Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
Beyond Trayvon: Race and Justice in America
Aired March 30, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: His name was Trayvon Martin, and his death has come to symbolize the racial tensions and suspicions that still exist in America.
I'm Soledad O'Brien.
People from across this nation are here in our audience tonight to talk about this 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!
NARRATOR: The killing of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer touches a raw nerve across the nation.
SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: 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.
NARRATOR: 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.
NARRATOR: 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 26 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 (EXPLETIVE DELETED) they always get away.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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.
G. 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 DISPATCHER: Are you following him?
G. ZIMMERMAN: Yes.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. We don't need you to do that.
G. ZIMMERMAN: OK.
MATTINGLY: But Zimmerman never makes it back to his car. Minutes later, the sound of a confrontation.
911 DISPATCHER: 911. Do you need police or medical?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe both. I'm not sure. There's just someone screaming outside.
911 DISPATCHER: So you think he's yelling help? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I heard gunshots.
911 DISPATCHER: You just heard gunshots?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
911 DISPATCHER: How many?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one.
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 iced tea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?
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.
BILL LEE, SANFORD POLICE CHIEF: 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.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: Thank you, Soledad.
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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 DeeDee, Trayvon Martin's girlfriend. Has DeeDee 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 baggy 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 26. 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?
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
G. 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.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
DR. 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 have 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, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: 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 have said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK TAAFFE, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S NEIGHBOR: George is not a racist.
JOE OLIVER, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S FRIEND: George Zimmerman is not a racist. And this particular case is not based on race.
R. ZIMMERMAN: He's color blind when it comes to any race. (END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have experienced eight burglaries. Most, the majority, of the perpetrators were young black males.
G. ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drug or something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God. He shot -- he shot the person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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 self-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 have 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 are going to have to wait and see what the evidence is 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 MEMBER: 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 the right to stand your ground.
If that's not here, then we're going to be 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 backlash against it. Does everybody makes snap judgments based on race?
That's still ahead.
O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, I thank you for that.
Young, black teenager wearing a hoodie. So is it another average American boy, or is that the picture of a threat? We're going to talk about racial profiling and the often angry backlash against it. Does everybody make snap judgments based on race? That's still ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe he was killed. He was saying, "Help." Why didn't someone come out to help him. He just said he shot him. Yes, the person is dead laying on the ground.
This is like a nice neighborhood. This is like, oh, my God, I'm too scared to live here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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 might 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 Salzer. It's nice to have all of you.
I want to focus on the 911 calls. The call lasts a little over four minutes, but it's going to be something that everybody is focusing on in this case. Let's play a little bit of the call between George Zimmerman and the dispatcher.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, ACCUSED SHOOTER: 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 and looking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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 SCHOOL PROFESSOR: He was black, and he was a male, and Zimmerman saw him. This is what the book is 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 when I talk in the book, I talked about the Trayvons of the world. And he has now become a legend. Every parent, every relative, every sibling, every stranger is going 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. He looked at his face, they saw him dressed, and they said, "That guy is up to no good." He did 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 think we throw that word around a lot, but 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. And when I talk about the presumption of guilt, people are presumed guilty by 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. I'm not excusing black on black crime. It is just as serious a problem, presumption of guilt, killing people because of the way they look, the way they dress or the colors they're wearing. All of this is wrong.
O'BRIEN: Mrs. Diallo, your son, Amadou, was shot dead by 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 just 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, MOTHER OF AMADOU: 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 ten 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 kind of cases after 13 years of struggle of talking of bringing the debate in churches, 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, posed no threat to him. If the police told him to stop, not to follow him, Martin is going on 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 looked suspicious, which is wrong.
I do not believe that mothers should -- every mom should teach their children how to go out there, not to raise your hands, not to wear -- not to put your clothes in 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 Erskine (ph), and you're a pastor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
O'BRIEN: And you're from Birmingham, Alabama?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am from Birmingham.
O'BRIEN: OK. What's your question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is, with the tension that is 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 Crow, but we heard about it. We didn't know Bull Connor, but we heard about it.
And now what can we do and what measures can be implemented so that this is not a revolving crisis in all communities?
O'BRIEN: Let's put that question to Professor Ogletree, because I know that you explored some solutions in your book. How do you take this event and move it in a direction that, 13 years later, we're not having that 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 a learning (ph) moment of law. All of us will think more critically about it. We have to think about our role in law enforcement. We can't always say we're against law enforcement. We need to have a 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 that you're there to protect and to serve, not just to arrest and profile.
No. 3, we need to make sure we educate people about these differences. A person who wears a certain amount of clothing, wears a certain design of clothing is not a thug, is not a criminal, is not a gang member. And we have to make sure we understand that.
By the same token, we have to make sure we talk to our children about it.
O'BRIEN: Well, 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: 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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 MALE: OK, this guy, he looks like a Hispanic?
ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see what he was wearing?
ZIMMERMAN: Yes. Dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie. Jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Who would have guessed that a 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. Patriots 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. They make a fashion statement. But they can also make -- can also make a negative statement, especially if you're a young man of color.
Roland is joining us. He's joined our panel, along with Jane Velez-Mitchell, and trauma (ph) counselor Dr. Alicia Salzer and also Curtis Sliwa is back with us, as well.
Roland, let's start with you, how did the hoodie go from being sort of a popular accessory to being something that someone could perceive you as a hoodlum or a thug?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANALYST: It's interesting, because it used to be when the hoodies were not popular, and so when we would see these images of folks who were robbing banks or stores and liquor stores or whatever, that was sort of the image. I remember before that it used to be the stocking cap. And so if you were a black man you couldn't start wearing the stocking cap because folks might say, "Oh, that's the thuggish look, as well."
