Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

The men in this week's Barbershop weigh in on the latest "Jena Six" developments, reports of racial tension on the University of Maryland's campus and the latest news in the NFL.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, we hear your thoughts about our September 11th anniversary coverage and other stories. BackTalk is next.

But first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and whatever's on their minds.

In the chairs for a shape-up this week are Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Joe Madison and T.J. Leyden. We're going to continue our conversation about the racially changed events in Jena, Louisiana. The guys will also talk about an alleged hate crime at the University of Maryland, and maybe we'll get to football. I may jump in if they let me.

But for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey. Hey. Fellows, welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

JOE MADISON: Hey. Doing good.

LEYDEN: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Now, in the case of six young black men for the assault of the young white teen heats up in Jena, Louisiana, rappers like Mos Def try to fire up the outrage. And, Ruben, last week, you said something that kind of caught me off guard, that you didn't see this as an incident involving race. I wonder if you'd expound on that point for me a bit, bro.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: I think what I said was this is not a good victim case because the people who you would normally rally around and say, well, these folks are the victims, were actually the victimizers, they actually victimized somebody else. The person who is victimized, the real victim, was the guy who got his butt kicked, not the ones who did the kicking.

And so I thought that was going to be a problem. It wasn't quite a moral parallel with Rodney King, where you're sort of sitting there and all of a sudden the police start jump on you, beating you with batons. And I said that by way of sort of explaining why I think this won't have as much resonance around the community, even within the black community. People, I think, are more inclined to feel ambivalent about this because it is not cut and dry.

IZRAEL: Well, it doesn't have to be cut and dry. These boys can't get a fair shot in court. I mean, Joe, do you see that?

MADISON: Oh, no. I mean, obviously, he's wrong on all account because it has resonated around the country.

LEYDEN: Hey, Joe. Welcome to the party.

IZRAEL: The black eagle just swooped down on my arm.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMITATING A HAWK)

MADISON: That sounds more like a hawk.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Okay. Well, look, I'm not a bird guy. Just kick it, Joe. Kick it.

MADISON: But b- look, you're talking about - in a town of 3,000-plus people, possibly 20,000 young people are going to show up. And here is why it is a racial issue. First of all, it started off as a racial issue with the hanging nooses. Second of all, it was a school fight. And as all the young people are saying, even in the barbershops, that, look, kids have fights all the time. The victim, the so-called victim, was supposedly kicked to almost an inch of his life. He ended up being released after two and a half hours in the hospital, went to a graduation event, and, I think, later on, went to a party.

The other thing was that you had a prosecutor who, when the students were demonstrating because the principal had suggested they be expelled. Matter of fact, he'd recommended they be expelled. The school board ended up overturning the principal and only suspending them. And the prosecutor walks in, tells the students, who had a right to protest, if you all don't get back to your class and stop this mess, I'm going to pull this pen out and with this pen, I can ruin your lives.

And then you had a situation where a white student pulled a shotgun out on a group of young black men. The black men were able to take the shotgun away from him. The police showed up, arrested the black men for stealing the shotgun.

IZRAEL: So...

NAVARRETTE: The conversation goes far afield. All of a sudden, we're talking about - we're talking about shotguns, we're talking about (unintelligible) that comes inside...

MADISON: No. We're - no.

IZRAEL: Okay. Okay. Okay, Joe.

MADISON: No. No. No. Excuse me. We're talking about Jena.

NAVARRETTE: Okay. Joe. I'm going to bring you back to the beating. I'm going to bring you back to the beating.

IZRAEL: Joe. Joe. Joe. Bringing it back to Jena, What do your callers say when they call in?

MADISON: No, what they're saying is that this is an overreaching prosecution of six, young, black men who were given tremendous bails that I think over $90,000 as if they were a flight risk from Jena, and they're also saying it was a fight. This was a fight. And what I hear often being said, particularly by conservatives, is, oh, did you see the photographs of the victim? Somebody has to pay. But you don't pay with 20-year sentences that would, in essence, ruin these young men's lives. But the bottom line is this...

IZRAEL: Well said, Joe.

NAVARRETTE: Somebody has...

IZRAEL: Bottom line for me, Joe. Hold on. Hold on.

NAVARRETTE: I've been talking for, like, five minutes here. Hold on a second.

IZRAEL: I know. (Unintelligible) the bottom line is.

MADISON: That's because...

