The statement Friday by President Obama, during a carefully staged "surprise" appearance in the White House briefing room, was a calculated effort to exploit, for definite political ends, popular anger over last week's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer. Martin, a 17-year-old African American, was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February of 2012.
Obama sought to accomplish a number of related goals. His remarks were coordinated with nationwide protests over the verdict, with the aim of associating himself with the victim's family. At the same time, he attempted to shore up dwindling public faith in a criminal justice system that virtually guaranteed a not-guilty verdict. He vouched for the trial and verdict, while signaling there would be no further federal action on the case.
Above all, Obama sought to divert public attention away from any consideration of the underlying social and class issues -- rising poverty and social inequality, the systematic promotion of individual violence and right-wing vigilantism -- in favor of an exclusive focus on the racial aspects of the tragedy.
The commander in chief of the most powerful and aggressive military in the world began by dressing himself in the garb of the victim. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," he said.
He made repeated references to the "African American community" in the course of his 18-minute-long remarks. The presentation of America as an aggregate of "communities" based on ethnicity is fundamentally reactionary. Its main purpose is to cover over the deep class divisions that cut across all ethnic and racial lines in America.
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