At Friday’s White House press briefing Barack Obama talked about the outcome of the famous case and went even further, speaking on how the country continues to grapple with racial bias.
“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,” Obama said.
The U.S. president went on, adding that he understands why the nation is so disappointed with the last week’s verdict, However, he admitted that the jurors decision should be respected as the trial was conducted “in a professional manner”.
But in an unusually personal moment, Obama mentioned a broader side of the issue and spoke of the need of better understanding the experiences of black men in this country.
“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 doesn’t go away,” Obama said.
“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.”
To prove his opinion he recounted several instances when he had heard “the locks click on the doors of cars” as he walked down the street.
African-American men are used to getting into an elevator and seeing a fellow passenger “clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off,” he said.
“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,” the president added. “And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”
President’s remarks received wide support of those who were present on the briefing. Obama also backed the calls by Eric Holder, his Attorney General, for a review of controversial ‚Äústand your ground‚ÄĚ self-defence laws to head off violent confrontations.
‚ÄúIf Trayvon Martin was of age and he was armed, could he have ‚Äôstood his ground‚Äô on that sidewalk?‚ÄĚ Obama wondered.
He added: ‚ÄúIf a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.‚ÄĚ He called for some ‚Äúsoul-searching‚ÄĚ but he also expressed concerns about politicians and pundits embarking on a ‚Äúnational conversation on race‚ÄĚ, as some have called for at protests since the verdict.
The U.S. president also said he does not want the nation to ‚Äúlose sight‚ÄĚ of the progress that has been made on race relations.
‚ÄúIt doesn‚Äôt mean we‚Äôre in a post-racial society or that racism has been eliminated,‚ÄĚ he said, but the situation was improving.
Trayvon‚Äôs parents said they were ‚Äúdeeply honoured and moved‚ÄĚ by Mr Obama‚Äôs comments.
‚ÄúWhat touches people is that our son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, could have been their son,‚ÄĚ Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin said in a statement.
‚ÄúPresident Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy.‚ÄĚ Miss Fulton and Mr Martin, who have urged protesters to peacefully since the verdict, said they shared Mr Obama‚Äôs commitment to ‚Äúan open and difficult dialogue‚ÄĚ.