MetroFocus: May 22, 2023

Aggressive and Confrontational. That is what some Republicans have called democratic New York congressman Jamaal Bowman. He says he’s passionate and dedicated. Tonight, the Congressman joins us to discuss his controversial approach to governing and tackle the issues affecting New Yorkers.

Then, friendship is the foundation of so much good in our lives but could it also be one of the keys to overcoming the nation’s recent resurgence of white supremacy? Rutgers Political Science Professor Saladin Ambar has made it his mission to analyze two centuries of noteworthy interracial friendships that have often served as models for advancing racial equity. From Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker, perhaps the first symbol of black excellence in America, to jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, actress Marilyn Monroe and Presidents Obama and Biden, Ambar shows us how American icons helped build a better multiracial democracy. He joins us to discuss what we can learn from these extraordinary relationships, which are the foundation of his new book, “Stars and Shadows: The Politics of Interracial Friendship from Jefferson to Obama.”


Allusive and confrontational, that is what some Democrats have called Congressman Jamaal Bowman.

He joins us to discuss his controversial approach to issues attacking New Yorkers.

'MetroFocus' starts now.

This is 'MetroFocus,' with Rafael Pi Roman, Jack Ford, and Jenna Flanagan.

'MetroFocus' is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Filomen M. D'Agostino Foundation, The Peter G.

Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, and by Jody and John Arnhold, Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Estate of Roland Karlen.

Good evening and welcome to 'MetroFocus.'

Jamaal Bowman is still relatively new to capitol help but that has not stopped him from advocating for the issues he cares most about.

The second term Democrat has been somewhat confrontational in his aggressive message and pushing back on certain Republicans and Trumpism.

One of the more notable examples of this on for six weeks ago after six were killed in a school shooting in Nashville.

This former middle school principal pulp GOP to step up on gun safety.

That is when Thomas Massie walked by and this happened.

In a school that allows teachers to carry.

Would you cosponsor my bill?


Every school that allows teachers to carry --

I was the Moscow principal.

That was a middle school principal.

Jack: He joins us now for more on the gun safety debate and other major issues.

We welcome Congressman Bowman.

He represents the 16th district.

Nice to have you back.

Let's start with the question of guns and gun safety.

I mentioned -- you have a particular perspective on this is someone who was a principal of the middle school and did crisis intervention early in your career.

Where do you hear the suggestion that a part of a solution could be to train and arm teachers and administrators?? What you think about that?

Rep. Bowman: It is infuriating.

That suggestion is coming from individuals and groups who have never worked in a school building.

We built a school to educate.

We have to design curriculum, write lesson plans, grade papers, build relationships with families and students.

Add on top of that the trading -- training and carrying of a gun to use in case of a mass shooting is to be preposterous, especially when we are avoiding having, reform legislation that the American people support.

The American people support a ban on assault rifles.

They support universal state storage in universal red flag laws.

It is asinine to suggest that we need to arm teachers before doing any of those other things.

I would just at one point, the issue of gun safety is not just about mass shootings, which are horrific and we have to do something about that today.

It is also the issue of gun trafficking into our most vulnerable communities that kill people on the deed today basis.

Urgent action is needed.

That one suggestion is not going to guess where we need to go.

Jack: You are a passionate voice in the people's house in Washington, D.C.

What would you say to a supporter, someone who believes in the same issues you believe in?

This that -- does that aggressive conversation help get us to a table where we can find common ground?

Rep. Bowman: We should all be passionate about our children being help.

Guns -- being killed.

Guns are the number one killer of children in America.

44% of America's population of the world and 40% of the guns.

We should all be passionate about our children, all be passionate about such violence.

And a democracy cannot work without passionate dialogue and debate so that we can get a better understanding of each other and we toward solutions.

After that engagement with Representative Massey, we received hundreds of calls from all over the country from people thanking us, thanking us for showing outrage, thanking us for showing passion.

The main problem is what we are somewhat more concerned with decorum, children are dying.

Children are hungry.

People cannot afford housing or childcare or groceries.

Part of my passion comes from my frustration being here for a couple of years and watching my colleagues being more responsive to corporate and wealthy interests then to the American people.

That is unacceptable.

Jack: Let's get to a couple of other issues.

Very much in the news lately has been the death of Jordan Neely, a man who experienced homelessness and mental turmoil, Kenzie subsequent charging of Daniel Penny, former Marine, who had a miniature :00.

-- who had him in a choke lock.

Rep. Bowman: This is a systemic failure.

The city, state and federal government failed because we have defended mental health supports and housing and support for those who are most vulnerable in our society over several decades.

We do not have the resources to respond accordingly.

That is why Jordan Newman died on that train and was screaming about being hungry and thirsty.

His willingness to go to jail because so often people like him only get housing and food and stability in our prison system.

The problem is they do not also get care.

That is one reason why we continue to have recidivism in our system.

You have heard and any have heard -- to me, that points less to him being a lifelong criminal -- if he is arrested that the times, they were probably minor offenses -- and points it more to the lack of care for reentry and helping people to be stabilized.

