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Trayvon Martin's Parents Speak Out; Whitey Bulger Trial Continues; Martin's Father: Race Played a Role; Detroit Files for Bankruptcy; Potential Bulger Witness Found Dead

Aired July 18, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do the right thing, someone once said. Well, is it the right thing for President Obama to speak out about the George Zimmerman verdict?

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, no longer silent, the parents of Trayvon Martin speaking for the first time since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering their son. They issue a call for President Obama to get directly involved. But what can he really do?

All that anger and all the sadness, all of it being channeled in protests across the country this weekend, but what then? And what could satisfy those who think George Zimmerman got away with murder?

And our buried lead, he claimed alleged mobster Whitey Bulger took his store from him at gunpoint. He had to wait decades for the chance to confront Bulger in court over it and now that potential witness has turned up dead.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead. Before George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, before Zimmerman had even been arrested, President Obama famously had this to say to Martin's parents in the White House Rose Garden.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, and, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.


TAPPER: Zimmerman's attorneys would probably say we have gotten to the bottom of exactly what happened. Whatever you may personally believe, a jury has spoken.

But the president hasn't, not since Zimmerman walked away without his ankle bracelet. He did release a statement the day after the verdict that read in part -- quote -- "I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. We should ask ourselves as individuals and as a society how we can prevent future tragedies like this."

For many of those who think this was a miscarriage of justice, however, that was not enough. The president has remained on the sidelines post-verdict, letting his attorney general, Eric Holder, do the talking, as the Justice Department weighs civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

But today Trayvon Martin's mother made an appeal for the president to get directly involved in an interview with CBS News.


QUESTION: What would you like, if anything, for President Obama to do?

SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: That's pretty tough. To say the least, at least investigate what happened, at least go through it with a fine-tooth comb and just make sure all the T's were crossed and all the I's were dotted because this is sending a terrible message. It's sending out a terrible message.


TAPPER: What can president realistically actually do? And why have we not heard from him directly besides a paper statement four days ago? Is it even his place to get involved here?

Joining me now is the Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Reverend, thanks for joining us.

You heard Trayvon Martin's mother there, Reverend Jackson. What do you want President Obama to do now?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Well, he certainly has the attorney general actively involved.

As the heat keeps rising on this crisis, Trayvon is a symbol of a deeper malady. It's Trayvon in Florida. It's Oscar Grant in Oakland. It's Diallo in New York. And at some point Eisenhower had to step in against his desire in Arkansas, Kennedy in civil rights and Johnson on the Voting Rights Act.

At some point the president must offer the moral leadership he has to offer. I think he's been actively involved and I think the heat will continue to rise.

TAPPER: What will you do if the Department of Justice decides not to file federal charges against George Zimmerman as you and others, the NAACP and others have called on the Justice Department to do? Would what you do then? Would there be some action by Rainbow/PUSH?

JACKSON: We think that the Department of Justice does have an action that it should pursue. A., I think there will be a civil suit filed. That is another action.

No doubt the request to -- the inclination to boycott Florida, to stop conventions, to isolate Florida as a kind of apartheid state given this whole stand your ground laws. Homicides against blacks have tripled since this law has been in existence. Now more homicides and more guns make us less secure.

And I hope all the action remains disciplined, dignified and nonviolent, because if they ever become violent, it shifts the sympathy from Trayvon, who deserves it, to Zimmerman, who does not.

TAPPER: About the stand your ground law, which you just raised, "The Tampa Bay Times" did an investigation over 200 stand your ground cases in Florida. They found that whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks and that 66 percent of blacks, like defendants who used stand your ground, went free.

I guess my question is, is it necessarily a racially discriminatory law if, according to this study at least, it seems to be being implemented fairly?

JACKSON: Well, whether it's white or black or black or white, the law is provocative. And it lends itself to a lot of discretion, and one discretion the murderer in Sanford walks away free. The woman who did not murder anybody, shoot or hurt anybody in Jacksonville, Florida, Marissa Alexander, she faces 20 years in jail.

