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President Obama Speaks out on George Zimmerman Trial

Aired July 19, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news, an historic, potentially game-changing moment for President Obama, nearly one week since George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. The first African- American president of the United States as you rarely see him, sharing his very personal, sometimes painful experience, as a black man living in this country and declaring -- and I'm quoting him now, "Trayvon Martin could have been me."

Just ahead, the speech, the national conversation about race it's generating, the legal impact and what this means for President Obama's legacy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me.


BLITZER: Powerful emotional words from President Obama, speaking publicly for the first time since the verdict about Trayvon Martin's death and drawing a uniquely personal connection between himself and the millions of African-American men living in the United States.

The surprise remarks, almost 20 minutes in length, in the White House Briefing Room, coming nearly a week to the day that George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. Amid growing demands for him to address the issue the president did so today.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us with some behind-the-scenes look at how all of this came together -- Jessica, what are you finding out?


As you point out, there were calls for President Obama to speak out in the wake of the verdict all week, especially from within the African-American community. White House officials tell me that President Obama was watching the reaction to the verdict since it came down last weekend. He spoke to his family about the reaction and he spoke to his team here at the White House. He was watching responses both in the African-American community and in all communities across the country, they tell me. Those reactions, as you know, quite varied.

I'm told that it was last night that he went to his team here at the White House and said that he would like to talk to the nation about the verdict and about Trayvon Martin's death. He'd like to do it in both personal terms and at some length. And he decided with them that the White House press briefing room would be the best place for him to do that.

So he surprised us all by stepping behind the podium right before Jay Carney's daily briefing this afternoon.


YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama broke his silence, offering his own experiences as a window into frustrations and sadness in the African-American community.

OBAMA: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.

YELLIN: He spoke in uncharacteristically blunt and personal terms.

OBAMA: 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. That includes me. There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.

Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

YELLIN: For a president who often offers colorblind answers to questions about race...

OBAMA: And the best thing that I can do for the African-American community or the Latino community or the Asian community, whatever community, is to get the economy as a whole moving.

YELLIN: -- today's comments were a striking departure.

OBAMA: There's a lot of pain around what happened here.

YELLIN: President Obama said his team is weighing a number of policy responses to Trayvon Martin's death -- training state and local officials to avoid racial profiling, encouraging states to reconsider "Stand Your Ground" laws, backing new programs that support young black men.

OBAMA: Is there more that we can do to give them a sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

YELLIN: The president made clear he respects the jury's decision.

OBAMA: They rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works.

YELLIN: But said he believes the reaction to the verdict has to do with something larger.

OBAMA: And that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?

And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?

And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.


YELLIN: Well, sources also tell me President Obama has not spoken with Trayvon Martin's parents, although you did hear him acknowledge them in his remarks today and also in his statement over the weekend.

I should also point out that the president did suggest in his remarks that he believes race relations are improving in this nation with every generation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he cited his own daughters, Sasha and Malia, to make that point, that things are definitely, he said -- and he wound up those remarks -- things are definitely getting better, but the country is not yet where it should be. I think that was the bottom line, the optimistic note that he wanted to leave us all with.

YELLIN: And he said having a conversation about this now, having a conversation about race in the aftermath of this verdict could help improve race relations into the future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin over at the White House.

Thanks very much.

Let's continue the conversation right now. Joining us now, the co-count downer of the New York City Tea Party, the hose of "The David Webb Show" on Sirius XM Radio. That would be David Web.

Also joining us, the new "CROSSFIRE" co-host, the former White House official, Van Jones. Let me play this one little clip, guys, and it will kick off a little discussion between the three of us. The president getting very personal in his comments today.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: There are very few African-American who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she has a chance to get off. That happens often. And, you know, I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.


BLITZER: Let me start with David.

What do you think?

DAVID WEBB, HOST, "THE DAVID WEBB SHOW" ON SIRIUS XM: Well, I find it interesting, Wolf, that the president asserts that there are very few African-Americans, out of the millions, that have not had this incident happen to them, where someone clutches their purse. And he says I don't want to exaggerate it.

I'd like to know, anecdotally, how he comes by this evidence.

BLITZER: Well, has it ever happened...

WEBB: Here's what I...

