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Race and Justice in America

Aired July 16, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to a 360 town hall, "Race and Justice in America."

Tonight: a conversation sparked by current events, in this case the killing Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. But it's a conversation rooted deep in American history.

For the last two-and-a-half centuries, the immediate subject has changed from slavery to Jim Crow, from poll taxes to voting rights. However, even as the issues has evolved, the theme stays constant, race and justice, namely whether justice applies differently and is seen differently depending on skin color. Race, justice, who we are as Americans, it's an important conversation coming up, with distinguished voices from many points of view.

First, the case that brought us here.


COOPER (voice-over): No homicide can be called routine. But at first, the shooting that occurred on a late February night in a small town in Central Florida didn't make national headlines.

911 OPERATOR: What is your emergency? Police, fire or medical?

COOPER: An unarmed African-American teenager wearing a hoodie was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman who had hopes of becoming a policeman. The teenager, the watchman said, had attacked him. Police quickly responded and soon George Zimmerman was being led inside the Sanford Police Station for questioning.

But in the days after the shooting, it became clear that there would be no immediate charges, and it became just as clear that the death of Trayvon Martin was anything but routine.

Trayvon Martin was black. George Zimmerman is a man whose mother is from Peruvian and who identifies himself as Hispanic. And the combustible elements of race and perceived indifference by a mostly white establishment to the death of a young black man began to simmer and then boil.

REP. CORRINE BROWN (D), FLORIDA: I want you to know that what has happened here is not acceptable, here, nowhere in Florida, nowhere in the country, and nowhere in the world.

COOPER: Soon, there were rallies across the country. A large group marching in protest in front of the White House. Still, no formal charges. And finally, the president himself, 27 days after the shooting saying this:

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, and, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

COOPER: For many African-Americans, for many whites, wearing a hoodie like the one Trayvon Martin wore became a badge of honor, a symbol of respect and a protest all at the same time.

Finally, six weeks after Trayvon Martin was killed, Florida state prosecutors formally stepped in.

ANGELA COREY, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: Today, we filed an information, charging George Zimmerman with murder in the second- degree.

COOPER: The date was April 11, 2012.


COOPER: And more than 14 months later, a six-woman jury was chosen, five of the members white. The trial took just under three weeks, with the jury taking about 16 hours to acquit George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

That was late Saturday night. Three days of protests have followed, most of it peaceful. However, crowds blocked part of an interstate in Oakland, California, and a highway in Houston. And parts of Los Angeles have seen scattered violence, people kicking in car window, trashing part of a Wal-Mart store, tossing rocks and batters, things like the.

Again, though, that largely seems to be the exception. People have been picketing, lobbying, political leaders organizing in communities and churches and holding town halls like this one, the focus to a large degree on racial injustice. Interestingly, when I spoke exclusively with juror B-37 yesterday, she told me that race never came up in deliberations.

Want to talk about that with our panel. Joining us tonight, criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, also Barbara Arnwine. She's president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In addition, we have Martin family attorney Ben Crump, senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin, and with us from Florida, state attorney Angela Corey, who prosecuted George Zimmerman.

I appreciate all of you being with us.


COOPER: So, Ben Crump, I want to start off with you.

As you heard, I interviewed juror B-37 yesterday and she said that race, in her opinion, was not a factor in this and it never came up in the jury deliberation. I want to play for our viewers some of what she said.


COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were an unbelievable number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don't believe race played a role in this case?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.


COOPER: Do you believe that?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Well, I watched the interview, Anderson, and the biggest thing I took away from it, she never, ever saw Sybrina Fulton's child, Trayvon, as her child. She never saw that that could have been her child. In fact, she did just like the Sanford police did on February 26, 2012, when they profiled Trayvon, too. They never looked at it from the vantage point of the dead kid laying on the ground.

COOPER: So you don't think she related to Trayvon Martin? You don't think she you don't think she understood who Trayvon Martin was?

CRUMP: Not at all, especially when you asked her the question, did she feel sympathy for Trayvon Martin? She said, I feel sympathy for both of them. Trayvon is dead. George Zimmerman was the killer, and she equated them just the same.

COOPER: During the trial, race was not brought up. Do you wish it had been? Do you think it was part of the equation in George Zimmerman's mind, the reason he was profiled?

CRUMP: Well, I think the prosecutors made a strategic decision that they didn't even have to get into the divisive issue of race.

They said that he criminally profiled Trayvon Martin. And that is the question. We don't know if George Zimmerman is racist or not. We don't know what is in his heart. We can try to look to his words, his past actions. And I pray that is what the Department of Justice is going to do.

