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Obama: Martin 'could have been me' 35 years ago

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:28 a.m. HST, Jul 19, 2013

WASHINGTON » President Barack grappled with the Trayvon Martin case in the most personal of terms today, telling Americans that the slain youth "could have been me 35 years ago" and urging them to do some soul searching about their attitudes on race.

The nation's first black president said the nation needs to look for ways to move forward after the shooting and trial in Florida. And he said it may be time to take a hard look at "stand your ground" self-defense laws, questioning whether they contribute "to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see."

"Where do we take this?" Obama wondered aloud during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room. "How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?"

His appearance marked his first extended comments on the Martin case since neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted last weekend of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Martin's death last year. Jurors found that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense when he shot the unarmed black teenager. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.

Obama said that as people process the verdict, it's important to put the pained and angry reaction of many African-Americans into context.

Protests and demonstrations, he said, are understandable, adding that "some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through — as long as it remains nonviolent."

"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," he said.

The president said that distrust shadows African-American men: They sometimes are closely followed when they shop at department stores; they can draw nervous stares on elevators and hear car locks clicking when they walk down the street — experiences that he said he personally felt before becoming a well-known figure.

"It's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear," he said.

Obama said black Americans recognize a history of racial disparities in how laws are applied on the death penalty and involving drug cases, but he also said the African-American community was not "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."

The president said it's time "for all of us to do some soul searching," though he said it's generally not productive when politicians try to orchestrate a national conversation that ends up being stilted and politicized.

He added that conversations within families and at churches and workplaces, where people may be more honest, could help people to ask themselves, "Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?"

Overall, Obama said, race relations in the United States actually are getting better. Citing his own daughters and their interactions with friends, the president said, "They're better than we are. They're better than we were."

"Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race," he said.

The president declined to wade into the detail of legal questions about the Florida case, saying, "Once the jury's spoken, that's how our system works."

But he said state and local laws, such as Florida's "stand your ground" statute, need a close look.

Obama said it would be useful "to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of confrontation" that led to Martin's death. He questioned whether a law that sends the message that someone who is armed "has the right to use those firearms even if there is a way for them to exit from a situation" really promotes peace and security.

And he raised the question of whether Martin himself, if he had been armed and of age, "could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk" and shot Zimmerman if he felt threatened when being followed.

Obama also said the country needs to look at ways to improve local law enforcement through better training and resources, and needs to look for ways to "bolster and reinforce" African-American boys.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department has an open investigation into the case. The department is looking into whether Zimmerman violated Martin's civil rights.

