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President Obama Speaks Out on Race in America; GOP Senators Slams Obama Remarks

Aired July 19, 2013 - 18:00   ET



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.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president opening up about Trayvon Martin's death in extremely personal terms, explaining why so many African-Americans are frustrated by George Zimmerman's acquittal.

This hour, you're going to hear the president's historic remarks at length on his own experience with racial bias, the harsh realities for young black men in America and his ideas for improving the climate in this country.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

For more than 17 minutes, President Obama spoke more extensively, more personally about race in America than he has since taking office. The breaking news this hour, his surprise appearance in the White House Briefing Room to talk about Trayvon Martin's death and George Zimmerman's acquittal. He had been silent for nearly a week, except for a written statement he released on Sunday and under a lot of pressure to speak out about the verdict, the backlash and what it all says about the state of race relations in this country.

We're going to discuss every angle of this historic moment this hour, but, first, listen to the president.


OBAMA: The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling.

I gave an -- a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, you know, I -- I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle's, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they've dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they're going through, and it's -- it's remarkable how they've handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal -- legal issues in the case. I will let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a -- in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury's spoken, that's how our system works.

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, 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 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that -- that doesn't go away.

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.

And 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. There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had 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. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So -- so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there's no context for it or -- and that context is being denied. And -- 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.


BLITZER: We're going to have more of the president's very personal remarks. We're going to play those for you later this hour.

Trayvon Martin's parents issued a strong statement saying they're deeply moved by the president's remarks and they applaud his call to open a dialogue about race. Among other things, they say this: "President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy. Trayvon's life was cut short, but we hope that his legacy will make our communities a better place for generations to come."

George Zimmerman's defense team also put out a statement acknowledging the racial context of the trial and the importance of having a national discussion about race, and then they added this: "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."

By the way, tonight a CNN special, "Race and Justice in America" after the Zimmerman verdict. Please join Anderson Cooper later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern/7:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.

Once again, stand by for more of the president's very personal remarks. He talks about what would have happened if it had been Trayvon Martin who had a gun and stood his ground. And we will also get reaction from the president's former aide, the so-called body man. Reggie Love will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And I will also speak with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the National Urban League president, Marc Morial, about what the president said and what more they want him to do.


BLITZER: It was a truly unique, historic moment, the perspective from the president on race. This is the nation's first African- American president. Was it an important lesson for white America? Did it feel at all like a lecture? What was going on? What was the reaction in the African-American community?

Right now, we're joined by two of the nation's most prominent civil rights leaders, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who is president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Also joining us, the National Urban League president, the former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial.


BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, did you have any problems at all with what the president said or what he didn't say?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: It was a step in the direction of healing.

Of course, he has had to suppress much of his feelings because of just the intensity of it all. You know, if he had done the saxophone thing, like Bill Clinton did, that was considered inclusion. If he had done it, it would have been considered -- been polarizing.

He's had to walk on those eggshells, but I think that the situation now is so intense, he felt the need to express it, and I think it's good for the healing of the nation.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, what did you think?

MORIAL: It was the perfect tone, it was presidential, it was personal.

I think the president also spoke from the heart, and he did what I think he's uniquely qualified to do, and that is to move the nation towards healing and understanding. Certainly, our hope is that it is a step and only a step. And I do think that many Americans, not just African-Americans, but Americans of all hues, backgrounds, creeds and colors understand that -- that the result of that trial was not just.

And that's why there's been such an emotional reaction, especially, as I have said, coming on the heals of the Supreme Court's decision in the Voting Rights Act case. Together, together, they have, I think, shocked the consciousness of the nation. And that's why you see so much expression like the activities that are going to take place tomorrow in over 100 cities.

But the president was perfect today, and I'm pleased he spoke, I'm pleased he did it today, but I'm hopeful and encouraged that this is the beginning. BLITZER: All right. Reverend Jackson, listen to what the president said about young people right now. Listen to this.


OBAMA: There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?


BLITZER: And you're in Chicago, Reverend Jackson. You have got a serious problem going on with a lot of young people, especially those gangs in Chicago. How do you relate to what the president said, his message to young people, and what's actually going on right now in your community?

JACKSON: Well, we need more than the conversation. We need targeted jobs, training skills and transportation. (INAUDIBLE) In Englewood, unemployment for adults is around 40 percent. For youth, it's around 50 percent. That's true in Englewood and Roseland. It's true in Austin and Lawndale and many cities around the nation.

We must invest in the formative years of these children, so we need more than a conversation. We need transportation and education and trade skill training, and that will cost. It will cost more to not do it.

BLITZER: You want to add something to that, Marc Morial?

