MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, my regular "Can I Just Tell You?" essay, and a mid-week treat for you. The a capella singing group Traces of Blue will be here. That is coming up. But first, we take a visit to the "Beauty Shop." That's where our roundtable of women writers, journalists and commentators talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.
In the chairs for a new 'do this week are three of our regular contributors. Keli Goff is political correspondent for TheRoot.com, Danielle Belton is editor-at-large for Clutch Magazine and Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site. Welcome back, everybody. Thank you all so much for joining us.
DANIELLE BELTON: Oh, good to be here.
KELI GOFF: Thanks for having us.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Good to be back.
MARTIN: So we do want to talk about something that many people are still talking about, and that is the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. We are starting now to hear from some of the key players that we hadn't had a chance to hear from before. One of the jurors, who's identified as B37, spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday and talked about how emotional that final vote was.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")
JUROR-B37: It was just hard thinking that somebody lost their life and there's nothing else could be done about it. I mean, it's what happened. It's sad. It's a tragedy this happened, but it happened. But I think - I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think both of them could have walked away. It just didn't happen.
MARTIN: Now, interesting new development. Four of the other jurors - remember, there were six overall - issued a statement yesterday through the court saying that that juror's opinions were, quote, not in any way representative of the four of them. So of course, now I'm more interested than ever about what went on in that jury room. So I just wanted to ask about each of you - your response to all of which you've heard so far, and, Danielle, I'll start with you.
BELTON: You know, I was not surprised at the backlash she got for the interview and the fact that she was going to do this book. It made all of her motives seem suspect from the beginning, the fact that, you know, she's married to a lawyer. Did she try to get on this jury on purpose with the whole intention of writing a book about it? Did she already have a preconceived notion about what she thought had happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman?
It just - there's so many questions surrounding this woman because of how she's conducted herself, and so I'm not surprised that the other jurors are like, you know, whoa, whoa, whoa, I don't want to have any of this on me, like, wait, we didn't all agree on this.
MARTIN: Well, now she says she's not going to write the book. And I was also puzzled by how she's disguising her identity, but then you can't - I don't think you can do a book tour that way, so. Bridget Johnson, what are your thoughts now, hearing this? Does it change anything about the way you thought about this whole thing?
JOHNSON: I tell you, that part two last night was just even more - I'm just like, oh, my goodness, this is getting dingbattier the more it goes on, you know. And, you know, first of all, she's, you know, not too smart in the first place, where she says that she wants to sell a book, but then she goes and tells everything that would be in the book to Anderson Cooper. So why would anybody be gullible enough to buy the book in the first place want to buy it now?
But so I was thinking about this and I'm just like, OK, so what is this woman's issue and why she is so tight with George - as, you know, she kept calling him - and why does she identify with him so much? And it just really kind of struck me that, you know, I think that they are both narcissistic personalities because, you know, she's decided to take it upon herself to speak for the entire jury, you know, with/without their approval. She emotionally declares that she should get out of jury duty for the rest of her life, even though the Martins should get to not hear from her that their son bore the big responsibility for his death. And so, I just - I'm really amazed that this woman made to the jury pool.
MARTIN: Keli Goff, what about you?
GOFF: Well, I found it fascinating. You know, I have a piece coming up for The Root about this whole notion of blaming the victim and how often that term is thrown around, and sometimes I think it's thrown around too much in society. But what I also find is fascinating is how who we blame as victims tends to be largely related, I think, on issues of, like, race or class. And what I mean by that is what is fascinating is how much she kept saying she blames them both equally, they're both responsible, and yet she's admitted and said herself that George Zimmerman never should have gotten out of his car.
So I was just a little stumped as to why it ended up being the deceased teenager's fault that he's dead equally as to the man who got out of the car and she - she, as the juror acknowledges, instigated the entire thing. And I also found it fascinating that she could not articulate to Anderson Cooper effectively why it is that she blamed Trayvon more, what it was he was doing to look and act suspicious, yet it had nothing to do with race. I was just kind of at a loss by that.
MARTIN: But to push back a little bit here, Keli, that her argument at the end of the day is that the law required this, and you can disagree with the law and you can try to change it - she didn't say this, I'm saying this - but the law, in her view, required this outcome. The law did not have a provision for comparative negligence, for example.
MARTIN: The law does not, in her view - and she feels that the jury instructions, as she understood them, suggest that Zimmerman - whatever happened prior to the encounter, if he, in that moment, felt threatened, that he had the right to defend himself, even using deadly force.
GOFF: Well, don't get me wrong. I think it's a bad law and this is actually a larger issue which I am working on a piece for The Root about this - about how many people take pride in getting out of jury duty, and then we often sit back and ridicule the not particularly bright people who end up on juries, which I think is part of the story.
You know, it is a funny thing, except that it's not when verdicts like this happen. But yet, I go back to, even though it's a bad law, I just found it very contradictory to say that someone's standing their ground from something that they started. That wouldn't fly for Judge Judy. I find it hard to believe it flew in this situation.
MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit more about the trial and then I want to hear it from each of you, where you think this conversation goes from here, where you think it should go from here. And finally, again, we heard again from one of the witnesses who got a lot of attention, spent most the - time on the stand, I believe, of any of them, Rachel Jeantel, who was a prosecution witness. And she spoke with CNN's Piers Morgan and this is just a little bit of what she had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PIERS MORGAN LIVE")
RACHEL JEANTEL: I had a feeling it was going to be a not guilty, so.
PIERS MORGAN: Because of the makeup of the jury? Do you think it was just wrong that you had no black people on the jury at all?
JEANTEL: Not that. They don't understand. They understand, oh, he was just bashed, or he was killed. When somebody bash somebody like, blood people - trust me, in the area I live, that's not bashing. That's just called whoop ass.
MARTIN: So, Danielle, I mean, I'm just - I mean, I did - we did learn a lot of things about this young woman, the fact that she has an underbite, for example, and that she - which she needs surgery to correct. And I thought that was interesting to hear that that's in part why it was hard, sometimes, to hear what she had to say. It was very fascinating to me because we had a famous plastic surgeon on the program who had a similar condition. Now he's a famous celebrity plastic surgeon, but that's, in part, why he became one, because he had such a significant underbite that it made him hard to be understood and it subjected him to a lot of ridicule.
So I thought it was, you know - all the weird connections that the universe makes. But what do you - Danielle, so what do you make of this? I mean, having heard her now, is there anything that this changes for you or brings up for you?
BELTON: I have felt the same about her throughout, that she was a person thrust into extraordinary circumstances while being a very ordinary person. This is not someone who expected the spotlight or wanted the spotlight, like in the case of this particular juror who, I mean, basically rushed to do Anderson Cooper.
Rachel Jeantel didn't even want to be at the trial. So I feel like this continued to humanize her, perhaps for some people, and in some cases, maybe even painted her in a better light because she had been, you know, just sometimes a little bit difficult during the trial. But for me, personally, it didn't change my view of her.
MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think about it?
JOHNSON: You know, it's even, you know, worse now with what the juror said, when you bring out, you know, why she had some problems talking, because the juror said that she was unintelligible because of the type of life that they live and how they're living in the environment that they're living in.
So she made it, you know - so this racial socioeconomic thing, and, you know - and I was a little bit uncomfortable with what Piers Morgan said. I mean, I'm glad that she got to talk. I'm glad she got to respond to Don West...
MARTIN: But you had some interesting thing...
JOHNSON: ...But it was kind of a...
MARTIN: ...To say about the fact that Piers Morgan, for some reason, had an in-studio audience...
MARTIN: ...When he was interviewing her, as opposed to the fact that the juror with Anderson Cooper was interviewed by herself.
MARTIN: You have a thought about that. What is it?
JOHNSON: Yeah, so it was, you know, kind of, you know, this live forum with studio audience in the round, so it was almost still like putting an oddity of sort on display. And so, you know, I just still felt, you know, uncomfortable with the medium he was using.
And yes, you know, it was entertaining to watch her, you know, give Piers Morgan a street saying - slang lesson, but now, unfortunately, where Rush Limbaugh feels emboldened to use the N-word. So, you know, it's - it...
MARTIN: He does?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure how - yeah, he was using it on...
