MSNBC’s Karen Finney: I never blamed Limbaugh, Gingrich or Santorum for Trayvon killing

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

MSNBC commentator Karen Finney appears to be sticking to statements she made connecting Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh to the killing of black teen Trayvon Martin.

While guest-hosting in place of Martin Bashir on MSNBC last Friday, Finney told viewers of a personal story about how her father, a black man, was gruffly asked to show identification because he was driving a nice car. She then tied Gingrich, Santorum and Limbaugh into her comments about racial stereotypes.

“So, when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says that ‘really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. No habit of I do this, and you give me cash — unless it’s illegal,’” Finney said. “Or, Rick Santorum says, ‘I don’t want to make black people’s lives easier.’ Or Rush Limbaugh calls a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, a ‘magic negro.’ Or Mitt Romney says nothing at all. The effect is dangerous, because they reinforce and validate old stereotypes that associate the poor and welfare as criminal behavior with African-Americans and people of color, calling us lazy undeserving recipients of public assistance.”

“In the case of Trayvon, those festering stereotypes had lethal consequences,” Finney concluded.

Amid criticism, Finney told The Daily Caller Tuesday that she was not blaming Romney, Gingrich, Santorum or Limbaugh for the tragedy.

“I’m a mixed race person, my mother is white and my father is black,” Finney said in an interview. “I started with a story about how my father and I got pulled over late one night on a Virginia road because he was black and how terrifying that was as a child.”

Finney said her father was driving an expensive-looking car and the white police officer considered a black man driving such a car “out of place.” Finney told TheDC that was she trying to make a comparison between George Zimmerman — the man who shot Trayvon Martin — and the cop who pulled her and her father over.

In doing so, Finney told TheDC, she also brought up how she thinks Gingrich, Santorum and Limbaugh — among others — “reinforce and validate old stereotypes.”

“As a way to get people to understand and if you’ve looked at the other things I’ve said about — I mean, I’ve written other things about what Newt Gingrich has said specifically because he’s been talking about this ‘habits of black people’ since he was speaker,” she insisted. “So, the point that I was making was we know that stereotypes exist and that sometime those stereotypes have dangerous consequences.”

Finney sent TheDC a link to a recent column she wrote, in which she attacks Gingrich for what she considers “playing the race card.”

“Regardless of whether Zimmerman is a Democrat, a Republican, a Latino, white — there’s this misnomer that somehow … racism and prejudice and bias comes in all forms and shapes and sizes,” Finney added. “From what we know and from what my point was is that Zimmerman had in his mind a preconceived idea — and I say it exactly this way — I make the point that just as the police officer who saw my father in that car thought that looked out of place, from what I understand, Zimmerman had a stereotype that a young African-American in that neighborhood looked out of place.”

Finney thinks Zimmerman thought Martin was “out of place” because of his race because “he described him as black” on the 911 call. “I’m talking about [the use of racial epithet versus the word ‘goon’] where people don’t know what he said, but, I mean, on the 911 tape, he described him as black.”

Finney says Zimmerman’s previous 911 calls about other cases in his neighborhood indicate that mention Martin’s race in the call was not merely a description, but rather a stereotype. “There have been other 911 calls that he made,” Finney said. “For example, there was one that he made that was played last week where the full context of the conversation was ‘there are two men hanging around outside of somebody’s house, they are two black men and I know the owner of that house is white.’”

On the 911 call Zimmerman made about Martin, though, the 911 operator asked Zimmerman the race of the “suspicious character” he was describing: “Is he black, white or Hispanic?,” the operator asked Zimmerman.

“I think he’s black,” Zimmerman responded.

Only after the 911 operator asked for more information on Martin’s identity did the topic of race come up.

Regardless, Finney maintains that she is right.

“I believe some of these ideas [from Gingrich, Santorum and Limbaugh] are adding to the stereotype, adding to the climate,” she told TheDC. “That can be dangerous. I didn’t blame them, I didn’t say it’s their fault, I didn’t say — all of what the right wing has said I said is not what I said. And, certainly, it has been both misunderstood or maligned, what have you.”

Finney claims she’s been fair to the Republican candidates as well. “I actually made a point of talking about how all the Republican presidential candidates talked about the Trayvon Martin killing and that I thought that was a good thing,” Finney said. “I gave them all credit for that, so, I’m out there being mischaracterized one way and I’m more than happy to give credit where credit is due when it is due.”

She said she also retweeted a post about the “shamefulness of the New Black Panthers putting a $10,000 bounty and made the point hate comes in all forms.”

TheDC pressed Finney on the details of the case, including the recent revelation that Sanford Police took Zimmerman into custody in handcuffs, then transported him to the police department and questioned him. Finney said she thinks the police are also at fault with the Martin killing.

“I’ve always been someone who, from the beginning, has always said there is two parts to this,” Finney said. “Again, there is sort of George Zimmerman and what happened there and, the second part, how the police handled it.”

When TheDC asked Finney if it’s a possibility that the Sanford Police have handled this case correctly, she demurred. “I’m not going to speculate until we know everything because, again, the way, particularly, they [the Sanford Police] haven’t been very forthcoming,” Finney said. “Things are kind of dribbling out.”

Finney said she doesn’t “think that the race of the shooter is the point, because that’s presumed that only certain people are racist.”

“Racists come in all colors, shapes and sizes,” Finney said. “From what we’ve heard and from the evidence that we’ve seen, it appears as though Zimmerman had a profile in his mind about, again, this idea that Trayvon looked out of place. And, from what we’ve heard — the way he described it — it seems that there is a racial component.”

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