Shop Talk: What's Race Got To Do With Trayvon?

The guys talk about the role of race in the debate about Trayvon Martin. They also weigh in on the record $2 billion paid for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guest host Jacki Lyden checks in with journalist Jimi Izrael, Pablo Torre of Sports Illustrated, National Review columnist Mario Loyola, and NPR's Ken Rudin.

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

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

I'm Jacki Lyden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away today. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

And sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Cleveland. Hello, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Jacki. How you doing?

LYDEN: I'm doing fine. Thanks, sir. In Austin, we have Mario Loyola. He's with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a columnist for National Review magazine. Hello, Mario.

MARIO LOYOLA: Good morning.

LYDEN: In our Washington, D.C. studio is NPR's political editor, the Political Junkie himself, Ken Rudin. Hi there, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Jacki.

LYDEN: And in New Orleans this week, getting ready for the NCAA basketball semi-finals, we have Pablo Torre. He's a regular reporter for Sports Illustrated. Hello, Pablo.

PABLO TORRE: Hey, great to be here.

LYDEN: Jimi Izrael, take it away. And thanks, everybody.

IZRAEL: Hey, Jacki. Thank you so much. It's so nice to have you with us. I haven't seen you since that hoity-toity NPR thing we were at, eating shrimp and popping champagne, so it's good to have you...

LYDEN: That's all we were doing.

IZRAEL: Right. So it's good to have you in the shop. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop.

RUDIN: Hi, guys.

IZRAEL: How we doing?

LOYOLA: Yo. What's up, man?

IZRAEL: Hey, can we get a little caffeinated here? What's up? I mean, I know that we're...

(SOUNDBITE OF SNORING)

IZRAEL: Right.

LYDEN: It's been a long week.

LOYOLA: We're popping shrimp down here in New Orleans, man.

IZRAEL: Right. Well, we're kind of going to get things started on a somber note. You know, it's been over a month since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen, was fatally shot by community watchman George Zimmerman. It's a very sad story and continues to change by the hour.

The case itself has sparked national conversation about self-defense laws, social justice and race, but the role race played in the shooting and aftermath is up for debate, Jacki. And we got some clips about this, right?

LYDEN: We actually have two, Jimi. First, we're going to...

IZRAEL: OK.

LYDEN: ...listen to George Zimmerman's legal advisor, Craig Sonner. Now, he spoke with NPR's Joel Rose this past week.

CRAIG SONNER: Whatever transpired on that evening, I don't believe it was motivated by race. I don't believe that George Zimmerman is a racist and I don't think that it was motivated by him wanting to kill a young African-American. I don't believe that was his intent at all.

LYDEN: That was George Zimmerman's lawyer, Craig Sonner. This next clip is of the teen's father, Tracy Martin. This interview aired yesterday. Earlier this week, with regular host Michel Martin, she asked whether George Zimmerman's Hispanic heritage or his family's insistence that he's not a racist made a difference.

TRACY MARTIN: That really don't change my thought. The fact of the matter is, he shot and killed my son. Whether it be he white, black, green, red, it really doesn't matter.

IZRAEL: Wow. OK. Thanks for that, Jacki. So guys, my question for you is about race. I don't know if you think it's at the center of this shooting and the case in general. Pablo Torre...

TORRE: Uh-huh.

IZRAEL: ...since we're talking about race, I'm going to point out that while you've got some Spanish origins, you identify as Filipino. That said, what do you think about this?

TORRE: You know, the last time I thought - I've been thinking about this a lot because in a weird sort of parallel to the sports world, Jeremy Lin raised a similar question. You know, how do you isolate the variable of race? Everybody asks me about that story and I've been talking about this one in a similar vein. Can you possibly isolate that?

And to me, you can't. You just can't do it. You know, we're not in a society - you know, as much as we all, you know, heralded Barack Obama as the harbinger of post-racial America, the fact is that's the thing we look at first. And even if it wasn't what George Zimmerman was looking at Trayvon Martin as, an African-American young man, the fact that it was an African-American young man and that it happens so often to African-American young men is really the point. And that's kind of the heart of the response to the Trayvon Martin story, in my opinion.

And whether or not you minimize the motivations of the person at hand, that frequency, in the same way that Jeremy Lin - it never happens to an Asian-American basketball player, it always happens when it's an African-American teen - I mean not always, but it's so often this story, it's a familiar one. And the fact that it continues to happen for African-American young men, you know, that makes this - that's the beating heart of this story to me.

