What Does Race Have To Do With It?

Host Michel talks about the role race played — or didn't play — in the criminal trial of George Zimmerman. She speaks with Corey Dade, contributing editor for TheRoot.com, and Roger L. Simon, founder of PJ Media.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program, we will speak with our diverse panel of parents to ask them what they're saying to their children about the Trayvon Martin story. And - but first, we're going to continue our discussion of the George Zimmerman trial and the tremendous interest it has sparked in social and traditional media. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara and Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump both talked about the racial overtones of this case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZIMMERMAN TRIAL)

MARK O'MARA: So if only those who decide to condemn Mr. Zimmerman as quickly and as viciously as they did, would have taken just a little bit of time to find out who it was that they were condemning, it would never have happened, and it certainly wouldn't have happened if he was black.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annals of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all.

MARTIN: As we just heard from Jenee Desmond-Harris, there is the legal case and then there's the case that's been playing out in the court of public opinion, particularly on social media. So we've called two people who've been watching and participating in that realm in this trial. We've called on Roger L. Simon. He's the founder of PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site.

He was formerly serving as CEO, but he's since left that job to return to his first love of screenwriting, which he's been writing about this case. Also joining us is Corey Dade. He's a contributing editor for TheRoot.com. As we mentioned, that's an online publication with - covering issues of particular interest to African-Americans. And he's been following this issue closely. Roger Simon, Corey Dade, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

COREY DADE: Thank you, Michel.

ROGER L. SIMON: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Roger Simon, I'm going to start with you, because you've been writing - I don't know what word you would use. I would say inflammatory. I don't know what word you would choose - acerbic, astringent - pieces about this.

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTIN: What word would you - would use?

SIMON: Yeah, uh-huh. Well, you know, I feel very emotionally wound up about it like everybody else does, and I think part of it comes - one of the parts of the story of my intro you - yeah, I'm a screenwriter, but I'm also a veteran of the civil rights movement.

I lost the use of my left hand in South Carolina in 1966, and I, later on, when I was a young screenwriter in Hollywood making more money than I should have, I was a big donor to the Black Panther Party - black Breakfast Program. So it shows you how far I came, and...

MARTIN: Well, let me just say - let me just tell people what you run, in case they're not familiar with your writing. You say that, congratulations to the jury for not acceding to this tremendous pressure and delivering the only conceivable honest verdict. This case should never have been brought to trial.

SIMON: Exactly.

MARTIN: It was, quite literally, the first American Stalinist show trial. And you go on to lambast a number of individuals who you feel injected race into this case, where you say it doesn't belong. Who are you talking about, and who are you talking to with this writing?

SIMON: I'm trying to talk to as many people who want to read it. You know, when you're writing on the Internet, you're getting - I get a fair amount of readers and I don't know who I'm talking to. But I'm talking to a lot of people.

But here is - what I'm trying to say is this was a big mistake. This hurts race relations, this case, because there is no actual proof that George Zimmermann is or was a racist. There's just no evidence. The FBI did a three-week investigation of it, came up with zilch.

The man is a mixed-race person. He's got black blood. He's got Hispanic blood. And, you know, he may have been the kind of guy who - look, a wannabe cop is one term for it. He may - I understand he was an insurance investigator.

I personally don't carry a gun. I wouldn't trust myself because I'm too sloppy, and I might shoot myself or some innocent person in the leg.

MARTIN: All right, but the activism here was...

SIMON: This is not a civil rights case.

MARTIN: But the activism here was instigated by his parents, who felt that law enforcement was not acting appropriately in this case. How is this any different from what Chandra Levy's parents did? I mean, what should they have done if they do not feel that law enforcement was acting appropriately?

SIMON: You know, I don't know the answer to that question at all. I really don't. I can't give you an answer to that. But all I can say is making a big deal about this case, when there are so many murders across this country much more horrendous than this one - this is, was, to some degree, anyway, an accident.

And the jury were correct in finding that, because there's no way of knowing what was in the hearts of either of these people really. The only piece of evidence in this case of any probative value was the one man who saw Trayvon on top. That's it. There's no other real evidence.

MARTIN: OK, stand by, Roger Simon. I want to hear from you again. Corey Dade, there are obviously a lot of people who do think it's a big deal. And the implication that a lot of the conservative press is this is being led by individuals like Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. In your reporting, do you think that that's true?

DADE: Well, I think, for starters, I want to respond to something Roger said. You know, you asked him if he - if the family of Trayvon Martin should have handled this differently, and he didn't have an answer. Well, in the absence of an answer, then how can you say this is sort of the wrong way to go? I think that's worth putting out there.

