In a surprise appearance at a White House press conference, President Obama said Friday that all Americans should respect the George Zimmerman verdict, but white Americans should also understand that African Americans continue to face racial discrimination.
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said the President.
More than a year after saying that Trayvon could have been his son, Obama told reporters that, like other African Americans, he has been followed by security guards while shopping, and has seen motorists lock their doors or women hold tighter to their purses as as he walked near them.
“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,” Obama said.
A Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman on Saturday night of murder in the 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon.
In a 17-minute address that got emotional at times, Obama said he respects the different views of the verdict, but the trial was conducted professionally, and “once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.”
As the Justice Department investigates whether to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations in the wake of Trayvon’s 2012 death, Obama said state and local governments should examine whether changes to laws can head off violent confrontations. That includes racial training for law enforcement in order to reduce tensions between police and minorities, he said.
The president also questioned the wisdom of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which, in the view of critics, all but encourages confrontation that could turn deadly.