The city, it seems the district attorney took a few days to consider all the evidence before deciding to make an arrest here.

And the jury will decide... if any.

And I have lived in New York for many years and have seen many people in distress.

What we have heard from witnesses on that train is that Mr. Neely did not make any threatening gestures or remarks or even touch anyone.

For him to be choked and killed seems excessive, but the jury will decide on what direction they want to go.

Jack: It will all play out within a court.

The jury will see all of the facts.

But there are significant systemic problems illustrated by the situation.

And let's talk about the migrant crisis.

It does not just affect those along the borders but all of this nation.

New York City, we have seen the influx of thousands of people and the question is how can they be housed?

What are the processes that need to be done here?

How do you think the federal government is doing?

Let's focus in New York City and New York State.

Rep. Bowman: We need more money, more resources in New York City and New York State to provide housing, health care, education, and care for the migrants that are coming here.

We are a nation of immigrants.

We have always opened our doors to asylum-seekers.

We need to be clear that people are seeking asylum here because they are in danger before their lives in their home countries.

That goes way back to a lot of the decisions by the U.S. and other Western nations that have harm Central and South America over the decades.

We need more resources.

We need to describe it is the crisis as a humanitarian crisis, not a crisis of migrants.

We have always opened our doors to migrants coming in but now we have to take care of them.

It is also important to say that it is often characterized that migrants are bringing professional and crime, -- Sentinel and crime, but the majority of fentanyl is brought in by U.S. citizens.

We need more care.

This has been a system -- historic systemic failure.

Jack: With the debt ceiling discussion, I will say this is an independent, we find ourselves advancing with brinksmanship again, on the edge of a precipice.

Are you optimistic that something will get resolved in enough time to them and the danger of a default?

Rep. Bowman: I am optimistic.

I do not think Republicans are that crazy.

So I am optimistic.

However, I am very concerned.

We need to hear more from corporate America in speaking up and explaining the impact that a default would have on the global economy.

We are talking about trillions of dollars being impacted.

We are talking about loss of jobs, vulnerability, not just the loss of educator jobs, but law enforcement, veteran better events.

That would be catastrophic.

We have to pay our bills.

And we have to have honest conversations about this.

If Republicans supported equitable taxes or the wealthy and for large corporations, we could interview -- we could generate the revenue we need.

But they are just having a conversation about cats, even after a pandemic and an insurrection.

We have to pay our bills.

We have to make sure everybody contributes equitably to our economy.

Jack: And the issue of George Santos, we have seen that the matter was referred by the house to the House Ethics Committee.

There is more now.

There is the indictment percolating.

You satisfied with this process the ethics committee made their determination, the speaker McCarthy has asked them to do it in an expeditious fashion and then decide what the house should do?

Rep. Bowman: Republicans should have joined us in voting to expel George Santos.

They seemed more concerned about their party and his votes in support of speaker McCarthy then with the credibility of the U.S.


Right now, we are in a credibility crisis.

We are in a credibility crisis because many in the Senate do not trust us and they do not trust us because of what George Santos represents.

Expelling him shows the American people that we take governing and democracy seriously.

We will sue the ethics committee finds, but this hyper-partisanship has been in place and has intensified since President Trump.

It is dangerous and hurting us overall.

Jack: Always enjoy having you on . We look forward to talking with you again soon.

Friendship is the foundation of so much good in our lives, but could it also beat one of the keys to overcoming weight supremacy and building a better functioning democracy?

Our next guest made it his mission to analyze two centuries of interracial friendships.

From Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker, perhaps the first symbol of black excellence in America, to elephant General and Marilyn Monroe, then to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Brokers professor Sally Moore shows us how American icons helped build a better democracy.

In this new book, for more on this book and perhaps how the past can help you be future, it is our pleasure as always to welcome you back, professor.

Great to see you.

Jack: Let's start with the question I ask every author.

How and why did this book come about?

The short answer is I had been working on a project related to W.E.B. DuBois and his friendship with William James, a Harvard professor.

That relationship is significant.

-- I then considered other relationships across the racial line.

The deeper significance of why I begin this project had to do is where I was in my own life and where the country was in terms of its divisions, lack of connectivity and seeking overall to marry the person on with the political that might answer some questions about how multiracial democracy in America might work.

Jack: And the title, I said it was stars in the shadows.

-- stars in the shadows: The politics of interracial friendship from Jefferson to Obama.

Stars and shadows, where does that come from?

It comes from the adventures of Hartke very thin.

Readers will -- the adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

It is a significant novel.

It is one where Jim, the enslaved African-American, and Hoch, the young white boy, are on the run, but before they run away, they have to put out a fire in a cage so they are not recovered.

As Huck recalls, Stars and shadows a good juicy bite.

Just enough light to make it.

Early where I think Mark Twain is getting at is Huck and Jim.

There is just enough light to make it if the two of them are together.

The journey will not necessarily be well lit but if we are together, maybe we can make it.

Jack: You take 10 relationships.

Stretching out from Thomas Jefferson and ending with Barack Obama.

Let me ask you to shine a light on a couple of these.

