The Obama presidency saw many instances of civil unrest stemming from shootings of Black people, including by law enforcement. After a not-guilty verdict was delivered in 2013 for George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Martin in 2012, Obama got personal with reporters.
“This could have been my son,” he said in extensive and personal comments about the dangers young Black men in particular face. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
The administration took action through an executive order in 2014, when Obama established the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing after the fatal shooting of Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama said he was proud of how his administration reshaped the Justice Department’s approach to these problems, but added that he found it difficult to convert “passion and concern” into political action, not only at the federal level but also at the state and local levels, where many criminal justice and policing decisions are made.
“Because keep in mind, in 2012 I won. But I didn’t win congressmen, and we didn’t win a bunch of governorships back. We didn’t win a bunch of state legislators back,” Obama said. “And so, all the reform initiatives that we were coming up with, and the ideas that had been generated, we weren’t able to translate into as bold a set of initiatives as I would have wanted.”
Another member of Wednesday’s panel, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, N.J., talked about his city’s yearslong progress toward police reform. In 2020, it was reported that officers in Newark didn’t fire a single shot.”