BLITZER: David, has it ever happened to you, that you went into an elevator and a woman clutched her purse or that you crossed the street and you saw people locking the doors of their cars?

The president said that has happened...

WEBB: Not that I...

BLITZER: -- to him growing up as a young African-American man.

WEBB: And that has happened to many. It hasn't happened to me that I know of. And rather than focus on this assertion that there is a monolithic block of black people and this happens to all of you, or to most of you, where is the discussion, when the president wades into this with a presidential megaphone, on things that really -- not that this isn't a tragedy, as you and I have talked about and that this is something we need to talk about, because we can't pretend that racism doesn't exist. But we also can't pretend, Wolf, that racism exists everywhere and that is a dominant cau -- part of America.

BLITZER: All right. Let's let Van get into this conversation.

First of all, Van, has what happened to the president, when he says it happens to virtually every African-American man in the country, has that happened to you growing up in the United States?

VAN JONES, COHOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Yes, it certainly has happened in the rural South and when I was at Yale Law School. It happened quite often. And what was interesting...

BLITZER: What...

JONES: -- (INAUDIBLE) talked about these...

BLITZER: -- exactly happened to you?

Give us some specifics.

JONES: Oh. I, you know, I remember one time, I was trying to -- I had been volunteering in the community. And I was leaving the community and going back onto the campus. And a whole -- there were three white students who were on one side of the street. They saw me coming. They went to the other side of the street. And I really just raised my hand just to say hello. And one of them, you know, almost broke into a run. Then she realized that I was a student and then everybody kind of laughed nervously. That kind of thing happens.

But I think more importantly, the president is supposed to be, on key issues, the educator-in-chief. And often presidents will appeal to their personal experiences. You know, Ronald Reagan would do that. And sometimes, you know, when you're talking about a Kennedy or a Reagan, they talk about being Irish. You have other people who talk about being Catholic. This president is being the educator-in-chief. He's pointing to his personal experience. I think it's bracing for people, but I don't think it's a -- it should be such a shock. If we were truly the colorblind utopia that we want to be, people could refer to their own ethnic experiences and we would -- we'd see it as a chance to know each other better.

I hope that's where we're going to get to in this discussion.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead, David.

WEBB: But to assert that those experiences are similar for everyone, or most African-Americans, as he puts it, you exaggerate, because it's based on anecdotal experience. I have had a bad experience. In college, I was jumped by a bunch of white guys. It was over a campus party. It wasn't a racial incident as far as I saw it. But I didn't walk away from that going, I'm going to run away from everyone who's white or have animus toward them.

And part of what we need to...

JONES: Well, I do think the president...

WEBB: -- talk about...


WEBB: -- is how we deal with each other. And how we deal with each other... (CROSSTALK)

WEBB: -- is an education that needs to happen. You talk about educator-in-chief, then educate on how we interact as a mosaic that's a nation of many ethnicities and the differences and the similarities, not just to divide us into black corners, Hispanic corners, female corners. We are one nation.

JONES: We are. And one of the things I'd like to say -- and I think we can probably agree on this -- we are the most diverse country in the history of the world. My kids go to school. There are 37 languages spoken in that school system. They mostly get along.

But part of the challenge we have here, if the president speaks on this, he's wrong. If he doesn't, he's wrong. If he speaks in personal terms, he's wrong. If he speaks in non-personal terms, he's wrong.

I think a door has been opened here. I think that I -- most of us have been shocked by how different the reactions have been. I think there's fear in the white community that I have been educated about, fear that they will be called racist if they try to defend themselves against someone who is black they perceive as a threat.

That and I think there's fear among white people that they are on trial constantly, that maybe they are racist. And they feel trapped by that.

I think there's a door to some empathy, possibly. Maybe they could say, well, hey, maybe these black people somehow feel trapped. I think we all feel trapped. Maybe there's a way for us to use this conver -- the president called for context and conversation. And I think he did a good thing. I think it's a presidential thing. And I think that we should...

BLITZER: All right...

JONES: -- take him up on the offer.

WEBB: But, you know, there's also...

JONES: Let's get to know each other better.

WEBB: -- fear -- there's also fear, when you look at the vile hatred that comes from people in the black community toward whites, toward me, toward others just because of even a difference in political party, which, by the way, this incident with Trayvon was not a left-right issue. This was an issue of a crime that was committed and adjudicated in the court system.

But the vile hatred that goes out based on some perceived black versus white is something that the president has stoked. And whether -- he could have spoken on this issue. He could have spoken succinctly. He could have used personal experience.

But in this case, it looks like he wants multiple bites at the apple while claiming the high road. And unfortunately in this one, I think any president, right or left, it doesn't matter, black or white, should have been very much more careful with the presidential megaphone.

BLITZER: All right, Van, hold your thought...


BLITZER: -- hold that thought for a moment, because we have to take a quick break. But I want to get back to that point. Our panel, both Van and David, are staying with us. There's lots to discuss, lots to debate.

And we're also going to hear from the parents of Trayvon Martin. They have just -- literally just responded to the president's speech. You're going to hear all of what they have to say. That's coming up.

And George Zimmerman's defense team now also responding. We just got a lengthy statement from the Zimmerman defense team on the president's remarks. We're going to read it to you.

Lots going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: George Zimmerman's defense team has just issued a lengthy, lengthy statement responding to the president's speech. In it among other things, they say this. "We have listened to President Obama's comments about the verdict in the Zimmerman case. People are focusing on this, quote, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." To focus on this one line misses the nuances of the president's message which includes comments about how African-Americans view the Zimmerman case in the context of the history of racial disparity in America."

And then the Zimmerman defense team goes on to add, "While we acknowledge and understand the racial context of this case, we challenge people to look closely and dispassionately at the facts. We believe those who look at the facts of the case without prejudice will see that it is a clear case of self-defense and we are certain that those who take a closer look at the kind of person George Zimmerman is, something we understand the Department of Justice is currently doing, we are confident they will find a young man with a diverse ethnic and racial background who is not a racist, a man who is, in fact, sensitive to the complex racial history of our country."

Let's bring back David Webb and van Jones. Van, your reaction to what we heard now from the Zimmerman defense team?

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: You know, I thought that was a very responsible statement. And I actually think we should be proud as a country. I have listened across to the different stations, et cetera. Social media always has an edge to it. But people, I think, are trying to rise to a certain occasion.

Even George Zimmerman's brother, very measured in his response to the president. I think the best -- we're either turn to each other or on each other. I hope we turn to each other now. I thought that was a very responsible statement.

BLITZER: What did you think, David?

DAVID WEBB, CO-FOUNDER NYC TEA PARTY: I think the statement by the team is responsible, they take us back to what happened in the case. But, what we have now in this country in a national conversation, Wolf, is we've gone beyond the case and from the justice system to social justice, which is now what do we do? I'm for reviewing the stand your ground laws. I think that's something we should do to make sure laws are written carefully as I've talked about before.

They're being used by gangs when there is gang to gang crime and violence. That's something that was an -- that's an unintended consequence. And there are other things we can address in this nation, but, we don't want to take this beyond justice to a level of animus between people in this country based on racism.

And as I've said, there's racism, absolutely. It exists in every society. But it is not under every rock or it's not in every corner. And we shouldn't pain that. And unfortunately, there are those that would take it in that direction.

BLITZER: We also got a statement, and Van, I want you to respond, but it's a context also of this statement from Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. Among other things, they issued this statement reacting to the president.

"We are deeply honored and moved that President Obama took the time to speak publicly and at length about our son, Trayvon. The president's comments gave us great strength at this time. We are thankful for President Obama's and Michelle's prayers and we ask for your prayers as well as we continue to move forward. We know that the death of our son, Trayvon, the trial, and the not guilty verdict have been deeply painful and difficult for many people."

"We know our family has become a conduit for people to talk about race in America and to try and talk about the difficult issues that we need to bring in to the light in order to become a better people. What touches people is that our son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, could have been their son. President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy."

And our hearts, of course, go out to Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. Let me get, David, your quick reaction.

WEBB: I think again we have a responsible, level statement. It was not unlike what happened after Trayvon was shot and killed that his mother issued a very level headed statement. They should not be the focus of the animus that goes on in this entire play or this tragedy as it play outs. They are parents who've lost their child. But it has been taken beyond that. And again, when it comes to the president weighing in on this, I'm not against the president weighing in on issues. This is a nation. He's the president of all of the United States. But when you take it and the president was very careful to parse his words, to speak as he saw it, then we also ought to look at what he said and how it affects, how it could affect certain quarters where people are dividing us, and we are one nation.

