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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Friday, July 19th, 2013

Read the transcript to the Friday show

July 19, 2013
Guests: John Feehery, April Ryan, Sherrilyn Ifill, Kweisi Mfume

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: The president, the Zimmerman trial and

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

What we saw at the White House today was something that many people have
been waiting for, President Obama speaking out clearly, forcefully and
emotionally about the Trayvon Martin case. It was the president addressing
race in a way that only he, uniquely among American presidents, could,
giving his first on-camera comments about a story that has sparked a
national dialogue over the last week.

President Obama today said the country needed to do some soul searching,
and he spoke about the case in starkly personal terms.


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 -- that doesn`t go away.


SMERCONISH: NBC News reports that the president decided yesterday
afternoon to address this weighty topic after talking with friends and
family. He called together a few members of his senior staff and told them
he wanted to make comments.

We`re going to spend the next hour talking about what the president said
this afternoon and what it means going forward. To start with, I`m joined
by TheGrio`s Joy Reid, "The Washington Post`s" Jonathan Capehart and
"Mother Jones" magazine`s David Corn. All three are MSNBC political

In addressing what happened to Trayvon Martin, the president related his
own experiences as an African-American man.


OBAMA: There are very few African-American men in this country who haven`t
had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in 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 her purse nervously and
holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, 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.


SMERCONISH: Jonathan, I heard the president say that he respects the
process, that he respects the rule of law, but that this is the context in
which African-Americans are interpreting the verdict, and everybody needs
to appreciate that fact.

Absolutely. And that`s what -- that`s the power of what the president did
and said today for me, and for me personally. I think the American people
need to hear that. I think sometimes we can talk about race in
abstractions because no one of any big power can say, This has happened to

And when the president of the United States can say that he`s been followed
in stores and that he has heard people click the locks on their doors when
he crosses the street, comes near their cars, it suddenly makes it real.

It`s no longer something that, Oh, Jonathan Capehart or Eugene Robinson or
Reverend Sharpton or Toure or any of the other folks our audience knows --
it`s not just them, it`s the leader of the free world who has this personal
experience and that, you know, he`s sharing in the pain, in the
frustration, and in my case, the aggravation that these things happen.

And folks don`t seem to quite understand why it irritates and frustrates
and depresses African-Americans so much.

SMERCONISH: You know, Joy, there are so many aspects of this that I find
fascinating and worthy of conversation, not the least of which is that the
president essentially set the table for a conversation about race. But at
the end of the speech, he was very clear in saying that he really didn`t
have much faith in the ability of politicians to conduct that conversation,
and instead suggested that we do it in our families and in our workplaces
and in our churches.

would have been a lot less effective as a formalized speech, let`s say if
he`d gone in the Oval Office and given sort of a formal speech to the


REID: Because I think that that inherently closes certain ears. You have
to recall that this is a country in which this is the first president of
the United States ever to be told to show his birth certificate, the first
president of the United States ever to be called a liar from the well of
the House of Representatives to his face.

This is a president who, when he talked about his friend being wrongfully
arrested for breaking into his own house -- let`s recall what the Henry
Louis Gates situation was. This was a man, an august professor of history
at Harvard University, being corralled and dragooned by local police
officers for supposedly trying to break into a house that was his own home.

So this is the context in which Barack Obama has been operating. This idea
that he hasn`t addressed race is completely false. Race is drizzled all
over everything he says and does!

SMERCONISH: Was it an acknowledgement of sorts on his part that he doesn`t
recognize his own ability to be able to lead that dialogue?

REID: Right because I...

SMERCONISH: He can only bring us so far.

REID: He can only bring us so far. He can only talk about his
experiences. But unfortunately, there is a part of this country on the
right which is so closed to anything that comes out of the mouth of Barack
Obama, anything he touches, he can`t talk about an issue or else it becomes
toxic. And there are people who are so hateful, I have to say, toward him
that he really couldn`t join hands and have everyone make this dialogue
about race.

SMERCONISH: We have a good example of that...

REID: He can just talk about his experiences.

SMERCONISH: We have a good example of that a little bit later in the

President Obama said that it was time for Americans to look inward and do
some soul searching.