But he criminally profiled Trayvon, and why? What was it about Trayvon that made him a criminal or an F-ing punk or an A-hole? And the conversation is evolving now, because with this verdict, people are saying can people profile my child just walking home and follow and get out of their car and follow and confront him? Because the police can't do that. The United States Supreme Court says the police can't profile based on race.

COOPER: Barbara Arnwine, you have said you believe racial profiling was part of this case, race was part of this case.


I think what's important here is that race was an element of his decision. In fact, when actually race did come into the arguments here, it was introduced by the defense when they said that a black man had previously broken into a white woman's home, and that was entered into evidence. So race did come in, but in a very negative way.

COOPER: Angela Corey, you said this case was never about race, but in the next breath, you also said there's no doubt Trayvon Martin was profiled to be a criminal. How do you reconcile those two things?

COREY: Well, because, Anderson, many factors go into one human being profiling another human being.

COOPER: Doesn't race factor into that?

COREY: And our decision had it been -- well, race could factor into it. It would be one of many factors, but it was not the sole factor, nor were we able to file the race enhancement, our hate crime enhancement under Florida law. We believe that the criminal profiling, the wannabe cop, the fact that he was armed and should have never gotten out of his car would be enough to prove our second-degree murder charges.

COOPER: But did you believe in your heart that race was one of those reasons that George Zimmerman paid attention to Trayvon Martin?

ARNWINE: I think it was all of it. I think it could have been clothing.

I think George Zimmerman felt like no one could walk through his neighborhood without him knowing who you were and where you were going. And we think that he stepped over the boundaries. We said this was always about boundaries. And we know that Trayvon had no idea who George Zimmerman was.

But -- but George Zimmerman assumed he knew who Trayvon Martin was, and that's where he was wrong. And we believe he was criminally wrong.

COOPER: Mark, as Ben Crump said, the prosecutors decided not to talk about race during this trial. Was that, you think, a mistake? Or why do you think that was decision was made?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: First of all, it's naive. Second of all, it's untrue.

Angela Corey is here. Ask Angela Corey if in jury selection, the peremptory challenges -- you get so many peremptory challenges. That means you can eliminate jurors without giving a reason whatsoever, unless the U.S. Supreme Court says you have exercised against a cognizable class.

In this case, they were found by the judge to have exercised two peremptory challenges against a cognizable class. That cognizable class was white...

COOPER: Against white jurors.

GERAGOS: No, white women, white women.

They ended up, the judge ended up with those two peremptories reseating those two jurors, and you ended up having six white women or at least five white women and one undetermined ethnicity on that jury.

The idea that you're not going to have race enter into this has got to be the single most naive thing I have heard about this case, because, number one, race determines everything in the criminal justice system.

There isn't any case that goes through the criminal justice system that's not determined by race.


COOPER: You believe race determines everything in the criminal...

GERAGOS: Determines everything.

I can explain 90 percent of all cases, because no theory is 100 percent, but I can explain 90 percent of cases in the criminal justice system if you understand race, starting with, number one, the police. The police traditionally, in the African-American community, they know if you have got a young boy 16 to 25, what you tell them is, you know, hands on 10:00 and 2:00. Say, yes, sir, you don't run, you don't do anything. You have explicit instructions.

Why is that? Because if you're black while driving, that's the same as probable cause. Why did this get traction in the first place? This thing got traction in the first place because anybody else who is not a cop who shoots and kills somebody is going to get arrested. They arrest first, they ask questions later.

The perception is that he was not black, and that's why he got arrested. I frankly think -- or why he didn't get arrested -- he was arrested and released. I think the fact is you have to look at who the victim was, because that also is the other determinant. If you had a pretty white female as a victim that George Zimmerman had shot, that case, he would have been filed on and they probably would have sought the death penalty.

You have a young black male, you will find if you go through all the death penalty research, one of the things that you don't get in this country is you don't get a whole lot of death penalty verdicts against people when the victim is a black male.

COOPER: Jeff, what do you make of it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I am less sure than Mark is that race dominates everything in the criminal justice system.

I think it's my job, in a case like this, to be sort of in the weeds and look at what the government did and didn't prove. I actually think there is a lot to support the jury's verdict in this case, that this was not a strong case. This was not a case with eyewitnesses. This was not a case where it was clear who the aggressor was.

COOPER: The only person who knows for a fact is George Zimmerman because Trayvon Martin is not alive. There was not an eyewitness who saw the initial confrontation.

TOOBIN: That's right. So in the weeds, where I dwell, away from the larger themes, this verdict makes a certain amount of sense to me. Now, how you fit that into the larger dynamic of race...


GERAGOS: It makes perfect sense with five white female jurors and a...


GERAGOS: It makes perfect sense.


