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As Zimmerman Trial Goes To Jury, How Would The Barbershop Rule?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, with us from Chicago. In Washington D.C., we have Paul Butler. He's a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Pablo Torre is with us from New York. He's a senior writer with ESPN.com. With us from Boston, healthcare consultant and a contributor to the conservative National Review magazine, Neil Minkoff. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

PAUL BUTLER: What's up?

PABLO TORRE: Yo, what's good, man?

NEIL MINKOFF: Hey, hey, hey.

IZRAEL: Pablo, good to see slumming with us, man. I haven't seen you since yesterday ever since "Around the Horn." It's good to see you're eating well.


TORRE: You know, I come back. I can never say no to you guys. You know that.

IZRAEL: Okay, bro. Well, let's get things started. The trial of George Zimmerman is wrapping up. We got some tape of those closing arguments, right Michel?

MARTIN: We do. And obviously we can only play just a few snippets of what has been a very long, you know, 13-day trial. But the closing arguments have been - are being rendered. Zimmerman, of course, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. We hear first from Assistant State Attorney Bernie

de la Rionda for the prosecution.


BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: He profiled him as a criminal. He assumed certain things, that Trayvon Martin was up to no good and that is what led to his death.

MARTIN: Now let's hear from Mark O'Mara for the defense.


MARK OMARA: To the extent that there are questions or issues that you don't know about George Zimmerman, we're done with the evidence. You're not getting any more information from the state attorney's office to prove their case against George Zimmerman. Don't assume it. Don't presume it. Don't connect dots. Don't fill in the blanks with anything.

IZRAEL: Wow. Okay. Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

IZRAEL: So now it comes down to the jury. Paul Butler, as a former federal prosecutor, you're up first, bro. If you are in the jury box, what's your verdict?

BUTLER: That Mr. Zimmerman is not a murderer, but he should be found guilty of manslaughter. He went after Trayvon, not out of malice or hate, but because Zimmerman made a stupid, tragic mistake. He thought that a black kid in a hoodie was up to no good. So under the law, when people kill recklessly they're guilty of manslaughter. So put him under the jail for killing an innocent child, but I think the up to 30 years he could get for manslaughter is sufficient.

IZRAEL: Wait, hold on a sec, Paul. Pres-Paul, hold on a second. He got out the car and hunted this young man. Didn't he?

BUTLER: He did, but...

IZRAEL: ...OK...

BUTLER: ...for murder, you have to have hate, you have to have what the law calls a wicked and depraved heart. My brother, I just don't think that standard is met here.

IZRAEL: If getting out of the car and hunting a young man down isn't wicked, I don't know what is. Thank you for that, Paul Butler. Neil Minkoff, I know you like to think about the psychology of things. What do you think about this trial?

MINKOFF: Well, one of the things that I think is just fascinating about this trial is that it reveals so much about people's preconceptions and, you know, it was interesting to hear that about the wicked and depraved. I think that there's, you know, an assumption.

One of the things that I think is just really amazing - there's an assumption on the part of certain people who believe that he was racially motivated or that he clearly - he seems to have been racially motivated, that it makes him automatically guilty of murder. And therefore, there's been a backlash that says, if he wasn't then that should make him innocent. And so, you know, I appreciate the fact that there was a middle ground found because I found the two polarizing opposites to be confusing.

IZRAEL: Okay. I'll take that. Pablo...

TORRE: ...Yeah...

IZRAEL: ...Juror number three, what do you think bro?

TORRE: Well, look, once you get past all the silliness that inevitably follows a highly publicized trial like this, in terms of the stuff in the trial too - the knock-knock jokes, people tweeting photos, I mean, I just want - I think the important thing is to remember how serious it is. As you said, a kid was hunted down and killed.

But I think there are two conversations that I look at. Number one is this kind of larger moral ethical, societal conversation where intuitively, and firmly incontrovertibly, I would say, killing someone, period, should result in something. And I don't like the - I mean, just the language that's been around this case where George Zimmerman is the victim makes me uncomfortable fundamentally from that kind of ends perspective. Or having a gun at all, I mean, I think gun control needs to be back in this conversation somewhere, especially in the state of Florida.

But I got to - you know, Mr. Butler had a great point, I mean, look mens rea, I don't know if they proved that beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden was on the prosecution here and from what I've seen and heard and observed - I am not a lawyer, obviously, but, you know, manslaughter seems reasonable to me. But murder, I mean, that's something that I don't know if the prosecution did the job in terms of proving that incontrovertibly, unequivocally. And that's troubling for the larger ethical conversation I talked about in the first part.

MARTIN: Can I ask though, Neil, about this question of a backlash. I mean, it seems to be that the center of gravity and a lot of the conservative media - now, of course, these are not all the major outlets, but a lot of the conservative media that I follow is that it's exactly as you described. But why is that a backlash against the idea that African-Americans aren't allowed to - or the people who are advocating in this area, for law enforcement to take this more seriously than it appeared to, are they wrong to have an opinion that law enforcement was not aggressive about this?

I mean it just seems to me - it's just, why does it follow that if a group of the people feel that they have a right to advocate in their defense, that other people necessarily ought to have a backlash to that? Do you see my point?

I mean, if somebody's saying that there's a backlash to the tea party when people identify something that they feel is wrong and want to organize against it. That's the part that I - or organize to make a point. That's what I find sort of distressing. Why is it necessarily that there's a backlash for people saying that law enforcement did not take this matter seriously to begin with and they're going to use their rights as citizens to bring attention to it?

MINKOFF: So, I'm not sure that I would characterize it that way. First of all, I think that, you know, some of this comes back to the physics of media, which is for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And I would say that maybe, to use one of your other examples, the Tea Party was in of in itself a backlash to other things. So there's this constant ebb and flow across those - across social media.

And some of it is that the enemy of the enemy is my friend. And that if MSNBC says something, then as a conservative I should be against it. And, you know, I think that it's a really multi-factorial thing. I don't think that it was necessary predicated on the idea of advocacy as much as it was concerned - I think more of it is the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

MARTIN: Well, you're listening to our weekly barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Israel, health care consultant Neil Minkoff, that's who was speaking just now. Law professor Paul Butler, sports writer Pablo Torre. Back to you Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. OK, as one trial wraps up, another one begins. The Boston Marathon bombing suspect made his first appearance this week in court, right Michel?

MARTIN: He did. 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arraigned on more than 30 charges, he pled not guilty to all of them There were bombing survivors and relatives of victims in the courtroom.

But there were also a handful of people who supported him, saying he's a victim of a conspiracy, which I found - and also, Neil I'm dying to hear, I know that the rest of us are, what are people talking about? His appearance seemed - I don't know how to describe it. I mean, speaking with a Russian accent and his friends said he didn't have one before. What do you say about that, Neil?

MINKOFF: Yeah, so the whole thing has been a little odd here, what with so many high-profile things happening at once between Tsarnaev and Hernandez and the Whitey Bulger case, and controversy around every possible sports figure, and so on and so forth. So what I think is really bizarre here is that I felt that the reaction locally has been rather muted. Which is, as I go around Boston I hear people talking about the other high-profile cases and I sense that there's some, well, what's new here about this case. Where there was so much information that came out in the week or two after the bombing and then after the manhunt, that there's almost a little bit of like burnout and more focus on the victims still than on Tsarnaev.

MARTIN: Can we ask, Paul, as our attorney here, what do you make it? I mean, he pleaded not guilty, I don't think that's a surprise. But...

BUTLER: ...Yeah, he's trying to avoid the death penalty. Massachusetts state law doesn't allow capital punishment but he's charged with federal crimes so he could potentially be executed. If I were representing him I would try to plea-bargain to get the death penalty off the table. You know, one other group you didn't mention who was there, Michel, were all these cops lined up outside of the courthouse. And I never liked that because, you know, let the process unfold. But when you have all these cops it just sends this message to the jury - they were there in support of the MIT officer who was tragically killed, but just not a good look.

MARTIN: Could they not have been there - there was a high-security presence because this is a terrorist case? I mean we are very close to a court house here...

BUTLER: ...Sure..

MARTIN: ...And when there are high-profile suspects or high-profile individuals there's often a heavy security presence. But you think it was more what - a show of what?

BUTLER: Yeah, so the people I'm talking about weren't security officers, they were fellow law enforcement folks who were there just to show this blue wall of solidarity, again, in support of the MIT officer. And it's fine for victims to be in the courtroom as they were, but again, I think they're just trying to send this message and that's not cool.

IZRAEL: All right. OK, so P-Dog, this is your topic bro. Paul - not Paul, Pablo, my dude.


IZRAEL: As it turns out, former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will probably be on trial next. He's charged with murder - the murder of someone who had been his friend. Wow, friends like that man. Anyway, so Pablo takeover. What else may be on this guy's rap sheet?

TORRE: Well, there's a lot, I mean, every week it seems there's a new revelation, a new allegation I should say, about what he may or may not have done dating back to college. When he was a teenager, 17 years old at the University of Florida, rupturing, allegedly, the eardrum of a bartender.

And so, you know, I think the question really is, if you're the Patriots, I mean, how much blame do we give that organization? And I don't know if anybody necessarily should be able to foresee a homicide, given the background that he - I mean he hasn't killed anyone before. It's such the extreme end of the misbehavior spectrum.

But if you're - and if you're an NFL organization scouting and sticking red flags in the backs of prospects, you know, I'm thinking maybe physical violence, getting into fights before getting to the pros...

IZRAEL: ...Yeah.

TORRE: ...Maybe that should be stigmatized more than it is already. I know a lot of guys may get into that sort of trouble in college but maybe that's something we need to begin to stigmatize and discourage, because that seems to be a decent pre-runner.

IZRAEL: Maybe you shouldn't be recruiting with the Crips, maybe. I don't know...

TORRE: ...Yeah, also...

IZRAEL: ...because, I mean, this guy was like a bona fide thug. I mean he was yeah, I mean...

TORRE: Well, he dropped in the draft for suspicions surrounding all sorts of unsavory things. I don't even think it's the weed stuff, I think it's more of - what kind of a temper does he have, kind of violence, history of violence does he have. And he had something there, which is obviously discouraging.