OBAMA: And then finally, I think it`s going to be important for all of us
to do some soul searching. You know, there`s been talk about, Should we
convene a conversation on race? I haven`t seen that be particularly
productive when, you know, politicians try to organize conversations. They
end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the
positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there`s the
possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask
yourself your own questions about, Am I wringing as much bias out of myself
as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can based on not the color of
their skin but the content of their character?

That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this


SMERCONISH: David Corn, interpret that methodical, reasonable presentation
that was informal at the same time. I think that Joy makes an interesting
observation in saying she thinks it`s probably more effective than had he
been behind the desk and in the Oval Office.

both ways. If you go back, which I did, and look again at the speech he
gave on race in 2008, which was much more formalized, he made some of the
same points.

In a lot of ways, I look at Barack Obama as -- you know, as trying to be
white America`s guide to the black American experience. And that`s a
pretty hard task for anybody, let alone the president of the United States,
who has other things on his plate.

But you know, you used one of the key words, Michael, early on -- context.
The president came back to that again -- and this is what the 2008 speech
was about, as well -- that, you know, particularly, he wants white
Americans to understand the context in which African-Americans view some of
these issues and how the anger on each side, racial anger on each side,
sort of exists within a context.

And particularly, if you deny that for African-Americans -- and I think
Jonathan got to this, you get to -- you get to the -- to frustration and
you don`t really give people their due. People have experienced what the
president has experienced.

And I was just still aghast at the end of the trial, regardless of what the
outcome was in terms of whether it was right or wrong legally, how people
on the right, people who are antagonistic to Barack Obama, were out there
celebrating this trial as if it was nothing but a political campaign and
wasn`t ultimately and above all a tragedy. But yet right away, it became
political fodder.

So I think the president at the end somewhat (ph) justified in saying, no
matter how good he is in presenting some of these very sophisticated and
nuanced points, there are people who are just going to not want to listen.

SMERCONISH: Here`s another aspect, important aspect of the president`s
remarks. Listen to how he spoke about violence within the African-American
community and the need to look at the historical context.


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 the criminal justice system, that they`re disproportionally 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. They 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.


SMERCONISH: Jonathan Capehart, I thought that was the president addressing
a subject that one of your colleagues, Mr. Cohen, addressed when he got
into some of that crime data a couple of days ago. And there`s huge
blowback to it.

And this was the president saying, Look, African-American men are largely
the victims and largely the perpetrators, but you`ve got to put that in the
historical context to appreciate and understand it.

CAPEHART: Yes. Yes. I think the president was directly addressing
Richard Cohen`s column. But also, if you look at my inbox -- and I haven`t
talked to Joy about this, but I`m sure her inbox is filled with people from
the right crowing about, Why are we paying so much attention to this one
case when there`s all this black-on-black crime out there that we`re not
paying attention to?

And this is the president`s way of pushing back and saying, Look, it`s not
like we don`t know this is happening. It`s not like we don`t know that
this is an issue. But you have to understand that what happened to Trayvon
Martin and what`s happening to African-American men in general, and young
African-American men in particular, is happening not in a vacuum but in the
midst of a whole lot of other things that are happening that the country as
a whole has to come to grips with and face, if we`re going to solve any of
these problems.

SMERCONISH: There`s plenty more for all of us to discuss. So please, our
panelists sticking around. And when we come back, we`ll get into the
politics of what the president said today and reaction from both sides of
the political spectrum.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


OBAMA: 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, you know, we`re becoming a more perfect
union -- not a perfect union.



SMERCONISH: President Obama says that race relations are improving, and
according to Gallup polling, he may be right, at least in one key way.
Gallup found that African-Americans are now a lot less likely to cite
discrimination as the main reason that blacks generally have worse jobs,
income and housing than whites. Thirty-seven percent of African-Americans
say discrimination is the main reason for that, while 60 percent of
African-Americans say it`s mostly due to something else.

Now, 20 years ago, those numbers were a lot closer together. Polling from
1993 found that 44 percent cited discrimination versus 48 percent who said
something else.

We`ll be right back.