What I don't like is a president who goes in and there's a political aspect to this that I see that is a repetition of a past strategy, I don't like that. I think the president could have kept it much more out of it.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Van.

JONES: You know, first of all, I think the president is calling for context and I think that's very important. I think, David, you're right, we are one country and we're going to be one country. I'm a ninth generation American. A ninth generation American. But I'm the first one in my family who was born with any rights. I was born in 1968. The civil rights acts were passed in 1964-1965 which really made us citizen. Nine generations. I'm the first one born with rights in my family.

That's contact. It wasn't so long ago that any non-Black could tell a Black person do this, do that. If they didn't go along with it, they could be killed. That wasn't something it happened a thousand years ago. That happened just before I was born in my own home county. And so, that is a part of the context. If our sisters and brothers who are not Black want us to be one country, and I believe the vast majority do, we just have to understand each other.

We can debate the facts. We don't have to agree on the facts, but we should understand each other's feelings and I think that is an important thing that president is calling us to do. This context matters. I don't think it's just about anecdotes, by the way. If you look at the statistics, there's something wrong in our criminal justice system. They're now saying that White and Black kids use drugs, which I'm against, at the same level.

But Black kids wind up in prison 10 times the rate. That might be driving some of the violence that we're all so concerned about in places like Chicago. Can we sit down and have that conversation? I think conservatives are very concerned about the violence that they're seeing happening and so are liberals. Can we not use --

BLITZER: David, hold your thought. Both of you hold your thought for a moment. You're not going away. There's a lot to discuss. You both raise important issues as does the president, the Trayvon Martin family, the Zimmerman defense team. We're going to continue this conversation. Also, the political impact of President Obama's powerful remarks on race today.

And later, you're going to hear what Trayvon Martin's older brother wants the whole world to know. Lots happening today right here on the "SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: Happening now, the breaking news we're following.


BLITZER (voice-over): President Obama joins the nationwide conversation about the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. We're taking a closer look at the political impact.

Trayvon Martin's brother has something he wants the whole world to know about his younger brother.

Also, the growing protests against stand your ground laws.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER (on-camera): We're following the breaking news. The historic moment for the first African-American president of the United States today, President Obama, heeding growing calls to address the Zimmerman not guilty verdict and sharing some deeply personal experiences, he says, essentially make him no different from Trayvon Martin.

The speech came with hardly any warning could have huge implications for the president's legacy. Let's discuss what's going on, a lit bit more analysis. Also joining our panel, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our CNN chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the host of CNN's "State of the Union," Van Jones and David Webb are still with us.

Gloria, the political fallout from this could be significant for the president, because as we say, it's not every day he comes and speaks on these sensitive issues.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's predictable. I think this is a president and this is a White House that knows every time the president talks about race, he becomes a lightning rod. And he took it to another level today. You know, originally, he said, Trayvon Martin could have been my son. Today, he said 35 years ago, Trayvon Martin could have been me.

And I think they understood what they were getting into, but I think this is a president who, after a few days or five days, actually, of sitting back and watching this, decided that he had no choice but to speak and wanted to speak. And so, they know it's kind of treacherous. He stayed away from the justice department case.

He stayed away from commenting on the verdict. But what he tried to do as president was give the context to this, to all Americans about why some African-Americans are quite upset about the verdict.

BLITZER: Smart or not so smart, the strategy of the president to surprise all of this with this Friday afternoon speech? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I have thought all along that he had to do something. He was under intense pressure from the African-American community who has not been totally happy with a lot of the things that he has done or mostly not done in terms of the African-American community.

I sort of saw this not quite -- I feel like it was a speech that was pushed by the African-American community but was aimed largely at those who did not understand the response. And I think that you know, I could be Trayvon line was more about, OK, I know that you can't relate to this young 17-year-old man, but you can relate to me because you know me and I'm the president.

And here are my experiences. I think it was an attempt to kind of relate these two worlds that sort play out, and it doesn't play out as easily black and white but certainly those are the general ones.

BLITZER: Let me play the clip the president wrapping up his speech today in the briefing room on this optimistic note. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn't mean we're in a post racial society, it doesn't mean that racism is eliminated.