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Puhau1230 wrote:
The presidents comments sound more like a national leader trying to stir up problems rather then lead and bring unity to this great country of ours. I know we're not perfect like he would want us to be but right now we need leadership and a feeling that we' going to be better and that we will continue to grow and get better in this area with his leadership and actions.
on July 19,2013 | 08:03AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Exactly. He blew a great opportunity to be the president of all of us.
on July 19,2013 | 08:15AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Obama said it could have been him (walking home on Punahou St. or Beretania St.) "35 years ago". However, I don't think he'd be wearing a hoodie after buying something I don't think is even sold here. If he doesn't explain himself, he just insulted Hawai'i.
on July 19,2013 | 12:59PM
Morimoto wrote:
Or maybe Obama was just stating reality, as harsh as that may be.
on July 19,2013 | 08:30AM
pcman wrote:
IRT Morimoto on reality. Actually the reality was Trayvon was wrong to jump and assault Zimmerman which is a crime in itself as assault an battery. Obama is just speculating what could be, should be and would be. That's wrong.
on July 19,2013 | 09:25AM
SteveToo wrote:
If Trayvon was white and pounding Zimmerman's head in the ground I'm sure he would have shot him too.
on July 19,2013 | 02:38PM
pcman wrote:
Obama is making political points with the black community by using his philosophy of "not letting a crisis go to waste."
on July 19,2013 | 09:21AM
control wrote:
and losing his other supporters.
on July 19,2013 | 03:26PM
sluggah wrote:
It's a red herring meant to distract the public from his many other scandals. Shameless.
on July 19,2013 | 09:53AM
frontman wrote:
Yes.....obama is right. He was a dope smoking careless youth during his days at Punahou. That is all the white- Afro-American person has in common with Trayvon
on July 19,2013 | 11:22AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Just felt the ground shake when 90% of the Hawaii Democrats cringed when Pres. Obama blamed Hawaii for his upbringing 35 years ago when citizens of Hawaii locked their car doors when he approached them. Wonder how all the Punahou alumni took to his statement, because Pres. Obama identified all of them as racists. This one is really bad. And, he claims that he grew up in Hawaii.
on July 19,2013 | 11:54AM
noheawilli wrote:
Wow he was able to poll an entire ethnic group and they were 100% in agreement. I don't know which one is more surprising.
on July 19,2013 | 08:20AM
Morimoto wrote:
If a poll were done I wouldn't be surprised if 90 % of blacks felt the way Obama said they felt. There is a racial divide in this country whether anyone is willing to admit it or not. Public opinion polls on racial issues prove that.
on July 19,2013 | 08:28AM
Pacej001 wrote:
There is a racial divide and by his remarks, and past actions, Mr. Obama has widened it. Note that he said not one word about Zimmerman who's family, mother and father, are in hiding due to threats of violence. Nor did he say a word about the death threats against Zimmerman himself. There is no argument about our racial history, about the rightful concern of black Americans about justice, but when the President of the US says that if Trayvon was a white teen, “both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.” the message is clear. He, liike many in the black community, in spite of the evidence in this case, in spite of the fact that Zimmerman is latino, can not get beyond their past perceptions, can not imagine that fellow citizens, knowing the overwhelming crime statistics involving black Americans, may have reason for concern.
on July 19,2013 | 08:50AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Semi retraction: Finally got the entire video of his remarks and the president did not say he held the view that if Trayvon had been white, "both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.” He said that, from history and perceptions, that it might be understandable that a sense would arise that "both the outcome and aftermath might have been different.", meaning that to be a perception likely in the black community. So, his comments were less bad than I initially thought, still unbalanced, but less bad. In fact he offers food for thought. I hope he follows up as long as the conversation on race, doesn't become a one sided lecture as it did under Clinton.
on July 19,2013 | 09:51AM
EwaWarrior wrote:
But, if Trevon Martin had been white or hispanic, there would never have been a trial! The trial was just political theater because there were calls for "justice". So, the case was tried and a verdict reached. Those who called for a trial now fail to accept a verdict based on law, not emotions nor years of perceived discrimination.
on July 19,2013 | 10:31AM
eoe wrote:
Yes, there never would have been a trial because no one would be following him in the first place.
on July 19,2013 | 10:36AM
Pacej001 wrote:
You just don't/can't know that. After multiple robberies in that neighborhood, it's perfectly logical for a neighborhood watch person to be suspicious.
on July 19,2013 | 12:56PM
control wrote:
I agree with pace, zimmerman wasn't following a black man, he was following a supicious person in his neighborhood. the problem is that people like you can't get past the race issue. who is the racist now?
on July 19,2013 | 03:29PM
MizuInOz wrote:
As a person who promoted a unified America as he was running for his first term, he sure blew it all with this one statement. He doesn't know the facts that the jury knew to make the decision. And yet, he is willing to incite riots. He has just given permission to anyone who wants to create real havoc from this. I ma truly disappointed.
on July 19,2013 | 08:32AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Very true, sad in fact. He had a big opportunity here, the chance for a real conversation on race in America. Now,with his remarks, if we have a conversation it will probably be more in the form of a lecture from the likes of Holder, Jackson, and Sharpton. Too bad.
on July 19,2013 | 08:53AM
DO1 wrote:
"He says he also has heard drivers lock their doors and has seen women clutch their purses tighter when he walked by, before he was elected to public office." It wasn't because he was black. It was because he is a Democrat.
on July 19,2013 | 08:39AM
kahuku01 wrote:
DO1: Let's keep to the facts. This racial subject has nothing to do with whether the president is a Democrat. He said, "he also has heard drivers lock their doors and has seen women clutch their purses tighter when he walked by," only because he was a young black person known to have a bad reputation for committing unlawful things. It's been know for decades, that the young blacks have instilled upon themselves a reputation for looting, burglary, shoplifting, shooting and other offenses, that people have lost the respect they deserve. Before changes can be made, the young blacks need to learn respect, not only respect for other races but amongst themselves. It starts at home, and this is one area that lacks the teaching of respect, because many of the black parents are single parent, living in the projects, and the kids do not get the attention that is required. Half of the time, the parent doesn't even know where their child is. If things need to change for the better, RESPECT for other race and property must be emphasized and learned at home, school and by community leaders.
on July 19,2013 | 10:40AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Mahalo Kahuku01, and your comments applies to "all" citizens of the United States.
on July 19,2013 | 11:20AM
control wrote:
maybe DO1 was making a joke?
on July 19,2013 | 03:30PM
false wrote:
He should have stay out of it from the get go.
on July 19,2013 | 08:47AM
Skyler wrote:
on July 19,2013 | 12:06PM
Mythman wrote:
It would be nice if economic equality and social equality were on equal planes but they are not nor ever have been in the history of the human race. The pressure on so called black youth to rise to an economic level inducts them into a life of crime as a way to compensate for the loss of the opportunity to have a good job or career with which to be economically equal. I would like to see a massive immigration of Mexicans and Black Americans to Hawaii where they could do two things: join our prosperous upper middle class majority population of asian americans and two teach this population a thing or two about equal treatment when it comes to native Hawaiians.
on July 19,2013 | 08:49AM
Mythman, you bring up some good points, however, when you began discussing bringing the races here, to "join the upper middle class" and then mentioned "equal treatment when it comes to native Hawaiians"-this may have been an issue over the past 100 years or so, but nowadays, the native Hawaiians seem to have the equality thing on their side given the education, homeownership and other benefits they recieve that the non-Hawaiians do NOT get.
on July 19,2013 | 09:04AM
Mythman wrote:
Well there is a legal reason some get and some do not, as you phrase it: it's called United States Indian Land Doctrine wherein it is a policy that when the lands of America were settled, those found living in these lands, including Hawaii, were deemed in law to have title to these lands in Indian Land Title and that the lands were given by their owners to the US government which in turn protected some of it against alienation by the states and settlers by "reserving" it as federal reservations which no one except the US could alienate, not even the original owners. As for the education part, if you mean the free education, more or less, KS(BE) affords, this is not US Policy - it comes about due to the laws regulating Charitable trusts, which are regulated partly at the state level (probate court) and federal level, federal taxation issues. I admit the latter has been a powerful factor in making you have a negative view of this. However, how do you account for the massive poverty and landlessness of the 1921 HHCA native vis a vis the incredible wealth of the ali'i trusts and the state's majority population of Asian Americans? I think I know the answer but you've have to read my book to know what it is, unless you can guess - it's not that hard......
on July 19,2013 | 09:15AM
control wrote:
please, we don't need more crime and killings here.
on July 19,2013 | 03:32PM
Makiki_Al wrote:
Wasn't there a different article on this?
on July 19,2013 | 08:50AM
scooters wrote:
I've always believed that Obama was a racist and he's now proved it to the American public and the whole world. He's behind the DOJ going on a witch hunt against Zimmerman and encouraging the black community to continue their protest which includes violence in some of our cities. He needs to lead ALL people not just his preferred race as he refuse's to acknowledge he's HALF WHITE.
on July 19,2013 | 08:50AM
64hoo wrote:
also his wife is a hardcore racist back in Chicago before and after Obama married her.
on July 19,2013 | 04:14PM
gthx1138y wrote:
Sad to say but there are 10 thru 16 year olds killed daily. They are gang bangers and shot by rival gang members. No one ever publicizes those cases, as mass media wants to stir up the pot, and stories like these would DETRACT from the case they're trying to make, of racial prejudice, which I find deplorably laughable. This is the real tragedy, mass media playing people, and the sheeple eat and graze at the lap of the media.
on July 19,2013 | 08:57AM
EwaWarrior wrote:
Apparently lot of people need to so soul searching, as justice was served. This case never would have been prosecuted had Trevon Martin been white or hispanic. Why, when certain groups don't get what they want, they assume race played a factor, or that it was a hate crime? Stop being victims!
on July 19,2013 | 08:58AM
Mythman wrote:
I am grateful that law rules not what a powerful politician thinks about things. Wish this were true in Hawaii, however, where the race of the powerful is anti native......
on July 19,2013 | 09:17AM
EwaWarrior wrote:
on July 19,2013 | 09:50AM
control wrote:
mythman is nothing but another troublemaker that is trying to spin it towards an issue of race.
on July 19,2013 | 03:39PM
Kahaluuman wrote:
He's no different than Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Stir it up!!! Race baiter!!!
on July 19,2013 | 09:14AM
EwaWarrior wrote:
He needs to take a lesson from Nelson Mandela, "don't let the past define your future". These race baiters have done more to keep a brother down than Martin Luther King did to lift the brothers up. As long as they are mired in victimhood, don't expect it to get any better.
on July 19,2013 | 09:51AM
loio wrote:
what a phoney he is, HE's the race-baiter in Chief. all he ever thinks about is race, and that's all he's ever thought about.
on July 19,2013 | 09:15AM
serious wrote:
Agreed, why doesn't he do something Presidential like sitting down with the party leaders and get some unity in the government or better still get that budget!!! Same as the black Harvard professor---"I don't have the facts, but this is what happened"????? Just like Carter he tries to micromanage everything. Personally I don't care what he thinks about these issues----stick to the reason he was elected--stop the golf and fund raising and give AF One a rest.
on July 19,2013 | 09:48AM
AirRescueFF wrote:
"If a white male teen would have been involved in this scenario," he said, "both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different."

