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To read more about Episode 197, visit the main episode page.
Michael Moore [00:00:30] Hello, everyone. This is Rumble with Michael Moore, and I’m Michael Moore. Thank you very much for tuning in today to my podcast. We are going to talk about prisons in America. We’re going to say things that maybe haven’t been said too much, certainly not in the mainstream media, but things that need to be said and information that we need to share with you to correct a very serious problem. A couple of weeks ago, we spoke about my idea, not really just mine, I mean lots of people are calling for this. Lots of people, in fact. The Department of Public Safety and Compassion is the way I put it that we need in order to make the changes we need to make regarding the police systems that we have here in America that are not right, are not humane and do not work. And today I want to talk about the prison industrial complex and why that isn’t working and what we need to do to fix that.
Michael Moore [00:01:34] So I have a great guest today, a scholar and a professor from the University of Washington, who has spent years of his life working on this issue of mass incarceration. And so I hope you stick with me here. Lots of things going on in the news this week. I know I don’t know where to begin. I’ll just say that the fact that the new prime minister in Israel has resumed the bombing of Gaza, of the civilian Palestinian population. And I thought, Well, you know what they’re firing these crazy little missiles into Israel? No, no, no missiles being fired at Israel. The reason they gave was that the Palestinians were letting balloons go up in the air and that they would then pop in. They would rain some kind of firing device on wherever the balloon landed. So I hadn’t heard this one before – Palestinians with balloons. It’s a new form of terrorism that we have not seen yet. We should have thought of it. We should have prepared for it. We should have known about this that whenever you have Palestinians around in any kind of gathering or whatever, that sooner or later the balloons come out. The Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, they get the balloons going and all hell breaks loose and the kind of danger we’re in. Of course, I don’t mean to make light of any of this, but a nuclear power once again bombing a civilian population.
Michael Moore [00:03:06] One of the poorest strips of land on the planet Earth. Because, according to the Israelis, balloons were being sent up in the air and drifting over Israel to rain havoc down the Israeli population. My friends, when does it end? When, when, when. This insanity. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. We’re going to talk about the U.S. of A. and why we lock up 2.3 million people in prison and have millions more involved in the prison industrial complex that we have in this country.
Michael Moore [00:04:40] So let’s get on with today’s subject matter, and our guest, Dan Berger, is his name. He’s been studying, teaching and writing about America’s system of mass incarceration for several years. He’s a professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Dissent Magazine, Truthout, Salon, among other publications, and his books include “Rethinking the American Prison Movement” that he co-authored, “Captive Nation, Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era,” and “The Struggle within prisons: Political prisoners and Mass movements in the United States.” He is also the co-creator of the Washington Prison History Project. It’s a digital archive of prisoner activism and prison policy in the state of Washington, and I am very pleased to welcome Dan Berger to Rumble. Dan, how are you?
Dan Berger [00:07:27] I’m well, thanks so much for having me.
Michael Moore [00:07:29] Well, thank you very much for, you know, I’ve been for the last couple of weeks. I started my own little project here, because I thought, it was around the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and of course, the TV networks everybody turned everything over to, you know, the first anniversary. And literally a week later, there’s just no continuing discussion of how we need, what we need to do about police departments, prisons, et cetera. And I thought, OK, we have to at least on my podcast, this is one of, at least for the remainder of this year because I don’t want this to go on any longer. We are going to talk about this in a number of ways. And so I just started out a couple of weeks ago by proposing that we essentially get rid of police departments as we know them and instead establish in towns, neighborhoods, cities, precincts, something that I called the Department of Public Safety and Compassion.
Michael Moore [00:08:27] And that when we say public safety, we’re not just talking about, you know, me walking down the street or the stuff in my house that I don’t want anybody taking. But what about the safety of the millions who go hungry every day? What about the safety of those who don’t have a job, who don’t have health insurance? These should all be considered safety issues. And I got an incredible response to this idea of thinking of it differently. And then I said to people, next up, we’re going to talk about, you know, what I and others call the prison industrial complex. And so you, Dan, are my first guest to discuss: what to do about prisons, about mass incarceration, about why we have more prisoners than any country in the world. And you probably know these stats better than I do. But is this a crazy statistic? If you combine so many countries, they still don’t have what we have in one country and not just in terms of actual numbers, because we’re a big country. Even when we talk about the rate of incarceration, we’re number one.
