MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, journalist Grant Clark. Now, you might've heard his reports on NPR reporting from North Africa and the Middle East on the Arab Spring.
They're all here in our Washington D.C. studios and with us from our bureau in New York is Michael Skolnik. He's editor-in-chief of globalgrind.com. That's a news and entertainment site founded by Russell Simmons. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
MICHAEL SKOLNIK: Hey. Good to be here.
IZRAEL: G-Man. It's good to have you in, man.
GRANT CLARK, BYLINE: Good to be here.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get it started. With the case of Oscar Pistorius, the Olympian and para-Olympian who is charged with killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day. This morning he was granted bail in South Africa. We got some tape, yeah, Michel?
MARTIN: We do. Now, this is - you will hear the voice of the magistrate Desmond Nair. He's a little halting when he's giving his ruling but here it is.
DESMOND NAIR SOUTH AFRICAN MAGISTRATE: None of the factors that need to be established have been established. I've come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail.
MARTIN: The bail was set to a million rand. That's about $113,000. Grant, do I have that right?
MARTIN: And postponed the trial until June fourth. Now, I think many people in the States have followed this story closely but there have been a number of new developments surrounding the investigation. For example, the lead detective on the case was dismissed. It turns out he's facing attempted murder charges of his own in an unrelated incident. The defense has questioned the handling of the crime scene. The detective, the lead detective who was then dismissed had said that he can't rule out Oscar Pistorius' version of events.
So the first thing, you know, Arsalan, you're the attorney here.
MARTIN: I've got to ask what you make of all of this.
IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, this is going to be a long drawn out trial. I mean, not only are you dealing with one of, you know, the highest profile celebrities in South Africa, but you're dealing with a lot of legal issues here when it comes to evidentiary, you know, standards and things like that. You know, the fact of whether or not, you know, the court or a jury believes, you know, Pistorius' claim that he thought there was an intruder in the bathroom. And that's why he shot three bullets inside the doorway. It's going to be a spectacle in South Africa and I'm sure that many people around the world will be following it.
MARTIN: Grant Clark, you're from South Africa and we're glad you're here because you are a journalist yourself, a working journalist, but you've also worked in journalism in South Africa.
MARTIN: And you are South African.
MARTIN: And I just have to say, just speaking of the media, it appears in reading the South African media, that he's already been convicted in the court of public opinion. And I wanted to know is that true?
CLARK: Well, if you do read reports, it would seem so. And I think that, you know, that's quite a common trend of a rush to judgment because it's such a dramatic case and because of who Oscar Pistorius is. But if you look at social media, I mean, this story has been trending on Twitter since it broke and, you know, Facebook is on fire basically with people weighing in on the case.
And if you look at that, there is - people are divided on whether or not they think he's guilty and I think that, you know, there are a significant number of people in the country who desperately want him to be innocent.
CLARK: In other words, want his story to be true that it was a mistake and accident, that he thought she was a burglar because of who he is as an icon of national pride.
MARTIN: What about his argument that he felt vulnerable because, as we know, he does use prosthetic legs, and that he is a high-profile celebrity and therefore, he had a reasonable - he had the reason to believe that there was an intruder in the house? Do you find that credible?
CLARK: I find it highly plausible because you can understand that Johannesburg is one of the top five most dangerous cities in the world. It's got a high crime rate. And there's a culture of security paranoia almost. I lived in Johannesburg for a number of years and lived in a house that had a section through which if a home invasion happened you could barricade yourself with a metal gate in the middle of a hallway in the bedroom kind of thing.
So it's, you know, against that backdrop you'd understand. He's wealthy. He's well off. A lot of people of his ilk are targeted by criminals, you know, for what they can get from them. So, you know, in that context it's highly plausible and, you know, not having any, you know, any witnesses or any more circumstantial evidence, you know, it's really hard to refute that. I mean, it's understandable.
MARTIN: Michael Skolnik, any thoughts about this?
SKOLNIK: Yeah. I've got to say, you know, I've watched this case very closely. I've been to South Africa over a dozen times. I'm in love with the country and the people of South Africa.
I'm twisted on this case. I actually think that he might be innocent. And I really thought, in the beginning, this man killed his girlfriend. But after watching and listening to the proceedings on the bail, I think it's hard for me to believe that a man shots our times through a door...
