21 Jul 2013

Trayvon Martin could have been me - Obama

5:52 am on 21 July 2013

President Barack Obama says Trayvon Martin - the unarmed black 17-year-old shot and killed in Florida in February 2012 - "could have been me, 35 years ago".

George Zimmerman, 29, who said he opened fire on the teenager in self-defence, was acquitted of murder by a Florida court last Saturday night.

The BBC reports that in his first comments on the case since the verdict, Mr Obama said very few black men in the US had not experienced racial profiling, and the pain that African-Americans feel about the case comes from the fact that they view it through "a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away".

Sharing his experiences of being racially profiled in the past, such as being followed while out shopping, he said: "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. 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 has a chance to get off."

Calling for "soul-searching" from Americans on issues of race, Mr Obama also sounded a hopeful note, saying that race relations were improving with each generation.

Mr Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, have since issued a statement saying they are "deeply honoured and moved" by the president's comments. "President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him," they say. "This is a beautiful tribute to our boy."

A BBC correspondent in Washington says Mr Obama might be America's first black president, but it's rare for him to address the issue of race head-on like this.