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tv   Amanpour on PBS  PBS  February 16, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PST

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sgla welcome to "amanpour on pbs," after the deadliest school shooting in six years, a father who lost his son in the colorado movie theater shootings tells me change is on the way, and a former u.s. surgeon general debeck murphy on treating gun crime like a public menace. health and healing and the renowned concert pianist james rhodes on how he used music to cope with his own trauma suffered when he was sexually abused as a child. ♪ ♪ ♪ amanpour on pbs was made
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possible by the generous support of rosalynn p. walter. ♪ ♪ good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london with a global perspective. as another 17 innocents are mowed down in the united states, this time in florida, the world watches aghast. here in britain this kind of violence has happened, but it has also stoppeded. in 1996 the worst-ever gun massacre killed 16 young children between the agency of 5 and 6 at their school in scotland. the country then tightened up its gun laws and no more mass shootings since. that same year in australia a man massacred 35 people, the conservative government at the time there enacted a hugely successful gun buyback program and also tightened up its laws. no more mass shootings there. the unbearable ordeal in florida leads to the predictable
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hand-wringing, mass media attention, thoughts and prayers and tweets and each time the question, will this be the one that changes the way we are? joining me now is tom sullivan, the father of alex sullivan who was killed when a shooter ended 12 lives in the aurora movie theater, colorado, 2012. tom is in denver today working to oppose a series of gun rights bills and vivek murphy also joins us. he is the former u.s. surgeon general who believes gun violence is a public health issue. we should be no different to how we handle car crashes and alcoholism. gentlemen, welcome both to this program on this truly horrendous day, and i want to start by asking you, mr. sullivan, the inevitable question. what are those people, the victims and the families going through in florida today? what are they thinking after all these years of all this
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violence? >>well, i can tell you from personal experience that initially there's shock and this is a really important time. i always said the decisions and the things we did in the first, you know, 24 to 48 hours, you know, helped us on our recovery, you know, five years later. you are helping family members and you might have to go over to the coroner's office and identify your child. you need to begin contacting the funeral home and start to get that and in our case, i didn't have to call anybody to let them know that alex had been murdered because it was on tv. we were one of the first fatalities that was identified afterward. it might be a little different for them, but people are going
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to start coming and you need to embrace your friends and family that come towards you. >> tom, how have you coped all these years later and i indicated that you are really on the front lines of the battle to try to make sensible bills through, to try to make your world safer when it comes to guns? >> as i say, the first day no our case, july 20th is alex's birthday and that's the day that he was murdered and i remember saying to my wife and to all of his friends that were there with us that day that we would celebrate this day like we had the 26 prior to that and there would always be time for grieving later on and then you had to continue to move ahead at
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alex's -- at the cemetery after we had -- they were getting ready to put alex into the ground, the director came over and we stoodhere nt to it and he came over to us and said, mr. sullivan, he said, you can come back, he said, but right now he said nobody's going to move until you do, and i know he just meant that for that particular time, but i've used that onward because people are looking to us to see, you know, what it is we're going to do, and i've taken that as a challenge to do something. >> well, i'm going to come back in a second to explore the challenge and whether you're hopeful, but i want to first ask vivek murphy, as the former top doctor, and the former surgeon general of the united states, you had a heck of a time trying to convince people that actually gun crime and crime deaths were as significant to crime issue as
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alcoholism as all of the other terrible public health issues that we live with. why is that? >> that is absolutely the case that gun violence is a public health issue. whenever you have large numbers of people dying for clearly preventable health reasons that constitutes a public health issue and that is why it's gun violence and why the majority of the united states understands that, unfortunately, many of our elected leaders who have chosen to either not recognize that or to put that aside and not treat gun violence with the urgency it requires and that is truly unfortunate because there are a number of actions that we need to take to address gun violence in america and they have an essential role to play in passing laws to stem the tide of violence in our country. >> we keep hearing the same sentiments after these terrible crimes. we keep hearing the same sentiments from those elected officials and yet, so far nothing much has changed.
