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Special Report on Trayvon Martin Case

Aired March 30, 2012 - 20:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: His name was Trayvon Martin, and his death has come to symbolize the racial tensions and suspensions that still exist in America. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

People from across the nation are here in the audience to talk about the case and the questions that it raises. Questions that cut to the heart of a country that promises liberty and justice for all.


CROWD: No justice! No peace!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The killing of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer touches a raw nerve across the nation.

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: I know I cannot bring my baby back, but I'm sure going to make changes so that this does not happen to another family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The absolute facts lie with two people, and one of them is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The case of Trayvon Martin is not unique. A child so innocent killed by a vigilante.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it racially motivated? The answer is absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we worry about is seeking the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Tonight we separate the facts from the hype and the emotion and have a candid conversation about race and justice.

This is about more than Trayvon Martin. This is about the future of every American.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I had a son he would look like Trayvon. I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.


O'BRIEN: I hope we're all ready for the kind of soul searching the president was talking about. There's lots to discuss.

Many young African-American men live with the knowledge that what happened to Trayvon Martin could possibly happen to them. That's true no matter what investigators learn about that horrible night in Sanford, Florida, more than a month ago now.

So tonight, we want to take a hard look at all the aspects of this case and of our law enforcement system, from racial profiling to community watch programs. We're also going to talk about reaction to Martin's killing. Has there been a rush to judgment? Will the outrage and all the media attention bring justice? Or prevent it?

The shooting on February 26th continues to fuel so much reaction, but the fact remains, we still don't know all of the facts.

Here's CNN's David Mattingly with what we do know so far.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, SHOOTER IN TRAYVON MARTIN'S KILLING: These a- holes, they always get away.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That was George Zimmerman's first impression of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, as the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain called 911 in Sanford, Florida, to report a young black man he thought was acting strangely in his gated community.

ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something.

MATTINGLY: It's probably about right here where Zimmerman made that call to police. You can see we're not very far from the entry gates into this neighborhood. At the time it was a little after dark, and it was raining, so Trayvon very likely had his hood up over his head.

Zimmerman leaves his vehicle and follows Martin on foot.

911 MALE DISPATCHER: Are you following him?


911 MALE DISPATCHER: OK. We don't need you to do that.


MATTINGLY: But Zimmerman never makes it back to his car. Minutes later, the sound of a confrontation.

911 FEMALE DISPATCHER: 911. Do you need police or medical?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER: Maybe both. I'm not sure. There's just someone screaming outside.

911 FEMALE DISPATCHER: So you think he's yelling "help?" UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER: Yes. I heard gunshots.

911 FEMALE DISPATCHER: You just heard gunshots?




MATTINGLY: Police find Trayvon Martin shot dead on the ground. Zimmerman has a bloody nose and a cut on the back of his head. He claims self defense. Police do not arrest him.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: You return force when somebody assaults you.

MATTINGLY: But Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of skittles and a can of ice tea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?

CROWD: Justice!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we want it?


MATTINGLY: Martin's death provokes demands for justice.

It's sparks to fade on everything from racial profiling to hoodies, from neighborhood watches to self defense and a controversial Florida law.

CHIEF BILL LEE, SANFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT: By statute, if someone allegations or makes a statement of self defense, unless we have probable cause to dispute that, we cannot make an arrest.

MATTINGLY: And while George Zimmerman remains a free man, Trayvon Martin's parents wait for answers.

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: All I know is that my son was carried away in a body bag, and Zimmerman was left to go and shower and sleep in his bed.

MATTINGLY: The U.S. justice department launches its own investigation. Florida governor Rick Scott names a special prosecutor.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: You can't imagine losing a 17- year-old son.

MATTINGLY: After claims of racial bias rock the Sanford P.D., angry demands for Zimmerman's arrest remain mixed with appeals for patience and calm, as one tragic encounter stirs millions into action.