It leaves lots of rooms for discretion. And at best, it's provocative. There have been a triple increase in these shootings since this law has been in effect.

TAPPER: There was a comment by President Jimmy Carter when he was asked in a local Atlanta TV interview about the Zimmerman case. I want to play what he had to say when asked specifically about the Zimmerman verdict.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the jury made the right decision based on the evidence presented, because the prosecution inadvertently set the standard so high that the jury had to be convinced that it was a deliberate act by Zimmerman, that he was not at all defending himself and so forth. It's not a moral question. It was a legal question.


TAPPER: Reverend Jackson, I imagine that you consider President Carter an ally on a lot of these issues.

What's your response?

JACKSON: Allies can reasonably disagree.

I think the prosecution tried to avoid the issue of race, three white male prosecutors, an all-white jury without a black or a female -- without a black or a man on the jury. I think those cards were stacked in 2013 as they were in the case of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers.

I think the jury did not represent peers. And in the meeting, they -- the jury did not discuss race at all and the whole world knew race was a driving factor. And the second part is by being insensitive to it, they identified culturally with Zimmerman, as if to say Zimmerman had to do something.

Well, the something was why would he have to profile him, racially profile him? Why would he have to pursue him? Why did he object when told me should not pursue him? A man with a gun chasing a boy home, he assumed the boy didn't belong. And after he murdered him, the police came. He gave them the gun and he walked away for 44 days, and now he has that gun back in the holster again. It just does not pass the smell test of fairness.

TAPPER: All right, well, you made a lot of comments right there that I think a lot of people would take issue with in terms of the facts of the case. But, as always, we welcome your views and we thank you for coming. Reverend Jesse Jackson, thank you for your time.

JACKSON: Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: Trayvon Martin's parents also sat down with our Anderson Cooper to talk about how their family is moving forward. The all-new interview airs on CNN tonight at 8:00 Eastern. Please tune in.

Coming up, will the movement sparked by the verdict have the momentum to change anything? We will delve deeper into the George Zimmerman trial.

Plus, you will have a hard time contesting a ticket if you're caught on cameras, unless you have one of these stealth license plates. But there's only one way to get one and avoid the ticket. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now more on our national lead. While a verdict may have brought the George Zimmerman trial to an official end, it also marked a new beginning for Trayvon Martin's family and their supporters, who believe justice has yet to be served.

Take a look at this map. It shows you the more than 100 cities and dozens of states where protesters will take to the streets this weekend. Al Sharpton's National Action Network is hosting Justice for Trayvon vigils in a push for the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations in the case.

This morning on CNN's "NEW DAY," an attorney for the Martin family also talked about the possibility of filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Zimmerman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DARYL PARKS, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: The verdict just came down. So you don't just go straight from a verdict to suing Monday morning. That's not quite how we operate.

We will sit back and we will analyze George Zimmerman and determine when, how we should do it and then at the appropriate time, we will engage.


TAPPER: We're joined by David Webb, host of "The David Webb Show" on SiriusXM Radio, and CNN political analyst Cornell Belcher.

Gentlemen, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.

Let's start with a push for a federal investigation.

Cornell, how long do you think the movement will keep the momentum it needs to spur any sort of action on this?

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it was interesting looking at your map because that map -- most of those places also look like battleground states.

The momentum has to go to organizing now. I know people want a court solution to this. I think it's much better to sort of take a card from what the Tea Party did. They turned their protests into organizing and put political pressure on the powers that be to get their agenda, change. We have to do the same thing if we want to do it. All these protesters, hand out -- registration drives. Have a hoodie registration drive. Start organizing in the community. Put political pressure on the leaders at the statehouse level.

A lot of these state races, you can win them with 5,000 votes. They're not very big. Put pressure on them.


David, do you think these protesters are running off raw emotions, but that inevitably people will move on or do you think like the Tea Party movement there's something more here?

