Raw footage for the award-winning series The 90's. This tape features an interview with Professor William H. King of the Black Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. King gives an in-depth analysis of the the societal, economic, and racial problems that have been a part of the American experience since its inception. King focuses on the subject of capital punishment and argues function and purpose in society.
0:00Copy video clip URL Home video footage of videomaker Jim Sternfield’s family at a park.
7:38Copy video clip URL The tape cuts to an interview with Professor William M. King, of the Black Studies department at University of Colorado at Boulder. Sternfield first asks King about a student government issue at the university, but they quickly move on to talk about the negative effects of “life with no parole” prison terms. King first begins to talk about the damaging effects of prison on people who have been incarcerated. “You’re talking about being confined to an eight by ten cage for the rest of your natural life. That means that you are treated as little more than an animal. You are sharing that small space with at least one other person as a consequence of overcrowded prison conditions now, and since you are perceived as an animal in a cage, there is no real effort given over to rehabilitation or to getting out. As a consequence of that, there is no real reason for a prisoner who has been sentenced to life without possibility of parole to exhibit any kind of hope whatsoever that would be a mainstay in any kind of realistic behavior modification program.” King goes on to say that the most awful form of punishment you can impose on someone is life imprisonment without parole and states that it is a contradiction in terms because “it takes away from the prisoner the hope of ever getting out.” Sternfield asks King if there is a way to make incarceration humanitarian. King responds, “Not so long as we view incarceration and the people we incarcerate as less than human.” “As long as we impose a label on them, we dehumanize them in that process and consequently, our whole perception of them changes and as our perception of them changes, our definition of them changes and our way of treating them changes.” “We treat them as so many commodities, and once you treat someone like a commodity, then you deprive that person of any wherewithal for potential behavior modification.”
14:45Copy video clip URL When asked why parole is so universal, King responds, “Because it’s less expensive than incarceration.” King then states that he believes in parole for some people and gives an example. “It makes a difference if you blow a family member away in the heat of a passionate argument because you have a lethal weapon handy. It makes a difference if you accost someone on the street because you’re strung out on crack and you need some money to get some more and you off somebody who won’t give up their wallet of what have you. And it makes a difference if you’re a professional hitman, hitwoman, who is probably not going to get caught anyway because they are professionals and they will know how to protect themselves from getting caught.” King then says, “All too often we, in this society in particular, pose simplistic answers for complex problems because of our pragmatic mentality.” King continues to talk about the issue in great detail.
19:58Copy video clip URL Sternfield thinks it is tough to distinguish the sociopathic crimes from crimes that are conspiratorial, and then asks King about his thoughts on gun control legislation. King first begins to talk about the use of handguns and America’s pro-violent tendencies: “You can’t address one without addressing the other.” He then makes an interesting point about the country’s skewed view of handguns and violence: “The firearm… fulfills its destiny only by destruction. I mean that is what it is designed to do: to destroy. So in that sense it is very much in keeping with the psychosocial orientation of American society toward violence.” He argues that blaming guns for violence is nearsighted, claiming that handgun violence is only a tool for manifesting the violence that has always been endemic in American society. “The handgun, the rifle, the AK-47, the machine gun, is simply a device for realizing this pro-violence orientation that exists in American society, and has existed in American society since the 17th century… This is a pro-violence society. It seeks to achieve its ends by doing damage to someone else… and until [those] values [are] addressed – along with gun control – gun control in and of itself is ridiculous. It’s a moot social policy.”
25:40Copy video clip URL King addresses the constitutional amendments dealing with the right to bear arms and freedom of the press. He and Sternfield continue to talk about the origins of U.S. laws and values, how they contribute to certain frames of mind among Americans, and how those laws differ from other countries. King goes on to talk about the U.S. and its inclination to “perceive difference as deviance.” “There is a real antipathy to difference in this society and what we generally tend to do is anyone who’s different is very quick, fast and in a hurry stigmatized as a deviant.” King also talks about the orientation of controlling those who are different, and about the English laying the groundwork of U.S. society in the 18th century. He states that these frames of mind have been ingrained into U.S. culture from the beginning. “And what you have to remember here is that in the game of power, position is the most important variable.”
