Obama In Surprise Speech: "Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me"

After being mostly muted on the Trayvon Martin case since the George Zimmerman verdict was handed down six days ago, President Obama on Friday finally touched on the issue that has swept the country in frenzied debate.

During the White House's daily press briefing, usually conducted solely by press secretary Jay Carney, the president himself came to the podium, seeking to address the issue.

His remarks were pointed, and cut to the core of the race topic that has swept the country.

"When Trayvon Martin was first shot," Obama said, "I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."

Obama's remarks were less about the verdict in the case which controversially announced George Zimmerman innocent, and more a discussion of African Americans' reaction.

"There are, frankly, 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. And 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."

"If a white male teen would have been involved in this scenario ... both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different."

"If Trayvon Martin was of age and was armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"

Wow.

This wasn't a policy speech. The president was looking only to add in his voice to the topic, which has been strangely missing in the days since the verdict.

Obama did offer some ideas for how the federal government might ameliorate some of the tensions it exposed:

1. Have the Justice Department work with state and city elected officials to try and reduce mistrust in local law enforcement. Specifically, how to decrease racial profiling in the system.

2. Reconsider legislation like "stand your ground" which encouraged the confrontation. He largely echoed the attorney general's comments earlier this week.

3. Think about how to embrace and strengthen the community of young, male African-Americans — to his introductory point. How, he asked, can celebrities and authority figures "figure out how are we doing a better job 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."

After the speech, the conservative punditry exploded, ripping the president in #tcot land: 


Social media has been at the epicenter of the Trayvon Martin catharsis, with many Americans taking to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations. 

In some ways, Obama just added fuel to the fire.

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Chris Miles

Chris has worked for media outlets including the Associated Press and Stars and Stripes. He worked with the Clinton Foundation, the United Nations, and with the Kentucky state legislature. He holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Louisville, and a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. He is originally from Lexington, Ky. Kentucky basketball occupies a majority of his free time.

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