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No New Trial for Troy Davis; Cut the Red Tape and Build; The Chemistry of Flavor
Aired August 25, 2010 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's a new hour, a new "Rundown" right now.
It's a Georgia case that has spanned decades and attracted worldwide attention. Now a major new development for death row prisoner Troy Davis. We're going to tell you the twists and the turns.
And I've got some things to say in my "XYZ." You're going to want to listen to this.
Plus, you'll meet an American-Indian professor who's made pioneering strides at Yale University. Her mission is to clear up some long-held misconceptions.
And I'm going to bring some flavor to this show, literally. We're going to explain the science of flavor. And believe me, it is all in good taste.
But 20 days down, this is the story that continues to rivet us. Twenty days down, many more months to go underground.
We are following developments in Chile, where those 33 trapped miners are finally getting some of the nourishment and encouragement they'll need to survive. Now, they still haven't been told though that it could be Christmas before they're out.
Authorities are really trying to prevent both psychological and social breakdowns. After all, these men are in an area that -- well, it might be the size of your living room. Take a look at that.
It's right at the bottom of that -- well, it's about 2,500 feet down, about a half a mile down. They went down the side of that thing, the mine collapsed.
There is a line -- there's a six-inch in diameter hole all the way down. That's how they're communicating. They're sending water down, they're sending medication, they're getting notes up from the miners. But that's the issue with that mine.
Meantime, we've got the latest on the ground from CNN's Karl Penhaul, who says that crews have been pouring a thick concrete pad on the site today. They need that to support the weight of the huge diamond-tip drill that is ready to dig an escape shaft. Karl also tells us that the miners sent a big batch of letters up to their families tonight. The gist, "Thanks for finding us. Now get us out of here."
They're also requesting stuff to help them pass the time. One guy asked for some music. His request was for a little bit of Elvis.
Now, it's details like that that really get you. Few of us can imagine what these men are going through. So it's helpful to hear from someone who can imagine what those miners are going through.
Former astronaut Daniel Bursch helped the U.S. space flight Endurance -- held the record for several years, spending 196 days in the cramped confines of the International Space Station.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL BURSCH, FMR. NASA ASTRONAUT: Certainly there are some similarities when you're in the same can with a few other people. It's difficult because things tend to get magnified. Things that ordinarily you might just shrug off in a more open atmosphere, think of it as kind of your sensitivities are turned way up.
I mean, you get very, very sensitive to little things. And I can only imagine with 33 people cramped in this, which if I did the math right, like a 25 foot by 25 foot room, so people would get very sensitive.
The best thing that -- analogy that I can come to is that those of you that have been, let's say, trapped on a tarmac in an airplane, the airplane gets hot, it's overcrowded, and you don't know when you're going to go, you're just there, you're kind of in limbo. So, for the viewers, that might give them a better idea of what the miners are going through right now.
When you're together as a group, I'm sure later on we'll see that some leaders will emerge from the group, people that were able to calm others down that, let's say, got irritated more than others or -- I mean, that is the biggest challenge with a group like that, to try to keep everybody calm. Yet, what do you do with all this time that you're just waiting and not knowing?
The training we had were by psychiatrists that told us maybe the signs to look for in depression. And I'm sure that's something that's going on with many of the people down there that don't know they have -- they're going through depressed thoughts. And it really is -- that's where the leaderships, the leaders that are down there will come through. And whether it's redirecting the focus on whether it could be -- I heard there was some singing done. I mean, anything to keep the people's minds off of their current situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now, you heard him talk about a leader emerging from the group. Well, Chilean officials say that that already seems to have happened with the miners rallying behind their regular shift supervisor.
OK. Here's a story that really got our attention. Troy Davis, this is a man who was accused of murder. He was sentenced -- convicted and given the death sentence.
He has over the years just had ups and downs and ups and downs. And just this week, we've learned now that his latest appeal for clemency has been rejected.
Let me tell you a little bit about Troy Davis.
On August 19, 1989, about 21 years ago, an off-duty Savannah police officer, a man named Mark MacPhail, was gunned down. He was working off duty at a Burger King, and there was a bit of a scuffle outside, in a parking lot adjacent.
