Meet the Press | July 21, 2013
>>> this sunday, the president seeks to ignite a new conversation about race in america .
>> trayvon martin could have been me 35 years ago.
>> the president's deeply personal remarks about the aftereffects of the george zimmerman trial add to the debate about the stand your ground laws, racial profiling and the plight of african-american boys in the criminal justice system and our society.
>> if trayvon martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?
>> this morning a special discussion about race relations and the impact of the president's remarks on the black community and beyond. with us, the president of the national urban league , marc morial , chairman of the congressional black caucus , congresswoman marcia fudge. author and pbs host tavis smiley , former chairman of the rnc, michael steele , and harvard law professor, charles ogletree . plus, the remarkable financial collapse of a major american city. detroit files for bankruptcy. what's next for its residents including thousands of city employees and retirees. and what does it say about the plight of america 's cities in this fragile economic recovery? we'll hear from the current and former governors of the state. the man now in office, republican rick snyder and his predecessor, democrat jennifer granholm . plus insights and analysis from david brooks of "the new york times" and nbc's chuck todd .
>> announcer: from nbc news in washington, the world's longest-running television program , this is "meet the press with david gregory ."
>> good sunday morning. a week after the not guilty verdict for george zimmerman , justice for trayvon rallies held outside federal buildings yesterday in 100 u.s. cities including new york , here in washington, chicago, los angeles , and dallas. the message of rally organizers, trayvon's death should focus more attention on race, crime and justice in america . and that's where we begin this morning. we've got a special group assembled to talk about this issue, particularly after the president's remarks on friday afternoon. joining me, democratic congresswoman and chair of the congressional black caucus , marcia fudge of ohio. former chair of the republican national committee , now msnbc analyst, michael steele . harvard law professor who taught both barack and michelle obama at harvard, charles ogletree . author and pbs host tavis smiley and president and ceo of national urban league , marc morial . welcome to all of you.
>> thank you.
>> what a unique moment friday was for this presidency, for any presidency, and congresswoman, i want to start with you. describe the impact of the president coming out at the white house , speaking about race in such a personal and frankly off-the-cuff way.
>> i was very proud, quite frankly . i think that it was timely, but more importantly, i think that he could feel the anger that was going around across this country, and he felt that he needed to respond in a way that i think took a lot of courage. for him to basically say that we have a situation where a young man is basically convicted of his own murder, that someone can hunt you down and then say, i'm afraid and kill you. he made it clear that trayvon martin had rights as well. and he made it clear as well that african-american men, for history, for a very long time, have had to deal with this problem.
>> you know, as i talk to people inside the white house , there was a sense that he wanted to provide context for this debate. and i think it's important for people who may have missed the comments to hear a little bit more from the president on friday, again, comparing himself to trayvon martin . i want to show a portion of that.
>> 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's 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.
>> a history that doesn't go away. and yet tavis smiley , you were critical of the president. you said on twitter, his comments were as weak as pre-sweetened kool-aid. he took too long to show up and express outrage.
>> i appreciate and applaud the fact that the president did finally show up. but this town has been spinning a story that's not altogether true. he did not walk to the podium for an impromptu address to the nation . he was pushed to that podium. a week of protests outside the white house , pressure building on him inside the white house pushed him to that podium. so i'm glad he finally arrived. but when he left the podium, he still had not answered the most important question, that keynesian question, where do we go from here? that question this morning remains unanswered, at least from the perspective of the president. and the bottom line is, this is not libya. this is america . on this issue, you cannot lead from behind. what's lacking in this moment is moral leadership. the country is begging for it. they're craving it. and i disagree with the president respectfully that politicians, elected officials, can't occupy this space on race. lincoln did, truman did, johnson did, president obama did. he's the right person in the right place at the right time, but he has to step into his moment. i don't want him to be like bill clinton , when he's out of office, regretting that he didn't move on rwanda. i don't want the president to look back and realize he didn't do as much as he could have in this critical moment .
>> to tavis's point, professor, there has been criticism, it's been building through the week. there was an article in "the washington post " that he had imposed himself in the silence about race. and she wrote this. "during this period of self-imposed silence, we have watched our criminal laws become radicalized, our race criminalized. blacks continue to be faced with punishing unfairness and inequalities. soaring rates of unemployment, discriminatory drug laws , disproportionate prison sentences, unhealthy food, unfair stop and frisk policies and unarmed shootings of unarmed men by the police. these are treated with more indifference or contempt. we're told to stop complaining or no one cares. tav tavis's argument.
