WASHINGTON – The father of slain teenager Trayvon Martin told lawmakers Wednesday he is determined to make sure that the trial following Trayvon’s death does not tarnish his son’s memory.
“To have his name, slandered and demonized, I think, as a father, it’s really important that my message to the world is that we won’t let this verdict sum up who Trayvon was,” Tracy Martin said. “I’m going to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for him. Not only to fight for Trayvon, but for many other black and brown boys in this country.”
Emotions ran high at the inaugural meeting of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, as participants discussed the issues disproportionately affecting males in that community.
Tracy Martin was the panel’s guest of honor.
“Just to have the life of your son taken away from you, when you’ve molded him to become an outstanding citizen of this country – it’s heart-wrenching. That’s something that you can never get over,” Martin said.
Martin stated that the Trayvon Martin Foundation would fight “against senseless crime and senseless violence” and would seek to educate communities about Florida’s gun laws.
“We’re going to have mentoring programs. We want to try to educate our communities on the Florida statutes, on the Florida laws…that really we need to understand how these laws apply to ourselves,” he said. “We want the members of Congress to hear we are the voice for Trayvon. Trayvon is not here. There’s nothing that we can do to bring Trayvon back, but if there’s something that we can do as a foundation to help other families from going through this, then we’re here.”
The meeting primarily focused on how to prevent another tragedy like the killing of Trayvon, the unarmed teenager shot during a confrontation with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Nearly two weeks ago, the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, sparking protests across the country. The verdict also prompted President Obama to deliver remarks last week about his personal history with racial bias.
Martin praised Obama’s comments last Friday in which he identified himself with the struggles of the Florida teenager.
“I think the point that President Obama made…that this could’ve been him was so important to the American people because obviously the most influential man in the whole planet is weighing in from an African-American’s perspective. Just to have the president of the United States comment on our situation really touched home,” Martin said.
Several lawmakers and panelists expressed their concern that many young black men in the U.S. had their lives defined for them before they even got started.
“The issues are spread across the spectrum of the life of black males and American men who have been stereotyped from their years as boys, as youth, and finally as men. We seek a society that doesn’t define black men and boys, but allows African-American males the opportunity to define themselves as individuals,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said.
Norton called for a re-examination of “stand your ground” laws, saying that the state statutes were “a clear and present danger to African-American men” and should be scrapped. “Stand your ground” laws allow people to use reasonable force in self-defense without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation.
Martin said he would like to see his son’s name attached to a statute or amendment that protects children from “stand your ground” laws.
Panelists also spoke of the need to improve access to early childhood education and job training for all young people, black males in particular.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) mentioned an after-school boys mentoring program she started in Miami-Dade County, where Trayvon had lived with his family.
“I am hoping today when we leave this room we leave with the commitment that these boys are not to be feared, they are to be loved, they are to be lifted up and made to feel proud,” Wilson said. “Trayvon’s murder has brought this to the forefront. Trayvon Martin will go down in history as the martyr who brought to the forefront the causes, the struggles, the suffering, of African-American boys.”
Norton and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), the caucus co-chairs, said they hope the hearing highlights the issues that influence conditions of African-American males and keeps the matter at the center of national attention.
“The loss of 17-year-old Trayvon has focused attention on black males as nothing else has in decades. Overlaying the disappointment of African-Americans in the verdict in the Zimmerman trial are many issues that Trayvon’s death brings into sharp focus,” Norton said. “With the loss of Trayvon, attention is understandably focused on a civil-rights or a hate-crime course of action by the Justice Department. Whatever the department decides, we hope that today’s event focuses on a lasting legacy for Trayvon Martin.”
The panel also heard from prominent African-American men who examined the passage of black men from childhood to manhood.
Eric Michael Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University, said that young black teens have inherited a “culture of stereotyping” in which their “humanity and intelligence” have been questioned.
“There is a cultural backdrop. All black people live under suspicion,” said Dyson. “White kids are doing drugs the same as black kids, but they are not put in jail because they are not profiled.”
Other witnesses speaking at the event included David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP president.