COOPER: When you -- why was there not an African-American person on that jury? I get that tweet all day long from people. Can you explain that?

COREY: I can explain that the jurors got seated in the order in which they were questioned. We were attempting to exercise two peremptories. The case law is very complicated about peremptory challenges and whether or not they will be sustained by the court.

The court had us reseat two of the white female jurors, which did not allow us to get to the back row. As you know, there were two African-American females that we kept on the jury that the defense struck for -- and they stated their cause on the record and the judge allowed those strikes.

So, it had to do with the seating and who came in first. I speak as a prosecutor who has been doing this for 32 years, and I can tell you that when we analyze a case, it has nothing to do with the race of the defendant or the victim. We look at the evidence, the proof and who was the victim.


COOPER: You don't believe in our justice system there are inherent biases, there are inherent -- from who gets stopped more often by police to the way people perceive other people even without recognizing it, without realizing it?

I saw studies which analyzed jury verdicts in Florida over a 10- year period, I believe, from 2000 to 2010. All-white juries convict African-American defendants 16 percent more than a white defendants. And if you have one black juror, that inequity goes away.

COREY: We don't see that the way you're portraying it -- or not the way you're portraying it, but the way it's being portrayed.

Jurors tend to listen to the evidence and vote on that evidence. We have had all-white juries convict in numerous situations, convict white people of killing blacks. Bernie de la Rionda has handled several cases. He's put a white man on death row for killing black men.

We have all been in that situation before. Quite frankly, we have seen women treated more differently than men. But that doesn't mean you change your prosecution style.

You always base your decision to charge on the evidence and the law. This was a case about the law, and we knew it was a tough case. It hinged on justifiable use of deadly force. And, quite frankly, whether a person is white or black, male or female, when there is any arguable claim of justifiable use of deadly force, there is not an immediate arrest, because we don't want to start speedy trial. That is a legal concept. It has nothing to do with race.

COOPER: One of the things, Mark, you said the other day was that a lot in a trial depends on a jury's ability to sympathize or understand a defendant or a victim.

I want to show you something that juror B-37 said to me yesterday. I was asking her about one of the witnesses, Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Trayvon Martin's. And I think a lot of people who were responding to this on Twitter were sort of wondering about the jury's ability to relate to Trayvon Martin, the jury's ability to understand Trayvon Martin and by correlation the jury's ability to relate to and understand Rachel Jeantel.

Let's listen to what the juror said about this witness.


COOPER: So that term "creepy-ass cracker" that Rachel Jeantel said Trayvon had used, that you're saying that's simply how Trayvon and Rachel talked to each other?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. That's the way they talk.

COOPER: And did you see that as a negative statement or a racial statement, as the defense suggested?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it's really racial. I think it's just everyday life, the type of life that they live and how they're living and the environment that they're living in.

COOPER: So you didn't find her credible as a witness?



COOPER: Barbara, I see you shaking your head.

ARNWINE: Yes, because all the -- the way they live, the way they think, their environment.

This is obviously a woman who sees herself as divorced from "they." She doesn't say this is the way young people think. This is the way young people act. She doesn't say this is the way our community acts. This is a person who I noticed even in your interview she kept talking about George, Georgie. And Trayvon was the boy of color.


GERAGOS: That goes back once again to what I said. This case is over in jury selection.

ARNWINE: Right. I agree with that.

GERAGOS: Nobody thinks of themselves -- and I said this to you before. Nobody thinks of themselves as a racist, and I'm not accusing anybody of being a racist.

What I'm saying is, race is the prism through which people see things. They don't -- people don't consciously know it. And none of these jurors, when you interview them, if there's going to be five more that get interviewed, are going to say yes, I'm a racist, and that's why I voted for George Zimmerman.

COOPER: I have interviewed people who are in the KKK and they don't even say they're a racist.


COOPER: It's always fascinating to me. I'm like, is there nobody who admits to like actually -- a neo-Nazi doesn't even think they're racist?


GERAGOS: I have represented people who have a swastika tattooed on their head and they don't see and think of themselves a racist.


COOPER: They just love white people.

GERAGOS: Right. Exactly. Right.

I'm defending white people.

So understand when you -- and, Angela, I apologize for beating up on you, but Sunny is cheering. The fact is that when you had that jury, and you saw who that jury was -- I'm not Monday-morning quarterbacking you, because I said it to Anderson at the time -- I said the case was over.

I said when you put her on, Rachel on and had her as kind of the centerpiece for the case, my opinion she was -- the prosecution made her the centerpiece -- I said at the time the wheels just came off, they're never going to recover, because there is no way that you're going to get some of those women on that jury, from that community, who are in any way, shape or form going to relate to Rachel Jeantel.

CRUMP: We have often talked this was going to be a litmus test.

It's very troubling because as Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, said, this is going to be a defining moment to know where we're at in the status of my father's dream.

COOPER: I want Angela Corey to be able to respond and then we have got to take a break.

COREY: Well, the way I respond is this.

We have a certain way we have to exercise our cause challenges and our peremptory challenges. Once there were six people seated on that jury, we had to move on to alternates. Was it an ideal jury? Would we have liked to continue to exercise peremptories. Of course we would.

But our laws are very clear about the process for jury selection and that was the jury selected. We have to adhere to their verdict. The system worked. They were diligent in arriving at their verdict. They worked 16 hours and requested all of the evidence.

We cannot fault their verdict. And I don't believe it can be faulted based on race. This was a tough case. We knew it was a tough case. We felt it was compelling that George Zimmerman got out of his car after profiling Trayvon Martin, followed him and attempted to apprehend him. We felt we could prove it was not justifiable use of deadly force.

COOPER: We have to leave it there. I want to broaden out the conversation when we come back and talk about sort of how we got here. There's a history to this, a legacy to this, as Ben Crump alluded to, the long history of race and justice in America and what the future holds as our 360 town hall continues. We will be right back.



COOPER: We're talking about race and justice in tonight's 360 town hall, how Americans of all races experience something that's supposed to be distributed equally and administered fairly.

The question tonight, is it? Ask George Zimmerman and his family or Trayvon Martin's family, and you get the same answer, no, it's not fair, but for entirely different reasons, no, because my son should never have been tried, or, no, because my son should still be arrive and the man who killed him went free.

When it comes to a racially charged, polarizing case, however, this one is far from the first. Here is some perspective.


COOPER (voice-over): In the early 1960s, spurred by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the millions who supported him, Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guaranteeing that minority rights would be protected.

But even though it was a remarkable piece of legislation, on the streets, its impact was less than clear. It seemed that time after time minorities were in both the literal and symbolic crosshairs when it came to authority.

You don't have to look too far back to find examples. In 1989, five young men, four black, one Hispanic, were charged with assault and rape in a truly terrible incident. A white woman had been attacked while jogging in New York's Central Park. All either confessed or were implicated. At trial, a year later, they were all convicted.

Twelve years later, those convictions were vacated and questions were raised about how the police obtained those confessions. In Los Angeles, a black motorist named Rodney King was beaten over and over again by Los Angeles police. The videotape that surfaced ignited a nation.

When the officers were found not guilty, the rioting that followed was unlike anything the country had recently seen in the wake of a trial. Sentiments then sound eerily familiar to the sentiments now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, the system failed us.

COOPER: Race, authority, politics, conversations that are still very difficult.


COOPER: And the conversation continues tonight with some data on sentencing for federal crimes and race.

According to a United States Sentencing Commission report covering December 2007 through December 2011, sentences for black male offenders were 19.5 percent longer, even accounting for a string of factors, such as type of defense, initial plea, citizenship, education level and more.

Joining us now is CNN contributor and "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow, who writes that the entire system failed Trayvon Martin long before his fatal confrontation with George Zimmerman, also legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, Ben Crump, the attorney for the Martin family, Jeffrey Toobin, and for his first CNN town not involving competing Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich, the former house speaker and new co-host of "CROSSFIRE" right here on CNN.

Appreciate all of you being with us.


COOPER: I want to introduce everybody to a very special guest we have, Raymond Santana. He's in the audience. He's one of the so- called Central Park Five whose convictions were vacated. He was vindicated after serving so long in jail along with the others.

I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for being here.


COOPER: What's so extraordinary to me about your case is -- I grew up in New York City and I remember your picture being splashed in the papers. I remember the media, who at that time I wasn't working for, talking about packs of wild kids wilding through the park.

And there was this drumbeat to get these young men, these five men convicted. And the police did. They got confessions. They got convictions. You have seen the worst part of the criminal justice system. As you hear this conversation, what do you think?

RAYMOND SANTANA, WRONGFULLY CONVICTED: You know, it saddens me, it sickens me that we still go through this 25 years later after the Central Park jogger case.

When I found out about the verdict, I was crushed. It took me back to when we was convicted. And I had to relive that all over again. It's like, you know, you get to a point that you say, when is enough is enough? When do we finally win one? It's like we go through all these cases...


SANTANA: And, you know, we can read the list off, Ramarley Graham, Kamari Gray (ph), Eleanor Bumpurs. When does it stop?

And it just -- it sickens me. But it strengthens me in a sense because it helps push with our own case. We're still in the legal battle with the city right now.

COOPER: Yes, you're fighting a legal battle with the city. SANTANA: And it's been for 10 years.


SANTANA: And it's just -- it's saddened -- it's sad.

COOPER: Charles, when you say that the system failed Trayvon Martin long before that shot was fired, what do you mean?

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think that you have to look at all of the contributing factors here, including Florida's self-defense laws, which allow someone to be an aggressor, if you assume that George Zimmerman was an aggressor when he got out of his car.

They allow you to be the aggressor. And if you engage in a fight and you start to lose that fight, the idea of self-defense can switch personage. You had it first when I was following you and I engaged you. The moment that I start to lose, it bounces from you to me.

COOPER: And in my interview with the juror, she said, that's all -- that's what they looked at, what happened in those final minutes in that fight. He feared for his life, so he was...


BLOW: And that's a moral question. Like, how is it possible that you could even write a law where you have no culpability? I'm not saying that if you feel like your life is about to be taken that you shouldn't do everything to preserve it. That's just a human thing. But you should have some culpability for starting this action and getting it rolling. And there's none.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: These stand your ground laws in a sense take our humanity away, our civility away. Yes, if you're in your home and someone breaks in, you have every right to stand your ground and protect your home, protect your family.

But if you're out in the street, an altercation happens, you mean to tell me you then don't have any civility to try to retreat and to try to say, wait, wait, wait, let me get away, let's try to work this out? That's what stand your ground does. It allows you to kill.


HOSTIN: And we have got to look at that.

CRUMP: It sends an irresponsible message in this true sense that your stand your ground claim goes up exponentially as long as you make sure the person is dead.

COOPER: I want to bring in Mark Geragos, who is in the audience.

As we heard earlier, the federal government looked into this. Black males are sentenced by federal court almost 20 percent longer than white males who had similar convictions. GERAGOS: Right. And that's -- it's not just federal court.

COOPER: I want to bring in Mark Geragos, who is in the audience. As we heard earlier, the federal government looked into this. Black males are sentenced by federal court almost 20 percent longer than white males who had similar convictions.

GERAGOS: And it's not just federal courts, it is state courts, it is every day in court. It is what happens. It starts not when you get to court, it starts when you get arrested. Where are, who are the people who are being profiled by police? Who are the people being pulled over by police? Race infects everything in the criminal justice system.

COOPER: I want to bring in Speaker Gingrich. Do you believe that, Speaker Gingrich, that, what Mark Geragos is saying is true, that race infects everything in the criminal justice system?

GINGRICH: I think race has an enormous impact on decision after decision. I think you almost have to be blind to America to not realize that we still have very, very deep elements that go all the way back to slavery and segregation and then go all the way back to fundamental differences in neighborhoods and in cultures. And I think it would be very healthy for the country and for the Congress to re- evaluate both the criminal justice part of (inaudible) court, but also to re-evaluate the whole way we've dealt with prison and the way in which we have basically created graduate schools for criminality, and locking people up in ways that are increasing their inability to function in society.

COOPER: I think a lot of people are like, wow, who are you?


COOPER: A lot of people in our audience -- and that's probably an unfair thought, but you're not here, so you don't have the advantage of hearing the audience, but there is a lot of folks in the audience who are nodding their heads along, and a lot of these people probably think, I didn't think I would agree with former Speaker Gingrich.


GINGRICH: I started working with the recent (ph) Chuck Colson about eight years ago on fundamental, profound prison reform, which is a component of this. I also think, frankly, if we're going to have a true national conversation about changing all this, at some point we are going to have to focus as intensely on the extraordinary rise of gangs and the degree to which we had a 40 percent increase in gang membership since 2009. There are now ten gang members for every policeman in Chicago. And I think we need a total view of what's been happening in America.

I think the word civility is a great word. And it was really important to bring into this conversation. How do we restore civility at every level, from schools to malls to walking late at night, to seeing each other as genuine neighbors? I do think this is a profound moment. Whether we can grow it into one that brings us together, or it just becomes another excuse to yell at each other, I don't think we know yet.

COOPER: And that is the frustrating thing in all these kinds of conversations, because I do feel like it's kind of -- it just goes around in circles, and nothing really gets resolved.

TOOBIN: But there is a conversation going on about guns, where the Second Amendment has become inviolate to a lot of people. The idea that you have a right to bear guns. Just go on social media, just go on Twitter. Listen, if you say one word about guns and how you get attacked. So it's not like we're not having this conversation. We are having this conversation. And one side is winning.

CRUMP: The one thing Trayvon Martin has done, has given, everybody in the society noticed that this isn't fair. So what are we going to do about it now that we know?

COOPER: I want to have all our guests stay where you are, because next we're going to talk about what the killing of Trayvon Martin means to families with kids. What parents are now telling their children about race and about justice in this country as our "360" town hall special continues.


COOPER: The killing of Trayvon Martin has left many parents with a conundrum, what to tell their children. Attorney General Eric Holder put it like this, listen.


HOLDER: Trayvon's death last spring caused me to sit down and to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son, and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy. I am his father, and it is my responsibility not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world that he must still confront.


COOPER: CNN contributor and New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow framed it another way, as heartbreaking as it is poignant. "At precisely what pace should a young black man walk to avoid suspicion?" Charles Blow is with us again. Also activist and educator, Geoffrey Canada, a man who's one of my personal heroes, president of the Harlem Children Zone. CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos -- sort of a hero of mine-- and actress, playwright and professor, Anna Deavere Smith. It's great for you all to be here. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) COOPER: Charles, I want to start off with you, because you and I had this conversation the other night, and that question that you asked, at what speed, at what pace does a young African-American male need to walk -- I just found that haunting and I thought about it ever since. Explain that conversation that you were having with your child.

BLOW: I mean, I have had a conversation where I say, you know, if you're around police and maybe it's dark or something, you might not want to run. You just don't want to draw attention to yourself. You don't want to look like maybe you stole something, just don't want that problem, right? And a lot of people have had that conversation with young black men as it relates to the police. You don't want to draw attention to yourself in that sort of situation.

What Zimmerman was saying about Trayvon was he was walking too slowly, and it wasn't as if he had already stolen something, but he was about to do something. And that struck me as saying, you know, at what -- is there any way that they can hold their bodies, is there any way that you can telegraph to someone who might find you suspicious that you are not suspicious? That I am not the enemy, that I am not who you think that I am?

And I am struggling as a parent to figure out what is it, what can I say, or maybe there is nothing that I can say. I struggle with the idea that my boys have to be divested of innocence. That either I have to do it, the man who loves them, or someone else will do it who does not love them.

COOPER: Geoffrey, is this a conversation you've had?

CANADA: Here's what's so sad about this. So the very people that you're supposed to turn to when you're scared, those of us who raise boys, and I have my 15-year-old here, are telling them when you deal with these folks, there's a likelihood they might kill you, right? That's a horrible thing. So when you're around them, the ones who have state -- the state has given them the authority to protect you. You have to worry because they'll probably kill you before they do anything else. So we raise our boys trying to avoid that, but we never thought here's a situation, just imagine you're Trayvon, you're 17, some guy is following you. You run away. He ran. He runs after you. He doesn't say he's running. And then there's a confrontation. So now do I tell my boys, if a strange man approaches you, do not fight back, do not defend yourself, because maybe they might kill you? And then who is going to believe that you were really an innocent person? That's a problem.


BLOW: I've had so many people ask me, why didn't Trayvon -- he had a phone, why didn't he just call 911? In some parts of this country, in some communities, that's the last thing that you would think to do. When the police show up, they're not necessarily on your side.

(CROSSTALK) BLOW: You have never seen the police show up and not be on your side. So the idea that the first person you would think to call for protection would be the police. It's not what you think.

GERAGOS: Let me give you a perfect example. Saturday night I get a call, and it said police officer on my cell phone. And he's pulled over my 19-year-old son. And he's asked him, I want to talk to your dad. Can you imagine ever getting a phone call from a police officer saying I'm concerned? I mean, I'm fortunate, that's what you would want.


CANADA: Our second oldest boy, when he was about Trayvon's age, was put down on the ground, handcuffed, knees on his neck, and taken away. And luckily his girlfriend was there and ran up to the house and said, they just took Bruce. So I go down, and I say what happened? They said, well, we took him. And they're mad, and they're angry. I said, that's my son. Why are you so angry? I'm just trying to find out what happened to my son.

The idea that as a citizen, I would go in and say I want to know. So they were angry and hostile with me, which was fine. I kind of expected that. But then when I asked, why did you do that to him? Right? I understand you arrested him, but why the knee on the neck, why this whole aggressive kind of overreaction? They said, well, look, he was considered a suspect. I said why, what was the description? They say honest to God, truth, they said kid with a cap on, baggy pants. I said, that was it? On that, you did that?

So this idea that kids have these interactions, and we think police are going to be like, oh, I'm going to call your dad. That's just not the way these young kids live and it's not the way they grow up.

And the problem, the reason this is I think so important to America is that there's a whole group of folks sitting here saying, so what do we do about this? How do we prepare kids to say to them, you're growing up to be a man, but under these circumstances, you have to act like it's 50 years ago. Right? That's not where we want to go in this country.

COOPER: Anna Deavere Smith, as you listen to this, what goes through your mind?

SMITH: Well, I think the whole conversation about innocence is really to the point, isn't it? That young black men and probably young brown men are not innocent. They lose their innocence. But that all of us have lost our innocence. I wonder if perhaps we fell asleep by even entrusting the justice system to bring back a verdict that we thought was fair. I mean, the good news is that in the case of at least where we were trying to get Zimmerman arrested, blacks and whites wearing hoodies in all kinds of parks, giving vigils, and maybe those should have kept on for an entire year, because we just can't trust the system. We are still at a kind of a war that degrades and belittles a great part of our population. COOPER: And Sunny, you've worked in the system. The system is all there is. How does one -- where do we go from here?

HOSTIN: I've been asking myself that question since this verdict that I think most people know I was stunned by. And I think it was my naivete, because I come from a law enforcement background. I was one of those prosecutors on the front lines, and I saw this case as very race neutral. It was not an element of the crime. And I relied upon the justice system to see what I saw, which was a second degree murder case. And as a mother of a brown boy, I struggled with that. What do I tell him now, when this case first broke, his question to me, and in retrospect was so poignant, he said but why was he afraid of Trayvon Martin? What was he doing? And it's that inherent fear of the brown boy that I don't know what you do about that.

COOPER: It is interesting, it just seems to me, having these conversations is so important.

SMITH: Well, you know, what occurs to me is when Mr. Canada and Mr. Blow speak so eloquently, as other journalists have, about the question of what shall I tell my black son? I would be very interested to know how many parents are saying what shall I say to my white son or my white daughter about this world, and the fact that all of us have a role in it. And that we do not live in a race neutral world. We do not live in an innocent world, in any kind of way.

And so what it means to me is that if parents don't have the courage to have these kinds of conversations, then we've got to bring them back into the classroom, or in our churches, or in art.

COOPER: You bring up a really good point. Anna, when I was growing up, no one ever talked to me about how to interact with the police. I always assumed it's like "CHIPS," the police are my friends. Ponch and John are going to show up and they are going to help me. I mean, it never would have occurred to me.

BLOW: Part of that is what people call white privilege.

COOPER: Right.

BLOW: You have the luxury of not caring.

COOPER: Right, I'm like the poster boy for white privilege.


BLOW: Not you particularly.

COOPER: Well, no, I am. We can't help where we're born.

BLOW: And the other leg of that is the phenomena people call racism without racist, which is that for a lot of people, bias happens subconsciously. They're not even aware that they're exercising bias. And in other cases, bias is built into the system, the criminal justice system, as the attorneys were talking about earlier, or into the medical system where children are -- or, you know, blacks in general get less proper care.

I was looking, as I said, before I came in, another one of those medical studies, this is pediatricians. And they measured subconscious bias and they realized that a lot of the doctors have subconscious bias. Of those who had subconscious bias, for whites and against blacks, they were less likely to offer pain management to the children in their care if they were black. That is the most cruel kind of --

COOPER: And it even cut across economic lines.


COOPER: Even with wealthy African-American patients.

BLOW: It is the most cruel expression, and they're not even aware that they're allowing these black children to suffer.

CANADA: I think this issue, which is so important, is that we're raised in America, and a lot of this stuff comes in sort of through subconscious. You are not thinking about it. So all of us need to examine this.

The problem in these kinds of cases is for some people, when this gets worked out, there is a really negative impact on their community. So when you look at the incarceration rate, you look at who gets suspended and who gets expelled, who gets to get the alternative sentence versus going to jail, the data is just the same, and it is all against these same folk that people think the system is fair, and they don't understand why people keep trying to make it a racial issue. They're not like, why not you all get over this--


GERAGOS: They're not hanging out in criminal courtrooms. All you have to do is just spend any amount of time in a criminal courtroom, and you see who the prosecutors are (inaudible).


GERAGOS: I spend virtually every day in state criminal courtrooms, and less in federal. But in state criminal courtrooms, and all we're doing -- it's a revolving door for people of color. And really for part of it is this war on drugs.

BLOW: There's a war on brown people and they use drugs--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drugs is just a proxy.


COOPER: I think there are a lot of white people who will hear that and be shocked by that. You really believe there is a war, a war on brown people?

(CROSSTALK) GERAGOS: I'll give you a prefect example of this. Cocaine. Cocaine was -- when it was in the black community, we had the most draconian laws.


GERAGOS: As soon as cocaine started to get into the white, middle class community, all of a sudden you could get diversion and DEJ, which is deferred entry. And you would not go to jail, you wouldn't --


BLOW: Just look at marijuana, which more kids use, and you realize that usage rates, every time that they do polling, they use white and black kids use about the same, if -- white kids use slightly more. But almost all of the arrests for marijuana are among black teenagers.