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>> it is heartbreaking and it is frustrating and i can understand how so many people are angered about this, as well. this is not the first time we've had a mass shooting and sadly, it may not be the last time, but there does not seem to be any meaningful action that the legislators have taken at a federal level to ensure this is not happening. the school this we are talking about today in the news, marjory stoneman douglas high school is a school that i grew up not too far from in south florida. it's a school that i visited for academic meets when i was growing up there, and you know, i carry -- i carry with me a bracelet that was given to me by a parent of ana, a young girl killed at the newtown shooting several years ago and it's this bracelet right here and i carry it with me as a reminder that despite the frustration and anger and disappointment that i may feel at the lack of action that our legislators are taking that it's important to move on
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because children like ana and children like mr. sullivan's son and so many others have lost their lives, children who have a right to live their life and who wanted nothing more than to be fulfilled, go to school and learn and they're paying the price for our inaction as a country. that is unconscionable, and that's why i think it is so important that we do what mr. sullivan and so many others are doing which is to use our voices, to push for the change that we need, to use our vote to support people who will actually back those changes and ensure that we won't have to suffer more and more tragedies like the one that we're hearing about. >> let me ask you, mr. sullivan, because you said that you confronted it. you moved on in a way to fight this scourge and you even stood for election, but you are lobbying there right now. first of all, what is the bill you're lobbying for and do you have hope that things will change? what are you seeing on the local
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level? >> well, here in kl kohcolorado following the theater shooting they brought up seven different what they call gun bills and five of them passed including things such as background checks, limiting high-capacity magazines and those are the bullets that are fed in and we have gone each year and defended those. like they're trying to bring up a lot to allow people to conceal carry without getting a permit and that would mean all you had to do is buy it off the shelf and put it underneath of your jacket and you were good to go as opposed to getting some type of training to show that you're proficient in it. you know, and we have made, you know, when we limited high-fast magazines and we had another shooting in november, december
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of 2013, a high school shooting and that student was only able to buy a nine-round magazine to go into his shotgun and as tragic as it was that he killed one student he wasn't able to buy a 33 or 100-round drum like the shooter in the theater did. so the things we've done here in colorado are working, but more needs to be done. >> it's incredibly hopeful to hear you say that. ito play for both of you what president trump had to say. he spoke directly to the children. just listen. >> i want to speak now directly to america's children especially those who feel lost, alone, confused or even scared. i want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. you have people who care about you, who love you and who will
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do anything at all to protect you. so obviously, a heartfelt appeal to people, trying to comfort them, but the anything at all to protect you needs a little dissecting because last february, president trump eliminated a regulation that keeps guns out of the hands of people who either received disability benefits because of mental health, and he started by saying this was all about mental health, so how do you again square that circle? what do you think about what president trump just said? >> well, i appreciate his sentiment and trying to bring comfort to children and i appreciate him addressing the country and speaking directly to children. this is a time that what will ultimately matter is what we do beyond words. it's our actions that will speak volumes and will mack a differen difference in the lives of people. politicians will say words that
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are comforting and not back them up with action. what i am most interested in is what is president trump going to do and if he needs some suggestions, i can give him a few. number one, he can reinstitute funding for the causes and solutions for gun violence and funding that has been choked off by congress for decades now. the other thing that he can do is to support the expansion of high-quality mental health services and i say this with a caveat. while it is a necessary part of the solution, it's not entirely sufficient and to pin gun violence as a whole on people who are mentally ill is incorrect and they risk stigmatizing mental illness and it leads us away from the fundamental drivers of gun violence. we also need an increased focus on gun safety and we need to ask a deeper question which is why is this happening in the fir place and what i happening with our level of emotional well-being in america? >> the tru is we have an emotional well-ing crisis in the country and one that we are not talking about or discussing and one that we saw clearly as surgeon general as i travel to