MORIAL: No, I agree exactly what Reverend Jackson has indicated, but I think we also have this important challenge, because one might ask, can the nation afford those investments?

The real question is, can the nation afford not to invest in our young people at this time of great difficulty? Because to not do it means we exacerbate these problems. After all, you have seen an effort to put billions of dollars into border control. Is that a more important priority, I would suggest to you than saying let's invest in our children?

You have efforts to put a man on an asteroid. I'm all for the space program. Is that more important than investing in our children? We have to elevate the priority of investing in our young people, in our children, job training, education, all of these things, but it's got to be a higher priority. And, hopefully, today's remarks by the president can move us in that direction.

BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, stand by for a moment


BLITZER: Hold on a second, Reverend Jackson. I want to continue this conversation. We're also going to speak with a close friend of the president, his former aide Reggie Love. He's going to be joining us.

But people protesting the Zimmerman verdict. We're going to talk about what's going on in the country right now with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Marc Morial. They're standing by.

The president raises a very important question, and the question is this. What if, what if Trayvon Martin had been armed?



OBAMA: I think it's understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.

But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do?


BLITZER: We're back with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League.

Reverend Jackson, if the Justice Department, Eric Holder, the attorney general, the first African-American attorney general in our country, decides they don't have the goods, they don't have enough evidence to launch some sort of criminal investigation under the civil rights laws against George Zimmerman, how disappointed will you be?

JACKSON: Well, in some measure, I will be, but this is not -- Trayvon is a symbol of a deeper malady.

It's Trayvon in Sanford. It's Oscar Grant in Oakland. It's Diallo in New York. It's Stephon Watts, a 15-year-old autistic kid shot in Chicago. Do you realize that there are more than a million black men in jail, the most of any place in the world, that private equity firms make $1.5 billion a year off of prison telephone calls, plus prison labor?

There's some kids that have been in Chicago jail five years waiting in pretrial detention. We have had this jail negative safety net and that's why President Obama is suggesting we need to invest in it, not just talk about it.

BLITZER: How disappointed would you be, Marc Morial, if the Justice Department says there's not going to be any criminal charges filed against George Zimmerman under the civil rights laws?

MORIAL: Well, Wolf, I'm not prepared to say how I would feel, because I do think it's important that we not prejudge an investigation which is really just beginning.

And I think the Justice Department should be given an even, level playing field to conduct their investigation. But while that is going on, the issues that Reverend Jackson recommends, some of the steps that the president suggested today should be undertaken. It is so important that we seize this moment, that we understand the deeper, more serious, systematic challenges that this case has laid raw, and also that we recognize that there will be great expression tomorrow with the vigils in 100 cities, great expression in August as we conduct the Civil Rights Continuation March.

There's going to be a continuing conversation about this. I would also make an appeal to local elected officials and people at the local level, mayors and governors and others, not to simply sit back, because this is playing out in cities like Chicago and Atlanta and New Orleans and Baltimore and Oakland each and every day. And the leaders of those communities need to see this as a leadership moment, a time for them to step up and renew, a time for them to step up and lead to try to figure out what the solutions are to many of these problems.

BLITZER: If the president of the United States wanted to start a dialogue on race, on the issue of race in America, he certainly has today, and we're going to continue this dialogue.


BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have got to leave it right there.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Marc Morial, thanks to you as well.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the president's former personal aide Reggie Love, he will be with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's going to tell us what he thinks about the president's revealing remarks.

And we will also hear the president's take on what might have happened if Trayvon Martin was the one who had a gun.


BLITZER: Now, the rest of the president's very personal remarks about the Trayvon Martin case.


OBAMA: So let me just give a couple of specifics that I'm still bouncing around with my staff so we're not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it'd 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.

You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And, initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but, actually, they came to recognize that, if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them, and in turn, be more helpful in applying the law.

And obviously, law enforcement's got a very tough job. So that's one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let's figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, 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 tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than defuse potential altercations.

I know that there's been commentary about the fact that the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms, even if there is a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like the Stand Your Ground laws, 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.

Number three, and this is a long-term project. We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And 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?

You know, I'm not naive about the prospects of some brand new federal program. I'm not sure that that's what we're talking about here, but I do recognize that as president, I've got some convenient power and that there are a lot of programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together, business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they're a full part of this society and that they've got pathways and avenues to succeed?

You know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation, and we're going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that. And then finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul searching. You know, there has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race? I haven't seen that be particularly productive when, you know, politicians try to organize conversations.

They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families, in churches, in workplaces, there's a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I bringing as much a bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character?

