Last Friday, President Obama stunned the press by surprise when he made an unexpected speech about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Speaking to the media for the first time since the trial had ended, the President commented on race, the criminal justice system, and why the upset of the verdict resonated differently with many Black Americans.
While many didn’t think he’d comment so soon, it was somewhat expected of him due to his previous comments about Trayvon Martin last year. When protests were taking place across the country some weeks after Trayvon’s death, he was pressed to comment on it, stating, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” much to the disagreement of his political foes. He went a step further this time saying, Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago.
What made his speech feel like a breath of fresh air for many Americans, was that he spoke from a personal standpoint. Obama recalled a time where he was racially profiled before becoming a young senator. This was a powerful statement from the President—the first black president of the U.S. confessing that he was once racially-profiled struck home to a lot of people, specifically Black men. He also silenced his black critics who believe he hasn’t talked enough about race, when he said:
…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 — and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
The history of the American legal system and Blacks has not always been a swell one, and many can still debate that it isn’t. The disproportionate statistics of Blacks being prosecuted for crimes at higher rates than other races can indicate that.
While some may have dismissed Obama’s speech as race-baiting or divisive, his experience should not be discounted, regardless of his position. If there is or was a time for a serious racial discussion in America, it is now because it’s long overdue.
Since the outcome of Trayvon Martin’s death, many parents have said they continually have ‘the talk’ with their children, attempting to aid them with tips if they find themselves being racially targeted. The talk is for prevention and awareness, and if anything were to happen, receiving justice would be the expected outcome. But Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict regressed any hope for some, and it cut deep into the fears of a lot of current and future parents.
I can say that I’m glad the president decided to address the verdict. With the massive protests that occurred in the aftermath of the trial in major cities across the country, it was time for him to address the division in the country that took place afterwards. This case did not only create some varied racial division, but it was also a partisan one.
Watch the full speech below:
Do you agree or disagree with Obama’s decision to address the Zimmerman verdict?