President Obama, America’s first half-black, half-white president, went to the White House podium last week to address the nation’s most racially divisive case since Rodney King.
But he wasn’t there to calm the country. And he certainly wasn’t there to start some “conversation” on race — he doesn’t find those “particularly productive,” he said, what with all the listening. Instead, he came out unannounced to the briefing room to talk about “how people are feeling.”
Not all people, mind you, just black people — and especially, as always, himself.
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said the half-white man mostly raised in Hawaii by two white grandparents. He ticked off a list of racist actions he said whites take whenever there’s a black man (especially him) nearby — locking car doors, clutching purses closer. “I don’t want to exaggerate this,” he said, exaggerating wildly as he labeled all white people racist.
The president, it turned out, had come to pick the scab off America’s healing wound. The nation had been injured, and everything was bloody: A Hispanic man shot a black teenager in a vicious street fight. No one but George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin knows how it all started, who struck first, why a seemingly meaningless altercation ended in death.
But a jury, picked by the prosecutors and the defense, listened to three weeks of testimony. And at the end of the trial, the jurors heard the legal instructions of the judge. They weighed the evidence, then applied the law. What happened that night in a Florida neighborhood was tragic, the jury decided, but it wasn’t murder.
Violence, sporadic but intense, swept through communities across the country for a week after the verdict, but was subsiding. The president, however, wanted to reopen the case.
“There’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues,” said America’s first biracial president, who happens to be a lawyer. It was clear from the outset he would offer no balm, only salt for the wound.
See, for Mr. Obama, there were no shades of gray — the case wasn’t even black and white, just black. Only Trayvon’s parents lost someone that night, he implied as he praised their “incredible grace and dignity.” Mr. Zimmerman’s parents, though, didn’t matter. They didn’t even rate a mention from the president, who had decided that the jury was wrong — which is really what brought him to the podium.
And he couldn’t have cared less about how Mr. Zimmerman had lost his life, too, in a very real way: No, the president wanted to make his life worse, to pile on. And even though the altercation was not racially motivated — the testimony was clear on that point — Mr. Obama, adept at pitting side against side, was eager to play the race card.
“The African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” he said, refusing to move America beyond its racist past.
He oddly segued into black-on-black crime: gangs, drugs, he said. But America’s past is to blame for that: slavery, repression, he said. “Some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.”
Yes, slavery 150 years ago is still causing inner-city crime today. Victimology at its finest.
Forget the fact that Mr. Zimmerman was mentoring two black children whose father is serving a life sentence (Mr. Obama didn’t mention that — it didn’t fit the narrative). Instead, he made a shocking charge: “If a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
Which means this: If a 27-year-old black man had shot a 17-year-old white boy to death, the black man would be found guilty and sent to jail. End of story, at least for Mr. Obama. And that means the Florida jury was racist; it freed Mr. Zimmerman because he was white but would have convicted Trayvon because he was black.
The Associated Press applauded the shockingly divisive statement, assigning a black reporter to write a story headlined “In passionate speech, Obama bares his black self.”
“This first black president, the guy accused by some of running from his blackness, of trying to address black folks’ needs on the down low, suddenly lifted the veil off his black male identity and showed it to the world. It was something no American president before him could have done,” the reporter wrote.
So that, too, was his motive, to shore up his bona fides within the black community.
And perhaps the move worked. The president clearly thought so: While rallies for Trayvon were held in 100 cities across the country on Saturday, Mr. Obama didn’t attend. Instead, he headed to the golf course.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.