President Obama held a White House press conference on Friday to speak from the heart about the George Zimmerman verdict. As with his released statement from the week before, there was good and bad in what he said.
This President has received a lot of criticism for using Teleprompters during his political career. It would be better to criticize him for not using them. When he speaks off the cuff, he is not as careful, and he implies or states things that can lead to misunderstanding.
We get that the President wanted to make white Americans understand, or at least consider, what it is like to be unfairly suspected of being a criminal simply for the color of one’s skin. He is right that the key to understanding the reaction of so many blacks to the Zimmerman verdict is to put it in the context of their own experiences and of this nation’s troubled racial past.
And yet in trying to make this clear, the President suggested that Zimmerman targeted Martin for racial reasons and meant to harm him. And he impliied that Martin did not contribute to the terrible outcome that night. Both of those assumptions were effectively disputed at trial. Obama did reiterate that the jury verdict should be respected and that violence was the wrong response. But in reaching for some understanding, he left the impression that he personally thought the case was racial in nature and the outcome was unjust. That is a rather clumsy way to try to end the tension brought by this case.