Shop Talk: Trayvon Martin And Getting 'The Talk'

The guys discuss the outrage around the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teen. They also talk about penalties the NFL imposed on the New Orleans Saints. Host Michel Martin checks in with freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor Dave Zirin, and NPR's digital news correspondent Corey Dade.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

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 shapeup this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Cleveland. Here in Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. Also here with us in our studios in Washington, Dave Zirin, the sports editor for The Nation magazine. And visiting Boston this week, NPR digital news correspondent Corey Dade.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

DAVE ZIRIN: Better than Blake Griffin.

IZRAEL: Oh.

ZIRIN: I saw that foul he just got. Ouch.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, listen, I hate this story, but we've got to start and talk about Trayvon Martin. People around the country are outraged over his death. Even the president has weighed in. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: You know, he sure has, and for those who don't know the story or haven't had an opportunity to follow it, Trayvon Martin was - no relation to me, as far as I know, by the way - I know that's the same last name - a 17-year-old visiting a friend in this community in Sanford, Florida, visiting with his father. Shot and killed by a self-appointed community crime watch volunteer. He was not armed. He was returning from a trip to the store, carrying iced tea and Skittles, and a man, a 28-year-old man named George Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense, and so far he has not been arrested.

And, of course, many people have been talking about this all week. We certainly have, but the president weighed in this morning and this is what he had to say.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, and you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

MARTIN: I just want to point out that that's a longer statement. The president also made a point of saying he didn't want to prejudge the situation. He also said he was talking to the parents to say to them I understand how you would feel, but all parents would. So a longer statement than that.

Rapidly developing story, Jimi, as of we are speaking now, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has appointed a new prosecutor to oversee the case and a task force headed by the lieutenant governor to examine the Stand Your Ground law. I know you want to talk a little bit about that.

And I know you want to talk about this from the perspective of a parent, Jimi, so let me just play a clip of Trayvon's mother, Sabrina Fulton, and this is what she said at a rally in Sanford, Florida last night.

SABRINA FULTON: My heart hurts for my son. Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son.

IZRAEL: Ooh, wow. Thanks, Michel. You know, I said this at the top, I hate the story and I hate it because it never, ever surprises me to hear about black men getting accosted, basically for minding their own business. You know, a few years ago, we had Henry Skip Gates, the neighbors called the police because he looked out of place, somehow suspicious.

Florida also - if I'm correct - they also passed a law outlawing baggy jeans and now black men with a hood up on his head, you know, is some cause for concern. It's as if the black codes are back and I'm waiting for a day when this will no longer be shocking.

You know, Corey, CD, it's interesting to me, I know you wrote about the rules your parents gave you growing up, the five nevers about interaction with the cops and such, and people can check that out on NPR.org. But Zimmerman was just some random white guy who, you know, could have just as easily been a predator for all Trayvon knows. So let me get this right. So black men everywhere are expected to just stand and deliver to any random white man that asks. Huh?

You know, Corey, I didn't get that memo. Did you?

COREY DADE, BYLINE: Not at all. I think what's interesting...

IZRAEL: OK. I was just checking.

DADE: Yeah, no, not at all. But what's interesting is, we, as young black men, when we're taught these nevers that I talk about – never leave the store with your item without a shopping bag, never loiter outside anywhere, you could be just setting yourself up to be a target of police. But also, the underlying thing about all of that is that we, as young black men, have to control for other people's hang-ups. We have to alter our behavior just to accommodate, essentially, somebody else's issues. And that's the part that's galling.

MARTIN: Well, you know, Corey, the thing I found – the thing I liked about your piece is that you talked about something that a lot of people are talking about which is the talk. And I remember distinctly my parents giving – my father, particularly, giving my younger brother the talk. And I remember just sitting there, being kind of, really, not even at that age really understanding what was going on, and my father sitting my brother down. At that age, the talk was even – was not just about the police, it was like, don't stand too close to a white woman in the elevator, don't stand too close to a white woman on the sidewalk, that kind of thing. And I'm thinking, why is my father telling my little brother this, who was maybe 12 at the time? And you kind of brought up this business of the talk. And I've seen like people like Marian Wright Edelman, the distinguished, you know, social activist and human rights activist and attorney, talking about giving her sons the talk.

