In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
A Republican congressman from Virginia blames a conservative power-broker of “paralyzing” Congress. D.C. lawmakers accuse each other of “campaigning from the dais” and obstructing ethics reform. And a new proposal for redrawing Congressional districts in Maryland fuels charges of gerrymandering. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Derrick Leon Davis Democratic Candidate, Prince George's County Council (District 6)
- Ronald Machen Jr. United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen Jr., says his office has reached out to the city’s immigrant community in an effort to encourage people to report crimes, regardless of immigration status. When someone reports a crime, Machen says, most often immigration status does not come up:
Democratic Candidate for the Prince George’s County Council, Derrick Leon Davis, talks about the problems with what he calls “council courtesy” on the Prince George’s County Council. The phrase refers to a culture in which, for example, one council member won’t approve a development issue in a fellow council member’s district unless that fellow council member gives his or her approval:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," often staring (sic) Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. I said often starring Tom Sherwood because other days we have other stars in here. Today, we have another kind of star.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI thought you said staring, as if I was, like, staring at that shirt you're wearing.
NNAMDIYeah, I got confused. My tongue got all tied up at the beginning.
SHERWOODWell, I hope your Internet folks put that shirt on the Web, so people can see it.
NNAMDIThis is my cowboy shirt that I got in Nashville, Tenn. This is "The Politics Hour," however, and we're supposed to be talking about more substantial matters than this. So can we start with how the Occupy Wall Street protests have come to Washington, D.C.?
SHERWOODYes. You know, the -- and I said this on the air the other day. I said they got to be careful down there on Freedom Plaza. You know, they're, like, camping out. That is one of the most rat-infested places. You know, if you pitch your tent -- I'm just giving you some community, you know, consumer advice that Liz Crenshaw would give on Channel 4.
SHERWOODIf you try to camp out on Freedom Plaza this weekend, don't camp out near the edges of the place or the bushes 'cause there are rats down there. But, more seriously, this is a national phenomenon, the kind of movement that's going on. I think it's something -- a reaction to the Tea Party of a couple years ago where people were just spontaneously showing up and expressing concerns about the direction of the country.
SHERWOODAnd now, I think we see the flipside of that.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, in New York, there have been some problems between demonstrators and the New York Police. It would interest you to know that in the lawsuit, the demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge are being represented by the same attorneys who represented the demonstrations here some years ago in Pershing Park when our former police chief came under scrutiny for how he treated demonstrators here.
NNAMDIAnd the rules have been changed since then.
SHERWOODYes. Well, you know, the whole issue of what the police need to do -- they need to -- they want -- of course, they're mandated to control -- have order. It's always intimidating people when you see a police officer who shows up. He's got maybe 50 plastic handcuffs on his left arm, and you know one is for you if you don't do things right. Some officers, you know, they are trained to deal with very tense situations, and they just need to do that.
NNAMDIWell, the demonstrations will be continuing here in Washington over the course of the next several days. In the meantime, the D.C. Council has passed a no profanity day resolution, which it passed on Monday. And a lot of people will think that's not to be taken seriously in the wake of the council's own problems with profanity. But this is what inspired this resolution.
NNAMDIFor the underinformed, that's KRS-One, and he and Curtis Blow have been going around the country encouraging this no profanity, KRS-One being one of the early conscious hip-hop rappers there is so far.
SHERWOODDidn't -- they have something here on October the 13th? Isn't that the day of the no profanity -- Michael Brown, the councilmember Michael A. Brown...
SHERWOOD...did this. And people have ridiculed it. I've ridiculed it. I said they shouldn't worry so much about the public cursing in general. They should worry about the public cursing the councilmembers for all of the problems that they have. But, you know, if you -- this is -- it's a feel-good kind of thing that people don't need to curse. And we don't curse on this show, although we'd like to sometimes.
SHERWOODSo, you know, we were always told cursing is an indication of a bad vocabulary, that you don't know enough to express yourself, so you just resort to cursing.
NNAMDISo you are in favor of this movement, if not of the specific resolution?
SHERWOODI'm in favor of people expressing themselves. And I've been known to curse once or twice in the newsroom.
NNAMDIWhat's the great debate that the city is having over grass cutting?
SHERWOODWell, you know, there's a lot of things going on in the city. This sounds like just a matter of -- might be called ham-handed handling of a contract, something a little under $2 million to cut the grass. One of the principal firms that has, like, 80 percent of the contract is a -- I think, a Baltimore-based firm or something like that. It's done a good job. But there was a move to get more of these contracts done by city government -- city-based agencies.
SHERWOODAnd there's another smaller firm that's been involved. There's some questions about if that firm met all the requirements itself.
NNAMDIThere's some question about whether the city-based agency is really, in fact, a city-based agency.
SHERWOODRight. I went to their office on 14th Street this week. And there was no one there. The only thing -- there were pigeons that I saw, but maybe someone was there. And so Mary Cheh, Ward 3 council members, holding a hearing this -- like, at this hour, trying to figure out what happened there. Mayor Gray says, look, we're just trying to get the best possible grass cutting contract going.
SHERWOODAnd we want local people to do it, to hire local people, if that's possible. There's some question whether Councilmember Harry Thomas, who was trying to get the contract simply to go to a firm that he likes, this -- I don't know. They're investigating it. I think on the grand scheme of things at this moment, it's still fairly small potatoes.
NNAMDIAnd now that we have your questionable past behind you -- I'm presuming it's behind you. That's why we decided we could have the U.S. attorney come in here today.
SHERWOODI'm an open book.
NNAMDIOkay. In that case, we were...