I think, for starters, it is true that this did not begin as a case where the parents wanted some kind of racial justice in the strictest sense. They wanted justice, they wanted an arrest. I think what people need to keep in mind is that when this shooting first occurred, this had universal reaction among people of all races, of all hues and ages, of horror, because it was, at the end of the day, about a child getting killed who was unarmed.

So you had parents really reacting most strongly, and that carried out on the Internet on social media. When the civil rights activists started getting involved, that's when the tone and tenor of the reactions in social media and in the public shifted.

There were many people, many non-blacks, but many people in general, who felt like this was race-baiting, who felt like they were putting the race card out there. And when that happens, millions of Americans just shut down. They can't, they can no longer see the compassion. They no longer have the compassion for Trayvon Martin. They no longer have any sensitivity for the victim's family, in this case. And that's pervading even now.

MARTIN: One of the things that was interesting about the coverage here...

SIMON: ...Well, I, I don't...

MARTIN: ...Oh, go ahead, Roger Simon.

SIMON: Yeah, I have to absolutely agree with everything Corey said there. I a hundred percent agree.

MARTIN: Did you see, Roger Simon, did you see yourself in this story, and if so, where? Because one of the things that was noteworthy about it is how many people said, I identify with this person or that person. Did you identify with a particular person in this, and if so, who?

SIMON: No I didn't. I, yeah, I didn't identify - first of all, as I say, I'm not a person who believes in individualized justice, so I don't carry a gun, even though I worry about crime in my neighborhood, like most people. I don't like it. And I participate in the neighborhood watch with the other neighbors.

But I don't carry a gun, and I have very mixed feelings about individuals, non-law enforcement, carrying guns. So I don't identify with anybody in here. I just - my whole thing is - we live - I want to see racism end. I'm greatly pleased that the latest polls I have read say that racism has diminished incredibly in our country.

And I ran a company, as you just said, PJ Media, for seven years, so I was tiring and firing people of all races. And I can tell you I never heard one racist comment by anybody. And if I had heard one, they would have been fired instantly. So what I don't like about this case is it exacerbates a situation rather than it helps it.

MARTIN: Well, you know, Salon.com, for example, identified one of your contributors in a piece titled "Most disgusting reactions to Zimmerman acquittal," and one of your contributors, Bob Owens, was identified as number one. And his tweet was, "Trayvon Martin tried to kill George Zimmerman. He just failed at that, as he did everything else in his life." I just wondered if, if you're operating a...

SIMON: I think that's terrible. I - that tweet by Bob Owen - which, of course, I don't watch people's tweets, and I'm not even CEO right now. But if that had gone through me, I would have, I would've x'ed it right out. I think that's terrible.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask each of you, what conversations would you hope would...

SIMON: I have no idea...

MARTIN: ...Would...

SIMON: ...The behavior of - I don't know Trayvon Martin.

MARTIN: What, what kind of...

SIMON: That's a terrible - he did a terrible, he did a terrible thing to - that was wrong of Bob Owens.

MARTIN: What conversations would you hope would ensue from this?

DADE: Conversations.

MARTIN: Yeah, conversations.

SIMON: I wish everybody would shut up.

MARTIN: OK.

DADE: Well...

SIMON: ...You know why - I don't think this discussion in this case - and I participated in it, and I exacerbated in it - I don't think the discussion - because I think this case is anomalous. It is a very weird case that happens almost never of some guy...

MARTIN: OK.

SIMON: ...Of mixed race, probably not working under racial animus, probably because he's nervous about his community and is a little overzealous, accidentally gets himself in a situation where the kid, who may be stronger than he is, and the whole thing went out of kaput and is a very bad accident. And the fact that everybody in the whole country is now going crazy over this accidental thing is, what I wrote in a previous piece, media pornography.

MARTIN: OK, thank you.

SIMON: And I am part of that media pornography.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for participating today, and...

SIMON: ...So I regret it...

MARTIN: ...Thank you for answering our call. Corey Dade, what about you? Final thought from you?

DADE: Well, I think the conversation about this case will continue. I think that the idea that this case will somehow spur some more meaningful racial dialogue, I think it's garbage. I think the truth of the matter is more healthy racial dialogue doesn't exist unless we have a safe place in which we can actually talk about these issues, where all people come to the table and talk about it without feeling defensive. And as long as that's not happening, then this is not going to spark some broader, more meaningful dialogue about race, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Corey Dade, Roger Simon, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

SIMON: I agree with Corey on that one, too.

MARTIN: Thank you both for joining us.

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