Obama Wastes Trayvon Moment on 'Leno' Talking About Black Criminality

When given the opportunity to speak on slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, he chose to instead unnecessarily conflate his brutal killing with the "disproportionate" number of black men involved in "criminal activities and violence."
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

On Tuesday, August 6, President Barack Obama made his sixth appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. When given the opportunity to speak on slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, 29, he chose to instead unnecessarily conflate his brutal killing with the "disproportionate" number of black men involved in "criminal activities and violence."

Taking a play from the rule book of every racist pundit who offered commentary during the trial, particularly those who suggested -- and, at times, outright stated -- that Trayvon was a teen thug with a history of bad behavior, Obama had this to say:

"I think all of us were troubled by what happened, and any of us who are parents can imagine the heartache that those parents went through," Obama said. "It doesn't mean that Trayvon was a perfect kid, none of us were... You're a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you're gonna mess up and you won't always have the best judgment."

"But what I think all of us agree to," he continued, "is that we should have a criminal justice system that is fair, that's just, and what I wanted to try to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African-American families because a lot of people who have sons know the experience they had being followed or being viewed suspiciously."

"We all know that young African-American men disproportionately have involvement in criminal activities and violence, for a lot of reasons, a lot of them having to do with poverty, a lot of them having to do with disruptions in their neighborhoods and their communities, failing schools and all those things," Obama said.

"And that's no excuse, but what we also believe in is that people, everybody, should be treated fairly and the system should work for everyone."

Watch President Obama's statements below:

With the POTUS reportedly considering New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly -- the architect of 'Stop and Frisk' -- for Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, his professorial disengagement when discussing the fact that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled, followed and gunned down by a bullet through the heart is to be expected -- but no less reprehensible.

And while he should be commended for calling for a fair judicial system, both his flippant statement about Trayvon's presumed character and his stereotypical assessment of the black community beg the question:

What in the hell does the slaying of an unarmed black child have to do with black criminality?

President Obama could have stayed within the framework of the conversation and offered his condolences to Trayvon Martin's family, reaffirmed his commitment to tackling an intrinsically biased judicial system, then moved on with more jokes about gray hair and middle-aged basketball. If the POTUS had to go off on a tangent, he could have mined the racist, poisonous core of both Trayvon's untimely death and the subsequent farce of a trial that freed an unrepentant killer.

Instead, he stayed in his comfort zone, where even black boys with poor judgment -- who come from communities of black criminals -- still deserve a fair trial.

It is no easy feat to come across as both cowardly and concerned at the same time.

Trayvon Martin was killed by a white man of Peruvian ethnicity, and instead of talking about the white supremacy that protected him, freed him and ultimately co-signed his brutality, President Obama instead talks about the "disproportionate" levels of black criminality and violence.

Instead of talking about the damaging misrepresentation of black men, including the wide-spread lie -- dispelled by Dr. Ivory Toldson -- that there are more black men in prison than in college, he fell back on the same generic "no excuses" spiel that he gave to Morehouse College graduates at their 2013 commencement.

President Obama could have educated the audience on the fact that 70 percent of crimes with anti-black bias are committed by white people, while white-on-white crime and black-on-black crime are in a statistical dead heat. He could have spoken about the fact that criminality is separated from white culture, while, for people of color, criminality is considered a manifestation of ethnicity and race.

Instead of talking about the racism and bigotry behind the proliferation of the term "black-on-black" crime, he sought to sooth the predominately white, presumably middle-class audience with the knowledge that their black president wasn't angry with white America or the injustice system conceptualized by slave owners to protect them and their progeny from punishment.

He could have explained that white people kill other white people, Hispanics kill other Hispanics, Asians kill other Asians, and Latinos kill other Latinos. He could have exposed the fact that crime is driven by proximity and opportunity -- and that buying into this narrative that "black-on-black" crime is some sort of deviant anomaly is a clear indicator that we've been "hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok and led astray." Instead, he perpetuated the dangerous misconception that black men and boys are predisposed to criminality.

He could have explained that if a black man had killed Trayvon Martin, he would have been arrested, stamped and turned into a new slave -- not lounging at a lake house for six weeks.

He could have mentioned that we live in a country where Marissa Alexander, a black domestic violence victim, can go to prison for 20 years for shooting a warning shot at her attacker -- after he admitted that he would have "put [his] hands on her" if she hadn't pulled out a gun -- but a dead, black child bleeding out after being shot through the heart at close range isn't even considered "probable cause" for an arrest.

Instead of speaking on Trayvon Martin's "bad judgment," Obama could have talked about George Zimmerman's criminal record proving his violent, aggressive nature, or the disturbing fact that he has never, not once, been held accountable for his actions -- not even for a speeding ticket.

President Obama could have told the truth -- that it's guilty until proven innocent unless you're white in America; that black manhood and black culture embodied by a 17-year-old boy were on trial in that courtroom, not George Zimmerman. But he decided not to waste any more political capital on a voting bloc that overwhelmingly supports him regardless of what he does or says.

After watching President Obama's appearance on Leno, I'm extremely pleased that I held my applause after his "eloquent" impromptu speech on Trayvon Martin last month. Deep down I knew that something he said -- or didn't say -- down the road would prove he didn't deserve it.

Support HuffPost

Popular in the Community