OBAMA: And for those who -- who resist that idea that we should think
about something like the "stand your ground" laws, I`d 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 that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The scene of President Obama`s
surprise comments on race was casual, informal, a sharp contrast with the
gravity, the magnitude, the importance of the words themselves, which could
well mark a defining cultural moment for his political legacy.

The question of, course, is, why did the president choose to get in front
of this very complex topic then and there? And what will it mean for the
future of politics not only for him but for both parties?

Now, not surprisingly, the reaction from some conservatives has already
been critical, with Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host with Fox News,
saying, quote, "President Obama is now our race baiter in chief. His
remarks today on the Trayvon Martin tragedy are beyond reprehensible."

But it`s not just Republicans who might be critical. Eugene Robinson of
"The Washington Post" wrote a column yesterday titled "Obama is the wrong
person to lead the discussion about race," where he says, quote, "We should
talk honestly about unresolved racial issues such as those exposed by the
Trayvon Martin case, but President Obama is not the best person to lead the
discussion. Through no fault of his own, he might be the worst. The
record indicates that honest talk from Obama about race is seen by many
people as threatening."

We`re rejoined now by our panel, along with Republican strategist John
Feehery. John, if your phone call -- if your phone rang with a call this
afternoon by a GOP operative, somebody who`s running for office or in
office, and they say, How should I as a Republican respond to what we just
heard from President Obama, your advice would have been what?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Very carefully. Listen, I think that
it was important for the president to step up and talk about this. I think
that this has been a festering wound. I wish the president would have put
it in broader context, talked a little bit about the role of the media,
talked a little bit about the role of the media in fostering fear in all
kinds of different ways.

I think the president hit on some things exactly right. I think, in many
ways, when he talked about George Zimmerman, I thought he was off base.

From the Republican standpoint, what you`re trying to do is you`re trying
to grow your base. So you don`t really want to get involved too deeply in
a tit-for-tat kind of explosive discussion on this. I don`t think you want
to play to your base. You want to grow your base. So for a Republican
consultant, what I would say, tread on this very carefully.

SMERCONISH: Joy, it seems that already, the statement that`s being seized
upon by opponents of the president is the comment where he questions the
outcome had the race been different of Trayvon Martin.

REID: Yes. Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: I guess that was predictable.

REID: Yes. And I probably laugh a little bit because I don`t see any
context in which Republicans are trying to grow their base in any policy
matter. But on the issue of...

FEEHERY: I don`t think that`s right, Joy! I don`t think that`s right,
Joy! I think...

REID: Really? Because on immigration, their base is saying, Hell no, and
double hell no.

FEEHERY: I think there are a lot of Republicans -- I think a lot of
Republicans are trying to grow their base, is my point.

REID: Really? Because on this issue...

FEEHERY: I do, yes.

REID: ... what I`ve heard is absolute vitriol toward Trayvon Martin and
his family and embracing of George Zimmerman as almost some sort of folk
hero on the far right. I haven`t seen any responsible voices in the
Republican Party saying that`s a bad idea, and not even any basic human
sympathy for the family of Trayvon Martin.

What I`ve heard and seen in my Twitter, where I`ve been called the "N" word
every 30 seconds, I feel like, since the verdict came down, and it`s far-
right voices -- I don`t see a moderating influence in your party right now
that`s saying that, We need to stop constantly overdoing our attacks on
Barack Obama because it`s turning people off.

And I`m just telling you right now, it`s turning people off.

FEEHERY: Joy, the question to me by Michael was, what would I advise a

REID: It`s great advice. I don`t know that they`re listening to smart
people like you.

FEEHERY: And that`s the -- And that`s the advice I would have said.

That being said, I do think that this particular George Zimmerman trial has
been overly played by the media and overly played by some people in a way
that has been very destructive to the country. And I do think...

REID: Well...

FEEHERY: And I do think that if you look at the trial and you just look at
the facts, there was no way that the jury could have reached any other

REID: Sure, there was.


REID: Sure, there was.


REID: No, you know what? Sure there was, John.

If they had decided that they could see Trayvon Martin as a child and as a
victim, and if that cultural gap could have been bridged, of course they
could very found...


REID: But, because they couldn`t, then it didn`t happen.


