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Does Ethnicity Of Trayvon Martin's Killer Matter?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, the shooting death of that unarmed 17 year old in Florida last month has been much on our minds. It's sparked some personal thoughts by me, which I'll tell you about in my weekly, Can I Just Tell You essay that's later in the program.

But first, it's time for a visit to the beauty shop. That's where we check in with our savvy women commentators to get their perspectives on the week's news. We'll talk about the Illinois primaries and what those results mean. We'll weigh in on that troubling Trayvon Martin case that I was talking about and ask our panel what they make of it. And we'll take a look at a commercial that's got some people cringing.

Sitting in the chairs this week are Mary Kate Cary, former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. She's now a columnist and blogger for U.S. and News Report. Mary Mitchell is with us from Chicago. She's a columnist for The Chicago Sun Times. Viviana Hurtado, blogger and chief of the website The Wise Latina Club is back with us, along with Danielle Belton, author of the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob. Welcome to everybody, thanks for joining us.

BEAUTY SHOP GROUP: Oh, thanks for having us. Thanks, Michel. Great to be here.

MARTIN: So let's start with Illinois. So much to talk about. Last night, voters in Illinois had their chance, and Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary there by double digits. I'll just play a short clip from his victory speech from last night in case you missed it.


MITT ROMNEY: Thank you. Thanks, you guys. So many great friends in this room and across Illinois. What a night. Thank you, Illinois. What a night, wow.


MARTIN: OK, so there wasn't a lot of substance there. Mary Kate, sorry about that.


MARTIN: That really wasn't his best case for why he should be president. Sorry about that. So you're our resident GOP insider. So has he pretty rolled - I know you're bored with the question, but has he rolled - I'm sure he's bored with the question. Has he rolled it up?

MARY KATE CARY: At one point in the middle of this, he did give a great speech last night, and his wife, Ann Romney, spoke before he did, and she's the best thing he's got going. But at one point he said, enough, and he was talking about President Obama's policies, but I think every Republican in the country said enough is right. I think we're all ready for this to be over. The Post last night called it a walloping.

He did great across the board with conservatives, moderates, men, women, college grads. Huge, huge victory for him. So, the question becomes what happens next? In the short run, Santorum will probably win Louisiana this Saturday, which will start everybody back up that maybe Santorum can still do this. But then as you go through the rest of April, most of those primaries are Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where Romney is expected to win.

You get to April 24th, 150 delegates in, like I said, Northeast. By May 29th, you have Texas, which is 155. So I think he's going to start sewing stuff up here. There's just a big snowball effect starting, I think. People are starting to make noise about Gingrich getting out of the race. Jeb Bush just announced that he's endorsing Romney, which will...

MARTIN: Former governor of Florida.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: Well, no surprise. You know, governors tend to know each other, have worked together and so forth. OK, but talk to me a little bit about Texas, and what's the outlook there? I mean, because the argument is that the reason you mentioned the Northeast Mid-Atlantic states, lots of moderates, so what's left...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...of kind of the moderates of the Republican, you know, Party. And the argument that Santorum has made is Mitt Romney is too moderate, but if he continues to win primaries in these states, big states, you can say that he's not too moderate, he's right on point. But what about Texas?

CARY: He's - Romney has won every region of the country except for the deep South. He got the big states - Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Virginia. But Texas, I think if Texas were held today it would Santorum's because there's so many evangelicals and Christians in Texas. But by the time we get to Texas, which like I said, was May 29th, Romney will have racked up a lot of states. So that inevitability argument may be gone for Santorum by then.

MARTIN: OK. Mary Mitchell, what accounted, do you think, for Mitt Romney's victory in Illinois?

MARY MITCHELL: Low voter turnout had something to do with it. I think it was less than - somewhere in the 20th percent, which is nothing for Illinois. It was 80 degrees here. People found other things to do than go to the poll, and it just did not generate a lot excitement. So I think that had a lot to do with it.

MARTIN: You know, it wasn't just a big night because of the national race in Illinois, so Mary, just briefly, tell us a little bit about a couple of interesting congressional results there.

