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Public Statements

MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post," as well as an MSNBC political analyst.

Congressman Cleaver, I don`t know what to say here except to ask you, how did you get involved in this case? What do you think we`re looking at here?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Well, a group of law students from colleges and universities all over Florida went down to Jacksonville after the incident to offer assistance. One of the young women, who is in law school, was a parishioner in the congregation I pastored in Kansas City, and so the family asked her if she would call me to get the Congressional Black Caucus involved. We then made an immediate request for a Justice Department investigation.

And you know, it`s one of the great tragedies. I think every African-American man with children can understand this, particularly male kids. I mean, this kid was killed essentially because he was armed with Skittles.

And it`s just one of those sad moments that causes all of us, I think, to realize that we still have some major problems in this country. Suspicion is so easily received if it`s based on skin color.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but this wasn`t an officer of law involved. And I think I want to ask you about a couple elements. You`ve been looking at the case. So what is your main concern now for bad behavior, in fact, perhaps serious criminal behavior on the part of Mr. Zimmerman and the
police down there?

Was it the fact that a non-police officer, a civilian in a neighborhood watch organization, was armed? Was it your concern that he followed what he thought was a suspicious person and perhaps confronted the person, or was it that he used lethal force in some kind of confrontation
of some kind, or he simply executed the person?

What is your sense of what happened here? And what do you think was done wrong here point by point?

CLEAVER: Everything. First of all, once the police department told the gentleman, through the dispatcher, We don`t need you to do that, we don`t need you to get involved in this, that`s the point that the average citizen, the average man or woman of good will, would stop.

The kid is screaming for help. We hear the gunshots. I even hate to hear it anymore. And then maybe the worst thing that I heard the man say was, "They always get away with it."

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CLEAVER: And so I`m thinking, you know, he`s determined now not to let this kid get away. I mean, I think that was the point that he was -- had made the decision of what he was going to do. And I think the Justice Department is going to find out what happened and what the sheriff did wrong.

Let me tell you one other thing, Chris, very quickly.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

CLEAVER: I was mayor of Kansas City for eight years. We have not had an incident like this in Kansas City, Missouri, in a couple of decades. One of the reasons is we`ve had good police chiefs. But the other -- if a police officer shoots a civilian, a person -- even if it`s justifiable, if
it`s a justifiable shooting, the police officer is immediately suspended with pay.

This man was able to shoot and kill a kid and then walk away with his gun.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know, sir. I used to -- I even watch police stories I see and (INAUDIBLE) northern cases, like Philadelphia, New York, administrative leave is the normal MO in these case -- a police officer using his -- his professional discretion.

Gene, we have got something down there. As you know, in 10 or 12 states now, we have got -- actually 16 states now, we have something called a stand your ground law, which means that if you`re in a confrontation with somebody else, regardless of the circumstances, and you feel threatened, you don`t have to try to get out of it, talk your way out of it, run away, do anything. You can pull your gun and kill the guy. And that`s the defense.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

And I think that`s one of the main things that turned this from an ordinary racially charged, I would say racist encounter between this guy and Trayvon Martin into a tragedy was the fact that he could, with basically impunity, at least thus far, shoot the guy if he could credibly
say, I felt threatened.

And he can credibly say that because, apparently, at least according to local authorities, there were not witnesses. Well, now we do know that there were people who might have heard something that was going on, and we will see what the investigation comes up with.

MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday -- let me go with -- we have to get all this in here.

Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin`s mother, spoke with Matt Lauer and described what she believed motivated Zimmerman`s attack. Now, this is what she believes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": What do you think he was reacting to?

SABRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF VICTIM: He was reacting to the color of his skin. He committed no crime. My son wasn`t doing anything but walking on the sidewalk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, go back to this, Congressman. When you investigate this, is this a -- do you think there is abuse done by the local police authorities in not pursuing this case aggressively or what? Where do think the federal role here fits?

CLEAVER: Well, first of all, I need to say this because we don`t say this enough. The things that should have happened a few weeks ago are happening now. And I`m thankful for that.

The Justice Department responded. They are down there. We have people on the ground from the Human Relations Division of the Justice Department trying to make sure that we don`t have an explosion of emotions in Sanford.

And, Chris, about two hours ago, I stood beside the white Republican mayor of Sanford, Florida, who, along with myself and Corrine Brown, the congresswoman from the area, spoke at a press conference about the need for the Justice Department to come in and conduct an investigation, not only of the shooting, but of the police department.

And, so, the things that we -- 25 or 30 years ago, if this had happened, we would only have had black people out trying to get justice. But now I think people of goodwill from all walks of life are saying something unjust happened.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Another element here, the 16-year-old girlfriend of Trayvon Martin -- this is the guy who was killed -- was on the phone with him during the incident and she described what she heard in an interview on "Good Morning America" earlier today. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on.

Trayvon said, what are you following me for? Then the man said, what you doing around here? Somebody pushed Trayvon because the headset just fell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there is more evidence -- if it`s -- this is all being brought into the case. It all has to be determined in court what happened. It`s so complicated.

But there`s evidence at least or testimony that there was kind of shoving or some kind of altercation going on there at the time. And I think everybody is fairly trying to figure out if race is involved because of the way he is talking, but also, this is a guy trying to act like a
police officer.

ROBINSON: Yes, obviously -- or apparently. This should have been investigated. This should have been investigated then and there, and maybe we would have had a somewhat different outcome. But, again, you have got this legal setup.

Anybody can get a gun.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Gene, you have raised the question. As a good journalist, you have given -- a good journalist -- I hope, a question for Mr. Cleaver.

Mr. Cleaver, do you think there is fundamentally something wrong with the stand your ground law? Does it create an impetus for gunfire?

CLEAVER: Well, I think when you have a gun on you, it gives you a sense of strength and power that you would not feel otherwise, and I think that people, being human beings, will tend to use guns when normally they would have walked away.

And I think the stand your ground law is absolutely asinine, that you can declare a confrontation almost with anybody and shoot them down. And if they`re the only witness, you walk away. I think something has got to be done.

Liberals might get angry with me on my moderate position with guns, but on this law, and the way guns are used, I think that there`s no excuse for what happened. And that law needs to be changed quickly.

ROBINSON: If you have both, you have a problem, if you have both readily available guns and a law that essentially takes away accountability for a shooting. If nobody saw it, there`s no accountability.

MATTHEWS: And you have a neighborhood watch situation where a guy thinks he should bring a gun when he goes out on watch.

ROBINSON: You are asking for trouble.

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s just toxic.

Anyway, thank you.

U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, thank you so much for coming on the program today.

And thank you, as always, Eugene Robinson.

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