00:52:00 mins

The Problem Podcast

Excessive Use of Force: Diagnosing Our Over Policing Problem

The media appears to have moved on from wall to wall coverage of the killing of Tyre Nichols, but the nation is still hurting. In this week’s podcast, we’re discussing how not diagnosing a problem correctly -- what truly causes police brutality -- has led to a system that hurts everyone. We’re joined by Heather McGhee, author and chair of the racial justice organization “Color of Change” and Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, CEO of Center for Policing Equity. They share their thoughts on why armed cops shouldn’t be doing minor traffic stops, how the system changes a cop from the inside out, and how investing in human infrastructure is our best solution to the ongoing problem of police brutality.


Excessive Use of Force: Diagnosing Our Over-Policing Problem

Ep. 224 Final Transcript


Zach: And is that — and what about now? Are you guys still hearing? Aw I think we may —

Heather: I don’t hear anything.

Phillip: Oh, the metaphor for the conversation about race in America! [PHILLIP LAUGHS]

Jon: Are we recording this?

Phillip: I’m just trying to say… [PHILLIP LAUGHS]

Jon: Alright. Alright so now can we jump on the Jewish thing too now? Is that — [HEATHER LAUGHS]

Phillip: Ahhh.


Jon: Hey everybody, welcome to the podcast. It’s “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” I am Jon Stewart, and it’s gonna be, f*** man. It’s gonna be one of those shows. By the way, we’re on Apple TV+, if you wanna watch  [LAUGHTER] episodes — I keep forgetting I have to — they keep telling me, you gotta keep promoting the show. [LAUGHTER] And I’m always like, “Oh, but aren’t we just by being us, aren’t we that?” But obviously this was a weekend of trying to distract yourself from the terrible video and, the murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. And to get into that, we are gonna have Heather McGhee, who’s the author of, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” and Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, and really looking forward to them, giving us an opportunity to kind of get some perspective on all this s***. And we’ve got Kasaun Wilson and Rob Christensen are gonna be joining us as well to try and help distract – did you distract yourselves this weekend? Did you have a good weekend? What happened?

Rob: Yeah, just avoiding watching any videos we don’t wanna watch on the internet.

Jon: That’s what I’m talking about. Kay?

Kasaun: I’m good. This is the first time where I was like, “I’m not watching it, I’m just not doing it. I can’t.”

Jon: It’s one of those things too, I think that — it’s just always in back of mind when, you know, when something like that gets seared into consciousness and you think like, “Oh no, I’m supposed to steer into this. But I feel like I’m not emotionally equipped to steer into it.” And I guess that’s the point, is to feel – to feel the pain, I guess is that the point or is it to take action? I don’t f***ing know. I honestly don’t f***ing know.

Rob: Yeah. It’s like what do you do at this point? How many videos, how many times is this gonna happen?

Jon: Right.

Rob: Filled with landmines everywhere. Fully politicized.

Kasaun: Umm, you know, it’s like the first 10 minutes of Bambi where you’re like, “OK, you didn’t have to shoot the deer, [JON LAUGHS] but it’s a great movie.” It’s infuriating because you know what’s gonna happen next. It’s disgusting how much of a formula we’ve made around tragedy, you know?

Jon: Right.

Kasaun: Like, tragedy in general. Like, we just had two mass shootings in California last week, like 15 minutes from my house. So it’s like, that’s already gone.

Jon: Oh, yeah. There’s been five or 10 of them in that, that cycle has already played itself out to the point where, you know, you can shoot five people and not trend on Twitter. Like that’s — we’re done with.

Kasaun: Yeah. I think I’m doing a lot better cause I think this is the first time where I’m like, “You know what? I’m not gonna go on Twitter. I’m not going on Facebook.”

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Kasaun: “I’m just gonna relax and let it do its thing.” Now CNN is playing the video. I wish y’all would stop. Y’all just playing it in restaurants and McDonalds and Wendy’s —

Jon: And are they playing it like wallpaper? Are they doing that thing where it’s in the box and the announcer is talking about something else and you’re just seeing it over and over again?

Kasaun: You know, like if Kobe hit a game winner and they would just SportsCenter that would just keep playing it over and over. Going to commercial.

Jon: Are you f***ing serious?

Kasaun: Legit. Like  —

Rob: I caught one. Yeah, I’ve been avoiding it.

Jon: They’re playing it like Fox play’s Spring Break footage. Like it’s just on the loop and now it’s like they’re talking about something else, but the girls in bikinis are still dancing. Like that’s how they’re using this. Like here’s how quickly that gets just numbing. When they first put it out there, they had to do that like cheesy disclaimer. “Now this image — the images you’re about to see are somewhat disturbing and I wanna warn everybody,” and then f***ing two hours later, it’s just rolling like it’s a vine.

Rob: It’s crazy and I’ve been avoiding the video, but I did catch it because they play it nonstop and it reminded me of a video —

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Rob: — of the Taliban that I saw that I also had to watch for your show. Not just Fox News, but Taliban videos. And that’s what it reminded me of.

Jon: Wait, you were in the Army? Didn’t you have to watch Taliban videos when you were in the Army?

Rob: Air Force baby. Good food, better women.

Kay: Is that the slogan?

Jon: Listen, there’s no Marines or naval officers here. No one’s coming after you. No one’s coming after the Air Force. Everything’s all good.

Kasaun: Yeah and, the good thing now is that because the protests were all peaceful and civil the media coverage has gone down pretty much 50% over the weekend. It wasn’t even a story after Sunday. It’s crazy. 

Jon: 50% of its public steam in the media because they’re not, they don’t have any more footage.

