MSNBC Anchor Recalls Near Arrest for Taking Marijuana to Republican Convention

On Friday, in response to supposedly right-leaning New York Times columnist David Brooks admitting to having used marijuana in the past, one MSNBC anchor was inspired to give a five and a half minute segment recalling a near arrest experience while going through security to attend the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. [See video after jump. MP3 audio here.]


After recounting the Brooks story on his All In show, self-described liberal caricature Chris Hayes began his own story:

So let me add my own story to the mix which I think is illustrative. In the summer of 2000 as a 21-year-old college student, my then girlfriend, now my wife and I thought it would be fascinating from a kind of sociological perspective to check out the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. My father-in-law is a journalist and had some credentials and so we went down there to meet up with him.

Recounting that he began the security check, he added:

I remembered to my horror that I had left a bag of about $30 worth of weed in there. It was inside a case from my glasses. Why was I walking around with $30 of pot in my glass case? I don't know. I forgot it was there. I was 21. These things happen. But I breathed a sigh of relief as the bag passed through without notice and as we skated through another check point, I thought, well, that was a close call.

After explaining that there was another more thorough security checkpoint to go through, Hayes continued:

I put my bag down and watched with mounting dread and nausea as a Philadelphia police officer -- not some rent-a-cop -- went through one compartment, and then a second, finally a third where he withdrew my eyeglass case. He shook it, felt there was something inside, then opened it, and his head jerked back in surprise and he whirled around, holding his back to me, and inspected the offending substance. He called over two other cops, and the three of them stood with their backs to us, conferring for what felt like a very, very long time.

After informing viewers that the police ended up letting him go witout arresting him, the MSNBC host theorized that if her were not white, that he would have been arrested:

And I can tell you as sure as I am sitting here before you that if I was a black kid with corn rows instead of a why kid with glasses, my ass would have been in the back of a squad car faster than you can say George W. Bush.

Hayes ended by launching into attack on the criminal justice system charging imbalance in the prosecution rate of blacks versus whites.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Friday, January 3, All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC:

CHRIS HAYES: Breaking news on this Friday evening. It turns out that one of the New York Times's most famous and widely read columnists has a confession to make. In a shocking expose, conservative David Brooks cops to having smoked weed with high school buddies before aging out of the drug. "For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana," he writes. "It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships." But then, Brooks writes he and his friends moved away from it because well, to hear Brooks tell it, smoking pot made you a loser.

And instead, he and his homies quote, "Graduated to more satisfying pleasures like love and literature." Brooks concludes that in illegalizing marijuana, the citizens of Colorado are nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be."

Well, the one kind of person most people don't want to be is a person caught in the criminal justice system and while I'm aware that other people's drug stories are generally about as interesting as hearing them recount the minutia of their, the Brooks column has occasioned a fruitful round of discussion of the obvious fact that lots and lots and lots of people have and do smoke pot who are not people we consider criminals. So let me add my own story to the mix which I think is illustrative.

In the summer of 2000 as a 21-year-old college student, my then girlfriend, now my wife and I thought it would be fascinating from a kind of sociological perspective to check out the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. My father-in-law is a journalist and had some credentials and so we went down there to meet up with him.

Fresh off the Amtrak, we headed to the first union center, and, as we passed through the first security check point, and I put my overnight bag through an X-ray machine. I remembered to my horror that I had left a bag of about $30 worth of weed in there. It was inside a case from my glasses. Why was I walking around with $30 of pot in my glass case? I don't know. I forgot it was there. I was 21. These things happen. But I breathed a sigh of relief as the bag passed through without notice and as we skated through another check point, I thought, well, that was a close call.

But then we reached the final check point and I quickly realized that at this station, every single bag was being searched. I put my bag down and watched with mounting dread and nausea as a Philadelphia police officer -- not some rent-a-cop -- went through one compartment, and then a second, finally a third where he withdrew my eyeglass case. He shook it, felt there was something inside, then opened it, and his head jerked back in surprise and he whirled around, holding his back to me, and inspected the offending substance. He called over two other cops, and the three of them stood with their backs to us, conferring for what felt like a very, very long time.

I thought about running, but then realized this was the most heavily policed acre of land in the entire United States at that moment. I told Kate what was happening, and then out of a sense of mounting panic and impotence, I ran over to my father-in-law and blurted out, "I had some weed in my bag, and I think the cops just found it." My father-in-law was surprised: "What? Why?" And just as we were walking back towards the cops, the principle one, the one who found the weed, turned around, took the overnight bag and put it down and looked at me. I reached out my hand to claim it, figuring this would be the point he would slap cuffs on me and I'd be under arrest.

And to my shock, he just looked at me impassively and I looked back at him and I picked up my bag with the eyeglass case and weed inside and headed into the convention center. My father-in-law shook his head in amazement at both my stupidity and my luck. I've rerun that incident a countless times since and why I have earthly idea why the cop not only didn't arrest me but also decided to give me my weed back, the best case seems to be that he looked at me and figured, I could have been some Senator's son and that arresting me was going to be possibly cause a whole bunch of headaches that he did not need on a night when he was mostly there to make sure no one was bringing weapons or explosives into that building.

And I can tell you as sure as I am sitting here before you that if I was a black kid with corn rows instead of a why kid with glasses, my ass would have been in the back of a squad car faster than you can say George W. Bush.

So, yeah, David Brooks, smoking weed with your buddies had no consequence for you and your crew. But that's the entire point. It has very real consequences for lots of people. Black people and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rates, and yet black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

So while thousands of junior David Brooks's do bong hits in dorm rooms, there are thousands of kids on the streets of the south side of Chicago and Harlem and Compton getting their first charge on a marijuana possession, getting entered into the system with a record and court date being marked early as a certain kind of person. It's just one in a number of insidious ways our laws are used to sort our society. Pushing some people from certain backgrounds into one category. And the David Brooks's and, hell, Chris Hayes's, of the world into the other.

You. You go to college. You. You go to court. I'm pretty damn lucky I did not get arrested that night. My privilege kept me free. I wish Brooks realizes how lucky he was, too. More on the open secret of our drug laws double standard, ahead.

--Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brad Wilmouth on Twitter.