Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday reflected on the frustration he had felt in office when his “institutional role” limited his ability to comment on federal investigations into the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

“I went as far as I could just commenting on cases like Trayvon Martin or what was happening in Ferguson because as we discovered, not every president follows this, at least my successor didn’t. But I followed the basic notion that the Justice Department was independent, I could not steer them,” Obama said during a virtual gathering with the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Leadership Forum.
As President, Obama continued, “I did not in any way want to endanger their capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators, which meant that I could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence in terms of what happened. So you had institutional constraints.”
The shooting deaths of Martin and Brown during Obama’s time in office each propelled national conversations about race and society. Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida. Two years later, Brown, an unarmed Black man, was killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police Officer Darren Wilson.