Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Weighs in on Killing of Florida Teen 'The President's Personal Comments Touched Us Deeply ... If His Son Looked Liked Trayvon and Wore a Hoodie, Would He Be Suspicious Too?'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Weighs in on Killing of Florida Teen 'The President's Personal Comments Touched Us Deeply ... If His Son Looked Liked Trayvon and Wore a Hoodie, Would He Be Suspicious Too?'

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Declaring that "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," President Barack Obama chose a highly personal way to join the heated national debate over the death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.

Mr. Obama took care to voice no opinion on the conduct of the shooter, George Zimmerman, or any legal aspect of the case beyond a call for a thorough investigation. "The attorney general reports to me, so I've got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation," he said.

Yet his remarks Friday could have a powerful influence on how the public views the case. It was a rare White House moment -- a president identifying himself with a victim in a racially charged shooting. More broadly, it drew attention to the way young black men are seen by a predominantly white society.

Whether Mr. Zimmerman acted legally in the Feb. 26 shooting and whether the Sanford, Fla., police acted properly in declining to arrest him turn in large part on how the victim is viewed.

Mr. Zimmerman, 28, has claimed that he shot Trayvon, 17, in self- defense after he called police to say he was following a person in his gated community whom he believed was acting suspiciously. Supporters of Trayvon's family have said the high school student was merely walking through the neighborhood on his way to a relative's home, and that nothing about him could reasonably have been considered suspicious or threatening.

Trayon's parents appeared to acknowledge that Mr. Obama's public identification with their son carried huge symbolic importance. "The president's personal comments touched us deeply," they said. The remarks "made us wonder: If his son looked liked Trayvon and wore a hoodie, would he be suspicious too?"

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who has been in close contact with the Martin family, expressed a view held by many black leaders, saying that being targeted for violence "is the reality of being a black boy in America." She added: "Every time the president is realistic about a situation, it helps the country grow and mature."

Mr. Obama's comments were not written in advance, aides said, but they came after a week in which the president has been closely following the case. During a trip to Western states over the last two days, he read articles about the shooting and commented privately about how the teenager's family must feel, and how he would take such news if it ever came to his door.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama called the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose mother had died that day, to express condolences. Mr. Sharpton, a civil rights activists and MSNBC-TV show host, was on his way to a rally about the case that he had helped organize. Aides said they assumed that the two men talked about the shooting, although Mr. …

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