US President Barack Obama today spoke about his rare personal experience on a recent verdict in a black teen case and said that “Trayvon Martin could have been me,35 years ago”.
“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,” Obama told reporters as he made an unannounced entry into the White House press room.
The 17-year-old unarmed black teen was shot and killed in Florida in February 2012. George Zimmerman,29,said he opened fire on the teenager in self-defence and was acquitted of murder by a Florida court last week.
In his first public remarks after Zimmerman was acquitted,Obama shared his personal experience and said very few black men in the US had not experienced racial profiling. “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,” Obama said.
“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,” he said.”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,” the President said.
“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,” he said.
Obama said the African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of criminal laws,everything from the death penalty to enforcement of drug laws.
“That ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case,” he said. “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,” Obama said. “We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country,and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history,” he said.
“So the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given,well,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,” Obama said.
Last Saturday,a jury found Zimmerman,a neighborhood watch volunteer,not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of Martin.
“The verdict has elicited marches and protests across the country,although there has been little violence. The killing of Martin,an unarmed black teenager,ignited a national debate on racial profiling and civil rights,” The New York Times said.
Immediately after,Obama had issued a statement. Watching the debate over the course of the last week,Obama said,he thought it might be useful for him to expand on his thoughts a little bit.
“I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the stand your ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. “On the other hand,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?” he asked.
“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?” he said.