O'BRIEN: Joining me now, the lawyer for Trayvon Martin's parents, Benjamin Crump. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: The latest today seems to be an eyewitness. A neighbor who would modify the voice because this particular person is worried about being identified. But they describe what was seen, starting with a scuffle. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard a gun go off. Then there's a boy obviously now dead on the ground facing down. There was a man and he was - you know, he didn't appear hurt or anything else. He seemed very -- very worried.


O'BRIEN: The scuffle took place on the grass. This witness seems to be saying, and also that George Zimmerman did not look hurt after the scuffle. What do you make of this?

CRUMP: This certainly is consistent with what we see in that video tape that was riveting for all of America to see.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at some of the evidence that we do know. You have talked to a young woman named Dede, Trayvon Martin's girlfriend. Has Dede spoken to police yet?

CRUMP: Not yet.

O'BRIEN: Why not?

CRUMP: Well, they're setting it up as we speak, as I understand it. What is very telling, Soledad, is the records.

O'BRIEN: The phone records?

CRUMP: The phone records. And at 7:12 was her last call to him. The phone call last for four minutes. At 7:17, according to the police records, they got to the scene and Trayvon was shot and killed on the ground. And that tells us a lot. It tells us that she heard some part of the conversation that happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. And what she heard was not him coming to identify himself as any neighborhood association or anything like that. He said, what are you doing around here? As to suggest that he didn't have a right to be here.

And you listen to the 911 tapes, what he thought about Trayvon. So we can see what his mentality was when he got out of the car.

O'BRIEN: Does it potentially compromise the case that this young woman, who I guess is an ear witness to a large degree, and also has these phone records that could be so critical for the case, if she hasn't talked to police, but she's talked to you first?

CRUMP: Her parents don't want her involved in this, but she has to by law talk. She's going to talk. It's hard, but she's going to go ahead and do it.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit more about Trayvon. He lived in Miami with his mother. He had a passion for dirt bikes. He wanted to be a pilot. He had some issues at school, though. He was disciplined for graffiti and truancy. And they found him carrying some jewelry and a screwdriver. And also suspended. There was a baggie full of residue of marijuana in his book bag.

Much of the conversation over the last week focused on some of these things, his behavior and his record. Things that were leaked to the media. Does it matter?

CRUMP: Absolutely not. It is completely irrelevant as to what happened on the night of February 26th. And I have to say this very quick, because this is troubling.

They ran a background check on Trayvon who is dead on the ground. They don't run a background check on the guy who just shot and killed the kid in cold blood. In essence, what they did, they said that Zimmerman, your word is more credible, and we're going to accept that, just like you profiled him in that 911 tape, this is a little thug on the ground, and he really doesn't deserve a fair and impartial investigation.

O'BRIEN: Those are all the questions and many more that everybody is asking. Who was George Zimmerman? Was he an overly aggressive self appointed neighborhood watchman or a concerned citizen protecting his community after a rash of burglaries?


ZIMMERMAN: He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is.


O'BRIEN: George Zimmerman hasn't said anything publicly about the shooting of Trayvon Martin beyond what he has told police. But we do know some basic facts about him. He's 28 years old. He's married. Hispanic and a registered democrat. Zimmerman was and still is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

According to Sanford police records, he called 911 pretty regularly, 46 times since 2004. He was arrested about six years ago for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest after an incident at a local bar. A plea agreement allowed him to avoid a felony charge.

Zimmerman was enrolled at a local state college but he was asked to withdraw after the Martin shooting. In 2008 he attended a four- month long law enforcement program at the sheriff's office. Zimmerman's father said there's more to his son than the public realizes.


ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S FATHER: The majority of people who have seen the picture of a little boy on TV and a terrible George Zimmerman, at some point when all of this is settled, they will say, you know, George Zimmerman is actually a pretty nice guy. He's color blind when it comes to any race.


O'BRIEN: I want to start with a question to the audience. But I want to see a show of hands if you will. How many people in this room, and you don't have to tell me how you decided, but how many people have already formed an opinion on George Zimmerman's innocence or guilt. Raise your hand.

Pretty much everybody. I see two people with, three people without their hands up. Maybe five total.

Joining me now, HLN anchor, Jane Velez-Mitchell, and defense lawyer Jay Hebert, who is joining us remotely. He's one of the very first attorneys to try stand your ground case in the state of Florida. And also Dr. Alicia Salzer, she is a trauma victim's counselor.

It's nice to have all of you with me.

Alicia, I want to start with you. George Zimmerman, if you can, paint a psychological profile of him from what we know.

DOCTOR ALICIA SALZER, AUTHOR, BACK TO LIFE: So first, the legal disclaimer that I never met George Zimmerman. And I read the same reports that everybody else has. Those are the things that I'm going by.

It seems George was a guy who liked to see himself at the center of justice. He sought out opportunities to be the guy who defended right versus wrong. There's stories in his past that he chased a guy who had stolen a TV or that he tried to defend a friend who was being arrested. And it seemed like he really did enjoy his job on the neighborhood watch where he was the guy who got to make the calls.

Now, these to me are not all necessarily bad traits on a guy on neighborhood watch, even making 46 calls to the cops over the years. That's the call every three months. So, my feeling is, if something isn't going on in the neighborhood every few months maybe you don't need a watch.

What concerns me about George Zimmerman, and this is the big moral flaw that I see, that I find really concerning. Is that man who had a license to carry a gun, chose to bring that gun to a job where he was not permitted to have it. And that is no small thing. That is not a soft line in the sand. That is a moral crevice that he leaped over.

O'BRIEN: Jay, I want to ask you a question as a defense attorney. We have not heard from George Zimmerman. But if you were representing him, what would you tell him? What would you advise him at this point? What would you want to hear from him?

JAY HEBERT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I would want to get all the evidence I could from him. I would want to get the truth out as much as I could so I could research and investigate it, so that I could help him understand the facts of the case.

The bottom line here, and I've said this before, in this particular case is about justifiable use of deadly force. What force did George Zimmerman have exerted against him by Trayvon? And that's the key issue that we have to look at, Soledad.

I think that's where you're going to see other witnesses come out. This investigation is going to be ongoing. I think it's going to be thorough, because I think Seminole county and Sanford, they want to get this right and I think even Trayvon's family, they want the truth to come out. Put all the chips on the table, maybe let a grand jury decide, but let's get it right.

O'BRIEN: Many of the conversations have moved from the facts of the case to race and racial profiling and conversations about George Zimmerman's ethnicity and also Trayvon Martin's race. Why is race such a big issue in this?

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN HOST, JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it shouldn't be, in the sense that we as a culture need to start moving beyond describing people just in terms of their race. And so I think this is an opportunity for us to really look at what do police departments do. Why do they always ask somebody who is reporting something suspicious, is the person black, white or Hispanic?

What's interesting is in the police report, the victim, Trayvon Martin is described five times as a black male in one paragraph in the police report. Now, why are they constantly focusing on the victim being a black male? Is that sort of subliminal racism right there?

O'BRIEN: Friends of George Zimmerman and his father as well have come forward to say that he is not a racist. I want to play a little bit of what they've said.



JOE OLIVER, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S FRIEND: George Zimmerman is not a racist. And this particular case is not based on race.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN: He's color blind when it comes to any race.


O'BRIEN: The conversation has become about race and racism. Why is this so important to answer that question, or is it important to answer the question, is George Zimmerman a racist? SALZER: You know, I observe as a psychiatrist that we do something interesting in the absence of facts. We come up with a bunch of reasons. Why did my husband leave me? Was it he found someone younger?

We invent answers. And because we don't know, we choose the one that we're most scared of. And I think in this situation we don't have answers. And so we've chosen the one that we're most scared of.

What concerns me is that kids across America are sitting at the dinner table with the TV on and hearing a national dialogue and they are seeing people get fired up about something that could be wrong.

And in doing so, they're making decisions about did a guy shoot a kid who was black or is there a whole race of people that hate us as blacks so much that they could shoot us for no reason? And that's what worries me.

O'BRIEN: We want to take a closer look at neighborhood watches. Everybody, of course, wants to keep their community safe. But are some neighborhood watch volunteers frustrated police officers or worse, are they dangerous vigilantes?

