It took just 19 minutes for American history to be substantially altered this past Friday, July 19, 2013. As is often the case, some of the most poignant, impactful and powerful statements ever made by men, women and even children, are never long, and are never drawn out. They are concise, focus, meaningful and truthful. President Obama, in the White House's James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, delivered on this past Friday a statement on race, equality and the promise of a nation that is always challenged to truly live up to its creed, that all men are created equal; that will forever live in the minds of Americans and will always demonstrate the hero that is President Barack Obama.
In a moment when the hearts of many Americans were hurting, when some may have even been questioning the value of this great nation or their standing in it, the president stepped forward, knowing the potential consequences of his actions, but not fearing them, to say to this nation that we will not be divided, that every American regardless of race is a citizen and that we must understand that citizen's cannot be separate and be equal. The president said that Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old teen that was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who was then acquitted for Martin's killing, could have been him, Barack Obama.
Specifically, the president said that there are "very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store... or walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars...or getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off..." The president then noted that the African-American community is "knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws ... everything from the death penalty to enforcement of the drug laws..." The president was making it plain. This nation must understand that there are those in the black community who by experience understands that there two standards that are separate and unequal when applied to all others and the black community. The president then asked the question, "If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"
These are questions that go to the heart of our nation and the laws we live under. Our constitution has meaning and it should not allow in practice for our citizenship to have different values. It simply cannot allow for some citizens to not fully enjoy the equal protection of the laws and the full and equal access to due process of the laws we live under. By making the statement he made, the president challenges the nation to live up to its full potential; to work to become as he said, not a "perfect union" but a "more perfect union."
It is always the case that real heroes, real champions are those that stand up in times of greatest challenge to speak straight and take action that is in the best interests of the overall welfare of the nation and in the public's great interests. It is also a way to say to many in this nation that every person must have an outlet to express their grief and disappoint. To show respect to others who may not share your own perspective, but to understand their right to air their grievances is what ultimately makes America strongest and its president the bravest. Barack Obama is "The Man!"
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.