Roundtable I: Race in America and Detroit Down

Van Jones, Dana Perino, Cokie Roberts, Matthew Dowd, and Pierre Thomas.
12:27 | 07/21/13

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Transcript for Roundtable I: Race in America and Detroit Down
Let's bring in the roundtable, matthew dowd, cokie roberts, pierre thomas. Along with van jones, with cross fire and cnn. And dana perino from five on fox news. Let's begin with the president's speech on friday. Remarkable, and matthew dowd, quite different from the past speeches on race. The few he's given where he's presented himself as a bridge between white and black. Here he explicitly, to use a phrase, stood his ground as a black man to the rest of america. I think it was a very telling speech, actually. I've watched people in public life a lot. And in private life. Sometimes they're having a conversation to inform somebody. Sometimes they're having a conversation out loud with themselves. A big part of the speech was something he's been dealing with over his years in public life. Trying to grasp where he is in the process. He wanted to communicate, one of the things I thought was a beautiful line in the speech, if you want to honor trayvon martin, then violence isn't the way to honor him. He wanted to quell that. But I think it was really a personal speech about his evolution, about where he is as a person, what he's struggled, and finally I think freeing himself from some of the things he thought he had to do in order to be successful. And say here's my evolution. Not run away from race anymore. But van jones, some of the critics in the african-american community say it's too little too late. The president hasn't spoken out enough, done enough. There has been that conversation. Let's applaue president. He's supposed to be the educator in chief on a lot of these issues. It would have been worse if he said, because I'm black, I can't talk about this. The fact he was able to come forward and talk about it i think was a good thing. Public leaders talk about their background, irish, catholic, jimmy carter, bill clinton, lbj talked about race from the personal point of view, being white southerners. He talked about it, and the republic still stood. That's a good thing. That's a good thing. We're afraid if you talk about it as a black man we would fall apart. We didn't. That's good. There are other good things too. You mentioned violence, there's been none. And the young people speaking out have been very sophisticated politically. Color of change, a million people online working to fix stand your ground laws across your country in multiple legislatures. That's amazing. The dream defenders, a non-violent sit in protest with the governor's office. No violence. They have their own bill they're putting forward called trayvon's law. Positive things are coming out of this. If the young people had gone out and rioted we would be talking about them. They're not rioting, they're being sophisticated. No rioting. A relatively muted response from most conservatives to the president's friday speech. Part of that was 2:00 on friday, there's reason for that. I think there was a practical reason for the speech as well. I agree with on the personal pieces of it. Earlier in the week, attorney general eric holder suggested at the naacp meeting there might be a federal prosecution brought against george zimmerman on a civil rights charge. With the burden of proof even higher for the federal government to bring that, when the state government couldn't meet its burden of proof, it's unlikely that the case, if it had gone forward, would have been able to be successful. I think what president obama did practically was say I know you're going to get together tomorrow, I'm glad you are, we have a lot of work to do. But he signalled strongly there's no federal case. They got personal in the speeches, feel your pain speeches, but are they a substitute as dana points out, for pursuing the charges? Walking the tight rope. The attorney general talked about how he had to have a conversation with his son after seeing what happened with trayvon martin. And 30 years earlier, 40 years earlier, his father had the same conversation with him. In terms of the justice department. They are looking at the case, the fbi is aggressively pursuing the case, as dana mentioned. Look, it's a long shot to bring a federal prosecution. But I've been told by sources they are going to examine all of the state's evidence, including stuff they didn't bring to trial. They will look at it. For example, the gun is not going anywhere. Mr. Zimmerman -- we thought he was going to get it. He's not getting the gun, it's evidence. They want everything on hold. I will say this, even though it's a long shot, it's a heck of a thing to have the fbi really pouring into your background and looking at you the way they are going to do over the coming weeks. But, again, longshot. The president had to give it for other reasons as well. He couldn't be silent. He couldn't be silent. That is absolutely right. Whatever the evidence was, the legality was of this case, the bottom line is a boy was walking home from the store and ended up dead. And that is what has such outrage in the african-american community. And understandable, why wouldn't you be outraged? This child was killed. And the president did have to address it. I think his children weighed in. When I was interviewing the first lady in africa ten days ago, she said I don't land on him, but the kids do. That's typical for a politician's family. I think they probably said, dad, you have to talk about this. It's all anybody at school is talking about. I think you're right. Where does this go from here? The president was sort of refreshing and saying he didn't want to call for a formal conversation. He knows what's happened in the past, it gets stilted and awkward. We are having the debates about stand your ground whether it's reduced violence or increased it. It definitely -- the shootout at the okay corral. I think the president understands the situation he's faced, which is a