MSNBC’s Chris Hayes speaks with Kenji Yoshino about American criminal justice and race

Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, joined Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law and the director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (CDIB), on March 22 as part of the CDIB’s Speaker Series. The two discussed Hayes’s book A Colony in a Nation (2017), an examination of systemic problems in the US criminal justice system.

Chris Hayes and Kenji Yoshino
Chris Hayes and Kenji Yoshino

The title of Hayes’s book comes from Richard Nixon’s presidential nomination acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican National Convention: “And let us build bridges, my friends, build bridges to human dignity across that gulf that separates black America from white America. Black Americans, no more than white Americans, they do not want more government programs which perpetuate dependency. They don’t want to be a colony in a nation.”

Hayes argues that, in fact, Nixon’s policies were instrumental in creating just such a “colony.” In the book, Hayes writes, “American criminal justice isn’t one system with massive racial disparities but two distinct regimes. One (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land.”

Select remarks by Chris Hayes from the event:

“One of the first things that always happens when people who live in the Nation and suddenly interface with the criminal justice system, they get very radicalized very quickly. It’s actually one of the most adorable and amusing aspects of watching Fox’s and others’ coverage of the Mueller investigation. ‘Prosecutors, they can just do all this? And police just showed up at Paul Manafort’s home in the middle of the night?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Welcome to America. This happens all the time.’”

“We have created a system where we have democratically chosen to create the world’s largest prison system…. We think of a prison state as naturally being something that flows from autocracy, authoritarian regimes, dictatorships, and yet here we are having democratically produced a set of laws and practices and enforcement regimes that are locking up more people per capita than even the Communist Party of China.”

“The project of America has been a project of white people warring against and subjugating others in all kinds of different ways. One of the collective psychological inheritances of that is the fear that you’re not going to be able to control things. It’s a really interesting thing to go back into the literature, particularly [slaveholders] in the South, and the consistency with which very lurid tales of slave revolts played through the local press then. It was a constant thing on their minds…. They knew that they were on top of a pyramid of terror, despite whatever they told themselves. I think there was some deep existential knowledge of that, that it could tip over…. To me, nothing is more literally a manifestation of it than the wall [between the US and Mexico proposed by Donald Trump]…. It’s the metaphor made real of barricading against the dark other.”

Watch the full video of the event (56 min):

Posted April 2, 2018