There was a homeless man who was being harassed by a group of other men, so he got involved to try to help the homeless man. Next thing, he got a bullet through the heart and a bullet through the head. He was killed.
Within a few days, Troy Davis, who was one of the men allegedly harassing the homeless man, he was arrested. He had been fingered by some of the other people who were there. There were about nine witnesses.
He was arrested, and after a two-year trial, he was sentenced to death by a jury in Chatham County, around Savannah. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
In June of 2007, fast forward, a lot of stuff happened in between. A Savannah judge set an execution date for the following month, but the state parole board took a look at the situation and they issued a stay of that execution.
Go a year forward, September of 2008, less than two hours before the new execution date. The U.S. Supreme Court got involved and it issued a stay of the execution. But it refused to hear his appeal.
What happened, very strangely, is it instructed a federal court -- a district court in Savannah to rehear the evidence, to look at the evidence again. Very unusual that that would happen.
The Supreme Court saw fit to actually look at the evidence, or have a court look at the evidence again, but not to hear his appeal. It's the first time in about 50 years that's happened.
Well, what happened is that was reviewed. Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Troy Davis ended up recanting their testimony, but for some reason, that didn't end up making a difference. The judge ruled that there is no reason to overturn this verdict, there's no reason to grant him clemency from the death penalty.
Troy Davis, once again, is on death row. When we come back, I'm going to talk more about this. I guarantee you, you're going to learn stuff you didn't know about capital punishment and wrongfully accused.
I'll leave this fact for you while we just take a break. If you are sentenced to death in America, one expert we're going to talk to tells me your chances of actually being executed are very low.
VELSHI: OK. This Troy Davis case is interesting. It's chewy, it's complicated. These things are never simple, and some people would actually say that the system has worked because he keeps going back and forth between court, from one to another.
Somebody stays his execution, somebody hears more evidence. But in the end, Troy Davis is back where he was 20 years ago, on death row, for a crime many people say he didn't commit.
Let's talk about this in greater detail with B.J. Bernstein. She's a criminal defense attorney. And with Professor Michael Radelet. He's a sociologist and a criminologist and a death penalty expert at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Welcome to both of you.
I want to start with something that I heard you said, Michael. And that is, very few people -- not very few people, but your chances of being executed if you are convicted of a death penalty crime in this country, you say, is actually very low.
PROF. MICHAEL RADELET, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER: That's correct. There's a study down at Columbia University about eight years ago that found that about three-quarters of those sentenced to death during the '70s and '80s primarily later had their sentences reduced to usually a life term by the appellate courts. So, given a death sentence, many are called but few are chosen. It's still unlikely that the person will eventually be executed.
B.J., let's talk about this case for a second. I don't know. I mean, I'm not a lawyer and I'm not a -- I wasn't on the jury and I'm not a judge. But it strikes me that the Pope has gotten involved in this, Archbishop Desmond Tutu got involved in this, Jimmy Carter got involved this. Bob Barr, conservative congressman from Georgia, thinks that this should be reheard, a former FBI director thinks this should be -- something should be done.
Is there something to that, when a whole lot of people think that there's something wrong with this conviction and this death penalty being imposed?
B.J. BERNSTEIN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think there is, and that's why the Supreme Court sent it back down. And this really, as you said before the break, a highly unusual move. This judge issued an 178-page decision today which I've gone over. And it's interesting, because this actual decision is going to create more controversy with the very people that you're talking about who have been interested in the case because of some procedure that happened in the court, in front of this judge, where the lawyers made a decision to use affidavit evidence. In other words, evidence in writing instead of actually calling the person live.
And the judge really slammed the defense attorneys for that. So you're going to have those issues now go up on appeal, which fits into what Michael just said, which is the litigation in these things continue.
VELSHI: But Michael, let's just talk about this for a second. How do you deal with the fact that there's a preponderance of evidence not that he didn't do it or that he's not guilty, but that something seems to be amiss? Of the nine people who offered sworn testimony, seven of them recanted. This judge thinks some of those recantations were reliable and some weren't.
But at some point, is there some system that allows you to start again and say, maybe this just wasn't done the right way from the beginning?
