In an interview discussing the anniversary of the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, rapper and activist Chuck D reacted skeptically to CNN host Carol Costello on Tuesday when she asked him about the theory that people should let the murder trial of his killer, George Zimmerman, play out.
“I don’t know. We should know better than that, because people are still mad at O.J. Simpson,” said the Public Enemy frontman, who appeared alongside his wife, Black Studies professor Gaye Theresa Johnson. “Let the trial play out? What does that mean?”
“A lot of people believed that O.J. Simpson is guilty,” Costello responded.
“And that trial played out, didn’t it?” Chuck answered. “So I’m pretty much not the one to be told that a trial is going to make everyone feel straight and clear.”
“I can understand it when you say it that way,” Costello noted. “But I think that what they’re saying is, we were quick to make a judgment — on both sides of the issue — when this originally went down, and maybe it’s time to take a step back, let all the facts come in, and then make a decision.”
Chuck dismissed the thought of supporters of Martin’s bereaved family were “quick to make a judgement.”
“I think the emotion happened to be in step and in line with what’s been happening the last umpteen amount of years, with black youth also being disconnected from the tools that they need just to be able to live like all the other youth,” he said.
The trial of Zimmerman, who was acting as a neighborhood watch captain when he shot and killed 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, is scheduled to begin on June 10. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to murdering Martin, saying he was acting in self-defense in according to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws.
Zimmerman’s family has denied that he is racist toward African-Americans, and have said that their Latino background has been ignored for the sake of painting him as a white aggressor. But Johnson said the case does not come down to whether or not Zimmerman is a racist.
“In terms of letting the trial play out, we’re talking about a grown armed man who shot an unarmed child,” Johnson told Costello. “Regardless of race, I think letting the trial play out is one thing, but peoples’ sense of justice and scale is another.”
Focusing on whatever prejudices Zimmerman might have, Johnson continued, misses a bigger issue.
“What is it about a young black boy with a hoodie on that makes everybody feel threatened?” she asked. “It’s easy for us to get caught up in the details of, you know, ‘Did the Skittles look like a gun?’ or ‘Was he imposing?’ But the fact remains that every message in our society tells us that a figure like that is a threatening one, if he’s black.”
The negative portrayals of that image, she said, stood in contrast to the way Fox News host Geraldo Rivera was presented after his “life-saving campaign” blaming hoodies for Martin’s death. Though Rivera apologized, he still bragged about “being right” following the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ release of interview transcripts depicting Zimmerman as having a hero complex, but no racism.
“Nobody ever assigns that kind of danger to [Rivera] or to Justin Timberlake, for example,” Johnson said. “But when it’s somebody like Trayvon Martin — again, a child — then, yes, absolutely it has something to do with race, because if he hadn’t been black, then I don’t think he would’ve had that problem.”
Watch Costello’s interview with Johnson and Chuck D, aired Tuesday on CNN, below.