President Obama’s comments about the George Zimmerman acquittal were dismissed July 21 as too little and too late by Black critics of the president.
Talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University African American Studies scholar Cornel West, two of the leading Black critics of Obama, said the president’s remarks to reporters in the White House briefing room July 18 sounded a flat note in the chorus of criticism of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for murdering the 17-year-old unarmed youth during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. in February 2012.
“His comments were as weak as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid,” Smiley said during a July 21 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He took too long to show up and express outrage.”
Smiley is the host of “The Tavis Smiley Show,” distributed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). His view was echoed by West who, in remarks broadcast by Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now” show, labeled Obama a “global George Zimmerman.” Neither could be reached for additional comment.
“Obama tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children in the name of self-defense,” West said during his appearance. Zimmerman claimed he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense during a scuffle.
Both Smiley and West, who have become the leading Black scolds of the nation’s first Black president, were reacting to Obama’s unscheduled appearance before the daily news briefing at the White House for apparently impromptu remarks that day.
“I appreciate and applaud the fact that the president did finally show up,” Smiley said “But this town has been spinning a story that’s not altogether true, he did not walk to the podium for an impromptu address to the nation, he was pushed to that podium.”
Obama told reporters that the teenager who was allegedly followed and confronted by Zimmerman “could have been me 35 years ago.” Obama also said, “when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said this could have been my son.”
In calling national reflection on the mind-set linked to Zimmerman’s announced suspicion that a Black youth, on foot and in a hoodie, in that neighborhood on a rainy evening was “up to no good,” Obama told the White House reporters “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 doesn't go away.”
That didn’t satisfy Smiley. “When Obama left the podium, he still had not answered the most important question, where do we go from here,” Smiley said. “On this issue, you cannot lead from behind.”