Paul Greenberg

Our president just can't resist commenting on what all too many people seem unable to stop themselves from commenting on: the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial in Florida. You may have noticed the story in the news. The story in the news? There were so many of them -- an endless stream, a flood, nothing but. How could anyone have missed the deluge?

The president certainly didn't, and felt called on to talk about it, sometimes with excellent judgment. As when he said the jury had delivered its verdict and he wasn't going to second-guess it, the law is the law, and all that. Which is a good policy for the president of the United States. As chief executive, his decision not to comment on the outcome of this jury trial showed a decent respect for a co-equal branch of the federal government, the judiciary. And for the constitutional division of powers in this Republic.

Then again, the president has been second-guessing this case even before the verdict was in, if that's possible. He's certainly been commenting on it, and when a president of the United States comments on an ongoing case in the news, and even identifies himself personally with one side of it, it is idle to pretend that he has not taken sides, or that his opinion won't influence anybody. For or against.

First the president said that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son if he had had one. Now, with the verdict in, he says, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." Whatever such observations, ruminations and speculations may be, they could scarcely be described as impartial or, as good judges are supposed to be, disinterested. On the contrary, he has emphasized his own race in talking about a case that, inevitably, had to have racial overtones.

Naturally, he had to bring all those state Stand Your Ground laws into the conversation, too. A lot of us aren't crazy about them, either, and maybe they should or should not be changed, but one thing's for sure: They had nothing to do with the Zimmerman case. Both the president and his remarkable attorney general -- remarkably inept, that is -- can display a genius for irrelevance when it comes to legal matters. And neither seems to recognize that, like the rest of us, they may have their own prejudices. The beam in our own eye tends to escape our attention, no matter how obvious to others.

"It's important," said the president, "to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.