Obama’s Response to the Verdict Was Right

2012's "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon" and this year's "a jury has spoken" were both pitch-perfect.

Pool/Getty Images

And at a time when the Florida criminal justice system had failed to do its job — and when Obama had a lot more on the line, politically, in the midst of a heated campaign — he let people know where his sympathies were without leaning too hard on the scales of justice.

But now, whether any of us wanted to hear Obama express more indignation or more sorrow than he offered in his admittedly dispassionate post-verdict response, it’s important to remember that it’s not a response being offered by a practicing lawyer, columnist or civil rights leader; it’s a response to tragedy being offered by a president.

He can try to heal, or put the story into perspective, but Obama — and all of us — would see diminishing returns if the president came along and made this tragedy about himself.

It’s a sad irony, perhaps, that our only black president can’t do more in the time of a crisis of national conscience that seems like it’s taking us backward in terms of interracial understanding. But that irony doesn’t leave the president any less constrained.

Yes, there are times when Obama has to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves and use the power of his office to paint the picture of a young Trayvon Martin as the would-be son of the president of the United States.

That was entirely in keeping with then-Sen. Obama’s admonition, in his famous 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech, that every American has a right to “insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life.”

There are other times, though, when the president has to see his way toward accepting the verdict of a jury that was duly rendered, even if he believes that it was, ultimately, unjust.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.