House Judiciary Committee Democrats held a special briefing Tuesday afternoon on the Trayvon Martin case, acknowledging that a thorough investigation still needs to be conducted but focusing on concerns stemming from the controversy ranging from racial profiling to whether neighborhood watchmen should register and train with police.
Camera crews were staked out in the hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building at the door of the hearing room, and a buzz of camera clicks arose when Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, parents of the slain 17-year-old, were escorted into the hearing and sat in the witness row.
Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that the parents “honored” the committee Democrats by joining the hearing, and asked for attendees to bow their heads in a moment of silence for Trayvon. The parents were to remain in Washington to meet personally with various lawmakers on Wednesday.
“I, on behalf of every member of this congressional forum here and many others in Congress want to give you our heartfelt condolences,” Conyers said, telling the room that the purpose of the briefing was to “prevent similar killings from happening again.”
“I’d like to say thank you for the support,” Fulton said in her short remarks. “Trayvon was our son, but Trayvon is your son. A lot of people can relate to our situation.”
Trayvon’s father thanked Congress members for ensuring that his son “did not indeed die in vain.”
“He is sadly missed and we will continue to fight for justice,” Tracy Martin said.
The family’s counsel, Benjamin Crump, also gave brief remarks that echoed the concerns of many of the lawmakers. “We honestly believe Trayvon Martin is dead today because he was racially profiled,” he said.
The hearing room was packed to standing-room-only capacity, with many squeezing into any spot they could find. Students from Florida and from Howard University mixed in with reporters, supporters, and the Capitol Hill crowd.
Also in attendance was 70-year-old Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine.
Two Democratic lawmakers not on the Judiciary panel joined the briefing: Florida Reps. Corrine Brown, whose district includes the city of Sanford, and Frederica Wilson, in whose district Trayvon’s mother lives.
“He was a sweet young man who loved to baby-sit,” Wilson said. “I know his family and I’m standing with them.”
The congresswoman vowed to make speeches on the House floor every day “until the perpetrator is arrested.”
Wilson said Trayvon is a victim of a “botched police investigation” laced with “lies and murder.”
“Mr. Zimmerman should be arrested immediately for his own safety,” she said, referring to the 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who claims he shot Martin in self-defense.
Brown hailed the Department of Justice involvement in the case, saying she had just attended a community forum and met with the Sanford mayor.
“It is very important that we have independent eyes on the situation,” Brown said. “When you review the case, every aspect of it has been handled very poorly. And we need to make sure we have standards as we move forward.”
Members and witnesses throughout the briefing decried elements of the police department’s actions from not summoning a homicide investigator to the scene to not testing Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol.
Witnesses included the acting director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, representatives from the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence president Daniel Gross, the retired director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.