President Obama surprised reporters by showing up to today’s White House press briefing, where he made remarks about the Zimmerman case and on the Stand Your Ground law.
National Journal was able to capture some of the key quotes:
While the president began by commending the judge in the case as “professional” and the jurors as “properly instructed,” he brought the case into the much broader context of race in America.
“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said this could’ve been my son. Another way of saying that is, a Trayvon Martin could’ve been me 35 years ago. When you think about why in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened I think 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 also said that “there are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store. That includes me.” The same goes for African American men who have heard “locks click on the doors of cars,” or seen a “woman clutching her purse nervously” in an elevator.
The president also said that “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws” — from the death penalty to drug laws. He continued (with our emphasis):
“Folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated that they feel that there’s no context for them, that that context is being denied. And that all contributes to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that from top to bottom both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
While Obama didn’t shy away from making such strong public comments, he urged that any protests that continue should remain peaceful.
The president also commented on Stand Your Ground laws and issues of racial profiling.
From a TPM rush transcript:
I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it is important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally these are issues of state and local government. The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels. Not at the federal levels. That doesn’t mean though that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level. I think it would be productive for the justice department, governors, mayors, to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists. When I was in illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing. And initially the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that two allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in and plying the law.
Along the same lines I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case rather than diffuse potential altercations. 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 is 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.
Activists and civil rights organizations like the NAACP have been increasingly demanding that Obama’s Justice Department pursue a civil rights case in response to the Zimmerman trial verdict.
Meanwhile, an MSNBC host compared Obama’s appearance today to what JFK did after the children’s campaign (Children’s Crusade) in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights era, when JFK came out in support of civil rights legislation.
Longer Obama video below.
Full transcript available here.
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