Pouring oil on the waters: Obama’s statement on verdict

The proper expression, to go with the proper statement striking the proper emotional tone.

The proper expression, to go with the proper statement, striking the proper emotional tone.

First, let’s set aside the fact that I don’t hold with the morphing of the job of president of the United States into Emoter-in-Chief. The idea that the president is supposed to comment, strike the proper emotion, on every news development that engages people’s morbid curiosity at a given moment — whether it has the slightest thing to do with his duties and responsibilities or not — is a discomfiting sign of a republic in decline.

But that’s where we are today, and if the White House didn’t put out a statement on the latest sensation, meaning would be read into the lack of it, so a president who cares about the dignity of his office is really in a spot.

The best he can do is put out as dispassionate a statement as possible, and move on.

That said, I think President Obama did a pretty good job with this statement yesterday:

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”

I could have done without the bit at the end, which mentions “honoring” Trayvon Martin. Those aren’t words I would have chosen. Nothing against the victim of this horrid mess — it’s just that that is what he is, a victim. He’s not a hero, he isn’t a martyr to a cause. He didn’t set out to make a statement. He just had a late-night yen for Skittles (possibly the expression of a case of the munchies), and it got him killed.

I don’t know him, and I think “honoring” him is best left to those who did.

But I know why the president used those words. He used them to head off people who would react inappropriately to this verdict under the guise of “honoring Trayvon.”

Anyway, beyond that, I thought the piece just right. There are two main messages here. The first is neatly contained in this statement: “But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”


But for those who feel that’s not enough, that something must be done, are challenged with the second message, which is a corollary to the first: That, this being a nation of laws, if you didn’t like the way this turned out, engage the system and change the society in which you live, from changing the laws down to “being the change” in your own interactions with fellow citizens.

And I think that if the president had to say something, those were pretty much the right things to say.

46 thoughts on “Pouring oil on the waters: Obama’s statement on verdict

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    In my bid to play the Harrumphing Gentleman of Tory Sensibilities, a role that amuses me, I may have gone overboard a bit in that first graf — the “republic in decline” part.

    Especially in this case.

    It’s not right that it should be this way, but the political fact is that it is particularly incumbent upon the nation’s Second Black President to say something calming at such a moment. He’s playing an important leadership role in doing so.

    In any case, whether presidents should or shouldn’t have to do such things, I thought he did it well.

    1. Dave Crockett

      After having a lively debate with an acquaintance yesterday on the Zimmerman case, our discussion of the verdict came down to whether you accepted Zimmerman’s contention that he got out of his car to look at a street sign and was jumped by Martin and defending himself…or that he got out of his car and instigated a confrontation that got out of hand.

      It occurred to me later that perhaps the whole tragic event could have been averted (in either scenario) if Zimmerman had taken the money he spent on getting his CWP and a handgun….and spent it, instead, on a Garmin GPS.

      My GPS, nicknamed “Clive” because of his British accent, has kept me out of a lot of jams (though, I confess, it took a while to grasp the concept of a ‘slip road’).

      Just a thought…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        sounds like Bonfire of the Vanities, Florida version, in a gated community (an oxymoron, imho)

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s just something that occurred to me when I heard about the THC in his system — that maybe a simple case of the munchies got this kid killed.

      1. bud

        He just had a late-night yen for Skittles (possibly the expression of a case of the munchies), and it got him killed.

        Actually if you know anything about the effects of pot that would have made young Martin much LESS likely to be the aggressor. I find the notion of “a case of the munchies” an excuse for this incident offensive and much less appropriate to this conversation than the president’s words.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Hey, Bud! It’s great to see you back.

          Yes, the president’s words are more appropriate. Thank goodness. That’s his job.

          I was being ironic about this sad story. I see a lot of bitter ironies in it. It is indeed, as you say, “offensive” that someone should die for having a late urge for a snack, whatever the cause. And yes, if he was stoned, you would expect that to make him less aggressive…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    It’s a fairly bland statement, encouraging people to think calmly and rationally. (“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken”.)

    Towards the end he mentions “gun violence” as what he and we should focus on. That’s basically his lesson from this whole mess. We need to stem the tide of gun violence, which will “honor” the deceased person.

    Breaking news: Politician makes political statement.

  3. Doug Ross

    “. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”

    Funny he didn’t mention Zimmerman’s family. You know, the guy who has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion for over a year but ultimately was found innocent of everything but be over zealous in his neighborhood watch.

