President Barack Obama has said that “Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago”, in his first comments on the case since last week’s verdict.
Watch Barack Obama speaks on the issue below:
The unarmed black 17-year-old was shot and killed in Florida in February 2012.
George Zimmerman, 29, said he opened fire on the teenager in self-defence and was acquitted of murder by a Florida court last week.
In an unexpected press call, Mr Obama said very few black men in the US had not experienced racial profiling.
Mr Obama said the pain that African-Americans felt around the case came from the fact that they viewed it through “a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away”.
He said African Americans were also keenly aware of racial disparities in the application of criminal laws.
“That all contributes to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different,” Mr Obama said.
He shared his experiences of being racially profiled in the past, such as being followed while out shopping.
“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.
“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 has a chance to get off.”
Mr Obama also hailed the “incredible grace and dignity” of Trayvon Martin’s parents in the way they reacted to the verdict.
Calling for “soul-searching” from Americans on issues of race, he also sounded a hopeful note, saying that race relations were improving with each generation.
Saturday’s not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman from the all-female jury of six prompted nationwide protests, with further demonstrations planned for this weekend.
Mr Obama called for the protests to remain peaceful, saying any violence “dishonours what happened to Trayvon Martin”.
He said that although criminal matters and law enforcement were traditionally dealt with on a state and not a federal level, it would be useful to examine some state and local laws to see if they encourage confrontation in certain situations.
On Wednesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder cited the case as he urged a nationwide review of “stand your ground” laws, such as those in place in Florida, which permit the use of deadly force if a person feels seriously threatened.
The issue was never raised during the trial, though the judge included a provision about the law in her instructions to the jury, allowing it to be considered as a legitimate defence.
Source: story:bbc news/video:cnn
George Zimmerman acquittal stirs resentment and renews race debate
The civil rights movement has been reinvigorated by recent decisions from a Florida jury and the supreme court – and now plans for Martin Luther King’s anniversary
Trayvon Martin protests in New York. Photograph: Kevin Downs/Demotix/Corbis
Plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech are being redrawn in the wake of an angry reaction over the decision to acquit George Zimmerman over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and a recent decision by the supreme court to strike down key sections of a law that protects black voters.
Senior figures in the civil rights movement have told the Guardian that fast-escalating resentment over the treatment of black Americans will result in larger-than-expected crowds descending on Washington next month for the commemorations off King’s famous address.
Zimmerman’s acquittal and the supreme court ruling on the Voting Rights Act have fuelled a renewed debate over race relations in the US and reinvigorated the civil rights movement. In Washington on Friday, Barack Obama delivered a surprisingly bold speech about the issue.
See the speech video above
On Saturday, vigils organise by the veteran civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton will be held across the US to protest against the acquittal of Zimmerman, who shot 17-year-old Martin as he returned home armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a drink from a convenience store.
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