RADELET: Well, you know, several points could be made. One is that the seven witnesses are not exactly people who you and I would hire to baby-sit our kids. They flunked the baby-sitter test. We wouldn't hire them to baby-sit, but we believe them when they finger somebody for the death penalty.
Secondly, the argument here is basically a conservative argument. You know, conservative people keep saying that the government can't run the Post Office, or they can't clean up the oil spill, or they can't be involved in health care. But the one thing that they do seem to say the government can do is make these life-and-death decisions.
When a police officer has gone down, there's a lot of pressure. Savannah has not the best record in the United States with race relations. So it's kind of an interesting conservative argument that reminds us that the death penalty is a government program, and as such, it's a program that's making these life-and-death decisions without the godlike skills.
VELSHI: Let's just hear from some of the people involved. I want to hear from the son of the police officer. We never want to forget there's an absolute victim in this, Mark MacPhail, the police officer who was gunned down on the morning of August 19, 1989, and then a relative of Troy Davis, who is still on death row.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC MACPHAIL JR., MURDERED OFFICER'S SON: (INAUDIBLE) the mind personally in our entire family, because it only proves to us more that Troy Davis was the one who killed my father. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTINA CORREIA, TROY DAVIS' SISTER: I wish that we had not had to come back to Chatham County to get that type of hearing, because I don't know if we had that fair and impartial environment back in this county.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now let me -- by the way, the victim's son, MacPhail's son, was 7 weeks old when that murder took place.
Let me just give you one piece of this ruling, B.J. You've read it, but let me just give you the one piece that struck me.
U.S. District Judge William Moore has said, "Mr. Davis vastly overstates the value of his evidence of innocence. Some of the evidence is not credible and would be disregarded by a reasonable juror. Other evidence is too general to provide anything more than smoke and mirrors."
There's a flavor to his ruling, which was quite scathing.
BERNSTEIN: Throughout. And, in fact, what he basically says -- part of the uproar in this case has been -- everyone -- the mantra is seven out of nine people have changed their story. And therefore, something's wrong.
The judge is saying, well, when you break down that seven, he finds a little bit of credibility with two, he knocked out two completely. And then where he really gets vicious in the order was going after the defense attorneys for not calling two different witnesses live. One by affidavit, and the other was the man who says that he killed Officer MacPhail.
VELSHI: Right. There was a guy who was bragging about this.
BERNSTEIN: Yes, there's a guy who's bragging about it, and yet he wasn't called. And the judge is really angry about that.
VELSHI: And I think we all subscribe -- Michael and B.J., we all subscribe to the fact there needs to be rule of law, and there needs to be systems, and there need to be processes for these sorts of things. But again, what is the answer to those of us who are not trained in the law who say, there just seems to be a lot of stuff around here that says before we put that lethal injection into this guy and get the wrong guy, what do we do, Michael? Is this system working properly?
RADELET: Well, nobody is arguing this guy should get out of prison, at least with evidence. They're arguing the sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.
And actually, the last Gallup poll showed that 48 percent of Americans support life without parole, 47 percent the death penalty. So that's not exactly a controversial position.
It's also notable that in this case, reasonable people do doubt the guilt. We're supposed to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But you should mentioned the Pope, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter. They seem like reasonable guys, and at least would indicate that the governor in this case now, Govern Perdue, should save taxpayers in Georgia lots and lots of cash that will be incurred by further appeals and commute this sentence to life without parole.
BERNSTEIN: You know, I'm a Georgia girl. And I've got to tell you, Georgia governors tend not to intervene. And I really think that's going to be doubtful here.
I think we're back into more road of the courts. And a question will become of why the attorneys -- and part of this is what you were talking about a minute ago, a necessity to game-play to preserve life, versus had -- the lawyers didn't have to make that decision and actually just put it up almost as a new trial once again and let jurors decide it, in the end probably would save us money.
VELSHI: Yes, and you're right about that. It feels like game- playing to people on the outside. If there's enough going on, let's just do it again and get it right.
BERNSTEIN: Because it's life or death.
VELSHI: Because it's life or death. That's exactly right.