MITCHELL: Well, I think the most interesting one probably, from my prospective, would be the fact that Jesse Jackson, Jr. did so well against an opponent, the first real opponent he's had in three terms. With an ethics probe hanging over his head, with allegations or revelations of an extra-marital affair, he still was able to pull off an astounding defeat over what was thought to be an attractive candidate, Debbie Halvorson. So that's a big victory for him. He really proved that, you know, like his father, he keeps hope alive over in his district and people came out despite all the negative campaigning against him and came out for him and gave him a resounding victory.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of keeping hope alive, Danielle, you were saying that you still have hopes for a brokered Republican convention. Now are you just being a mischief-maker here or...


DANIELLE BELTON: It's not even about wanting to make mischief.

MARTIN: You said, she said, all I want...

BELTON: It's not even about that.

MARTIN: She said, let me just read it. She says all I want for Christmas is a brokered GOP convention. I've never seen any brokered convention, and she says the last one was in 1976 and she just wants to point out that she was, you know, a fetus then, so thank you.

BELTON: Oh, my gosh. I couldn't appreciate it then.

MARTIN: So, whatever, but...

BELTON: I couldn't appreciate it from my mother's womb, while they were watching it. I'm a longtime political junkie. I mean, I started getting into politics like at 8, and so it's, like, when I've realized this wonderful, exciting thing that decides our history, our process. I'm so excited about it, I want to see it.

I realize it's not going to happen, because I always feel like the whole thing with Mitt Romney is like an arranged marriage for a lot of people. It's like, you know he's the guy. His parents already picked him out. They've vetted him. He's like, look, he's got money, he's educated. He's a good, solid, you know, stand-up moral guy. Like, why won't you want him? You're just like, oh, but he's not sexy.


BELTON: You know, it's like there's no - a lot of bargaining going on right now.

MARTIN: You know, so - Viviana, do you want a brokered convention too, just for the political junkie factor? You're a long time politics watcher too.

VIVIANA HURTADO: As well, and like Danielle, because I too was a fetus in 1976, totally not, but I haven't as well experienced a brokered convention. I think what's really interesting is if you look at some of those Illinois numbers, Mitt Romney did really well with communities, towns, cities 45,000 and above. And Santorum did really well south of Springfield.

And so I think what's going to be really interesting as, you know, Mitt Romney likely becomes the nominee, is what's going to happen with these big considerable swaths of America that are going to feel that Mitt Romney doesn't represent them, and Barack Obama doesn't represent them either.

MARTIN: Hum, interesting. Mary Kate, you had one other race in Illinois that you wanted to mention, I think, that was kind of an old guard, new guard race where the Democratic-dominated legislature put two Republicans in the same race together. One was Mr. Tom Cruise, because of redistricting...

CARY: Oh, because of redistricting, right, right.

MARTIN: ...he was considered the Tom Cruise of the Congress. It was his - Mary, help me out, he was an Air Force pilot and he was in the same district with a 20-year veteran.


MARTIN: And he - Adam Kinzinger.


MARTIN: And he was running against Don Manzullo, who was, you know, also a 20-year veteran. And I think of the smart money, as I understand it, was on Manzullo just because of the benefit of incumbency. And Adam Kinzinger, you know, pulled it out. So...

CARY: I believe he had Tea Party support.

MARTIN: He did have Tea Party support, but I don't know, so Mary, maybe if you want to tie a bow on that for us. What do you think sort of pulled it out for Kinzinger? Do you think it was national Tea Party support, or he just had more - I don't mean to stereotype, but just more energy and kind of he talked about how knocked...

CARY: Cute factor.

MARTIN: ...you know, his people got out and knocked on doors. Mary?

MITCHELL: Well, yeah, it does, you know, first of all you can't underestimate the power of energy and being out there and actually meeting people and shaking hands and doing all those kinds of things. So I think that in this race you really saw how politics works in Illinois. I mean, it is a lot of hard work and it is a lot of boots on the ground. So I think that was a big plus for him.

MARTIN: Just to clarify before we move on, is that, you know, Adam Kinzinger had been a Tea Party favorite, but they lost - kind of they fell out of ardor with him because he was perceived as more moderate; he voted with the leadership a number of times on some of these sort key budget issues. So one to watch, you know, one to watch.

