President Obama just completed an unannounced appearance during the White House’s daily press briefing, where he spoke at length about Trayvon Martin and lessons to be garnered from this tragic shooting. In a direct reference to his own race, the president said that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” before launching into an explanation of the wounds this incident has opened in the African American community. “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when shopping in a store — and that includes me.”
In addition to discussing his personal experiences as an African American faced with racial bias, Obama offered several broad frameworks for potential policy responses to the shooting. Referencing a bill he passed as an Illinois lawmaker to collect racial data on traffic stops and provide resources to police regarding potential racial biases, the President suggested a program involving the Justice Department, governors and mayor that could provide training to law enforcement intended to reduce “the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes exists.”
He also explicitly called upon the states to rethink so-called Stand Your Ground laws. Obama asked his audience to consider “[i]f Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” And noted that if they are uncomfortable with a world where Martin “would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car” because Martin felt threatened,” then perhaps it would make sense to rethink Stand Your Ground Laws.
The President concluded on a high note — “I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.” But his statement suggests an increased federal role in preventing incidents such as the one that claimed Martin’s life, and it likely represents his most personal remarks on the subject of race since the “More Perfect Union” address he delivered as a presidential candidate.