IZRAEL: Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Well...

IZRAEL: That's - well, that's a Swiss-German surname. Yeah?

RUDIN: No. It's African-American. No.

IZRAEL: Well, at any rate, you're our resident white dude. What did you think about all this?

RUDIN: Well, here's the thing. I mean, first of all, I disagree with the Jeremy Lin comparison. To me, the Jeremy Lin great story about it is somebody's who's been sitting on the bench forever suddenly became a star. The fact that he's Asian-American is fascinating and interesting, but that's not the story.

The fact is - and also, when you have these Stand Your Ground laws, it incites - it almost promotes vigilante justice, and that's the scary part and that's where Pablo is absolutely correct. I mean, many of these cases could be very well black-on-black violence. It could also be very white-on-white violence. Apparently, since the law was passed in Florida in 2005, I think 70 percent, or 75 percent, of all these deadly cases have been same-race, you know, killer and victim. So - but it's become a race issue because – as Pablo says – that African-Americans are more often than not the victims of these kind of crimes. And so, I think, you know, everybody plays the race card, but it is a racial issue and, you know, it's vigilante justice with the law. Spike Lee was also calling for vigilante justice and I think that was racial as well.

IZRAEL: Well, there's...

RUDIN: I'm just...

IZRAEL: Hold on. Let's be clear about something. This wasn't the crime in the commission of another crime. This wasn't somebody stopping themselves from being robbed.

TORRE: Right.

IZRAEL: This was a young black man walking down the street, eating a bag of Skittles who was harassed by another gentleman in a car. You know, and for me...

RUDIN: Well, isn't there – but aren't there some testimony, I mean whether it's right or wrong – isn't there some testimony out there that the two of them were having a scuffle before the shots were fired?

TORRE: Sure. Sure. Sure.

RUDIN: So I don't...

IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Ken? Ken, to be clear, let me just let you know that if I'm walking down the street with my hood up and you hop out of your car and ask me some questions, I promise you we're going to have a problem. So I wasn't there, but this young man was minding his own business and he had just as much right to defend himself and to stand his ground as this guy that hopped out the car to ask to see this young man's papers.

RUDIN: No question. No question. Right.

IZRAEL: So forget about that logic. That logic doesn't work. I'm sorry.

TORRE: No. I mean and to me that's the heart of this – I mean when I say...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

TORRE: ...the Jeremy Lin thing, I don't mean to torture this analogy at all, but the point is, that when you see somebody you come in with all of these presumptions.

IZRAEL: Right.

TORRE: I mean you talk to anybody. I mean Jeremy Lin, when he used to go on the court to play basketball, they saw him – and this is in high school, college, you know, ' cause his friends - they came in, they saw he was Asian the first thing, and they come in with all of these thoughts. And that's still that, you know, that immediate intuitive reaction. I mean race drives that to me. And that's just still overwhelming and it's always puzzling to me when people sort of try to minimize how much that is the lens.

IZRAEL: It's...

LYDEN: And guys, I just want to point out that the facts of what happened here prior to that shooting, are still under dispute.

IZRAEL: It's...

TORRE: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: Thank you, Jacki, for reminding us. You know, it's just scary to me that we think because this young black man was young and black he was scary, and somehow it, you know, it justifies any act before and after this altercation. Mario Loyola...

Nobody is saying that anything is justified.

LOYOLA: Yeah.

RUDIN: And that's what's so terrible about this law.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm. OK. Mario Loyola...

LOYOLA: But let's focus...

TORRE: Definitely.

IZRAEL: hold on. Let's get Mario in here. You identify as Hispanic. Do you think race matters here?

LOYOLA: Well, let's just focus on something that you said. I mean the fact of the matter is that a lot of Americans are terrified of a black dude in a hoodie. I mean that's like a symbol of, you know, of personal insecurity. I mean - and, you know, if I saw you, Jimi, walking down the street in Northeast, D.C., where I used to live, wearing a hoodie, I would cross the street. I mean, you can say that's racism, but it's also self-preservation, you know. I mean and...

RUDIN: That sounds like...

IZRAEL: But suppose it's raining? But suppose it's raining and, you know, there's cause for me to have a hood on my - I mean I'm not walking around...

LOYOLA: No. That's – yeah, that's true and..

IZRAEL: ...like the Grim Reaper, you know, with a hood on my head and carrying a sickle. You know, it's raining and I have hood on my hand and - a hood on my head and I'm eating Skittles. Are you still crossing the street? Really?