Michael Moore [00:09:35] We’re the only industrialized country that has the death penalty, we’re the only one that has life without parole, we’re the only one that treats children, prosecutes them children as adults. So it’s like, I guess the first question I want to ask you is, and you’re a historian and you’ve written history books about this, but I also want to make sure we have the time to get to what we’re going to do about it. But please give us, if you can, the Cliff Notes version. Sorry to put it that way. I sound so uneducated, I am uneducated. I only lasted a year in the University of Michigan. Don’t hold it against me. But Dan, how did we get here?
Dan Berger [00:10:13] Yeah. Well, you know, there’s lots of ways, right? And I think there’s some value in taking the longer view of showing that mass incarceration has its origins in slavery and in settler colonialism. Most of my work is focused on the 20th century and you asked for the Cliff Notes, and so I hesitate to go back that far. But I think really the prison system that this country has has always been racist, has always been or has always preyed on the poor and the working class. And that has everything to do with the structure of this country from even before it was a country. You know, when you look at Washington, it is not an outlier in this regard, but just to use that as a local example, before Washington was a state, it had a prison.
Michael Moore [00:11:10] Wow.
Dan Berger [00:11:10] And so you can see that prison becomes a really important form of building the country. And now with that said, even though, you know, the U.S. has always had that kind of harsh discipline that you alluded to when you talk about the death penalty, when you talk about life without parole, when you talk about solitary confinement. There is also a rather remarkable speed at which we became the world’s leading jailer. And you said, you know, we’re a big country, that’s true, but proportionally we’re not that big. We’re five percent of the world’s population, but more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. And that is the phenomenon of the last half century. And that’s pretty remarkable how quickly we could build so many prisons and lock up so many people.
Michael Moore [00:12:05] Well, you have the stat in one of your books – I think that it was: just since 1970, our incarcerated population has increased by 700 percent.
Dan Berger [00:12:16] Yeah.
Michael Moore [00:12:16] That’s amazing.
Dan Berger [00:12:18] Yeah. And it’s not just more people going to prison, but people staying in prison for longer. And what’s so remarkable is that in an abysmal way, you know, 50 years ago, we had very profound and powerful movements among incarcerated people in this country, where you had people like George Jackson and Angela Davis, who remains a leading voice on these issues, you had people at Attica prison in New York that experienced a major uprising in 1971. Look at the prison conditions at that time period and say it was a sign of incipient fascism. And at that time, there were about 200,000 people incarcerated. Today, there’s more than 2.3 million.
Michael Moore [00:13:05] Wow.
Dan Berger [00:13:06] And this has everything to do with the embrace of neoliberalism and with attacks on the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, particularly the Black freedom struggle.
Michael Moore [00:13:19] Right. And so now, today, again, according to the statistics here, one out of every three black males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one out of every six Latino boys, compared to one out of every 17 white boys. Those are just the facts, and I don’t think this just happened accidentally. I mean, obviously, as you say, slavery and we can go back that far. But all these other things that you’ve mentioned here. And it seems like, am I correct to say that to deal with the mass incarceration problem as long as we still have a racial and a racist problem in this country that there was, no matter what we discuss now for the next 30 minutes, it can happen because unless we fix the racism, the institutional racism, how am I, how are we going to propose anything, if so many people want to keep the status quo, especially when it comes to race?
Dan Berger [00:14:18] Yeah, I mean, I think we really need to recognize that the prison system and the larger punishment apparatus of which it is a part is a central way through which racism is produced, maintained and experienced. So, you know, there is no solving, quote unquote, or addressing racism that is not premised on ending mass incarceration. And there is no way to end mass incarceration that is not about that, that is not an anti-racist project. But I also want to say, you know, we have a lot of loud voices about, you know, promoting this kind of tough on crime, you know, border militarism and nativism, you know, there’s lots of loud voices, you know, supporting just the the worst, cruelest policies.
