In an impromptu speech during a White House briefing, President Barack Obama was simply Barack Obama – a black man.
Saying, “Trayvon Martin could’ve been me 35 years ago,” President Obama made the tragedy even more personal than he has in previous remarks.
“In the African American community there’s a lot of pain around what happened,” he said. “The African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
In his remarks, President Obama praised Martin’s family for handling their son’s death and the jury verdict with dignity and grace. Then Obama established the context for the pain and also offered a few solutions. Obama said he knows what it feels like to be followed in a department store, hear car doors lock when he walks across the street or see a woman clutch her purse and hold her breath when he stepped into an elevator. Of course, this was before he became a senator.
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Obama also acknowledged that there is a history of racial disparity in our criminal laws. He said African Americans realize a disproportionate number of African American young men are in the criminal justice system as victims and perpetrators.
However, he said what makes Martin’s death more painful is that country’s history and bias toward African American men is not acknowledged.
Obama said however, there are things that can be done. He suggested training law enforcement on racial profiling and examining laws such as the stand your ground law.
“If we’re sending a message as a society and a community that someone who is armed potentially has a right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from the situation. Is that really going to contribute to the kind of peace and security and order that we would like to see?”
Adding, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? Would he have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman if he felt threatened? If the answer to that question is muddled, President Obama said, we need to examine those types of laws.
Most importantly President Obama implored black churches and communities to take the lead on finding ways to reinforce African American boys.
“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 ended his message on a hopeful note saying things are getting better. Each successive generation is changing its attitude.
“We’re becoming a more perfect union,” he said. “Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”