Huffpost Media

Don Lemon On Ferguson, The Police, Race And His Critics

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DON LEMON
CNN

In the past week, the number of journalists in Ferguson, Missouri has jumped from around thirty to over 100. CNN's Don Lemon is one of them, but even before he arrived in Ferguson on Thursday, the host spoke out on air about the clashes between police and a community outraged by the killing of Michael Brown.

"This is about people not realizing that there is a double standard that people live in a different world," Lemon said last Monday. "And, quite frankly, for white people to realize that black people, especially black men, are treated differently. It is a double standard. Until people realize that, nothing is going to change. Nothing is going to happen."

On Monday, Lemon spoke to The Huffington Post about what it's like to be a black journalist covering the aftermath of Brown's death.

"I'm a journalist first and foremost and I have an obligation to report the facts and report the truth," he said. "But every journalist is a human being. I am a journalist, I am an American and I am a man of color who lives in America and so, there are times in my reporting where I can give a point of view coming from my experience."

He also stressed that as a journalist, he "cannot be biased" and must give others the opportunity to disagree with him.

On Monday, Lemon's coverage included interviews with the president of Black Lawyers for Justice, as well as a protester demonstrating in support of the police. Still, he said that allegations of bias have come "from both sides," and described the situation in Ferguson as being "tough" to cover because race is at the heart of it.

It is not the first time he has had to cover the killing of a black teenager and the subsequent response by the police. When asked about similar cases, including the trials of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, Lemon observed a "disconnect between law enforcement and men of color," and "to a certain extent, between whites and blacks in this country."

"The only way that we are going to bridge that divide is if we stop judging each other when we talk about it, and for people to stop saying, 'If you speak about this issue, you are race-baiting,'" Lemon offered. "You have to call people out on certain occasions, but you also have to allow them to speak to understand where they're coming from."

Besides clashing with residents in Ferguson, police have also threatened and arrested journalists in town to cover the story. Lemon was not targeted by police, but recalled one encounter with officers. He said that he went to speak with Captain Ron Johnson and was greeted "as suspicious" by off-duty officers at the command center, until Johnson instructed for Lemon and his colleagues to be let in.

"There's a difference between someone who gets it, like Captain Johnson... [and how] local police departments operate and treat people, not only African-Africans, but most people — as if they are immediately in a position of power to do whatever they want to do with you," Lemon said.

"It's especially different with African-Americans and especially different with men," he added. "I can't imagine being a person who grows up in this community and feeling like you are occupied or being intimidated by police officers."

He went on to criticize people who have looted businesses.

"You're distracting from the legacy of this young man, you're distracting from the bigger issue of a police department who are disconnected from the people they're supposed to protect and serve."

The CNN host is no stranger to talking about race on air, and he has sparked plenty of controversy in the past. Last year, for example, he said that Bill O'Reilly had "a point" when the Fox News host went on a rant about problems in the black community, and chimed in with five things he said people of color should be doing.

On Monday, he dismissed the criticism he received over the segment, and said that it had not led to any changes in the way he approached the Ferguson story, adding that it "says more about the consumer of that conversation and their assumptions."

His comments, he said, had "nothing to do with racism" or "with what white people think of you. It has to do with what you think about yourself and what you can do to better yourself."