Dan Berger [00:15:08] But I don’t know that that’s necessarily the same as a majority, right? And when you think about the fact that not only are there 2.3 million people incarcerated on any given day in this country, but that there are seven million under some form of correctional control, that there are millions of people who have an incarcerated parent or other incarcerated loved ones? But what we’re really talking about is what my colleague David Stein and I have referred to as the criminalized majority. There is a constituency of incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones who are demanding justice, who are demanding alternatives. And I think that is a powerful constituency and a powerful majority in the making.
Michael Moore [00:15:58] You have pulled no punches in your writings and your teachings about this in the sense that you are not a reformer. You are not in favor of putting a Band-Aid on this problem or thinking that, well, let’s see, we’ve got, you know, 2.3 million behind bars today. Well, let’s lower that to 1.5. I’ve read your stuff. So this is not your position and your position is and I’m sure some people might recoil at it, but I wanted to have you on, so you could explain this because and I didn’t realize you also teach critical race theory at the University of Washington, so maybe you come back on here because that’s another whole thing because the crazy people are trying to turn that into some kind of whatever. It needs to be dealt with. So, but having said that, you favor essentially the abolition of our prison system the way that it exists today?
Dan Berger [00:16:59] Correct. When we’re talking about prison, we’re not talking about something that is separate from the rest of society. And so when we’re talking about abolishing the prison system and abolishing the prison industrial complex, we’re not talking about leaving everything else the same and just removing the carceral control. Right. I’m a big fan of the scholar and abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who says that abolition is a presence, right? It’s not simply a removal, that it’s a building process. We’re not talking about removing prisons and keeping everything else in society the same. The vast majority of people who are incarcerated are there not for what they did, but for who they were when they did it.
Dan Berger [00:17:48] You can look at any issue, at any crime, no matter how horrific, and you can find people who have, who are sitting in the halls of power or who have access to the halls of power who have done nothing. And so what mass incarceration is and what the prison system in general is, is a sort of sorting mechanism of deservingness, where deservingness is understood through race and class and gender and sexuality and ability. So when we talk about abolition, yes, we are talking about abolishing the prison system that exists in this country. But doing that, the way to do that is through full employment. The way to do that is through universal health care. The way to do that is to refuse criminalization as a response to social and political problems. And that means absolutely we need to let as many people out of prison as fast as possible and we need to close institutions and we need to recognize that that process is inherently committed to growing all the forms, all the institutions and infrastructures that promote human creativity, collectivity and safety.
Dan Berger [00:19:09] And that as long as we have the world’s biggest prison system, as long as we have, you know, colonial armies calling themselves police forces, that those things are not just bad in and of themselves, but that they prevent us as a society from creating the the infrastructures we need to keep us happy, healthy and safe.
Michael Moore [00:19:30] Right. So the fact that we have so many people in prison is essentially indicates that we as a society have failed to take care of our own people because if everybody who wanted a job had one and were paid a good good wage, not just a minimum wage, if everybody was covered and nobody had any medical debt, you didn’t have college debt, you didn’t have all these debts that put you in the minus column to where you might be tempted to do something if we just had a more loving society, if I can use that word, that would in and of itself reduce what we call crime or many of the crimes. And if we didn’t treat mental illness as a crime or the adjuncts to mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, we’d have a whole different system here.
Dan Berger [00:20:32] That’s right. And that’s why you see so many people continually resort to criminalization as a cover for and an accelerant of authoritarianism because it’s constantly about choice. I mean, it’s sort of famously cast as socialism or barbarism. But let’s consider that choice of our choosing to care for one another or are we choosing to to divide the deserving from the undeserving and are choosing to create enemies and to punish them harshly and for decades, right? And certainly, you know, even longer. But certainly in the last five decades, those in power have repeatedly chosen criminalization.
Dan Berger [00:21:18] And what the abolitionist tradition says is that’s wrong, but also that it doesn’t have to be that way. And I think in doing so, we certainly draw from from the movement to abolish slavery in the 19th century, which, you know, wasn’t talking about gradual emancipation. It wasn’t talking about a little bit of slavery is OK, it wasn’t talking about any of those sorts of kind of Band-Aid reforms. It was saying that the very institution is a toxin to humanity, right, and needs to be eradicated. And we can see the same exact problem at the same, the same sort of issues with the punishment system.
