President Barack Obama took to the White House briefing room Friday (July 19) to put some personal context on the national discussion about George Zimmerman’s acquittal on murder charges in the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
While Obama says the judge and jury did their jobs, he offers statements empathetic to the African-American community in light of protests against the verdict.
“Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago,” Obama says. “There’s a lot of pain around what happened here.” He continues, saying “the African-American community is looking at this through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
Obama goes on to describe experiences he says nearly all African-American men have encountered — himself included, “before I was a senator” — such as being followed in a shopping center, hearing doors lock as one walks across the street, or “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.”
The president says “there is a history of racial disparities in the applications of our criminal laws,” and points out that African-American boys are “disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system” as “both victims and perpetrators of violence.” Obama says, “Black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand 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.”
Obama says black parents “see their sons treated differently” as a result of the unbalanced statistics, and that all of these things inform the African-American community’s interpretation of the Zimmerman verdict. “And that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario,” Obama says, “both the outcome and the aftermath would have been different.”