With the past weeks' lack of grand jury indictments regarding police officers who killed African-Americans in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, it was only a matter of time before someone dredged up the old cliché that “a good prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich.”
It finally happened during the Thursday edition of MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner, when Michael Steele, a black former chairman of the Republican National Committee, declared: “A black man's life is not worth a ham sandwich.”
The victims were: Eric Garner, an unarmed man who was apparently killed when Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold to restrain him on July 17; and 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot to death on August 9 by white officer Darren Wilson.
The segment began with a plea from Peter King, the GOP representative for the Empire State's second district, who stated:
While the death of Eric Garner was tragic, all New Yorkers should respect the decision of the Staten Island grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.
During this tense time in New York, it must be noted and remembered that no organization has done more to safeguard the lives of young African-Americans in New York City than the NYPD. It's time for all New Yorkers -- and indeed all Americans -- to acknowledge this fact.
At that point, the liberal host asked her guest: “Is this different from Ferguson, do you think?”
Steele replied: “I think this is part of the same narrative. It's the same linear story as far as I'm concerned, and I appreciate Peter King's position, and I agree with it.”
The black Republican also had interesting things to say about police officers.
“We very much appreciate the protections and the role that police play in our communities," Steele stated, "but there are some very, very bright lines, Alex, that have begun to appear over the last 18 to 24 months, and they tell us, at least, that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich?”
Well, clearly, a black man's life is not worth a ham sandwich when you put these stories together, and that the frustration that a lot of African-Americans see, and a lot of Americans, quite honestly, have with these two decisions.
The facts and the evidence all put into the proper context begs that this at least gets to a jury of the individual's peers so that we as a community can go through this process, begin the healing, and begin to take, I guess, a more open look at our criminal justice system.
“This type of decision makes that very, very hard to do,” he concluded.
Steele's tenure as a guest on the liberal cable channel has led to some interesting experiences, especially with Chris Matthews, host of the Hardball program.
Matthews celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January of 2011 with a Hardball special called “Obama's America.” The host insulted Steele by accusing white Republicans of being afraid of black people. "No!” Steele exclaimed. “What are you talking about?”
Steele again clashed with Matthews that April when the liberal host complained there was a lack of declared presidential candidates in the GOP. The Republican analyst replied that members of his party know that once they're in the race, liberal pundits like Matthews will spend most of their time attacking them.
The former RNC chairman continued to duel with Matthews, calling the MSNBC host “a good sycophant” for Barack Obama who has moments when he's “slightly objective” but otherwise is “a cartoon of the cartoon.”
The GOP guest again took on Matthews during the July 25, 2013, edition of Hardball by telling him: “Don’t sit in this little bubble and act like” taxes didn’t go up this year.
Attempting to reach a new low, the liberal host told Steele during the May 20 program that the reason Republicans have runoffs is to “make sure no black guy ever won a nomination down there.”
And just last week, Matthews twice insisted to Steele that the Republican Party is devoted to blocking the black vote, even though the guest staunchly disagreed with that concept.
However, not all of Steele's appearances on MSNBC have been golden. During the Morning Joe program on February 29, 2012, the camera cut to Steele, who was “resting his eyes” after doing primary coverage for the channel the night before.
Of course, whenever Steele is a guest on one of the network's programs, he's obviously the only Republican in the room. So much for that channel “leaning forward.”