 Kasaun: 100%. It was this weird thing on Friday where it was kinda like a Netflix drop where they were like, “Check us out at midnight. The videos dropping. We got you.”

Jon: The anticipation leading up to that. I just thought like — the only time you ever see that is like when Taylor Swift is about to put out a Taylor’s version. Like the news media was almost giddy and salivating over what, where they were cutting into programs, you know, “Coming up, the video’s gonna be coming out in two hours, and then after that I’m sure we’re gonna be able to get you some real s***. Like, we’re gonna get you some real s***.”

Kasaun: Yeah. They really hyped it up. It’s like, “Yo, you seen this season premiere of police brutality?” “We can’t wait.” And then the video came out, and then [KASAUN LAUGHS] Fox News is like, “Yeah, the cops are Black. What y’all gonna say now?” [LAUGHTER] We’re like,  —

Rob: Yeah.

Kasaun: — we’re gonna say the exact same thing. It’s all — just cause it’s not Central Casting and it’s not a white police officer and a Black Vic[tim]. It’s the same,— it actually may not have been a better scenario for us to discuss anti-Blackness than in a scenario where the cops are Black.

Jon: Right, right, right.

Kasaun: Because now we can actually discuss structural issues.

Jon: And how maybe this really is now, maybe it allows everybody to get past a point and go like, “Alright, we’re framing this wrong.” And this really is about a system that’s been designed. And it doesn’t matter who you plug into that system, the outcomes will be the same. And maybe that’s why I’m, you know, our two guests and you know what, we should get to them because, really, I can’t think of two better people that can sort of help process this. So let’s bring out, we’re gonna bring on Heather McGhee and Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff.


Interview with Heather McGhee and Phillip Atiba Goff Begins

Jon: So recent events made it clear. This is a conversation that the country is having such a difficult time having, but thank goodness we have two incredible people to join us. Heather McGhee, author of, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone, and How We Can Prosper Together.” Also, the Chair of the Racial Justice Organization, Color of Change. And Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, CEO of the Center for Policing Equity, Chair of African-American Studies and Psychology professor at Yale University are joining us now. 

Phillip: Thanks for having us.

Heather: Good to be with you.

Jon: And we’ve got Kasaun Wilson and Rob Christensen are gonna be joining us as well. Heather, Phillip, thank you so much for joining us. Heather, I’m gonna start with you if that’s OK? This incident on top of all the other incidents feels different, feels like even the vocabulary of our terrible cycle that we’re in can’t be used on this one as it’s five Black officers. And how does that change the conversation and what do you make now of that dynamic?

Heather: Well, I think there are some racial dynamics even to the fact that we saw such swift action by the city in terms of the charges and the dismissal of these five officers. And we are now seeing that an additional white officer who was on the scene and brutalized the victim, Mr. Nichols, is just now seeing some accountability and consequences. But yes, for days we saw, a stream of Black faces in blue uniforms as the attackers and as the people who caused Mr. Nichol’s death. And that is not what we are used to seeing. And so, it makes us have to reckon with the fact that even though as Americans, we tend to want to look at everything through an individual lens, is this a good guy?

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Heather: Or a bad guy? That fundamentally the problem with policing in America is not about Black or white or Black versus white. It’s about blue versus Black. Diversity doesn’t fix systemic issues.

Jon: Right.

Heather: We’ve created a system of over-policing, over-incarceration, over surveillance and disinvestment in the things that we actually need as communities and families to be healthy and well and safe. This country at all levels of government spends roughly double on police, prisons and courts. What it spends on anti-hunger and anti-poverty measures. You know, our budgets —

Jon: Wow.

Heather: — really reveal our values and we care more about policing people, brutalizing people, taking away their freedom than we do about making sure that they can thrive.

Jon: And you throw in bombs and tanks and I bet that figure looks even…

Heather: That’s exactly right.

Jon: Even more disturbing. Phillip, you work with a lot of police departments in terms of this, and we’ve seen, I think a real effort to try and reckon with it. And the reforms are, “Well, what if we had some, some deescalation training? H–Hey, how about this? Let’s throw a camera on that unit. You know what, no choke hold. Let’s not do the choke hold this time.” Yet, none of it seems to address that core issue that I think Heather is talking about. So what is your feeling about — are we looking in the right places for reform?

Phillip: So this should be a place where we’re doing everything and — all options should be on the table. 

Jon: Mm-hmm. 

Phillip: Some of the stuff that we’ve done hasn’t received the kind of investment that it would need to see significant change, but we’re definitely avoiding looking at some places that are the biggest levers for change. So we’ve talked about the sort of shock of seeing, well, this time it was Black officers. We usually don’t see that. Um, Heather rightly points out that the Black officers were immediately fired or almost immediately fired and charged. While we’re still waiting on the white officers and paramedics. But the reason why that’s shocking is cuz we’ve got the wrong definition of the problem. And that means we’re not trying a whole bunch of the most important solutions. The definition of the problem we’ve got is that while individual contaminated hearts and minds go in and it’s their biases that we’ve got to undo. 

Jon: Mm-hmm. 

Phillip: Right? Somehow it’s some kind of defect of the soul that needs to be cured as if that’s not a problem for Saturdays and Sundays. But the reality is that’s not how it works. I am literally a psychology professor. I can tell you that. That’s not even how human psychology works, right?  It’s the situations we put people in that are way bigger predictors of what people actually do. So if we want the behaviors to change, we need to put folks in different situations, which is to say, “We need to not have law enforcement responding to places where we don’t want to badge in a gun as a potential consequence for what the heck is going on.” And if we’re not willing to look at that, to look at the fact that these systems are incredibly well funded, as Heather says in Memphis, for instance, it’s 40% of the municipal budget – 38% if we wanna be exact – it’s not that it’s poorly funded and they’re poorly trained. It’s that we’re spending a bunch of money to have them do exactly what we ask them to do.

