LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — President Obama was praised Friday by Rep. Karen Bass for opening up a dialog on race and rare relations following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin murder trial.

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“President Obama made a statement in a way that only he could as the nation’s first African American president, symbolizing both how far our country has come and that there is still much more work to be done,” said Bass (D-LA)

In a surprise appearance in the White House press room, Obama said “I could have been Trayvon Martin … that could have been me 35 years ago.”

KCAL9’s Political Reporter Dave Bryan reported the president’s surprise appearance was greeted by oohs and aahs and it didn’t stop there.

The President talked about being racially profiled before he became a state senator in Illinois.

Experiences of being followed around by shop clerks in department stores and of eliciting fearful reactions from women in elevators, “inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida,” he said.

“A history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws” also “ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case,” Obama said.

Obama said black men are “disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” adding the black community knows the violence in “poor black neighborhoods around the country” comes from a “violent past” and “that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history,” which “adds to the frustration.”

Young black males “are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent. Using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain,” he said.

Bass said Obama’s remarks brought home the need to support programs that “bolster African American youth” and to address gun violence at the state and local levels.

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson issued a joint statement with other civil rights activists, hailing the speech as a “major public service” that takes on the “key issue” of racial profiling.

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“This is a giant step toward forcing the nation to come to grips with the issue of the racial targeting of young and not so young African American men on the streets and other public places,” the statement said.

At least eight gatherings to protest Zimmerman’s acquittal are planned for Southern California this weekend.

The National Action Network Los Angeles’ “Justice for Trayvon” vigil is scheduled on Saturday morning at the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse as part of what organizers said was a 100-city effort to demand a federal investigation into violations of Martin’s civil rights.

Bass said she would attend the National Action Network rally, a group associated with Rev. Al Sharpton.

Bryan also spoke to Rev. K.W. Tulloss, the National Action Network’s western director. He told Bryan he is working closely with the LAPD to make sure the rally remains peaceful and respectful.

He also said Obama’s statements Friday rang true to him and he praised the president for opening up the narrative on race.

“The whole purpose of this vigil,” Tulloss told Bryan, “is to continue to protect the legacy of Trayvon Martin by asking that our justice department continue their civil rights investigation [in the Zimmerman case.]”

The Department of Justice acknowledged last year that it has an open investigation into Martin’s death. On Monday, the department issued a statement saying that its Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and FBI “continue to evaluate evidence generated during the federal investigation as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial.”

Obama said today “it’s important for people to have some clear expectations” about the likelihood of federal charges begin filed against Zimmerman.

“Traditionally these are issues of state and local government… and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.”

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