29:38Copy video clip URL King talks about the concept of murder and its existence in Anglo-Saxon law since 1256, and then about the revision of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code of 1794.
32:36Copy video clip URL Sternfield asks King about his book, “Going To Meet A Man” (which is concerned with the last legal execution in the city of Denver, CO), and his views on capital punishment. King states, “When you have any entity as powerful as the state murdering someone, you sanction the taking of life in society de facto okay? It’s that simple.” King goes on to say that the death penalty is symbolically communicating to society that it is okay to kill. King shares a story about the prisoner in the process of being executed, talks further about the contradictory nature of capital punishment.
38:14Copy video clip URL When asked what society can do to deter aggression, King sighs and begins to say that the nature of violence is endemic to society, listing types of violence, including physical, psychological, and economic. King also talks about the myth of individualism in society and addresses a few of the ways to improve it.
43:41Copy video clip URL King advises us to look at broader problems in society to prevent crime, rather than responding to crimes individually. “When we talk about the law, we have to understand that law is the social expression of vested interest. Those with a go make the rules. That means that you’re going to talk about completely changing the legal system in this country. And you’re also going to have to talk about changing your perception of things that are regulated by legal codes… Maybe what we need to talk about reconceptualizing murder as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue. Looking at it as a criminal issue puts us in the position of always reacting to it… If we look at it as a public health issue then we can try to look at broader ways of fixing the problem.”
48:20Copy video clip URL When asked about the value of human life, King poses a question to Sternfield: “How are we going to do that in a society that by design, definition, and execution is a society based on the principle of exclusion?” He then states that things haven’t changed much since the civil rights movement. Sternfield then asks King about his views on Colin Powell being in such a powerful position in the U.S. government. King does not seem too impressed with Powell’s work and states that he “does what he gets paid to do.” King finds that American society has a way of creating excellent examples “to sustain the illusion that this is an open society,” and that status in society is based on what societal group you belong to. King moves on to briefly address the issue of race relations in America. Sternfield keeps pushing King for an answer to all of these societal woes, and asks King if there is a chance for a classless society. King responds, “There is no such thing. There is no such thing as a classless society. In every society of the history of the planet, there have always been haves and have-nots.” He then calls for the U.S and other countries like it to stop advertising that they are open societies. King goes on to say that capitalism and democracy are antithetical concepts: “Capitalism is predicated on the principle of exclusion. Democracy is predicated on the principle of inclusion. So you gotta decide which one. You can’t have both and as long as you attempt to have both, somebody’s going to get the short end of the stick.”
54:31Copy video clip URL Sternfield asks King for any examples of equality elsewhere in the world. King avoids the question by saying that one cannot borrow a societal form from another country because they are conceived from a completely different place. He thinks there isn’t enough money going around for everyone in society to be equal. King then calls for Americans to give up the notion of the American Dream, but calls for greater investment in human resource development. He then talks about the possibility of developing a permanent army of unemployed because of the lack of economic opportunity. He then criticizes the policies of the George H.W. Bush Administration. He also talks about globalization and the need to give up the notion of nationalism. He then quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. to support his point on the need to analyze and evaluate the core values of our society. King ends with, “We have got to move away from being an exploitative society that functions on the basis of exclusion, and when we get around to addressing those sorts of things, then I believe we will have the basis for talking about where we go from there.
01:04:20Copy video clip URL Sternfield asks King to talk about his work. King talks about his academic career and his book “Going To Meet A Man.” King explains that he’s attempted to take the reader to the actual scene as it took place in the vein of Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasting work. King details the content of his book.
01:11:31Copy video clip URL King relates his book to his earlier point about gun control: “However much gunsmiths churn out works of beauty, works of incredible craftsmanship, the gun can only fulfill its destiny by destroying something.”
01:12:27Copy video clip URL Tape ends.