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.
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"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.