Looking at his remarks today, it is clear that President Obama will remain objectives, but the sympathies of Barack Obama the man are with Trayvon and the Martin family.
The president remained professionally objective, but he did say that he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, and he praised the dignity of Trayvon’s parents.
What is interesting is that President Obama looked beyond the Zimmerman self defense/not self defense argument that is still ongoing, and looked deeper into the role that stand your ground laws may play in feeding a culture of conflict.
You know, when I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped, but the other things was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias, and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.
And, initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that, it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them, and in turn be more helpful in — in applying the law. And, obviously, law enforcement’s got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear, if state and local governments are receptive, and I think a lot of them would be. And let’s figure out, are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and — and local laws to see if it — 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?
And for those who — who resist that idea, that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
We already know who benefits from Stand Your Ground Laws, “For killings involving victims of color—black or Hispanic—78 percent of the time the death was considered justified. For killings involving white victims, that rate sinks to 56 percent.” The question that Obama was getting at was, do these laws create a mentality where violence escalates?
Without saying as much, the president made it very clear where his sympathies reside. This doesn’t mean that Zimmerman will face federal civil rights charges. The president also made it clear that while Attorney General Holder is reviewing the case, these matters are usually handled at the state and local level.
It was important for the president to come out and provide some insight into the African American point of view. Zimmerman defenders have never been able to answer that Obama posed, would Martin have been justified in shooting Zimmerman if the roles were reversed.
The president isn’t coming to take your guns, or meddle with state laws, but his remarks made it clear that his heart is with Trayvon Martin and the Martin family.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association