The FBI says it wasn’t about race, but the president disagrees.
President Obama surprised reporters by showing up at the daily White House press briefing to comment on the George Zimmerman case and made some bold assertions as well as candid admissions.
Obama said Trayvon Martin might still be alive if he were white.
“If a white male teen would have been involved in this scenario,” he said, “both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
That suggests Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, but that’s not what the FBI or the lead detective in the case found.
After interviewing almost three dozen people, the FBI concluded racial bias was not a motivating factor in the shooting death of Martin.
Lead Sanford Det. Chris Serino told agents Zimmerman profiled Martin because of what he was wearing and the circumstances, not because of race.
But almost all of Obama’s comments were on race.
“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,” the president said.
“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.
“There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often,” said the president.
Obama said those perceptions explain why so many in the African-American community see race as such an important part of the Martin case.
“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. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
“The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”
The president acknowledged that African Americans are “disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” which he blamed on American history.
“They (African Americans) understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.”
Obama implied that leads to an unfair stereotype.
“[T]he fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.”
While ackowledging the reality of rampant black-on-black violent crime, President Obama said the results of the justice process can still be difficult for many to accept.
“I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.
“So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied.”
The president also made it a personal issue, saying he could have easily suffered Martin’s fate.
“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 did not sound hopeful that the situation will change any time soon.
“[W]hen 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 doesn’t go away.”