President Obama weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case today, even as his presence as the first black president loomed large over the controversy — regardless of his prior silence on the issue.
Trayvon Martin was first referenced by President Obama soon after his death, when many Americans rallied and protested to demand the arrest of George Zimmerman despite Florida’s broadly applicable “Stand Your Ground” laws.
Last year, Obama briefly mentioned the case, adding “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” a statement that enraged many who believed it was unnecessarily “divisive” or improper overall.
On Sunday, the White House released a brief statement on the verdict and widespread outcry, and today, the President spoke further about the case and its effects on America and overall race-related dialogue.
Obama first addressed parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, praising them for their dignity and restraint throughout the painful months after Martin was shot:
I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.
Saying that “juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict” and that “once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works,” Obama went on to address more of the context of the Trayvon Martin case.
He said in part:
“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.”
Later, he added:
“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.”
Obama also questioned the wisdom of Stand Your Ground laws, and he “went there” in suggesting that had Martin been legally entitled to a firearm, he might not have been afforded the same liberties given Zimmerman:
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?”
You can read President Obama’s full Trayvon Martin statement here.