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How much has Obama influenced public debate on Trayvon Martin? (+video)

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Keith Bedford/Reuters

(Read caption) Protesters rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, July 14. President Obama called for calm on Sunday after the acquittal of Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, as thousands of civil rights demonstrators turned out at rallies to condemn racial profiling.

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As Americans digest the outcome of the Trayvon Martin murder case – a “not guilty” verdict for shooter George Zimmerman – some are also looking back to the role that President Obama’s early remarks played in shaping public sentiment about the event.

Mr. Obama, who for the most part has maintained painstaking caution on topics of race, waded early and with conviction into the national dialogue on the killing.

“When I think about this boy,” he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden after the crime was committed but before Mr. Zimmerman was charged, “I think about my own kids.” If he had a son, Obama said, he would look like Trayvon.

But now, in the wake of a jury decision that has generated rage in some corners and relief in others, the president has dialed back his language, urging calm reflection of how we can all do more to facilitate dialogue on these complicated issues – to “widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities,” as he said in a statement released Sunday.

“I know this case has elicited strong passions,” Obama said in his paragraph-long comment. “And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.” The only mention of something policy-oriented was his plea to “ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”

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