RUDIN: Especially the Skittles. Especially with the Skittles

LOYOLA: Yeah. But I mean the thing is that you're also crossing the street because I look exactly like a Salafist terrorist, right? I mean if you see a picture of me.

IZRAEL: No, man, I'm not. I'm giving you some dap and asking if you want some Skittles. I'm sorry, bro, that doesn't rock over here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: Well, that's great. No, but let's...

RUDIN: Jimi, we're falling into the Juan Williams stuff.

IZRAEL: Go, go, go ahead, Ken Dog. Go ahead. Let Ken...

RUDIN: We're following into the Juan Williams trap, and when Juan Williams is afraid to get on the plane because he sees Muslims, I mean, you know, we're missing the whole point here. The point is that these kind of laws allow people's prejudices to take over. And the reason Zimmerman has not been arrested is because he followed the law as the law has been written, and that's what's so insane about the law.

LOYOLA: Right. Well, that may be true, but there's another...

IZRAEL: Again, that's all up for debate. Go ahead, Pablo – go ahead, is that Pablo or Mario?

LOYOLA: Mario.

TORRE: Mario.

RUDIN: They all look the same.

LOYOLA: Yeah, this is Mario.

IZRAEL: Go ahead.

LOYOLA: I mean there's another central point here, which is - I mean I hate to point this out, but most people have the prejudices they have - if you like - don't realize what the statistics are. They don't realize that a young black male is like 10 times more likely to commit a violent crime than a young non-black male, and that population includes Hispanics. And I love my fellow Puerto Ricans, but they have, like they're quite prolific in the area of violent crime. I mean I've never lived anywhere more dangerous than Puerto Rico and it's a tragedy to have to accept that kind of personal insecurity in the neighborhood that you live in, but that's what we should be talking about. And to me it's outrageous that Jesse, you know, the usual suspects, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, show up and turn this all - it's not just about racism. I mean there's racism, sure, because people look at communities and they apply, you know, these preconceptions to different communities, like Pablo was saying. But the fact of the matter is there's some basis in truth for those preconceptions, and those are the things - that has to be part of the discussion here, otherwise we're ignoring the elephant in the room

IZRAEL: I'd agree with that. I would agree with that.

LOYOLA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

IZRAEL: I would agree with that. It just seems like something like this is happening every few years. And Mario, I want you to call me the next time you read about a young white kid wearing a hood who gets harassed by a black neighborhood watch guy, you know, and then shot and killed. I want you to call me when that happens.

LYDEN: All right. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden and you're listening to our very lively weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, columnist Mario Loyola, sports reporter Pablo Torre, and NPR's political junkie Ken Rudin.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, thanks, Jacki. Let's move on. Did you guys hear that Mitt Romney, he's going to be installing a car elevator in his garage if he wins the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: He's doing it big. He's doing it MTV "Cribs" style. OK. Well, I might be having some fun at his expense, but for sure he can afford it. And the leading GOP candidate, he did pick up some half the endorsement this week. Representative Paul Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, endorsed Romney today. And U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Tea Party favorite, says he's a Romney man. But the big nod came from the big G- Dub himself, the elder President Bush.

Jacki, we got some tape, yeah?

LYDEN: We do you. Here's what George H.W. Bush, the former president, said during a joint appearance with Romney in Houston yesterday.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We're so convinced, and mainly 'cause we've known Mitt for a very long time, that he's the man to do this job and get on and win the presidency.

LYDEN: Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah. That is hefty. Thanks, Jacki. Mario? Super Mario Loyola, you're in Texas where this announcement was made, and is it feeling like a Romney country down there? Is it feeling like Romney country down there or do the other candidates have a shot?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I wanted to - you know, I think it's interesting. President George H. W. Bush's endorsement is important, but that's a very establishment moderate, you know, he's Texan but he's really like a Northeast Republican, you know what I mean? The endorsement of Paul Ryan and Senator Rubio, to my mind, are much more important because they signify, you know, the coalescing of conservatives around this candidate and the general consensus that we have nothing more to gain and a lot more to lose if we continue with a primary fight. We've got to get behind a candidate and start running against the president.

IZRAEL: Right. And Ken Rudin, you've seen a lot of primaries as a political junkie. Looking ahead to the primaries this Tuesday, do these endorsements - do they count for anything?

RUDIN: Well, first of all, I think we should point out that would George Bush have endorsed Romney if he weren't white? I think it's a very important point. No. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. That's the other conversation. I apologize.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: First of all, there's a very good point that this seems to be less so much about the excitement about Mitt Romney and then about more about the party saying OK, enough is enough. We've had 36 primaries.