Michael Moore [00:22:07] So when we talk about eradicating prisons and I’ve always wanted to do, whether it was in a movie I’m filming or just on a day when I had nothing else to do, I just want to get like a big bus or van or something and go up to Sing Sing or go to Jackson Prison in Michigan or whatever. Just pull up and say, I’m just here to pick up everybody and set them free if you don’t mind. And just see what would happen. But you never know. You know, I’m just saying. I am an optimist, so seriously, let’s just deal with those who might be listening. Let’s not give this too much time, but those who are listening right now who just heard us talking about abolishing and eradicating prisons and prisons as we know them. Right away, the knee starts to jerk and they’re like, Wait a minute. Well, and they’re like, You can’t let these dangerous people, you can’t just let them go. There must be some people that have to be locked up. What’s your answer to people that have this kind of visceral, antagonistic response to any discussion about when we want to talk about something wrong with a country that’s got 2.3 million people behind bars?
Dan Berger [00:23:20] Yeah. Well, the idea that prisons protect us from bad guys seems to falter on the fact that we keep having bad guys. So if prisons were there to keep us safe, then how can we keep having these specters of monsters who are here to terrorize us? Why haven’t prisons solved that? Here we have the most prisons. We have some of the meanest prisons that the world has ever known. And yet we still have these sort of bogeymen that are there, you know, just waiting for any opportunity to terrorize us. Right. The very argument relies on the fact that the prison system is failing to do its job. And so, I think it’s a red herring. And I think prisons continue to be this sort of mirage, right, that they sort of masquerade as a solution to the harm when in fact they do nothing to prevent harm. And the prisons and police are primarily reactive. They step in after, you know, a crime has been committed and that crime may or may not involve harm. And I think abolitionists speak about harm vs. crime because there’s a lot of crime that isn’t harm and there’s a lot of harm that isn’t crime.
Michael Moore [00:24:42] But is there anyone who should be locked up, though? Is it in the abolition movement here? You know, I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast. I have a relative who is a public defender and she’s a criminal appellate public defender. So these are people that are already in prison, already been convicted, and she’s trying to get their sentence reduced or get them out. And I said to her, she’s done this for like 20, 25 years. I said, How have all your defendants, all your clients over these 25 years? How many have you had? She said, Oh jeez. Between myself and the other person, that’s her partner, five hundred, maybe. I said, OK, of the 500, there must be a goodly number of them, where even you thought to yourself, even though you were defending them and that was their right to have a defense attorney. You must have thought, seriously, maybe this one. we need to kind of put someplace, maybe hide the key. And she said, I can answer that question. I’d say of the five hundred between six and twelve. I said, you mean six hundred. No.
Michael Moore [00:26:01] There have been maybe six, maybe half a dozen or more that I have met as my clients over these 25 years where I thought, OK, there’s no hope, no help for this person. We must not be cruel to him. But we also can’t have him walking among us. I was stunned to hear that it would be just a half a dozen. And then what about the other 495, she said, this is why I keep doing this because they have issues and they have problems that don’t involve you and I – and only to the extent that we, as the society have refused to deal with it, whether it’s drug abuse, alcohol abuse, whether it’s, you know, a whole bunch of mental health issues. And if we dealt with that, then if we really got down to those six, you know, then we have to have a humane way to keep them separate. You know, if you have a serial rapist or whatever, he’s just not going to stop raping women, then you have to find a way to stop that, to interrupt it. But not in the cruel way that we do it. We don’t become better people by being cruel to the people who are cruel to other people.
Dan Berger [00:27:14] Right? And I think a lot of the cruelty that exists is learned. So what are the ways that people are learning to be cruel and it’s often through institutions of cruelty themselves. So when you look at the modern prison abolition movement, you find a number of people who are involved in restorative and transformative justice precisely to develop the means of addressing harm that don’t rely on cruelty. And so, you know, there may be, you know, instances where we have to say, like This person is a danger to others, right, that requires consideration. But we don’t need to go to prison and what prison is as a means to resolve that.