MARTIN: He used the N-word on...
JOHNSON: ...the air because he said that she did, so...
MARTIN: Because it's a new thing. It's new school and it has a different meaning now.
MARTIN: Well, that's an argument that's been made before, I mean, as we know. Well, we'll see how well that goes if he uses that at a football game.
MARTIN: See if that works - how that - as Dr. Phil would say, how is that working for you?
MARTIN: Keli, what about you? Final thought about this for you? I know you actually - you had an interesting comment that you were actually very critical of President Obama, which is noteworthy to me because a lot of the conservative media, including one of the outlets - the outlet that Bridget Johnson writes for, PJ Media, has been very critical of President Obama in this.
Their argument being, that he should never had really commented on this trial, that he should have not had made the association with Trayvon Martin himself, which he said last March where he said - he kind of noted the similarity to - in physical appearance. You're critical in the other way. Tell me about that.
GOFF: Yeah, and I think the reason my piece sort of went a little - got picked up a bit is because people know I have not been - historically - I mean, I very much get he was elected to be the president of the United States of America, not the United States of black America, and so I totally get that. On the other hand, you know, just like any president before him who has a demographic that was their most reliable voting bloc, they tend to address the needs of that community if there is a specific incident or issue that pertains to that community, and we haven't really seen President Obama do that.
I mean, as I explain in my piece on The Root, it's sort of like he's run so far from race, he risks running off of a cliff, which was somewhat understandable before the last election because his poll numbers always went down whenever he mentioned race. And when I say always, I mean the three times he did, you know, which was the Beer Summit situation and when - with Trayvon, I'm not sure what conservatives expected him to say when was asked about it - no comment? I mean, he said, if I had a kid, he'd look like him, which is not exactly setting the roof on fire with crazy, inflammatory racial rhetoric...
MARTIN: But what should he have said...
GOFF: ...And so...
MARTIN: ...Now in your opinion? What should he...
JOHNSON: What I would...
MARTIN: ...Have said in your view?
JOHNSON: ...Liked him - to have heard him say, either in this statement or in any interview or any statement, is what some of my white conservative friends who believe this verdict was correct still acknowledge, which is that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled. And I don't need the president to go on TV and say, you know what, it's tough being a black man in America, but it would be nice to hear him acknowledge that that issue exists in the same way the Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that racial profiling exists, and that that's what leads to tragedies like this.
President Obama didn't even mention race in his 166 word statement. He mentioned gun violence. He mentioned, you know, this is a tragedy for America. It is. Guess what? It's a particular tragedy that every black woman who has a black son who now has to worry about carrying a pack of Skittles when he walks down the street at night. And the president is the most famous black man in the world and he can't even say that, Michel. It really, you know - if he can't say it now, when are we waiting for? The last week he's in office? I mean, when is he going to address these types of things?
MARTIN: We're talking with Bridget Johnson, Danielle Belton and Keli Goff about the Zimmerman verdict and other news of the week. Bridget Johnson, what about that? I mean, your outlet in particular has been extremely critical of the president for talking about this at all. They've said that that's narcissistic. That he's a narcissist and that he is the reason that racial tensions are inflamed over this issue. So what do you think? What do you say to what Keli just had to say?
JOHNSON: Well, and, you know, I've been asked about it on a, you know - I've done a whole slew of conservative talk shows on this case, and I've, you know, been asked about, you know, well, should the Black Caucus be, you know, involving themselves, should Obama be involving himself? And what I can just really point out is I think that, you know, one of the most valuable things to come from this on the conversation about race is actually what the Martin family is doing.
I've looked at this, you know - this Trayvon Martin Foundation that they've started, and, you know, they're going to be doing, you know, prayer circles for parents of murdered children, talking about youth conflict resolution, black on black violence and just gun violence, etc. And, you know, I have a feeling that what they're doing is going to be more valuable than what comes out of Washington on this.
MARTIN: Danielle, what would you like to see come from this? I know you wrote a piece for The Root talking about that - analyzing, you know, Mark O'Mara - defense counsel Mark O'Mara's statement that if the situation had been reversed, if George Zimmerman had been black and if Trayvon had been white, that he wouldn't have even been charged. And you're saying that just - that that's an example of why, you know, advocates should stay in their lane...
BELTON: Oh, gosh.
MARTIN: ...And not pass as research scientists because you're saying the data is actually completely the other way.
BELTON: Exactly. It's like a statistical anomaly for a black person to be able to plea self-defense - especially in the case of killing a white person - and actually win that and get a justifiable claim.
MARTIN: But having said that, what would you like to see happen now? What conversations, if any, do you - would you like to see flow from this?
BELTON: Well, I mean, I always hope that this will lead to more frank discussion on race. I don't expect, necessarily, that to happen. Race is always the big elephant in the room. People don't like to deal with it. People don't like to talk about it. People like to pretend that if you bring up race, somehow you're the - now the racist for talking about it in the first place. I'd hope that we'd all mature from this. I'd hope we take seriously the issue of racial profiling and hope we take seriously the deaths of black boys and men in America.
I'd hope we'd take seriously the fact that we have - we profile these young boys and men from a very early age and set them on a path that could easily - where, you know, one false move, one mistake, you end up, you know, on the path to prison. You know, one in three black men, at some point in their lives, will spend some time in prison and that's an alarming statistic. So I'd hope we'd get serious with talking about these issues.
MARTIN: I'm not sure it's one in three will spend some time in prison. I think that under criminal justice supervision, which can mean a variety of things.
MARTIN: But having said that, can I just push back on you? Aren't we having this conversation? I mean, every conversation is not going to be at a high level, it's not going to be high-minded, but, you know, it's hard to be high-minded at 140 characters or less, which is how...
MARTIN: ...But aren't we having the conversation? Isn't that, in fact, what we're doing?
BELTON: Well, we're having it and, I mean, that's great. We've had it before. I'm just saying that it's hard to get it on the deeper level where it actually changes something.
MARTIN: Do you think that's true, Bridget?
JOHNSON: You know, I do, and, you know, I was thinking about Rep. Robin Kelly, who replaced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois and, you know - and she was actually, basically, counting, you know, a lot of what conservative pundits were saying, saying, well, you know, how come you're not talking about how - all those shooting deaths in Chicago and how come you're just talking about Trayvon?
She came on yesterday and said, yeah, you know, we need to talk about shooting deaths in Chicago, violence in the inner cities. You know, we need to take the passion and the fervor that's coming from frustration and anger about this case and channel it into what is going on every single day on our streets.
MARTIN: And I - again, I have to push back on that.
MARTIN: Why do you even know about these cases if it weren't for the fact that we've reporting on them and that people have been marching on them and crying over them and praying on them. I'd like to know how many of these conservative pundits have ever, ever been to a march in the inner-city for a girl like Hadiya Pendleton or a young man here, a Howard University student who was shot on the street. And, yes, there was a massive prayer vigil and march in his behalf just this past weekend. So, again, I have to say, who isn't crying? Who isn't marching?
I mean, how else do we know about these things, but for the fact that people in these communities have been outraged, pleading for the attention of anybody to pay attention to these things? I always ask, what are these parents are supposed to do? If they don't agitate and demonstrate about it, then they are perceived to not care. If they do agitate and demonstrate about it, people say, oh, you're an agitator. What are they supposed to do? I mean, you tell me.
BELTON: I don't think you have a choice in these sort of matters. You can't give up in trying to create awareness and trying to get this type of attention 'cause we do have a serious problem here.
GOFF: And can I also just say, too, that I think that what - it's - the article that we, all of us wrote after Sandy Hook, right, which is that...
GOFF: ...We have been covering these deaths in Chicago. The mainstream media may not have been, but a lot of us were...
GOFF: ...And I think the thing with Trayvon that's important...
MARTIN: We have...
GOFF: ...And why...
MARTIN: We have...
MARTIN: Keli, I'm sorry...
GOFF: That's OK.
MARTIN: ...We have to leave it there. Keli Goff is a political correspondent for The Root. She was with us from NPR New York. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site. Bridget Johnson was here in Washington, D.C. Danielle Belton is editor-at-large for Clutch Magazine online. Thank you all so much for joining us.
BELTON: Thank you, Michel.
GOFF: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.