In a press conference earlier this afternoon, President Barack Obama spoke on the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and what it means for the future of the country. In the past, Obama has commented that Martin, the seventeen-year-old African American kid in a hoodie who was pursued — and ultimately shot dead — by Zimmerman for simply appearing suspicious, looks like he could be Obama's own son. In today's speech, the POTUS got even more personal:
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’s a lot of pain around what happened here, 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 — 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.
And there are 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...Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
Obama then went on to discuss in practical terms where we as individuals and as a nation can possibly go from here, recommending that we begin by examining our state and local laws to see if they're designed to favor one particular demographic over another. The Justice Department must also "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."
And perhaps the best advice of all:
At least you ask yourself your own questions about, 'am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can;' 'am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character?' That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
To end on a note of hope:
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. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. 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. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
(Read the whole transcript here.)