During the first few days of this Thanksgiving week, the Crime Story Podcast is taking a look back at some of the themes that have emerged in the posts at CrimeStory.com.  Today our theme is “wobblers.” 

Today we offer a special reprise presentation of the two interviews that kicked off crimestory.com and The Crime Story Podcast. In one podcast episode, we present my interviews with Attorney General William Barr and Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler, who offered his thoughts on AG Barr’s responses to my questions.

To me justice is the right outcome… I believe a sense of justice is hardwired into human beings. Don’t ask me why, but it is there… 

There’s that scene in Dirty Harry where… Dirty Harry asks, “Where is she?” And the… guy smirks at him and he shoots him in the leg or something and the guy tells him where it is. I say, now was that an unjust or morally repellent act? Is the reason the audience applauds when that happens because the audience is morally bankrupt? Or is there something else going on there? 

United States Attorney General William Barr

Mr. Barr and I met when he was on the Board of Directors of Time Warner. I was working for HBO and its sister channel Cinemax at that time and we connected over his appreciation of a Cinemax show that I worked on called Banshee. Banshee is a violent, pulpy series, that tells the story of an ex-con who comes into a small town, and through a series of events, assumes the identity of the town’s sheriff.

As I was planning Crime Story, I knew that we would be focusing on the human impact of criminal justice and the narratives presented around it. Many of these stories will shed light on inherent inequities in the system that leave individuals of color and of limited means at a distinct disadvantage.

And so, I sought an interview with the Attorney General to discuss how his thinking about these themes and issues has changed since he first served as Attorney General in the early 90s. 

I also wanted to ask him what it was about the themes of Justice in the Banshee series that appealed to him.

On June 5, 2019 the Attorney General kindly agreed to sit down with me in his office in Washington, DC. You can find the transcript for that interview here.

The attorney general appears to me to endorse torture… I understand that when we see a bad guy get his just desserts, in an extra-legal way, it might fulfill some kind of base emotion. But we know the path that those actions lead down… 

I’m an African-American man and I grew up in the city of Chicago, a city that paid millions and millions of dollars to African-American men who were literally tortured in an offsite that the Chicago Police Department operated during the 1970s and ’80s.

So there’s not a crooked line between Dirty Harry and Jon Burge, who was the Chicago police official who was responsible for that torture. It’s a pretty direct line. And I’m fairly certain that Attorney General Barr would not support what the Chicago police were doing. But again, I don’t think there’s a huge space between the kind of violence that he endorses and the kind of violence that the police department in Chicago used against African-American men.

Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler

Professor Paul Butler and I met through my involvement with the alumni of Georgetown University Law School. Butler researches and teaches in the areas of criminal law, race relations law, and critical theory. 

He is the author of the widely lauded books “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice,” and “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”

Professor Butler is one of the nation’s most frequently consulted scholars on issues of race and criminal justice. Prior to becoming a professor, Butler served as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

He graciously agreed to offer his perspective on my interview with Attorney General William Barr, and you can find the transcript to that interview here.

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