A lot of voices have been heard this week in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, including that of U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room Friday (July 19) to address the much-contested verdict.
Speaking about the verdict, which declared George Zimmerman "not guilty" last Saturday night of second-degree murder and manslaughter, Obama dove headfirst into some of the most personal thoughts on race he's offered up in all his years as president. Obama provided his explanation for why there has been so much turmoil within the African-American community over the case.
"You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son," Obama said. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."
He then launched into a discussion of what it means to be African-American in this country and the racism that he himself has experienced in the past. "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," he said, a strikingly similar example to an anecdote Roots band leader Questlove offered up in a New York magazine story this week.
"And, you know ... 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," Obama said, adding that he thinks the country is improving when it comes to race relations.
"When I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they're better than we are," Obama said of his daughters. "They're better than we were on these issues. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country."
The president followed up this discussion — which has Twitter alight with praise as well as derision — by saying that he and his staff are looking at policy options. He also questioned the prudence of Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.
Those questions were also recently explored by Wyclef Jean, Prodigy, president of nonprofit BK Nation Kevin Powell and defense attorney Stacey Richman on "RapFix Live" this week.
The Web is already bubbling over with commentary about the president's speech, with some, like Russell Simmons, praising the president: "watching @BarackObama speak about Trayvon... inspired by his leadership. we will do the work to make this country a more perfected union!"
Others, like talk show host Tavis Smiley, are looking for more specifics from the president. Smiley tweeted: "Another forced lecture on race. And STILL skirting his MORAL responsibility to lead on the most vexing societal issue."
Another forced lecture on race. And STILL skirting his MORAL responsibility to lead on the most vexing societal issue. #TrayvonMartin— Tavis Smiley (@tavissmiley) July 19, 2013
The NAACP is currently pressing Attorney General Eric Holder to press civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, so it appears as though the conversation about Martin that Obama contributed to on Friday will continue. It remains to be seen if the president plans to take any further steps with regard to the case.