When George Zimmerman was set free by a jury of his peers, tense protests erupted all across the US. Social network subscribers from many countries also voiced their shock at the not guilty verdict. Others completely understood why Zimmerman was free to continue to his life after shooting unarmed Trayvon Martin. The court explained that the ‘Stand your ground’ law meant that when feeling threatened, even by an unarmed teenager, one can shoot the aggressor in self-defense and ask questions later.
On Friday, President Barack Obama spoke publicly about the latest developments in the Trayvon Martin case. He addressed journalists at the White House but did not take any questions. He started by sending his condolences to Trayvon Martin’s family. He commended the judge in manner that the trial was handled and reiterated that in the US, “once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works”.
President Obama continued: “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.” He acknowledged the dark history and painful experiences that inspired the reactions in the United States. “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 that it was expected that such experiences will come to mind when people think of the night that Travyon Martin was shot in the chest at close range.
The US president is concerned with the way forward. “Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is, where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?” He suggested practical solutions including encouraging the Justice Department to work closely with law enforcement agencies to provide the type of training that will address the mistrust issues that currently exist. One such application of this solution is the racial profiling legislation that the president approved in Illinois. This system allows for the collection of data pertaining to the racial orientation of drivers stopped during traffic blocks.
President Obama worries that the verdict and such laws as the ‘Stand your ground’ law may send the wrong message to an already troubled society. He thinks these laws may create the impression “that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation”.
The first black president of the United States wants to explore a long-term project that is specifically aimed at empowering African-American boys. He would like to develop a program that involves entrepreneurs, political leaders, the church, celebrities and sportspeople. President Obama believes that these key entities can be instrumental in “helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed”.
Obama concluded his statement by reminding Americans that despite the obvious tensions in the country, “things are getting better”. “It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are.” Obama asked Americans to have conversations around racial issues with people in their social groups so that the country may move forward from the tragic death of Trayvon Martin as a stronger and unified nation.