By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The racially charged shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was the focus of a congressional hearing on Wednesday, where Martin’s father vowed to find a way his son’s death could lead to positive changes for other black American men.
“We won’t let this verdict sum up who Trayvon was,” Tracy Martin told a packed hearing of the new Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys.
“A lot of people say nothing positive can come out of death, but I disagree wholeheartedly, because what we can do tomorrow as a nation, as a people to stop someone else’s child from being killed is certainly a positive,” Martin said.
Unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012 by 29-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is white and Hispanic, in a case that sparked public debate about racial profiling and Stand Your Ground laws that permit the use of deadly force in self-defense.
Zimmerman’s acquittal on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter on July 13 prompted demonstrations across the United States and an extraordinary statement of concern by President Barack Obama.
Federal prosecutors say they are investigating whether Zimmerman violated civil rights laws. But legal experts have said they think new charges are unlikely.
The Martin family has also called for reform of Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law, which permits the use of deadly force rather than retreating, when a person has a reasonable fear of serious bodily injury.
“They need to make an amendment that says you can’t get out of your vehicle, pursue someone and become confrontational,” Tracy Martin told Reuters at a rally last weekend.
On Wednesday Martin praised Obama’s comments on the case, in which the president said he himself might have been like Trayvon Martin 35 years ago.
“The most influential man on the planet is weighing in from an African American perspective and just to have the president of the United States comment on our situation really touched me,” Martin said.
Martin was flanked by prominent African-American men who testified about their own experiences growing up, including David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellences for African Americans, Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and president of the NAACP.
“All black people live under suspicion,” Dyson told the hearing, eliciting nods around the chamber.
(Editing by David Adams and Ken Wills)