President Obama made a surprise appearance at a White House Press briefing Friday to reflect in person on the Zimmerman verdict for the first time.
His remarks offered a dramatic contrast to his usual reticence to talking about race: "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," Obama said.
The president was somber and seemed especially introspective during the remarks, looking downwards throughout his statement instead of at the press corps.
"I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away," he said.
Here's what Obama said the country should focus on in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict:
1. Local law enforcement training.
"I think it’d 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."
2. Questioning stand your ground laws.
"I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if 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," Obama said. "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?"
3. Supporting African-American boys.
"This is a long-term project," Obama explained. "We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that 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 that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?"
"At least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing 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."
One of the most moving parts of the remarks came when Obama asked his audience to imagine what would have happened if Trayvon was armed.
"And 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 age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?" he asked. "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, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws."
The president ended on a somewhat forcedly-optimistic note; reminding Americans that when it comes to race, "things are getting better."
"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. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country," Obama said. "We’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union."
Obama's remarks are important. Give them a watch.