While displaying empathy with black Americans and holding that the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin conjured up “a hard history of racial injustice”, United States President Barack Obama on Friday maintained that the judicial verdict acquitting his shooter George Zimmerman was unlikely to be overturned.

Mr. Obama called on Americans to do some soul-searching over the incident, saying in a rare public reflection on race that the slain 17-year-old “could have been me 35 years ago”.

Mr. Obama’s personal comments, in a surprise appearance in the White House press room, marked his most extensive discussion of race as President.

Mr. Obama has written about his own struggles with racial identity but often shied away from the subject in office. “I think it’s important to recognise that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” Mr. Obama said.

A Florida jury last week acquitted Zimmerman of all charges in the February 2012 shooting of an unarmed Martin. Despite his comments on the case, Mr. Obama has said this was an issue “of state and local government,” and warned that the public should have “clear expectations” regarding the Justice Department filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

The President had thus far resisted civil rights leaders’ pleas that he lead a national conversation on race.

Nonetheless, keeping track of the national response to the verdict, he spoke informally in the White House briefing room. Even as the President urged the public to accept the verdict “once the jury’s spoken,” saying “that’s how our system works”, he gave voice to the feelings of the many angered by the jury’s decision.

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