Jon: Yes.

Phillip: And then we’re upset about the consequences as if we’ve not paid attention to the rules of the game in the first place. So that’s what needs some change if we really wanna see some change.

Jon: What a phenomenal point that is. And that we have outsourced society’s responsibility for the ills of poverty and struggle to teachers and police officers because we hire them and say, “OK, you guys deal with that?” And then we use them as scapegoats. When they do the thing that we are paying them to do. We are using the police as a border patrol between wealthy communities and poor communities. Between white communities and between, Black and brown communities. And they are doing the thing that we’ve hired them to do. And there is something to, when you empower someone with authority, when you give them a uniform, there is something that happens to good people, and you add a uniform and adrenaline and a weapon into a situation. It’s like, if road rage was legalized and then we get — and then we scapegoat them. So how do we, it’s us. We’re the problem. And how do we fix that? Phillip, you’re the psychologist, fix this!

Phillip: No, this is not a psychology question. You’re asking a spiritual question about the soul of a nation. And I’m pretty sure that Heather is the one who’s qualified to do the [HEATHER LAUGHS] didn’t you get your degree in spiritual redemption of the soul of a nation?

Jon: Soul of a nation, Heather. Fix it.

Phillip: That’s kind of the issue here, Jon. I mean, I, what I will tell you is if we’re afraid to face things, we’re not fixing any of it. And if we haven’t appropriately diagnosed the problem,then we can’t fix any of it. When you say that we are the problem, I wanna just double down on that at least in a couple of spaces. First I wanna say it is in many cities, 911 calls that are the number one way in which law enforcement contacts communities. So it’s literally us, calling police meaning society

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Phillip: Us calling police on other folks in there. But it’s not us, all of us, right? It’s usually folks who are in distressed communities who wish they could call for mental health, who wish they could call for substance abuse, who wish even more than any of that they could call for money so that the lot next door was not vacant, right?

Heather: Mm-hmm.


Phillip: So that they had other resources. Those are the folks who were calling  911 and then  shows up. And to your point about how we use them, and by the way, great that we rely on teachers and law enforcement cuz the pay is fantastic. [JON & HEATHER LAUGH] But the deal is law enforcement has been saying for more than two decades, “You ask us to do too much and then you blame us when we do it wrong.”


Jon: Right? 

Phillip: They are the number one responders to mental health issues. And they get at best eight hours of training on critical incidents, which is how we ended up with the number one largest mental health facility in the world, the LA County Jail. 

Jon: Wow. 

Phillip: If this is not a question of there are people we don’t wanna see, so we neglect them and then we punish them for the fact we didn’t wanna invest ’em in the first place. Like it is absolutely the platonic ideal of us being more interested in burying our decision not to invest in people than being interested in fixing the problem.

Jon: I mean, Heather, that’s when he talks about diagnosing the problem. And you mentioned earlier that the budget being kind of a window into the soul, let’s say, of a nation and what their priorities are. How deep is this? And are we fixing a gaping wound with a bandaid then, and are we even looking at the wrong pathology?

Heather: Well, listen, I mean, I think we’re having a broader conversation than Mr. Nichols. It’s not clear exactly. You know, how many laws and municipal codes he actually violated, right? This seems to have been a person who should have been able to go through his day and his night and be home with his four year old today. That said, the whole conversation in America about how necessary policing is comes under the context of, well, we’ve always gotta keep ourselves safe, right? That’s why we justify spending so much money —

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Heather: And why we justify this system. But fundamentally, if you look at the roots of crime, if you control for poverty, rural, suburban, urban places, majority, white, majority of color, all of those disparities that we see virtually disappear. What we need to do is compare what this country spends on policing, which is about a hundred billion a year at the federal level. We could end homelessness for 20. We could create a universal pre-K program for another 20 — 26. We could eliminate poverty all together among families with children, all the neglect, the abuse, the you know, the hunger, the stress, the mental strife that comes from poverty for $70 billion dollars a year, right? And somehow those never get truly fully funded. And yet we as a society are spending more on police than we did before George Floyd was killed. There were more deaths, you know, at the hands of police last year than on record. And then zooming out, of course, we are a society with 120 handguns per a hundred people. And so, you know, Phil and Jon, you’re both right to say that this is about the systems and structures and that the systems and structures are reflective of a deeper belief that we have. And in my research I’ve found it really comes back to the way this country was founded on a belief in a hierarchy of human value. We don’t have the sort of gut level presumption among one another that we are fully human. And where did that begin? Where has it been perpetuated generation after generation has been in this caste system we have around race, but like so much of systemic racism, it doesn’t mean that white people get, you know, off scott free from it, right? There were over 300 white people who were killed by police last year. Um, right? 366 white people were killed by police. 254 Black people were killed by police. Now there are nearly 200 million more white people than there are Black, but one out of three Americans gets arrested in this country, right? We create these systems in order to control a targeted community, but ultimately, racism in our systems, in our politics, in our policymaking, has a cost for everyone. No one wants to live like this.

Jon: Heather, you are dangerously close to CRT and I’m afraid Ron DeSantis [HEATHER LAUGHS] is gonna shut this podcast down. When something has taken decades and decades to build up, which is, as you said, a caste system. And I’m sorry, I don’t see how you can argue that there hasn’t been a caste system set up in this country. And even to the point where I think we have criminalized struggle. In the old days it was debtor’s prison, but now poverty has been criminalized. Phillip, a white kid in the suburbs does not do less drugs than a Black kid in the city, but they go to prison almost never. So, how do you decriminalize struggle? How do you decriminalize living in that system that we’ve built, that caste system?

