by Max Brantley
I don't read it as second-guessing. But he endeavors to provide important, irrefutable context black Americans see in this case and raises the question of whether events would have been different if, top to bottom, they involved white people.
And what if Trayvon Martin had been armed? Could he have stood HIS ground? The president understands that the stand-your-ground law was not an element in the criminal trial, but it's undeniably an element in prevailing attitudes in Florida. Perhaps, he said, the law encourages, rather than diffuses, situations such as those that led to Martin's slaying by George Zimmerman.
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? 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.
While acknowledging that young black males are disproportionately involved in criminal events, both as perpetrator and victim, Obama reached back to his own experience:
... 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-Americans 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 getting on an elevator 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.
There's more. Seems reasonable, heartfelt and, while pointed on some policy questions, not of a finger-pointing nature. I'll be surprised, however, if his usual foes don't see it through their usual prism for all things Obama. Negatively, in other words.
Let's think about addressing racial profiling, he said. Let's talk about stand your ground laws. Let's talk about helping African-American boys (his word). Maybe we should all examine whether we are "wringing" us much bias out of ourselves as we can. He closed modestly upbeat.
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.
Good talk from where I sit.