DADE: Mm-hmm. Sure.

MARTIN: So - I don't know. Corey, if you want to talk a little bit more about that.

DADE: Yeah. It's a rite of passage, quite frankly. I don't know a black man anywhere in my experience as a reporter, as an individual citizen who did not get this talk - who has parents - who did not get this talk. I was - it's funny you say that, Michel. I was talking to my sister after I wrote this story and she said I didn't know they told you all that. I mean that just gets to how specific it is, she didn't get the same lessons that I got. And we know why, because as a young black man this is what happens. And so, you know, it just if this didn't this kind of thing didn't keep happening we wouldn't be continuing to get this talk from our parents. And in the last couple of days, the thing that's been moving to me is how many people on my Facebook page, on Twitter, through Comments on NPR.org, the story, how many people are remembering.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

DADE: How many black men are remembering when they got the talk. It's quite moving.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did anybody give you that talk? I'm just saying as a man who's, you're not black but you are a brown - you identify as a brown man.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Do you feel – do you remember getting that talk from your parents?

IFTIKHAR: I did, actually, in terms of interaction with the police. You know, I never got the talk about, you know, standing too close to a white woman and things like that. So, you know, it really is interesting that, you know, even within the minority communities here in America, you know, that different people of color obviously have different life experiences and, you know, we each have them to a certain degree. But, you know, until we can put ourselves in the shoes of other people and see their experiences - like we've seen with Trayvon Martin - you know, we can't really understand the reality.

IZRAEL: But wait a second. What everybody seems to be missing is Zimmerman wasn't an authority figure. He wasn't a cop. He was just some random white guy. What talk do we give now?

ZIRIN: That's...

IZRAEL: That's what I wanted to know.

DADE: Well, but, that's part - but you know what Jimi? This is Corey here.

IZRAEL: Go ahead. Go ahead.

DADE: That's part of the discussion. It's like, and that's part of the nevers that I got too. You never know when something might jump off.

IZRAEL: Word.

DADE: It doesn't necessarily take an authority figure. It could be somebody with a chip on his shoulder. It doesn't really matter. You don't know where it's going to come from. And that what leads to, you know, on the perverse side of it, that's what leads to a certain amount of paranoia.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

DADE: So it doesn't have to be an authority figure. It could be somebody who is having road rage on the street and he takes it to another level and he starts, you know, hurling racial epithets. You don't know where it's going to come from.

MARTIN: Dave wants to jump in.

ZIRIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: I just want to clarify though, that this is, just to clarify for a point, George Zimmerman's father, Robert, made a point of - in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, made a point of saying that his son, his family, is Latino.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

DADE: Right.

MARTIN: And that they are a multiracial family. Don't know any more than that. But he just wanted to point - he feels that that's important to point out. So I'm pointing it out. And Dave wanted to say something.

ZIRIN: And, well, I would also point out, Al Sharpton said this and he says, it's very true, he said it's not important what George Zimmerman's ethnicity is. What's important is the way he saw Trayvon, and what that set off in his own mind...

IZRAEL: Right.

ZIRIN: I also think it's worth pointing out, one of the things that I think has provoked this is exactly what you guys are talking about, that it was someone who was a watch commander, a block commander, and that's what's made it be this national discussion. Yet, these things have been happening, particularly a lot in recent months. I could say names like Ramarley Graham in New York who was 18, Dane Scott Jr. in Oklahoma, 18, neither of them wearing hoods, by the way, killed – unarmed - but killed by police. And so it didn't get that same national uproar because it's almost like a switch goes off, particularly in I think members of the white media who says well, if it's police there must have been a reason, even when witnesses say otherwise.

MARTIN: Hmm. Arsalan, if you've been looking into this - the particularities of the Stand Your Ground law, which has come up...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Because of these circumstances, so could you just tell a little bit more about that?