Phillip: So the interesting way to answer that is, you know the joke about you go to the doctor who says, “Hey, doc it hurts, when I go like this.” Doc says, ”Well, don’t do that.” That’s how you work on decriminalization. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Wait, that’s it?

Phillip: You decriminalize it. In the last, democratic, administration, the Obama administration which was the last time we were talking about this in a major way. They had a task force on 21st century policing. They said, “Hey, we’re not investing in these places and we’re punishing them for the things that come when you don’t invest in places. So we should invest in them and stop punishing them.” Which is a good thing. Cause it’s the first time in this country we’d ever done that. Except prior to that, in, after the 1990s, we had the big uprisings around the Rodney King beating and the exoneration of those officers. And there was a big presidential task force on that. And they said, “You know what? We don’t invest in these places, then we punished them for that. We should invest in these places and stop punishing them for it.” And that was the first time in this country we had done that. Except for about 30 years prior when 1968, we had the Kerner Commission where they said, “You know what? We don’t invest in these communities and we punished them for it. And so what we should do is invest in these communities. And stopped punishing them for it.” That was the first time we had done that in this country, except for 30 years prior to that where we had — Do you understand that there’s a pattern to this.

Jon: …huh?

Heather: When you say, we’ve done that, Phil?

Jon: No learning curve.

Heather: You mean, there’s been a blue ribbon commission, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve had. Funds flowing into these communities as a response.

Jon:  But isn’t that because it’s politically untenable? You know, after George Floyd, we had six months of “we really need to look at policing.” And then Fox News and all their brethren ran with the country’s in chaos. Crime is rampant, and immediately, even the biggest proponents of, “yes, we need to look at policing” suddenly said, “and make sure that we give them more money, more helmets, more weapons.” And I’m not honestly, like I am very close to police communities and, and first responder communities. So I have blind spots galore. I have incredible esteem for them. Although I also understand you have to hold them to the eyes of standards. But my experience with them is they’re being asked to do something that is impossible.

Phillip: Yeah. There, there are tools of a system that brutalizes people who’ve already been disinvested.

Jon: Yes.

Phillip: Right?

Jon: Yes.

Phillip: And that feels awful. 

Jon: Yes. 

Phillip: So, I mean, I work closely with folks who are retired law enforcement. I got retired police chiefs that work at CTE I work closely with current law enforcement as well as activists. Right. And I gotta say the problem is not the individual officers. 

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Phillip: The problem is what we have accepted, it’s OK to use state dollars to do, which is not to treat folks with mental health concerns and substance abuse issues.

Jon: Right.

Phillip: Treat people who don’t have housing, but it is to punish people when they have those sets of problems. And we’ve been doing it. Forever. And you say it’s politically untenable. Part of the reason it’s politically untenable is because I do that little bit of low grade comedy and I apologize doing that in front of a comedy God.

Jon: Nah, nah nah…

Phillip: But I’m doing every 20 to 30 years we do this mess. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to curse on this. Um, so I’m saying mess.

Jon: You may.

Phillip:  – Every 20  to 30 years we do this and then collectively we decide That was cool. Can we please forget? Cuz it’s super uncomfortable. It’s only politically untenable because there are people like Ron DeSantis who’ve decided it’s not OK to learn our history. We are able to move this forward when people realize how much of this we’ve done before.

Jon: Well, because it’s weaponized, Phillip and Heather, I want to speak to that. When you talk about reform, reform has to be perfect in this country because let’s say you do redesign a system and one of the individuals within that redesign system

Heather: Mm-hmm.

Jon: Commits something that is a crime, well, then the whole thing gets torn down because it has to be perfect because Atwater decided that Willie Horton was gonna be used in an ad against Michael Dukakis, and George HW Bush won the presidency. And so now it has to be zero tolerance for anything. I really feel like, like it has, if it’s not perfect, we won’t do it. We have no fortitude. We have no resilience to deal with the tribulations and trials of redesigning a better system.

Heather: Well, that’s right, because you have people whose financial and political self-interest lies in capitalizing on those examples–

Jon: Right.

Heather: People who profit from selling a story of racial division and hierarchy and scapegoating. You know, you mentioned Ron DeSantis, and I think it’s really important that we put this in the context of the hyper organized, well-funded, completely partisan backlash to the racial consciousness raising that we’ve had in this country, which is probably the most powerful thing to come out of the summer of 2020s history making social demonstrations, right? We had —

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Heather: — probably 300 state and local police reforms, but we also had a massive consciousness raising, right? People saw things that they would never be able to unsee. They read things and learned things and asked different questions, and the dialogue completely shifted, and that terrified the right wing, not because, they in their hearts and minds, you know, hate Black and brown people. That’s not what I’m litigating here. What I’m litigating here is that they’ve known for generations, really ever since the Civil Rights Movement, that the way to get a governing coalition to remain relevant and be able to redistribute wealth upwards, has been to scapegoat and to race bait. And so if you’ve got, you know, another 20, 30, 40 % of white people being inoculated against the Willie Hortons and the CRT, nonsense, then they can’t do what they wanna do, right? They can’t still have the political power to, you know, enact tax cuts and stuff like that. And so, you see right now that three years almost since the crescendo of a movement that really began, with Michael Brown’s murder and Ferguson and Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida is a really fraught one because if we don’t keep our eye on the prize of the kind of systemic reforms, which frankly would make everyone better off, right? If we spent more money on childcare and healthcare and anti-poverty measures, and housing, everybody would be better off…than if we spent that money, um, locking people up and creating systems of violence and impression, state sponsored violence and oppression.

Jon: That’s infrastructure. Human infrastructure. 