Dan Berger [00:28:14] And so when you look at organizations like Common Justice in New York City, here is a restorative justice organization that works with people who have committed harm or who have been violent, you know, often to people who they know. And people by and large don’t want other people to go to prison. They want harm to stop. And society has offered them prison, as this does the stand in for that?
Michael Moore [00:28:46] Yeah. Have you yourself been a victim of crime?
Dan Berger [00:28:51] Not of a violent crime, no.
Michael Moore [00:28:53] Not a violent crime. I mean, I think we’ve all had some form of larceny or burglary happen to us. And you know, I hesitate wanting to call the police because what do I want? OK, so my checkbook, I just kept it in the drawer of my desk in the office, and somebody went in there, tore out three or four checks in the middle of the checkbook and wrote themselves like four $1,000 checks and cash them. Yeah, and they were caught because of course, the banks have cameras and et cetera. And I’m like, OK, I don’t know. I don’t really. My first thought is not how to prosecute them, what I want is my money back.
Dan Berger [00:29:37] Yeah, exactly.
Michael Moore [00:29:38] Or you stole my computer? Give me my computer back.
Dan Berger [00:29:41] Like, I wish I still had my iPod that right? I wish I had my bike.
Michael Moore [00:29:47] And then the second question is, why did they steal it? If there’s a reason they stole the money? Maybe they’re just a kleptomaniac? I don’t know. But it was either a mental health issue or there is a legitimate issue where they’re broke. And in this case, in the office, it was the janitor. You know, and I’m like, OK, either this place isn’t paying him enough or there was something else here that I want to try to fix. But, you know, it just seems like if we had a system that included a way for someone who makes a mistake to make restitution…?
Dan Berger [00:30:21] Yes, exactly. And this is this is the guiding ethos of restorative justice and transformative justice, right of people being being accountable for their actions, which also includes the broader, you know, community or society, which, you know…Danielle Sered, the director of Common Justice likes to say: people don’t enter violence for the first time by causing it.
Michael Moore [00:30:49] Right.
Dan Berger [00:30:49] So what are the steps that led people to that?
Michael Moore [00:30:53] Exactly. Because I remember the prosecutor saying to me, Well, you know, he’s already spent your money and he doesn’t have any money, so you can’t get your money back. So now what do you want to do? And I said, Well, I don’t know. Maybe there’s something I can do. Something that makes restitution to him. And I’m waiting for the, you know, the prosecutor to laugh at that. And I’m saying, so we were taught by the nuns, didn’t they teach us that we are not only to love our neighbor, but we are to do good to those who persecute us? Those are the words of the person we were claiming to be following. So maybe one of the solutions to the problem here that’s occurred is that maybe I need to do something to help him.
Michael Moore [00:31:41] And I don’t mean necessarily write him a check, another check. But maybe I don’t know, you know, what if I tutored his kids once a month? I mean, do they need help in school? What else could I do? And I know people are listening to this, Dan, and they’re like, Mike, Mike, get a hold of yourself. But I am a hold of myself and I want to live in the world I want to live in. I want to live in and around the world. That world looks like a place where we’re all doing something to help each other. And if I can do something to help him or his family or whatever, then that is a form of it. Restitution shouldn’t be a one way street, is what I’m saying. But in order to create this better world, Dan, don’t we have to take and have some courage to do this differently?
Dan Berger [00:32:34] Absolutely right. And I really think that’s what the abolitionist movement has always been about, right? A bold, bold demand for courage. Because I think that there’s the flip side of this as well. You know, we’re talking about crimes of desperation, crimes of need. Those are intimately related to what we might consider crimes of impunity, which, you know, you gave the example of someone who stole, you know, $4,000 of checks. We have people that tanked the whole economy where, you know, millions of people lost their homes, lost their jobs and nothing happened, right? There was, you know, I think, one person who went to jail for anything related to the 2007 financial crisis. Mm hmm. All right. We have people who, you know, if I
Michael Moore [00:33:27] A Muslim bakery was the only one I went to jail.