SKOLNIK: ...if he's trying to kill somebody. And, but it's also, you know, hard for me to believe why you shoot four times through a door...
SKOLNIK: ...when you think your girlfriend is, you know, in bed, you know, 10 feet away. So this is an interesting case. I'm going to follow it closely on GlobalGrind, but right now I'm leaning towards innocent.
IZRAEL: For me, early in it had all the trappings of like an O.J. Simpson kind of case. You know, he's well, he's a beloved sports figure, and we even have like a Johannesburg firming(ph) with Hilton Botha, the lead investigator who was taken off the...
SKOLNIK: Oh that's great. You're going with it. I like that.
IZRAEL: ...who was taken off the case, because he had his own case in his past, not just...
SKOLNIK: He got seven attempted murder cases on his...
IZRAEL: Not just that. He went into the crime scene and nearly - and the people think he contaminated the scene, you know, because he didn't take all the proper precautions and whatnot. So I don't know. I mean this could...
MARTIN: He was walking around the house without covering his shoes.
IZRAEL: I mean...
MARTIN: He could've taken evidence from one place to the other.
IZRAEL: I mean sadly Pistorius could very easily be South African white O.J., you know.
MARTIN: No. Arsalan?
IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan. The one thing I do have to question is, you know, if you are the fastest man in South Africa, you got your cheetah legs on, you're packing heat, and there's a closed bathroom door and you know there's an intruder in there, why the deuce would you feel the need to shoot three times through the door without saying I'm calling the police, sit outside, have your gun.
IZRAEL: Nah, man. Come on. Come on. Come on.
SKOLNIK: The girl's in the house. The girl's in the house.
IFTIKHAR: He went...
MARTIN: Let Grant talk about him.
IFTIKHAR: He went from poor little tink tink to stone cold tink tink.
CLARK: Well, I mean no, point taken. But here's the reality, is that home invasions, there are a large number of home invasions on average, right?
CLARK: And also that when that happen, they happen with - often with dramatic violence, they happen quickly, a lot of those people, there's not a lot of talking. You know, there's a high of violence rate in those criminal acts. So it's understandable for him to think in the moment, you know what I mean, to just kind of freak out and start firing. And also, you know, on the back end of things, there's less concern than in the States for repercussions of shooting dead, you know, a burglar. I mean there's a bit of a racial element to that, as well, but, you know, there's less...
IZRAEL: Really? South Africa? Never would've thought that.
CLARK: Less concern for like what would happen if, you know, you did shoot this guy dead...
MARTIN: Well, you know, speaking of which, and this is not meant to be flippant, this whole the question of the consequences of shooting somebody if you believe that you were under threat or allegedly believed that you were under threat, this is the other issue that we wanted to talk about today which is, you know, next Tuesday is the one year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot by a neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. Now Jimi, I know that you wanted to talk about this, because - well, for any number of reasons. I mean there are a lot of people who feel this is very important.
IZRAEL: Well, because I'm black and I'm American and I want to be able to walk in the streets of my country wearing a hooded jacket and feel like I'm not going to be shot.
IZRAEL: You know, so yeah, those are principal among the reasons why this is maybe kind of personal to me. Also, I have a son who likes to wear a hooded jacket. You know, what I'm disturbed by is, you know, over a year later we still haven't answered the questions behind the Trayvon Martin killing. You know, why was he killed and what can we do so other children don't have to be killed? You know, we haven't done enough. We haven't worked the gun lobbies. We haven't changed the Stand Your Ground laws. And the problem with Internet activism, you know, for while everybody's wearing hoods in their profile pictures and everything, but the problem with Internet activism is that it comes and it goes in waves and there is never an end game. We don't know what we're doing all this for, we're just joining up in something, we're just joining up with something.
SKOLNIK: But Jimi, Jimi, if I...
MARTIN: Interesting. Go ahead, Michael. Go ahead, Michael. I just want to point out, your GlobalGrind is holding a Million Hoodie candlelight vigil in New York City this Tuesday. Why don't you talk a little bit about that?
SKOLNIK: Yeah, Union Square at six o'clock. The parents of Trayvon will be there. And that 7:17, the moment that he was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, we will hold a moment of silence for the young man in his family. So please come, wear your hoodies and bring candles. Were on Union Square at six o'clock on Tuesday.
But if I can say, Jimi, if I can push back a little bit.
