Nightly News   |  July 19, 2013

Obama: 35 years ago, Trayvon Martin ‘could have been me’

During a surprise briefing at the White House Friday, President Obama shared his personal thoughts about the George Zimmerman trial and race in America, calling for a reexamination of laws like Stand Your Ground. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Obama said it is still important to note that each successive generation is making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> surprises are rare in a modern choreographed white house , and today was a surprise, when the president walked into the briefing room, reporters weren't in their seats, no one was expecting him or what he had to say. he wanted to talk about trayvon martin, and the larger issue of race. the president only briefly mentioned the trial, saying the jury had spoken and the judge had conducted herself well. today, though, he talked about ba backdrop, the lessons to be learned from it and he had a specific message for young black men in this country. he's the only president in our history who could speak personally on this subject and he did, including experiences from his own life we begin tonight with part of what he had to say.

>> when trayvon martin was first shot, i said that this could have been my son. another way of saying that is, that trayvon martin could have been me. 35 years ago. there are very few african-american men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store . that includes me. there are very few african-american men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. that happens to me at least before i was a senator. there are very few african-americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously. and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. that happens often. i just ask people to consider, if trayvon martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? and do we duly think that he would have been justified in shooting mr. george zimmerman, who had followed him in a car. because he felt threatened? and if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws. and let me just leave you with, with a final thought. that as difficult and as challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, i don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better . each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. it doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. it doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. but you know, when i talk to malia and sasha, and i listen to their friends and i see them interact, they're better than we are. they're better than we were on these issues. and that's true in every community that i visited all across the country.