country, where are we as anchorpersons, and where are we in the news industry.

When something like this can slip through the cracks, when there’s a vetting process to decide which stories and what photos are going to go in the paper, it shows you that down the line the entire system there’s a problem. And without the proper diversity to say something is wrong with this photo — you can’t have a group of people who all think alike and act alike — now we’ve got to put this discussion to the front page.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, State Senator Eric Holder [sic.], you’re formerly head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care — Eric Adams —-

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: I wish I was Holder.

AMY GOODMAN: But -— so you’re a former cop.

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We just passed the tenth anniversary of the killing of Amadou Diallo by four police officers in the city, died in a hail of forty-one police bullets. And beyond that, right now, a report that just came out from the Center for Constitutional Rights, newly released data from, shows city police officers made a record 530,000 stop-and-frisks. 80 percent of the people stopped or frisked were Latino or black. Only ten percent were white, who comprise 44 percent of the city. Last year, CCR, the Center for Constitutional Rights, sued the city, charging its policy of conducting unconstitutional stop-and-frisks singles out ethnic minorities. Your response to the state of affairs?

STATE SEN. ERIC ADAMS: I think when we view back this generation, we often look at Giuliani as one of the harshest mayors in our times. I believe history is going to show that Bloomberg was far worse than Giuliani, and Commissioner Kelly was far worse than Howard Safir. When you look at their numbers, the former attorney general Eliot Spitzer stated for every stop that’s recorded, four goes unrecorded, so when you do the math, we’re talking about the possibility of two million young people being stopped, questioned and frisked, because their ages fall in that group. These young people have been criminalized, and many of them did no crime at all but had the wrong skin pigmentation. So it’s imperative that we look at this and make sure we use government to do the right things.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll be covering you today at the protest outside the New York Post at noon, State Senator — New York State Senator Eric Holder [sic.]. When we come back, we’ll go — I can’t let it go — Eric Adams. When we come back, we’ll stay with Dedrick Muhammad. Institute for Policy Studies has just come out with a report, “The Silent Depression,” about the racial wealth divide. And then we’ll look at the foreclosure speech of President Obama yesterday and what it means. Stay with us.

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