In starkly personal terms, President Barack Obama talked about his experience as a black man in America on Friday and called on the country to do some “soul searching” about race in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death and George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict.
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Obama said, mentioning the racial profiling blacks deal with, including his experienced before he an Illinois state senator.
Obama, who made sure to mention the persistent trouble of black-on-black crime, also called for an examination of Stand Your Ground self-defense laws, such as Florida’s, which played a role in the Zimmerman case.
But Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he appointed a bipartisan Stand Your Ground task force last year and he stands by its recommendations to keep the law largely intact.
“I don’t support changing Stand Your Ground,” Scott said. “We are in a 42-year-low in our crime rate.”
“This death shouldn’t be politicized,” Scott said during a visit to Miami on Friay.
When asked if he thought Obama was politicizing the issue, Scott did not respond with a yes or no.
“What we ought to be doing is mourning the loss of a young man,” the governor said. “We ought to be doing what we’re going to be doing on Sunday. We ought to be praying about how we bring out state back together. We ought to be praying for unity.”
Scott called for a day of prayer Sunday and said he was supported by Sabryna Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, with whom he spoke on Thursday.
On Sunday, across the nation, activists plan to hold rallies and demonstrations to speak out against laws such as Stand Your Ground and to oppose the not-guilty verdict rendered Saturday by a jury in Sanford.
Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, successfully pled self defense in shooting Trayvon Feb. 26, 2012, at an at-times crime-ravaged apartment complex where the Miami Gardens teen was visiting his father.
A juror who spoke anonymously to CNN said the jury, after examining the Stand Your Ground law and the facts of the case, ultimately felt it could do nothing but acquit Zimmerman.
Passed in 2005 by the Florida Legislature, Stand Your Ground allows a person who fears grave bodily harm to use deadly force in a confrontation in public. Previously, Florida law generally held that a person had to attempt to retreat from a public confrontation before a person used deadly force.
Aside from Scott, the Florida Republicans who control the Legislature also want to keep Stand Your Ground. A Quinnipiac poll last year and a separate Miami Herald poll found Florida voters supported the law by anywhere from 57 to 65 percent.
Obama’s comments Friday inflamed some conservatives who blamed the president for playing racial politics last year for commenting that Trayvon could have been his son.
But the president made sure to give more extensive remarks and to address a concern expressed by many conservatives and whites about Trayvon’s case: the relative lack of discussion about black on black crime.
“I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else,” Obama said.
“African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” the president continued. “It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.”