Heather: Exactly. This is the moment where we need to stay focused and not be distracted by individual stories, and exceptions and, and race baiting from the right wing.

Jon: Heather. That’s amazing. Kay. You’ve got something.

Kasaun: I first of all just wanna say, well, that’s, that’s, that’s why we said defund the police if you’re wondering out there. That’s what it all was. But I do wanna ask you guys this question because I think when the decriminalization conversation comes up, one thing that infuriates me is we talk about people’s past sins in their victimhood in a way that makes me very uncomfortable. Uh, for instance, George Floyd, his entire trial, we’re discussing this man’s past as if the police officers who had anything to do with this had a PDF of everything he did in his life. It’s unjust, and it’s wrong to prosecute a victim at someone else’s trial. And I wonder if we are to engage with this Tyre Nichols story in a way that we did with Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and all of these victims, and we discuss police reform.  Is there any police department, any city that we can point to that enacted a change that we can look at to say, “we actually have an effect of policy that can come from it”, because we’re gonna discuss this. I’m not watching a video, I’m just telling y’all now. I ain’t watching.

Heather: Nuh-Uh.

Kasaun: I’m watching Martin and I’m keeping my mental health together.

Heather: Nuh-Uh.

Kasaun: Is there something that we can look to, to say “when these stories do go viral, this is the change that can come from it, even if it’s small?”

Heather: Mmm.

Phillip: Yeah, there, there are thousands of examples and I really thank you for asking the question cuz I really wish that more folks who had larger platforms would ask the question and then would amplify them. Um, and you led with well you led with defund, but I think that all, that all goes together with the concern we’ve got around litigating someone’s moral, you know, perfection. Before we’re able to say, “Actually this was a problem.” This is by the way why we have stories about Rosa Parks, but we don’t have stories about Claudette Colvin, right? Who was the 15 year old girl —

Jon: Right?

Phillip: Who really began the Montgomery bus boycott moment. But because her personal life was such that it was difficult to put that on a poster. We needed to get an older woman and then we sanitized that she couldn’t be an organizer. She was just tired. How awful was it? She was just tired. It was not, I mean she planned a whole mass mobilization issue. She’d spent her entire life dedicated to these issues, but really it was just about her being tired. That’s part of the reason and how we ended up here. Cuz Heather’s quite right. There are people who make their money off of these narratives. But the flip side to that is that we are so, and I’ve just been told I’m allowed to curse. We are s*** at producing the other side of that narrative. What are the emotional appeals that disarm, there are bad people that need punishment. What do you run on that is the opposite of that? And the only thing we’ve come close to is the scolding adults do better, which by the way, no one wants to vote for “I have to be an adult.” If the millennial generation has taught us  anything, is that adulting is incredibly hard and it is not appealing enmasse. So one of the ways that we can, can do the emotional appeal is that it’s not about being tough on bad people. It’s about creating communities that are strong enough we don’t have to pay the f*** attention to them, right? And so places like Ithaca and Tompkins County, New York, where they said, “you know what, we don’t wanna send armed responders to nonviolent crises”, like just f*** all that. Places like Berkeley, California, which began the national movement, and I’m happy to say CPE played a significant role in the analysis that led to this. But they said, “you know what, low level traffic enforcement, let’s not do that. There’s this radical thing that we’ve just invented in Berkeley, and Berkeley only called the mail and we can send you a ticket. Isn’t that amazing? “Um, and it turns out that there’s this thing on the East coast called E-Z Pass they had figured that out a generation before, which allows for people in Philadelphia to enjoy the same basic privileges of getting something in the mail. It’s s***ty, by the way, to get it in the mail, but it’s way s***tier to have a gun in your face as a result of it. By the way, Tyre Nichols, Keenan Anderson, still alive if we’re not doing low level traffic enforcement, and non-violent accidents with armed responders, right? That Berkeley led to Philly, led to Seattle, led to Pittsburgh, and a small pilot project in LA. The Star program in Denver, which sends no police, sends actual mental health experts, gasp, to mental health crises instead of badges and guns. And by the way, if they’re scared for their safety, they can call the police just like anybody else, and the police will rush right over. In fact, they’ve got a hotline to it. There are thousands of these local experiments that are mostly working, but they’re underfunded in terms of evaluation. So we don’t have great data on them, making it harder to make the, like you’ve heard, Heather and I just talking stats back and forth because we’re both aggressive nerds. [JON LAUGHS] Um, but it helps on policy as well. So we’ve underfunded the backend of it, which means it’s hard to scale. And because federal folks can’t take credit for local interventions, most of the time they don’t like talking about them. So we’ve gotta demand that our language, our narratives change so that we’ve got an emotional appeal that also references specific things that work because it turns out the kinds of changes that defund activists were calling for, again, laziness by electives on why defund became so villainized rather than the ineffectiveness of defund. Cuz defund was hella effective.  Everybody knows what I’m talking about when I say it, even though they’ll define it terribly. But the deal is on that front, if we would allow, or we would demand that people would lift up these individual elements and we would say, “Hey, this is stronger communities.” Those kinds of demands are 70%, 73% popular among white Republicans because they have law enforcement in their family, right? They know that law enforcement get asked to do too much and they know that it is the least safe places for law enforcement are at a traffic stop, are in communities where they don’t have good connections, which is why the kinds of changes I’m talking about. When CPE does them, we see a 13% reduction in officer injuries. So when Heather says “Everybody benefits from this’, that is what she is talking about. These things that seem so radical right now, because they’re a radical departure from our collective hatred of Black people, are actually radically redemptive of the entire soul of the nation, and allow for folks who are in harm’s way, who rush towards the danger to be safer on the other side of it. It is only our calculated desire to ensure that there’s a group of people who suffer that allow it to maintain its political practicability.

