Why Obama decided to speak after the Zimmerman verdict

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President Barack Obama, who has said little publicly about the George Zimmerman trial, opted to issue a statement after the verdict to both offer support for Trayvon Martin’s family and discourage any kind of dangerous reaction to the decision, according to a senior administration official who spoke with him after the ruling.

“He had heard how devastated they were last night by the verdict,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to Martin’s family. “Both he and the first lady as parents are anguished by what Travyon’s parents have been through.”

The president, according to the aide, also felt it was critical “his statement be put out quickly to set the right tone,” after the ruling. Obama’s 166-word written statement, which he dictated to his speechwriters after consulting with senior advisers, emphasized that Americans should respect the decision of the Florida jury that acquitted Zimmerman.

“It was important for him to speak quickly,” the official said. “We saw some trouble in California and other places. He thought it was really important as the president to speak about remaining calm as a way to respect the Martin family.”

Asked if the president would address the Martin killing through policy, the official emphasized, “we have not given up on gun legislation.” But the official declined to say if Obama considered this a “teachable moment” on race relations in America, or if he would give a speech on broader issues, including race, in the aftermath of the verdict.

“We didn’t have that conversation about teachable moments,” the official said. “When I spoke with him, he really was just hurting for the parents.”

White House officials had been closely monitoring the case, and the president was awake on Saturday evening when the ruling was announced.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr