Last Saturday a Florida jury determined that George Zimmerman was not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. For those of you reading this who may not be aware, in February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store when he was approached by Mr. Zimmerman. A fight ensues and Trayvon is left dead. It turns out George Zimmerman had been following Trayvon in his vehicle, and when he asked a 911 operator whether or not he should go after Trayvon, he was told, “we don’t need you to do that.” Despite this, he ignored the operator and pursued him anyway. So what exactly was that suspicious looking man in the neighborhood armed with that Zimmerman decided to pursue? A pack of Skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea. I gave my thoughts about this case last year.
In the following days across the United States there were protests in cities from New York to L.A. In New York’s Time Square, protesters halted traffic dead in its tracks with the streets swelling with thousands of hurt, angry and disappointed people. It wasn’t just the fact that George Zimmerman was found not guilty, but that he wasn’t even initially arrested until people started protesting. Many talking heads on the news networks stated their opinions on the verdict, but it seemed everyone (well, many black folks at least) was waiting on the thoughts of one man in particular.
On Friday President Obama gave his thoughts and the nation listened.
Speaking from the deeply personal perspective as a black man in America, Obama spoke of black men being followed in stores, women clutching their purses while in the presence of black men and car doors locking as black men walked by. How does he know these things? Because they’ve all happened to him. Perhaps his most powerful statement was identifying that Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago. To hear a sitting American President speak to the nation in those terms is unlike anything we’ve see before in our nation’s history. I encourage everyone to watch the speech at least once, but more importantly, listen.