- What a crock. So easy to say in the aftermath. I'd bet everything I own that he would not have butted in on a case like that.

And yet black gangsters are/have been shooting each other left and right. Why not personally butt in on some of those individual cases since he supposedly can relate to have been perceived as a criminal in his younger days?

on July 19,2013 | 09:41AM
jussayin wrote:
On this issue, Obama is stupid. Period. Would he had cared if the child (who happens to be 17 years old) was Samoan, Hawaiian, Asian, White, etc.? No. It's because the boy was an African American. So our stupid president has deepened the racial divide than unite the people. Maybe Obama harbors a deep racial scar himself, "When Obama moved back to his grandparents' home in Hawaii, to attend the prestigious Punahou School, he encountered race and class prejudice that would darken his politics even more..." (Chicagoreader.com)
on July 19,2013 | 09:45AM
retire wrote:
I think my wife said it best; if that had happened to her when she was young, her grandmother would have said, "they were wrong for shooting her"; her mother would had said, " you were in the wrong place at the wrong time". Perhaps what the President meant was, when he was young and irresponsible, as many of us were, poor judgement can leed to unforturnate and tragic circumstances.
on July 19,2013 | 09:48AM
AhiPoke wrote:
The president would have more credability if he didn't have such a bad history of divisiveness. As oppose to being the president of an entire nation he has chosen to be the first black president.
on July 19,2013 | 09:49AM
64hoo wrote:
hes not black hes half white stop calling him a black president.
on July 19,2013 | 04:17PM
kainalu wrote:
... and white Americans felt pain when OJ was acquitted.
on July 19,2013 | 10:20AM
Mythman wrote:
OJ's wife wasn't pounding his big fat head on the pavement......anyway, the newest story is OJ's son, the Chef, actually did the deed and OJ has been covering for the son......
on July 19,2013 | 10:42AM
Honto5 wrote:
Obama wrongfully involves his Presidency to "stir the pot". He is way off base with his comments as Zimmerman actions was not based on being a racist or profiling Martin because he was African American. The fact that Martin was wearing a "hoodie" and walking and looking around the neighbohood homes, he could've been white, hispanic, or middle eastern, but the fact is Zimmerman reacted to what he thought was suspicous movement. Many of the prosecution's own witnesses did not even support the prosecutions case. IT'S A FACT that Zimmerman and his wife tutored African American kids and IT'S A FACT he even dated and took to the prom an African American. The shooting and killing of Martin was a tragedy and in itself whole another issue. But don't base the outcome of this on RACE.
on July 19,2013 | 10:58AM
Bdpapa wrote:
With all due respects to President Obam, will you please stop rendering your opinion on popular social issues. You sound divisive and on the edge of turning this issue into a race war rather than cooling things off.
on July 19,2013 | 11:05AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Sorry typo, should be Obama.
on July 19,2013 | 11:19AM
frontman wrote:
Yes.....obama is right. He was a dope smoking careless youth during his days at Punahou. That is all the white- Afro-American person has in common with Trayvon
on July 19,2013 | 11:22AM
Honto5 wrote:
In another news release on this same artilce - http://news.yahoo.com/-obama--trayvon-martin-%E2%80%98could-have-been-me-35-years-ago%E2%80%99--180734663.html - He (Obama) also tamped down suggestions he call a national conversation on race, but encouraged churches and families and communities to discuss issues surrounding the case and urged all Americans to engage in some "soul-searching". What rhetoric and such a phoney baloney President to "touch all the bases". How can he possibly ask the Chuch to get involved and do "soul searching"? His Presidency has curailed and done the most damage to limit the influence of the Church with families and communites of it's faith and morals. His Administration actions on Pro-Abortion and movement to revoke and repeal DOMA is a direct attack against the Church and the family and community the Church's believe in. President Obama, if you want to make this a race issue, that's your problem and you carry the torch alone..... leave the Church out of it,
on July 19,2013 | 11:25AM
Skyler wrote:
This isn't helpful at all. He totally overlooked the character of the person who did the sucker-punching on the 'gay cracker' and put it squarely all on race.

