Following his preliminary statement issued earlier this week, President Barack Obama took to the White House Briefing Room on Friday (July 19) to elaborate on his thoughts regarding the Trayvon Martin case and talk about the next steps that can be made to prevent another tragic situation like that of the 17 year-old unarmed, teen.
The President started off by acknowledging the “grace & dignity” of Travyvon Martin’s family throughout the entire, yet difficult process. But after sharing the unfortunate reality of the jury’s ruling, Obama went on to address the topic of context – a subject that has been the center of many racially charged conversations and debates regarding the outcome of the Zimmerman ruling:
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 is a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it is important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
The President went on to say that the reality is that “very few African-American men in this country” haven’t had the inescapable experience of being followed when shopping or crossing a street without “hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.” The former IL Senator added that these experiences play a large role in how the African-American community interprets racial profiling and how that all ties to what happened that dreary night in Florida.
The Commander-in-Chief made an excellent point of reminding America that this is not to say that the Black community is negligent or “naive” of the issues within its own community regarding young men, violence, and criminal justice system. But that the real roots of the African-American community’s frustration over the last week lies in the sometimes unacknowledged history of violent race relations and the contextual denial of the outcome had Trayvon Martin been a white male teen.
President Obama ended his national address by acknowledging that there is much work to be done, including re-examining state and local laws (i.e. “Stand Your Ground”), positively uplifting of the African-American boys in our communities through active programs, and doing individual soul searching as an American citizen:
I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. Doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated [...] We should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming becoming a more perfect union. Not a perfect union but a more perfect union.