President Obama expanded on the acquittal of George Zimmerman at a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room today, noting that he once said he could have had a son like Trayvon Martin but now revising that to “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
“I want to make sure that once again I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin,” Obama said in the halting, teleprompter-less statement, where he lauded Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin for the “incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation.”
Lawyer Obama said he wouldn’t discuss arguments about the legal side of the case: “I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues,” he said, stressing that the legal process worked in a “professional manner” as it should. “In a case such as this, reasonable doubt is relevant,” he added. “…Once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.”
The president said it was critical to keep in mind “the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
“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, adding the examples of hearing car doors lock when you walk onto a block or seeing a woman “clutch her purse nervously and holding her breath” when a black man gets in an elevator.
This affects, he said, “how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”
“There is a history racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case,” the president continued. “This isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact.”
“The fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuses given, ‘Well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent,’ using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.”
“Statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably, statistically, more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else,” Obama acknowledged. “Folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys; they get frustrated if they feel that there’s no context for it.”
If Trayvon was a white teen, he said, “both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
Obama called protests and vigils in the wake of the verdict “understandable.”
“If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family,” he said.