READ: Transcript Of Obama’s Statement On Trayvon Martin

Below is a rush transcript of a statement made Friday by President Barack Obama on the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. Obama made the statement in a surprise appearance during the White House press briefing.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course the last week, the issue of the trayvon martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on sunday but watching the debate over the course of last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit. First of all, I want to make sure that once again I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as michelle’s, to the family of trayvon martin and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they are going through and it is remarkable how they’ve handled it. The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on sunday. Which is, there will be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The jurors were properly instructed that in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant and they rendered a ved. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works. But you did want to just talk about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when trayvon martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is, trayvon martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why in the african-american community at least there is a lot of pain around what happened here, i think it is important to recognize that the african-american community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away there are very few african-american in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are probably very few african-american men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few african-americans who haven’t had the experience of guesting on an elevator are and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. And 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. And it is inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The african-american community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws, and that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case. Now this isn’t to say that the african-american community is naive about the fact african-american young men are disproportionally involved in the criminal justice system, they’re disproportionally both victims of violence. Black folks determine the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty ysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history. And so the fact sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of african-american boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that african-american boys are more violent. Using that as an excuse to then seasons treated differently causes pain. I think the african-american’s 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. So folks understand the challenges that exist for african-american boys. But they get frustrated I think if they feel that there is no context for it. And that context is being denied. And that all contributes, i think, to a sense 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. Now, the question for me at least 
— and I think for a lot of folks is 
— where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from thjs and move in a positive direction? I think it is understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains non-violent. If I see any violence, then i will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to trayvon martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is are there come concrete things that we might be able to do. I know that eric holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it is important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally these are issues of state and local government. The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels. Not at the federal levels. That doesn’t mean though that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus. Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level. I think it would be productive for the justice department, governors, mayors, to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists. 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 thing 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 thatf it was done in a fair, straightforward way that two allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in and plying the law. 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 locale 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 local laws to see 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 is 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. 

For those 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 able 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. Number three. This is a long-term project. We need to spend some time think how do we bolster and reinforce our african-american boys. This is something michelle and i talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement and is there more to do that we can give them a sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them. I’m not naive about the prospects of some grand new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here but i do recognize as president that I’ve got some convening power. There are a lot of good programs being done across the country on this front and for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials an clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young african-american men feel that they are a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed. I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. We’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that. And then finally, I think it is going to be important for all of us to do some soul searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized and folks are locked in to the positions they already have. On the other hand, families and churches and workplaces, there is a possibility that people are a little bit more honest and at least you ask yourself your own questions about am I ringing as much bias out of myself as i can, am I judging people as much as I can based on, not the color of their skin, but the content of their character. That would I think be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy. And let me just leave you with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. Doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But, you know, when I talk to malia and sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. That’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country. And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using those episodes to heighten divisions. But, we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming becoming a more perfect union. Not a perfect union but a more perfect union. All right? Thank you, guys. 

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