Troy Davis does have a couple of more chances now. He has got a couple of more routes of appeal he can take.
B.J. Bernstein, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.
She's a criminal defense attorney.
Professor Michael Radelet, thanks very much for being with us.
RADELET: Thank you.
VELSHI: He's a death penalty expert at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
All right. They're cutting through the red tape and working to rebuild New Orleans. We're going to check out a group that's "Building up America" by building homes for the everyday family when we come back.
VELSHI: You know, we're five years out from Hurricane Katrina, so it's hard to remember the devastation that took place back then. But imagine 250,000 homes gone in an instant. Some estimates say that's how many were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
Now, getting those homes rebuilt has taken a massive effort on all fronts. Think about it, from financing, to the resources, to the actual building of the homes.
But Tom Foreman shows us a nonprofit construction company that's helping Katrina victims regain their piece of the American dream.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ali. I want you to think about a number. Think about the more than 250,000 homes lost all along the Gulf Coast in Katrina. And just as importantly, think about who lived in those homes, working class people, because that's mainly who it was, the people who make the tourism business work, the ports work, the oil business work, everything that goes on down here.
That's why it's so important that five years later, there are still groups working to resettle those people.
FOREMAN (voice-over): When Katrina hit New Orleans working class neighborhoods took the worst of it; more fatalities, more flooding and less hope for navigating the bewildering tide of expenses and red tape to rebuild.
In the Ninth Ward, Florine Jenkins (ph) felt it.
(on camera): Did you have any clue what to do?
FLORINE JENKINS (ph), NINTH WARD RESIDENT: No.
FOREMAN (voice-over): In the Gentilly neighborhood, Nikki Najiola saw it, too.
NIKKI NAJIOLA, BUILD NOW: Did you tear down your house, or you put it back together? If put it back together, do you have to elevate it?
If you do -- or if you are going to elevate it, how high are you going to elevate it? And where is that money going to come from? And do you take it from this pool of money or from that?
It was just so overwhelming.
FOREMAN: That's why now Nikki manages a unique non-profit project called Build Now. Simply put, it is a construction company that offers an array of modestly praised home designs, an endless supply of free advice to anyone trying to build and a commitment to bring the working class neighborhoods back.
BEN SEYMOUR, BUILD NOW: We are actually currently in the living room.
FOREMAN: Ben Seymour is in charge of construction and says not only are the homes designed to stand far above floodwaters and resist gales with eve-less roofs and anchored porches, but the designs can also be easily adjusted; larger or smaller to fit the needs of families minding their money.
SEYMOUR: You can size it down, still gives you a big open feel. It is built to what you are going to use.
FOREMAN (on camera): In every way these really are working class family homes.
SEYMOUR: Absolutely. Absolutely.
FOREMAN (voice-over): This is not a giveaway. The clients pay fair value on average around $150,000. But just having a guide to the baffling process of permits, insurance and financing in the wake of Katrina, was a godsend for Miss Jenkins.
(on camera): Which house do you like better, your old house or this one?
JENKINS: This one. This one.
FOREMAN (voice-over): And one at a time, that is how they hope to keep turning empty lots into homes again.
FOREMAN: Build Now is not the only group doing this type of thing. There are many others doing their own variations. And the truth is, they're all needed still, five years later. That's a measure of how much damage this storm did and how the recovery goes on and will go on for years -- Ali.
VELSHI: All right, Tom.
And Anderson Cooper is heading back to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to see how the region has bounced back after five years after Hurricane Katrina. Check out "In Katrina's Wake," a "Building up America" and "AC 360" special, tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern Time.
VELSHI: All right. I want to talk about this. Let's go "Off the Radar."
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK.
VELSHI: I'm fascinated by smells and flavors and how they make them, whether it's perfumes or jelly beans. And we found this out about jelly beans, the science of flavor mechanism.
MYERS: Thirty years ago, people would ask you, "Hey, what flavor is that jelly bean?"
MYERS: You would say, red.
VELSHI: Right. Yellow, green.
MYERS: Yellow, that's the flavor. But all of a sudden, this one company started making flavors.
MYERS: Jelly Belly.
VELSHI: That's right. And things that you didn't think were flavors.