Jon: Phillip, I’m sorry, your, your Zoom box is on fire. It’s on fire, Phillip, that says it all. I mean that, Heather.

Heather: What, what now me? [KASAUN LAUGHS]

Jon: That, that’s narrative storytelling. This is the part where, where we understand it, we don’t know the facts, we don’t know the figures, we haven’t been in the communities. But what we do know is narrative storytelling. And what Phillip is talking about is you have the story, the story is real. The soul of a nation is obviously redeemable, but we’re, why is it so hard to tell that story? Why is fear such a powerful motivator and driver? And what he just said right now, the way he said it, how do you squeeze that into a bottle and drink it? I mean, how do we get that?

Heather: It is absolutely true that everything we believe comes from a story we’ve been told. And the stories that we’ve been told about each other, about crime, about different communities that are not like us, are mostly filtered through our big megaphones, right? What are our big megaphones? They are television, social media, and news media. So television, right? Color of Change, two years ago, released a groundbreaking report called Normalizing Injustice, which actually looked at the most popular shows on television. What’s the formula for the most popular show on television? Crime procedurals, right? We are entertained by this spectacle of cops and robbers and victims and good guys and bad guys. There’s nothing like it. Nothing touches it except for reality TV and, and, and crime dominates there too, right?

Jon: Right.

Heather: And, and what Color of Change found was that the stories that Hollywood is telling about crime, fundamentally distorts what we know as policy makers and advocates to be true, and what communities that are over policed know to be true. And that ultimately ends up creating the permission structures for bad police policies, for more money to police and for a sort of colorblind look at what is a deeply, deeply racist system, One. Two, when we look at what are the stories in our political narratives, right? We’ve got mostly white politicians in this country, right? Two outta three of the politicians in this country at every level are white men. You know, up to 90% of politicians in this country are white. And so on a bipartisan basis, even though of course Democrats have a much more diverse caucus, you’ve got this at worst, well-honed script for using racial fear to bring the majority of white voters over to a political party that has an economic agenda that defunds everything we care about, right? And funds the war machine and the police machine. That’s at worst, right? People who know exactly how to capitalize on racial fear among white people in order to create a majority white coalition and create the majority of white people in the Republican camp. And then at best, I’m just gonna be real here, you’ve got mostly white Democrats who are fumbling around, right? They are in the – they are terrified of losing one more white voter, right? Because we know that the majority of white voters have not voted for a Democrat, for president since Lyndon Johnson signed the civil rights and voting rights action to law, to this day.

Jon: Are you saying causation equals correlation? Is that, is that what we’re suggesting?

Heather: I’m saying, I’m saying that this country has had racially polarized politics throughout its entire history, and that ultimately a white Democrat is a, minority, right? And so there’s this fear of white grievance, fear of white backlash that makes it difficult for what are mostly white political leaders who maybe want to do the right thing, to have the confidence to be able to say, “this is the America we want to build, and this is actually what we’re willing to change about the status quo. These are the experiments we’re willing to put forward, and what we’re not willing to do is to keep doing more of the same.”

Jon: Can you incentivize a system that isn’t a fear-based economy? Because you know, everything that you talk about the media makes its money on this very thing that you talk about.  the—

Heather: Mm-hmm.

Jon: Unobtanium that, that drives this nation is a fear-based economy. During the election cycle in New York, you would’ve thought that Mad Max was on the loose and that we were living in Thunderdome. The commercials that ran in between every show, Lee Zeldin literally said, “Vote as if your life depends on it.”

Heather: Yeah.

Jon: “Because it does.” That was his closing argument.

Heather: Yeah.

Jon: Because the argument that you and Phillip are making, and I think that we are trying to make is: investment in human capital improves outcomes across the board.

Heather: Right.

Jon: And you see it everywhere. I want to ask Rob. Rob, your family is, you know, look, they’re, they’re mostly law enforcement, right? You got a good law enforcement, military family, and you’ve been in jail. [ROB LAUGHS] So you can talk about, you can talk about both sides, but in your mind, is this conversation happening in your family?

Rob: So, the closest relative that’s a cop is my brother. And, I always ask him when something’s happened in the news.  And his response is always, well, “You know me my whole life, why would you think I would behave that way?” And then I’m like, “I don’t, I don’t care if I know you your whole life, we gotta talk about this.” He gets it from all sides of the family. So I guess we’re good in that regard. But like, I can never be like “ACAB – All, all cops are bastards” or anything like that. Cuz I have one cop, my brother, who like, you know, I love — so I love a cop. So I don’t know, I’m kind of caught in between here.

Jon: I love a cop too, I mean, I’m, I think most people who have, you know, Heather loves a cop and I think what Phillip is saying is it’s not about that individual’s heart.

Rob: Right.

Jon: And, and I wonder, does he ever talk about, does your brother ever talk about like, “This system is f***ing me. We are flooded with guns and it’s incredibly dangerous for me out there and so how can I not be on DEFCON one at all times, and, and this is an – they’ve put me in an impossible position.”

Rob: Yeah, I mean we do talk about it all the time and he would – he doesn’t like when he’s with other cops that are really hot, especially in a traffic stop. It’s like – how do you believe the brother of a cop when he is gonna say, “my, my brother’s a great cop. He’s a good cop”, but my brother, he got like commendations for not using force, which is something crazy that they give medals for not beating people up. And I don’t know if my brother might have been the right type of person to be a cop. He was like very popular, well liked, never lost a street fight and was like the captain of his baseball team. So it’s like if you have two sides of like very calm but also can handle himself, that’s what my brother is.