SKOLNIK: I think, you know, one thing that has been significant over the past year, for decades so many young black children have been killed in this country. And as a white person for me, I too want to be able to see your child and you walk through the streets of this country safely without being worried about a guy coming up to you with a gun. So we fight for those same rights for black people in this country as you're fighting for them. But I think that so many young black kids have been killed in this country for decades and we didn't even know their names. They were just a number, a statistic. And in the past year, we've had Trayvon, we've had Jordan Davis and now we've had Hadiya Pendleton, her parents sitting next to the First Lady of the United States in the box at the State of the Union address. At least we've gotten to a place now where the young black kids who were killed, there's some equity in their death in terms of that they are equal in pain and equal in suffering as any white child who's been killed in this country.
So I actually think the Internet activism, the hoodies up or whatever has been done this past year has actually raised the consciousness of this nation to say that whenever any child dies we should mourn their death, not just a white child or not just 20 white children in Newtown, Connecticut, but all children who are killed. And hopefully, when we feel the pain of every child who's dying, we can say that that's our child and that child didn't deserve to die and we'll fight for their rights as well.
IFTIKHAR: Well, I think that Michael hit it right on the head. I think we have to remember that we have the sacrosanct American concept of the presumption of innocence, that a person is innocent until they're proven guilty. But for many people of color in America - whether you're black, brown in different paradigms - the assumption has actually flipped on its head where you're presumed you to you until you're innocent. And so I think the Trayvon Martin case, you know, does bring light to that. You know, my hometown of Chicago, you know, as Michael said, where the Hadiya Pendleton has had, you know, around 600 gun deaths this year alone. And so, you know, just the concept of the fact that, you know, we've become so desensitized to murder and gun violence in America, where essentially the lives of children are becoming mere statistics. I think Trayvon Martin gave that a human face.
MARTIN: Not to trivialize, but it was 500 last year in Chicago - 500 gun deaths last year in Chicago. And I would refer to the incredible reporting done by our colleagues at "This American Life" on this, where they spent a semester at Harper High School talking about the incredible, just one high school, in one high school alone, 29 current or former students - recent students - killed last year. And I just really recommend that. The second part of that series will air this weekend on "This American Life."
Grant, a final thought for you before we have to take a short break?
CLARK: Yeah. Sure. Getting back to what Jimi was saying. I mean I think that social activism is important. It represents, you know, the feeling of the people. But I think the challenge is how to translate that into legislation and enforcement. I think that's what really counts. It's good, but are our legislators who are sitting down and looking at these issues, does it impact them enough to make the changes and then criminal justice to in force it so that people feel less comfortable being able to do what Trayvon Martin's killer did?
MARTIN: It was 29 current or former students who were shot last year, eight of those students were killed at Harper High School, so forgive me. You know, I feel terrible sort of making it come down to numbers. It's important to be accurate, but like all of you have been saying, it's not just the numbers, it's the people.
CLARK: Right. Yeah.
MARTIN: It's the people behind those numbers. So we know that some people have to take a break. We are going to continue but some stations are doing fund raising this week. If you need to cut away now to do that to pay some bills, we just want to say thank you before you go. But, and we hope that people will help out to keep this good programming on the air. But you guys are stuck here with me so we're going to move to a...
SKOLNIK: My haircut is not done yet.
MARTIN: It's not, the trim is not done.
IFTIKHAR: She got the razor in her hand.
MARTIN: We got the razor in our hand. Woo, that could be taken a number of ways.
MARTIN: But we're going to move to a much lighter topic. It's the "Harlem Shake." The original dance move is made popular doing the '80s. It's this, why am I going to try to demonstrate it, nobody can see me. But it's resurfaced after a DJ named Baauer put out his song called "Harlem Shake" and now the whole thing has turned into this viral Internet hit with video of people doing the dance and it started going around. Now, you know, people and it's so funny people in Harlem aren't buying it. This is filmmaker Chris McGuire and his production company Schlepp Films headed out to Harlem to ask people what they think of "The Shake." And here's a clip.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's not the "Harlem Shake" like at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That's not the "Shake." Me? Oh, no good.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That's not it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: This is not what the "Harlem Shake" is at all.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Harlem is not like that. Do you see people around here doing that crap?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I feel like this is really a violation towards Harlem and anybody that's in Harlem.
