Obama: 'If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon'
By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
Obama says soul-searching needed in Trayvon Martin death
For more on the investigation into the
Florida teen's shooting death, watch "Trayvon Martin Killing" at 7 ET
Saturday night on CNN.
Sanford, Florida (CNN) -- President Barack Obama
waded into the growing national controversy of the killing of an unarmed
black teenager in Florida, saying the nation should do some
"soul-searching to figure out how something like this happens."
"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
Obama said Trayvon Martin's death particularly resonated with him as an African-American parent.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said in brief remarks outside the White House.
As Obama was speaking,
demonstrators were preparing to march to the state capitol in
Tallahassee, Florida on Friday to protest the death of the17-year-old,
who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer while walking
home from a convenience store.
Did police fully investigate shooter?
Florida lawmaker on Martin case: It's racial
Who is George Zimmerman?
Friend: Zimmerman not racist
The death has sparked outrage nationwide.
Opinion: What every black mother fears
More than 1.3 million
people have signed an online petition urging authorities to file
criminal charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader
who has told police he shot Martin in self defense.
On Monday, people angered
over the shooting in Sanford, Florida, a city of 50,000 just north of
Orlando where the shooting took place, plan to march to the site of a
city commissioners' meeting, said Valerie Houston, pastor of Allen
Also on Monday, students
and civil-rights leaders in Atlanta, Georgia plan to march to the state
Capitol to protest a Georgia state law similar to Florida's "stand your
ground" statute, which doesn't require people to retreat from potential
danger in public places and instead allows them to meet "force with
force" if they believe there is danger of serious harm to themselves or
Shooting renews debate over 'stand your ground' laws
The Georgia march
organizers are asking participants to wear hoodies and bring Skittles
because Martin was wearing a hoodie and had just bought a bag of the
candy when he was killed.
Similar rallies are planned in the coming days in Greenville, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia, among other places.
Police chief steps aside 'temporarily'
Sanford Police Chief
Bill Lee announced Thursday he is stepping down "temporarily" as head of
the department, which has been criticized for its handling of the fatal
"I am aware that my role
as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the
investigation," he told reporters. "It is apparent that my involvement
in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to
the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position."
He added, "I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks."
LZ Granderson: Why black people don't trust police
The gesture did not
mollify Martin's parents. "I feel that we need an arrest," his mother,
Sybrina Fulton, told supporters at a rally in Sanford, referring to
George Zimmerman, the watch leader who has told police he shot Martin in
"The temporary step-down
of Bill Lee is nothing," Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, told the
rally. "We want an arrest, we want a conviction, and we want a sentence
for the murder of our son."
The Rev. Al Sharpton was
more strident: "We did not come here for a temporary leave of absence,"
he said. "We came for permanent justice -- arrest Zimmerman now!"
Did Martin shooter use slur?
Neighbor: Shooting wasn't in self-defense
Martin's cell records
Friend defends Zimmerman
The president of the
NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, said Lee failed to do his job. "The reality is
that this chief had probable cause to lock up a man who shot a boy in
cold blood -- because he shot a boy in cold blood -- and he failed to do
that," Jealous said.
Lee's decision came a day after the city commission voted 3-2 in favor of a nonbinding measure of no confidence.
City Manager Norton
Bonaparte said Thursday that he would like an independent review of
police action in the wake of the shooting.
Also Thursday, Gov. Rick
Scott announced that he was appointing Angela B. Corey of the 4th
Judicial Circuit as state attorney in the investigation, replacing
Norman Wolfinger, state attorney for Florida's 18th District, which
someone else be assigned, saying in a letter to Scott: "This request is
being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down
the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation."
Corey told CNN affiliate
WJXT: "I accepted his request immediately ... We will begin tomorrow to
look into the facts and circumstances into the shooting death of
Did shooter use a racial slur?
Lee's decision came as
Justice Department officials met Thursday with the parents of Martin,
who was unarmed when he was shot and killed in an Orlando suburb.
"During the course of
this meeting, we listened carefully to the concerns of the family and
their representatives," the Justice Department said in a statement.
"Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a
parallel investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin. That matter
remains open at this time."
General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez told reporters in a
conference call that the investigation is being carried out in
coordination with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of
"We're in the
fact-gathering stage and we're working collaboratively with the state's
attorney's office and the local authorities to figure out what
happened," he said. "We don't know what the facts are yet. We're
gathering the facts and as we gather the facts we will then determine
whether or not the facts support a prosecution under the civil rights
laws that we enforce."
The meeting was attended
by the special agent in charge for the FBI Tampa Division, Steven E.
Ibison; U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill; and Deputy Assistant Attorney
General for the U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division, Roy
The case has riveted the nation. Martin's family asserts that race was a factor in the black teenager's death.
Case sparks dialogue on racial inequality
Zimmerman has not been
arrested. A police report describes him as white; his family says he is
Hispanic and that he has wrongly been described as a racist.
