WASHINGTON (AP) — Trayvon Martin’s father told a crowded Capitol Hill forum on Wednesday that “a statute or amendment” safeguarding young people against the type of circumstances that resulted in his son’s death would be a fitting legacy for his son.
“The question is, what can we do as parents, what can we do as African-American men, to assure our kids that you don’t have to be afraid to walk outside your house?” Tracy Martin asked during a forum convened by the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, one of several such caucuses comprised of House members who want to seek possible legislative responses on various issues.
Martin said he is dedicated to ensuring that depictions during the trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon dead but was acquitted, do not define his 17-year-old son. Trayvon was his hero, Martin said, and “to not be there in his time of need is real troublesome, not to be able to save my son’s life.”
Martin’s comments opened what was billed as the first gathering of the caucus, which was formed to focus attention on issues disproportionately affecting black men and boys, such as joblessness and racial profiling.
“I would like to see Trayvon Martin’s name attached to a statute or amendment that says you can’t just profile our children, shoot them … and say you were defending yourself,” Tracy Martin told the lawmakers and the standing-room-only crowd.
“With everything that I have left in me, we will make sure his name will not be dragged through the mud,” Martin said.
The mostly black audience gave Martin a standing ovation as former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman who has six sons and four grandsons, praised Martin for the grace and dignity he has displayed in his grief. Martin remained seated and twirled a pen in his hands, appearing almost embarrassed by the adulation.
Mfume cited the cases of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old boy killed in Mississippi in 1955, and Rodney King, whose 1991 beating by Los Angeles police was captured on video, as examples of a sad, cyclical history that have had an impact on black men and boys.
“We cannot keep revisiting this. We cannot and we ought not,” Mfume said.
Martin’s appearance came a few days after President Barack Obama made remarks identifying himself with the plight of the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last year during a confrontation with Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Zimmerman, 29, said he fired the deadly shot at the unarmed boy in self-defense, and he was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The verdict sparked protests and calls for federal officials to charge Zimmerman with violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights. Federal officials are reviewing the case.
Discussion and solutions during the forum included ensuring that high-quality preschools are available to black children, changing minimum drug sentencing laws, and pursuing federal pre-emption of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which some have cited as justification for Zimmerman’s action.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressional delegate for Washington, D.C., called stand-your-ground laws “a clear and present danger” to all black males. After the hearing, she said lawmakers are concerned that Martin’s case would fade from prominence over time, and “we will go on to the next kid” to be hurt or killed in a stand-your-ground situation.
“We owe it to the Martin family to try to get rid of that law,” she said.
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., co-chair of the new caucus, said the aim of the coalition is to highlight issues that impact and influence the conditions of black males. For example, he said, there are few male African-American teachers in elementary and primary school, so some black boys never see someone who looks like them involved in education and thus grow up perceiving education as something women do.
The unemployment rate for black men aged 20 and over was 13 percent in June compared to 6.2 percent for white men in that age bracket. The unemployment rate for black males and females 16 to 19 years old was 43.6 percent last month, compared to 20.4 percent for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Also speaking were David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, and Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson.
Later this week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus were to convene a summit in Chicago to consider solutions to the issue of urban gun violence.
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