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communities across america and addressing emotional well-being is an essential part of addressing violence in america. >> indeed. we'll dig into that in the next segment. for the moment, former surgeon general, and of course, tom ruggle to keep this country safer and we remember your son on this evening, as well. >> thanks for joining us. as i said, our first thoughts for healing are with the victims in florida, but much has been made of the trauma and the mental health condition of the shooter. so why is it that some take the most violence option and others who face even worse and physical emotional trauma take exactly the opposite track? my next guest is the internationally renowned pianist james rhodes. for yearsas a child he was horrendously sexually abused by one of his teachers and later he descended into drug addiction, depression and despair, but as he was hitting his emotional
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rock bottom, rhodes heard a piece of music by bach that would change his life forever. it follows his acute battle with trauma and while he's touring and performing and i wt to the steinway pianohowroom in london to meet him and to listen to his story of healing and redemption. >> james rhodes, welcome to the program. >> nice to be here. >> well, and we are here in what to me looks like a palace of steinways. it's a steinway showroom in london. >> i can't believe it's still here independe here. >> it's amazing. these are my heros and i was a weird kid and this for me is geek heaven. >> you say you were a weird kid and you had an exceptionally, almost unbelievably devastating childhood. i want to know how music saved
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your life? >> it sounds very mel on dramatic, doesn't it? to say music saved your life and there were challenging things happening and it felt like everything was hostile and everything was bad, and then when i was 7 i heard ace of music by bach and literally everything changed. it was like for the first time in my life two things happened. firstly, i had a way of expressing things that i couldn't find the words to express and that's what music does, it goes underneath words if something that beautiful exists in the world, it can't be 100% awful. >> i want to ask you about the awful before i ask you for the beautiful antidote. from 6 to 10, you were relentlessly sexually abused. >> yeah, we softened that word, don't we? we use the words like abuse, molested or rape is the appropriate word, but again, i don't think it's necessary to --
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or helpful to quantify trauma. we all undergo trauma. parents get divorced and we live in poverty and we deal with disease and we witness domestic abuse and we get bullied in school and we suffer from, yes, sexual abuse, rape and other crimes. >> we don't all, james. >> i think we do. i cannot think of a single person i have met who has not gone through some level of trauma. >> you were 6 when this started. what happened? >> when it started. the gym teacher of the school i was in, looking back now it's crystal clear that there was grooming involved and all of the things that we know about now, but this was 1981 and we didn't know so much about it then, which again, i find quite difficult to get my head around because there were times when i was found by other teachers with, you know, blood coming down my legs and hysterical and just sobbing and yet nothing
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happened. like, nothing happened. it was allowed to continue and continue and continue to the point where i mean, it literally broke my back. >> literally. >> yes. i had to have three operations to repair -- it shattered the base of my spine and i now have titanium rods and i feel a little bit look a bionic man, and i feel like it's always a part of me. that's one of the things that's quite hard to deal with and it's still there. >> so play the piece of music that at least started -- >> i'll play a bit of it again because it's written by bach and it starts very -- he wrote it in memory of his wife who died. it's the love of his life and it starts, almost le funerrial. ♪ ♪errial. ♪ ♪uerrial. ♪ ♪nerrial. ♪ ♪ial. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> and it carries on like that
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and then there are a set of variations and moments of absolute peace -- for example -- ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> i mean, so beautiful and right through to the heroic. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> and on and on and then the virtuoso -- ♪ ♪ ♪
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>> the whole thing is just this massive adventure, it's a love letter. if you knew someone you loved was dying and you were lucky enough to get to say good-bye to them, this is what you would say. >> i want to ask you about your emotions when you first heard it because every emotion. i want to say that perhaps you were dying at least inside. >> no question. i was dead. there was nothing. it was just -- i was -- now we know all of the terms, i was disassociated, ptsd and identity disorder and i would disappear for hours and lose track of time and days and everything was just shades of gray. >> along with the music, how did you get yourself back into a place where you could feel normal again? you write very profoundly. >> i didn't, if anyone -- i'm not there. i don't have a normal life. i don't -- i'm on an airplane
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300 hours a year. i walk out in stage alone in front of a thousand or 2,000 people. i've had car crash relationships. i have no idea in most social situations how to act and a lot of us feel like life is messy, and the pursuit of happiness and like it's something that -- it's not. that's distraction. the new iphone, the next tinder date and whatever it is. what's wrong with feeling sad? what's wrong with feeling a bit messy and having pretty awful instagram selfies? i mean, we have this idea that everyone else's life is perfect and god forbid we feel fragile and a bit down. you can lose yourself in music or in painting or in writing and it's an antidote to the world in which we live today. >> so many people are looking for the antidote and not enough attention even in our western-rich democracies. it's paid to people's mental
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health. >> that to me, is the saddest thing. >> your first wife, the mother of your child is american. >> yes. >> and you had an extraordinary situation you wrote a memoir happened to you as a kid. what pick up the story. your wife wanted it not to be published. >> want just -- it's a book about music. it's a love letter for my son and a love letter to music, but because it's a memoir, of course, it talks about what happened to me as a kid and it would be so weird to have talked about the good things and not the tricky things and what was so extraordinary and there was no privacy, and it ended up taking 18 months and under the supreme court and $2 million in legal fees to publish and the idea was that she said that i was intent on deliberately inflicting catastrophic psychological harm on my son by publishing this book. it wasn't just the book that they wanted banned and it was a gagging order that would stop me
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from speaking or writing in any medium anywhere in the world about any aspect of my past. >> how old is your son? >> he just turned 15. >> and when that was coming out? >> 13, 14. she acknowledged that he wasn't going to read the book. >> do you want him to read it? >> no. of course, not. stake take a movie director with violent rape sces and they're not going to showheir 12 or 13-year-old kid, but should they be forced not to make those movie it is on the off chance that the kid might see excerpts on the internet? no, of course, not. what i did with my son and i sat him down and i said, look, we're best friends. when i was a kid, and you know things that we don't go off with strangers and being groomed and sexual abuse. that happened to me and i didn't talk about it for a long time. i thought it was my fault and as an adult i got very sick because
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of it and i went to hospital and i started to talk about it and slowly, but surely i got better and now i have this wonderful life and i'm here and i see you all of the time, and that to me is a much more important, valuable message to a child than don't ask. we're not going to talk about this. it never happened. we must pretend everything's fine. >> do you feel separate liberated may be the wrong word, but the idea that the me too movement is now so front and center? >> yeah. >> that there is no more shame about talking about these things. >> that's not true at all. there will always be shame. the me too movement is even more powerful because despite the shame, people are talking. it is not easy to talk about this. i feel permanent shame talking about it. even though rationally i know it wasn't my fault i still in my mind colluded in it and that's why you feel ashamed. >> where are you now? where is james rhodes today
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mentally in terms of your health, your physical health and your emotional health? >> i don't know how to answer that question, really, because it's changeable and i think we're all changeable and i just wish more of us were slightly more transparent about how challenging we find life because then we don't feel so alone. >> do you ever think that after so much pain you would give so much joy to people? >> that is such a lovely thing to say. >> there is a lot of -- there is a lot of joy out there, and sometimes we need to know and slowly, gently nudged into the right direction where the joy is and it's about noticing the little things and focusing on that, i guess. >> play us out, james rhodes. >> maybe a little bit of -- a little bit of luck, a lovely piece of music. ♪ ♪ ♪
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
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>> a note of profound beauty and even peace on a day such as this one and that's it for our program tonight. thank you for watching "amanpour on pbs" and we'll see you again tomorrow night with we have the legendary film director ridley scott and the conversation on love in the digital age. good night from london. ♪ ♪ >> amanpour on pb was made possible by the generous support of rosalynn p. walter. ♪ ♪
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