Following the verdict, some civil rights leaders called on Obama to lead a national conversation on race. But the president has resisted. Before yesterday, his only comment on the verdict had been a written statement in which he called Martin’s death a tragedy and appealed for calm.
But throughout the week, the president kept track of the national response to the verdict, particularly by black Americans, and had discussions with his family, aides said. He was ready to address the verdict earlier this week during a round of interviews with Spanish language television stations, but the matter never came up.
On Thursday, he told his senior advisers that he felt the country needed to hear from him — not in an interview or speech, just a frank discussion of his views and experiences. He spoke from the podium in the White House briefing room with no notes.
Even as the president urged the public to accept the verdict — “once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works” — he gave voice to the feelings held by many angered by the jury’s decisions.
There’s a sense, Obama said, “that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
The president spoke emotionally about Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, saying they had displayed incredible grace and dignity. He never mentioned the feelings of Zimmerman, whose brother has said the former defendant has faced numerous death threats.
Martin’s parents released a statement following the remarks, saying, “President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy.”
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, also welcomed the president’s remarks, telling Fox News that “the American people need to have some time to digest what really happened and to do that soul searching the president spoke of.”