NAVARRETTE: If I may - can I break into the filibuster, if I may? Last week, somebody talked about community service. Now, somewhere between the death penalty and community service is where you need to be, and we need to take this stuff seriously. This doesn't mean they should get the book thrown at them, but community service, a slap on the risk. You know, one on one is a fight. Five on one, six on one, that's Bensonhurst. That's a whole different story. That's a mob.

IZRAEL: T.J., T.J., check in on this, bro. Don't let these brothers bogart the mic, bust it.

LEYDEN: You know, it's a fight. It's a fight that got out of hand that the principal should have stopped the very freaking beginning. This is insanity. You know, the white kid got his butt kicked. Take a butt whippin'. He went to a party later that night. Be a man, stand up and just say, hey, we put the nooses in the tree, I got my butt kicked. End of story.

MARTIN: I just want to point out that T.J.'s a former skinhead, so he knows a little bit about what he's talking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It's true.

IZRAEL: Don't hand-drop that sign, T.J.

LEYDEN: I was white supremacist, and the whole thing with a tree. Come on, man, that was meant to be a derogatory thing towards blacks. The principals and everybody else didn't straighten it out, so the kids straightened it out, and kids don't have, a lot of times, have brains. And, yeah, this kid got beat, but for these kids to face 20 years - that's absurd. For them to face, you know - fine, you want to give them some time, have them do a few weekends in jail, have them do some community service and just stop it.

IZRAEL: Now, T.J, let's talk about these nooses for second. Now this is the second time we see a noose in less than six months. We see a noose...

LEYDEN: Right.

IZRAEL: ...on the campus of the...

LEYDEN: Right.

IZRAEL: ...University of Maryland. Now these copycat crimes often is kind of a cry for attention that causes hysteria but, you know, racial discourse has become the new bomb threat or the next fire alarm. But, T.J., you're a former skinhead and you teach about tolerance, what's up with the throwback nooses? Why do you think we've seen a rash of this throwback-style, racial-intimidation tactics? What's up with that?

LEYDEN: Personally, I think, political correctness went so far one way, now it's coming back the other way to be, like, politically incorrect. I also think it's used. I mean, South Carolina - the first time two black fraternities are allowed on the campus, some white fraternity guys think it's going to be funny, they drive a truck - two truck loads of cotton, pour them on the black fraternity's lawn, and then take pictures of the black fraternity brothers having to clean up their yards, and they post it on the Net thinking it was hilarious. The nooses were another, you know, sign to say just remember where you're at.

IZRAEL: Wow.

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely.

IZRAEL: Joe, how do you read that? What do you think about the nooses? The sudden reappearance of the noose as a racial intimidation tactic?

MADISON: Sudden? We've dealt with this...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yo, yo, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe...

MADISON: I mean...

IZRAEL: ...Joe, I don't know - I do - I don't know where you live, but there's no nooses hanging from the trees in my neighborhood.

MADISON: Knock on wood. Knock on wood.

IZRAEL: And then the nooses hanging from the...

IZRAEL: Right. Not yet. Well, I haven't been home in about an hour but, you know, check this out...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MADISON: But, I mean, when you say it's sudden appearance. Look, this happens all the time, guys. It happens, you know, in college campuses. It happens with KKK. You know what doesn't happen? It doesn't get reported. It doesn't get the attention that this story has gotten.

IZRAEL: Hmm. Yup.

MADISON: As a matter of fact, I mean...

IZRAEL: Hold on second.

MADISON: Wait, you've been waiting a minute a lot, man. Wait a minute. Let me point out something.

IZRAEL: Okay.

MADISON: Look at how the media handles this rape case in West Virginia. I mean, I wish somebody would do a comparison between...

LEYDEN: Right. Right.

MADISON: ...the number of stories done on this case versus Michael Vick.

IZRAEL: Ruben, do you buy that this happens a lot and that these things go under reported? Are you buying that?

NAVARRETTE: I don't buy that it happens a lot. I think if it happens once, it happens too often. The Ku Klux Klan is back. Its membership is up, but the reason it's up is because of illegal immigrants, not because of African- Americans. It's because it's used as a recruitment tool. The hate crimes are up against immigrants and Latinos, and all that's happening. But back in the '90s, even you talked about going after black students on college campuses. There's something going on here - the noose is just a part of it - but it's about trying to keep people in their place. This whole business of, like...

LEYDEN: Yes.