SHERWOODJust don't book me.
NNAMDIIn that case, we were able to invite Ronald Machen, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, to join us in studio, and he kindly agreed. Ron Machen, thank you so much for joining us. Good to see you.
MR. RONALD MACHEN JR.Thanks. Thanks for having me. Good to see, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou run the largest United States attorney's office in the country, and you work cases that run the gamut, from violent crime in the District of Columbia to terrorism.
NNAMDIBefore we get to some of the broader questions about your work, we understand that your office is in the process of reviewing a number of public corruption cases that relate to the D.C. government, cases that involve Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and the hiring decisions of the Gray administration. Can you confirm that these are matters that you are looking into? And what can you tell us?
SHERWOODAnd Kwame Brown, the chairman.
NNAMDIAnd Kwame Brown, the chairman of the council. Can you tell us what the status is of these cases?
JR.We can confirm that we're looking into all three of those matters. We've actually already confirmed that publicly. But we really can't talk anymore about it. Those are pending matters, and we can't -- it'd be inappropriate to discuss them.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is very skilled at getting you to talk about things that you don’t want to talk about -- put it in his hands.
SHERWOODWe've already discussed how I was going to -- I have an obligatory question or two, and he has obligatory answers.
SHERWOODBut I'm going to try to broaden it 'cause I know you can't discuss the ins and outs of these cases, that we'll know the results of these cases if and when you bring actions, right? I mean, but you have discussed, and you've -- I think you've -- and I tried to find it. How -- given that your office is the largest U.S. attorney's office in the nation, given the portfolio of international terrorism to thefts from a local bank, where does public corruption fit in your office?
SHERWOODWithout getting into any of the specific cases, are -- some people are concerned that your office is so big and so imposing and so many things that it has to do that public corruption is kind of down on the list.
NNAMDIIsn't that big a deal?
SHERWOODThat you can have a national, you know, corruption case in the U.S., you know, military system or wherever, that our little town, our little District of Columbia, it's not all that big of a deal. So is it a big deal to you?
JR.It is a big deal. It's a big deal to my entire office. It's a big deal to me personally as a D.C. resident. And if you look back over the history of our office, we've brought some tremendously significant cases in the area of public corruption, local public corruption. Obviously, you're referring to this week. We had the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer case, which is one of the largest federal contracting fraud scandals, allegedly, in our nation's history.
JR.But we also spend a lot of time on local corruption matters. I have 25 assistants in that section that work -- focus on fraud and public corruption.
SHERWOODAnd back in the '80s, people thought, well, Joe diGenova the U.S. attorney didn't get enough done. But I always remind them that, you know, two deputy mayors went to prison, and there were other kinds of cases. I think people mainly -- what they're saying, no, you didn't get Marion Barry by that. And I don't think it's fair to ask you in the context of getting someone.
SHERWOODBecause people ask that of reporters, you're trying to get someone by doing -- but I just do think people are worried that this now is the worst corruption-charged atmosphere of the District government since the 1980s. We have elections coming up in April. Is there any sense again of a timetable that this is aggressively being pursued? It's part of the job. We don't know when it's going to end. Do you have any sense that this is a front burner issue?
NNAMDIYou have a timeline. When will we -- when (unintelligible) know something...
SHERWOODI already asked that, he can't answer that, it’s a front burner issue (unintelligible).
JR.I can't give you a time. I can tell you...
SHERWOODIt's a front burner issue.
JR.I can tell you it's significant. I can tell you that we are aggressively and actively looking at the matters. We read the papers. We know what's going on. But I can also tell you that it's very important that the public and the media understand these are significant matters, and there's a real difference between potentially inappropriate or offensive conduct and criminal conduct.
JR.And our job is to make sure that if there's criminal conduct, we get to the bottom of it, and we take appropriate action. And so that takes time. It's a different standard than you have in the civil context. It's the highest standard you have. We have to have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. And it takes time. But all that is to say that we understand that there is a sense of urgency, and we're looking at things as quickly as we can.
NNAMDIOur guest is Ronald Machen. He is the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. We're inviting your calls if you have comments or questions for Ron Machen at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Tom?
SHERWOODIn -- I'll ask one more political question in this context. Eric Holder, the U.S. -- the attorney general of the United States, was the U.S. attorney -- held the job you have. And a lot of people tried to get him to run for mayor and other kinds of things (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIAnd what (unintelligible)...
JR.(unintelligible) he hired me, Tom.
SHERWOODHe hired you. But he also swore in Council Chairman Kwame Brown. And I would know Eric would answer this question, the attorney general, and say it has nothing to do with what we do professionally. But I want to hear it from you. There's some suggestion, oh, Kwame Brown is well-liked by Eric Holder. And so this is going to make things go slower, easier, softer.
SHERWOODLet me just give Paul Craney from the D.C. Republican Party for asking this question. He was going to try to call in. I said you'll never make it through the numerous calls. What is the answer to that? That this is not -- will be or won't be seen through some political prism of whether you want to go after D.C. government officials or not?
JR.Anyone that thinks that we would go light on somebody because of a relationship doesn't know the attorney general and doesn't know me. That's not how the man operates. That's not how we operate. We will be governed by the law and the facts. And relationships and prior connections will have absolutely no bearing on our decisions.
SHERWOODAnd the same -- that Togo West, the chairman of the elections board, says we think there's criminal action here. You just -- that's just part of the mix of what you'll look at.
NNAMDILet's start with some of the big stuff now. Federal agents, as you pointed out earlier, arrested a group of people this week linked to the Army Corps of Engineers who have been accused of fraud that you said was staggering in scope. What's this case about to you? And what concerns has it raised for you about the federal government's approach to contracting?
