Barbershop
11:24 am
Fri July 19, 2013

Getting Real On Race After Zimmerman Verdict

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week - our writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Fernando Vila is the director of programming for Fusion. That's a joint venture between ABC and Univision. He's with us from Miami. Sportswriter and professor of journalism Kevin Blackistone is here in D.C. And also here in Washington this week - Mario Loyola. He's normally with us from Austin, where he is with the National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. But he's in D.C. this week and he stopped by. Jimi, take it away.

JIMI IZRAEL: All right. Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas...

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: ...What's happening?

IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop, how we doing?

FERNANDO VILA: Hey, hey, hey.

BLACKISTONE: Great.

MARIO LOYOLA: What's up Jimi, how are you?

IZRAEL: Hey, let's get caffeinated. What's good? All right, you know what, let's get things started. I know it's been a long week, full of Monday morning quarterbacking on the George Zimmerman trial. The only thing I want to say about the verdict - it wasn't necessarily surprising. And interestingly, I had a throwback memory to something super Mario said to me. Early in the game, we first started talking about the Trayvon Martin case. Michel, we got a clip. Yup.

MARTIN: We do. Here it is. This is from March of 2012 when you asked Mario what role he thought race played in the shooting. And this is what Mario had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)

LOYOLA: A lot of Americans are terrified of a black dude in a hoodie. I mean, that's like a symbol of personal insecurity. And, you know, if I saw you, Jimi, walking down the street in Northeast D.C. wearing a hoodie, I would cross the street. I mean, you can say that's racism, but it's also self-preservation.

IZRAEL: Attorney Mario Loyola. Listen man, you know, I feel like it's my responsibility to parents and young black teenagers all over the Texas area to ask, are you a registered gun owner?

LOYOLA: That's very funny.

IZRAEL: I wish I was kidding - I wish I was kidding.

LOYOLA: No look, I mean, the fact that we have a young innocent man who's dead here is due to, in part, to what I think is a pretty obvious poor judgment, stupidity, of Zimmerman among other things. But that's only the last step in the chain of events that led to Trayvon Martin's death. I mean, from the very beginning, people have always been focused on the racial aspect of this, but I think that it's more about like general paranoia, really, than about race. Because, you know, to the extent that Zimmerman was profiling Trayvon, there were other things than the fact that he was black. It was how he was dressed, it's the fact that he's a male, that he's young, that he's walking by himself. I mean, the general aspect of somebody who's looking like that, walking around at night, is going to draw suspicion, whether they're white or black, right.

Now if we're going to have a national conversation about race and we're going to make this about race, which I don't think it should be, but if we're going to make this about race and we're going to make this about the negative racial stereotypes that people - that a lot of people have and continue to have, and have had for a long time, you know, let's take a sober look at the statistics. You know, in New York City, for example, white males are responsible for like 5 percent of the robberies. A much smaller population of black males are responsible for 70 percent of the robberies. With such dramatic statistical disparities, how on earth can you expect there not to be negative racial stereotypes?

IZRAEL: OK. Fernando Vila?

VILA: Well, I mean, the notion of paranoia is a good one and Mario's statistics actually sort of feed into that - into this culture of paranoia. I mean, the vast majority of black people are not committing crimes.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Really?

VILA: You know, it's like to say, I don't know - the vast majority of hosts on NPR are white males. That doesn't mean that every time I encounter a white male on the street I assume he's a host of NPR. You know, it's just a backwards way of looking at it...

MARTIN: ...Well, more to the point - more to the point, do you see - isn't the vast majority of financial crimes on Wall Street committed by white males, but I don't see white males on Wall Street being profiled to keep them from working on Wall Street because of the propensity of white males on Wall Street to commit financial crimes. I mean, that would be...

VILA: ...Exactly, it's a backwards way of thinking...

IZRAEL: ...Also...

MARTIN: ...I'm just also - anyway, go ahead this is you all...

IZRAEL: Also, not for nothing, I mean, I've lived around college campuses, including Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University, here in Cleveland. And I got to tell you, any given night, on any given day, you can cruise around and you'll find young white males in hooded jackets, hoods up, headphones on, face is obscured, and interestingly enough, they're not being shot.

MARTIN: Well, you know...

IZRAEL: ...Kevin Blackistone...

MARTIN: ...But why don't we - can we just deal with what Mario said. Because the fact is he said it, and a lot of people believe it, and a lot of people think that that's an important data point. So why don't we just deal with what he said.

BLACKISTONE: Well, Jimi, you and I live this syllogistic argument, that Mario mentioned...