If you're joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We were also among those to watch. Our beauty shop roundtable, our guests, our columnists, Mary Kate Cary and Mary Mitchell.

CARY: We're on radio though.


MARTIN: Well, you just have to kind of project...

CARY: Just have a visual image of it.

MARTIN: That's right. Bloggers Viviana Hurtado and Danielle Belton. Switch to a topic that has been a lot in the news. I know it's kind of a heavy - it's a heavy topic, but it's the kind of things that a lot of people are talking about. As we mentioned, a young man, Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed walking though a gated community. He was visiting along with his father near Orlando.

The man who killed him was a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman. He claims the killing was in self-defense, even though, you know, the police dispatchers had told him don't pursue him. He did anyway.

But anyway, one of the things, Viviana, that was interesting to me is that George Zimmerman's father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel making a point of saying that he is, that George Zimmerman is Latino, of Latino heritage. He comes from a multi-racial family. And I just wonder, do you think that that's relevant? I'm wondering if - does that change the way we think about this in any way?

HURTADO: I don't think it does, and I think what it really illustrates is how in general mainstream America really does see things in terms of black and white. And then as the country is changing and becoming browner and we have different mixes and intermixes, all of the sudden it complicates label, like racist or racism.

I remember I read somewhere that it was ironic that he was Hispanic. Well, what's ironic about it, as if there's no racism that exists in Latin America, which of course that's the case. I think that what's terrible about this is how it is that this family and this victim has really had to fight for justice for their son with the help of social media.

They've got the Department of Justice now involved. Basically, not just because a hate crime may have been committed, but because they've lost faith in their local authorities. Case in point, George Zimmerman is yet to be arrested.

MARTIN: Now, you know, you mentioned social media though. Danielle, as a blogger, a lot of people are crediting Twitter, Facebook, and online petitions, like there was one at Change.org where there's some, as we are speaking now, some 800,000 people have signed this online petition demanding that George Zimmerman be arrested.

And some people are saying, you know, that's a shame. That should never have happened. Other people are saying, why is it a shame? That's is what this is a new tool of organizing and in some ways it's kind of a victory for social media. I just wanted your take on this as a blogger.

BELTON: No, I think that it's actually a good thing that the fact that when something like this happens - this is not an uncommon thing. Growing up in St. Louis, I can think of about four or five instances where I knew of black kids who found themselves, you know, dead under unusual circumstances that many people thought was in line with racism.

And often those stories never leave their local municipalities. You never hear about it. You're not going to hear about it in New York. You're not going to hear about it in D.C. You're not going to hear about it in Chicago. It's a local East St. Louis County story.

Because of social media, and because of the fact that you have these amplified voices on Twitter, that you have people able to share these local stories and get them out in the national space, it's a way to finally put a check on these, like, small communities that have been able to just kind of do whatever they wanted, knowing that they didn't have to deal with any real scrutiny from outsiders.

MARTIN: Mary Mitchell, what are your thoughts about this?

MITCHELL: Well, you know, what really strikes me about this is that to me this is a huge moment for mainstream media. I mean, as a journalist for a major newspaper, I can tell you that when I looked at this story, I had to find it on the Internet. I had to find it through Facebook, and Facebook friends, people who tweet, and all of that, they were behind driving this story and getting it attention.

But now let me - I've got to tell you, when I think about it, I wonder why when on a story like this, people come out and they'll share and they'll talk about in their outrage that this 17 year old was killed, when I'm living in a city where nine people died over the weekend. Nine - 46 people shot, one of the victims was a 6 year old girl. And you never see that kind of outrage. You don't see petitions. You don't see anything driving that story.

So I'll go back to what an old friend used to say that a black - a young black man isn't dead until a white man kills him. And that's kind of the race element in this story. This is the reason why the accused family came out and said, oh, wait a minute, he's not white, he's Hispanic.

MARTIN: Interesting. I see what's your point, Mary. The only point I would about is that Corrine Brown, a congressman who represents the district, said about this on our program yesterday, she said this is not about black or white, this is about parents. And she said that's who's been driving this is parents and students in her district of all races have been....

But I think you've made some important points. Well, another story, before we let you go, that's got people talking is this new Cover Girl commercial featuring Ellen DeGeneres and the actress Sofia Vergara. And we'll just listen to it.