Jon: It’s interesting because, you know, Phillip, you’ve been in, in training police officers. How do they talk about this within the departments?

Phillip: So, Jon, you asked the question does Rob brother ever say you know, that like, “they’re, they’re f***ing me.” If he doesn’t say that every day, he’s not actually a cop. Rob, you’re just making it up. [ROB LAUGHS] Um, cause I’ve never met a line officer who does not have 20  things in a list to complain about that they got screwed over that day, right?  19 of which are probably pretty legit.

Jon: Mm-hmm.

Phillip: Because again, we frequently do not pay them the kind of pay that would be reasonable for someone going into the kind of dangerous situations that they’re in. The pensions used to be extravagant. They used to say there’s always two police forces, the one you’re paying now and the one that’s retired. But now the pensions are getting taken away. The union protections are not nearly what they used to be though the unions are their own sets of problems. And they’ve got legit grievances with the executive group and the city in terms of how the city treats people who are running towards danger. Right, so–

Jon: Right.

Phillip: A thousand percent, and we’re in a period of incredibly low morale amongst law enforcement, in part because we’re having conversations about how terrorizing law enforcement has been within Black communities. And almost nobody – almost nobody – signed up to be a cop to be the villain in the story of an entire community.

Jon: Right.

Phillip: But you asked whether in part, whether or not, like there’s a way to incentivize on this. Sure. We can regulate political speech — I don’t see that happening any time soon. We can regulate what’s on the airwaves – there’s too much money in that to really happen. And if not, I just wanna take us back. I know it’s super annoying ‘cause you got a professor on who’s talking about history, but I just wanna take us back to the last time that we made serious change. The last time we made serious change around these issues, the whole country was on fire for a decade.

Jon: Right.

Phillip: Right? We call it the civil rights movement. I think it’s better understood as the second reconstruction, but that’s what it takes for this country to pay attention. And we’re doing this conversation – what is today? On a Tuesday, after the video was dropped on a Friday, and national media stopped paying attention to it on a Sunday. 

Jon: Right.

Phillip: Cuz there weren’t cars that lit on fire, nobody died during the protests, in part because law enforcement didn’t show up as an oppressive force, right? So like, tensions did not get inflamed. And so if you wanna think about when did we do it before the civil rights movement, you gotta go back to the end of slavery, which was a literal f***ing war.

Jon: Right.

Phillip: We do not do this at large scale unless everything is on fire and there’s nothing else we can do. What we would rather do, like a mass aggressively dysfunctional family is like, “Alright, alright. We’ve had our fight over dinner. That was difficult. We’re gonna move the way that we do the potatoes from now on. OK? We’re not gonna put salmonella in the potatoes. Everybody can be happy. Now can we all just sit down and have  a good, loving time and we’ll see you all again next year.” And by next year, I mean next 30 years when there is another place that blows up. We do not do it unless things are on fire. Unless we’ve got leaders that require better of us, we’re gonna be here another 20, 30 years from now if we’re lucky enough to all be alive by then having this exact same f***ing conversation.

Jon: Wow. I mean, this has been an eye-opening, you know, diagnosis, and I feel like I’ve gone through the life cycle of an issue. I wanna be cognizant of your guys’ time, Heather, I’m just gonna give you the last word as we go away. I think it’s sobering, but hopeful. I think the hopeful part is it seems like there really is a diagnosis. The sobering part is we’ve known the diagnosis for 240 years and we only fix it in those three or four cataclysms of violence and fire. As someone who is working towards doing this without that you know, terrible catastrophe where do you look at the conversation from here on?

Heather: Phil said the country has to be on fire for things to change, but what’s the step? Right? The country’s on fire and then things change automatically? No, the country’s on fire and then more and more people decide that they’re gonna vote on this issue, that they’re gonna contact their legislatures on this issue, that they are going to fundamentally show up as citizens and people in a community in a different way. And so what I wanna leave your listeners with is you may be outraged, you may be confused, either way you don’t ever wanna see a video like that again in your life. What have you actually done? Have you contacted your congressional leader, your senator, and said, “We need to pass police reform now?” Have you contacted your city councilperson and said “We need to divest from over incarceration and mass policing and invest in the systems that actually care for people?” If you tweet about it, if you talk to your friends about it, that doesn’t mean a politician is listening. So take that one step and that’s how we can get to the place we wanna be faster than the next 30 years.

Jon: Well, thank you guys, so much. Heather McGhee, Phillip Atiba Goff, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time. And I hope that the next conversation that we have about this is sooner than 30 years and is speaking about some of the progress and some of the great stories that Phillip and Heather have been talking about that have been working in certain places. So, thank you both so much for your time.

Phillip: Thanks.

Heather: Thank you.

Interview with Heather McGhee and Phillip Atiba Goff Ends


Jon: I want Dr. Goff involved in my life.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. I need a pep talk from that dude.

Jon: That’s crazy. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone who is able to express themselves so enthusiastically, forcefully, but precisely. I feel like Heather, and Phillip they’re such a great team. They just compliment each other so well. That’s all.

Rob: That’s all.

Kasaun: You know what my mom told me? It is the coldest thing I ever heard. She said, “You know, if you Black, the trial will always be named after you.”

Rob: Ha.

Jon: Wow.

Kasaun: That’s the coldest — She was like, “If they think you did it, it’s the OJ Simpson trial, but if it happened to you, it’s still the George Floyd trial. Like they’re prosecuting you either way.”

Jon: Wow. That point you made though, about prosecuting someone. That really is like, and I guess I didn’t, I never thought of it that way, but every time something like this happens, there’s always that, “But he was no angel.” Like only, if you’re not an angel, this is what happens.