IZRAEL: ...Right.

BLACKISTONE: ...And Fernando brought up. You can't find a black man in America - or it's hard to find a black man in America who has not had a very negative encounter with police, or in this case, someone acting like a police officer. My mother just recounted an incident that happened to me some 25 years ago up in New Jersey when I had the gun of - you know, had a gun at the back of my head from a cop looking for a robber who looked like me.

MARTIN: At least he said did...

VILA: ...Jesus...

IZRAEL: ...And they all look like you, bro. That's the rub...

BLACKISTONE: Yeah, and that's the reality here. I mean, all of this kind of reminds me of this old movie that Paul Winfield did back in the early '80s, it was called "White Dog." I don't know if any of you all remember that. But this white German Shepherd had to be de-programmed because he had been programmed to attack black people any time he saw them. And that's kind of like what this is. You know, there's not a brother I've spoken to since the Zimmerman thing went down who didn't understand what was going on there. And doesn't have a very visceral reaction to this story. And it is about race. You cannot get away from race...

MARTIN: ...So...

IZRAEL: ...It is absolutely about race.

MARTIN: ...OK, so why don't we just say we are having this national conversation...

BLACKISTONE: ...Sure...

MARTIN: ...I don't know why people say we need to have one, because we are having one...

BLACKISTONE: ..We're always having it...

MARTIN: ...So now that we're having it, what should happen now? What should we do?

VILA: I think that the other important aspect is this notion of vigilantism. I mean, if George Zimmerman had done what Mario does every time he sees a black person on the street, you know, Trayvon would be alive, right. Instead he decided to take it into his own hands and go after him, with a gun no less. I mean, that's the real troubling thing where, you know...

IZRAEL: ...That is troubling...

VILA: ...There is a culture of paranoia - you know, the initiation is what gets people really...

MARTIN: ...Go ahead, Mario.

LOYOLA: ...Yeah, and by the way, it's not just black dudes in hoodies - it's also my fellow Puerto Ricans in hoodies, right? And I think that, you know, it's also just a certain aspect of a person walking down the street. Like, for me, if the dude is alone, that right there actually is an overriding factor where you're like, let me cross the street just out of safety concerns. But people definitely...

IZRAEL: ...Are you serious?

LOYOLA: ...Cross the street when they see me.

BLACKISTONE: But the safety concern - and you mentioned self-preservation, you don't have to worry about self-preservation. I have to worry about self-preservation...

LOYOLA: ...Why don't I have to worry about self-preservation?

BLACKISTONE: Because...

IZRAEL: ...Preach it brother, preach it.

BLACKISTONE: Because black males, particularly between the ages of 17 and 34, we usually talk about that as a demographic that is important in finance and economics and commercialism, but that demographic dies by handgun violence more than anybody else. That is a number one killer of black males. They're the ones who have to be concerned about self-preservation anytime they encounter a police officer, or in this case, as I said before, someone pretending to be a police officer. That's the real self-preservation.

MARTIN: But...

IZRAEL: ...Can I tell - hold on, Michel...

MARTIN: ...Go ahead, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Can I tell a quick story? When - early on in my radio days when I was DJing at WCSB in Cleveland. That's Cleveland State, yeah, yeah. I was coming out late night from doing the radio show and I was running for a bus that I saw passing. And I swear to you, on my children's eyes, two cruisers came out of nowhere and swooped on me and demanded that I stop because I was hauling behind up the street to try to catch this bus.

And they quizzed me, they called the PD of the station to make sure that my credentials were in check. And then they let me go. But they held me in the back of a car for 45 minutes to make sure that I wasn't a black man running from the scene of a crime.

MARTIN: Well, but again, I understand that, but - and again it's offensive because people acting under the color of law, with a badge, and of the courts, are acting, allegedly, in behalf of all of us. When a state prosecutes a case, they say the people versus X. What about what Mario said? If the fact is the overall majority of the violent crimes are affecting young black men, are usually committed by young black men. The violence is between and among, young Latino men - each other, young black men - each other. I mean, so what's the conversation we need to have about that? Or is that just not the conversation for today?

IZRAEL: I don't know...

MARTIN: ...Jimi.

IZRAEL: ...That argument seems kind of weird. I mean, young white kids in black trench coats don't make me shake.

LOYOLA: OK, but, I mean...

MARTIN: ...Go ahead.

