Obama: 'Trayvon Martin could have been me'

4:21 PM, Jul 19, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- President Obama said Friday that Americans should respect the George Zimmerman verdict, but white Americans should also understand that African-Americans continue to face racial discrimination.

"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," Obama said during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.

Obama said he himself has been subjected to casual prejudice, even as a United States senator, but also said African Americans need to address the problems of violence in their own communities.

A Florida jury acquitted Martin on Saturday night of murder in the 2012 death of the 17-year-old Martin.

As the Justice Department investigates whether to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations in the wake of Trayvon's 2012 death, Obama said state and local governments should examine whether changes to laws can head off violent confrontations. That includes racial training for law enforcement in order to reduce tensions between police and minorities, he said.

Too many African-Americans and other minorities distrust the justice system, Obama said, and view the Zimmerman-Martin case through "a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away."

Obama said all Americans should do "soul-searching" in the wake of the verdict and the reactions to it, but questioned whether a full-blown "national conversion" would do much good if too many politicians or pundits were involved.

Borrowing a quote from Lincoln, Obama said people should appeal to "the better angels" of human natures, rather than using incidents like Travyvon's death and Zimmerman's acquittal to "heighten divisions."

Obama also said that Americans should realize that, over the course of decades, American race relations have improved.

"I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that things are getting better," Obama said.

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