    1. Bart


      I finally decided to watch the video of Zimmerman and the police officers going through the shooting the next day. In the video, Zimmerman had bandages on the back of his head and on his nose. During the 15 minutes, Zimmerman didn’t stumble over his words, he was very low key and humble, he repeated the same words as best as he could that took place during his phone call to the non-emergency police line the night before and overall, he came across as someone who was telling the truth, not lying or attempting to cover anything up. If you were to watch the video, the Zimmerman portrayed and vilified as a revenge seeking vigilante punk would be dispelled rather quickly. Unfortunately, the media didn’t bother to play the video while they were busy rewriting the conversation between Zimmerman and the dispatcher.

      Yeah, Obama poured oil on the water but unfortunately, the match he threw on the flammable material the first time did too much damage for his last attempt to have any meaning at all.

        1. Barry

          well- he mentioned that if he had a son he would look like Martin- which was more funny than disagreeable.

          The disagreeable part was commenting on such a case in the first place.

          Will he comment on the 4 thugs that killed the guy in Atlanta this past weekend? I’m still waiting.

    2. bud

      Zimmerman wasn’t found INNOCENT, he was found NOT GUILTY. BIGGGGG difference. Frankly I would have probably voted to acquit but I don’t buy his story. Just not enough evidence to convict.

      1. Doug Ross

        What is the antonym for innocent? What is the result of the function NOT(GUILTY)?

        Zimmerman was found innocent of the charges brought against him. It wasn’t a hung jury. Six jurors unanimously agreed that he was not guilty (i.e. innocent) of the charges brought against him.

        1. Silence

          I’m gonna call a spade a spade here, and say that an “aquittal” is the same thing as being found “not guilty” or “innocent” it’s the same thing to me.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Not guilty means the State did not meet its burden of proof: it failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of its case. Innocent means didn’t do it.

            People are found to be innocent, for example, when DNA evidence exonerates them. Happens with alarming frequency. Here we still don’t know exactly what happened. It may be that a civil suit will prevail, given the lighter burden.

            What do you make of the OJ verdicts? He was found not guilty, but was found liable in the civil suit.

          2. Juan Caruso

            Had a dog attacked and pinned Zimmerman to the ground as violently as Martin did, few including Jesse Jackson would have protested George’s right to self-defense. Zimmerman certainly would NOT have been indicted for shooting the dog, and PETA sympathizers alone would be protesting the shooter’s innocense.

  4. Silence

    Maybe we can get George Zimmerman to move to Columbia and take the job as Police Chief. If it doesn’t work out, he can always go to the county to work for Leon Lott.

    1. Bart

      Great, now I can stay home at night and sit with my shotgun, Glock, and other weapons waiting for Zimmerman to head “suspects” my way.

      Now, if he happens to send the blonde in your other post, she gets a free pass. She doesn’t meet the profile of a dangerous….wait a minute, she’s more dangerous than any man on earth.

      1. Bart

        “Great, now I can stay home at night and sit with my shotgun, Glock, and other weapons waiting for Zimmerman to head “suspects” my way.”….

        David, my inadequate attempt at a sarcastic reply to Burl. Sorry you didn’t take it that way.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I am not at all upset by the verdict, if you are talking about me. The prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof. I don’t find that hard to believe.

        It is all this “racism” talk about how such and such white victim hasn’t been treated fairly. Srsly, folks!

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      ummmm, nothing I have heard about Trayvon justifies his killing. Curtis Strange wasn’t “profiled” as that term is normally used. He was attacked by a mob, possibly because he was white, but more likely because he was there. The woman killed in the bakery was not killed because she was white. Again, she was there, and she fought back. A black woman or man would just as likely have been killed.

      The evidence is that a lot of people are more afraid of young black men, possibly with some statistical basis, than white women or men. Applying this fear to actions, without any further evidence, is racist.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        “nothing I have heard about Trayvon justifies his killing.”

        You must not have heard the part where he was on top of the other guy beating him “Mixed Martial Arts Style”.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Zimmerman outweighed him by 50 lbs and had martial arts training, and a gun. even if Z’s version is true, I find it hard to justify T’s killing.

        2. bud

          That wasn’t proven in court. But it wasn’t disproven either. Hence the distinction between not guilty and innocent.

          1. Doug Ross

            If he was not guilty of the charges brought against him, he was innocent. It’s basic English.