Rob: Who’s an angel?

Kasaun: But it’s also like Derek Chauvin wasn’t giving him a spanking for what he did when he was 21. Like, you didn’t know this.

Jon: And by the way, it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Like you cannot be an angel and still not deserve to be killed on the street. You can have a broken taillight and not be killed. Like that’s, that’s OK even if you did smoke pot or got arrested once for whatever it is. And I do think it’s to remove it from the idea of the individual and place it in that idea of, it’s a system that has to be redesigned because they are executing orders as to the system that they’ve been placed in. And it’s a much easier thing to scapegoat cops than it is to scapegoat what we are asking them to do and how afraid we are.

Kasaun: It’s actually very surprising to me Jon, that police officers have such a sense of community and can express their fears and concerns of the community, but the community never gets the liberty to feel the same way.

Jon: Right.

Kasaun: It’s like, “We just want to go home to our families. We just don’t know what you’re gonna do.” I’m like, I know what it’s like to be pulled over by a police officer at night and think like, “let me hit record.” Like, [staff writer] Tocarra has an app on her phone that records automatically when you get pulled over. I know it feels like it may not stop me from getting killed, but at least I’ll have some footage for the trial.

Jon: Dude, that’s one of the most dystopian things I think I’ve heard.

Rob: And to clarify, I don’t have that app. 

Jon: Yeah. I think I’ve got Angry Birds and Candy Crush. [ROB LAUGHS]

Rob: And I get away with a lot of tickets. [KASAUN LAUGHS] I get pulled over in New Jersey a lot. Last time I was pulled over —

Jon: Why did you go to jail?

Rob: Alright. Look, so let’s —

Kasaun: Yes!

Rob: No, no, no.

Kasaun: I’ve been waiting for this moment.

Rob: No, no, no, no.

Jon: Why did you go to jail?

Rob: No, no, no. Hold up. Hold up. So not prison, right? [KASAUN LAUGHS] Prison is different than jail.

Jon: Alright. Alright.

Rob: Jail, a few times.

Jon: You were not in the system?

Rob: Right. I was not in the system. And I’ve been good about staying outta the system. But the short answer is graffiti. [KASAUN LAUGHS] Maybe a little bar fighting, but not prison.

Jon: Alright. So in other words, you’ve had a field trip to the system.

Rob: I did.

Jon: You basically went on a field trip, got a juice box, came back out.

Rob: That’s correct.

Jon: You didn’t find yourself embroiled—

Rob: It was, it wasn’t a good time. The juice box was the best part of it.

Jon: Right.

Rob: But I got out of it. Probation for guys like me is, they like to give me probation. And I, but I will say in New Jersey when you get pulled over by a cop —

Kasaun: Hey, Jersey.

Rob: — the name Jon Stewart, it goes a long way. [KASAUN LAUGHS] In the state of New Jersey. I get pulled over, I got a veteran’s card and I drop that I write for Jon Stewart. Untouchable baby. Untouchable.

Jon: License to kill.

Rob: Not that. [KASAUN AND ROB LAUGH] License to speed. [LAUGHTER]

Jon: Yeah. [KASAUN LAUGHS] Kasaun, maybe that’s the app you need to have on your, you just need to, whenever they pull you over, just pull that over The Problem with Jon Stewart. And that’s the end of it.

Kasaun: I’ll try that and report my findings. [LAUGHTER]

Phillip: Yeah.

Jon: You know what? That’s an excellent point. FaceTime me from the car. “Hey man. Do you mind if I just,” and then we’ll just, we’ll just go through it that way.

Kasaun: I’m gonna show him this podcast episode. I’m gonna fast forward through Heather [JON AND ROB LAUGH] right now. “Hey, hey don’t worry about that part. Don’t no, the reform part.” [JON LAUGHS]

Rob: “Forget that. Don’t watch the middle.”

Kasaun: “He didn’t say, he didn’t, he didn’t say Defund. Don’t worry about that.”

Jon: Dr. Goff is talking. You just fast forwarded real quick to get through there. [ROB LAUGHS]

Jon: Guys, thank you for this episode. Thank you for you know, helping the process cuz it’s,  and I thought the question about like, well, what are you doing? I thought Heather’s, Heather’s was like that incredible moment where she goes like, “you know, we’re all just sitting here, but like, you’re doing f*** all. Why don’t you do something?” And you’re like, oh, right. [ROB LAUGHS] She goes, don’t don’t tweet, don’t get anything. Like f***ing do something. Oh yeah, OK.

Rob: That’s the hardest thing to do is something,

Jon: Right.

Kasaun: My favorite part about this podcast is that in the last five seconds, every guest is always like, “So, so Jon, we gonna fix climate change, right?” [LAUGHTER] “Are you all, are you all, you on board? You good?”

Rob: “See you at the Capitol.”

Jon: “I don’t have a board. I don’t have any of this.”

Kasaun: Jon has a backlog of 14 PACT Acts he needs to do for [JON LAUGHS] various issues in America, and we [KASAUN LAUGHS] he just can’t.

Jon: But I really do think they sort of, they think it’s like you do like a five minute hit on Newsmax and it’s done, right? Like, you don’t, you’re like, “Actually, took a few years of like meetings,” Yeah, you gotta get to that get to that point. But gentlemen, as always, much appreciated, uh, and big thanks to Heather McGhee and to Dr. Goff for being on the show and to Kasaun and Rob, uh, The Problem with Jon Stewart. We’re on Apple TV+, check it out and we’ll see you guys next week. 

Kasaun: Thanks for engaging in the conversation. I appreciate it.

Jon: Bye. Bye.


Jon: “The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast,” is an Apple TV+ podcast and a joint Busboy Production.