>> i disagree with tavis in a profound way. president obama has been talking about race and doing things about race in for a long time. and the reality is that he walked to the podium. he wasn't pushed to the podium. he walked to the podium. he's been trying to have this conversation. and this was the event in the criminal justice system that pushed him over the level. what he said about trayvon is a continuation about what he said when he was shot. he said in 2012 . i think he said -- his whole statement, he said let's have a conversation on race. let's talk about we made some progress as a society, but we still have a long way to go. and i think that what he said and what he did and what he represents to us is a sense, people keep making him as if he's the black president . he's the president who happens to be black. and he can do whatever he can do for all of us, but not simply focus on one community or one issue.
>> david , what the president did is open the door to begin a conversation. one speech can't outline every single action step that needs to be taken. and i think the president agonized. it's not difficult to be a carry the burdens of history in a nation with so much history. but what he did, i think, is start the process and sort of sanction, if you will, the need for there to be a discussion and action steps. and i expect that there will be more because one thing is certain. the emotional court and the response, the vigils on yesterday, the civil rights continuation march on august 24th , the urban league conference that will take place this week in philadelphia, this conversation at the grass-roots level, at the community level, within boardrooms and suites also has just begun. and i think what i hope it leads to and what i hope we will see is not only a discussion that started and ends quickly, but a discussion that will lead to serious action steps by the nation .
>> but that's the key piece, the discussion that starts and ends quickly. i harken back to the gun debate. and the president bootstraps the gun argument with his initial comments the day of the jury verdict. in a way that was disconnected. and if you look at the momentum behind that discussion coming off of sandy hook and the raw emotion from the american people saying we want something done here. let's move on this. what happened? the discussion dissipated. and this was something that the president came in in the beginning and heralded but then let the steam fall out of it. my concern is it's great to step to the podium. i agree with tavis. it's great to step to the podium to be in that moment, but then it's not so much leading but continuing to inspire the conversation so that it doesn't die on the vine. that it does get life of its own because this is a conversation, quite honestly, folks, we need to have first in the black community before you start putting it so much on the president.
>> but look. it is -- the president must lead, but the president needs cohorts. he needs assistance. he needs help. wait a minute. tavis, tavis, let me make my point because my point is is that in order to move a piece of legislation, in order to move action steps, the president can, in fact, lead. and the president is also in an environment of continuing obstruction, that you know well, that you report on.
>> respectfully, marc, nobody has argued that he has been up against a headwind. the obstructionism is real. but with all due respect to charles ogletree , the professor is wrong. i would ask you, lay on the table right now the evidence of how the president has been trying, tree, to have a conversation about race -- no --
>> i'm talking to professor ogletree. let me finish my point.
>> that's just a conversation.
>> i don't think that we have a litany here of things, of moments, where he's tried to have the conversation. to the contrary, respectfully, he's tried to avoid the conversation, number one. number two, when he says a politician can't have an impact, so yes, he gives a wonderful spe speech, but he basically kicks it back to community leaders, business leaders, celebrities and athletes, and that's real, but the president can't absolve himself of it. and number three, i don't believe the president doesn't believe that he can have a role in leading us in a moral conversation. this is not a political issue. this is a moral issue. i don't know how he can't lead us in a conversation on this, but he can on gay marriage ? he can on a litany of other -- he can on israel and palestine and not rice?
>> okay, but what is this in particular? i mean, the president spoke about ringing bias from our lives. these are infinite conversations between plaques and whites that are very difficult to have in a big public setting. but i think when you start boiling it down, it is the question i thought he was asking which is what is the this? there is no federal program that can deal with this. so how does he lead and on what does he lead?
>> there is no federal program on this. when he gave the state of the union address this past year, he talked about the idea that we have to do something about guns. he talked candidly about that. he talked about gabby giffords , about all of the victims. he said we simply want a vote. that was him saying i want this to happen. there was a vote. and it failed, right? so he's been pushing that issue on and on again. in terms of what he's done for the community , it's obvious when you look at the things that make a big difference. he's been pushing a jobs plan from the beginning, without success. he believes in that. and i think the reality is that we are expecting all of these things from barack obama as if he's the man who can do it. there's a congressional role. there's a judicial role.
>> we agree on that, charles.
>> it's not just him. there's more that needs to be done.
>> professor, let me see if i can help put some of this in context. you look at what's happened in 2013 . we've got obviously trayvon martin that everybody's talking about. this is happening to black boys across this country every day. you look at the fact that we have a supreme court that just gutted the voting rights act . you look at -- and i'm trying to do the same thing with affirmative action . you look at a house of representatives who just last week took food stamps out of the farm bill . you look at this past week where they have decided to block grant title one. we are being attacked from so many sides. that you have to at some point decide where you can have the most impact. now, i think that the president said what he believed. he tried to make people understand that this is not just about some kid with a hoodie. but i think also we have to look at the fact that there is a broader discussion that we need to have. yes, we need to have a discussion on race, but we also need to have a discussion on how we are treating poor and minority people in this country.
>> how about the particular issue of the law that seemed to loom so large over this situation? and that is the stand your ground law. in florida , 21 other states -- that really redefine the concepts of what we consider to be self-defense. the attorney general was in florida this week. and he spoke about it in a way that the president echoed later. here's what the attorney general said.
>> it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and so dangerous in our neighborhoods. these laws tried to fix something that was never broken. there has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if -- and the if is important -- if no safe retreat is available.
>> now, michael steele , some republicans have immediately politicized this into the gun debate and said -- when i say politicized, i'm not making a judgment, but they are putting this into the gun argument about the ability to defend oneself. in this particular case, you have the police officers who told george zimmerman , don't pursue this young man.
>> don't do that. he gets back into his car. he says he feels threatened. and he follows him.
>> that's what the attorney general, what the president's talking about.
>> and that's what the facts -- that's what the facts tell us. but the question now becomes, is this a proper role for the federal government to go in versus the states to go into all 21 states now and tell them how to rechange -- or change their laws or to remake their laws? no. this is something that's going to have to get worked out state by state. you have 21 states , other states out there as well. it's not just florida . so when we start this conversation, you have people talking about, well, i'm going to boycott florida . i'm not going to perform there. i'm not going to go there. well, you're not going to go to 21 other states ? there's got to be some level of consistency, number one. number two, on the political side of it, again, the facts of the trayvon martin case , this was not brought into it. this was not the underlying argument that was made. the defense backed off of that, as a defense.
>> however, however --
>> can i ask you, professor, there was a jury instruction , and people have missed the fact that the jury instruction was cited by one of the jurors as the reason for the acquittal. so it was an issue in the case. and these stand your ground laws, what's striking about them is how they got on the books. they got on the books because of an effort by the nra in conjunction with the american with alec to introduce them and pass them in states across the nation . it is the role of the nation 's chief justice officer who is the attorney general.
>> you know who views the stand your ground law the most in florida ? it's african-americans. but i'm just saying.
>> the reality is that another group pushed stand your ground , but african-americans have been using it around the country.
>> it's also led --
>> the hypocrisy, marc mentioned the nra -- the hypocrisy of the nra is on full display here. we have not yet heard and i predict you'll never hear the nra say that if trayvon martin had a gun, he'd still be alive. they haven't said it yet, tree. they haven't said that.
>> let's put it out there. right here. the most important thing is that the stand your ground law is one of the things that has incited and ignited i believe this movement across the nation which i think, david , is the beginning of a new civil rights movement , to challenge these issues. because of what the congresswoman has said, the landscape has changed. the voting rights act decision by the supreme court which was striking in its superficiality. the trayvon martin incident and everything from the police officers not arresting george zimmerman at the very beginning to the need for a special prosecutor to the fact that the special prosecute are himself did not participate in trying the case, to the composition of the jury, to the way in which the case was tried all the way to the verdict strikes people as just mountains of evidence --
>> let me ask this. professor, the attorney general is looking at this as a potential civil rights violation against george zimmerman . i heard the president, to me, sort of lower expectations.
>> on what basis?
>> the reality is that this is not a federal issue. it's a state issue. and states have moved forward and talked about stand your ground and a lot of other issues as well. i think he's saying the federal government can't do anything. we can be behind that. rodney king . it was the state that started and didn't do well. and then the federal government came in. in a lot of these cases, people being killed, being beaten, the federal government is there in response to that, but not the ones --
>> i think, david , that's what the protesters -- and i celebrate them. i applaud the efforts across these cities yesterday, but i think what they missed is what you astutely pointed out. the president basically said to us without saying to us, this ain't going no further. you can march and protest and rally --
>> i don't think he said that.