FEEHERY: ... possible was the scars on George Zimmerman`s -- the back of
his head.

REID: You`re proving my point.

FEEHERY: The fact of the matter is that the jury looked at -- I see your


REID: No, you`re proving my point.


SMERCONISH: All right, guys, I don`t want to relitigate the facts of the
case. I want to look forward and talk about race.

Jonathan Capehart, is the president the appropriate individual to advance
this conversation, or because he himself has become, for better or worse,
such a lightning rod, he can`t properly lead this dialogue?

CAPEHART: Look, the president of the United States is the perfect person
to, as I say in a piece that is just out now, to jump-start this

We always have this conversation after some racial conflagration and we
think that this is the moment when we will have the national conversation,
where we will move forward.

SMERCONISH: It`s true.

CAPEHART: And what ends up happening is, there`s a flurry for a week or a
few days and then we go about our business until the next time.

I think because the president felt personally he had to say something about
it, that it was something that he could just feel palpably after talking to
friends and staff and family that it was something he needed to talk about,
that he went out and did it.

The thing that he did was what Janet Langhart Cohen called on him to do in
an op-ed in "The Washington Post" on Wednesday, where she asked the
president to talk about race and racism, not just to black Americans, but
to all Americans, because it is an issue that is facing the country. It is
an issue that is tearing the country apart.

And whether the president is black or not, the president of the United
States is someone who should address these issues, and the fact that the
president now is an African-American makes that even more powerful.

And, unfortunately, Gene wrote that column. I would love to hear what Gene
has to say now.


SMERCONISH: Now that the speech is over.


CAPEHART: Now that the speech is over.

FEEHERY: Michael, could I just...

CORN: Michael?

SMERCONISH: Yes, real quick comment. Got to move.

CORN: Quick point. But we need to get past this conversation.

And that`s what the president tried to point to in terms of what to do
about policies. We can have conversations until we`re literally blue in
the face, and I don`t think it would change a lot of people`s mind-set.

But when he talked about the policy elements, whether it`s about the
disparities in drug laws, death penalty, doing something on stand your
ground laws, those are the things that we need to move on so this doesn`t
just stay in the region -- in the region of abstraction and we can try to
actually have some policy and political fights over this.

SMERCONISH: David, I`m glad you brought it up. We`re going to go there

Thank you, Joy Reid.

Thank you, Jonathan Capehart, David Corn, and John Feehery.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Mike.

SMERCONISH: Up next: The president`s statement took us all by surprise.
When we return, we will go to the White House for the details how it came

And a reminder. You can listen to my radio program every weekday mornings
at 9:00 Eastern on SiriusXM`s POTUS Channel 124.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American
boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There
are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative
reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense
that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to
invest in them?



It`s been nearly a week since the George Zimmerman verdict.

So, what motivated the president to speak so personally now about race and
his own experience as a black man in America six days after the verdict?

For that, I turn to two White House reporters, NBC`s Peter Alexander and
April Ryan of the Urban Radio Network.

Peter, I was watching Andrea Mitchell. All of a sudden, they broke out of
her program and they go into the press room. It looked to me like the
president was joking with you as he got to the podium and then delivered
this very serious set of remarks.

Paint the picture from your perspective.

back in our small offices in White House. We got no warning that this
would take place.

We usually get some warning, even if off the record. There was a two-
minute warning that the briefing would begin. Then I got word that the
president was out there, so I made the sprint up front, that shot of my
backside -- I apologize if you saw it. I was rushing to get to my seat.

And I said to the president, I said, Mr. President, in all sincerity, that
was -- that was only 90 seconds. That wasn`t two minutes. And he smiled
before beginning his remarks to the group.

As we talk about this day, I think what`s so striking is that he encouraged
America to do some soul-searching on this topic. I think it`s pretty
obvious now that the president himself over the course of the last six days
and really over the course of his presidency has done his own soul-
searching as well.

SMERCONISH: April, I`m caught up in the fact there couldn`t be a more
serious subject matter going on in the country right now. There was no
teleprompter. It didn`t look like he was referring to notes, at least not
extensively, and yet speaking in full paragraphs on a matter of the utmost

Speak to me about the style, as you interpreted it.

being in the room and from White House sources, this was a heart and soul

This was a personal conversation he wanted to have. We didn`t see this
president that stands before the podium, thus, thou, where art. We saw a
very somber Barack Obama talk about Trayvon Martin, talk about the issues
of black America which we never heard before, things that have happened to
him that we never heard him say before.

We talk -- the -- we heard him talk about the way forward. This president
gave his personal opinion. He stepped into the conversation and wanted to
start the conversation, even though he said, we will not have this public
conversation emanating from the White House, but said, we`re going to have
this combination -- conversation.

And he became really the moral leader in chief at this point.

SMERCONISH: Here`s what I was referring to. President Obama shocked the
press corps when he showed up with Press Secretary Jay Carney. This was
how he greeted the group of surprised reporters.





OBAMA: That`s so disappointing, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing here?

OBAMA: Jay, is this the kind of respect that you get? You know, on
television, it usually looks like you`re addressing a full room.


OBAMA: All right. All right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ninety seconds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... on the Detroit story.

OBAMA: I got you. All right. Sorry about that.

Do you think anybody else is showing up?


SMERCONISH: Well, they did show up. These two showed up.

Peter, maybe it`s because there have been other efforts made to start the
conversation about race and, unfortunately, they haven`t advanced us as far
as we would like to go. And so the president took this out-of-the-box
approach of being far more informal, far more casual and much more personal
than anyone could ever have been in the past.

ALEXANDER: Yes, I think that`s exactly right.

This started with a conversation, we`re told by White House advisers of the
president, that the president had had with members of his own family and
friends over the course of the last several days that have passed since the
verdict of the George Zimmerman trial.

The decision, we`re told, was made late yesterday, late Thursday, where he
gathered some advisers, brought them together and said he wanted to make
these public remarks. And he made it very clear that he wanted the remarks
to be extemporaneous, as April just said, to be speaking from the heart.

And for a man who has been criticized, I think, so often for speaking off
of teleprompter, where there`s really not that window into who he is, the
fact that he used words like "I" and "me" to personalize the pain and the
angst and anguish that`s felt within the African-American community,
acknowledging his own experiences being racial profiled, even being
followed around when he`s in a department store, I think really struck

RYAN: And there were no speechwriters.


RYAN: And not only that. The White House I think -- really, we saw
something that the White House really welcomed, because, earlier this week,
there were four Hispanic journalist who had exclusive interviews with the
president, and the White House was waiting for the question. And none of
the reporters asked.


RYAN: So -- well, I`m not going to say strange. Maybe that was strategic
for them. I don`t know.

But, for the White House, this was great, because the president was able to
have his own narrative on this, create and give the story the way he
wanted, without having questions or interruptions.

So, for the White House, this was a perfect moment to set what the
president wanted to say on the Zimmerman verdict.


SMERCONISH: Thanks so much to both of you for painting the backdrop for
us, because, of course, everybody wonders.

Thank you, Peter Alexander.

Thank you, April Ryan.

RYAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up next: a simple question without an easy answer.
Where do we go from here?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


OBAMA: You know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their
friends and I see them interact, they`re better than we are. They`re
better than we were on these issues. And that`s true in every community
that I have visited all across the country.




OBAMA: I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but
I think it`s important for people to have some clear expectations here.
Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government -- the
criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state
and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn`t mean, though, that as a nation, we can`t do some things that I
think would be productive.



With the dust barely settled on Obama`s surprise speech about race in
America, the question now turns to, where do we go from here? As you heard
there, the president said there are some things we can do, although he was
quick to clarify that there`s no five-point plan from the administration on

But here`s what he did outline as possible paths forward. They include the
possibility that states consider racial profiling legislation, that they
examine state and local laws like stand your ground. He laid out the
challenge that we need to find better ways to bolster and reinforce the
young black community and, finally, lots of soul-searching as a nation.

Was his speech the stuff that creates a movement for real change? Was it
meant to? And where do we go from here?

I`m joined by former Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who is also the president of
the NAACP, Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP`s Legal Defense and
Education Fund, and MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan.

Congressman, let start with you. What now?

