Skip navigation

PoliticsNation, Friday, July 19th, 2013

Read the transcript from the Friday show

  Most Popular
Most viewed

POLITICS NATION
July 19, 2013


REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Today in Washington, something
unusual and powerful at the White House. President Obama made a surprise
visit to the briefing room. It was a Friday afternoon in the summer. He
smiled. He joked around. But when he started to speak, it became clear
this speech was unusual. He spoke about how black Americans talk and think
about race. What followed was as powerful and personal a statement as we
have ever heard from a president on race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason I actually
wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue
that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the week,
the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement
right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course
of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my
thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that once again I send my thoughts
and prayers as well as Michelle`s to the family of Trayvon Martin. And to
remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they have dealt with
the entire situation. I can only imagine what they`re going through with
this. It`s remarkable how they have handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday,
which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in
the case. I will let all the legal analysts and talking heads address
those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The
prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly
instructed that in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and
they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that`s how our
system works.

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people
have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon
Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another
way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And
when you think about why in the African-American community at least there
is a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it`s important to
recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue
through a set of experiences and a history that doesn`t go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: This was a very significant beginning that he started a
statement. One, he gave real heartfelt compassion to the family and said
that he understood their pain. He praised them for how they handled this,
something we have not heard a lot. Almost like the family was not even to
be considered.

But then he went in to start explaining that people that were pained
by this were not people that were irrational or crazy. There was a context
to this. The jury has spoken. No one can deal with that. That`s fine.
But there is a broader context. And he wanted to bring that context in to
this discussion from his level.

But then he went further. He said not only could Trayvon have been my
son, Trayvon could have been me 35 years ago. Everyone in black America
could understand that. The president also shared his own personal and
sadly common experiences with discrimination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There are very few African-American men in this country who
haven`t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a
department store. That includes me. There are very few African-American
men who haven`t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing
the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before
I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven`t had the
experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching a purse
nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That
happens often.

And I don`t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences
inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one
night in Florida. And it`s inescapable for people to bring those
experiences to bear. The African-American community is also knowledgeable
that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our
criminal laws. Everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our
drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people
interpret the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: This is why this became so important. In my opinion, even
historic. This is the first time the United States had a president that
not only talked about the humiliation black men go through where they are
profiled walking in a store, or even crossing a street, hearing car locks
come down. He said I know because it has happened to me. You could never
overestimate the impact of the president of the United States identifying
with the humiliation of people who have been marginalized and acted as
those they were making these things up.

And then he talked substantively about the disparities in
incarceration in drug arrests. These things that happen. He talked about
the racial disparities in the criminal justice stem and how we understand
the Trayvon Martin story in that context.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now, this isn`t to say that the African-American community is
naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately
involved in the criminal justice system, that they`re disproportionately
both victims and perpetrators of violence. It`s not to make excuses for
that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a
historical context. We understand that some of the violence that takes
place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very
violent past in this country. And that the poverty and dysfunction that we
see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so, the fact that sometimes that`s unacknowledged adds to the
frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted
with a broad brush. And the excuse is given, well, there are these
statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent,
using that as an excuse to then see their sons being treated differently
causes pain.

I think the African-American community is also not naive in
understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably
statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody
else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American
boys. But they get frustrated I think if they feel there is no context for
it. And that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to
a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario
that from top to bottom both the outcome and the aftermath might have been
different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: This is where he even got more direct, where he knows he
will be criticized, but for whatever reasons, he went there. And he went
there in a very direct way. Yes, there is crime in the black community.
Yes we must address it. Yes, there are those of us that fight it.

But he also said that there are those that feel based on the history
of the country, based on violence, a lot of that comes from poverty. A lot
of that comes from other places. But we must deal with it. But the fact
is that the criminal justice system will if they know black on black crime,
arrest the black criminal.

The disparity is when there is a black victim and a white accused of
that. That`s the perception that hurts. And those that feel that pain are
not crazy. You must understand the context, even if you disagree with the
conclusion. We don`t have to come to the same conclusion, but we have got
to stop acting like it`s irrational for people in pain to scream ouch.
They are screaming ouch because they are in pain.

The president also talked about some concrete things that we could do
after the verdict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and
local laws to see if it -- if they are designed in such a way that they may
encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that
we saw in the Florida case rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there has been commentary about the fact that the Stand
Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the
other hand, if we`re sending a message as a society in our communities that
someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms, even
if there is a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going
to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we`d
like to see?

And for those who resist that idea, that we should think about
something like these Stand Your Ground laws I would just ask people to
consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his
ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been
justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because
he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least
ambiguous, then it seems to me we might want to examine those kinds of
laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: That is the point. Where was Trayvon Martin`s right to
stand his ground?

Look at the case of Marissa Alexander, right in Florida, Jacksonville
to be specific. That is the disparity. That is the pain. That is why
people are up in arms, because most of us, many of us feel and know that
there is sense of justice for some and a sense of injustice or ignoring the
right to justice for others. Stand Your Ground does not apply to
everybody`s ground.

As hard as these issues are, as painful as they are, President Obama
didn`t appear downbeat, though. He wasn`t defeated. In fact, he ended on
a strong and hopeful note.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Let me just leave you with a final thought that as difficult
and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don`t
want us to lose sight that things are getting better.

Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing
attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn`t mean we`re in a post racial
society. It doesn`t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know when I
talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them
interact, they are better than we are. They are better than we were on
these issues. And that`s true in every community that I have visited all
across the country.

And so, we have to be vigilant, and we have to work on these issues.
And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage
the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to
heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these
days I think have more sense than we did back then and certainly more than
our parents did or our grandparents did. And that along this long
difficult journey, we are becoming a more perfect union. Not a perfect
union. But more perfect union.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: We are becoming a more perfect union. We have made
progress.

Yes, we have. And people have said since the verdict it`s not as bad
as it was. But the reason it didn`t resonate is because they wouldn`t deal
with the context as they measured the progress. The reason what the
president said could make us hopeful is he dealt with the reality and then
said yes things are better, because they are. And yes, they are better.
The fact that we can do things our parents couldn`t and that their parents
couldn`t is undeniable. But don`t use it as an excuse to stop the move
toward progress. Use that to inspire that if they could do it, why can`t
we?

And that`s why him putting the context and baring the facts was how
you move the country forward. Because we never moved forward by making
excuses that we have already made enough progress.

And as we prepare to rally in 100 cities tomorrow in the wake of the
Trayvon Martin verdict, the president addressed the big questions. Why
does this divide exist? How can we address it without becoming
acrimonious? And how do we move forward? We will get at those answers,
and we will talk about how we reached those answers to those questions,
next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Honesty and context. The president`s speech on race.
Where do we go from here? That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this
could have been my son. Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin
could have been me 35 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: President Obama earlier today giving some of the most
personal remarks of his presidency. His most extensive comments on the
issue of race since 2008 in his presidential run. And by far, the most
direct references to race in his presidency.

Joining now Melissa Harris-Perry and Joe Madison. Thank you both for
coming on the show.

JOE MADISON, HOST, MORNINGS WITH MADISON: Thank you.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR, MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW:
Absolutely.

SHARPTON: Melissa, in your opinion, why are these remarks important?

HARRIS-PERRY: There are so many reasons. Obviously, all of us who
were watching it were stunned by how personal the president was. In fact,
not only personal, but I have to say I was experiencing a sense of his
vulnerability. You know, talked about the peculiar sensation of always
looking at yourself through the eyes of others who look on with amused
contempt and pity. That`s how he described the African-American experience
in this country.

And so, as I am watching the president and feeling a sense of hope
associated with having an African-American man acknowledge the painful
history that black people have had in this country, the continuing painful
experiences of our children and our adults, and then tying that to the
American narrative. On the one hand, that was hopeful. On the other hand,
I am watching that through that double consciousness, thinking of it all
the while of what the president`s political enemies and opponents will do
this w this. And I think that`s part of what is so difficult about this
moment is the sense of if people could listen to the president, if they
could hear what he was saying. But one of the things we have learned over
and over again in this country and that we have seen in the week in the
aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict is every time we try to have a
conversation on race, we discover that we do not have the same vocabulary.
We are not speaking in the same language. And I think the president was
trying to divide -- excuse me, cross some of that divide today.

SHARPTON: And you know, Joe, one of the things he touched on is a
difference in perspective. It`s like we look at a glass and it`s a mirror.
We see Trayvon. We see the mirror. Others look and it`s a window pane and
they`re looking out. And it`s hard when people are seeing the same thing
through a different kind of glass to have a conversation unless somebody
understands both glasses can say, wait a minute, you need to really talk
about this.

