Making a surprise appearance in the White House press room, President Obama discusses his views on the Trayvon Martin verdict, and how it feels as an African American to have these "inescapable" experiences.
Reaction to President Obama's surprise remarks about last weekend's verdict in the George Zimmerman case flooded social media Friday, with people both praising and questioning the president's move.
"When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son," Obama said at the White House on Friday. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn't go away."
Martin's parents released a statement in reaction to the president's remarks, which they described as a "beautiful tribute" to their son.
"We are deeply honored and moved that President Obama took the time to speak publicly and at length about our son, Trayvon. The President’s comments give us great strength at this time. We are thankful for President Obama’s and Michelle’s prayers, and we ask for your prayers as well as we continue to move forward," the statement from Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin read.
"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," Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, said in a statement.
"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," O'Mara's statement read.
On Twitter, reactions were swift, albeit mixed.
Russell Simmons posted: "watching @BarackObama speak about Trayvon… inspired by his leadership. we will do the work to make this country a more perfected union!" while columnist Ben Shapiro wrote: "Shorter Obama: Look at me! America is racist."
Fox's Todd Starnes called the president "Race-Baiter in Chief," while political strategist Donna Brazile tweeted: "President Obama statement was strong, powerful & truthful. Let's respect what #POTUS said without any notes. He speaks for the voiceless."
"I think the President's remarks were significant and much needed, and as we prepare to coordinate vigils in one hundred cities tomorrow with the parents of Trayvon Martin, I think he has set a tone for both direct action and needed dialogue," read a statement from the Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network and host of an MSNBC show.
In his remarks, Obama recalled his own experiences before becoming a nationally recognized politician, noting, “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.”
It was Obama's first extended comments on the verdict, which prompted protests in large cities across the U.S., mostly peaceful.
George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.