KWEISI MFUME (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, I think what now is that
we take the conversation beyond the newsrooms, into communities, into
churches, into synagogues around the dinner table, in neighborhood
associations, everywhere people want to discuss this, to be able to talk
about something, quite frankly, we should have talked about long ago.

And we keep getting to these pivotal points. And I know there are a lot of
people who think that there`s been too much discussion on in. But let me
just say this. For a race of people hole have suffered, endured and
survived three centuries of slavery, oppression, deprivation, degradation,
denial, and disprivilege, they see this through a lens.

It`s a lens oftentimes filtered by disparities in sentencing, by
disparities in the criminal justice system, by disparities in education.
And so the effort here from most of those people, myself included, is to
have the larger discussion and to take what the president has done and to
finally build on it.

SMERCONISH: Sherrilyn, if there was a nutshell within that trial as to
the differences in terms of how people bring their own background and
expert and interpret differently, it would have been Rachel Jeantel`s

I remember on my radio program taking calls from African-Americans and
whites and how there was such a dramatic difference between whether they
found her credible and whether they found her testimony to be compelling.
And so I guess we`re trying to move beyond that and understand one
another`s experience.


And I think you heard so many people responding to how she spoke. You
heard Juror 37 talk about whether she thought Ms. Jeantel was educated,
rather than listening to what she was saying and what she was conveying.
And I think for many of us looking at her, she was a teenager. And that`s
how we saw her.

And so we were not put off by her communication style at all. And this is
precisely the problem that happened on that fateful night, when George
Zimmerman did not see Trayvon Martin as a child. And we saw that again
with the jury, where they weren`t thinking about him as a child who was
frightened because somebody was stalking him. Whatever was the bravery of
the words that he might have said, he was a teenager who thought he was in

And the inability to see Trayvon Martin as a child -- and you have heard
his mom talk about this -- they didn`t see him as a child -- really speaks
to the way in which we allow race to kind of convey or cover our sense of
who we are in our interactions with each other.

SMERCONISH: You know, the juror to whom you make reference who has done
the interviews expressly said that race wasn`t a factor in the

When the president today at the White House questions whether the outcome
would have been different had the race of Martin been different, he`s
coming to a different conclusion.

IFILL: Well, I think he is being honest. Here`s what`s really important.
The juror`s able to say that in a large part because race was excluded, the
explicit discussion of race was excluded from the presentation of the
evidence in this case.

The judge, remember, said you cannot say racial profiling. You can say
profiling, exactly. So when you exclude race but it`s there, right, it
allows Juror 37 to say race is not a part of it, but race is a part of it.
When a young African-American man is killed under those circumstances, we
know race is a part of it.

And part of what we have to do, which I think is part of President Obama`s
call today, is we have to equip that judge, we have to equip the
prosecutors to be able to present evidence about race, not to prejudice the
jury, but to allow the jury to manage this critically important issue, to
manage how they might react to it as well, and to recognize it`s important
in the interaction that happened that night.

SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, was there anything that you wanted the president
to say today that as you listened to his remarks you didn`t get from him?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don`t think so. I think the
president was right on point. He said very moving and very important
things when he talked about how he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years
ago, how -- and repeated that if Trayvon Martin was -- you know, could have
been his son.

It`s very important I think, Michael for those of us in the white
community, you and me, for instance, to recognize that we couldn`t be
Trayvon Martin. Our sons could not be Trayvon Martin.

You, I don`t know full have a son or not, I don`t, but if you do --


REAGAN: -- I`m sure you`ve never lost -- three. OK, I`m sure you`ve never
lost a moment`s sleep wondering whether somebody was going to assume that
your kids were criminals, track them down with a gun, shoot them dead and
then get away with it and have the police barely investigate this at the

That is not something that white parents generally live with, but black
parents, as we are hearing now, do every day.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Congressman --

REAGAN: And that`s something that white people have to come to grips with.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, let me pursue something that Ron raises, because
the president, I feel this in my own home. We have four children and three
of them are boys. The president said that, you know, the kids they`re
better. He talked about his daughters and said they`re better than we
were. They`re better than we were.