MADISON: I just had this conversation, almost the exact words that
you just used a few minutes ago. And that is that our perspectives have to
be respected. And our perspectives are based on what? Our experience. I
mean, we may have different perspectives because we have different
experiences. And that`s really what you heard the president say. Is that
look, this is my perspective because here is my experience. And my
experience, even though I`m president of the United States now is no
different than what other folks have gone through.

On my show every day, I`ve said this, that in America, we are
culturally conditioned to believe that white is superior, black is
inferior. And the manifestation of that cultural conditioning is that we
undervalue, underestimate, and marginalize black people. And so, what the
president is really saying and what we have to say beyond politics is that
we have to recondition how we think. We have to recondition. Culture is a
powerful tool.

SHARPTON: I think also, Melissa, that we have got to really reflect
on the whole difference in how we not only express that, but think. I
mean, it is controversial when we even raised the question of racial
equality. And everyone else in society can say and do whatever about their
issues, whether it is any other community. And it`s understandable even if
it`s just disagreed. But we have become agitators, arsonists and all just
because we`re saying we don`t want to be marginalized and treated
differently.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, and part of what you will hear is well, it`s
been so long. I mean things are so different. Why are you still talking
about this. But because I was preparing to start thinking about this for
the show this week, I was going back and reading things that former
confederates said in the 1870s. The 1870s that had the same language of
well, why are you still talking about slavery? And we are talking about
something that in 1870, we were much less than a decade away from.

I want to emphasize also that as much as the president was speaking
from a personal place, as much as he was putting himself fully embodied in
the experience of Trayvon Martin and giving us such a critical witness to
the experience of black men in this country, he was also speaking, and I
just don`t ever want to forget this, just as Joe Madison was, this is
actually documented.

We have decades of research in American public opinion. We have
decades of research in social science and social psychology. It`s not just
that we sort of think maybe we see things differently. We really do. And
sort of the failure to acknowledge that empirical evidence is at the heart
of this.

SHARPTON: No, the data is there. And I think also it is very
important Melissa says, we are not talking about back in the day. I was
having this conversation on the airplane today with a guy. I was a kid in
the `60s. I was 8-years-old the first march on Washington.

I`m talking about things in my lifetime. I`m not talking about back
in the day. And then, the reaction is going to come. We know that he is
going to be demonized for even trying to have the conversation right after
the speech. Let me show you, Joe, what Sean Hannity had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Now the president is saying Trayvon
could have been me 35 years ago. Oh, this is a particularly helpful
comment. Is that the president admitting that I guess, because what, he
was part of the choom gang and he smoked pot and did a little blow. I`m
not sure how to interpret that because we know Trayvon had been smoking pot
that night. I`m not sure ma that means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: So let me get this right. Sean Hannity now has put Trayvon
in a gang and is a weed smoker. Again, the despicable denigration of a
young man who only bought some candy and iced tea. You get the verdict I
assume you agree with, but that`s not enough. You still have to run him
through the mud because the president said that could have been him. This
is the kind of thing that enrages and outrages us, because if it had been
reversed and any of us had denigrated a victim of any other community, they
would never tolerate that and they shouldn`t.

MADISON: Of course, they shouldn`t. I mean, look. Sean Hannity is
part of that cultural conditioning I`m talking about. He has to say those
kinds of thing so prop up his false sense of superiority. Let us just
understand what is going on. Thank God at least over on that side of the
cable channel, you know, you have Chris Wallace who says no, wait a minute.
Let`s be reasonable here.

But you know what the great thing is about what I heard the president
say? And I thought about my own grown children. And you have grown
children too. And that is when he says when I sit and observe them talking
with their friends, they look at us sometimes and wonder what is wrong with
you guys.

SHARPTON: And our children are older than his. And it`s different.
But at the same time --

MADISON: Because they did. They blended.

SHARPTON: They grow up different. But that`s as a result of people
having the conversation and struggling to come together.

MADISON: And the world hasn`t fallen apart.

SHARPTON: But Melissa, let me play this to you. In 2008, the
president discussed race as a presidential candidate. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I`m the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from
Kansas. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood
of slaves and slave owners, an inheritance we pass on to our two precious
daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and cousins
of every race and every hue scattered across three continents. And for as
long as I live, he will never forget that in no other country on earth is
my story even possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: What was the difference in your judgment, Melissa, between
the 2008 speech and what we heard today?

