TRANSCRIPT: President Obama’s remarks on Trayvon Martin


OBAMA:  That’s so disappointing, man.
QUESTION:  What’re you doing here?
OBAMA:  Jay, is this the kind of respect that you get?
You know, on television, it usually looks like you’re
addressing a full room.
OBAMA:  I got you.  All right.  Sorry about that.  Do you
think anybody else is showing up?  Good.
Well, I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you
that Jay is prepared for all your questions, and is very much
looking forward to the session.
Second thing is, I want to let you know that over the next
couple of weeks, there are going to obviously be a whole range
of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera.  We’ll try to
arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to
take questions, but to speak to an issue that’s obviously gotten
a lot of attention over the course of 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 the 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
thought 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’re going through and it’s remarkable
how they’ve handled it.
OBAMA:  The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what
I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of
arguments about the legal — the legal issues in the case.  I’ll
let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those
The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner.
The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The
juries (sic) were properly instructed that in a — in a case
such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant.  And they rendered
a verdict.
And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.
But I did want to just talk a little bit 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’s a lot of pain around what happened
here, I think it’s important to recognize that the
African-American community is looking at this issue through a
set of experiences and a — and a history that — that doesn’t
go away.
There are very few African-American men in this country who
haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were
shopping in a department store.  That includes me.
OBAMA:  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, you know, I — 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’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences
to bear.
The African-American community is also knowledgeable that
there is a history 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
disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that
they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of
violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact.
OBAMA:  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 around the
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 Africa-American
boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuses given,
“Well, there are these statistics out there that show that
African-American boys 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 — so folks understand the challenges that exist for
African- American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if
they feel that there’s no context for it, or — 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 have been different.
OBAMA:  Now, the question, for me, at least, and — and I
think for a lot of folks is, “Where do we take this?  How — how
do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive
You know, I think it’s understandable that there have been
demonstrations and vigils and protests and some of that is just
going to have to work its way through as long as it remains
nonviolent.  If I see any violence, then I will remind folks
that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his
But beyond protests or vigils, the question is:  Are there
some concrete things that we might be able to do?  I know that
Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think
it’s 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, you know, so we’re not rolling out some five-point
plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially
OBAMA:  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.
You know, 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 things 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 that if it
was done in a fair, straightforward way that, it would allow
them to do their jobs better and communities would have more
confidence in them, and in turn be more helpful in — in
applying the law.  And, 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 local 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 — and local laws to see if it — 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:  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’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
And for those who — 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.
Number three — and this is a long-term project — 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?
You know, 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 — I do recognize that, as president,
I’ve got some convening power.  And there are a lot of good
programs that are being done across the country on this front.
And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and
local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes
and figure out, how are we doing a better job helping young
African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this
society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to
succeed?  You know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome
from what was, obviously, a tragic situation.  And we’re going
to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for
all of us to do some soul-searching.  You know, there’s been
talk about, should we convene a conversation on race?  I haven’t
seen that be particularly productive when, you know, politicians
try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and
politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they
already have.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces,
there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest
and 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.
OBAMA:  And let me just leave you with — with the 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.
It 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.  And that’s
true in every community that I’ve visited all across the
country.  And so, you know, 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 these 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 and difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more
perfect union, not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
All right?
Thank you, guys.
OBAMA:  Now you can — now you can talk to Jay.