We're going to talk about the benefits and the risks, too, as we take you beyond the Trayvon Martin case. We're back in a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have experienced eight burglaries. Most, the majority, of the perpetrators were young black males.

ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drug or something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER: My God. He shot, he shot the person.


O'BRIEN: For weeks Trayvon Martin's family and his supporters have been demanding George Zimmerman's arrest. Zimmerman is a free man right now because of a controversial law in Florida and 20 other states. It's called "Stand Your Ground." It allows citizens to fight force with force when threatened.

Joining me now is Curtis Sliwa, he is a founder of the guardian angels. Also Robert Parker, the former director of the Miami did police department. And also still with us, attorney Jay Hebert who has defended several cases on the Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws.

Nice to see all of you.

Let's begin with you Mr. Sliwa. You obviously founded the guardian angels. And I think your name, it's fair to say is synonymous with civilian patrols. What did George Zimmerman do wrong, and is there anything he did right that night?

CURTIS SLIWA, FOUNDER, GUARDIAN ANGELS: He did nothing right except wake up early that day and begin to stalk people through his paranoia, he thought were looking to commit crime on his compound. A sell-appointed watchman. The other day I was speaking at a high school in New Jersey. And the young kid said you're just like Zimmerman. I wanted to impale myself right there.

So, wait a second. You know, I've buried six guardian angels who have been shot and killed in the line of duty. I was stalked myself. Had a gun at me. Five bullets. God save me. What do you think this is? This isn't Zimmerman. But unfortunately he's become the face of black watch crime watch.

O'BRIEN: How is what he was doing different than the block watch crime watch that you were doing?

SLIWA: Because in the streets we call it mad dogs. He was on a mission. He was solo. He had all the furniture upstairs and rearranged in the wrong rooms. I know everyone is fixated on hoodies. But I know a bunch of young men who wore different colors passed by with hoodies. He fixed on Trayvon. In his mind Trayvon was a hood, a hoodlum, an enemy of society. He has skittles and ice tea going home. The guy felt it. Because you know, when you are in the street, you feel the instinct. Somebody is stalking you. Somebody is on your back. And Trayvon probably at a certain point just decided to stand his ground.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask Parker a question about what it's like to have citizens involved in the patrol. Is it ever helpful to the police officers or do you prefer to not have them involved in sort of how you're handling the crime?

ROBERT PARKER, FORMER DIRECTOR, MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good evening, Soledad. It's very helpful for law enforcement. It is a thing really designed to be extra set of eyes and ears the to law enforcement. And it's termed watch for a specific reason. It's not engage. It's not apprehend. It's not attempt to be a police officer. It is designed to watch and ultimately report to law enforcement.

Occasionally you will have an individual who as scribe early through a profile may not appropriately be assigned a crime watch person or a crime watch captain. I encourage and ask all crime watches in America, if you have this time of personality, your individual and you watch group of organization by all mean, get rid of them.

O'BRIEN: Would you ever want a person who is on a crime watch to be armed?

PARKER: Absolutely not.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question, Jay, about the crime profile in Seminole county. Sanford is the biggest city inside a Seminole county and it leads the county in rape. It leads the county in robbery. It leads the county in burglaries. It leads the county in auto theft. It leads the county in larceny in that city.

Would that have relevance to the case? I mean, is his paranoia, if there is some, make some sense?

HEBERT: Well, here's where that's really relevant. When we look at just file by use of deadly force, we have to look at instructions the jury will get. And the jury's instructions point to say and a reasonable person in a like or similar situation, were they justified in the force that they used? What force was being used against Mr. Zimmerman? And that's going to be the issue.

My prediction is, I think he's going to say that Trayvon reached for gun and therefore he was somehow justified. We have to wait for the evidence in this case. But I don't think some cuts and bruises and a hit to the nose is ever going to rise to the level of justifiable use of deadly force. You have to meet deadly force with deadly force. A knife, a gun, a car. Those are instruments used to apply deadly force. I don't think getting punched in the mouth or hit on the curve is going to rise to that level. And that is going to be the critical issue.

