News   /   Human Rights

Obama: Tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death created a 'new generation of civil rights leaders'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Former US President Barack Obama talks during the Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan, Italy May 9, 2017. (Reuters photo)

Former US President Barack Obama says that the killing of Trayvon Martin — a Black teenager who was shot dead by a white neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012 — launched a “new generation of civil rights leaders.”

“One of the most important things, maybe, that came out of this tragedy was the activation of an entire new generation of civil rights leaders. It was grassroots. It was empowered by social media. It was participatory,” Obama said in an interview with The New York Times published Saturday.

The first former Black US president said he believed Martin's death ignited what would later become known as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“What it did was to surface what a lot of African Americans and other people of color, in some cases, have felt for a long time,” Obama told the Times.

“And that, I think was a galvanizing force in helping to create a broader-based movement that we now know is Black Lives Matter,” he added.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin left a convenience store with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, saw him. He called the police regarding the Black teen, alleging he looked “up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”

Despite warnings from police not to follow him, Zimmerman followed the teen and later fatally shot him following a confrontation. The neighborhood watch volunteer claimed he had acted in self-defense, and he was acquitted of charges in 2013.

The former president remarked that very little separated himself from Martin, adding, “Maybe the only thing that separated us was luck.”

“Trayvon Martin looked like I did at the age of 15, 16, 17,” Obama said. “There were many times I'd get on the elevator, women would clutch their purse or I'd walk by a car and suddenly you'd hear the locks go down.”

Martin, 17, was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman, a half-white, half-Hispanic volunteer neighborhood watch captain.

The shooting death sparked protests and intense discussions over US race relations because Martin was unarmed while walking to his home with candy and an iced tea in his hands.

In July 2013, a court in Florida acquitted Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of the Black teen.

Zimmerman claimed he had acted in self-defense in the shooting of the teenager during a nighttime confrontation.

The acquittal of Zimmerman became a flashpoint on the most divisive issues in the US: the right to bear arms, police brutality, racial injustice and the rise of armed militias.

The case drew national attention from the outset, in part because it arose from the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the United States last year.

Obama said in the interview that he hoped the tragedy that happened 10 years ago would lead to something more constructive while noting that it could never “fill the hole that Trayvon’s parents feel.”

“Hopefully, the legacy of this tragedy is not just outrage but something constructive, and you know that doesn't fill the hole that Trayvon’s parents feel. But hopefully, it's viewed by them as a testament to the fact that we care and that what happened was unacceptable, and that this country can do better,” Obama said.

“My hope is that we look back on what happened with Trayvon and are able to say that was the start of America looking inward, and in fits and starts coming to terms with what has always been our original sin,” he added.

In an interview with Press TV on April 16, 2012, Malcolm X’s grandson, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, commented on the murder of Martin, saying Blacks are murdered with impunity in the US because the system is unjust.

“There are hundreds of Black Americans who are being murdered in the United States every year with impunity. And police officers serve no time. They always get off,” Shabazz stated.

He said this occurs because there is institutionalized racism in the US.

Shabazz, a Black Muslim, himself was beaten to death in Mexico City on May 9, 2013. An autopsy found that the 28-year-old died of deadly blows to the head, face and torso.


Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku