We have listened to President Obama’s comments about the verdict in the Zimmerman Case. People are focusing on this quote: “Trayvon Martin could’ve been me 35 years ago.” To focus on this one line misses the nuances of the President’s message, which includes comments about how African Americans view the Zimmerman Case in the context of the history of racial disparity in America.
For more than a year, we have been listening to the conversation about this case — from voices on every side — and we have become very sensitive to the racial context that surrounds this case. We acknowledge Mr. Obama’s remarks regarding the frustration felt by some when viewed in context of our nation’s history, which includes racial insensitivities spanning generations, and existing even today, including within our criminal justice system.
While we acknowledge and understand the racial context of this case, we challenge people to look closely and dispassionately at the facts. We believe those who look at the facts of the case without prejudice will see that it is a clear case of self-defense, and we are certain that those who take a closer look at the kind of person George Zimmerman is — something we understand the Department of Justice is currently doing — we are confident they will find a young man with with a diverse ethnic and racial background who is not a racist, a man who is, in fact, sensitive to the complex racial history of our country.
It takes courage to talk about race. It took courage for our President to address the Zimmerman Case and candidly discuss how and why people are upset by the verdict. We would like to stress that the verdict was reached fairly and justly and that it reflects the letter of the law and represents the law’s proper application to the facts. While we acknowledge the racial context of the case, we hope that the President was not suggesting that this case fits a pattern of racial disparity, because we strongly contend that it does not.
This case has given the nation an opportunity to have a candid conversation about race. We would like to contribute to this discourse. Our President has clearly indicated he is willing to contribute to the discourse. As we begin this conversation, we want to say this: we cannot talk about race in sound bites. Before you cast an opinion about what the President said, be sure to listen to his comments in full. Before you judge George Zimmerman or disparage the verdict of the citizen jury, understand the facts in full. Agree not to listen to just what meets your predisposition, but to accept what exists.
Only in this way can we assure that the conversations we want to have, that we need to have, will be attended and listened to by those whose presence is necessary for a full discourse — a discourse that can have positive consequences for our growth as a nation.