Now, with regard to "Stand Your Ground," the only real difference with that is, it says that you're immune from prosecution if based on pro upon evidence you were entitled to use the deadly force.

The other factor here is what we call the duty to retreat. Normally you have to retreat. Under the "Stand Your Ground" law, you have no duty to retreat. You are able to stand firm and meet force with force. But again, it goes back to the fundamental issue, what was the deadly force being used? That's going to be issue for this state attorney's office, the grand jury and eventually a jury to decide.

O'BRIEN: I want to go to Jay O'Conner in our audience. He has the question about "Stand Your Ground" for our experts.

JAY O'CONNER, AUDIENCE: In this particular case, how do you prove "Stand Your Ground?"

O'BRIEN: So Jay, if you're the attorney here, how would you go about proving that "Stand Your Ground" does, in fact, apply and protects George Zimmerman? And that it doesn't protect Trayvon Martin because it looks like he also could have been protected by stand your ground. Correct?

HEBERT: Correct. It's clear both parties can stand their ground and defend themselves. The bottom line is, this case is going to go one of two ways. There's either going to be independent third party witnesses. And in the police report that was released today, we have at least three witnesses listed. All two white females and a white male and ranges from 20 almost 55 years of age. So, there may be a third party witness that will be a critical player in the case to determine whether or not either party had a right to stand their ground.

If that's not here, then we're left with what we call in the business, a he said/he said or a one on one. And unfortunately, Trayvon is not here to give his version of the facts.

O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, I thank you for that.

A young black teenager wearing a hoodie. So, is it just another average American boy, or is that the picture of a threat? We're going to talk about racial profiling and the often angry back slash against it. Does everybody makes exact judgment based on race?

That's still ahead.


O'BRIEN: Immediately after this case became a national story, the charges of racial profiling started flying. Why in 2012 are we still talking about racial profiling? Shouldn't this be a thing of the past?

Joining me this evening is Harvard Law School professor, Charles Ogletree. He's in Boston. His book, "Presumption of Guilt" is about the wrongful arrest of another Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

And Kadiatou Diallo is the mother of Amadou Diallo. You may remember, he was 22 years old and unarmed back in 1999 when he died after he was shot 41 times by four New York police officers. And back with us again is Alicia Solcer. It's nice to have all of you.

I want to focus on the 911 calls. The call last a little over four minutes. But it's something that everybody is focusing on in this case. Let's play a little bit of the call between George Zimmerman and the dispatcher.


ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around looking about.


O'BRIEN: Professor Ogletree, I'll start with you. To me, at the end of the day, the most important question seems to be what was it that made Trayvon Martin suspicious to George Zimmerman, correct?

CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: He was black, and he was a male, and Zimmerman saw him. This was what the book was all about, as you know, Soledad. It's not about Henry Gates. It's about the presumption of guilt.

You look at someone's skin. You look at what they're wearing, and I talked about the Trayvons of the world. He is now becoming a legend. Every parent, every relative, every siblings, every stranger want to say what do I do about my son or my daughter, what they wear, where they go, it's going to change America's behavior.

And this was in a sense. This was a presumption of guilt. They looked at his face. They saw him dressed. They said, that guy is up to no good. He nothing wrong, but they said he was a man who did something wrong and now he's dead.

O'BRIEN: Do you have to be a racist, and sometimes I feel we throw that word around a lot. Do you have to be a racist to racially profile somebody?

OGLETREE: No, not at all. But the idea of profiling is one of these subjective senses about race, about gender, about age, about class, about dress.

When I talk about the presumption of guilt, people are presumed guilty where they drive, where they live, where they walk, where they jog, where they sleep.

And this is 2012, every parent has to have that fear and I'm not excusing black on black crime. It is just a series of problems, the presumption of guilt. Guilt on people because of the way they look, the way they're dressed, the colors they're wearing. All of this is wrong.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Dialo, your son, Amado, was shot dead by a police. It was a case of mistaken identity. He was reaching for his wallet. We all know now. It happened back in February of 1999. He was 22 years old.

You have been working for the last 13 years, I know, to try to bridge the gap and help people understand and work against racial profiling. Do you feel hopeful or do you feel that this case just proves that maybe your work has been in vain?

KADIATOU DIALLO, SON, AMADOU, KILLED BY POLICE IN 1999: Thank you, Soledad, for having me tonight. Let me tell you what struck me here. My daughter have triplet sons. I'm a grandma now.

She said to me, mom, my sons, three boys are 7 years old today. In 10 years they will be exactly Trayvon Martin's age. Mom, I'm scared. What can we do?

That night, I did not sleep because she's right. We should not deal with these kinds of cases after 13 years of struggle of talk of bringing the debate and judges in mosques, in college campuses, even in high schools.

Let me say, I don't know the technicality of the case. I don't want to comment on the case. But I am curious to know if anybody thought about the size of Mr. Zimmerman and also Trayvon Martin's size.

This is a teenage son who went out and was no threat to him. If the police told him to stop, not to follow him, Martin is going out of his way, why did he think that he has to go and get him, and he looks suspicious?

This was the reason my son was killed 13 years ago, to say that they look suspicious, which is wrong. I do not believe that mothers should teach their children how to go out there, not to raise your hands, not to put your clothes a certain way. So you don't attract any kind of threat on you, whether you be perceived as a suspicious person. I believe this should be out of the question.

O'BRIEN: I want to turn to the audience and introduce you to Chris Ernstein. You're a pastor, correct, and you're from Birmingham?


O'BRIEN: OK, what's your question?

ERNSTEIN: My question is with the tension around this situation, it reminds us of Birmingham. That my wife and I grew up in. We grew up hearing these stories. We weren't a part of Jim Crowe, but we heard about it. And now, what can we do, and what measures can be implement so that this is not a resolving crisis in all communities?

O'BRIEN: Let's put that question to Professor Ogletree because I know you explored solutions in your book. How do you take this event and move it in a direction that 13 years later we're not having the same conversation about what did we learn from Trayvon Martin's death?

OGLETREE: Well, we can't let Trayvon Martin's death be in vain because it was an organic moment of love. All of us would think more critically about it. We have to think about our role -- and law enforcement.

We can't always say we're against law enforcement. We need to have much more diverse law enforcement. We need to talk about community policing where people are on the ground, on the streets talking to people. So they know you're there to protect and serve, not to arrest and profile.

Number three, we need to make sure we educate people about these differences. A person who wears certain amount of clothing, wears a certain design of clothing is not a thug, is not a criminal, is not a gang member.

We have to make sure we understand that. On the same token, we have to make sure we talk to our children about it.

O'BRIEN: You know, we're going to talk next about the hoodie. I've been known to wear a hoodie. Millions of people across the country wear hoodies, of all colors, all ages. We're going to take a look at how one piece of clothing has become so controversial. And whether young black men like Trayvon Martin should watch what they're wearing.



ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining, he's just walking around, looking about.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: And this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?

ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Did you see what he was wearing?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, dark hoodie, like gray hoodie, jeans, sweatpants and white tennis shoes.


O'BRIEN: Who would have guess that the sweatshirt with a hood would become a talking point in the discussion of Trayvon Martin's death. The form of the hoodie was first worn by monks back in the middle ages.

And there's this, the famous sketch of the Unabomber wearing a hoodie. Patriot's coach, Bill Belichick wears a hoodie. Popular figures wear them as well. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and our very own Roland Martin has been seen in a hoodie.

Hoodies obviously are hugely popular, make a fashion statement, but they can also make a negative statement especially if you're a young man of color. Roland is joining us.

He's joined the panel along with Jane Velez Mitchell and the trauma counselor, Dr. Alicia Solcer and also Chris Ogletree is back with us as well. Roland, let's start with you.

How did the hoodie go from being sort of a popular fashion accessory to being something that someone could perceive you as a hoodlum or a thug?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's interesting because it used to be when the hoodies were not popular. So we would see these images of folks who are robbing banks or stores or liquor stores or whatever. That was sort of the image.

I mean, I remember before that it was the stocking cap. If you were a black man, you couldn't wear a stocking cap because folks would say that's a thuggish look as well. The clothes are not the problem. It's the consciousness. The problem here is when you put the clothes on a certain skin that changes everything.

O'BRIEN: So it depends who wears it.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Geraldo Rivera said this. Listen.


GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: Parents, don't let your kids go out wearing these damn hoodies because they could attract the attention of not only the cops, but of nut jobs like George Zimmerman.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: So since then he has apologized and pretty much retracted those remarks. Does he have a point there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Geraldo, it's time to start drinking the (inaudible). You know how we're always afraid we're going to become like our parents and grandparents. Geraldo, where is your street cred?

Why aren't we fixated on the hoodie. It's thug like. If you wear a hoodie like thug, you suck in your bottom lip. You have your trousers down to your butt and all the sudden you're acting big and bad. Then you're acting like a thug.

No one suggests that Trayvon Martin was acting that way. There was a sea of hoodies that day. Zimmerman, he locked on Trayvon because he was on a mission. Trayvon didn't have to have a hoodie. He was going to take out Trayvon. It had nothing to do with the hoodies.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about photos. We have seen photos change over the last couple of weeks, right? We had the first photo we saw of George Zimmerman was a mug shot from 2005. Now you have a smiling picture in a suit and tie. We have seen pictures of a very young Trayvon Martin. Now you have a picture of a slightly older young man with a baby face. Why do the pictures matter?

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST, HLN'S "ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ- MITCHELL": Well, I think that the pictures matter because everybody is trying to visualize what happened that night. So the first photo showed a very young Trayvon who looked really like a child and the first photo shown of Zimmerman in a mug shot wearing orange outfit and then it morphed.

Then we saw Trayvon older and we saw Zimmerman morph into some kind of businessman. So again we're judging based on impressions. And isn't the whole point of this that we shouldn't judge based on superficial impression?

O'BRIEN: But clearly people kept changing the photo because they thought there was a value in what the message they were giving to the jury of the peers.

MARTIN: The court of public opinion is not what we thought happened that night. So if you can create in the court of public opinion that this is a thug image here, all of the sudden you no longer feel sorry for Trayvon.

Now it causes people on the fence to go I might not want to get involved in the case because he might be a thug. He might have sold drugs, the marijuana residue. That's why people say, what happened? He might have been a drug dealer. That's what it's all about.

O'BRIEN: Trayvon Martin's name has become a national rallying cry in the fight against racism. But there is still so much that we don't know about what happened that day. We're going to reflect on whether there's been a rush to judgment or too much hype about this case.


O'BRIEN: Trayvon Martin's death wasn't really noticed by the national media at first. Then, of course, it exploded into a major story. Well known lawmakers and civil rights leaders have added fuel by speaking out and demanding George Zimmerman's arrest.

How have they and we in the news media shaped public opinion about the case? We're bringing back CNN contributor, Roland Martin and joined by Michael Skolnik, he's the editor in chief of He's also the political director for the businessmen in hip hop pioneer, Russell Simmons.

And also with us CL Bryant, he's a Tea Party member, the former president of the Garland Texas Chapter of the NAACP. It's nice to have all of you.

Michael, I want to start with you because really it was you on social media that brought a lot of attention to this case early on. Could you have done it without social media?

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBALGRIN.COM: Well, it's very kind. I think of us, a lot of young people, I think what is amazing about this generation. This story was not in the national spotlight.

We created a story in very early on called he has a name, Trayvon Martin, just to give him dignity when he passed. It was until weeks after that, people started paying attention. Two and a half weeks ago, we had 100 people the first day.

We have 185,000 people today. Young people took this story and made it their own. They brought it to the forefront. They said we care about this young man. We want justice for this young man and now we see it as almost as international discussion.

MARTIN: Here's what most folks don't realize. I first delved into this story on March 9th. I called many of the leading civil rights leaders. They didn't know about this. So if someone wants to frame this as civil rights leaders driving the story, absolutely not. They had to come along because the energy we were amassing on social media, black radio, black web sites.

O'BRIEN: All an indication that the hype was really working.

MARTIN: It was grass roots.