JR.Well, the case is significant. It's $20 million alleged -- again, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. So as alleged in the indictment, it's four individuals that took part in a conspiracy to overinflate contracts and receive kickbacks for directing contracts to a certain subcontractor. They received $20 million in cash payments and other promised payments, as well as jewelry and luxury vehicles.
JR.And so it's a tremendous case and scope and a real -- we believe a real violation of public trust that may be unmatched in our nation's history.
NNAMDITom raised the issue earlier about public corruption cases. But with specific reference to District of Columbia, I'd like to broaden that a little bit because one remembers that prosecutors were blamed for botching the investigation of former Sen. Ted Stevens whose charges were basically thrown out by Judge Sullivan. Prosecutors have stepped on some land mines in a few high-profile cases like that during recent years.
NNAMDIWhat is your own overarching philosophy or approach when it comes to investigating public corruption cases?
JR.Well, we try to be as aggressive as we can, but we also remember our job is to do the right thing. It's to do justice. It's not to convict. Our job is to make sure that if there's evidence, we go forward. And so, when you do it the right way, that's what you really have to keep in mind. Mistakes will happen, and obviously, mistakes happened in the past. Intentional mistakes or intentional misconduct won't be tolerated.
JR.But that's not really what you see with our prosecutors. And I don't think that's what we saw with the prosecutors in Stevens. A lot of people just don't understand there are a lot of things going on in the context of a trial. There's a lot of things that go on in discovery. There are a lot of documents. Prosecutors look at things through one lens, but arguments can be made by a skilled defense counsel that maybe something could have been turned over.
JR.And so how we've tried to deal with that in the future is make sure that we have our people trained very well to understand what could potentially be viewed as what's called Brady or exculpatory information that would drive us to have to turn that information over. And so we've really focused a lot on that. And not to say that mistakes won't happen in the past, but, hopefully, we have limited them.
NNAMDITom, here's how to make that story local. We got an email from Kent Slowinski who's an Advisory Neighborhood commissioner from Ward 3. "With the recent charges to fraud filed against Army Corps employees, please, ask your guest Ron Machen about the Army Corps Spring Valley cleanup of World War I chemical munitions and contamination.
NNAMDI"The Army Corps has spent more than $250 million on the Spring Valley cleanup over the last 18 years using some of the same contractors without competitive bidding. To ensure they get future work, some of the contractors have probably gone along with some flawed Army Corps decisions. What are the procedures for investigating waste, fraud and abuse on projects like the Spring Valley cleanup?"
JR.Well, it's hard to get into the procedures. I mean, I'm not aware of that matter. And, obviously, if he has information of wrongdoing, I'd ask him to contact our office.
NNAMDICan I tell him how to do that?
JR.Well, certainly. We have -- and you actually have the number right there.
NNAMDI202-252-7566, or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please go ahead.
JR.But there are a variety of investigative techniques. And, again, it's important to understand we work with a number of law enforcement agencies, most notably the FBI, in these corruption matters. They do a terrific job. Their investigators are very skilled. They get tips. We get tips as well. And then there are a lot of things we do to ferret out corruption, which would take me a lot longer to explain than we have time for in this program.
SHERWOODThe -- one thing, it’s unusual -- you are the only U.S. Attorneys office that prosecutes local crimes, is that correct?
SHERWOODOkay. There's a move -- there is, in fact, going to be an election of attorney general in the District of Columbia in 2014. How will that change your office? Is it clear yet what cases would be done? Or would that take power away from the U.S. Attorneys office? Or will it simply just be -- what would that attorney general be in the District of Columbia once he or she is elected?
JR.Well, that'll be an elected official, but the responsibilities of the attorney general will stay the same. They prosecute juveniles, unless they're 16 or 17 and have committed serious crimes like murder, assault with intent to kill or something like that. We do those cases. They also do the civil cases, civil defense cases for the district. So there are a lot of responsibilities.
JR.And Irvin Nathan is a good lawyer and a good man, and he runs the attorney general's office. But whether there is an election or not, I don't think that's going to have any bearing on the responsibilities or the scope of responsibilities.
SHERWOODCould it be, you know, when the city got its home rule government back in the '70s, there was some fear that the African-Americans who would be involved in the city or the silly liberal white people who supported them couldn't really handle the police department and all of those things. And Walter Washington said, you can't give us half a loaf, you know. We can run our city.
SHERWOODIs it -- maybe, is it time, maybe, for the city to have its own local prosecutor to do what a local prosecutor does?
JR.Well, you know, that question is one for the voters and the legislature to determine. What I can tell you is I run our office like the local prosecutors. I have community prosecutors in every district. I'm out in the community along with my prosecutors three or four times a week. I think we do more community outreach probably than any local prosecutor's office in the country. And I say that I'm pretty proud of the work we do.
JR.We go down the list of things we do. I don't think any D.C. residents could ask any more of a prosecutor's office at all.
SHERWOODIt's only that they don't control who the person is. I mean, Ms. Norton gets to recommend, but the president picks. But, you know, you have been out, and you're urging -- one of the big issues is getting people to cooperate with the...
SHERWOOD...your office and with the police department to solve some of the crimes, that you need the community's help. Would it be better -- would it be -- you've worked yeoman style to get that to happen. Would people feel more comfortable if they elected the person who is prosecuting?
JR.You know, I don't know. But it's important for the people to remember, there was a selection committee of 20 D.C. residents that interviewed and did a lot of vetting of all the candidates, made recommendations to Congresswoman Norton, interviewed Congresswoman Norton who represents the residents of the city.
