SANFORD, Fla. — President Barack Obama on Friday urged law enforcement officials probing the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — at all levels, up through the federal government — to conduct a thorough investigation.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said in response to a question following remarks in the White House Rose Garden Friday morning. “And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.”
“I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how something like this happened,” Obama added.
Obama prefaced his comments on the Martin case by saying, “I’m head of the executive branch and the Attorney General reports to me, and I’ve got to be careful about my statements to make sure we not impair any investigation that’s taking place right now.”
Obama and the White House had previously refrained from commenting on the case. Following demands by the New Black Panthers and others on scene in Sanford, Fla. that the White House get involved, Obama jumped into the fight. When first asked about the case, White House spokesman Jay Carney essentially declined comment, offering a boilerplate statement of condolence to Martin’s family.
On Thursday the New Black Panthers, Rev. Al Sharpton and others rallied in Sanford, Fla., demanding justice for Martin — and that police arrest the man who shot him, George Zimmerman. Rally participants stressed the racial component of the controversy, with some alleging the shooting was a “hate crime” and others claiming it was “racism perpetrated by violence.” They riled up the thousands in attendance, but urged them to avoid resorting to violence of their own.
In recent days, Martin’s death has also attracted the attention of Republican leaders including Florida Rep. Allen West and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It is an incredible tragedy of huge proportions, and I’m glad it is being investigated and we’ll take a look at it as the investigation moves along,” McConnell said Friday.
Earlier this week, the federal government entered the fray as the Justice Department announced it was investigating to find out if a federal crime had been committed. That announcement came nearly a month after Martin was murdered. Mikhail Muhammad, the southern regional minister for the New Black Panther Party, told The Daily Caller on Thursday that he thinks the DOJ’s decision to get involved came “a little too late.”
Another Panther, James Evans Muhammad, the national education director of the Black Power Movement, told TheDC on Thursday that he wanted Obama to speak up and — as one of his supporters — that he was upset the president had to that point refused to do so.
“I’m waiting, and I must say this, having been a manager of Barack Obama’s team, when is the president going to speak on this?” he asked. “The president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, has failed to speak on the issue of the racial divide. He’s dealing with economics, he’s dealing with war, he’s dealing with foreign affairs, but Mr. President, I will say to you, as one of your supporters, you have not addressed the issue in America of racial divide.”
Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents a southern Florida district, disagreed with the Panthers. The Obama administration’s investigation — via the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division — is a sign that the president is involved in the case, said Wilson.
“I think that the president is involved,” Wilson told TheDC. “I think by him sending his highest-ranking officials from the Justice Department to meet with us, to meet with the parents, to involve themselves in the investigation –they speak for the president. He appointed them.”
The Panthers told TheDC that it appears as though Obama and Holder are only getting involved now because they need the political support of the black community ahead of the November election.
During his rally in Sanford, Sharpton claimed he doesn’t believe in “drive-by activism” and plans to see this case through to the end.