WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Friday said he identifies with Trayvon Martin, saying, he "could've been me 35 years ago."
Speaking with reporters at the White House, Obama urged the nation to search its conscience on racial issues and come up with plans to help young black men who need it.
Obama's remarks followed calls from the black community for demonstrations against the verdict rendered in Sanford, Fla., finding neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the February 2012 death of Martin, 17, who was unarmed and shot to death in an altercation with Zimmerman as Martin walked to his father's home in a gated community where a number of break-ins had been reported.
Zimmerman, who pleaded self-defense, had followed Martin and confronted him even though a police dispatcher had told him to remain in his car.
"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me," Obama said in illustrating the black community looks at this incident differently than other sectors of society.
"So folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there's no context for it, or -- and that context is being denied. And -- and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different."
Obama said there's also the question: "If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"
"[But] once a jury's spoken, that's how our system works," Obama said, urging the nation to accept the verdict.
Obama said stand-your-ground laws should be reviewed to determine "if they are designed to encourage ... altercations" rather than to diffuse them.
Obama said he identifies with Martin.
"Trayvon Martin could've been me 35 years ago," Obama said in calling for a "nuanced discussion" of racial issues.
Obama said racial attitudes in the United States have improved over the years but "we have to be vigilant and work on these issues."
"As difficult and challenging as this episode has been, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better," Obama said.
Obama said the case should serve as the impetus to improve life for black youth.
"There are a lot of kids out there who need help," Obama said.