Do you have that kind of faith? I mean, within a generation or two, are we
going to be in a much better place? When you speak in the context of 3,000
years, you know, by that math, those generational changes haven`t gotten us
where we need to be.

KWEISI MFUME, FORMER NAACP PRESIDENT: Well, 300 years, and I do feel the
same way.

SMERCONISH: Pardon me, 300.

MFUME: My youngest son is 23 years of age. I`ve got six boys. And every
parent has at least particularly in the black community, and I appreciate
Mr. Reagan`s comments on this, you develop this fear that something is
going to happen to your child because of the way they look, first. And
then, secondly, because of where they may be or what they may be doing.

So this generation today really they -- they`re going to make things much
better than we ever did. I think our generation dropped the ball in many
respects. They want the dialogue, whether they`re white, Hispanic, Latino,
black, they want the discussion. And so, we should never stifle it because
it`s out of that discussion that we`re going to form action.

I applaud the president. I think he spoke clearly from his heart today,
both as an American and as an African-American. And I think more than
anything else, it gives us a great opportunity now to broaden the
conversation, to export it into communities and other places and to involve
young people in the decisions because persons my age and older are not
going to figure this out.

It`s going to be the next generation and they want desperately to move
beyond this situation because of Trayvon Martin crime and the Trayvon
Martin tragedy has hurt every one of them.

SMERCONISH: Allow me to show this. Here`s the president`s comments on how
younger generations are better.


sight that thing 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

But, you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their
friends and I see them interact, they`re better than we are. They`re
better than we were on these issues. And that`s true in every community
that I`ve visited all across the country.


SMERCONISH: Sherrilyn, that resonated with me, because we talk a lot of
politics at my dinner table and when I present -- of cases, oftentimes, you
know, I`m speaking to three sons who are 12, 15 and 17 who just don`t get
the kind of divide that surrounds so many of the issues.

IFILL: You know, that was very powerful. And the president did a great
job today of really personalizing it for all of us because our kids are
better. The reality is that we are.

SMERCONISH: I agree with that.

IFILL: They are having communications in ways and at younger ages than we
ever did across race. And so, they`re growing up with greater facility to
do the kind of conversation that it`s actually very often very hard for us
to do.

And what the president did today was he took responsibility for helping the
nation have this conversation. We keep waiting for this big conversation
on race. I got news for you, we`re having it. We have it every time one
of these situations happens. He did a great job.

SMERCONISH: But he made it clear, we need to be self-starters in this
regard in our homes, our workplaces and churches and not look to
politicians to do all the work for us. That`s true.

IFILL: It`s one of the best things he said because this -- the idea of
this national conversation on race as though we`re going to rent out the
convention center and have this giant conversation, it`s what you do in
your family. It`s what you do in your church. It`s what you do in your
school. He was absolutely right on target.

SMERCONISH: I agree with that. Stay where you are, please.

Kweisi Mfume, Sherrilyn Ifill and Ron Reagan are sticking around.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


SMERCONISH: After President Obama spoke, Trayvon Martin`s parents put out
a statement. And they said, in part, quote, "We`re deeply honored and
moved that President Obama took the time to speak publicly and at length
about our son Trayvon. The president`s comments give us great strength at
this time. We are thankful for President Obama`s and Michelle`s prayers
and we ask for your prayers, as well, as we continue to move forward.

President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a
beautiful tribute to our boy. Trayvon`s life was cut short but we hope
that his legacy will make our communities a better place for generations to
come. We applaud the president`s call to action to bring communities
together to encourage an open and difficult dialogue."

We`ll be back after this.



We`re back with Kweisi Mfume, Sherrilyn Ifill and Ron Reagan.

Sherrilyn, tell me something to take away from this conversation.

IFILL: I think this was an extraordinarily important moment. The
president weighted into a moment that was already happening. He didn`t
create the conversation. This has been gripping this country for the last

But he recognized that he needed to be a leader, and this is what leaders
do. And by talking in this way, by talking off the cuff without prepared
remarks, not having an evening speech, the president showed that you don`t
have to be an expert to talk about this. You have to talk about it,
however, with real feeling.

