Obama Shows Wisdom in Trayvon Talk
It was hard not to be struck by the compassion, wisdom, depth, and tone of President Obama’s remarks on Friday.
At a time when black and white in this country are almost living in two different worlds in regards to the George Zimmerman verdict, Obama brought much-needed clarity and perspective.
First, he rightly praised the parents of Trayvon Martin for their “incredible grace and dignity.”
Then he basically urged white America to try to understand what it’s like to be black in a country that is still racist—though he didn’t use the “R” word, which he seems allergic to.
He talked about how it feels to be an African American and to be treated suspiciously on the basis of that fact alone.
He mentioned “the historical context” and alluded to slavery (another word he doesn’t like to say in public) and Jim Crow, stressing the “very violent past in this country.”
Crucially, he talked about “racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.”
He also brought up the Stand Your Ground laws, saying, “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.”
Actually, they were used as a defense, as Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, brilliantly pointed out this week.
Graves noted that the NRA pushed through changes in jury instructions in Florida in homicide cases.
The instructions, wrote Graves, “reflected the NRA's call to remove the ‘duty to retreat’ and recognize a new right to stand your ground.’ . . . At the end of Zimmerman's trial last week, the judge instructed the jury, with language mandated by the SYG law, on the grounds for justifiable homicide. Here is exactly what the jury was told to consider in its deliberations:
“ ‘If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.’ ”
Even though Obama missed that point, he did make the larger point on the ludicrousness of such laws. “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?”
This was the thoughtful and sensible Obama that so many people had wished for when they voted for him back in 2008.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Zimmerman Verdict Reveals Racist System of Justice.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter
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