President Barack Obama today reacted to the controversial acquittal last weekend of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year Trayvon Martin. "When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could've been my son," Obama said at a press conference. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could've been me 35 years ago."
Obama reflected on what Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict from the perspective of black Americans. "It's 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," he said. "There are very few African-American men in this country who never had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me."
Obama also shared examples of walking by cars and hearing their doors lock, and having a nearby woman tightly clutch her purse and hold her breath. "That happens often," he said, referring to the latter. "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."
The president also addressed the "history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws," but maintained the African-American community is aware of its own issues. "This isn't to say the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionally involved in the criminal justice system . . . that they're disproportionally both victims and perpetrators of violence."
He continued, "That's not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks to interpret the reasons for that in a historical context, they understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods across the country is born out of a very violent past in this country. And the poverty and disfunction we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history."