President Obama Addresses The George Zimmerman Verdict & Race In America [Video]

Rucuss staffJuly 19, 2013

President Barack Obama had an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room on Friday.

Obama gave an impromptu speech about the George Zimmerman verdict and race in America. The President made it clear that he’s not happy that Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder of Trayvon Martin. He addressed the profiling of African American boys in America, but also offered a few possible solutions that could be put in place so that young black men could have more faith in the justice system.

The nation’s first black president, who early on had said that if he had a son the boy would have looked like Martin, made the connection even more intense, saying that “Trayvon Martin could’ve been me 35 years ago.”

“Where do we take this?” Obama wondered aloud during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room. “How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?”

Check out excerpts from the speech below:

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 than 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 Obama’s speech below.


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