WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the jury verdict that cleared the killer of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin “questionable” and he urged President Barack Obama to speak more on issues of race.
Speaking during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Trayvon Martin verdict soon would be forgotten but said Obama – and all presidents – have a responsibility to discuss the nation’s history of racial injustice.
Powell spoke as marchers observed the 50th anniversary of the “March for Jobs and Freedom” in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“If Dr. King was here, I’m quite sure he would say, ‘Congratulations on all the progress that’s been made but let’s keep going. The dream is not fully achieved yet,’” said Powell, who is also the first African American to serve the nation as secretary of state.
Asked about Trayvon’s killing, Powell questioned its impact on the civil rights discourse. A Florida jury found George Zimmerman acted in self-defense and acquitted him during a murder trial.
“I think that it will be seen as a questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system down there but I don’t know if it will have staying power,” Powell said. “These cases come along and they blaze across the midnight sky and then, after a period of time, they’re forgotten.”
That doesn’t mean Obama should keep silent, though, Powell said.
“I’d like to see him be more passionate about race questions,” Powell said of Obama, whom he endorsed during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“For the president to speak out on it is appropriate. I think all leaders, black and white, should speak out on this issue,” the Republican added.
Powell said he didn’t fully grasp the civil rights upheaval happening during the early 1960s until he returned from Vietnam. His wife, Alma, didn’t share the developments with him from their home in Birmingham, Ala., and his service blocked him from engaging in the political upheaval.
He said the civil rights era helped blacks but more needs to be done.
“A lot has been accomplished and we should be so proud of our accomplishments but, at the same time, that mirror should show us that there are still problems in this country, that there is still racial bias that still exists in certain parts of our country,” Powell said.