Obama speaks out on Florida verdict
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” says president
US president Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin shooting yesterday. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
US president Barack Obama made the most extensive comments on race of his presidential years as he responded yesterday to the fury of African-Americans over the acquittal of the shooter of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
In an unexpected appearance in the White House press briefing room, he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old Florida neighbourhood watchman, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter last Saturday.
Mr Obama said that African-Americans were looking at the jury’s decision through “a set of experiences and a history 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,” he said.
“There are probably 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.”
Mr Obama said the African-American community knows there is a history of racial disparities in the application of US criminal laws, from the death penalty to the enforcement of drug laws.
“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, the outcome and the aftermath might have been different,” he said.
Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, issued a statement praising Obama. “What touches people is that our son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, could have been their son. President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy,” they said.