JR.She made her recommendation to the president, and then the president made the ultimate decision. But there was input from D.C. representatives and citizens on the process. And so this is -- with respect to my process, I do feel that I was, in part, given this position because of a preference by the D.C. voters, or D.C. residents.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Elaine in Washington, D.C. Elaine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELAINEHi. I was calling to ask your guest whether there are any investigations into the former Mayor Adrian Fenty. You know, I'm thinking about this -- well, there, you know, may be several things, but specifically that $90-some million contract that he steered to his former frat brother.
NNAMDIYou're talking about Sinclair Skinner or Omar Karim, or Omar Karim and Sinclair Skinner?
SHERWOODVery good memory.
NNAMDIIs there any such investigation, Ron Machen?
JR.We can't confirm or deny what we may be looking at. I guess what I would say is if you have further information, I'd ask you to contact our office, and we'll do appropriate follow-up. But we're unable to confirm or deny what we're looking into, except in certain situations, like I've done here involving current council members and elected politicians.
NNAMDIElaine, thank you for your call. On a point of clarification, a lot of people are not familiar with what the responsibilities of your office actually are. Can you quickly walk us through exactly what you handle as a prosecutor?
JR.We handle everything locally, from misdemeanors to murders. We handle local and federal corruption in the District and around the country. We handle national security matters, both matters occurring in the District and occurring against -- across the world if U.S. citizens are harmed in other countries. We will, oftentimes, prosecute those matters as well. We will have jurisdiction. So we have a tremendous scope of responsibility.
NNAMDIWhat's the size of your office and your staff?
JR.We have over 300 assistant U.S. attorneys and another 300 support staff.
SHERWOODDo you know how many of those live in the city or not? Have you ever done that breakdown?
JR.I had done that at one point. Actually, I think it was the majority, most of them. I think you'd probably compare us pretty favorably to the people that work and live in the city that are actually working for the mayor's office or the office of attorney general.
SHERWOODRight. About half -- the rough idea of the 30,000 city workers, about half of them live in the suburbs.
JR.I don't -- don't quote on me on this. But I think we're probably doing a little better than that, but...
NNAMDIWhen it comes to your local responsibilities, you credit your boss, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, for work he did when he was U.S. attorney for the District, work, you say, put in place a lot of the approaches that have reduced violent crime in the District during the past two decades. What were those crucial first steps about? And how does Holder's philosophy shape what you're trying to build in the office right now?
JR.Well, Eric Holder was a pioneer. He instituted the community prosecution model in D.C. where we have prosecutors out in every police district. They have offices in police districts. We have community outreach specialists in each district, and they work with community residents, really communicating with them, understanding the issues, understanding the challenges.
JR.The whole goal is to try to break down any sort of barriers that oftentimes exist between the community and law enforcement. We've expanded on that in recent years. We've done a lot of different programs focusing on offender re-entry. On our youth, we have a whole youth motivation program where we will have a summit where we have youth come.
JR.And we talk to them about decision-making, and we have former offenders talk to them about making good decisions. We have a diversion program for non-violent youth that happens every Saturday down in southeast, where non-violent offenders are given opportunities to engage in community service, to actually go through a mini court system with a jury of their peers, and then actually not have their matters adjudicated by the office of attorney general.
JR.So we've really done a lot, domestic violent seminars, senior abuse seminars. We really try to make sure that we're in the community, understanding the specific issues facing various parts of the city, and we're trying to address them.
NNAMDIOur guest is Ronald Machen. He's the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. If you've got questions or comments for the U.S. attorney, 800-433-8850 is the number to call, or send email to email@example.com. Tom?
SHERWOODThe murder rate, the mayor's -- as you know, every political person loves to point out when the crime rate's down and not to talk about it when it's up. But Chief Lanier -- mayor who said the murder rate is down. What is this? Are we part of a national trend were crimes are down?
NNAMDI1996, we had 400 murders that year. Last year -- so far this year, we've had 78.
SHERWOODIt's good news that it's low.
JR.Technically, 84 now.
SHERWOODOr is it because of the aggressive local things that are being done or just some national trend across the country and urban areas where crimes are down? Or is it a combination how -- what should we make of the fact that there are fewer murders than in the past?
JR.I think it's a combination of a lot of things. I think -- first and foremost, I think it reflects that residents and citizens are thinking before they act and being more careful. It's also a reflection of, I think, smart policing, smart law enforcement. I also think it's a reflection of good prosecution and actually getting results. When criminals are arrested, if you don't get a conviction, they're only going to be emboldened.
JR.And so I think our office has played a role in that. Certainly, MPD has done a great job of working and building cases. So I think it's a variety of factors. I know the community -- we do have more community involvement than we used to have. I was prosecuting homicides around that period of time when I was hired by Eric Holder. And we did have a tremendous number of homicides, and it was difficult to get people to come forward and cooperate.
JR.I think now we still have a lot of work to do in that regard, but we get more cooperation generally than we got before.
NNAMDII think the race -- the rate really dropped after you joined The Politics Hour as the resident analyst, Tom Sherwood. I think a lot of people just started listening to you rather than going out and committing crimes.
SHERWOODYou know, the opposite could have happened also. They could've been fired up for the weekend based on the things that I say here.
NNAMDIThis is true. Here is Eli in Washington, D.C. Eli, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIHi there, Kojo. Long-time listener, first-time caller. Mr. Machen, thank you for coming on. I'm a second year law student in New York, and I've been following this to occupy New York. I don't know if you have, Mr. Machen, but I was wondering what you would advise the police chief here in D.C. if you were -- if D.C. were to be struck by, or if D.C. would be -- if a mass protest or if a mass peaceful protest were to come to D.C.?
