'Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 yrs ago': Obama

Updated: 2013-07-20 05:19


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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Friday made a series of proposals to prevent tragedies such as the Trayvon Martin case in the future, as he addressed the issue of race in the wake of the trial of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Martin.

Obama called for more training in local law enforcement agencies to reduce people's mistrust of the justice system, re- examination of state and local laws, including the Stand Your Ground laws, bolstering and reinforcing young African American men and soul-searching on race.

'Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 yrs ago': Obama

US President Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin case in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, July 19, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

He said race relations in the United States actually are getting better.

People should "have confidence" that a new generation "have more sense than we did," said Obama. "And that along this long and difficult journey ... we're becoming a more perfect union."

Obama made the proposals in a surprise visit to the White House briefing room. He said the Stand Your Ground laws were "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."

The trial of Zimmerman was done properly, he said, while acknowledging that the African American communities are feeling a lot of pain in the Martin case, as many of them have experienced being targeted and followed.

"Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago," said Obama, noting it's "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."

Obama went on to address the race issue in the case, saying very few African American men haven't had the experience of being followed when shopping in a department store, of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars, and getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.

He had those experiences himself, said Obama, the first black American elected president.

Combined with the history of racial disparities in the application of criminal laws in the country, Obama said those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened in the Martin case, while acknowledging the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system.

Given the context, the president said it's "understandable" that there have been demonstrations, vigils and protests after the verdict was rendered.

But he condemned violence, saying violence "dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family."

A jury in Florida on Saturday night acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of African American teenager Martin last year.

The acquittal sparked protests, some of them violent, around the country.