His willingness to put his personal experience on the line I think was
tremendously healing to the Martin family. I think that`s what we heard in
that statement. But also to African-Americans who are really struggling
with their own families about what we tell our sons and our nephews and our
brothers about what they should do when they go out on the street and face
this kind of circumstance.

It`s the beginning of a conversation. He was right to tamp downtown on
expectations of what might come out of the federal investigation, but he at
least tried to point news the direction of real action.

SMERCONISH: You make a good point. Shame on those of us who don`t use
this as a conversation starter at home.

Ron Reagan, your takeaway thoughts.

REAGAN: Well, I thought the important thing -- one of the important things
was this generational point that you were addressing just a few minute --
moments ago, and this has to do with ignorance.

Yes, the kids today are less ignorant than we were. And when you defeat
ignorance, you defeat bigotry. When ignorance goes into the ash heap,
bigotry follows. So, that`s the important thing we have to keep in mind, I

SMERCONISH: Congressman, your final thoughts.

MFUME: I think the president has provided a service to America. He has
allowed us to exhale on this -- something that has gripped our homes and
our conversations for the last several days. But he has also challenged
us, and I don`t want that to go lost.

When he talks about looking at the things that might serve as impediments
or those things that could exacerbate this kind of violence, the issue of
state and federal laws that might to be changed because they are punitive
in the wrong way and biased. The fact that unemployment among black men is
19 percent, if it was that among any other group worry, be jumping off the
roof trying to draw attention to it.

And the criminal justice with respect to sentencing disparities and other
things tamp down the enthusiasm that every young person has, because they
want to believe that they`re as good as anybody else. They want an
opportunity to prove that and we`ve got to find ways to move the barriers
out of their way and to reduce this kind of violence through conflict
resolution, through fairness and through a genuine concern that I think the
president clearly expressed today.

SMERCONISH: Is there a legislative initiative that comes out of all this,
or is there more informal conversation that needs to take place?

MFUME: I`m not ready to trust elected officials on this. This is an
American conversation among families -- as I said before, to take place in
churches and synagogues and community organizations, to those who peer
mentors and working with young people on the ground. I don`t think you can
legislate your way out of this. However, you can correct legislation, as I
said before, that exacerbates this notion of violence by creating this
duality based on the color of one`s skin.

SMERCONISH: Thank you all to our guests and for all the guests we`ve had
for a serious and enlightening conversation about race. At least I think
it has been.

Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Sherrilyn Ifill and Ron Reagan.

When we return, allow me to finish with an only in America story that
happened to me after Barack Obama`s 2008 speech about race.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


SMERCONISH: The president gave an important speech today about race.

A little more than five years ago, I was in the room at the National
Constitution Center when Senator Obama gave a similarly serious address.

This son of Eastern European stock was anxious to hear the remarks of the
man who self-described as the son of a black man from Kenya and a white
woman from Kansas.

I was driven to the speech by my radio producer, a Mayflower-bred, Harvard-
educated, Main Line mom, driving -- what else? -- a Volvo wagon.

Afterwards, in the parking lot, she got into a fender bender.

The parked car she hit had a Puerto Rican flag hanging from the rearview

A parking attendant responded. He was a black man wearing a bow tie and
speaking with an African accent. I heard him tell my WASP-y producer that
she couldn`t leave the lot until his manager arrived.

Just then I saw a Latino man with close-cropped hair and low-hanging jeans
cross the lot and upon seeing the damage to his 2007 Suzuki, he was
instantly anguished. "Manny", I later learned his name was, he was
understandably upset to learn that this had happened in his absence.

An hour earlier, I`d been watching Barack Obama. Now, I was caught up in
an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with more metaphors than I could keep
track of.

Two blocks away after the speech, the lot attendant with the African accent
returned to tell the WASP-y woman and the Puerto Rican man not to worry
because his manager was en route. And sure enough, within a few minutes, a
natty BMW pulled up and out popped "Mr. Tran," the Asian supervisor who had
come to sort out the unfolding drama of the fender bender.

All parties spoke civilly, cooperated, and parted company with handshakes
all around -- which only reminded me of something else I`d heard that day
from Barack Obama:

He said, "We may not look the same and we may not have come from the same
place, but we all want to move in the same direction -- towards a better
future for our children and our grandchildren."

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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