NNAMDIWhat advice would you give to the police chief?
JR.Well, again, it's not -- and it's not just the Metropolitan Police Department. It's actually the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metro Transit Police. There are over 40 law enforcement agencies here in D.C. that we partner with, and they're tremendously skilled at dealing with these protests. They happen all the time.
JR.I think, by and large, people do -- the officers do a great job of respecting people's rights while, at the same time, making sure that they put a paramount concern on public safety.
NNAMDIOn to Sylvia in Ward 7 in D.C. Sylvia, your turn.
MS. SYLVIA BROWNGood afternoon. Thanks for having the attorney on the call today. I wanted to touch on his point about the community prosecutors and bring out that there's a difference between outreach and engagement.
MS. SYLVIA BROWNI've been disappointed with the lack of proactive engagement from the 60 prosecutor's office and really from the D.C. office of attorney general on engaging people to write community impact statements, on the entirety of the law enforcement process and how community members fit in to that problem, the judicial and of the law enforcement process, and so...
NNAMDII am not quite sure I understand what you're being critical of. Could you be more specific?
BROWNSpecifically, I'm an ANC commissioner in 7C04 and working in PSA 602 in trying to engage the 6D community prosecutor's office on being proactive with the law enforcement process in my particular neighborhood and (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWhat would you like them to -- what would you like to see them do more of?
BROWNWell, one is trying to, again, educating the community on the entirety of the law enforcement process, so it's not just -- it doesn't just end with a police call and the police making an arrest. It also continues through the legal -- through the judicial process. So having people to submit community impact statements, victim impact statements and then, as well, helping individuals, community members know who the community prosecutor is and what they do.
BROWNAnd so, while going...
NNAMDIAllow me to have the U.S. attorney respond. Is this Sylvia Brown?
BROWNRight. That's right.
NNAMDIOh, Sylvia Brown from Deanwood. She's been a guest on our show before.
JR.Yeah, And it's -- that's kind of surprising because we've had 110 events so far this year. The majority of those have been in 6 and 7D. We had a town hall meeting at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in June, where it was just 6D, where the whole focus was just what you're saying. We did educational forum on the law enforcement process, where I spoke to folks.
JR.And then people from my office spoke, both are victim-witness advocates, to talk about the services that were available to people when they're victims of crime, as well as our prosecutors that did a presentation on the entire process from A to Z, from the time of the initial incident all the way through the prosecution.
JR.And it was really aimed at what you're talking about. We then followed that up with the youth summit a few weeks later, where we had over 200 youth, mainly from 6D. We actually had it down and at the Deanwood rack. We had former NFL stars, a number of former offenders talk to the kids. I spoke to the kids. We had a very good program.
JR.We also offered services for them and talked to them about jobs and other things. We have youth court, which is, again, in 6D, every Saturday. We'd love you to join us. If you want to get involved in that, will you come down meet with the kids or the non-violent offenders? And we talk to them about the process, trying to get them to make better decisions early on in their life. And I've spoken to most schools in 6D.
JR.I've spoken with Woodson High School. And most of the schools actually in the city, I've spoken to the high school students. So we do a lot. That's not to say we couldn't do more. It's not to say we're not open to suggestions about how we can improve. But I tell you, I'm pretty proud of the work our guys had done and especially my 6D community prosecutor. He's done a great job.
NNAMDISylvia Brown, thank you for your call. Tom.
SHERWOODI think it'd be helpful, I think, in civics classes, maybe sixth or seventh grade, where people start learning about the three branches of government and maybe how the court system works.
SHERWOODI have some of my friends laugh at me. I sometimes get all the court systems mixed up, but -- can I go back to public corruption for a moment?
SHERWOODSee, I didn't try to sneak in there.
NNAMDIYou're not going to surprise me.
SHERWOODJust announced it up front. I did a column earlier this year, which we talked about before you came on the air, when I talked about the steady flow, which is a bad thing in some respects. A steady flow, a public official's federal and local government people, who either are convicted or plead guilty to pretty low-level crimes compared to some big crimes, but still where they have violated the public trust. They have stolen money.
SHERWOODThey have facilitated money going here or there. Like this -- if you prosecute the lowest criminal public corruption, does that give people encouragement that public officials don't get a pass? Do I learn anything from seeing the steady stream of people getting prosecuted to know that the elected official won't get a pass?
JR.If you should learn anything, you should learn how serious we take it. And the steady stream demonstrates that our office, if there is a violation of public trust, we take that very seriously. And, obviously, it goes up in scale the higher you go up in public office. And so I think if anything you should be encouraged by the fact that we do have a track record of success in these matters.
SHERWOODAnd the Atty. Gen. Nathan, in his settlement, is the case with councilmember to repay the money, is that a parallel just out to the side that has no impact or might have an impact? Or is that getting too close to discuss in the case?
JR.Well, it's too close to discussing. But what I can say is that's a civil matter. It's a different standard. It's not proof behind a reasonable doubt. Certainly, I think, there's some overlap, but, again, that is a different case and a different standard in what we have to deal with on the criminal side.
NNAMDIHere is Neavy (sp?) in Chevy Chase, Md. Neavy, your turn.
NEAVYHi, Kojo. I was calling to ask about Brady material. And I believe you had a show earlier this year on that subject. It seems to be a national problem where -- a Brady material by the way is exculpatory evidence that must be turned over to the defense. But it's up to the prosecutors to determine what is Brady. And so it seems to have the effect of, probably, the perception of prosecutors being more concerned about conviction rates than justice. And I'd like to hear his response. Thank you.