Mr. President, having lived through it and having lived in Chi-town, don't you know the 'why' in why people lock their doors when a black man passes? Why they look nervous? Have you even considered the rate of crime by 'blacks on blacks' in your statement? You cannot lay the blame solely on the racial disparity line, I'm sorry.
on July 19,2013 | 12:03PM
frontman wrote:
This shows just how racist obama is.
on July 19,2013 | 12:45PM
frontman wrote:
obama just proved he is a racist.
on July 19,2013 | 12:45PM
Waimanalodayz1 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on July 19,2013 | 01:02PM
Bdpapa wrote:
I voted for him the first time also. But, not the second time!
on July 19,2013 | 01:27PM
Ronin006 wrote:
If Obama had been Martin 35 years ago, we would not have had the agony of the last five years of his presidency.
on July 19,2013 | 01:55PM
Mythman wrote:
The pres didn't run into real hard core race stuff until after he left Hawaii, unless he is referring to his Indonesia years? He certainly didn't experience discrimination at Punahou, where he was one of the elite kids. come on, now, we know african americans in Hawaii are not mistreated like on the mainland. So he can't be referring to his time here, can he? Therefore, it's just rhetoric, written for him to say by his writers. Manipulation.....turn it to his advantage, as someone noted above, distract from the real hard core stuff going on.....what a joker
on July 19,2013 | 03:09PM
SteveToo wrote:
He's dividing us again! Or at least trying to.
on July 19,2013 | 02:37PM
control wrote:
the president should be trying to unite the country, not divide it. His comments will do nothing but fan the flames of unrest. It has been shown that the zimmerman/martin case wasn't about race, that zimmerman would have done the same thing had the suspect been white, asian or any other color, but it seems the black community, including Obama keeps trying to make it an issue of race. obama should try to help stop the killings of young black men by other black men, there are so many young blacks being killed daily by other blacks, why isn't that something that Obama should strive to stop.
on July 19,2013 | 03:25PM
Alex57 wrote:
Too bad there wasn't a Zimmerman around then, we wouldn't be stuck with a racist president now.
on July 19,2013 | 03:32PM
control wrote:
what obama also doesn't realize is that there aren't many blacks in Hawaii, it really isn't because of race but many in hawaii only hear stories of the black man and so are apprehensive when they see a black man coming towards them.
on July 19,2013 | 03:35PM
64hoo wrote:
when I was young and played basketball at the park in ewa beach all of us love to play basketball with the blacks that came to play that were in the military because we considered blacks as good athletes and always had fun playing them evey thing was cool. that's how they got the word Yoplait yogurt from the blacks always asked us yoplait basketball man.
on July 19,2013 | 04:29PM
64hoo wrote:
when will these reporters stop calling him the first black president I told you Obama is half white, so if I say hes a white president I am right and if you say he is a black president your right that's why its 50/50 of being white or black I go by bloodline not pygmentation of the skin. so stop calling him the first black president because he is not.
on July 19,2013 | 03:56PM
HD36 wrote:
So could 500 other blacks who get killed by other blacks in Detroit alone.
on July 19,2013 | 04:56PM
honolulu1957 wrote:
President Obama was not raised in a black family, but by a white single mom until he was five years old. Then he was raised by his white mom and an Indonesian step father in Indonesia until he was ten years old. Then he was moved to Hawaii where he was raised by his white maternal grandparents where he attended Punahou school. As we know, in Hawaii, a caucasian/black mixed child is considered happa and not treated negatively in any manner. His claim to have experienced typical black treatment is a laugh. If he was followed around in the store, it was probably because he was stoned, not because of his race.
on July 21,2013 | 10:46AM
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