The lovely Ali (ph), please --
VELSHI: Ali's (ph) our floor director. It's her job to keep us fed and happy.
MYERS: Thanks, Ali (ph).
VELSHI: OK. So here's a nice, big tray of different flavors, which again, we're well past being able to call them colors.
MYERS: But it's not all just putting in a little bit of orange peel to make an orange Jelly Belly. There is mass spectrometers. There is science going into this. And there's also some combinations.
Did you know that if you add a little bit of orange and then you take a little bit here, a little bit of this, you can make a peach? And that's how they do that. They take these little mass spectrometers and put them together.
MYERS: So here are some other ones. You could actually make two --
VELSHI: So orange and pear gives you peach?
MYERS: You can make tiramisu, you can make some creme brulee. You can make lemon meringue pie.
VELSHI: By using these existing flavors.
MYERS: You put them all together.
MYERS: And how do they do this? This is all not just some random event. This is actually scientists sitting down and telling your taste buds what you should be tasting.
MYERS: Then they take a look at it and they take, literally by micrometer, by mass spectrometer, and by looking at what your taste buds are going to taste.
VELSHI: And I was going to tell you that. Because often when you have candies, you taste one and they tell you it's X. It's this fruit or something. And you eat it - that was just an excuse to eat, by the way -- and it doesn't taste like that. In this case, because these people do this, they've actually recalled flavors that don't meet the - what do they call it -- the fidelity test --
MYERS: What's -- the top three flavors in the entire country. Which one do you think - well, you can't tell because there's 50. This would be one of the top three.
VELSHI: What's that?
MYERS: Buttered popcorn.
VELSHI: Oh, I know that one.
MYERS: They love - people love buttered popcorn.
VELSHI: But it tastes like buttered popcorn.
MYERS: It does! It does taste like buttered popcorn.
VELSHI: I guess we're going to have to eat in a break. Because I have to take a break. Good to see you, buddy.
MYERS: Good to see you.
VELSHI: All right. The U.S. combat mission is winding down in Iraq. We are "Globe Trekking" right after this.
VELSHI: Time now to go "Globe Trekking." The first stop here is Iraq. U.S. combat operations are coming to an end. The violence isn't, however. As you see on this map, militants - wow, look at that -- militants launched a wave of deadly attacks across the country today. At least 48 people were killed, and more than 280 were wounded.
CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. She joins us now with the update. Arwa, this wasn't the hope in the week that led up to the end of combat operations in Iraq.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it really wasn't. And it most certainly isn't doing much to instill faith amongst the Iraqi population that their own forces can protect them. The majority of those attacks spanning across 13 cities were in fact targeting the Iraqi security forces.
Many of these areas were, in fact, considered to be relatively safe when compared to, say, Baghdad, the capital, for example. Now, there hasn't been any official claim of responsibility for these attacks. But the last time we saw attacks on this scale across the entire country was back in May, and al Qaeda had taken responsibility for those.
And this is coming the day after the U.S. military announced that they had reached their White House goal of having troop levels down to 50,000 by the end of the month. That is also going to be signaling a change in mission where Operation Iraqi Freedom comes to an end. Operation New Dawn begins, and we'll be seeing (ph) the U.S. in what is being called a non-combat role.
However, it is not as if someone's going to be able to flick a switch and bring an end to this war. Those residual 50,000 troops will be out there, wearing their military armor, wearing their helmets, carrying their weapons. This is still a war zone as today brutally reminded us.
VELSHI: Yes, they will be in an advise-and-assist role, but they will look very much the same. Of course, this is happening next week, and Arwa, we'll check in with you to see how the progress of this takes place next week. Arwa Damon in Baghdad.
Now to Hong Kong and a sad homecoming. Grieving relatives were on hand when the bodies of eight Hong Kong tourists arrived home from the Philippines today. They were killed during a daylong hijacking of their tour bus by a former Philippine police officer on Monday. Also at the airport were bagpipers who played "Amazing Grace" as the coffins were taken off the plane and wreaths were laid on them.
