Obama: 'Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me'

PHOTO: President Obama shares his personal thoughts on the role of race in the events surrounding Trayvon Martins death during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.Playscreenshot/ABC News
WATCH Obama: 'Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me'

President Obama on Friday said he didn't want to have yet another national "conversation on race" in the wake of Trayvon Martin's shooting. But he did share his deeply personal thoughts on the role of race in the events surrounding Martin's death during a surprise afternoon appearance in the White House briefing room.

Obama avoided discussing the particulars of the Florida court case that found George Zimmerman not guilty last week in the shooting of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American.

But the president had a message for the millions of people, especially African-Americans, who found the verdict to be unjust: I get it.

"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," the president said.

Obama said that racial profiling of young black men had much to do with the shooting, and he even suggested that the final outcome would have been different if Martin's and Zimmerman's race were reversed.

"I think the African-American community is not naive in understanding that statistically, someone like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than somebody else," he said. "So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys. But they get frustrated; I think that they feel that there is no context for it, and that context is being denied.

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

While Obama didn't call the verdict into question, he said that law enforcement should consider changes to make sure an incident like this doesn't happen again.

He called on the Justice Department to work with local law enforcement agencies to improve trust with the black community. And he challenged states like Florida, where the shooting took place, to re-examine their "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws, questioning if they can be evenly applied on racial grounds.

"If Trayvon Martin was of age and was armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?" asked Obama. "If the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we should examine those laws."

If the Trayvon Martin incident teaches us anything, Obama said, it's that we don't live in a post-racial society, and racial prejudice still exists. (For further proof of that, just check out Twitter. Some people have asserted that Obama's speech started a "race war.")

But he said that race relations are "getting better" with every generation.

"We're becoming a more perfect union," Obama said. "Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union."