But, you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they're better than we are. They're better than we were on these issues.


BLITZER: Van, I want you to respond to that, but in the context of what we heard David Webb say a few minutes ago, that there -- there's a vile notion, he said, out there, and I'm sort of paraphrasing what he said, that there are also too many black people out there who hate, he used the word hate white people.

JONES: Well, you know, to the extent that that's true, it's horrible and I think what we're going to have to be able to do now is to get a little bit sophisticated. It seems like at first the conversation is very binary. The problem is either racially motivated vigilantes, or it's racial demagogues just whipping trouble over nothing. And then you have to figure out what camp are you in.

I think now, a week out, hopefully we can start saying, maybe we have multiple problems, maybe we have an epidemic of violence within the young black community, and that's a problem. Maybe we have some people who are being mean to and being -- excessively suspicious of black kids beyond what's warranted. That's a problem.

Maybe there's some people who are racially insensitive who are white. That's a problem. Maybe there's some demagogues on the -- on the black side, that's a problem. Maybe we got a bunch of problems here and that's why we need to come together and talk, as opposed to getting tribal in trying to figure out which team you're on, we should be on team America and try to work through all these problems.

BLITZER: Go ahead, David, and explain what you meant, because that sort of jumped out of me when you were talking about too many black people hating white people.

WEBB: Because -- and what I mean in that is that the context not every black person, obviously. But we see this playing out by those who play the race game, I call them the race profiteers. Van is right when it comes to the -- this is a very complex issue. When it gets binary, it gives an opportunity to those that profit off the argument and off the hate.

There are conversations to be had in this country about black unemployment, urban flight, 13.7 percent unemployment, youth unemployment, 42 percent, Detroit, Chicago, the issues within the black community where we need to frankly have a conversation just within the community about what is right and what gives you a better opportunity for a future including education, including keeping fathers in the home.

There's so much more to this that would actually bridge against that kind of visceral reaction, which is one wrong, and which causes more of the argument that working towards solutions.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone, stand by. We got --

JONES: But, David, you would --

BLITZER: OK, Van, you want to make -- respond to that? Go ahead.

JONES: I just -- David, I just hope you don't leave the impression that the majority of racial hatred is coming from black people to white people. I think --

WEBB: No, I don't.

JONES: I think hatred is --


WEBB: I think it's those that are the loudest that cause the problem and I'm with you on the binary nature, it's not that simple. Blacks are not monolithic, whites are not monolithic. That's not -- it's not that simple.

BLITZER: All right, now we can take a break and continue this conversation in a moment. Much more with our political panel when we come back.

We're also hearing from Trayvon Martin's brother now for the first time since the verdict. We're going to find out what he's telling our own legal analyst Sunny Hostin. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're back with our panel, assessing what we heard from the president of the United States. Candy Crowley, Gloria Borger, Van Jones and David Webb.

At the end of his remarks today, the president outlined various proposals in general terms what the country needs to do right now.


OBAMA: I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors, to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws, to see if it -- if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedy. We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and re- enforce our African-American boys.


BLITZER: All right, David Webb, you're a leader of the Tea Party in New York City. Do you have any problems with the president's proposal?

WEBB: No, as a matter of fact, these are some of the approaches we need to take and I've said before that when it comes to even just neighborhood watches and the community, it's good. If the National Action Network wants to do some work and the rallies are this weekend all across the country, part of that might be to sit down with neighborhood watches and with the community and say one, these are some things we can do to educate you.

Neighborhood watches should be identified, this is what should happen, how you approach someone, this is how you respond if you're approached in the community.

We need to educate. Education is at the core of getting through problems and that's something that we need to do a better job of in this country. It's a responsible statement, my concern is the follow- through and what will be taken out of context and then also used by those that have a different agenda.

BLITZER: Van, go ahead, make your point.

JONES: Well, I just think that this is remarkably encouraging. I mean, here you have a Tea Party leader who says, you know, the president's saying something that makes some sense and then goes beyond that to make a proposal about how Al Sharpton and neighborhood watches could work together.