The Hong Kong government has lashed out at the Philippines over the way the police handled the standoff. Witness says gunman Rolando Mendoza, apparently mad about losing his job, was willing to cooperate with police. But before that could happen, he started shooting passengers. A S.W.A.T. team returned fire, killing Mendoza. Manila officials say the S.W.A.T. team did not kill any of the hostages. A ballistics investigation is underway to determine whose bullets killed those passengers -- those hostages.
OK. I talked about it earlier. I'm going to talk about it again -- existing home sales. The numbers tumbling. Does this mean the economy's tumbling? I'm going to take a step back. I'm going to look at this in the broader picture for you when I come back.
VELSHI: As you know, in addition to anchoring this show, I'm also the chief business correspondent for the network. And I have had all sorts of people coming up to me, saying to me, "The sky appears to be falling." Given all of this economic data we've been getting.
Yesterday, I told you about a drop in the number of new -- existing homes that were sold in July compared to a year ago July. Well, today, we have the data on new homes. Now, let me just tell you, most of the homes sold in America are existing homes, used homes, a home someone lived in before they sold it to you. About 90 to 92 percent of the homes are existing homes.
New homes are a small proportion. But new homes create jobs for construction workers and carpenters and cabinet makers and things like that. So, they're an important part of the economy. New home sales in July dropped 12.4 percent compared to the year earlier as the housing market continues to suffer from the end of that homebuyer tax credit. Let me just show you what happens.
It's a different chart because it's new homes, but it's the same thing. End of April until the end of July, people were buying these houses because you got an $8,000 tax credit for buying a new house if you hadn't owned one for awhile. After the credit got taken away, despite the fact that mortgage rates are still between four and five percent for a 30-year fixed mortgage, people are walking away from that housing market largely because they're afraid of what things are going to be in the future. Will they have a job a year from now? We're saving more, we're paying down our debt, we're paying down our credit cards. We're not buying houses at the speed that we should.
Now, let's talk about how it breaks down across the country. It's not the same everywhere. In fact, the biggest drop in new home sales has been in the West. But the West, if you will recall in 2004, 2005, 2006, that's where all those new homes were being built. There's a bigger drop to be had in the West. Midwest and South both down about eight percent. The Northeast down about 14 percent.
These are the homes that are sold. Let's talk about prices. That's what matters to a lot of people if you're trying to sell your home or you want to buy a home. Five years ago -- three years ago, before the recession, the median new home -- the one at which half were all sold for more money and half for less, the median price was $240,000 roughly. A year ago, well into the recession - in some people's opinion -- that had come down to about $210,000. And take a look at where it is right now, $204,000 is the median price for a new single-family home.
I'll keep bringing you updates. This is a busy week for the economy. We'll get some numbers out tomorrow about first-time jobless claims. On Friday, we'll have an estimate of GDP, the biggest measure of the U.S. economy. I'll talk to you about it constantly.
America's forgotten minority. That's what a Yale history professor calls American Indians. She should know because she's one of them. She's (INAUDIBLE) tribe in New York, and she's the first American Indian hired by Yale's history department. We want to hear what she has to say after the break.
VELSHI: Breaking news. I want to take you to Los Angeles Unified School District. This is the manual arts schools, these pictures courtesy of our affiliate KABC. They have received a report about a possible pipe bomb on campus about 30 minutes ago. We're uncertain where exactly the explosive might be located on the campus. You can see one of those bomb unit machines right there.
This is a year-round school, it's called Manual Arts School. Students and staff have been evacuated. Approximately bout 2,000 people have been evacuated. The L.A.P.D. bomb squad is on the scene. These are pictures are coming to us courtesy of KABC. We'll bring you any information as it develops. This is a suspected pipe bomb at a school in Los Angeles. We'll keep on top of that for you. Our producers will be watching that to see what develops (INAUDIBLE).
I want to talk to you about our "Mission Possible" today. These are the original Americans. Here in north America long before other people showed up. But what do you really know about Native Americans? You may not know, for example, that the terms Native American and American Indian are both okay, someone similar to African-American and black. Some people prefer one over the other.
Before we turn to our very special guest in our "Mission Possible," let me give you some key facts about American Indians. About 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska natives in the U.S. today. The federal government recognizes about 561 tribes. There are about 326 land areas, including reservations in the United States.