NNAMDIYour opinion on -- about that, Ronald Machen.
JR.Well, I actually think it's not nearly as big a problem as it's been made out to be. I mean, there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of cases every day where Brady allegations are made. And I got to tell you, given the publicity after Stevens, they're made almost in every case, and they're not founded in the vast, vast majority of cases. But when it does happen -- and, again, when it does happen, it's something that's inexcusable.
JR.It's something to learn from. But when it does happen, it gets a lot of media attention. But when you look at the scope of the cases that, not only we handle, but that are the entire -- that are handled across the country, the amount of times that actual Brady violation are found, it's miniscule.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Neavy.
SHERWOODThis is a superficial question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. There are zillions "Law and Order"-style stories on television, "Harry's Law," the "CSI." Do you watch any of them?
JR.I do not.
JR.I'm usually not home in time, unless they...
SHERWOODYou don't have a fictional favorite TV prosecutor show that would give us an insight to what you think? I mean, it's like Mayor Gray -- he told us he watches "Sex and the City" and has those posters in his office of the women who star in that show.
NNAMDIThe show is not on anymore.
SHERWOODI know, but he still has the poster. Watch the (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWatches the re-runs (word?)
SHERWOODIs there any indication that there is something -- what TV show, prosecutorial TV show you watch? And then, you said none (unintelligible). You can say something.
JR.I've watched "Law & Order" before, but I will say this about those sort of shows. They have worked to raise the bar. Earlier this year, I created a new position, special counsel for DNA and forensic litigation.
JR.And part of the reason is we have to put our best foot forward as prosecutors in each and every case because when you're watching these shows and crimes are solved based on DNA evidence, you think you're supposed to have DNA hits on every single case. And if you don't, you think there's a weakness. And so we have to be well-versed in our abilities -- in our ability to use that evidence.
JR.And if it's not there, to be able explain to the jurors why it wasn't there, so those shows have had an impact on our job. But I haven't had as much time to watch those.
SHERWOODIt makes us think it's jurors that we know more than we actually do.
SHERWOODYou got -- you couldn't say it that way, but I could for you.
SHERWOODIt's my understanding that your office has made a particular point of engaging immigrant communities. How so?
JR.Well, in a lot of different ways. But most notably, a few weeks ago, we had a forum down at the -- off of 14th Street where we met with African immigrants. And we talked to them about problems they're dealing with in their community. We talked about the lack of reporting the crimes. Oftentimes, immigrants are vulnerable victims because the criminals realize that if they commit a crime on an immigrant, the immigrant may not be willing to come forward.
JR.And so we wanted to talk to the African immigrants that were there and let them know that we represented them, that their immigration status usually will not come up if they come to see us, and we're going to try to prosecute and get justice with them, regardless of their residence status. And we followed that up with a meeting we had with the Latino community on the Sunday after the Latino Festival, and we talked a lot about the very same issues. We had an interpreter there.
JR.It was a mainly a Spanish-speaking audience, and we then talked about the importance of being able to report crimes and not being concerned about your immigration status so that justice can be done for you.
NNAMDII got the feeling that Tom Sherwood has a final question.
SHERWOODWell, I thought my, what do you watch on TV was insightful, you know, deep-digging question that would kind of wrap up this program, so...
NNAMDII agreed with that wholeheartedly, not.
NNAMDIWe got an email...
SHERWOODWell, I just want -- I want -- I want to see action out of the attorney's office, so I can have more stories to write, whether it's good or bad news for whoever is involved. How's that?
JR.I hear you, Tom.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Tommy in Brooklyn. "D.C. completed a three-week fugitive safe surrender program this past August. Does U.S. Attorney Machen feel that the program, which is an effective -- does he feel that the program is an effective use of resources and, if so, why?"
JR.I do. I think that that was a great success, not only our office played a role, but obviously the courts, MPD. We had the Public Defender Service being there as well representing individuals. When people have these matters that are hanging over their heads -- and a lot of them are misdemeanor manners. They're not meant for the -- to catch the murderer that's been out on the loose for years.
JR.That when they come forward and they resolve it right then, a lot of times they're released the same day. It really helps to minimize the concern that they're going to get caught and someone's going to come to their house or they'll be at a -- you know, with their kids somewhere and get arrested and be taken away from their children.
JR.So it's a better way to deal with those sort of problems upfront, and it was a tremendous success. It was actually even more successful than it was a few years ago when we did it.
NNAMDIIn other words, come in, Tom Sherwood, all is forgiven. Ronald Machen is the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
JR.Thank you. Thank you, Kojo. Thanks, Tom.
NNAMDIIt's the Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, the appeals court ruled in favor of the D.C. Gun Law, 2-to-1 decision by the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, leaves in place the gun ownership regulations passed by the D.C. Council. How important is this?
SHERWOODWell, you know, Phil Mendelson, the chairman of judiciary committee and public safety committee, you know, was irritated with me 'cause I wasn't interviewing more about this 'cause he said it's important. He says that while the city lost the case of banning handguns, it won the case on regulating handguns and what could be done.
SHERWOODAnd he said it was significant, that this is -- the court -- the circuit court was -- a very important ruling. So I yield to Mr. Mendelson and to Mary Cheh who also said...