That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy. And let me just leave you with a final thought, that 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. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country.

And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did and that along this long and difficult journey, you know, we're becoming a more perfect union. Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

All right? Thank you, guys.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very personal comments from the president of the United States.

He was President Obama's special assistant, personal aide. So what does Reggie Love make of the president's remarks? We'll speak with him.

And quick criticism of the president from one Republican senator, Ted Cruz.


BLITZER: We're joined on the phone by the president's former special assistant, his personal aide, Reggie Love, a man who knows the president very well.

It wasn't easy, I'm sure, for the president to make this decision. What usually goes in when he finally decides, Reggie, that he's going to come out and speak about race in America?

REGGIE LOVE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I mean -- hi, guys. It's Reggie here. Wolf, thank you for having me on today. It's a great question. You know, I think in this scenario, I think it's very hard to -- I think you have to synthesize a lot of different data points, but I think ultimately, there are not many people who can speak from the same perspective that the president can speak from -- from within, you know, from within the actual inner circle.

BLITZER: I mean, he's been a mentor to you over these years. I'm sure the two of you have had many opportunities over these past several years to talk about race. What has he said to you that stands out, Reggie, in your mind right now?

LOVE: I think we've talked about some, and I think some of the biggest things that we've talked about, I mean, the fact that he and I had such different interactions as young African-American men growing up. You know, he went to Oxford, I went to Columbia, didn't play sports. And myself, I went to a university that had the demographics of a Columbia and I went to Duke, but I played college athletics.

And I think, you know, I didn't have sort of the struggles that some people probably have because I think, you know, in the world of sports, I think it's one of the few areas that actually sort of bridges, you know, cultures, races, socioeconomics. But I do think that, you know, he talked about in his book, you know, we've come a long way as a country but we still have a very long way to go.

BLITZER: Did you have the same experience as he had? He spoke personally when he said -- and I'm just sort of paraphrasing a little bit what he said. He said the experience of being followed when he goes into a department store as a young man. He said that included me. He said 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 happened to me, he said.

There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously, holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. He suggested it happened to him as well.

Have those kinds of things, Reggie -- and you're a lot younger than the president -- happened to you?

LOVE: You know, I would say that for most people who look like me or who look like the president, you know, unfortunately, I think there are times and there are places where you, when you look and sound a certain way, you're not always sort of given the benefit of the doubt. And you know, that goes not only for race. I think that goes for gender and for sexuality as well.

Me personally, yes, I've had those experiences happen to me. I think I probably haven't had them happen to me as often as those other people, because, you know, I come from a place where, you know, I've spent a bunch of time with people like the president, and people like Coach K., who, you know, are sort of validated for folks who don't know what it's like or folks who aren't necessarily close to folks who look different than them.

So, you know, I probably have gotten, you know, more of a break probably and am received more openly than most people who are my peers. And to say that that's fair, you know, no. To say that I understand it, I do.

You know, perspective is a powerful thing. And, you know, everyone comes from different places and everyone has different histories. And as we grow as a country and as a nation, perspectives will change.

BLITZER: And you've been blessed, Reggie, with mentors like the president of the United States, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, your coach at Duke University, when you played basketball there. So you've been fortunate indeed.

Hey, Reggie, we'll continue this conversation. Thanks, as usual, for joining us.

LOVE: Thanks for having me and have a great weekend, man.

BLITZER: You, too, buddy. All right. Thanks very much.

Up next, President Obama questions Stand Your Ground laws and draws some sharp and immediate criticism from Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

But first, Lucy Lui is a UNICEF ambassador. The actress recently visited Syrian refugee families.


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They can't go to school, they're not getting the medical attention they need, they're not getting the nutrition they need. There is going to be a lost generation of children if this continues. Children deserve to have a childhood. What happens on the other side of the world isn't just their business, it's our business, because we share the same water, we share the same environment.

If we understand that we are actually one community, then it makes the world so much smaller and much more tangible for people to understand.

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BLITZER: Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had immediate reaction to the president's remarks.


REP. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It is not surprising that the president uses, it seems, every opportunity he can, to try to go after our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. I think it is unfortunate that this president and this administration has a consistent disregard for the Bill of Rights.


BLITZER: Let's talk about it with our CNN political analyst, Democratic poster Cornell Belcher, also David Webb, the co-founder of the New York City Tea Party, is still with us as well.

Cornell, what did you think of that reaction?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We're getting ready for 2016 already, Wolf, really? No, I think what he said clearly he's talking to his partisan base, is this someone who's clearly has bigger political ambitions than this U.S. Senate. And from a political standpoint, just pure politics, it makes sense for him to be out in front on this. I think it's problematic from just a pass and this sort of smell test.