The clothes are not the problem. It's the consciousness. The problem here though is when you put the clothes on a certain skin that changes everything.
O'BRIEN: So it depends who wear it?
O'BRIEN: Geraldo Rivera said this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Parents, don't let your kids go out wearing these damn hoodies, because they could attract the attention not only of the cops, but of nut jobs like this George Zimmerman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So since then he has apologized and pretty much retracted those remarks. Curtis Sliwa, does he have a point there?
CURTIS SLIWA, FOUNDER, GUARDIAN ANGELS: Geraldo, it's time to start drinking the Geritol (ph) and taking Bainsy (ph) and Bess (ph). You know how we're always afraid we're going to become like our parents, grandparents?
Geraldo, where's your street cred? Why are we fixated on the hoodie?
O'BRIEN: Why are we fixated on the hoodie?
SLIWA: Because it's thug like. If you wear a hoodie like a thug, you suck in your bottom hip like you've got your trousers down to your butt...
O'BRIEN: The day -- the day...
SLIWA: ... and all of a sudden, you're acting big and bad. Well, then you're acting like a thug.
No one is suggesting that Trayvon Martin was acting that way. There was a sea of hoodies that day. No, no, 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 at all to do with the hoodie.
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 the 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. And now you have a picture of a slightly older young man, still kind of with a baby face.
Why do pictures matter?
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN ANCHOR: 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 photos showed of Zimmerman in a mug shot wearing orange outfit.
And then it kind of morphed, and then we saw Trayvon older, and we saw Zimmerman. He had morphed into some kind of business man.
So again, we're judging based on impressions. And isn't the whole point of this that we shouldn't judge based on superficial impressions?
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: Of course. Called the court of public opinion. It's 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 a sudden, you no longer feel sorry for Trayvon. Now it causes people who are on the fence to go, "Hmm, I might not want to get involved in this case because he might be a thug. He might have sold drugs." That's why the bag -- the marijuana residue, that's why people said, "Oh, 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's 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 and 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 this case?
We're bringing back CNN contributor Roland Martin and joined by Michael Skolnik, who's the editor in chief of GlobalGrind.com. He's also the political director for the businessman and hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons. And also with us is C.L. Bryant, a Tea Party member and a 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, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Well, it's very kind. I think there was a lot of us, a lot of young people. I think it's amazing about this generation, is that this story was not in the national spotlight. And we created a story on GlobalGrind.com, very early on, called "He has a name, Trayvon Martin." Just to give him dignity when he passed.
It wasn't until weeks after that people started paying attention. We had Facebook page created weeks ago. It had a hundred people the first day; now 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 an international discussion.
MARTIN: Here's what most folks don't realize. I first delved into this story on March 9. I called many of the leading civil rights leaders. They didn't know about this here. And so, if someone wants to frame this as civil rights leaders driving the story, absolutely not. They had to come along...
SKOLNIK: That's right.
MARTIN: ... because the energy that 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, bottom up.
O'BRIEN: And yet, lots of evidence that the hype can also work against you.
And Spike Lee had a retweet that, I think, he regrets tremendously now. He apologized to the couple. Here's the original tweet.
O'BRIEN: And then after that, one of the -- lady made a claim, who was part of the elderly couple who was really targeted, because their home. The address was tweeted. She said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 the inside of people and quit looking on the outside of people. It's just sad the reactions that have been going on.
We've living in a hotel, having to eat our food out. We're just afraid to go home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
C.L. 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 back in the '30s, the '40s. Time for us to mature past this.
Now, this guy Zimmerman had better come up with a broken nose or a bloody head or something, or this is going to be a very bad mess.
MARTIN: The one aspect of the civil rights movement most people ignore, they were master strategists. They also understood messaging; also understood timing.
One of the problems when you have folks who are being mobilized without an infrastructure, they don't understand what the lawyer's strategy is. They don't understand what timing is.
And so when the special prosecutor says, "All of these comments are at no helpful right now," when you know you achieve something in a movement, that's when you -- 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. So 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: Although 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's lost their son.
BRYANT: Right. And they're looking to blame someone. They're looking for justice in that. And America is watching. It is 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. One reminder. The family said from day one, Soledad, "We simply want justice. We want him arrested."
So the whole point about people who begin to bring in ban on assault weapons, change "stand your ground," change this law, this law, that's when you have people on the left, on the right who have political agendas who seize on the story.
But the basic thing that drove this, why I was interested, was the family saying, "He wasn't arrested."
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mari, please stand up. Give us your first name and your last name and the question that 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. And 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 a federal investigation?
MARTIN: Absolutely. There is no doubt that African-Americans have always known, is that we have typically had to force prosecutors, force the police, to do what was right. That's the only reason we know that this tape comes out. We only know the DOJ launching their investigation. All of that was because of public pressure. No outcry, none of this happened.
O'BRIEN: You cannot tell me that the story of Trayvon Martin ends with Trayvon Martin.
MARTIN: No. Well, here's where -- the conundrum.
O'BRIEN: The parents want the arrest. But also there's been conversations that have been started about racial profiling, and for the first time, I think that there are 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? After Jena 6, people said this could be the start of something. It didn't lead to a movement.
And so you're hearing people and I'm talking with several people as well. How do we mobilize people to say it goes beyond Trayvon to deal with the much broader issue of social justice in America? That's the question.
BRYANT: But also -- 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.
MARTIN: The conversation we're having will make us better.
O'BRIEN: Final word, too.
SKOLNIK: As the one white person on this stage, I think -- I think it's important...
MARTIN: You better settle down.
SKOLNIK: I think -- I think it's important to say this about the movement. And I wrote this on Global Grind. 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 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 all of you better understand some of 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 a 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 that Americans will be having for quite some time. We thank you for watching tonight. Good night.