            And what difference does a 50 pound weight advantage mean if it’s a fit 6’2″ 17 year old against a
            doughy 5’7″ mall cop? The gun didn’t come into play until the beating was taking place. I outweigh
            my 20 year old son by 30 pounds and I’m pretty sure he’d take me out pretty easily.

            1. Mark Stewart

              The gun was always in play in Zimmerman’s mind. You’re just being consciously obtuse, Doug.

              The 27 year old guy shot a teenager who was simply walking. Bottom line. Of course it may well be that Martin was an aggressive participant in the struggle that ensued, but he didn’t start the situation, Zimmerman did. As you said, Zimmerman was out to be the mall cop.

              Think of the broader ramifications of people misusing firearms in this manner. Why is it so difficult for you to see that Zimmerman was at least reckless? Can you imagine your son getting into a disagreement where the other party decides lethal force is appropriate in his eyes – and opens fire? As a father of boys, it is unsettling to me that someone could initiate a public confrontation, take a life in that confrontation and walk away without consequence.

              I have nothing against castle doctrine, but find stand your ground laws to be a sickening distortion of “justice”.

              1. Silence

                Mark – This didn’t have anything to do with “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” at all. If someone has you on the ground and is beating you, you have a right to defend yourself. In this case that involved shooting the assailant!

              2. Doug Ross


                No, I’m not being “obtuse”. Actually, I am being the opposite of obtuse since I am only dealing with the factual evidence that is available in this case and not projecting my views on race or guns to create a narrative that supports those views. The minute you start making claims about Zimmerman’s state of mind or his intent without any evidence to support those claims, your argument loses credibility.

                While on neighborhood watch, Zimmerman saw a young black male who fit the description of people who had committed recent break-ins in the neighborhood. He notified police and then made a decision (in hindsight a bad one) to confront the young black male. A fight ensued in which he was being beaten and felt in danger for his life so he drew the weapon he was carrying and shot the person who was on top of him.

                There is zero evidence that Zimmerman had any intention of drawing his weapon until the fight occurred. Any opinions otherwise are pure fantasy and not consistent with the events. A jury agreed unanimously that Zimmerman had no intent of killing Martin. Case closed.

                1. Scout

                  What is the opposite of “obtuse”? acute? Are you being acute, Doug? It’s just English, right?

                  Just because words are technically antonyms doesn’t mean those connotations apply in every context.

  5. Doug Ross

    A simple litmus test to identify a liberal:

    Do they use the word “child” to describe 17 year old Trayvon Martin?

    Do they use the word “stalked” to describe the actions of George Zimmerman?

    1. bud

      You can also identify a liberal as one who abhors violence and wishes economic and social justice for all. Liberals also believe America’s best days are ahead of us and support not just the words but the spirit of the United States Constitution. Liberals also believe in the dignity of all human beings whatever their race, religion, sexual orientation or nationality (even Republicans) 🙂 . Liberals support the promise of capitalism but recognize it’s shortcomings. Above all else Liberals are pragmatic, thoughtful and willing to change their mind if the facts support it. Liberals do not subscribe to the notion of seeking evidence to support a pre-conceived view of the world.

  6. Bart

    Now we are debating the difference between “not guilty” and “innocent”? According to the dictionary, thesaurus, synonyms, and antonyms, they are interchangeable depending on the context in which they are used. The verdict of not guilty can also mean innocent if used in the context of the jury finding Zimmerman not guilty of the charges which means the same thing as being innocent of the charges. However, Zimmerman was found not guilty of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter but he is not innocent when it comes to being the instrument of Trayvon Martin’s death.

    There is fodder for each position and the one you choose reveals a lot about your personal convictions and ideology. For me, after all of the debate and discussions between the regulars on this blog, (thanks Mark) my conclusion now is that it is a prime example of of poor judgement by Zimmerman by trying to locate Trayvon and an example of poor judgement by Trayvon Martin for not going into his father’s girlfriend’s unit and calling the police to report someone following him. If either one had behaved with any common sense, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

    I am not a fan of Geraldo Rivera but his comment about this being a tragedy and that sometimes that is all it is, a tragedy, rings true in this case. It is unfortunate so many are so willing to turn it into something it simply is not, a racially motivated shooting.

  7. bud

    Doug, you just basically recited Zimmerman’s account. That doesn’t make it true but given the lack of evidence otherwise the jury had no choice but to acquit.

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