How can you explain that away, other than it is policies like we have right here in New York City, which is stop and frisk, where you're literally hundreds of thousands of young black and brown kids are being stopped and frisked. Only a tiny portion are ever arrested for anything. They're stopping -- they are doing more stop and frisk than there are black and brown people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you address that?

BLOW: It is very hard to address, because when they do polling, say is this a good thing or a bad thing, the majority of white people say it's great.


COOPER: Anna Deavere Smith was trying to say -- what, Anna?

SMITH: No, I was just going to say, how you address it is you ask all the people right now who are very heartbroken about this verdict, you know, white people, you ask them in their towns to do something about stop and frisk. And ask themselves whether they really believe that, you know, either stop or get robbed, or stop and frisk. We really ask right now for people to make a difference in their communities. And it can't just be about feeling badly, it can't just be about heartbreak, or what Geoffrey Canada alluded to before, the fact that our schools are more segregated than ever, and that black and brown kids are being suspended at unbelievable proportions and being incarcerated for minor offenses. It's time for everybody to come out of their silos. If we really say we're heartbroken, and do something about folks who live across town.

COOPER: I want to bring in Michaela Angela Davis, who is the editorial director at the B.E.T. Network. You have been listening in on this. You have a child, as well.

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, EDITORIAL BRAND MANAGER, BET: Yes. It was really difficult not to shout out, but I'm on good behavior.

COOPER: I think I heard a shoutout somewhere, not sure if it was you or (inaudible) there.

DAVIS: Particularly this idea of like, it's not about race, it's not ant race when it's a luxury that we don't get to have. And also I don't think it's the truth, that you can't -- that you don't see race. I think that the interesting thing that's happening is that particularly with the Zimmerman case, it's this idea of who belongs. He made a decision that Trayvon did not belong. And we've had this construct of this nation of laws and nation to protect white male heterosexual Christian people. And when you are removing very swiftly out of that construct, but these laws were designed to protect and serve them. So this idea that these six jurors, who were white women, you know, and you were speaking about how they could not identify with Trayvon, even though essentially they probably would have the same fear. I'm walking home, it's dark, it is raining, a creepy man is following me. As a woman, you think I might get hurt, I might get raped.

He thought the same thing. Trayvon thought the same thing. But they had no humanity, no connection with I could have the same fear as that boy walking home. However, they identified with Zimmerman's fear of a boy as deviant, he's violent, he could hurt me, rather than I'm being hurt and I'm being pursued. And the day that Zimmerman will say to a Trayvon, "son, are you lost, can I help you get home," that's when it's neutral.


SMITH: It's time for action. It's time for action. I think that is our crisis, if you think of it. As so eloquently was just stated, that these white women couldn't possibly put themselves in the shoes of that black boy. And here we are at such a magnificent anniversary of Martin Luther King's dream. We've lost our way. We've lost our heart for each other. And I think it's more than a conversation. Some of it is structural. And some of it is, you know, staying vigilant, watching out for others.

COOPER: There's a lot of people who do not see this as a problem.

CANADA: In my world, everybody saw this as open and shut. They were like, a boy went to the store and somebody killed him, and that was wrong, and they should be punished, and it was so clear. He was unarmed, he was doing nothing. So we're all sitting there saying, OK, so let me try and understand the other side. People keep thinking that this is not my kids, my family, my community, this is happening to those folks in Florida. This is not happening to those folks in Florida, this is not just Sanford, this is happening all over the country. And people keep thinking it's somebody else's kids. The same way they could not imagine Trayvon being their kid, they can't imagine they need to talk to their kids and their community about this issue, because this really is a national problem.

BLOW: And one other thing I think we have to do. We have to keep those victims human. I think it is so easy to dehumanize a person to the point they just become an object. And the moment they lose their humanity, it is drained from them, it is very easy to say, they must have been wrong, they must have been out.

If we can remember that this is a child, who may have thought as a child, who may have behaved as a child, who may have feared the way a child might fear, who may not have run home or done exactly the right things, as an adult might do, but even made a mistake, if he did make a mistake, the way a child would do, then we can understand that it could be my child and it could be your child.


COOPER: How are Trayvon Martin's parents doing?

CRUMP: Obviously, they are devastated by the verdict. It's heartbreaking to them, because they desperately wanted the killer of their unarmed son to be held accountable and his death not to be in vain. With that said, Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin are incredible people. She cries, she prays, she went to church. She said, attorney Crump, we will not let this verdict define Trayvon. We will define Trayvon Martin's legacy.

COOPER: I am going to end it on that note. I want to thank all our guests and members of the audience for joining us tonight for this important moment in time for better and for worse. There will be others, and we hope to be there to make the issues as plain as we can. Thanks for watching. Have a great night.