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President Obama: 'Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- President Barack Obama surprised the country on Friday, speaking out about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict.

It was his most extensive comments about race since taking office. The president talked about his own experience as a black man in America, CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported.

A president who is known for speaking out on issues of race confronted the controversial subject head-on, with surprising and very personal words.

"When Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could've been my son. Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin could've been me 35 years ago," the president said.

It was one week ago that a jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty in the murder of the 17-year-old in Sanford, Fla.

Since then, President Obama had avoided specifically commenting on the verdict. But on Friday, he made an unexpected appearance in the White House briefing room to reflect on the overarching issue of race in our society.

"The African-American community is looking at this through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away," Obama said.

They are experiences that the president said even he wasn't shielded from.

"There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me. Or at least before I was a senator," Obama said.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama waited a week to comment because he hadn't been asked in any interviews. He decided Friday was the day to talk.

"He told his senior staff yesterday afternoon that he had to say something about this, particularly in advance of any demonstrations and vigils planned for this weekend," said Bill Plante of CBS News.

The speech was strong on empathy, but short on policy. However, the president still urged that something be done.

"I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement on training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists," the president said.

Trayvon Martin's parents released the following response:

"President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies himself with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy."

The president also urged state lawmakers Friday to review and perhaps repeal those controversial "stand your ground" laws.

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