In the impromptu speech given at the White House today, Obama reacted both personally and as a member of the African-American community.
"When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son," he said. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have 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 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."
AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI ; Martin Family
The commander in chief continued, "There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are probably very few African-American men who have not 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 have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often.
"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," Obama said. "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," he said. "And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case."
This past Saturday, Zimmerman was acquitted by a Florida jury of all charges stemming from the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 of last year.