ELLEN DEGENERES: What's more beautiful than Cover Girl?

SOFIA VERGARA: Two Cover Girls.

DEGENERES: That's right. Get two miracles in one product. Cover Girl make up...

VERGARA: ...and Olay Advanced Hydrating Serum.

DEGENERES: It's new tone rehab, two-in-one foundation.

VERGARA: One pump cover spots, lines and wrinkles.

DEGENERES: And one bottle helps improve skin tone over time.

VERGARA: That's what I was supposed to say now.

DEGENERES: Well, no one can understand you.

VERGARA: New tone rehab two-in-one foundation from see-bree-see-bree Cover Girl.

DEGENERES: That's what I'm talking about. See, what did you just say?

VERGARA: I'm looking for beeza-beeza fuza-fuza.

MARTIN: OK. So I don't want people to think that we're just playing this because we have a shine for Cover Girl.


MARTIN: We just wanted to get it in. I just felt you needed to hear the commercial so you understand what it is that people are talking about. So Viviana, what is it that people are talking about?

HURTADO: So I guess my question to you is was her accent really that funny? I saw the commercial and I couldn't get past her va-va-voom looks. Sofia Vergara is constantly in, she's constantly in character and her accent is part of her character, as is the way she dresses - voluptuous.

And I think truthfully I have a really big problem with her and I've written on her a lot because I think she does more to damage, you know, any views that the mainstream has about Latino women by playing up, and very lucratively I may add - because she's got contracts with K-Mart, with Cover Girl, with Pepsi to name a few - and you know, she's cashing, you know to the bank with these stereotypes.

MARTIN: Which is that the stereotype, what, the hot-blooded, spitfire Latina? Is that the thing that you find really irritating?

HURTADO: Yes. And when she's - and she's constantly playing to that. She's ka-ching, ringing in on that. And in Spanish language, she's even more outrageous when she does interviews.

MARTIN: So it's not even the language piece that irritates you. It's the women - what other American - what about you? You've got two daughters.

CARY: I've watched "Modern Family" - yeah, two daughters. When I've watched "Modern Family" and she's on it, it seems to me that - maybe this is just sort of the speech writer in me, but the nature of the humor is she's heavily accented and there's a lot of misunderstandings, stuff gets lost in the translation, and that's the idioms and the literal translations of things. That's where the humor is coming from, the essence of the joke.

And so to me, that's also the essence of the joke in children's books like "Amelia Bedelia" and places like that, that there's a - it could be in any language. She could be heavily accented French and you could do the same type of humor. So to me it's not necessarily making fun of Latino women. It's a play on the translation - what's lost in the translation, is what the humor is.

MARTIN: Interesting. 'Cause you do - but there are British accents that I don't understand and I don't know anybody that's making fun of those. And I guess that's the question...

HURTADO: It's different in an hour episode than a 30-second commercial.

CARY: (unintelligible) used to do Julia Childs, remember? They'd make fun of her accent.

MARTIN: All right. To be continued...

CARY: Yeah.


MARTIN: ...come back to the shop next week, get your hair cut. Viviana Hurtado is blogger and chief at the website "The Wise Latina Club." Mary Kate Cary is a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. She's a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. Danielle Belton is the author of a pop culture and politics blogs, "The Black Snob." They were all here in Washington, D.C.

From Chicago, from member station WBEZ, Mary Mitchell, columnist and editorial board member for The Chicago Sun Time. Ladies, thank you.

GROUP: Thank you. Thank you. Same to you.

MARTIN: Just ahead, Coco Chanel is known for her fashion breakthroughs with the little black dress and women's clothing inspired by menswear. But the life story behind the brand might be even more head-turning.

LISA CHANEY: I think she right until the end remained avante garde and unconventional.

MARTIN: Lisa Chaney is with us to tell us about her biography of Coco Chanel. It's the latest in our Women's History Month series. That's in just a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.


MARTIN: The Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to Obama's landmark health care law next week. As both sides prepare to present their arguments, we'll start a series of conversations about political and practical questions around health care policy. And we'll talk about what's at stake for the future. That's next time on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.