NNAMDIIn other words, you do give a blankety-blank what Phil Mendelson thinks.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I try to give people, you know, benefit of doubt when they're saying something. In this case, you know, and the city was worried -- it has been worried that all gun laws, and since they were going to be wipe out, and that people would be carrying guns that -- like in Virginia, carrying them to church and to shopping centers and all of that. And I think this is the case now where that's not going to happen, and I think the city officials are very happy about that.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Derrick Leon Davis. He is the Democratic candidate for the Prince George's County Council. He is running for the seat in the county's sixth district, which was, until recently, it was represented by Leslie Johnson. We know what happened to Leslie Johnson as we know what happened to her husband...
SHERWOODWe're still waiting to see what happens to her.
NNAMDI...Jack Johnson. We know that she plead guilty. We are waiting to see how her conviction -- how her -- she's been convicted. She...
SHERWOODWe're waiting for sentencing.
NNAMDISentencing is what we're going to be...
SHERWOODAnd when is that going to be, November?
NNAMDII have no idea.
NNAMDII think it is November. But I guess our next guest probably knows. Derrick Leon Davis, you are in a prime position to take over the county council seat that was held by Leslie Johnson. Why did you throw your hat into the ring for this seat? And what do you think you'll need to do to help restore public trust after how your successor left the council?
MR. DERRICK LEON DAVISKojo, I actually threw my hat in the ring many years ago. The first time I ran...
NNAMDIThis wasn't your first time. That's right.
NNAMDIYou've ran for the seat a few times before. Came up short.
DAVISYep, 2002 against Councilmember Dean and then again in 2010. Mrs. Johnson was able to outstrip me by a very small number. And when the special election showed up, it wasn't really a question that I would participate. You know, it's unfortunate, the situation that we've been in for the last year. But I think in my foray this time in the special election process, I knocked a whole lot of doors.
DAVISAnd people in district six in Prince George's County, they've gone through the grieving process with regard to not having representation that could vote on the council and participate in for. And I think they're ready to move on.
DAVISThat was the message I got at the doors, that we need to focus on making sure that all of our children are educated appropriately and that, as a community that, we come together to take care of our senior citizens and make Prince George's County the county that we all think we want it to be, which is an opportunity for folks to come in and for businesses to come in and for us to flourish, create an economic development engine that's right here outside of the nation's capital within the Baltimore, Washington, Virginia corridor, and really, you know, just make Prince George's County that shining example of opportunity that it was well on its way to be.
NNAMDII know that you want to move on from this. But having run for this seat a few times before, when Leslie Johnson was arrested, did you have a private told-you-so moment?
DAVISNo. Actually, it was kind of a blow. I'm a real...
SHERWOODA real spiritual?
DAVISI'm a real spiritual guy. And at the end of the election, I looked up, and I said, well, I know you told me to run. And I said -- to God, I said, you know, I was prepared to govern. I said, so there's must be something else for me to do. And on the day that it occurred, I was just was blown into my seat. I mean, I was knocked down into my seat, and I just looked up again and said, okay. I guess I better get ready again.
DAVISAnd, you know, 10 minutes later, I was out knocking doors and preparing myself and my team to get right back to an election. You know, my team worked hard for several years to put ourselves in a position where we were known as a candidate for county council, known in the community...
NNAMDIIt didn't hurt that you had the support of County Executive Rushern Baker, did it?
DAVISNot at all. That was welcome and thankful help...
SHERWOODDo you -- did I hear you correctly? Do you think this is a calling from your -- I don't know what religion you are.
DAVISI am -- I'm a Baptist. I'm a member of First Baptist Church in...
SHERWOODBacksliding Baptist or Baptist?
DAVISOh, hopefully not. Straight Baptist.
SHERWOODOkay. All right.
DAVISYou know, we all backslide, and we all have to go to Him every day and make sure that we move our feet in the right path. You know, quite honestly, when I tell the story of who I am, it really comes to that. I was born and raised Prince Georgian, raised in a community in Capitol Heights inside the Beltway.
SHERWOODBut this is not -- you know, we had this issue in some national politics of people who are made -- who say they are called and, I mean, spoken to or anything. I'm just trying to get a sense if this is part of your moral being to be called to this.
DAVISWell, absolutely. I...
SHERWOODIt's not that you got a phone call or something like that.
DAVISNo, it wasn’t a telephone call from any senator or any friend that's, you know, but moreover, just positioning, put myself in the position, or he put me in a position where my background, my opportunities spoke to a time. In 2002 when I ran I thought, sure. I was called to run, and I did. And I lost.
SHERWOODI respect religion. And my sister-in-law would have a flat tire, and she -- and her husband my brother is Baptist minister. And she said that when she had the flat tire, it was God telling her to slow down.
SHERWOODAnd I said well, maybe he was telling you to get better tires, you know, to get -- buy better tires.
DAVISGet a new tire.
SHERWOODBut let me ask you about the council, a very serious issue. Should the council get out of the contracting business? I mean, you know that being in the office, the temptation and the corruption to be corrupt is like a flowing river. People are going to come to you once. Just do this little thing here. Just do that little thing here. What -- should the council get out of some of the things that are most -- that can ensnare them like contract and approval?
DAVISYou know, from the perspective of the charter government and the country executive's office moves those things across the board. The council goes through the process depending on the dollar amount to approve those things. Moreover, I think that the piece that many talk about is the county council's responsibility as a district council where we deal with the development issues. And that has become kind of a political hot-button issue from time to time.
NNAMDIWhere one councilmember would not approve a development issue in another councilmember's district unless the councilmember who represents that district gives his or her approval?
DAVISThey call that council courtesy. And, quite honestly, I think, when we look at Prince George's County and in my experience, it has become one of the things that we have to take a serious look at from the perspective of how we want Prince George's county to look in the future. It -- we tend to become NIMBY and parochial as opposed to holistic and -- in our approach to what Prince George's County will be.
