President Barack Obama has again waded into the controversy that is the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent George Zimmerman verdict.
Last weekend, he urged the public to honor the deceased, while respecting the verdict. Today’s remarks were more impromptu and less detached.
Speaking at the White House about the Martin-Zimmerman case, Obama reacted both personally and as a member of the African-American community.
“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” he said.
“Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
“When you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here.”
“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that … that doesn’t go away.”
“There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store.”
“That includes me. There are probably very few African-American men who have not had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.”
“That happens to me – at least before I was a senator.”
“There are very few African-Americans who have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off.”
“That happens often.
“I don’t want to exaggerate, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”
“And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”
“The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of drug laws.”
“And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”
This past Saturday, Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury of all charges stemming from the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Martin in 2012.
President Obama, who also seemed to reference the Marissa Alexander case with his mention of “racial disparities,” finds himself in an unusual position.
As the first African-American U.S. President, many feel he should be more involved in helping lead and shape the national discussion regardng racism.
Obama has worked hard, however, to not let his racial background define who he is, and is often reluctant to comment strongly on the subject if at all.
Today’s remarks on race reflect that paradox, as Obama tried to express his empathy toward the Martins and others he believed have been wronged.
He is willing to point out what he feels are injustices within society, yet is not inclined to offer specific solutions for fear of backlash or making himself the story.
By commenting on the verdict, perhaps Obama sought to ease some of the racial tension surrounding the case, yet also reiterate how bad it is.
It’s a fine line to walk, and exemplifies what a deeply personal, divisive complex topic this is for so many Americans, even in 2013. Tell us what you think:
Did the George Zimmerman jury get it right? And should Obama be weighing in more on the topic of racism? Or less? Or not at all? Sound off below.
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Barack Obama: Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me 35 Years Ago