DAVID WEBB, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: For a number of people, Jake, I think it's fair to say this will continue. However, it's more about how effective you can be.

Cornell has a point that it does work in America if you get into certain districts. You can pressure elected officials by rallying, by taking action. That's part of the American thing. He's right. That was the success of the Tea Party, that we were out there and we were continuing on kitchen table issues.

This issue, however, I think fades. And the reason it fades over time is the high burden that's needed for a federal civil rights trial can't be met or likely can't be met by this Department of Justice when you consider that Florida, they could have charged under Florida law and bias, and they didn't.

The FBI investigated. They said there was no evidence of this. In the long run, while this will play out and it's the right of people to organize and to hold vigils -- and, look, nobody should begrudge a grieving family and grieving parents the death of their child. So, I want to be very clear about that, but in the long run, I think this just fades into the future of the new cycle.

TAPPER: Cornell, I wonder if you have any concerns because it sounds to me like you share the skepticism I have heard from a lot of experts that there really isn't a civil rights case that can be brought with any hope of winning. You can file any charge.

But I wonder if you're worried about people like Reverend Sharpton and others getting people's hopes up that this is a realistic idea, when so many legal experts say, channel your energy towards getting rid of stand your ground laws, channel your energy towards state races or whatever, but the civil rights charge from the Justice Department probably will not happen?

BELCHER: Well, I don't think it's an either/or prospect. I think you have to do both. I mean, I think, you look at the Department of Justice, they are pursuing this.

By the way, I push back on the all the people that want the president to weigh on this. He's the president of the United States. And his Justice Department is looking into this. It would be un -- it would be unprofessional for the president to weigh in on the personal matter.

But that said --

TAPPER: He weighed in on the Henry Louis Gates with the Cambridge cop --

BELCHER: And he caught a whole lot of heck for it.

TAPPER: I want to -- I want to play one bit of sound. Trayvon Martin's parents did their first round of interviews since the verdict. As we said, I want to play some sound of Tracy Martin, something he said on the "Today" show, about the role that he thinks race plays in this case.


TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: Was he racially profiled? I think that if Trayvon had been white, this wouldn't have never happened. So obviously race is playing some type of role.


TAPPER: David, your response to that because obviously that's the opposite of what the juror told Anderson Cooper.

DAVID WEBB, HOST, THE DAVID WEBB SHOW ON SIRIUSXM: Well, and it wasn't argued on the basis of race. Again, this was an argument or a prosecution that defends over was this a justifiable shooting or not? Also the numbers back it up when you add significant or a number of incidents involving black youth.

Did he profile him as black? None of us will never over 100 percent. That is a fair statement.

So, while people will have their feelings, he profiled an image of some kind. Likely can you prove its black? I don't think you can.

And, you know, when you go back to what the Reverend Jackson said earlier in your segment at the start of the show, how do you take that kind of rhetoric, which is, frankly, disingenuous in part because you cited the facts, you can't strike back against the facts for what they are. And that gins up negative.

Now, I'm with Cornell, and a lot of people have been reasonable about what do we do going forward? Do we go work in the community to educate all members in the community on how they should act, know each other, react to a neighborhood watch, what a neighborhood watch should be, have a review of stand your ground, when I was started last year in Florida, look at it from those aspects and look towards future solutions, not just rallies, ginned up ideas, and pushing a narrative.

TAPPER: Cornell, we're running out of time, but I want to give you an opportunity to give the last word.

BELCHER: My last word is, I hope we don't shut down this conversation about race, because too often, it gets hot and it goes our polar corners (ph) on this, and conversations get shut down and we are literally having children die because we can't bridge this racial divide gap.

TAPPER: Well, we should keep talking about it and we will certainly on THE LEAD here.

Cornell and David, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

WEBB: Thank you, Jake.

BELCHER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, he was once on the witness list to testify against the notorious crime boss and then surprise, surprise, he's gone. Sound like a movie cliche? Well, this is no Hollywood script. It might just be the latest turn in the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger.

And later, call it a comeback or call it an act of contrition. Is New York City ready to forgive Eliot Spitzer? I will ask him about his bid for redemption live when THE LEAD continues.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now, some breaking news. Individuals go bankrupt, businesses do it all the time, but entire cities?

Well, they must be talking about Detroit. Owing more than $18 billion in debt, Motor City officially filed for bankruptcy just moments ago.

I want to bring in our Poppy Harlow.

Poppy, how does bankruptcy work for an entire city?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has to be approved by a judge, through a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing. But this is -- this is enormous. This is the largest municipality ever in the history of this country, Jake, to file for bankruptcy.

I just got off the phone with Bill Nowling. He is the press secretary for Kevin Orr, who is the financial emergency manager in Detroit. He ostensibly took control of the city back in March when the governor of Michigan put him in charge and Bill Nowling told me at 4:06 p.m. today, the governor, along with the emergency manager of Detroit filed officially for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

This is a little sooner than we expected. We were hearing rumblings it could happen tomorrow but it came today. As you said, this is a city that is $18 billion in debt, this has been decades in the making.

Why did this happen? A lot of reasons, the population has been declining precipitously. You got a city of 1.5 million in 1950 to 700,000 today. That means fewer people a paying taxes, the downfall of the auto industry, very poor tax collection, corruption in government, so many things have added up to this.

But what this is going to mean now is if they are approved and have an exit from bankruptcy, it gives them the power to pay their creditors back a lot less, to cut down pension and health care benefits for city workers. So it's going to hurt but it also means that Detroit can eventually, the hope is, get back on their feet -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Poppy Harlow, thank you so much. An astounding turn of events in Detroit, declaring bankruptcy today. Thank you so much.

Time for our buried lead -- stories we think are not getting enough play. He waited decades to face reputed mob boss, James "Whitey" Bulger, from the witness stand. But now Steven Rakes will never get a chance.

Like a scene out of every crime drama ever written. Jacques' (ph) dead body was discovered by a jogger yesterday in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Rakes, rather. Rakes had claimed Bulger and his muzzle extorted him out of his liquor store in 1984, pulling a gun on him in front of his young children.

Our Susan Candiotti has been inside the courtroom for the Bulger trial.

Susan, what do we know about the circumstances surrounding Rakes' rather suspicious death?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the timing of all this is just hard to believe with everything else that's been going on in this trial, given all the testimony.

What we know is pretty much what you've summed up -- a jogger going by at town called Lincoln, outside of Boston, and about 30 or miles or so away from where Stephen Rakes lives. A jogger goes by this area and sees a body and calls in police. So, those are the circumstances.

Now, on Tuesday of this week, Rakes had learned that he was no longer going to testify for the prosecution. So, the natural question is, what went wrong? Everyone says he was in good health. So, was something else at play here? That's what everyone wants to know, Jake.

TAPPER: Is there any --

CANDIOTTI: And that's what authorities are looking into.

TAPPER: Do we know why he was dropped from the witness list?

CANDIOTTI: Yes, what we're hearing is this -- he was going to testify for the government, to say that Whitey Bulger had stolen his liquor store and made it his headquarters. And this is what Rakes was going to talk about. However, another key government witness before now had testified to something that might have differed from that.

So the question became, is it possible that Rakes' testimony would wind up in some way undermining the government's case? So that could have been a reason, many of us are saying, that he was dropped from the list -- but nothing official has been said because of the gag order. But it may simply have been the government didn't need to take that risk. It wasn't that important to the case, that everyone who knew Stephen Rakes said, he wanted to take the stand, he was in good health, he was pretty much looking forward to this, so all this makes no sense to them.

TAPPER: Very, very confounding. Thank you so much, Susan Candiotti in Boston.

Coming up, she was the sheriff of Wall Street until his career and personal life went off the rails. Are New Yorkers ready to forgive Eliot Spitzer? Well, I'll ask Eliot Spitzer about it, coming up next.