LOYOLA: Right.

RUDIN: Rick Santorum is way behind in delegates. He cannot get the 1,000, you know, 844 or whatever the numbers needed to get the nomination. Mr. Romney has it sewn up. So when you have Jeb Bush, and former President Bush, and Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio all coming on board, it seems to be saying, not so much, OK, Mitt Romney is the guy we love so much, but OK, enough of fighting. We need to focus on President Obama for the fall.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

TORRE: And, you know, and Barack Obama is the one the endorsing Newt Gingrich at this point. I mean this is great, the fact that he stays around. I mean I don't know if there is any, you know, if it is any other clearer way for everybody else in the GOP to kind of say look, we kind of want you to, you know, leave the room now. I mean it's kind of - it's kind of awkward, right?

LOYOLA: Right.

TORRE: I mean they need to get to the business of winning an election, and the more they dillydally and the more it's split. But, no, I think Mario's right. I mean the fact that Rubio endorsed him and Romney get some credentials, in terms of being a true whatever you want to call it, a true conservative. I mean that's big.

IZRAEL: Well, Pablo, you know, not for nothing, happy days are here again in LA because Magic Johnson bought the team. Former owner Frank McCourt, well, he's got some bills to pay, so he's happy too. He's got some of that divorce debt, and that's - yeah, that's no fun.

TORRE: No.

IZRAEL: Magic Johnson, he was one of the principal buyers in a group that will pay over twp billion - that's with a B - dollars for the major league baseball team. The offer has still to be approved by the league. Pablo, you're Mr. Sports Illustrated.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: This is the highest price ever paid for a U.S. sports franchise.

LOYOLA: I know.

IZRAEL: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Dodgers, they've seen better days, or decades, on the field.

TORRE: Well, that's so...

IZRAEL: Are they worth it? That's what I want to know.

TORRE: That's the thing. I mean I think they're worth it because, you know the market is going to show that these teams are worth approximately that much, and we're talking about billions of dollars. But what's depressing about this, and it's a really uplifting story, because Magic Johnson is, you know, the hero, the patron saint of Los Angeles sports. But the depressing thing is that you could basically run a franchise into the ground and do everything wrong and still that in-elasticity of demand from sports fans means that you can make off with $2 billion. I mean, Frank McCourt came out of this, there were so many things wrong with that franchise - from a fan being brutally beaten at Dodgers Stadium, to the bankruptcy, to the divorce, to just the general ineptitude on the field. You know, sports, I mean that's insane. What a - it's a crazy number. And I think NFL teams, I mean they're the ones looking at this and thinking, wait a minute, baseball gets $2.1 billion. What is an NFL team, which is the nation's real most popular sport, worth? I mean, is it $7 billion? I mean I'm here in New Orleans - are the Saints worth $7 billion? It's crazy to think how much these things get inflated, and that's because people love sports no matter all of the horrors that you see.

RUDIN: And don't forget, when CBS was running the Yankees into the ground in the late 1960s, the early 70s, Steinbrenner bought the Yankees for an untold, unheard of amount back then, and he also lifted the franchise up.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: So you need to spend money to make the team back to its greatness.

TORRE: Right.

IZRAEL: You know...

LYDEN: Hey, we've got one more minute...

IZRAEL: yeah. Go ahead.

LYDEN: ...and I really wanted Pablo to talk about the Final Four because tomorrow night we'll see Kentucky versus Louisville. Pablo?

TORRE: Yeah. I think it's Kentucky. I mean it's, we talk about - do we pay athletes, the controversy about college athletes, but Kentucky, they're pre-professional kids. They're going to go in the NBA draft next year so enjoy them while we have them. I resigned my bracket. It's been exploded. But Kentucky is going to win this thing.

LYDEN: All right. I think that wraps it up for this week. And I want to thank everybody for being here. Jimi, thank you so much.

IZRAEL: Thank you.

LYDEN: Jimi Izrael is a free lance journalist and he joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre, Sports Illustrated, WWNO in New Orleans. Mario Loyola, he joined us from member station KUT in Austin. And Ken Rudin, our political junkie, thank you, Ken. Thank you, everybody.

RUDIN: Thanks, guys.

TORRE: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Thank you.

LYDEN: And that's our program for today. I'm Jacki Lyden. This is TELL ME MORE. Let's talk more on Monday.

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