IFTIKHAR: Sure. You know, Florida is one of 23 states that currently has some form of what are known as Stand Your Ground laws. What most people don't know is, you know, these laws were drafted and promoted by the National Rifle Association. And essentially, what it says is that the Stand Your Ground law will remove any duty by an armed citizen to retreat from danger if they have a quote, "reasonable belief that such, any force is necessary to prevent eminent death or great bodily harm."

What's interesting to note is the Florida police essentially are saying that because of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, we're unable to arrest George Zimmerman, which is not true because under Florida law, you can arrest him if you have probable cause of a crime, and then he can bring up the Stand Your Ground defense in a court. A judge can throw it out. A jury can find in favor of the defendant. And so, you know, it's really interesting to see that ever since the Stand Your Ground law has come into effect in Florida the number of quotes/unquote "justifiable homicides" has increased by almost 250 percent.

MARTIN: You know, to me though, why - so it seems to me so the police are in effect, acting like a judge and a jury....

IFTIKHAR: Exactly. Exactly.

MARTIN: ...in this case. If they're adjudicating the case in advance of hearing evidence on either side.

IFTIKHAR: Right...

MARTIN: So I find that kind of...

IFTIKHAR: Because you're absolutely right, Michel...

MARTIN: And also I don't understand the fact that George Zimmerman was pursuing the young man.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: He was pursuing him and had already been told by the police to stand down. That is something that has been sort of discussed. So even if you are the person who precipitates the confrontation...

IFTIKHAR: That's...

MARTIN: ...you get to sort of decide?

IFTIKHAR: Right well, that's the whole debate. You know...

MARTIN: So...

IFTIKHAR: ...in Florida, unlike the other states, it grants immunity from prosecution or arrests suspects who's quote, "successfully invoke Stand Your Ground." So essentially, the police are deciding as judge and jury that he has successfully invoked it.

MARTIN: Well, clearly, there's a lot that's being discussed here. And one thing we do know that for whatever reason the political leadership in Florida and around the country is taking it seriously. The Justice Department has already said that it's looking into this. And the question they're looking into is whether this was biased related, because it is - has been asserted or believed that Zimmerman may have uttered a racial epithet in his discussions in talking to the police about, the police dispatcher, about why he was pursuing the boy. So we'll keep an eye on it, as I know all of you will.

We have to move on. But before we do, I want to mention the passing of John Payton, the president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He was a notable defender of civil rights. The ink(ph) fund is considered sort of the preeminent civil rights law firm, if you will, non-profit law firm in the United States, has a very long history. He led the organization's efforts in five Supreme Court cases. And I just wanted to note that because we're talking about the issue of civil rights.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And we also want to send, of course, our thoughts out to his family. His wife, Gay McDougall, in fact, is also a noted legal mind in her own right - and just wanted to make note of that.

If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor Dave Zirin, and NPR digital news correspondent Corey Dade.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Well, we're moving on to football. Yes, I know it's March Madness, but it was judgment day for the New Orleans Saints this week. You'll remember that an NFL investigation saw some players and some coaches were taking part in a bounty system. Essentially, players were paid to injure members of opposing teams. And this week the NFL imposed severe penalties on the Saints.

David Zirin, you wrote on The Nation's blog that you're quote, "shock-raged" by the suspensions.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Me, not so much, or at the least not so colorfully.

ZIRIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: But tell us about the penalties and why you're so worked up.

ZIRIN: Well, it's hard to be that worked up after our previous discussion perspective, of course. And props to NFL player Ray Lewis, who I heard was going to be going down to Sanford on Monday to be part of trying to get at the truth from Mr. Martin. Just, I wanted to make that little connection.