BUTLER: Oh, my God, is this the barbershop or some kind of country club in Connecticut? What are you guys talking about?

IZRAEL: I don't know Paul, you tell us.


TORRE: Go on, go on.

BUTLER: I mean come on, young guys get into fights.

IZRAEL: What're you talking about Willis?

BUTLER: Young guys get into fights. The vast majority, 99.9 percent of people in the NFL don't get charged with murder, so give me a break.

TORRE: Hold on. Rupturing a bartender's eardrum is getting into a fight? I mean there's...

IZRAEL: It really is.

TORRE: ...squabbles and then there's, like, police reports, which I think should be taken more seriously.

BUTLER: Yeah. I just don't think like the way they're trying to make this some broader problem with the NFL, which for the record is 80 percent African-American.

MARTIN: You know, it's also...


MARTIN: I'm interested in Neil's point about this, but I also have to say just from another side of it, and I think we've all seen - we often talk about how athletes, you know, particularly people who are in big physical sports take it too far. But it's also - have you also seen where they've been targets where people want to pick fights at them just to challenge them? I mean, haven't you all that? People coming up to them, like deliberately provoking them because they want to, kind of, see what they'll do. I mean it's this is a double edged sword being that physical, that big, and that prominent, right?

TORRE: I agree with that.

IZRAEL: I agree. I get that all the time when I wear my NPR t-shirt.

MARTIN: Thank you, Neil. Thank you, Jimi. I was going to say Neil, as the Patriots fan here, I think he gets the chance to say something, right.

MINKOFF: Yeah. So this has been - I think that this has actually driven a lot. Obviously there's going to be a tremendous amount of coverage if an NFL player is associated or allegedly associated with a homicide. But, you know, I think a lot of the coverage has been driven by the fact that it's been this, you know, organization that prides itself on being pristine and it pressured Hernandes to be, you know, squeaky clean and he'd come out and said that he made a lot of mistakes, but now that he's a Patriot he is going to do things the Patriot way and he's going to straighten up and fly right.

And he's a dad now and he's going to be a proud role model. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so I think that's really driven a lot is there was such an unbelievable discrepancy with what we were told/sold and what was really happening, that it led to a lot of this real, like, what are you talking about? How did this happen here?

MARTIN: I see your interesting point. But before we go - who does not want to talk about Jay-Z? He has released his new album, it's "Magna Carta Holy Grail." We'll just give you a little taste of the song "Picasso Baby."


MARTIN: I got to go to Pablo on this.

TORRE: It's my ring tone now.


MARTIN: Ring tone, right.

MINKOFF: That's beautiful.

TORRE: You know, Michel, I hate to say this but, look, I was sitting and meditating on Kanye's new album, "Yeezus."

MINKOFF: Brilliant.

TORRE: To me, that is so much more artistically advanced than anything that Jay-Z has done, that it blows me away. So, Kanye, look, I don't think it's - not the same universe. And, Jay-Z, it's good stuff, but if you play that in the living room people will talk over it. You play Kanye's stuff and people stop and listen and it's - I don't think it's even close.

MARTIN: Awe, man. Why is the man a hater? He's hating on my generation.

TORRE: Still my ring tone.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Neil.

MINKOFF: But that's why this album is going to outsell "Yeezus" by a tremendous amount. It's incredibly accessible, it's incredibly easy to listen to. It's the only album I can think of in decades that both my children and my mother want to listen to.

MARTIN: Oh, my God. Just dropped in cool points, so many points. So, Paul, what do you say?

BUTLER: Jay-Z is 43 years old and this is what hip-hop by a grown man sounds like. He's still spitting like a beast, he's still got the sickest wordplay, but his themes have evolved from selling cocaine to how scared he is about being a dad 'cause he didn't grow up with a dad, and his ambivalence about the cause of success. So HOVA remains the greatest rapper alive.

MARTIN: Okay. Jimi, do you want to have the final word here?

IZRAEL: I don't know what he's going to rap about going forward. Kidney stones and sciatica? You know, I mean, there's no - we don't have a rapper his age that has still been rapping. But he's still in the game and he's still in the game hard, so I'm looking forward to the kidney stone wrap. So we'll see.

MARTIN: Thank you. I just would like point out, yet again, if I may, that it is my generation that invented hip-hop. Thank you very much. And I think that we are supposed to rap about the things that affect our lives. And I don't rap, I'm just saying.

IZRAEL: Like kidney stones.


MARTIN: Speaking for yourself, Jimi Izrael. Thank you gentleman. Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. Pablo Torre is a senior writer for ESPN.com, with us from our bureau in New York. Neil Minkoff is trained as a doctor, he's now a healthcare consultant. He's a contributor to the National Review, the venerable conservative magazine, with us from NPR member station WGBH. Paul Butler is a professor at Georgetown Law, a former federal prosecutor, and an author, with us in Washington D.C. Thank you all.

TORRE: Thank you.

MINKOFF: Thank you.

BUTLER: Good to be here.

IZRAEL: Yep. Yep.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our barbershop podcast, that's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.