I think that if we continue in this way, it's a good thing. You know, I also want to give some credit to some of the young people who have been demonstrating across the country. They've been very peaceful, the Dream Defenders down in Florida are very peaceful. And they've been trying to push for policy reform. They're not taking it into their own hands. They're trying to get the system to work.

Some positive things are beginning to come out of this if you get past the extremes. I just want to just say, I think David's proposal is very good.

BLITZER: Quickly, Van, would it have been appropriate if the president directly address Trayvon Martin's family, his parents, would it have been appropriate for the president also to address George Zimmerman and his parents and his family given what they have gone through over these past several months?

JONES: I think, in hindsight, that's probably going to be something that he -- that the president regrets. I think it wouldn't have -- it wouldn't have taken very much for him to have added a line of comfort for them. I think that where he was coming from authentically is where the most of the -- of the kind of emotional devastation in the country right now is with the people who are concerned about the Trayvon Martin family.

I think he was coming from that place authentically. I do think he probably may have some regrets about leaving that out. It opens up a line of attack on him from people who don't see him as trying to be constructive, but see him as trying to, quote-unquote, interject race and exploit the issue. I think he may have made a mistake there.

BLITZER: David, you want to add?

WEBB: I think there was a little bit of a political calculus, and again it's what I see playing out in this. Yes, I agree he should have said something about Zimmerman's family. In fact, there are two victims here. Yes, Trayvon is dead. There is no doubt about that, that is the worst case. But Zimmerman has had a life-altering experience, and we don't know what happened in those minutes together and we don't know what's truly in his heart.

But it is likely that he feels his pain. I've spoken to his brother, I have spoken to others and I think we should recognize that there are -- there are layers to this tragedy. The president should have been more responsible and address that. But I also see a political component in this, in that with the rallies this weekend, it is possible that this bolsters the base which supports the president, that he is standing up for them.

He has been under a lot of pressure from the black community. He has been under a lot of pressure from Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Roslyn Brock of the NAACP, Ben Jealous and others to pick a side. And I think he could have gone just a little bit better in not appearing to pick a side.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stand by, Candy Crowley is still with us, as is Gloria Borger.

Just ahead, the growing push to change Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and across the nation.

And later Trayvon Martin's older brother says there's something he wants all of us to remember about Trayvon.



OBAMA: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is, that Trayvon Martin could have been me.


BLITZER: Strong words from the president. Let's bring in the "Chicago Tribune" syndicated columnist, Clarence Page, good friend of the program and good friend of mine.

What do you think when the president says that? And you go back a few presidents, what does it say to you?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, no, first of all, I was surprised that he came out today. I kind of resigned myself to him just ducking this issue to cool off.

BLITZER: Why do -- why do you think he wanted to duck it?

PAGE: You know -- well, because look back at his presidency, every time he has spoken out on race off the cuff he's gotten in trouble for it. Last week he was very measured when the verdict first came down.

BLITZER: With that written statement.

PAGE: Respect the court and all that, right. And I thought maybe -- he might try to slide, but you know I think to his credit, he came out because so many people wanted to hear him on this subject, even conservatives who just wanted to shoot him down, no matter what he said, they wanted to hear him take a stand.

I think he saw, you know, hey, what's the second term for but to get out there and say what you really think? And I think he spoke from the heart today. I was very impressed with it and he spoke for a lot of people positively.

BLITZER: It sounds to me, maybe I'm reading too much into your analysis, that if he were a first term president maybe looking down the road to getting re-elected, he wouldn't have done -- he wouldn't have done this the way he did it today. A second term, re-elected president doesn't have to worry about politics anymore.

PAGE: The Skip Gates fiasco.


PAGE: When he spoke out on a serious issue, a friend of his who'd been arrested in his own home. A crazy episode, but he wound up having to do a beer summit photo-op to smooth over ruffled feathers. He's got people out there ready to jump on him and accuse him of racism no matter what he said. And even today, before he finished his speech, you have certain Internet people who are already buzzing -- so I think he understands -- he knows, this is volatile territory.

I deal with it all the time. That's my job as a columnist, is to jump into controversy. He's got a lot of important things to worry about so I thought maybe he's just going to slide this and worry about Syria or something.

BLITZER: Do you have any problems with what he said today and any of the substantive comments?

