At about 1:30pm today, President Obama delivered an unannounced address on Trayvon Martin, the Zimmerman trial, and race in America. He spoke at length about the African-American community and the historical and contemporary perspective in which that community views the not guilty verdict. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said Obama, later adding that most African-American males have experiences like the sound of car doors locking when walking across the street or a woman clutching her purse in an elevator. The president also said that Americans are aware of a “history of racial disparity in our criminal laws,” and that is good reason for government to review Florida’s “stand your ground” law and other state and local laws.
I think it’s safe to say this was President Obama’s most heartfelt and bold statement of his presidency on the topic of race in America, or any presidency for that matter.
Obama also asked if Trayvon Martin was armed, “could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” Would it have been justified for Martin to shoot Zimmerman in self-defense? I like that the president asked this question, because I think it makes people look at this case in a different way. Why is it that George Zimmerman is the one seen as defending himself, at least in the eyes of the jury and many on the Right in this country? Is it because he had a gun? Is it because he’s not black? Is it because Trayvon Martin WAS black?
Nobody knows exactly what happened that night after Zimmerman left his car, and because of that, the jury was probably correct in it’s not guilty verdict on second degree murder. But we know Zimmerman pursued Martin. We know Zimmerman was armed. We know Martin was unarmed. We know Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. Regardless of how the altercation escalated, the details of which we can never know for sure, Zimmerman is still culpable. I don’t believe it was premeditated, but because Zimmerman’s choice to leave his car and pursue Martin is what led to Martin’s death, that means Zimmerman deserves some level of blame. I’m not a legal expert, I don’t know if manslaughter is the right charge, but the jury did find him not guilty of that charge as well. I realize life isn’t fair and the judicial system is imperfect, but I also recognize the injustice of this verdict.