It doesn't seem quite right from to attack the president after the president made a speech that a lot of people talked about was a healing, a we speech for him to play partisan politics so quickly.

BLITZER: Let's get David Webb to react. Go ahead, David.

DAVID WEBB, CO-FOUNDER, NYC TEA PARTY: Well, on many things I agree with Senator Cruz, but on this one he's gone way ahead of this. Look, this hasn't gotten to that level. We saw that happen after Newtown where there was an attempt to deal -- to attack the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Right now we have other issues on the table, which is to refute the conflating of, say, the voting rights act decision by the Supreme Court with Mark Morial and all the other issues that had been brought into this.

We don't need to go beyond the scope of what we're dealing with. We need a real conversation. And I don't even necessarily limit it to that term. We need action on dealing with educating people on how to interact with each other at the community level and as Americans to solve some of the problems that can get lost in the hyperbole of it's either black or white or it's racist or not.

And when we take these things beyond that scope -- if it arrives there, have that debate. I'll agree with Cornell on that. But we're not there on the Second Amendment rights here.

BLITZER: Cornell, you have an interesting take on the timing of the president's decision to come out early afternoon today and speak. It is a sensitive moment.

BELCHER: Well, I think it is a sensitive moment and from what I hear from the folks at the White House, who still take my calls, it was something that it wasn't planned, it wasn't something that they had -- they knew about. It was something that's been pressing on him, as something that he took very personal. He's taken the time to think about it. And as you saw, he did this without a prompter, without notes, it was something that was in his heart.

And I think it's also important, though, at the same time is it -- for the rallies that are going to be happening this weekend, I thought it was important for the president to get out and say something very healing before those rallies this weekend.

BLITZER: And also, David, for the president to say, you know, no violence, go ahead, you can march, you can rally, you can do what you want, but don't get engaged in any violence because that would betray Trayvon Martin's legacy, if you will.

WEBB: And I agree. Those words are important coming from a president, but as far as the timing of this, the president has had days, and, look, I don't know why or how we spoke, no one can say. But we have a president who's a very smart person when it comes to politics and to making sure that he appeals to his base and he's been under a lot of pressure.

So is it possible that he said, look, Friday before the rallies, this is a good time to come out and speak, this speaks to my base, this speaks to the criticism I've been getting, that's also a possibility. On the other hand, I'm with Cornell, look, we -- rallies, your First Amendment rights, they're sacrosanct to me and to all in this country, but I want peace. Unfortunately there are insiders amongst us who would like to take this way beyond that.

BLITZER: Let's hope that doesn't happen. David Webb, Cornell Belcher, guys, thanks very much. Rally is one thing. No violence.

Coming up, George Zimmerman's brother reacts to the president's remarks about the trial. We're hearing from people all across the nation as well.


BLITZER: Reaction pouring in.

Here is CNN's Athena Jones.


OBAMA: I send my thoughts and prayers as well --

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reaction to the speech was swift, but not uniformed. In Los Angeles, relief by some that the president gets it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's good to have somebody like at the top that knows how it is to, you know, be black.

JONES: But others in the African-American community said it wasn't a speech they needed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to say it out there is just another politician saying something that is supposed to sound like -- it is another sound bite for them.

JONES: In Florida, for protesters seeking a change to the state's Stand Your Ground laws, the comments buoyed their resolve.

PHILLIP AGNEW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DREAM DEFENDERS: The president of our country was speaking about the issues and the way we're speaking about the issues. I hope he follows that up with action.

JONES: In Washington, we showed clips from the speech to tourists at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

(On camera): Are you pleased to hear the president come out and give such extensive remarks on this topic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, because I think it needs to be said and talked about more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To have an African-American male really step forward and say, these are the experiences that I've had, but not enough to say that he said these are the experiences I've had, but in front of the mainstream culture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I would have been him, I probably would just have said, hey, listen, it's -- we all see it from different viewpoints and not pick a side.

JONES: In comments on FOX News, George Zimmerman's brother Robert said invoking race was, quote, "a disservice." But applauded the president's call for soul searching.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: I think the American people need to kind of have some time to digest what really happened and to do that soul searching the president spoke of.

JONES: But critics like FOX News anchor Sean Hannity suggested the president's remarks did more harm than good. SEAN HANNITY, THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW: Like he did today, bending over backwards to put this trial into a racial context, in spite of the mountain of evidence that it does not exist here.


JONES: These are the president's most significant remarks on race in years. And we expect to hear more and more reaction over the coming days as folks closely examine the president's speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thank you.

That's it for me. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.