Why did you feel they were important?

Let's start restart with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker.

Why was that important?

Here is Thomas Jefferson, really in 1791 as Secretary of State, known as the author of the declaration of independence, someone who hires and Benjamin Banneker to serve as a surveyor on the team of people to outline the boundaries of Washington, D.C. he develops his admiration for Banneker is a scientist.

Banneker appreciates that effort.

Antivert rights to Jefferson later on returning home from his surveying efforts to admonish Jefferson about slavery.

It is important.

This is the first moment in which an African-American really locks intellectual arms with a founder of the American Republic.

There is a moment in their letters where not only does Banneker challenge Jefferson on slavery, but calls him to task for his hypocrisy in signing the declaration of independence but doing nothing to forward human progress and liberty.

Jefferson writes back and says I wish there were more negros like you.

And then Banneker is off to France, to the Academy of sciences.

But what happens is that this relationship cannot go much further.

It is in large part because Jefferson is unwilling to take the political risks of truly making Banneker one of his brethren, as he describes the letter.

It is this first moment in American national politics where the possibilities of interracial friendship are potentially demonstrated to the nation and drawn back in a way that signifies that the country is not willing to go further with respect to expanding the boundaries of racial justice.

Jack: Speaking of relationships, you also talk about Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

It is interesting Frederick Douglass.

We talked about Benjamin Banneker, you mentioned that maybe the first black man celebrated for his accomplishments.

Frederick Douglass is perhaps the first -- most famous black man in the world at the time.

And a relationship with Abraham Lincoln, how did that come about?

Frankly out of anger.

Sometimes friendships comes from places that are not pleasant.

Douglas meets with Lincoln in 1863 for the first time.

He wants to call Lincoln to task about the subject of black pay.

Lack soldiers in the Union army are paid less than white soldiers.

He admonishes Lincoln about this.

But here's the difference between Lincoln and Douglas versus Jefferson and Banneker, Lincoln engages in an honest exchange with Douglas about his position.

Friendship requires honesty.

It requires truth telling.

People may disagree.

They may disagree for some time, but in that honest exchange, there is something else.

Douglas believes that first meeting saying about Lincoln I felt like a man in there.

I never felt conscious of my race.

I felt they.

-- felt big.

I was never made conscious that there was any racial distinctiveness threat that is important.

By the time Lincoln leaves Douglas for the second -- means Douglas for the second time, there is greater admiration.

Lincoln is asking Douglas to assist him about bringing African-Americans in the South on plantations who are enslaved to help them escape.

This is a crazy plan, but by their third meeting, by the second inaugural, Lincoln and delivers in March of 1865, Douglas meets Lincoln in the White House, it takes some work to get in there, because he is initially not allowed in.

Lincoln calls out to Douglas, sees what happens, that Douglas is being restrained by the guards and says there is my friend Douglas.

Powerful and significant moment.

The president is now articulating with the birth of freedom that he suggested at Gettysburg would look like.

It would involve more than just political freedom.

It would involve friendship.

Jenna: -- Jack: These relationships are focused to some extent on politics but some are not as political.

One was the relationship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Munro.

Something of an urban legend in their relationship.

Give us a quick sense of that.

The old urban legend and what social media often gets wrong about them is that Marilyn Monroe somehow saved the career of Ella Fitzgerald by telling the club owner in Los Angeles that she, Marilyn Monroe, would never see presence of that club again unless they allowed Ella Fitzgerald to say because they had a racial ban against black artists.

Is not part happened.

What really happens is that Fitzgerald is blackballed from the combo, but it is because she is not sexualized enough.

She is not the showgirl presence they're looking for.

There had been lack of singers there.

But Marilyn Monroe does extent hurt.

She does say I will use my power to support you with my Hollywood friends at the Met combo if you make her sing.

That does happen, but we get some of it wrong but Marilyn Monroe gets it right.

She gets it right for different reasons than the stories we tell, but she gets it right Monday last.

It -- nonetheless.

It is suggested she was also more deeper and more significant of a personality than she is given credit for, given how she has been so reduced to her locks.

-- looks.

Jack: Do you always ask what can we do.

Are there things we can do, especially in our current environment fraught with tension and hostility?

You talk about the notion that there needs to be a command to talk to strangers.

What do you mean by that?

Type take that turn from Daniel Allen.

Talking to strangers is important because it is the blocking and tackling of democracy.

When institutions are failing, when so much is going wrong in a multiracial democracy, you have to ask the fundamental questions -- what is at the heart of who we are?

The heart of who we are is rooted in the idea of citizenship tied to fraternity, as the French revolutionaries thought of it, tied to brotherhood, sisterhood, who we are as human beings, tied to something deeper than just institutions.

I just taught Lincoln's second inaugural address.

The last words of that address our 'with malice toward men.'

That is a good start.

Do not hate.

But Lincoln goes further -- With charity for all.'

That requires our energies.

It requires her focus and energies to direct ourselves toward a better future.

Jack: Stars and shadows: The politics of interracial friendship from Jefferson to Obama, marvelous and entertaining.

Take care.

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