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Does the president’s remarks help soothe pain of the Trayvon Martin case?

‘It was important … hear the president speak about this issue,’ says Congresswoman Karen Bass

Cynthia E. Griffin | 7/25/2013, midnight
President Barack Obama White House

In a move that appeared to respond to calls within the Black community for a comment, President Barack Obama talked about the Trayvon Martin verdict in the Friday White House daily briefing.

Noting that he could have been Martin 35 years ago, President Obama talked about why African Americans were hurting in the wake of the verdict; and the historic mistreatment of Blacks in the United States, particularly when it comes to the justice system, that served as the lens through which they view the verdict.

“… when you think about why, 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 history that doesn’t go away.

“There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me—at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

“And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws—everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”

At the end of the speech which lasted about 20 minutes, the president presented a four-point plan for moving forward.

“No. 1, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, and mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

“Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

“I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the ‘stand your ground’ laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?”