HARRIS-PERRY: I think there are several things. You know, one
important thing, the president always has been the bridge builder.
(INAUDIBLE) OF "the New Yorker" called him the bridge in the book, the
biography that he wrote of the president.

But today, he really was very self-conscious about embodying the
position of Trayvon Martin. I think in part because he undoubtedly has
been seeing, as we have, this desire to continue to take Trayvon Martin
through the mud, this innocent child who we know did not commit a crime.
This child who was under 18 and was killed.

I want to say this. Our kids are better than us. There is no
question about that. But it will not matter if they live in a country
where they can be killed for walking home.

SHARPTON: That`s right.

HARRIS-PERRY: It will not matter that they are better than us. It
will not matter they are having this conversation if we cannot figure it
out enough to protect them. And I will tell you that this verdict, and
particularly the response to the verdict puts young people in the position
of having to experience a sense of racial animus, anxiety and stress that
they might not otherwise have. It is part of why they are so incumbent
upon us to engage in this conversation in a mature, empirically based and
reasonable way, because it really is our children`s capacity to move
forward in the next generation that is on the line here.

SHARPTON: Melissa Harris-Perry, Joe Madison, I`m going to have to
leave it there. Thank you both for your time this evening. And please
tune in for the Melissa Harris-Perry show weekends at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
here on MSNBC.

Coming up, the President spoke out about the stand your ground laws.
What will it do for the national debate?

And Trayvon Martin`s parents have just responded to the President`s
remarks. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: President Obama began his remarkable speech today talking
about Trayvon Martin`s family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: First of all, yes, I want to
make sure that once again I send my thoughts and prayers as well as
Michelle`s to the family of Trayvon Martin. And to remark on the
incredible grace and dignity with which they have dealt with the entire
situation. I can only imagine what they`re going through, and it`s
remarkable how they`ve handled it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Trayvon`s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
responded. Quote, "We are deeply honored and moved that President Obama
took the time to speak publicly and at length about our son Trayvon. The
president`s comments gave us great strength at this time."

The President is right. It is remarkable how they`ve handled it. And
tomorrow they`ll join in the fight to make change. Fighting to repeal the
stand your ground law with us at the vigils. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: The Zimmerman trial shined a spotlight on America`s radical
gun laws. And today President Obama spoke out about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I know that there has been commentary about the fact that the
stand your ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.
On the other hand, if we`re sending a message as a society in our
communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use
those firearms, even if there is a way for them to exit from a situation.
Is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security
and order that we`d like to see?

And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting
Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened.
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to
me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: There is no doubt these laws do need to be examined. A
version of the law is now in 33 states. We need to fight back. We need to
take action. And we`ll be standing together in 100 cities tomorrow. And
Trayvon Martin`s parents will be there too in honor of the memory of their
teenage son.

Joining me now is E.J. Dionne. Thanks for being here, E.J. Now, you
have written about the need to repeal stand your ground laws. With the
President weighing in today, what does it do to the debate, and what did
you think of the President`s speech?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I was very moved about it.
And the thing that moved me the most I think was his tribute to Trayvon
Martin`s family.

SHARPTON: Yes.

DIONNE: I mean, that family has shown as he said grace and dignity,
extraordinary decency. And you like to -- I don`t think I could react that
way if it were my son who was shot dead.

SHARPTON: It`s amazing.

DIONNE: And I`d like to hope that people who may not have come into
this sympathetic to Trayvon Martin will listen to them, watch them and say
you know, these are good people. Maybe I should try to see this through
their eyes. I think they have given an example that you don`t see a lot in
public debates or very much at all.

SHARPTON: Yes. No doubt in my mind, you`re right. The laws itself.
With the President weighing in today, what does this do to the debate?

DIONNE: It raises the profile. I mean, Eric Holder did it already.
The President is doing it now. And I thought his saying flat-out would you
feel the same way if it had been Trayvon Martin who had been older and
handed the gun and had shot that weapon? Because the problem with stand
your ground laws is it shifts the balance of power in our country towards
people with guns.

SHARPTON: Right.

DIONNE: Sixty percent of us don`t own weapons. Somewhere around
this, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent. If somebody shoots me dead with
a gun and then says oh, I did it in self-defense, I`m not there to say he
is lying because I`m not there. I`m dead. And that what I think these
laws have done is there an effort by the NRA and their allies to really
shift the whole culture of the country, to say really we`re safer when we
were are all armed. Well, no we`re not.

