From the January 20 edition of MSNBC Live:
TAMRON HALL (Host): Do you believe we are here, do you believe this story was ignored, like with [Hurricane] Katrina, because of the color of the skins of those affected and the economic situation of those affected?
MICHAEL BROWN (Former FEMA Director): No -- let me rephrase it. Because I don't think it is ignored because of that. Because I truly -- look, I sincerely believe that it doesn't make any difference about someone's skin color, or their financial statement or anything else. The people at all levels of government want to help everybody.
HALL: So you don't believe if this was an affluent community that this would have gone ignored. You believe that this would have been treated equally.
BROWN: No, I think the difference is this. I think in an affluent community you might have somebody that feels more emboldened to stand up and say, look, I'm not going to put up with this. And in the poorer communities, poor people are less likely to assert themselves. They're less likely to scream and holler. They are -- they feel --
HALL: But that's not what happened here. There were people, to your point, screaming and hollering. We've talked to a number of families who produced water samples who were ignored. So maybe they are screaming and hollering and no one is listening because they don't have the same economic power or perceived power.
BROWN: And that may be -- that may be absolutely true. And let's just -- let's assume for a moment that that is true. If that's the case, then that even strengthens my argument more about we need to give the bureaucracy more flexibility. Because you cannot convince me that there's somebody within the bureaucracy that -- look, in every group of people you will have people that are more influenced by one sector, or more so by another sector. But what you'll never convince me of is that in every bureaucracy there's not a civil servant that cares deeply about these issues, irrespective, regardless of what someone's skin color is or what their bank account looks like. And so we've got to empower those people to somehow stand up and ring the alarm bell and protect them when they do so, because, look. The bottom line is, take me, for an example. If I had screamed from the mountaintop in the midst of Katrina that the Department of Defense wasn't doing what I was asking them to do, or that Michael Chertoff was ignoring the requests that I was making, I probably would have been fired on the spot for not having, you know, toed the company line. But that's my point about empowering civil servants to do what is right, and we don't do that in this country. We keep them all boxed in in these little boxes of rules. Well, you know what? Screw the rules. Allow people to step outside of that box when it's the right thing to do.
HALL: All right, former FEMA director Michael Brown, thank you so much for joining us.