Dan Berger [00:33:30] Yeah. If I were to go out to my nearest water supply and poison it as an individual, I would go to prison. But when the managers of Flint, Michigan, decide to poison the local water supply. They’re not getting SWAT team raids kicking down their door. The people who go to prison for these small crimes, or even some, some bigger but still interpersonal crimes that are, you know, the majority of people who are in prison, you know, quote unquote, did something. But they harmed another person. Right? Probably someone who they knew, maybe even someone they loved. And yet we have people who are harming thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions of people who are on the Supreme Court, who are in the Senate, who are former presidents for whom the thought of any kind of criminal justice solution generally is beyond the pale. And that’s mass incarceration too, right, that sense of impunity for the entitled that if your damage is massive enough on a scale, that’s grand enough that you will be immune from any kind of encounter with the criminal punishment system.
Michael Moore [00:34:55] So if we abolish the prisons that we have now and create something new. What do we do with those people like, let’s say we redefine crime and we treat corporate crime and white collar crime not only I wouldn’t say equally to the street crimes and the crimes committed by the poor and the working poor. But I would actually think those are even worse crimes, the ones that are committed by the banks and by these companies. Do we favor upending and changing this prison system, do we favor not sending them to prison? Because, you know, in my heart of hearts, I really want to personally lock them up? So, how do we square that with what we say? Does it apply also to the billionaire who has stolen from the American people?
Dan Berger [00:35:47] Yeah, so, you know, it’s a great question, I think when we talk about ,when we talk about the world that abolitionists want, we’re talking about a world where those things don’t exist. Right, right. Billionaires don’t don’t exist. And I think in the moment, in this moment now as we’re having this conversation living in the world that we live in, you know, the desire to seek vengeance against Jeff Bezos, I mean, I live in Seattle, you know, the desire for vengeance against someone like Bezos can feel very personal. But if Jeff Bezos is arrested tomorrow, my life doesn’t change. My neighbor’s life doesn’t change. The people that I know who are incarcerated in Washington don’t get out.
Dan Berger [00:36:34] Right, right. What I want to have happen is for the conditions that created Bezos as the wealthiest super villain of our time. Or Elon Musk, right? Or Bill Gates as the seemingly sort of beneficent version of this? Those people should not be allowed to maintain their power and resources that they have. That’s abolition. Right. I, you know, Jeff Bezos, the person like him being locked up in handcuffs or solitary confinement like that actually does nothing for me. Right. And even that idea of vengeance is over in five seconds.
Michael Moore [00:37:22] So the abolitionist solution to this then is first of all, as AOC says, every billionaire is a policy failure. Nonetheless, we have failed in the way that we’ve set up our system that billionaires even exist. So that’s maybe number one. Number two, when they do commit crimes against the people of the United States of America, we have ways for them to restore the damage they’ve done, to make restitution to us, and the revenge part of us that might want to lock them up and throw away the key, as you said, doesn’t really make our lives better tomorrow morning. But we do have to protect ourselves from them, and they do have to make some sort of restitution for what they’ve done.
Dan Berger [00:38:10] Yep. Correct. That’s absolutely right. And we need Jeff Bezos’s money. All of it, right? He can live on the same salary I make as a university professor or that janitor at the elementary school down the street or whatever. He can earn the wage the rest of us earn. Part of the way that he makes restitution is through not allowing him to hoard the resources that he has hoarded and make the policy that he has directly or indirectly helped make. And that’s the policy that’s accelerating climate change. That’s the policy that’s blocking living wages, that’s blocking, right, rent control and affordable housing. Those are the things that keep us happy, healthy and safe. Right. When you look at all the people who are not getting COVID vaccines because even though it’s free, they think they have to pay for it. That is a deeply sick society where people aren’t getting, you know, life saving vaccines because they are so conditioned that health care is a privilege and not a right.
Michael Moore [00:40:15] But back to this because we’re going to run out of time here. You know, I’m a big believer in redemption. I believe we all make mistakes. I believe there’s a path, an easy path for all of us to either redeem ourselves to make good on those to whom we’ve caused harm or those who we should have done more or better for. You know, I think if our system had that attitude, that not only does the person who made the mistake can do things to redeem the moment that they find themselves in and redeem themselves. But we can redeem ourselves. We who didn’t commit the crime. We who just live in this society that has allowed this to go on like this. That there has to be a redemptive moment for us to. Does that make sense to you?
