WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time since the controversy erupted on the national scene, President Barack Obama weighed in on the killing of Trayvon Martin, calling it a tragedy, urging cooperation among law enforcement and declaring that "some soul searching" was needed throughout the country.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said, underscoring how the issue affected him on a personal, and not just a political or legal, level. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
The statement by Obama came after he introduced Dartmouth President Jim Kim to be the next head of the World Bank during an appearance in the Rose Garden. He took only one question before heading back into the West Wing -- signaling that both he and his press handlers were feeling pressure, coming from black activists and others, to make a public comment on the Martin case.
Obama was careful not to get too far ahead of events. He said he was wary of "impairing" an ongoing legal process but praised the fact that federal, state and local law enforcement are now working together on Martin's death.
"Obviously, this is a tragedy," he said. "I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and everybody aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened."
He went on.
"I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen," said Obama. "And that means we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."
The latter point may, in the end, be the most politically consequential. George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin in late February, has avoided arrest by evoking the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, which allows individuals broad latitude to claim self defense in wielding a firearm. Florida is one of 21 states with such laws, which have since come under intense scrutiny even by previous supports. Prior to that law being passed in Florida there were 13 "justified" killings in the state each year. Since then, there have been 36.