Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’
President Obama made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to weigh in on the George Zimmerman trial, prompting some hilariously confused reactions from his breathless media fans, who couldn’t decide if President Boyfriend was awesome because he made such a deeply personal statement, or awesome because he didn’t just make it all about himself. They all agreed that it was very exciting that Obama chose to descend from Olympus and say something historic on the matter.
There actually was one truly historic moment in the President’s remarks, when he talked about the need to “bolster and reinforce our African-American boys,” by which he means steering them away from “negative reinforcement” and doing more to “give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them.” President Obama said he’s been talking about this a lot with his wife, and they’re not sure what can be done. “You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program,” he admitted.
That’s the first time Barack Obama hasn’t been naive about the prospects of a brand-new federal program! Let it be duly recorded in the pages of history.
Let’s talk some more about those “negative reinforcements,” because speeches like this must be counted among them. Far from the high-minded, deeply personal exploration of racial healing his media cheerleaders are portraying it as, this was yet another divisive pronouncement from a politician with an agenda to push – he spent a lot of time talking about “Stand Your Ground” laws, which had nothing to do with the Zimmerman case, but which have been selected as a political target of opportunity by liberals looking to get something out Zimmerman-mania.
When did it become appropriate for Presidents to level the power of the White House against individual American citizens like George Zimmerman? Obama always takes time to pay lip service to the outcome of the Zimmerman trial: “The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that 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 then the rest of his remarks proceeded under the assumption that justice has not been done yet. He talked about changing laws he disagrees with, he discussed racial profiling – knowing full well that it’s an article of faith among “Justice For Trayvon” protesters that George Zimmerman “profiled” Trayvon Martin – and, most astonishingly, he said there was “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 aftermath might have been different.”
What is he saying here? Is he claiming a white teenager could have beaten George Zimmerman to a pulp without worrying about getting shot in self-defense? Is he saying that a jury would have eagerly convicted Zimmerman of murder or manslaughter for killing a white teenager? This is the President of the United States, and his fans constantly assure us he’s one of the greatest orators of all time. The man must be held accountable for his words.
After sending some “thoughts and prayers” to the Martin family (but not the Zimmerman family, which is currently in hiding after receiving death threats, and could probably use some thoughts and prayers too) the President launched into a discussion of “context” that only makes sense if you assume there was a racial charge to George Zimmerman’s actions, despite all evidence to the contrary:
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 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.
And there are 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 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.
“Very few African-American men” have escaped those experiences? Is that a function of their skin color, or is it also perhaps a matter of how they dress, how they conduct themselves, and where they live? Aren’t there plenty of white men who dress and conduct themselves in a manner that causes women to clutch their purses and department-store employees to take notice of them?
In other words, if we’re going to have the frank discussion of racial issues Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder keep talking about, can we discuss the difference between ugly racial prejudice and prudence based on experience? The President did touch upon those issues, but always with qualifications about the “history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws,” and the “historical context” in which “black folks” interpret the disproportionate involvement of African-American young men in the criminal justice system, and the “very violent past in this country,” and the “broad brush” with which “a lot of African-American boys are painted.”
All of which is a lot of freight to heap atop an unfortunate, but not really complicated, instance in which a 17-year-old who fit the general description of malefactors in a particular neighborhood in Florida was observed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and chose to respond by physically attacking the man. All these layers of historical context and institutional racism from Obama are feeding the alienation of anger of protesters. The President of the United States explicitly describing Trayvon Martin as a younger version of himself will anger them even more. And aside from the superficial resemblance of skin color, there is very, very little similarity between the lives of Trayvon Martin and the 17-year-old Barack Obama. By inserting himself into the discussion this way, Obama is making exactly the kind of facile comparison he should be decrying.
One of the most important lessons to draw from the encounter between Martin and Zimmerman is, “Don’t confront and attack people because they behave in a manner you find insulting.” That’s the last lesson Obama seems interested in teaching – but then, he’s never been big on personal responsibility. He tends to view people as hapless pinballs knocked around by laws and social forces. Here he drags those hellish “Stand Your Ground” laws into the discussion, even though he admits they weren’t part of the Zimmerman case… except they kind of are, because they make people like George Zimmerman overconfident and trigger-happy:
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state 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.
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 see?
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? 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?
I’ve read that last paragraph a dozen times, and I’m still not sure what Obama was thinking when he said it. Mr. President, Trayvon Martin did “stand his ground.” He passed up on copies opportunities to peacefully depart from his encounter with George Zimmerman, who was not interested in any sort of close-range confrontation. Trayvon Martin forced that confrontation to occur.
And no, Mr. Obama, I don’t think there’s any substantial American constituency for the right to shoot people who follow them around for a little while. There is not a single “Stand Your Ground” law in the United States that comes anywhere near asserting such a right. I guess it was unrealistic to expect Obama to get through a speech without his straw men putting in an appearance.
The President wrapped up his remarks quite well, encouraging individuals to engage in their own dialogues about racial issues without official direction, and remarking 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.” They really are, and one of my biggest grudges against racial-grievance hustlers is that they trick people into losing sight of how much better things have gotten.
Lodged about halfway through Obama’s remarks was the truly newsworthy part, in which he begins the process of lowering expectations for that federal civil-rights trial the protesters are demanding:
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 has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
Then maybe you should tell your Attorney General to stop wasting time and taxpayer resources on pointless theatrics, give George Zimmerman his gun back, and start dealing with important business, Mr. President.