Dan Berger [00:41:01] Absolutely. And again, I think this is why the abolitionist emphasis on transformative justice is so powerful because again the people who cause harm are not necessarily the same people who are going to prison for having caused harm.
Michael Moore [00:41:18] Right, right, right.
Dan Berger [00:41:19] And that there’s lots of people who are causing harm, who are enabling harm, who never face any consequences for having done so. And that in and of itself is a moral wound in our society, and I think abolition speaks to the political and the economic foundations of mass incarceration, but it also speaks to about to that moral restoration, that sort of moral project of what the world can be and what we can be for each other in the world.
Michael Moore [00:41:55] I want to just play 20 seconds of something that I think maybe, well, it’s indicative of what I think is going to be our biggest problem in trying to get our fellow Americans to come along with us on this. And even though this appeared on TV some 30-33 years ago, a lot of the attitude, I think, remains with us to this day, especially among white people. But not just white people, but a lot of white people. This is from the presidential debate of 1988 between George H.W. Bush and the Democrat Michael Dukakis. And Bernard Shaw of CNN had a first question to ask Michael Dukakis.
Bernard Shaw of CNN [00:42:43] The first question goes to Governor Dukakis. You have two minutes to respond. Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
Michael Moore [00:43:01] OK, we’re not. I’m not going to play the two minutes of his answer. If you’re old enough, you remember it, if you’re too young, I’ll just tell you that he hemmed and hawed for two minutes. And there was so much discussion about this. It contributed to his loss. But Dan, that attitude behind that question exists today. How do we get our fellow Americans to overcome that? That kind of mentality?
Dan Berger [00:43:31] You know, I think it begins by listening to people who are themselves survivors of harm, who are holding up our better angels. We look at organizations like Survived and Punished, which is a grassroots campaign that works to support and free women who have survived domestic violence, but who have been incarcerated for self-defense in the act of surviving violence. When we look at other organizations of currently and formerly incarcerated people, we see people who have been subject to very serious, painful harm who are seeking justice and not retribution. Think about what’s been happening over the last year and a half in prisons where COVID has come in through the staff because there’s no other way it could get in. But in institutions where people are held too close together to be able to socially distance, where the main form of protection that prison systems have to offer is through isolation and solitary confinement.
Dan Berger [00:44:47] And that all of that has happened in a context where people can’t see their loved ones have almost no other human contact and are treated as disposable by the very system that is denying them all of these aspects of human care and concern. And what we’ve seen repeatedly from incarcerated people during this pandemic is a call for a rigorous public health response. A call for recognition that public health only works if it means everybody. So here are people who have been abandoned who are not seeking retribution or revenge, but who are seeking a chance for us to all save each other. And I think that’s all we have, right? Because when you start to get into these revenge fantasies. There’s no end in sight. There’s always another enemy to seek revenge against.
Michael Moore [00:45:48] Yes. And we lower ourselves and then we’re down in that gutter and we don’t create a better world for our children and the people that are trying to survive and get by. I’ve had this idea while we’ve been talking. The way I want to change our policing is to create these departments of Public Safety and Compassion. And I think the title I want to give this too as we abolish and and then come back with something else that is humane and just and with love is to not have a department. I mean, it’s sometimes called the Department of Corrections. Sometimes it’s called the Department of Prisons. You know, I would like us who favor the abolition of the current way to create a Department of Restorative Justice and Redemption. What do you think of that?
Dan Berger [00:46:44] That sounds great. And I think when we pare restorative justice with a Green New Deal, with full employment, with universal health care, with the decriminalization of drugs, I think that’s what abolition is, right? It’s the bringing together of these different kinds of world making. Because full employment itself isn’t going to be enough as long as the prison system remains what it is. So we have to talk about getting people out and what that means getting people is jobs, health care, community food, a livable future. Yes. So I think the Department of Restorative Justice is part of a panoply of the kind of world making that we’re engaged in.
