Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich lashed out at President Barack Obama on Friday for his “disgraceful” off-the-cuff comments about the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who a new witness says may have attacked neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.
Speaking in the Rose Garden after announcing his selection of Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, Obama had referenced the shooting of the 17 year old in unusually personal terms.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said. “I think [Martin’s parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves.”
“Obviously, this is a tragedy,” the president continued. “I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
Gingrich shot back at the president’s comments, saying they needlessly involved race in a politically divisive manner.
“What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful,” Gingrich told conservative talker Sean Hannity. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.”
Gingrich added that the president should have emphasized in his remarks that the shooting in Florida united all Americans.
“Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because [he] didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up,” Gingrich said.
“It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban, or if he had been white, or if he had been Asian-American, or if he’d been a Native American,” he continued. “At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
The former House speaker then took aim at Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin.
“There’s a point in there where there ought to be some kind of signal that’s pretty clear that this is a guy [Zimmerman] who’d found a hobby that’s very dangerous,’’ Gingrich said.
But new evidence and testimony on Saturday threatened to undermine the popular conception that Zimmerman was the aggressor in last month’s deadly incident.
Frank Taaffe, Zimmerman’s neighbor, came forward Saturday to back up the embattled neighborhood watch volunteer. And a new bombshell witness in the case supported Zimmerman’s account of the incident, according to Fox 35, who spoke to the witness.
“The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: ‘Help! Help!’ … and I told him to stop and I was calling 911,” the witness said.
Trayvon Martin was in a hoodie, and Zimmerman was wearing red. When police found Zimmerman, he was bloodied around the head.
The news came as the New Black Panthers offered a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman.
Gingrich’s rivals, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have not criticized Obama’s comments, according to the National Journal.