LOYOLA: ...When I see - when I feel as - you know, my father's Puerto Rican, and my mother is Cuban. As a Puerto Rican, Puerto Rican guys have an image problem. People perceive them as having a high propensity to criminal behavior. For example, compared to other ethnic groups. That makes me, most of all, upset at the Puerto Ricans who are committing crimes. And I don't understand why people don't have that reaction in the black community.

IZRAEL: OK, OK, bro...

MARTIN: ...Well, first of all, Puerto Ricans can be black too. I mean, the people that I grew up with...

(CROSSTALK)

LOYOLA: ...Just saying, I mean - that's right, it's the community.

MARTIN: ...But what about Jimi's point?

IZRAEL: ...So that means it's open season...

MARTIN: Which is, he's saying, whites guys in trench coats don't make him shake. I mean, why is it that...

BLACKISTONE: ...Because I don't think...

MARTIN: ...Young white guys who have committed - and white guys who have committed the overwhelming majority of mass violence in this country aren't profiled...

BLACKISTONE: ...Exactly, that's the point...

MARTIN: ...Every time they go to the movies.

BLACKISTONE: ...Because people of color are the only people who are profiled. We never talk about anyone else suffering from profiling, racial profiling. In fact, racial profiling can be a real issue. When we had the sniper incident here in D.C. - it didn't fit - the profile wasn't that it would be someone black. So they weren't looking for Malvo and Muhammad. They were looking for a white guy. And in that time more people died.

VILA: But that's a tautology, right, because I think there's a clear error in what Kevin just said. And here it is - if Trayvon had been a white guy, in a hoodie, walking around by himself at night in that neighborhood, he would've been followed by Zimmerman anyway...

MARTIN: ...How do you know?

IZRAEL: ...Whoa...

LOYOLA: ...Oh...

MARTIN: Where's the evidence? Where's the evidence?

VILA: Because it's a suspicious looking character...

MARTIN: ...Where's his evidence? Because...

VILA: ...I think that you guys are really wrong to make this so much about race.

BLACKISTONE: But if you read the transcript, if you read the transcript...

IZRAEL: ...You're making it about race, bro...

BLACKISTONE: If you read the transcript, Zimmerman twice said he was black. And then he made the comment...

VILA: ...But only when he was asked...

BLACKISTONE: ...The expletive comment, about - they always get away with it. Well, who is they? He's not talking about a white guy in a hoodie.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this, Kevin. You know, here's what's interesting to me about this conversation - again, I go back to this argument - national conversation about race. We are having it, in fact, the country is having it. The country is having it, when you have opportunities...

IZRAEL: ...We've been having it for hundreds of years...

MARTIN: ...For people to talk - yeah but the conversation changes and there is evidence that the conversations do change public opinion. Blacks and whites tend to have very different opinions about the way criminal justice works. But there's also evidence that incidents, anecdotes, beat change behavior because people reframe it for people in a way that they can then see. So the question now becomes, what do we do now?

BLACKISTONE: Well...

MARTIN: ...What do we do now?

BLACKISTONE: ...To me the first thing...

MARTIN: ...So that we don't have the same conversation next year.

BLACKISTONE: Well, the first thing you have to do is you have to change the stand-your-ground rule in Florida. That's the first thing. Because that gave license for something like this to happen, and someone got away with it. To me, that's the first thing.

MARTIN: Anybody else. Mario?

LOYOLA: ...Yeah I'd like to just send a message...

MARTIN: ...You're a policy guy.

LOYOLA: ...I'd like to send a message out to my fellow Puerto Ricans and here it is - if you think you have an image problem and you think that your behavior as a community has nothing to do it, I think you're going to continue to have an image problem.

IZRAEL: All righty then.

MARTIN: OK. OK. Fernando, you have any thoughts? What do you want to do? What's next?

VILA: Well, I mean, I think that - you know, I think that one of the biggest issues is sort of how punitive the criminal - and how different the punitive nature of the criminal justice system is depending on race. I mean, that to me is the big conversation to have as well.

You know, whether it's drug crimes or violent crimes. You know, white people tend to get off a lot more. And that's backed up by the statistics as well. And I think that that's the easiest - or not the easiest but the most sort of obvious policy change that can happen.

MARTIN: And Jimi, you have a final thought on this before we move on?

IZRAEL: God save anybody that pulls a weapon on my son or me. God save you. That's it, that's it. Because - just, yeah forget about it...

MARTIN: ...That's a lot of pain...

IZRAEL: Shoot to kill. Shoot to kill, bro, because if you don't, it's on like Donkey Kong.

MARTIN: Well, let's not go there.

IZRAEL: I'd rather be judged by six than carried by 12.

MARTIN: Yeah, well, that's what George Zimmerman thought, right?

IZRAEL: That's what he did think, that's right...

MARTIN: ...Isn't that what he thought? I just, look - I think that if at the very least, I think this has given people an opportunity to talk about how much this pains them and affects them and hurts them. I mean, we've seen lots of commentaries...

IZRAEL: ...Yup...

MARTIN: ...And lots of people talking about this. And at the very least, it's given people a chance to talk to each other, maybe people they don't otherwise talk to about these issues, and get it out there and say, this is how it is me, this is my life, this is how I feel. We just have a couple minutes left in our weekly barbershop roundtable. We're talking with culture critic Jimi Izrael, sportswriter Kevin Blackistone, policy analyst Mario Loyola, and journalist Fernando Vila. We were going to talk about the McDonald's budgeting issue but I think we're going to skip that.

I think we'll talk about that next week, because we're going to talk about the issues around part-time workers and the growing prevalence of part-time work. So we'll talk about that next week in some conversation. But before we go, we do want to talk about Jay-Z's album "Magna Carta Holy Grail." There's new criticism - now people might remember that the singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte once said that Jay-Z and Beyonce need to take more social responsibility. Well, Jay-Z's talking back on this album. I just want to play a short clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, NICKELS AND DIMES")

MARTIN: Oh, I had missed that lyric until you all pointed it out to me. Ouch, Kevin what are you saying? Is he overstepping? Is he giving his props to the elders? What's up?

BLACKISTONE: Yeah, he's overstepping. I mean, come on you can't go after Harry Belafonte even though he went after you. Look, you are doing your thing, but we also know you don't have the history and the narrative of Harry Belafonte. You know, you didn't learn at the knee of Paul Robeson. You know, you didn't write the check to get MLK out of the Birmingham jail. I mean, you didn't do all of those sorts of things. You didn't march on South Africa.

You know, you did "Big Pimpin," which a lot of people would say is a misogynistic album, OK. I mean, it may be funky, but at the end - you know, you can look at the lyrics for yourself. And, you know - and most recently, with the whole Barclays Center up in Brooklyn, there's a whole documentary out called "Battle of Brooklyn," which shows how Jay-Z and Beyonce were kind of used as pawns to help the developers just steam roll over people in the Atlantic Yards neighborhood so that they could build that sparkling new arena there. So, you know, lay off of Harry Belafonte.

MARTIN: So sit down son? What do you have to say about it, Mario? Do you care?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean...

MARTIN: ...You like the album.

LOYOLA: ...Having grown up in a Cuban family, I've got to say that Harry Belafonte has a big image problem in the Cuban community, which is that he thinks Fidel Castro's great. And that's all we know about him. We don't know any of the history that Kevin was just referring to. But I mean, when you know that someone thinks Fidel Castro is great, and you're from a Cuban family, it makes it very hard to...

MARTIN: ...You can dog them out no matter what...

LOYOLA: ...Take them seriously when they moralize over other people.

MARTIN: Oh, OK, Fernando you going get a bite of that? Very briefly.

VILA: Yeah, well, I think I'm the youngest guy here and I mean, I can see why Jay-Z would be annoyed that an older guy is kind of scolding him, but his comeback was just like the lamest thing I've ever seen.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

VILA: If you're going to come after Harry Belafonte, you better...

MARTIN: ...You better come a little bit harder than that, right?

VILA: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. Jimi, you're the culture guy, final thought?

IZRAEL: Yeah, there's no good argument against, you know, an 80-odd year old man. You know, just nod your head - just do what I do, just nod your head a lot and do what you ultimately want to do. That's really the sign of - true sign of intelligence. Don't try to get at a 70 year-old man that falls asleep while he's being interviewed, bro. It makes you look bad. So just let that - just brush it off your shoulder and count your money. That's what you really do.

LOYOLA: So now when I'm 80, Jimi, when you nod at me, I'm going to know what it means, all right.

IZRAEL: OK, bro.

MARTIN: Are you still going to cross the street? When he's 80 in your chair and his chair...

LOYOLA: ...I won't be able to then.

MARTIN: OK. Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. From our member station in Miami, WLRN, Fernando Vila. He's director of programming for Fusion, an ABC Univision venture. Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, here in D.C. along with Mario Loyola, director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies - actually general counsel now, do I have that right? At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, columnist for the National Review. Caught up with him in D.C. this week. Thank you all so much.

VILA: Ciao. Ciao.

LOYOLA: Later guys.

BLACKISTONE: All right.

IZRAEL: Yep. Yep.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes Store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.