Congress should respond to the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin with a law that would make it a crime to racially profile minors and kill them in self-defense, the Florida youth’s father told lawmakers.
“What can we do as African-American men to instill in our kids that you don’t have to be afraid to walk outside of the house, go to the store and get a bag of Skittles and iced tea and not make it home,” Tracy Martin said yesterday in Washington.
Martin said he wants to see legislation, named after his son, passed within 50 years. It was acknowledgment that such a proposal has little chance in a Congress split between the Republican-controlled House and majority-Democratic Senate.
Martin, who received a standing ovation from a capacity crowd inside the hearing room, opened the first meeting of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys. The group of lawmakers was created in March by District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Illinois Representative Danny Davis, both Democrats, to address issues facing African-American males.
“The loss of 17-year-old Trayvon has focused attention on black males as nothing else has in decades,” Norton said.
Martin’s son, Trayvon, was unarmed when he was shot in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, who followed him and reported to police that the teenager was acting suspiciously. Martin was walking home from a convenience store.
Zimmerman, who was legally carrying a firearm, told police that when he got out of his truck he was confronted and punched by Martin, and shot him in self defense. The shooting sparked nationwide protests because it took 44 days for Zimmerman to be arrested. Martin’s parents, and others, said Zimmerman racially profiled the black teen.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge July 13.
The protests and trial focused attention on Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states that allow the use of deadly force instead of retreat in public places by people who fear for their life. In Florida, protesters have occupied Governor Rick Scott’s office for two weeks asking the Republican to call a special session to rewrite the law. Scott has refused.
In reaction to the case, President Barack Obama said last week that “Trayvon Martin could have been me” and that the nation needs to do some “soul searching” on race and violence.
Obama said the shooting death of Martin by Zimmerman provoked “a lot of pain” among blacks because it reminded many that they often are the targets of suspicion and are vulnerable to violence.
“The African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a -- and a history that -- that doesn’t go away,” the president said July 19 at the White House. “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.”
About 200 people filled the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office building where Tracy Martin spoke yesterday, with another 100 watchers in an overflow room. About two dozen people stood in the hallway outside the meeting room.
Martin said Obama’s statement was “so important” because it probably sparked conversations about the issue at dinner tables around the country.
“The most influential man on the planet is weighing in from an African American perspective,” Martin said. “It really touched home.”
Martin started the Trayvon Martin Foundation earlier this year with Sybrina Fulton, the youth’s mother, to highlight the effect of violent crimes on families of the victims.
“We want Congress to hear that we are the voice for Trayvon,” he said. “If there’s something we can do as a foundation to help other families going through this, we are here.”