>> i didn't say he said it.
>> let me say this. the mistake that people make is to prejudge an investigation before it takes place.
>> well, the attorney general will decide. but the president --
>> we talk about legislation. i understand about the stand your ground laws. but there are some things we can do. we as a congressional black caucus have put in place, at least drafted over the last couple weeks racial profiling . that's what this was. i don't care what they say it was. that is what it was. if we start to do things from the congressional level, maybe that can help. let me just say this. i don't care how many laws you put in place. you cannot legislate against prejudice or bias or racism. you cannot do it. and so all we can do is the best we can.
>> but that goes toward the morality of the question.
>> can i put something else on the table that goes to the racial profiling debate that is provocative. it was from bill cohen in "the washington post ," his column on monday. i'll put it up and get your reaction to it. richard cohen , excuse me. "where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males ? this znlt mean that raw racism has disappeared and some products are the product of stereotyping. it does know that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. in new york city blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78% of all shooting suspects, almost all of them young men. and tavis, the president made a point of acknowledging that.
>> he acknowledged that, number one. number two, most blacks are killed by other blacks and most whites are killed by other whites. i'm sick of having this debate. that's how it works, number one. all i'm saying is this. this is not a kronos moment. the president, again, is the president is at the right place and the right time to do more. i am not a part of that anything is enough generation. i want the president to step in this moment, as coleman just pointed out, and lead us in a complex conversation about these very difficult issues. i don't want him to shrink from the calling of this moment historically. and we are going to regret this later on.
>> tavis, we found something we agree on.
>> one of the reasons that african-american men tend to make up a disproportionate number is because of profiling. you've got two kids on a street in new york , in particular, with their stop and frisk policy, they're going to pick up the black kid. not to say that the white kid wasn't committing a crime, but that kid gets in the system and never gets out. or they decide, he's from a good family. let's put him in the diversion program . but the black kid gets a record. profiling has a lot to do with those numbers as well, and they are skewed based upon the perception that black kids --
>> but one thing that's going to have to be on the table is the economic opportunity.
>> for there to be jobs and the obstructionism about summer jobs, jobs plans, jobs training that's taking place in this nation , after the recession when this unemployment rate is so high, it can't be done with a law enforcement approach alone. it has to be done with an economic opportunity. so i hope that this conversation is going to confront the very challenging issue of economic opportunity.
>> i'm struck, going back to the president's notable 2008 speech as a candidate, the extent to which he was saying in advance, i, as a black man, even if i become president, can only do so much. because he talked about the country being stuck on race. this is what else he said back in 2008 .
>> contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white , i have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle. or with a single candidate, particularly -- particularly as a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
>> i want to wind this up, professor ogletree, by asking you, was that self-imposed sense of limitation appropriate, and did he go beyond it on friday?
>> it was appropriate and i think he's gone beyond it. trayvon martin will be with us in eternity. that's what he's done. the president has moved trayvon martin up to be a symbol of racial profiling in america . and i think whether he's here or not, we're going to be die baiting that and discussing that. and i think we're going to have a real conversation about race moving forward.
>> as long as he stands his ground and leads us into a moral conversation about this moment.
>> is this the wrong issue? is it wrong to inject race into the martin case , michael steele , as some conservatives and others have argued, that this is the wrong moment?
>> i think it's not the wrong moment to inject it. race is a part of it. there's an underlying theme or feeling that particularly the african-american community takes away from that, and it has to be addressed. you just can't leave it on the table because you don't believe it's there.
>> i realize this scratches the surface, but it was still a good conversation. i appreciate you all being here very much. marc morial , former mayor of new york city , you're going to stick around. we're going to talk about detroit . excuse me. new orleans. new orleans. we're going to talk about detroit coming up. my apologies. we're going to talk about detroit in distress. the city becomes the latest and the largest to file for bankruptcy. did the politicians fail the motor city ? i'm going to talk to the republican governor of michigan , rick snyder, also his predecessor, former democratic governor jennifer granholm . she'll weigh in on our roundtable. is there something detroit can tell us about america 's fiscal future? that's coming up after this short commercial break.