In a surprise appearance at this afternoon’s White House press briefing, President Barack Obama commented on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Among other statements, the president linked present-day violence in black neighborhoods to “a very difficult” and “sometimes unacknowledged” history of slavery and past discrimination; and he opined that the Martin tragedy might have proceeded differently if “a white male teen” had been involved instead of Trayvon Martin:
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 that African-American young men are disproportionally [sic] involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionally [sic] both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context; they understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods in this country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history. And so the fact that 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’s these statistics out there that show that African-Americanboys are more violent” — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
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. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s not context for that, and that context is being denied; and — 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’ve been different.