Obama’s remarks came one day before activists in Florida and the nation were to hold rallies and demonstrations in 100 U.S. cities, including Miami, to speak out against laws such as Stand Your Ground and to oppose the not-guilty verdict rendered last Saturday by a jury in Sanford. Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, successfully pleaded self-defense in shooting Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012, at an at-times crime-ravaged apartment complex where the Miami Gardens teen was visiting his father.
A juror who spoke anonymously to CNN said the jury, after examining the Stand Your Ground law and the facts of the case, ultimately felt it could do nothing but acquit Zimmerman.
Passed in 2005 by the Florida Legislature, Stand Your Ground allows a person who fears grave bodily harm to use deadly force in a confrontation in public. Previously, Florida law generally held that a person had to attempt to retreat from a public confrontation before using deadly force.
It’s unclear, however, how much of a role Stand Your Ground ultimately had in Zimmerman’s acquittal.
Obama said he’d leave the legal issues over the trial to others. But he said he accepted the verdict.
“Once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works,” Obama said.
Obama’s comments Friday inflamed some conservatives who blamed the president for playing racial politics last year for commenting that Trayvon could have been his son. By explicitly identifying himself with the teen, the president heightened the attention all the more.
But the president made sure to give more extensive remarks and to address a concern expressed by many conservatives and whites about Trayvon’s case: the relative lack of discussion about black-on-black crime.
“I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else,” Obama said.
More than 91 percent of African-American homicide victims were killed by another black person in 2011, the latest year for which the age, sex and race of the offender are known by the FBI.
The white-on-white homicide rate: 83 percent.
Blacks, less than 14 percent of the nation’s population, account for a disproportionate share of homicide victims — 45 percent — when compared to whites (53 percent of race-identifiable homicide victims). The race-and-crime data aren’t available for Florida specifically, although experts say the fourth-most populous state generally mirrors the nation.
In the state and nation, blacks are more likely to be imprisoned as well. Forty-eight percent of Florida’s inmates are black, though African-Americans account for slightly more than 16 percent of the general population.
“African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” the president said. “It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.”
The president said it’s time “for all of us to do some soul searching,” but he worried that the conversation would likely become “stilted and politicized” if politicians organized it.
The first black president also attested to what doesn’t always seem obvious: race relations are improving. He said his daughters and their friends were proof.
“They’re better than we are. They’re better than we were,” Obama said. “Those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.”
“We’re becoming a more perfect union,” the president said, “Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”