And that story shows what happens when you really remove the authority
from the police and just give anybody the right just because they feel
threatened. I mean, how many of us feel threatened?

SHARPTON: Right.

DIONNE: We often feel threatened, but that not an excuse to shoot a
gun.

SHARPTON: And use deadly force at that. You know, the President
talked about how some said that stand your ground was not argued in this
case, but there was certainly the looming presence of it. And even juror
B-37 who was interviewed talked about how stand your ground influenced the
verdict. Listen to, this E.J.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because of the only, the two options you had,
second-degree murder or manslaughter, you felt neither applied?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right. Because of the heat of the moment in the
stand your ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt
threatened, that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was
going to have bodily harm, he had a right. That`s how we read the law.
That`s how we got to the point of everybody being not guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: In the heat of the moment, he had the right to defend
himself, stand your ground. So even though it was not argued directly, it
influenced instruction of the judge. It dealt with the whole understanding
jurors had of where the law was now. That`s why this law is so
significant. And that`s why the law is in the middle of this case.

DIONNE: No. That`s absolutely right. Because we can`t just look at
the letter of the law. It`s true they didn`t use the stand your ground law
in this argument. But it creates a further bias in the case in favor of
the shooter. And that`s in the head of jurors. And there is no obligation
for someone to try to diffuse the situation. There is no obligation to try
to walk away from a fight.

And having a law like this encourages a kind of aggression I think
because it gives power, more power to somebody with a weapon. So I don`t
think we should be surprised that even though stand your ground wasn`t
directly part of this case, the juror felt well this part of the law exist
therefore, there is even more of a tilt toward Mr. Zimmerman.

SHARPTON: I`m out of time. But I must ask you. You have covered a
lot of presidents. How did you think -- what is the significance of what
you saw today from this president?

DIONNE: Oh, I thought this was huge because he did it -- it wasn`t a
set speech. It wasn`t some formal part of a conversation. He said I could
be, 35 years I`d be Trayvon Martin. And I think he sent the signal to a
lot of Americans, particularly white Americans to say, please look at this
through the eyes of people who have gone through a certain history and have
had these experiences. And I think he may not have reached Sean Hannity,
you talked about it earlier. But I think he reached a lot of people with
that today.

SHARPTON: E.J. Dionne, thanks for your time.

DIONNE: Thank you, sir.

SHARPTON: Coming up, why did he make this speech today? Why address
Trayvon Martin verdict now? David Gregory, moderator of "Meet the Press"
joins me. And the president spoke of the way forward and how to channel
the outrage and pain surrounding this tragedy into positive action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: The President`s big moment today. The moderator of NBC`s
"Meet the Press" David Gregory joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: The President`s appearance today in the White House
briefing room was as powerful as it was surprising. A White House official
said the President told his senior staff he had been thinking about
addressing the Trayvon Martin verdict after having, quote, "several
conversations with his friends and family." He also felt it was, quote,
"important that he make remarks so the country could hear from him in a
broader context."

And that the President had been, quote, "watching the reaction around
the country and in the African-American community."

Joining me now is David Gregory, moderator of NBC`s "Meet the Press."
First of all, David, thank you for being here.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Sure.

SHARPTON: This afternoon, you called the speech a remarkable
presidential moment. What was striking to you?

GREGORY: That this was not about a president coming out saying here
is a big problem and as president of the United States, I can try to solve
it. It was just the opposite. I think this was a president who came out
and said that there is something that is roiling the waters out there. And
it has to do with race and it`s highly charged. It`s politicized in a way
because it has to do with gun laws in the country. And government really
doesn`t have all the answers. But let me try to explain where a lot of
African-Americans are coming from.

So the first black president in a position to try to explain the
reaction a lot of African-Americans have to the Trayvon Martin case, but
also call for calm, with a lot of the vigils that are coming up over the
weekend. And I don`t know, just sort of work through this, as if he was
thinking out loud, no doubt responding to those critics who said he hasn`t
adequately found his voice in talking about race.

SHARPTON: Now, you have covered the Bush White House. You`ve been
certainly the guy that has seen it all heard it all. Give me where this
fits in terms of where we are in the history of the country. How
significant is what we saw, particularly coming from the first African-
American?

GREGORY: What I see, I think it`s just that. I mean, nobody -- it`s
unprecedented in the fact that only the first African-American president
can give voice to racial tension in the country the way that he has. And
there has been an evolution to that. You know, he did it as a candidate in
Philadelphia.

