Obama Speaks Out in Response to Zimmerman Verdict
Well it has finally happened. The day we all have been waiting for. The Duchess of Cambridge went into labor and the next heir to the throne will be born. Oh wait a second, we are in America not England. This story does not affect us at all. You would not be able to deduce that from the amount of coverage the story is receiving on the news channels. Well since the cable news stations won’t be covering the outcome of the Zimmerman trial today, it gives us time to look back at some developments that happened over the weekend.
The big story happened this past Friday, July 19, 2013. President Obama hijacked a regularly scheduled press briefing and used the time to give his thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict and race relations in this country. His appearance shocked everyone, even the reporters, who could be heard saying, “Whoa,” when he entered the briefing room. It was an impromptu meeting that allowed Obama to say his thoughts without making such a big deal (as opposed to preempting primetime programming for a special press conference). President Obama said several things during his talk with the press that I want to touch on and I think are relevant. The first major thing that really struck those reporting on this address was Obama stating, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” This statement, I feel, was the most compelling because it really put everything in perspective. We see Obama as an accomplished man. He is well educated, became a U.S. Senator and then went on to achieve the highest office in the country some say the world. We never stop to think about what he was like as a teenager growing up. He probably was a lot like Trayvon. In fact I think a lot of teenage boys no matter what their skin color were a lot like Trayvon. Thinking back on my own teenage experience, I definitely went through phases. I dressed a certain way because that was how my friends dressed and I wanted to fit in. Really examining how I was when I was teenager, I realize that people who knew me then who don’t know me now would never recognize me. I feel like that is the same message that Obama was trying to articulate when he compared himself to Trayvon. A lot has been made about Trayvon’s attire that night, wearing a hoodie, so he looked “dangerous.” You cannot deduce how a person will turn out in life by the way they dress as a teenager. I think the comparison Obama made did a good job giving the public a concrete example of how you never can know who a person is or what they will become by just looking at their clothes.
Another important thing, Obama did was reference his own struggles growing up as an African American man. An article in The Washington Post after the press conference talked about Obama’s upbringing and also made note that Obama rarely talked specifically about race relations during his presidency. I understand that. Even though Obama made history by becoming the first African American president, he wants to be known for other things than just his skin color. He wants to enact other changes in the country besides just race relations. However, with a high profile story like this one, not saying anything about it would be like ignoring the elephant in the room. The way he addressed the topic was well thought out. He did not condemn anyone in the trial. He praised how professional and by the book it proceeded. He also brought personal experiences of growing up as a minority illustrating that even he was not raised above the stereotypes and biases that exist in the country. He also offered the African American perspective on certain racial issues, saying that the community is not naïve to the statistics about the African American race and violence but those numbers should not be the defining criteria for the entire community.
Finally, Obama laid out some of the things he would like to address in the aftermath of this trial. He remarked that law enforcement is controlled at the state and local levels of government, but he would like to work in conjunction with state governors to develop training programs to stop the racial profiling done by law enforcement. He also brought up the “Stand Your Ground” law and tried to appeal to America that a law that has that much ambiguous interpretation (he made a case that if Trayvon was of age and armed, under the law he could have stood his ground) needs to perhaps be revisited. He also called for all Americans to do a little introspection and examine what prejudices and biases they hold and try to overcome them.
Once again, I think Obama did a good job covering these different topic areas. It did not come across that he was politicizing the Zimmerman trial. He also seemed well aware of his power being that he runs the federal government and cannot make states change their laws or law enforcement policies. Also I think Obama coming out and talking to America about this issue was a sign to those participating in vigils and protests that he heard their pleas, is aware of the situation, and will do what is in his power to help enact change so Trayvon did not die in vain.
What happened on Friday was an unexpected occurrence that I think a lot of Americans needed to hear. I will be back Wednesday with another post. Hopefully the topic of conversation on the news will go back to American issues (or at least World issues that carry a little more importance) so I will have something fresh to talk about. Till then…