Why Did Obama Speak out on Trayvon Martin Now?

By Grier, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Why Did Obama Speak out on Trayvon Martin Now?


Grier, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


President Obama made a surprise appearance before the White House press corps Friday and delivered highly personal remarks about the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial and the experience of being an African-American male in the United States.

Expanding on comments made after a Florida jury found the neighborhood watch volunteer not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, Mr. Obama said the trial was conducted in a professional manner. The president praised the dignity shown by Trayvon's parents throughout the ordeal.

Then he went on to talk about what he called the context of the case, and how people, especially the African-American community, are receiving it.

"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 doesn't go away," Obama said.

Most African-American men have been followed by security when shopping in a department store, said the president - including himself, when younger.

"The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws," said Obama.

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The president then discussed how the African-American community is not "naive" about the fact that black males are disproportionately represented among both perpetrators and victims of crime. But some of that violence and the poverty endemic in black neighborhoods can be traced to the nation's difficult history, the president said.

"So folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel there's no context for it, or that the context is being denied. 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," said the president.

So, what to do? The president raised that issue, noting that, among other things, the Justice Department is reviewing whether to bring federal civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman. But he indicated those might not be forthcoming.

"Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government," Obama said.

But it might be useful for the Justice Department to expand the availability of police training in avoiding racial profiling, according to the president. States could perhaps reflect on the nature of stand-your-ground laws, and other statutes that might encourage violence as much as protect against it. …

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