Jason Lewis, the endorsed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said in previously unreported comments that Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Black high school student shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012, was a “thug” and “not a good kid.”
In 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted at trial after claiming he killed Martin in self-defense.
According to audio reviewed by MinnPost, Lewis said on his radio show in 2013: “Trayvon Martin was a thug. Trayvon Martin was a kid in trouble already. He was not a saint. He was not a role model. Let me clear about this: He was not a good kid.”
Lewis said that Zimmerman was “being a good Samaritan” the night he killed Martin. He added: “What are neighborhood watches supposed to do!”
Running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Tina Smith in the wake of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd on a south Minneapolis street, Lewis was asked if he regretted his prior words or wanted to explain them.
Lewis’ campaign responded, but did not address his prior comments. “I find it more than a little curious the minute Jason Lewis calls out Tina Smith for aligning herself with a movement that’s trying to abolish the police and holds her accountable for outrageously and hypocritically blocking Senator Tim Scott’s and Congressman Pete Stauber’s police reform bill, the DFL and their allies in the media immediately seek to deflect attention away from Smith’s attacks on Minnesota law enforcement,” reads the statement from Lewis’ communications director, Christine Bauman.
Lewis hosted a nationally syndicated radio show from 2009-2014, and this is not the first time comments he made on the show have come up in one of his political campaigns. In 2018, before Lewis lost his congressional seat to Rep. Angie Craig, CNN’s KFile extensively reported on comments made by Lewis, including a time when he mocked women who were sexually harassed. In another instance, reported by BuzzFeed News, he compared gay people to rapists.
A number of Lewis’ quotes from his radio show, including about Martin, have been part of the Democratic Party’s opposition research files on Lewis for years. Neither MNGOP nor the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate, responded to requests for comment on Lewis’ remarks about Martin.
In recent weeks, Lewis has called the death of George Floyd “tragic,” but also said in a press release “you don’t lead by saying that police are rotten to the root” — a reference to comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar — and has repeatedly used his platform to voice support for law enforcement.
In the past, Lewis has also suggested there is no problem of systemic racism in policing and that violence in Black communities is due to an “entitlement mentality.” In 2013, two months after his radio comments on Martin, Lewis argued in a Star Tribune op-ed, “Black-on-white crime in America,” that Martin’s killing was a statistical anomaly. Instead, he writes that white Americans disproportionately suffer from violence perpetrated by Black offenders, which is not true.
To do so, Lewis cites Bureau of Justice Statistics reporting that 26.7 percent of homicides where the victim is a stranger are interracial. But he leaves out that the number of homicides where the victim is a stranger accounts for just a small portion of overall homicides. He also leaves out that interracial homicides account for only a small number of total homicides.
Most white homicides are perpetrated by white people. Similarly, most Black homicides are perpetrated by Black people. This is why Black-on-Black crime is a racist canard: Focusing on it obscures the fact that the vast majority of violent crime is intraracial.
Lewis ends his op-ed by arguing racism is talked about too much and that Black Americans are more to blame for harming their own communities than racial bias. “Acknowledging that a ‘gangsta culture’ is responsible for greater self-inflicted wounds among young African-American males than the remnants of racial bias is especially problematic for those whose careers are built upon finding a racist under every bed,” he writes.
Lewis has made comments similar to those in his Star Tribune op-ed elsewhere as well. According to HuffPost, Lewis said in 2015 that it’s time to say “white lives matter.” As reported by KFile, Lewis once said on his radio show that only he was correctly reporting on “black-on-white” violence. And in another clip said: “The chances today of a gang of KKK members beating up a black kid are remote compared to the opposite. A gang of black on white crime.”
In his radio comments calling Martin a “thug,” Lewis said: “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again until they yank me from the air.”