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 experience before he was 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.
Critics said the 17-member task force — appointed in April 2012 — was stacked in favor of the law, which expands the use of deadly force in some confrontations.
“I don’t support changing Stand Your Ground,” Scott said of the law. “We are in a 42-year-low in our crime rate.”
The Florida Republicans who control the Legislature also want to keep Stand Your Ground. And a Quinnipiac poll last year and a separate Miami Herald poll found Florida voters supported the law by anywhere from 56 to 65 percent.
“This death shouldn’t be politicized,” Scott said during a visit to Miami on Friday.
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 Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, with whom he spoke on Thursday.
On Friday, Fulton and Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, issued a statement that praised Obama but didn’t mention Scott.
The parents said they were “deeply honored and moved” that the president spoke about their child.
“We know that the death of our son Trayvon, the trial and the not-guilty verdict have been deeply painful and difficult for many people,” the parents said. “We know our family has become a conduit for people to talk about race in America and to try and talk about the difficult issues that we need to bring into the light in order to become a better people.”
Zimmerman’s lawyers also issued a response that credited the president for having the “courage” to talk about race. They urged people to understand the “nuances” of what Obama said and not focus on the line about the president’s identification with Trayvon.
“We cannot talk about race in sound bites. Before you cast an opinion about what the President said, be sure to listen to his comments in full,” the statement sad. “Before you judge George Zimmerman or disparage the verdict of the citizen jury, understand the facts in full. Agree not to listen to just what meets your predisposition, but to accept what exists.”