huge part of the public looks at the institutions through the prism of their own belief system. So he understands that we can't go have a system where six women in a court case where evidence was presented by both sides make a decision someone is not guilty, and undermine that at the federal level. He's got to be very careful that our justice system actually worked, actually worked there, the problem I think with stand your ground laws, even though as everybody says, it wasn't used in the defense, it does create an environment and is in the water table that allows people to feel like more free-willing to use a gun in the course of this. And that's the point of that. Suppose trayvon martin was age and had a gun and felt that he was threatened because he was being followed. He could have used it in the stand your ground law. That is part of the conversation. This is where it gets complicated, pierre to you and then van jones. The evidence is mixed on whether it reduces violence. Justifiable homicide have gone up a lot since stand your ground laws have come in, and african-americans are much less likely to have their homicides to be found justifiable than white americans. They believe they won't get the benefit of the doubt if they use stand your ground. And they believe that trayvon martin would not have had an opportunity to stand his ground. And, look, you can talk about this all you want, race permeated the case. And many african-americans feel like that trayvonrtin did not get justice. You can say that the system worked properly, and everyone is talking that way, but you have a significant part of the american society, the african-american community that feels like it failed. And the problem, other americans say it worked the way it was supposed to work. And the other thing is, the fbi looked into it. They looked into george zimmerman and gave a full report to the stating from saying we can find no instance of racial undertones of george zimmerman. Maybe they'll find something else. I don't know what else they can find. But when a president speaks, it's to multiple audiences from the prism of self-defense, the young mother who's 2-year-old was shot in the face by the two black teens that approached her in atlanta, and that baby is dead, why do presidents choose to speak about one case and not the other? It's better maybe to not talk about them. They chose to talk about this one. I do think the president is signaling we're moving on. Good luck on stand your ground. It's almost impossible to ignore. That's right. I want to say a couple things. First of all, the stand your ground situation is problematic. You have marissa alexander, that's the next big case, she's the african-american woman who tried to stand her ground against her abusive husband. Firing into the ceil, she gets 20 years in jail for firing a shot into the ceiling whereas somebody who fires a shot into a teenager is walking the streets. That is a reason to look at this. But there's something positive that's not been talked about from the right. Conservatives say they are very concerned about the killings in chicago and in other urban environments. African-american leaders have tended to dismiss that saying they're scoring political points against civil rights. I think they may be too cynical. There may be a jack kemp silent majority of conservatives that are heartbroken about the killings. There could be a right-left coalition to talk about entrepreneurship, public-private partnerships to stop the killings. That could be an outcome. Let's not assume that when the president said going forward, we could come together, not come apart. Actually which goes to the point where detroit is, our urban cores of the country, detroit is front and center. We are much more homo generous in the urban cores. The cores are much different. The money is available for infrastructure is different. The vanguard, detroit. They were. Detroit, when our family lived there and raising kids there, it was much different as you went up and drove up woodward avenue and then went into bloomfield hill s. But we have an urban problem and a problem where everybody is dividing by many things. By race, income, age, and that has gone on throughout this country. The president understood this in 2008. I thought the president spoke very well about it. He hasn't done much to bridge the divides, gives a great speech. Hasn't done well. But I agree. If I were a republican candidate like chris christie or somebody, I would have an urban strategy. If you can improve the urban areas, you're going to improve the economy. Even if you don't get urban votes, you do it because you care. It's the right thing to do. Education, that's the one thing you didn't mention. George w. Bush, running on no child left behind, that wasn't about the suburbs, that was the urban schools and the low expectations of african-americans and hispanic students. But I think it's also, you talk about divided long the lines, but less divided than we used to be. The president talking about a more perfect union. We have intermarriages have doubled in the last 30 years, inter-racial marriages. And the new marriages, it's 15%. So you start to see people mingling in ways that was never the case before. We have a huge class distinction that's grown and grown. To me, the trayvon martin situation has more to do with class than it has to do with race in my view. Anybody from a lower class. Think about the three women no ohio who were basically kidnapped and because they came from a different class, nobody looked for them. And the health care that different classes get is totally different. Maybe we're less divided on race, maybe, but our class district has become more profound. The country is growing in terms of race relations, but going back to those urban corridors, major cities across the country, there's a group of people that have been largely forgotten. Period. Great discussion. Everyone stick around, a lot more to come.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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