MARTIN: Michael Skolnik, I have to ask you, you're in New York. Do you feel that this is a violation of Harlem and anybody who was in Harlem?
SKOLNIK: I'm a Brooklyn dude, but I'm standing with Harlem on this one. This is a violation of Harlem. Uptown, stand up and defend yourself. This "Harlem Shake" is whack. Should not be out there. It is a disrespectful to the original "Harlem Shake." I want Puffy to come out on Twitter, on Facebook, on the street and do the original "Harlem Shake" 'cause this "Harlem Shake" that's out there right now is no bueno.
MARTIN: No bueno. Jimi, but you were a club DJ. What's so terrible, man? Come on. What's going on? It gets people up and moving. What's up?
IZRAEL: Man, it really, well, there's that. But it reminds be of when, you know, break dancing went mainstream, and then we had Fred and Barney and Ronald McDonald break dance. You know, it's taken like an urban dance tradition that is really quite serious and rich, and means a lot to those people, and perverting it, you know, and turning it into something that was never meant to be. You know, and my question is this: why can you not do the real "Harlem Shake?" I mean the real "Harlem Shake" is so funky why do you have to pervert it, you know, into something, you know, nonsensical? You know, and then label it - you know, I'm not a Harlemite, you know, but still, you know, if I was from Harlem I'd be up in arms too.
MARTIN: Up in arms. OK. Arsalan?
IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah. I think that it just shows, you know, the power of, you know, Internet and viral campaigns. You know, we had "Gangnam Style," we've had "Charlie Bit My Finger." We have all these things. I mean "Harlem Shake" got to the point where even Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" production crew did the "Harlem Shake" as their Moment of Zen a few weeks ago. And so, you know, I agree with you. I think they could've randomly called it the "Sheboygan Shake" and had the same impact that it had. I think that they were, you know, by calling it the "Harlem Shake," they were trying to give it that urban hipster feel.
IZRAEL: Well, the song is called the "Harlem Shake".
IFTIKHAR: Right. I...
IZRAEL: So there's that. Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: OK. But, all right. Grant, come on. Why are people such haters? What is so terrible? I mean that's like saying spaghetti and meatballs is Italian food. Italy is a country. That's not the only food they have, they have a lot of food.
MARTIN: That's not the only food they have. What's so terrible?
CLARK: Well first of all...
IZRAEL: At least spaghetti is good.
CLARK: Personally, I'm not a line - I don't do line dances and first off, let me just put that out there.
CLARK: But the second thing is though, it's, you know, it's that whole misappropriation, the appropriation thing again, versus creative license. Should artists be able to, you know, put a twist on things and, you know, add their flavor to something that has, you know, a tradition, but at the same time how do you pay respect to it?
CLARK: But I'm with you.
MARTIN: So if I wore a kilt you all are going to be hating. What's up with that? I mean I wear, I like my plaid. I like my plaid.
IZRAEL: I mean...
SKOLNIK: No. But if I could throw it in, I think...
IZRAEL: I mean Harlem is the people not a meme. Really? I mean seriously.
SKOLNIK: But just to get a little NPR on you for a minute. I think that...
IZRAEL: A little? A little?
SKOLNIK: I think there is a little gentrification happening here, right?
IZRAEL: No way.
SKOLNIK: Harlem is changing, and I think that dance is trying to change with it. But I stand with the original Harlem.
SKOLNIK: I think Harlem is beautiful in its originality, and I think this change to try to just do whatever you want and go crazy is not really in the tradition of what Harlem is all about.
CLARK: Call it something else.
MARTIN: So what am I? If I roll out my corned beef and cabbage next month for March - for Saint Patty's Day you all are going to do what? Hate on me if I throw some barbecue sauce on it?
IZRAEL: Corned beef and cabbage is good. So that's the difference.
MARTIN: OK. Let's go out on a little "Harlem Shake." And you all could do what you want. If you're Grant, like you're lying out in free zone. Whatever.
Grant Clark is a freelance journalist. He's currently working for NPR's Newscast Unit. And Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. - all here in D.C. From our bureau in New York, Michael Skolnik, the editor-in-chief of GlobalGrind.com - that's the news and entertainment site founded by Russell Simmons.
Thank you all so much.
CLARK: Thanks, Michel.
SKOLNIK: Thanks for the shapeup.
CLARK: All right, guys.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
MARTIN: And if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop Podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARLEM SHAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.