And also say as far as the Saints go what upset me about it is that Roger Goodell didn't do this for the reasons that he said he did it. He destroyed - Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has said that he had to do this to the New Orleans Saints. He had to suspend their coach, Sean Payton, for the year, effectively take out their entire 2012 season because he had to send a message about violence, and he had to send a message about lying to him, about people...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ZIRIN: ...misrepresenting the facts to him. There are a couple of things about this I don't like. The first is that I feel like Roger Goodell is misrepresenting why the penalties were so harsh. Here's some numbers I want say and I'll leave with this: 800. That's the number of former NFL players who are currently suing the NFL for being sent into games with concussions and other injuries over the course of the last 30, 40 years. This is about sending a message to the judicial community that the NFL takes these issues seriously.

The second number is 18. That's the number of games Roger Goodell wants to see instead of the current 16. And he doesn't think he can win that in the court of public opinion unless he can show that he can control the violence from the commissioner's office. And I think it's a fraudulent assertion. I'm an NFL fan. But to say that somehow the game can be made less violent is like saying we can make the sky less blue. It is what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, Corey, you played ball in college. Yeah.

DADE: I did.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Before you were Scoop Newsworthy, you were the man on the gridiron.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DADE: Yes. Scoop Newsworthy. G - GSU.

MARTIN: Do you think that this would change? I mean is this the kind of thing - I know, I'm asking you to kind of go back to your younger self. But do you think this will change the way the game is played or...

DADE: I do. I'm not saying it should change but I think that when you look at the history of any sport, whether it's football or basketball, or the other major sports, the game always changes. And I think this, whether this is fair or not, I think this is the excuse that Goodell needed to further his effort to crack down on the violence of the sport. This gave them justification to go even harder on the James Harrisons of the world. And I think what you're going to see, maybe this off-season, this training camp or the next, is teams start to retrain their players and give them different techniques about how to avoid late hits, how to avoid submarining players who are already down on the ground, the different types of things that gets you flag for penalties.

I think the dye is already cast. And I agree with Dave that this is about extending the season. And if he can show the world that football is a less violent sport, he buttresses his case to make that happen, and this is a judicial issue. The NFL has been terrible in dealing with its retired players.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

DADE: It has been terrible about addressing the injuries that former players have sustained through their years of service to the game, so to speak, so this is big.

MARTIN: And Arsalan, you disagree?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean I think first of all, I think the song should be changed to oh when the Saints go marching into the woodshed, because this was...

DADE: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: This was a shot across the bough. I mean this was not only about a bounty system. This is about a head coach in a system that lied about it. And I think it sends a warning message to everyone else that they're put on notice and they're...

MARTIN: Could you appeal this? Is there any appeal here?

ZIRIN: It's so funny though because you can appeal it, but guess who you'll appeal it to? Roger Goodell.

IFTIKHAR: Roger Goodell.

DADE: Roger Goodell.

IZRAEL: Roger Goodell.

MARTIN: OK. OK. All right. Well...

ZIRIN: So it's like here's your penalty. And then you call him up and say I didn't like that penalty. OK. Let me think about it.

MARTIN: All right.

ZIRIN: I think I agree with myself.

MARTIN: OK. Well, before we let you go, the big football - other big football news, Tim Tebow going to the Jets. OK, that's my big football news. OK? Dave Zirin, good fit? Bad fit? I don't understand how...

ZIRIN: (Singing) Tim Tim Tim Tebow and the Jets.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I just wonder how he's fitting into that locker room.

ZIRIN: It will be very interesting.

MARTIN: One of the more locker room-ish locker rooms in the NFL.

ZIRIN: There is a Bruce Springsteen song called "It's Hard to be A Saint in the City" And I think you'll be hearing - seeing that headline a lot on the back page of the New York City tabloids.

MARTIN: All right. Well, something to watch, something to keep track of.

Dave Zirin...

ZIRIN: (Singing) Tebow and the Jets.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: His next career.

Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation magazine, host of Sirius XM radio's "Edge of Sports Radio." He was here in our Washington, D.C. studios, along with Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. Corey Dade was with us from Boston. He's a correspondent for NPR's digital news. And with us from Cleveland as usual, Jimi Izrael, free lance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University.

Gentlemen, thank you all. Jimi, was with us from member station WCPN. Gentlemen, thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

ZIRIN: Bye-bye.

DADE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And 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.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

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