The uproar over Martin's death has reverberated nationwide with demands for Zimmerman's arrest and scrutiny of police actions.
More than 1.3 million
people have signed a petition on Change.org urging prosecution for
Zimmerman. Thursday morning, the petition was getting 1,000 signatures
per minute, said Noland Chambliss, communications manager for
CNN has made numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman but has been unsuccessful.
Neighbors call watch leader caring, polite
A Seminole County grand jury will convene April 10 on the matter, State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said.
Sharpton was planned to
lead a rally Thursday night at a church in Sanford, a racially mixed
city of about 50,000 people just north of Orlando.
Opinion: Where's white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?
On Thursday night,
Sharpton called for action by authorities. "We want to see Zimmerman in
court with handcuffs behind his back charged with the death of this
young man Trayvan Martin," he told thousands of demonstrators who had
gathered in Sanford's Fort Mellon Park.
"We are here tonight to
fight for all our children," said NAACP's Jealous. "This isn't an issue
about black and white, this is an issue about right and wrong."
Zimmerman, who was
patrolling the neighborhood, saw Martin walking in his gated community.
He called 911 and reported what he described as a suspicious person.
Moments later, several neighbors called the emergency number to report a
The 911 tapes of neighbors' calls to emergency dispatchers picked up cries for help followed by the sound of a gunshot.
"The time that we heard
the whining and then the gunshot, we did not hear any wrestling, no
punching, no fighting, nothing to make it sound like there was a fight,"
said Mary Cutcher, one of the callers.
Another caller, Selma
Mora Lamilla, said she did not hear any altercation, but the teen cried
and "whimpered" before the shooting.
Martin's girlfriend was
on the phone with him during the incident and can help prove he was
killed "in cold blood," said Benjamin Crump, the Martin family's
The girl connects the dots and "completely blows Zimmerman's absurd self-defense claim out of the water," Crump said.
Shortly before he was
shot, the teen told his girlfriend that someone was following him and he
was trying to get away, according to the lawyer. The girl, who did not
want to be identified, said that during the call, she heard Martin ask
why the person was following him.
She got the impression
there was an altercation in which his cell phone earpiece fell out after
he was pushed, and the connection went dead, Crump said. She did not
hear gunfire, he said.
Zimmerman attended a
four-month law-enforcement program in 2008 at the sheriff's office, said
Kim Cannaday, spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.
In his application for
the course, Zimmerman wrote: "I hold law enforcement officers in the
highest regard and I hope to one day become one."
Zimmerman's father, Robert, told a Florida newspaper that the 28-year-old had moved from the area after receiving death threats.
He was a student at
Seminole State College, but the college said Thursday that it had "taken
the unusual but necessary step this week to withdraw" Zimmerman from
enrollment. It cited the high-profile nature of the controversy and said
the decision was based on concern for the safety of Zimmerman and the
students on campus.
Zimmerman's family has denied that race played a role, saying he has many minority relatives and friends.
"The portrayal of George
Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the
tragic shooting, are false and extremely misleading," his father wrote
in a letter published in the Orlando Sentinel. "Unfortunately, some
individuals and organizations have used this tragedy to further their
own causes and agendas."
"George is a
Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends,"
Robert Zimmerman wrote. "He would be the last to discriminate for any
Heated debate has erupted over whether Zimmerman used a racial slur during the 911 call, a recording of which was released this week.
"We didn't hear it. However, I am not sure what was said," Sgt. David Morgenstern of the Sanford Police Department said.
"I have listened to the tapes, and I have not heard them use a racial slur," concurred City Manager Bonaparte.
A top CNN audio engineer
enhanced the sound of the 911 call, and several members of CNN's
editorial staff repeatedly reviewed the tape but could reach no
consensus on whether Zimmerman used a racial slur.
Whether Zimmerman used such language before shooting Martin is key, according to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
extremely significant because the federal government is not allowed to
prosecute just your ordinary, everyday murder," he said. "Two people
fighting on the street is not a federal crime. However, if one person
shoots another based on racial hostility, racial animus, that does
become a federal crime."
Toobin said that if
"very shortly before" the shooting, "Zimmerman used this racial epithet
to refer to the person he openly shot, that very much puts it within the
FBI's and the Justice Department's ambit of a case that they could
Police say they have not charged Zimmerman because they have no evidence to contradict his story that he shot in self-defense.
Florida's deadly force
law, also called "stand your ground," allows people to meet "force with
force" if they believe there is danger of serious harm to themselves or
The shooting has renewed
a debate over a controversial state law and sparked calls for a review.
Florida's governor announced Thursday he will do just that.
"After listening to many
concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a Task Force on
Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy
such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time,
protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens -- especially
the right to feel protected and safe in our state," Scott said in a
The task force will be
led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. The Rev. R. B. Holmes, Jr., pastor of
the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, will serve as
In: Regional News
Tags: obama, treyvon, zimmerman, shooting, race, relation, racist, race card, black, crime, murder
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