President Obama on Friday called for Americans to do some "soul searching" and reflect on racial issues following the divisive not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman's murder trial.
Obama addressed the nation as protests continue following Saturday's controversial verdict in Sanford.
"When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said, 'This could have been my son,'" the president said in his first comments about the verdict.
"Another way of saying it is, Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,'' Obama said. "And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened to him, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this through a set of experiences and a history that that doesn't go away."
He said Trayvon's parents dealt with the not-guilty verdict with "great dignity," noting that the case demands "soul searching" from Americans on issues of race.
But he also add that "things are getting better."
Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, responded with a statement saying they were "deeply honored and moved" by the President's comments.
Obama's identification with their 17-year-old is a "beautiful tribute to our boy," the statement said.
"We know that the death of our son Trayvon, the trial and the not guilty verdict have been deeply painful and difficult for many people," the family said via the Trayvon Martin Foundation . "We know our family has become a conduit for people to talk about race in America and to try and talk about the difficult issues that we need to bring into the light in order to become a better people."
The family added they praised the President's remarks to encourage "open and difficult dialogue," in the wake of the verdict.
George Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, responded with a blog post that read, in part, "we hope that the President was not suggesting that this case fits a pattern of racial disparity because we strongly contend that it does not."
O'Mara also wrote, "We believe those who look at the facts of the case without prejudice will see that it is a clear case of self-defense, and we are certain that those who take a closer look at the kind of person George Zimmerman is – something we understand the Department of Justice is currently doing – we are confident they will find a young man with a diverse ethnic and racial background who is not a racist, a man who is, in fact, sensitive to the complex racial history of our country."
Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, fatally shot Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in February 2012, claiming self-defense.
Prosecutors and civil-rights leaders say Zimmerman profiled and killed the teen.
The president said disparity in how laws have been enforced in America have shaped how African-Americans have responded to the verdict.
He also commented on how the experiences of African Americans have shaped their responses.
"There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of walking on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often,'' he said.
The president proposed training for law enforcement and the justice system to reduce mistrust in the system and reduce bias.
He also called for a review of state and local laws "to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kind of confrontations we saw in the Florida case rather than diffuse them."
The president's comments come a day before a national protest is planned in roughly 100 cities, including Orlando.
Obama addressed the controversy amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into whether Zimmerman violated Trayvon's civil rights.
Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday by a six-member Seminole County Jury, a decision that has prompted demonstrations in Sanford, Orlando and major cities across the U.S., including violence in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Zimmerman told police he killed Trayvon in self-defense after the Miami Gardens high-school junior knocked him to the ground and broke his nose with one punch then climbed on top and began pounding his head against a sidewalk.
Jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter. During their 16 hours of deliberations, they had access to all of the 250-plus pieces of evidence, including Zimmerman's gun.
The Seminole County Clerk of Courts released the evidence earlier this week to the police department.
Before returning individual items to their owners, however, department officials talked to one or more FBI agents in Orlando, according to Sanford police spokesman Capt. Jim McAuliffe.
On Thursday, the police department finalized its plan.
"The evidence is just in a hold status, pending their DOJ investigation," McAuliffe said.
It is being stored in a secure area within the police department, he said.
The items include Zimmerman's gun, Trayvon's clothes, cell phone, the bag of Skittles and beverage found in his pockets — in short all the evidence collected by the agency as it investigated the Feb. 26, 2012, homicide.
Following the verdict, there were demands for a federal civil-rights investigation, but the DOJ began its probe more than a year ago, although it has said little about its findings.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told members gathered for the NAACP national convention in Orlando Tuesday that his agency would thoroughly investigate all available evidence that Zimmerman had violated Trayvon's civil rights.
Records released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey show that FBI agents last year interviewed three dozen friends and associates of Zimmerman, and each said Zimmerman did not use racial epithets or show signs of being a racist.
See a timeline of events in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case: http://thesent.nl/12PvlrL
Read more stories about the George Zimmerman trial: http://thesent.nl/GDZuxp
See photos of Trayvon Martin through the years: http://thesent.nl/15tHGR0
See photos of George Zimmerman: http://thesent.nl/15tHO2S
See evidence photos released in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin: http://thesent.nl/142opnuCopyright © 2015, CT Now