President Barack Obama says black Americans feel pain after the Trayvon Martin verdict because of a “history that doesn’t go away.”
Obama spoke in a surprise appearance Friday at the White House, his first time appearing for a statement on the verdict since it was issued last Saturday.
Obama says African Americans view the case through “a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.” He says black men in particular are used to being feared and blacks see a disparity in the way they are treated under the law.
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.
"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 yeas ago," Obama said during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.
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.
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.