Obama

Six days after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges stemming from the slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, President Obama finally spoke out about the verdict.

Addressing the press corps, the President expressed his displeasure with the jury’s decision.

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Mr. Obama personalized the tragedy telling reporters he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago. And while many have attempted to down play the effects of race in this case, President Obama dove right in.

“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?”

Mr. Obama’s remarks were wide-ranging and personal, touching on race, crime, and the profiling of black people in America.

Check out highlights of his speech:

President Obama clarified his comment that if Trayvon could have been his son:
I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And 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 haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. 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.

There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

President Obama explained exactly why African-Americans may be looking at the case from a standpoint that is different from other races based on their experiences:

I don’t want to exaggerate this, 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 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.

Now, 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 are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.

President Obama acknowledged the black on black crime in America but says that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed nor should the issue be overlooked:

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.

I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — 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.

President Obama gave possible solutions to strengthen faith in the justice system:

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.Number three — and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

President Obama on why the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law needs reexamining:
If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

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? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Watch the entire speech and let us know what you think of the President’s remarks.

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  • Justanotheropinion

    Not a fan of Obama, but nice to see him finally speak out in favor of the plight of Blacks. The fact that he gave his view point honestly and that it’s in direct correlation to the experiences of the majority of Black Folk says something. Too bad that it will fall on deaf ears…..

    • Anthony

      No, it fell on the ears of those who are willing to mobilize and agitate for change! The time to try to reason with racists has passed. Sometimes we have to just struggle and win a fight.

  • Tela

    Great job Mr President. This is what we needed to hear.

  • Belkichoy

    Thank you Obama, for acknowledging this, I have been in pain since the verdict, what hurt more more than anything was,Noone non black seemed capable of any compassion for this boy or seemed to think of HIS fear of being followed n murdered.