NAVARRETTE: Trucks and cotton and all this. It's about saying, listen, we don't like affirmative action that lets Latinos and African-Americans on two college campuses. So once you get there, we reserve the right to pelt with tacos. I think that this is a resistance by an ignorant generation that, frankly, didn't do the Civil Rights Movement.

You know, I think your point there is well taken, Jimi, because we did think a lot of this stuff was dead and buried. And for folks who were just born in the '60s, didn't live through the '60s, we would like to think that we don't have to deal with this stuff anymore. So there is kind of resurgence to it. I agree with you that it went away for a while or it went underground for a while, but now it's back in a big way. And I think it's back for the same reason - because folks are trying to keep people in their place. But don't forget now that also extends to a whole different other types of folks - gay folks, you know, Latino folks, all sort of folks.

MARTIN: Okay, I got to bust in. If you're just joining us, I'm here with the Barbershop guys: Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, T.J. Leyden and Joe Madison. We're talking about Jena Six case in Louisiana among other things.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel.

You know, T.J., I think Ruben makes a good point, but are there a lot of things slipping up on on the radar that people just aren't aware of?

LEYDEN: Oh, yeah, there's hate crimes every day in this country, and there's attacks that happen all the time. It's just - which one does the media pick up on a slow day?

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Joe made a good point about the West Virginia case. We have to keep everything in perspective. Okay?

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: We're getting worked up over nooses. Now let's get really worked up over the fact that somebody - a young woman - a black woman - was kept in a shack and was beaten up and was called racial names and slurs and was stabbed and beaten; and that is a hate crime.

IZRAEL: I hear you, Ruben, but I don't think we know the facts about what's happened in that case. Now, I think, we're all waiting for more stuff to come out. Because sometimes, you know, you see something and it's reported but it doesn't always look like the way it's reported. So I think we're all waiting for more facts to come out, just like a lot of - like, including me, waiting for more facts to come about Jena.

Now, you know what, let's move on - talking about the spinal injury of Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett who may walk again, but only by the grace of God.

Joe, is it time to reexamine and reequip the game of football?

MADISON: No. These are freak accidents. They happen. Men are - and as one who has played football all his life, I'm here to tell you that people are bigger; they're faster; the equipment is better than it's ever been. It was a freak accident. And they have happened in football ever since there's been football. It happens in boxing. It happens in basketball. It's part of sports, and I don't know how you can reequip, I don't know what else you can do unless you just have robots playing instead of human beings.

LEYDEN: In other words...

IZRAEL: That's not that worst idea. T.J., go ahead. Turn them in.

LEYDEN: No, you have more head injuries in soccer than you have in football. And you know what, you have more wrist injuries and more shoulder injuries in baseball than in football.

MADISON: I mean, I played rugby and you...

LEYDEN: These are highly conditioned athletes. They're professionals.

MADISON: You want a rough sport? Play rugby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LEYDEN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Ruben, Ruben, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: You know, if - it's a sad story, brother. It's a sad, tragic story. And I'll tell you, when I found out that this kid's, like, 25 years old...

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: You know, it was Everett's first game or it was - I mean, sure it was the season opener for the Bills but, I mean, this is a horrible tragedy. But if the conversation's about safety in professional sports, we need to talk about steroids, we need to talk about concussions - a story not long ago about how the NFL keeps players in there after multiple concussion, you know? So, there's lots of different ways - less dramatic ways that somebody can be seriously hurt playing a game like this. Things we can do something about. And even if it is a freak accident, it's just a very sad and tragic story, and it's worth taking a look at how these things happen because you certainly don't want anymore of these things to happen.

MADISON: Mm-hmm. And you know what...

IZRAEL: Well, you know what, here's me. Me and the black eagle agree so far as, you know, as callous as I sounds, football players know the risk going in. Now that said, it's high time to upgrade the safety equipment in this dangerous sport. You know what? And if this time it was okay with everybody, I want to throw prayers up to Everett. Take it homeboy and let God run it back.

And at this moment, we're going to wrap it up. I'm going to run the ball back to that girl, M and M, Michel Martin. Hit it.

MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael is an opinion - thank you, Jimmy.

IZRAEL: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is an opinion writer and blogger. He joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from KPBS in San Diego. Joey Madison, the black eagle, is host of "The Joe Madison Show" on XM radio. He joined us here at our studio in Washington. And Tom "T.J." Leyden is a former skinhead. He now works promoting racial tolerance, speaking around the country. He joined us from our NPR bureau in Culver City.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks so much.

MADISON: Thank you.

LIDEN: Thanks.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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