PAGE: Substantively, no. Not offhand. I'm still (INAUDIBLE) and digesting it all. I've heard the criticism that he should have said a few more kind words about the Zimmerman family. But I thought that it was important that he did say once again that we need to abide by the court's decision. And let's move on and talk not just about this case but about where this represents to so many people out there.

BLITZER: Clarence, thanks very much for coming in.

PAGE: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune."

Coming up, someone we rarely hear from. Trayvon Martin's older brother, he has a special message.


BLITZER: Big rallies are planned for tomorrow across the country to push for changing Stand Your Ground laws.

CNN's Nick Valencia has more.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While Trayvon Martin's supporters protest Florida's gun laws at the governor's office Friday, other supporters are planning a day of rallies.

PHILIP AGNEW, DREAM DEFENDERS: Not only just here, but around the country, and express their anger about this verdict.

VALENCIA: Calling it Justice for Trayvon Day, rallies and vigils are being planned in about 100 cities. Often seen side by side, organizers say the father of Trayvon Martin will be at a rally in Miami and his mother will be at one in New York.

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: My son was unarmed, and the person that shot and killed him got away with murder.

VALENCIA: Many of the demonstrations are scheduled to take place outside federal courthouses like this one in Atlanta. Their message, to demand that George Zimmerman be charged by federal prosecutors.

REV. MARKEL HUTCHINS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We believe that Trayvon Martin's civil rights were violated.

VALENCIA: While some protests last weekend turned violent, civil rights leaders are calling for calm, as is the president.

OBAMA: If I see any violence, then I'll remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.

VALENCIA: Siding with Martin's family, protesters at the Florida governor's office are demanding a repeal of the Stand Your Ground law that permits deadly force in self-defense with no duty to retreat.

After occupying the governor's office for several days, Rick Scott met with the group. The governor told the protesters he, too, mourns the death of Trayvon Martin, but he supports the law and won't push to change it.

GOV RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I'm not going to call a special session.

VALENCIA: Refusing to take no for an answer, protesters vow to keep up the pressure on lawmakers.


VALENCIA: So far, the Justice Department has pledged a full investigation. Protesters tomorrow will be pushing for something a little bit more concrete -- Wolf. BLITZER: Nick Valencia reporting for us, thanks. We'll stay in touch with you.

One person we've heard virtually nothing from this week is Trayvon Martin's own brother, but now he's spoken with CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin.


SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Jahvaris, tell me what you want the world to know about your brother.

JAHVARIS FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S BROTHER: I would just like to tell the world that I don't believe he was responsible for what happened to him that night and that he wasn't on trial. Zimmerman was.

HOSTIN: What do you want to see as a result of this?

FULTON: I would like to see our foundation raise awareness about profiling because we shouldn't have to, but there is a certain way boys like me and young men have to conduct themselves in public so that, you know, we're not --

HOSTIN: Deemed suspicious.



BLITZER: Jahvaris Fulton speaking with our own Sunny Hostin. An impressive, young man.

Stay with us. We're going to play President Obama's remarks on race in their entirety. That's coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the president and his comments in a moment, but there's some other important news we're following right now, including a possible significant breakthrough in the Middle East peace process.

Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What happened, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it looks like Secretary of State John Kerry has persuaded Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Reports say Kerry's shown Palestinian authorities what's being called a landmark concession by Israel. Israel's justice minister says four years of diplomatic stagnation are about to end.

Detroit may not be able to declare bankruptcy after all. A Michigan judge ruled the city's bankruptcy filing unconstitutional and ordered officials to withdraw the case from federal court. Michigan's attorney general immediately announced plans to appeal. The city is $18 billion in debt and seeking bankruptcy protection to restructure its finances, something union officials fear will wipe out thousands of people's health insurance and pension benefits.

New fallout from the Edward Snowden leaks. U.S. intelligence officials this afternoon announced a top secret court has renewed permission for the government to collect telephone data. A statement from the office of the director for National Intelligence says it has decided to declassify and announce the program renewal, which occurs periodically but is never publicized.

And in Canada, investigators for that country's transportation safety board have determined insufficient braking force was applied to a freight train before its tank cars broke loose and derailed this month, setting off explosions that killed at least 38 people. The train's engineer says he set 11 handbrakes on the cars before leaving the train unattended -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Happening now, one of the most powerful moments of President Barack Obama's presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me.