WASHINGTON – “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” President Obama said Friday, discussing the death of a black teenager and the acquittal of his shooter as he offered some of his most personal and extensive remarks on race since he became president.
Making a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama reflected on his own experience with bias and racial profiling, and sought to explain why the African American community was outraged over the case.
“There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me,” Obama said. “And there are very few African American men who haven't 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.”
African Americans see the country’s history of violence and discrimination against blacks as being ignored, he said, “and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
The president said he accepted the Florida jury’s verdict acquitting George Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges. “The juries were properly instructed that, in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury's spoken, that's how our system works,” Obama said, adding that he sought only to add context to the conversation about the case.
The president, however dismissed politicians who try to lead national conversations on race. Obama said the White House was considering several federal responses, including a review of so-called “stand your ground” laws and initiatives aimed at supporting young, black men.
“And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”