SHARPTON: `08, yes.

GREGORY: He did it more clumsily in response to the skip Gates arrest
in Cambridge. Here I think it was different. I think he came across this
more --- I don`t think this was an ideological issue, but he was more
centralist about it acknowledging black on black crime and how troubling it
is to the African-American community. While at the same time trying to
provide context. And you are I are talking earlier. That`s what I thought
was striking. I think the president to the extent that he sees himself
having a unique role is to provide context to some of these debates.

SHARPTON: Yes.

GREGORY: And I find him incredibly comfortable in that role.

SHARPTON: Yes, he hit a core nerve. I mean, as you know, there are
vigils tomorrow in 100 cities in all. For him to say not as he did a year
ago that Trayvon could have been my son, but Trayvon could have been me.

GREGORY: Right.

SHARPTON: Puts the whole explanation at a different level where I
don`t know that he identifies or lease the charge of the pain of people
like me that are more active, but explains that the pain is not irrational,
even if I don`t have the medicine to take care of the pain.

GREGORY: And that`s what I think is significant. And if there is
something to come of it, then we can all have conversations in more
intimate setting where perhaps it`s still more comfortable to talk about
race and work through. He talked about wringing bias out of our lives and
out of our society. I don`t know that that`s always done in the public
square, but it certainly needs to be done.

The added power of the first black president saying Trayvon could have
been me 35 years ago, that speaks volumes. And it says to blacks and
whites alike look, there is pain here that you don`t experience, that you
can`t understand that influences a reaction to the outcome of the case.

SHARPTON: The politics of this. On one side, you have the African-
American community that says when he said that, that could have been me,
yes, he understands how we feel, and it could have been him. But there may
be a price to pay by some in not just white communities. I`m sure many in
the white community will understand. But there are going to be those on
the right, those who have been the opponents of the president that will
jump on this and say that he is encouraging the marches.

GREGORY: Right. And that he is being divisive in some way. Right.

SHARPTON: Why do it, then? What is the politics of this? How did he
weigh the politics? Because you and I both agrees, he is very thoughtful
and he certainly is not a guy that is not cautious. Why do it?

GREGORY: Look, I have to believe at some level, and yes, there is
political pressure coming from the African-American community, that there
is a sub-statement of conscious here. That he wants part of his legacy to
be having -- making a contribution to race relations to the racial dialogue
in this country that goes beyond what his presence alone signifies. I do
think he has been reluctant at times, reticent perhaps, but when he finds a
voice and I think where he is most comfortable saying, hey, there is a
context here.

We know how uncomfortable he is with the media dialogue, with media
coverage, with our binary political debates. I think he looks for
opportunities particularly on the issues of race to say, let`s have a
broader contextual conversation. I`m sure he had some remarks, you know,
prepared in his head. But this was him more or less riffing in a way that
was quite thoughtful and, you know, we`ll see what the impact is.

SHARPTON: David, thank you so much for joining us. David Gregory,
moderator of "Meet the Press." Again, thank you for your time.

GREGORY: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: This Sunday on "Meet the Press," David will have a special
discussion on race and justice in America. That`s Sunday morning on NBC.
Please check your local listings for times.

Coming up, the President talks about turning tragedy into action.
Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: For all their power, presidents aren`t all powerful. We
know that. That`s as it should be. But presidents always have the power
of the bully pulpit. And this afternoon, President Obama talked about
moving the country to action on these issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I do recognize that as president, I`ve got some convening
power. And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the
country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business
leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes
and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American
men feel that they`re a full part of this society, and that they`ve got
pathways and avenues to succeed? I think that would be a pretty good
outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we`re going to
spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: The President has the powerful bully pulpit, the power to
convene. Thousands of us will be together at vigils and rallies tomorrow
in 100 cities. You have the power to do that. You have the power in your
churches, in your homes, wherever you are, to do whatever you can do to
move this country forward. To move this country toward a more perfect
union.

When I was growing up in church, we used to sing the song "this little
light of mine, I`m going let it shine." Let`s all take the darkness on by
shining our light on a better way and a way to make this nation what it
should be.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2013 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Transcription Copyright 2013 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is
granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not
reproduce or redistribute the material except for user`s personal or
internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall
user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may
infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC`s copyright or other proprietary rights or
interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of
litigation.>






Sponsored links

Resource guide