Let me show you on a map what they look like. You can see heavy concentrations in the northern part of the Midwest, mountain states and the Northwest and, of course, in the Southwest of the United States. Far less in the Southeast and on the East Coast of the United States.
I'll give you a few other points. Some pressing health issues facing American Indians. It's estimated more than one-third of American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime. Forty percent of American Indian women will be victims of domestic abuse. More than 25 percent of American Indians live in poverty compared to 12.6 percent of the total U.S. population. And nearly 44 percent use alcohol compared to 55.2 percent of the total population. Drug use, 11.2 percent for American Indians, compared to 7.9 percent of the total population.
Joining us now from Philadelphia is Alyssa Mt. Pleasant. She is an assistant professor and American studies - of American - of history and American studies at Yale. First American Indian to be hired by that department at Yale. And she joins us now to talk about it.
Thank you so much for being with us to discuss this issue. It's a very pressing issue that I have to say doesn't get much air time.
ALYSSA MT. PLEASANT, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN STUDIES, YALE UNIVERSITY: Thanks very much for welcoming me this afternoon, Ali. And I have to agree with you, we don't pay enough attention to American Indian history, American Indian past and presents among the general public.
VELSHI: OK. What's the biggest issue? Is it misconception? Is it racism? Is it ignorance? Is it just that it's not on the radar? What's the problem that needs to be addressed to try to get those numbers that I just read out more in line with the larger population?
MT. PLEASANT: Well, my own personal specialty is early American history. And I think one of the things that I really like to highlight in my own work is the ongoing activism of American Indians. Their work to protect their homelands and to protect their sovereignty. And I think really that's one of the pieces that needs to be more well-understood among the general American public.
As you mentioned in your introduction, there are over 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States. And they each have their own distinct histories, traditions, cultures and also government structures. And the more that we can highlight the distinct experiences of individual tribal nations and honor the nation-to- nation relationship, I think the better off we'll all be.
VELSHI: That's difficult, I guess, with 561 different groups acknowledged. How do we even get there?
MT. PLEASANT: Well, American Indians are working very hard in their respective communities to represent their interests and to interact with local, state and federal officials on a variety of circumstances. For myself, as an educator, one of the things that I think is very important is to have more content related to American Indians included in the general curriculum. Whether it's an American history course or any other coursework that students are pursuing.
VELSHI: Is it your view that our representation of American Indians in coursework really does tend toward that period that you're talking about, the early American history? We don't have as much in terms of contemporary history that makes it into contemporary culture.
MT. PLEASANT: Well, I think there is some truth to that. A couple of weekends ago, I was talking with friends, one of whom is a social studies teacher. And she was telling me that her curriculum basically concludes -- its conclusion of American Indians with the Trail of Tears in the 1830s and 1840s.
And that's just not appropriate. We need to see inclusion of American Indian histories all the way up through the late 21st --20th and early 21st centuries so that we understand issues like forced assimilation through boarding schools, so that we understand the extraordinary revival of American Indian peoples beginning in the early 20th century and continuing through the Civil Rights movement, the Red Power movement of the '60s and on into the extraordinary economic development that we see in the late 20th and early 21st century. I think this will help --
VELSHI: At the same time, if we did that, we would also see a lot of those statistics that I was just showing you. What causes that? What has to happen to remedy the increased -- the disparity in drug use, the disparity in domestic violence and things like that? Is there a lack of opportunity in these communities? Is there a lack of education -- access to education?
MT. PLEASANT: Well, in terms of access to education, one of the crises in American Indian reservation communities is the rate of high school graduation. And so that's something that certainly needs to be addressed.
You also mentioned violence, particularly violence against women. And the Tribal Law and Order Act that President Obama recently signed into law makes important strides to reinforcing the tribal police systems on reservations so that they can adequately investigate and then prosecute violence against American Indian women.
One of the interesting statistics about this violence against American Indian women is that it's often perpetrated by non-native people. And what one of the things that this law does is that it allows for tribal police to prosecute non-native people for some of these crimes. And that's a very important innovation that will improve the quality of life and the basic safety and security of American Indian women.
VELSHI: We've had a good conversation, and we've hardly scratched the surface. I hope you'll come back, and we can just talk about some of these issues individually and sort of try to parse them out and understand them a little better. Thank you for joining us.
MT. PLEASANT: Thank you very much.
VELSHI: Alyssa Mt. Pleasant is an assistant professor of history and American studies at Yale. For more information on Alyssa, head to my blog. CNN.com/ali.
Politics is the war, at least the way some people practice it. And the opposite may be true, too. If you don't believe me, look into the lingo in our "Wordplay" segment, coming up next.
VELSHI: Time now for "Wordplay." And our term actually pops up in two very different headlines today. We're looking at an insurgent. Now, stripped down to the basics, it means a rebel, someone who pushes back against authority. To folks in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, among other places, it's a much more loaded term these days. You'll hear it used interchangeably with the word militant.
Just today across Iraq, insurgents are blamed for a wave of bombings in 13 cities that killed dozens of people. So, it's a little confusing, maybe, to hear political analysts talking about insurgent candidates today, those who won or ran in yesterday's primaries. Much different context, obviously. But it's right there in most dictionaries as the second definition: one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party.
Yesterday's primaries had several insurgents. Marco Rubio in Florida, who sent the GOP's expected Senate candidate, Governor Charlie Crist packing. J.D. Hayworth in Arizona, forcing Senator John McCain to tack right to win the Republican primary there. And in Alaska, TEA party darling Joe Miller, who finished too close to call with the state's senior senator Lisa Murkowski.
All right. I told you about the latest development in the case of Troy Davis, who's been on death row for decades. I have more things to say about the case and the death penalty in my "XYZ."
VELSHI: Time now for the "XYZ" of it. Just after 1:00 a.m. on August 19th, 1989, 21 years ago, an off-duty Savannah police officer on private security duty at a Burger King went outside to stop a group of young men who were harassing a homeless man. Moments later, that officer, Marc MacPhail was shot twice, once through the heart, once in the head. He died.
Four days later, a 19-year-old named Troy Davis, one of the men alleged to have been harassing the homeless man, surrendered to police. Over the next two years, nine eyewitnesses testified against Davis. He was convicted and sentenced to death. There was never any physical evidence tying Troy Davis to the crime. And since his conviction, seven of the nine eyewitnesses recanted or changed their initial testimony. Some say they were coerced by police into lying at the trial. Other implicated another man as the shooter.
All of this has led, predictably, to doubts about Davis' guilt, doubts that are all the more serious since he's on death row. Amnesty International, the NAACP, actors Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, a former FBI director William Sessions, and a former conservative Congressman Bob Barr have called for a reexamination of Davis' conviction. 60,000 people signed a petition calling for a new trial, and both Pope Benedict and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu have asked the courts for clemency, citing the prospect of irreversible error. Nothing worked.
Davis was scheduled for execution in July of 2007, a day before the Georgia parole board issued a stay. Days before Davis' second execution date in 2008, former president Jimmy Carter pleaded for clemency. Troy Davis was reinterviewed, but the parole board ruled against him. With two hours to go, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution again, but later refused to hear his appeal. They instructed a federal judge in Savannah to hear Davis' evidence again.
Well, that happened this past June. And this week, a federal judge issued a 174-page ruling upholding Davis' conviction and death sentence. The judge reviewed each of the seven recantations but ruled that only one was entirely credible. Somehow, though, he didn't find that important to the case, writing that not all recantations are created equal.
Davis still isn't out of options. He can still appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. And f that fails, to the Supreme Court again. And arguably, Davis has had a lot of hearings, so some argue the system is working.
But there's enough doubt here that rather than back and forth between the courts, someone really needs to re-examine this case from the ground up. And whatever you think of the death penalty, things do go wrong. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 138 people have been released from death row since 1973 as a result of evidence supporting their innocence.
I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a judge, I wasn't on that jury and I know a lot of people on death row profess their innocence. But a lot of smart people seem to think something is wrong in the Troy Davis case. I sincerely hope no stone is left unturned.
That's my "XYZ." Time now for Rick and "RICK'S LIST."