Clearly not worried about embarrassing himself again, as when he declared that Cambridge police acted “stupidly” by arresting a black Harvard professor, Obama interrupted a relatively insignificant White House press event to answer an obviously planned-out question about Trayvon Martin with an even more obviously planned-out response.
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Florida last month by a neighborhood watch group volunteer, he was packing Skittles, not heat.
The man who killed him was doing some sort of neighborhood safety patrol and started following Martin, who is black, because he “looked suspicious.”
This is ugly stuff, and although many of us can’t relate to what it feels like to be considered “suspicious” for simply walking down the street, we can certainly become outraged as human beings on behalf of anyone who dies at the hand of a killer motivated by prejudice.
The Hispanic man accused of killing Martin, George Zimmerman, claims he acted in self defense. If he did, the law will protect him from prosecution. If he didn’t, he will land in prison for the rest of his life, as well he should.
While we await the specifics, it serves no purpose to whip up a racism-fueled frenzy because whatever motivation propelled Zimmerman to kill, the serious problem of racism needs to be redressed, not stoked.
The president of the United States apparently believes otherwise.
Clearly not worried about embarrassing himself again, as when he declared that Cambridge police acted “stupidly” by arresting a black Harvard professor, Obama interrupted a relatively insignificant White House press event to answer an obviously planned-out question about Trayvon Martin with an even more obviously planned-out response about how if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.”
The president prefaced his fatherly comment with an awkwardly gratuitous observation that, as the head of the executive branch of government, he had to be careful not to intrude on the discretion of law enforcement officials.
And then he intruded anyway, dumping a pile of presidential jet fuel on an already incendiary situation. This, despite his declaration at the outset of his presidency that this is “not a black America or a white America.”
Someone should have told him Al Sharpton had already landed in Florida.
And someone in the press corps should have had the guts to ask Obama why he thinks it matters that Trayvon Martin “looks like” him? Obama also “looks like” the teenage killer known as the “DC Sniper,” Lee Boyd Malvo. It’s even fair to say Obama resembles George Zimmerman, because Zimmerman’s Hispanic caramel coloring isn’t much different from Obama’s mixed-race skin tone.
Nobody cares that the president “looks like” Trayvon Martin. Someone should have told the narcissist-in-chief that the story has nothing to do with him.
What people care about is that a young man was shot dead while walking home from a candy store. It’s an especially important story if, as appears to be the case, the victim was targeted by Zimmerman because he was black, though Zimmerman denies he was motivated by racism.
In a nation where civil rights laws matter, targeting a person for violence because of who they are in society is an extra serious crime whether or not they “look like” the president.
But Obama’s race-tinged expression of special concern for Trayvon Martin suggests our president feels otherwise. He has every right to his personal feelings, but the words Obama speaks as president should not imply that certain homicide cases deserve priority based on whether the victim “looks like” one of the president’s kids.
Such comments generate O.J.-esque hostility and provokes folks to wonder why the president doesn’t care as much when other “types” of people die from targeted violence.
At least three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day in this country because they are female, and five children die from abuse every day because they are children.
Presumably, the president can identify with these “types” of victims because he’s married to a woman and he has two children. He could easily talk about these victims by saying that a dead woman “could have been his wife,” and a dead boy or girl “could have been his child.”
But he never does.
Which means either the president believes all black men are more valuable than all women and children, or his expression of personal empathy for Trayvon Martin is the beginning of a refreshing new effort to exert presidential leadership in the fight against all forms of targeted violence.
We’ll find out soon enough, tomorrow, when three more women and five more children die and someone asks the president whether he wants to make a comment.
Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast.