CNN contributor Roland Martin, in an interview on Thursday’s "American Morning" about Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s apparent threat against law enforcement officials in a recent speech, tried to explain away the comments as "rhetoric," and tried to put them in the context of "the history of the Nation of Islam." "It is not like it is a surprise when you actually hear the kind of rhetoric."
Co-host Kiran Chetry interviewed Martin near the bottom of the 6 am Eastern hour of the CNN morning show. Chetry played a clip from Farrakhan’s speech that he gave at the recent 12th anniversary of the Million Man March in Atlanta. "Do you want me, as the voice of the honorable Elijah Muhammad, and really a voice of God, to ask our people to retaliate in matters of the flame? A life for a life? Is that what you are driving us to?"
Chetry, in her first question to Martin, asked, "What kind of message does it seem to send when you have Louis Farrakhan saying what we just heard him say about ‘a life for a life,’ referring to what he says are 'injustices,' when it comes to police treatment of African-Americans?"
ROLAND MARTIN: Kiran, it's called rhetoric, and what you are going to find is, you're going to find Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan come back and say that they don't get involved in violence, that they are nonviolent. So, that's what you have there. Look, I have attended many speeches by Mr. Farrakhan, other folks in the Nation of Islam, and so you have folks who played to the crowd. What you heard is he said are you asking me, you know, to call for this? And so I take it with a grain of salt, and, again, I understand the difference between folks who use rhetoric to get their particular audience excited about something, versus an actual call to arms.
Chetry then asked a tough follow-up question. In response, Martin tried to justify the rhetoric by invoking the history of the Nation of Islam.
CHETRY: Yes, but Roland, time and time again he shows disdain, distrust and pretty much, dislike, and he puts all white people -- lumps white people together in this category for scorn, and I just don't see how -- how is that helpful to a national dialogue of a country made up of so many different races and ethnicities?
MARTIN: But again, but you're also not realizing the history of the Nation of Islam. And so, the Nation of Islam has long, in terms of spoken out or fought against this whole issue of 'white oppression.' That is what the appeal of the Nation of Islam is. And when you go back and listen to some of the recordings and speeches of Elijah Muhammad, and you listen to Malcolm X prior to his conversion, when he went to Mecca, and say you're not going to find anything that is different. So, it is not like, it is a surprise when you actually hear the kind of rhetoric.
Chetry and Martin then discussed Farrakhan’s accusation that the criminal justice system has made it easier to convict black people of crime, and brought into the discussion Bill Cosby’s new book on promoting responsibility in the black community. Martin saw little difference between Farrakhan and Cosby’s message, and repeated how Farrakhan has apparently using the same kind of rhetoric for decades.
CHETRY: What he is saying runs in complete contrast to let's say, Bill Cosby, who was out and he has been speaking a lot lately, has a new book out, talking about the exact opposite message. Personal responsibility. Farrakhan appears at times to be preaching about victimhood. Now, which one has a stronger message?
MARTIN: I tell you, you can't sit here and say which one has a stronger message. I mean, I can tell you this here. It was Louis Farrakhan who led the Million Man March where one million black American in DC. Bill Cosby can't make a call for a million people to come to Washington, D.C. African-Americans, they actually show up. And so, this whole notion of, well, you know, let's pit once against the other, or compare one against the other, is a whole different deal.... Bill Cosby, at the same time, he talks about personal responsibility, but he also does not dismiss the reality of the African-Americans also face with the criminal justice system. So, we can't act as if Cosby is just so different than what Farrakhan is saying. In fact, you're going to find Louis Farrakhan will often -- has been saying the same things about personal responsibility that Bill Cosby is now saying. And so, when you actually listen and study both messages, trust me, you're going to find more that's alike than that's not alike. And I have heard both, and read both, and studied both, and I have seen that difference. And, so again, it's -- would we be surprised by what Farrakhan has to say? No, he's been saying it for 40 years.
CHETRY: It's still surprising to hear it, actually.
MARTIN: But it's not. I mean I'm telling you right now. I have heard any number of speeches, in terms of, hey, how he's been highly critical. First of all, he gave us speech on Saturday in Atlanta, where he gave one of those -- the toughest speeches against violence and the degradation of women in hip-hop music. Now, I understand in terms of what were talking about, what he said on Tuesday night, but we will also say the same thing about how his criticism of a violence of the images in hip-hop music and how that is destroying African-Americans and the culture. Now, again, so we can say, well, was he strong there? Was he right there? And so, when I listen to Bill Cosby, and listen to that speak by Farrakhan, to be honest, I hear the same message.
CHETRY: Well, we don't have time to get into everything the two of them said. Perhaps, that you have a point when you're talking about how they want the same outcome. But the rhetoric, as you called it yourself, very different.
The segment ended with Chetry asking Martin what he thought of a recent CNN poll that found that Hillary Clinton has a 24-point lead over Barack Obama in the African-American vote.