Michael Moore [00:47:39] Yeah, I think when we say restorative justice, you just defined it as all of those elements. We have to have all wheels in motion on those various issues to have what will be a more just society for everyone, especially for those who have the least. That has to be in our hearts. That has to be our commitment. This isn’t working, as you said. We just keep locking up more people. This has to change, and I hope you can come back on another time. And I think we’re going to have other people on in the coming months to continue discussing this. And I want to leave people with what they can do because they’re asking that right now, you know, we’re wrapping up here and they’re like, But Mike, you haven’t told us what to do. We want to do something. Is there? Is there anything we can do? And I’m sorry to throw that on you, Dan. In the last 20 seconds here, what is that? What can the people who are listening to you and I right now? What is even a small thing to start with? What can they do to fix this?
Dan Berger [00:48:44] Yeah, I would really encourage people to check out organizations that are working on these issues where they live. I think for that, they can look at groups like Critical Resistance. I mentioned, Survived and Punished. There has been a series of efforts promoting decarceration, different states and cities around the country. I think groups like Detention Watch Network are doing this work in the context of immigrant rights. The Prison Policy Initiative is a wonderful resource for people wanting to learn more. And then there is a series of mutual aid projects and networks that I’m sure people can find near wherever they may live.
Michael Moore [00:49:33] And if you can read one or two of Dan’s books on this. Dan Berger’s “Rethinking the American Prison Movement” that he co-authored with Toussaint Losier and “The struggle within: Prisons, Political prisoners and Mass movements in the United States.” I’ll have some links here on my podcast page where you can just click and read some of what Dan has written. But Dan, thank you for coming on and being my first guest on this particular topic. And we’re going to continue to talk about this because this can’t go on. Police as we know it, this can’t go on and prisons as we know, this can’t go on.
Michael Moore [00:50:10] And I think we can fix this and Dan’s right, one of the first things to do is, first of all, read up on it, learn and then join a group, you know, you don’t need to do this alone. There are already groups that have formed. I’ll put links on my page here so that you can click and join those groups and be part of this movement. People have been working on this for years, but I think in this particular year I think there will be tremendous growth in terms of the people joining, and I hope you listening can join. I will join and I will do more podcasts on this issue. Dan Berger, thank you so much, professor at the University of Washington, the state of Washington. Thank you for all the good work that you’ve done and will continue to do.
Dan Berger [00:50:52] Thanks so much for having me. I really look forward to seeing this conversation develop.
Michael Moore [00:50:55] Well, so glad to have Dan on. And let’s go with that, OK? The Department of Restorative Justice and Redemption. We are good people, my friends. And the majority of this country, they want a change. And that’s you. You’re part of that. I’m part of that and we need to make these things happen. We can’t just discuss them. On the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and the third anniversary in the fall. You know how we do this? No, we need change now. And the majority of Americans know something is wrong with our prison system. We can’t go on like this. It doesn’t work. It has its roots in a racist society that we are changing.
Michael Moore [00:51:37] Our young people are leading the way. And we have to follow along and we have to do this. And I am going to do other episodes on this, on policing and other issues regarding what we call criminal justice, because rarely we talk about who the real criminals are and those who commit what we call crimes oftentimes find themselves in desperate situations. And we need to understand why that is and we need to prevent it, not just punish. That we should never be about punishing or seeking revenge. We just want to make it right. We just all want to live in a better world. We can do this. And I know you want to do it and I want to do it, and that means it’s going to get done. That’s our attitude, right? So anyways, thank you all of you. Listen to this today.
Michael Moore [00:52:27] Thank you for all the wonderful letters regarding my discussion with Anand Giridharadas, who was with us last weekend. It gave us so much to think about and do, and I’m weirdly optimistic that we’re going to do these things, my friends. There’s so many of us that believe this. Do not be afraid of this noisy other side that wants to take us back to the Dark Ages, and wants to bring back the former guy. Not going to happen if we stand up, if we’re active, if we fight.
Michael Moore [00:53:00] We are in a different era. Those days are gone, and we’re going to make sure they don’t come back, and in fact, we’re going to make sure things are going to get better now. For next year’s elections, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s it for today. Thank you for joining me on Rumble with Michael Moore. I’m Michael Moore. My thanks to our executive producer, Basel Hamdan, our editor and sound engineer Nick Kwas, and everybody else who had any hand in today’s episode. Thank you for your support. We’ll talk to you next week. Have a good weekend. Be well. And don’t forget to Rumble. Take care.