O'BRIEN: and yet lots of evidence that the hype could work against you. And Spike Lee had a retweet that I think he regrets tremendously now. He's apologized to the couple.

MARTIN: He also settled.

O'BRIEN: And then after that part of the elderly couple who was really targeted because that was their home. She said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAINE MCCLAIN, FORCED OUT OF HER HOUSE DUE TO SPIKE LEE TWEET: We got out of the house. It's just too scary. We've got to quit the hatred and the vengeance and start looking on inside of people and quit looking on the outside of people. It's just sad, the reactions that are going on. We're living in a hotel, having to eat our food out. We're afraid to go home.


CL BRYANT, FORMER NAACP LEADER: It has caused this type of pain. Here we are in 2012 America, and we're having conversations that we very easily could have had in the 30s, the 40s. It's time for us to mature past this. Now this guy Zimmerman had better come up with a broken nose or bloody head. This is going to be a very bad mess.

MARTIN: One aspect of the Civil Rights Movement that most people ignore. They were master strategists. They also understood messaging and timing. One of the problems when you have folks who are being mobilized without infrastructure, they don't understand what the lawyer's strategy is, they don't understand what timing is.

So when the special prosecutor says all the comments are not helpful right now. When you know you achieve something in a movement, that's when you say, OK, now it's time for us to back off. Then let's see what happens and if need be, now let's move forward.

And so, without that organization and infrastructure, it's hard for people to understand those pieces. That's why they say always consult with the lawyers and the family to know what their strategy is, because their strategy drives the social movement strategy.

SKOLNIK: This is an amazing movement to create an amazing discussion that we need to solve issues in our country. Let us not forget this is a family who has lost their son.

BRYANT: Right. And they're looking to blame someone. They're looking for justice in that and America is watching. It's true. The world is watching this particular case. And we're either going to be better, or we're going to be worse, depending on the outcome.

MARTIN: One reminder. We simply want justice, we want him arrested. So the whole point about people who begin to bring in ban on assault weapons, change this law, this law, that's when you have people on the left and right with political agendas who grasp to a story. The basic that drove this while I was interested was the family was saying he wasn't arrested.

O'BRIEN: Mari, will you stand up. Give us your first name, your last name and the question you have.

MARI FAGEL: I'm Mari Fagel. I first read the name Trayvon Martin on Facebook, signed the online petition, went to the million hoodie march. My question is if it weren't for the ground swell movement that really started online, would the justice system have continued to ignore Trayvon Martin and never called for the grand jury and federal investigation?

MARTIN: Absolutely. There is no doubt. What African-Americans have always known is that we have typically had to force prosecutors, force the police to do what was right. And that's the only reason we know that this tape comes out. All of that was because of public pressure. No outcry, none of this happened.

O'BRIEN: But you cannot tell me that the story of Trayvon Martin ends with Trayvon Martin.


O'BRIEN: Parents want arrests. Also there have been conversations started about racial profiling and for the first time I think they're conversations that cross a lot of racial categories.

MARTIN: This is the conundrum, will Trayvon Martin's death be a moment or will it lead to a movement? People said this could be the start of something to lead to a movement. I'm talking with several people as well. How do we mobilize people that goes beyond Trayvon to deal with the broader issue of social justice in America? That's the question.

BRYANT: But also, Roland, the type of movement. What type of movement will this lead to? It will be a movement to either make us better as a people or it will be a movement that will take us years.

O'BRIEN: Find word to you, Michael.

SKOLNIK: As the one white person on this stage, I think it's important to say this about the movement. As white people, we have to say something. We have to be active. We can't let black and brown children be killed and be killed and just be quiet.

O'BRIEN: That will be our final word. I thank you, gentlemen. We hope that tonight's discussion has helped you all better understand the facts of the case, those that exist and also the emotions surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin.

New details, of course, will emerge in this case and this case could ultimately be tried in the court of law. But for now it's playing out in the court of public opinion where our views about race and justice are shaped by our life experiences.

This is a conversation Americans will be having for quite some time. We thank you for watching tonight. Good night.