DAVISFor example, if -- we have this huge hospital opportunity that's coming to bear with the University of Maryland system dimensions, you know, health care and the State of Maryland. And, we, as a council of nine, have to work with the county executive, a governor to ensure that that economic development engine, that is a hospital, is put in a place where Prince Georgians, not people in district six, not people in districts 1, 2, 3, 4, you know, 5, 7 or 9 -- 8 or 9, but where Prince Georgian's can ultimately take best advantage of it.
DAVISI think we have to begin to look at all of our development in that manner, whether it be hospitals, whether it be outlet malls, whether it be any type of development or any type of economic development engine that we're trying to create.
SHERWOODHow do we get the corruption out of that, the -- or the pay-to-play attitude that, well, you got to be involved, more disclosure, more frequent disclosure, more thorough disclosure, so we know what you're doing?
DAVISYeah, I think that we've heard banter about the office of an inspector general. I don't think that that's a bad idea. I think that we do have, in the county, an office of audits and investigations, and maybe some tweaking with regard to ensuring that. But, ultimately, I think it goes back to what we started talking about. I mean, everyone has to first police themselves and walk out their doors prepared to be accountable, knowing that, you know, that snares are there.
DAVISAnd the bottom line, as I knocked on doors, I got that question an awful lot. And from my perspective, it's my desire and my own responsibility not to bring shame on my home or to bring shame on anything that I involve myself in and try to operate completely in light of...
SHERWOODIt's often more erosion than it is falling over a cliff...
SHERWOOD...or into corruption. It's a -- one day you do this, and one day you do that. One day you appear here. One day you're -- and then, suddenly, you're in the briar patch, in the weeds...
SHERWOOD...whatever you want to call it.
DAVISYeah. No, I understand that. Every day, you got to check yourself when you walk out the door. Walk out the door with the attitude that, you know, it's about, from my perspective, all of the children of Prince George's County and all of the people who helped me get elected, especially the population of folks who helped raise me.
SHERWOODDo you think Jack Johnson and Leslie Johnson should spend some time in prison because of their public corruption convictions?
DAVISI think the judicial system will bear that out, from what I can tell.
SHERWOODYou know, as a person of faith and a person of good -- you say good moral character, shouldn't they have -- public official who fall so much, spend some time in prison to say that they're wrong?
DAVISI think when folks break the law and do crimes, that they should befall the trappings of the legal system. What I've seen -- and, actually, I've run into Mr. Johnson in church a couple of times, and I've -- you know, I shake his hand, and I hug him. And I tell him, look, my family will be praying for your family. I know they're going through a lot, from what is discussed and what the legal system says could be, you know, 10 years and things like that.
DAVISFor me, it just is devastating to think that your life could be in that situation. And I think that the best thing that I can do as a gentleman and a friend is just to say, hey, we're praying for you.
SHERWOODI just thought when they go to prison or jail for three weeks or three years...
SHERWOOD...or 15, it just seems to me that would be a -- if public officials knew the -- they had to go to jail...
SHERWOOD...they couldn't get some...
DAVISSlap on the wrist or...
SHERWOOD...community service thing, then, I think, that would be a little bit more of a deterrent.
DAVISI think Mr. Machen was actually talking about, you know, the same thing, and I believe that we should know, as public officials who stand in front of the light and go to the voters and ask for their support, that we are going to be expecting...
DAVISThat's right, held to a higher standard.
NNAMDIHere's Yvette in Bowie, Md. Yvette, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YVETTEHi, Kojo, Tom and Mr. Davis, I'm calling -- actually, I was going to call -- ask about redistricting. The commission -- the council hired a redistricting or appointed an absolutely incredible redistricting commission who listen to the people. They, for the most part, gave us what we wanted. We were asking for contact and contiguous communities. They rejoined 79 of the 82 census designated places in Prince George's County, and the council ignored them completely.
YVETTEThey came out with this crazy map that had a little bit of police here and there, but, for the most part, it is the status quo. Our issues still aren't getting addressed, so...
NNAMDIYvette, we're running out of time very quickly. Your specific question.
YVETTEMy specific question is what are your thoughts on the commission on where the council is going with their redistricting effort?
DAVISThe council sits and makes final judgment with regard to the commission's decisions, and every 10 years we look at it. I know one of the themes was keeping municipalities together and uniting areas and keeping communities together. And in District 6, we sought to do it. District 6 was one of the most heavily populated districts. The census had to lose about 20,000 people with regard to population.
DAVISWe lost a piece of Upper Marlboro so far, and some parts of Bowie were moved back into the municipality. I think the council did the work. They listened to the people. I think they listened to the consultants and did what they could do best to keep Prince George's County growing.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have.
NNAMDIDerrick Leon Davis is a Democratic candidate for the Prince George's County Council, running for the seat in the county's sixth District, which…
SHERWOODWhen's the election?
NNAMDI...until recently, was represented by Leslie Johnson. Derrick Leon Davis, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
DAVISThank you, Kojo ,and thank you, Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, this week we were talking about the losses of Steve Jobs, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the former Harvard law Professor Derrick Bell. There was also a significant local loss: Phyllis Etheridge Young, former D.C. school member and educational activist. She co-founded and led a coalition that lobbied the city government and Congress for funding of school budgets. She died Sept. 29. She was also one of the founders of Parents United.
SHERWOODYes. A major influence on getting the public school system headed in the right direction.
NNAMDIPhyllis Etheridge Young, she will be missed. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend. It's going to be a beautiful weekend. For a change, get out and enjoy the taste of D.C., and maybe it'll occupy D.C., now at the same spot.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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