Former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death created a ‘new generation of civil rights leaders’ Jackson could be galvanizing force on Supreme Court, legal experts say Obama congratulates Jackson on Supreme Court nomination MORE said in an interview published Saturday that the death of Trayvon Martin — a Black teen who had just left a convenience store and was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012 — launched a “new generation of civil rights leaders.”
“One of the most important things, maybe, that came out of this tragedy was the activation of an entire new generation of civil rights leaders. It was grassroots. It was empowered by social media. It was participatory,” the former president said in an interview with The New York Times that was published in the opinion section.
Obama, whose interview was published on the 10-year anniversary of Martin’s death, said he believed Martin’s death ignited what would later become known as the Black Lives Matter movement.
“What it did was to surface what a lot of African Americans and other people of color, in some cases, have felt for a long time,” Obama told the Times.
“And that, I think was a galvanizing force in helping to create a broader based movement that we now know is Black Lives Matter,” he added.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin left a convenience store with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, saw him. He called the police regarding the Black teen, alleging he looked “up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”
Despite warnings from police not to follow him, Zimmerman followed the teen and later fatally shot him following a confrontation. The neighborhood watch volunteer claimed he had acted in self-defense, and he was acquitted of charges in 2013.
The former president remarked that very little separated himself from Martin, adding, “Maybe the only thing that separated us was luck.”
“Trayvon Martin looked like I did at the age of 15, 16, 17,” Obama said. “There were many times I’d get on the elevator, women would clutch their purse or I’d walk by a car and suddenly you’d hear the locks go down.”
The interview noted that Obama launched an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), which, according to the MBK Alliance website, addresses “persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure that all youth can reach their full potential.”
Obama said in the interview that he hoped the tragedy that happened 10 years ago Saturday would lead to something more constructive, while noting that it could never “fill the hole that Trayvon’s parents feel.”
“Hopefully, the legacy of this tragedy is not just outrage but something constructive, and you know that doesn’t fill the hole that Trayvon’s parents feel. But hopefully, it’s viewed by them as a testament to the fact that we care and that what happened was unacceptable, and that this country can do better,” Obama said.
“My hope is that we look back on what happened with Trayvon and are able to say that was the start of America looking inward, and in fits and starts coming to terms with what has always been our original sin,” he added.