The parents of an unarmed black Florida teenager who was fatally shot a month ago appeared on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before a crowded congressional forum on racial profiling and hate crimes. They thanked all those across the country who have sided with them as they fight for justice for their son.
The death of the teenager, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has spurred a national debate over race relations. He was shot by a neighborhood watch, a white Hispanic man, who has said to have acted in self-defense.
Sybrina Fulton stands with Sharpton at a rally for her son Trayvon Martin on March 22. (AP photo)
"I'd like to say thank you for your support. As I said before, Trayvon was our son, but Trayvon was your son," said Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, as cameras clicked noisily in front her and her son's father Tracy Martin.
The teenager's parents spoke briefly during the forum organized by the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. More than 20 lawmakers, including Houston Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, and witnesses at Tuesday's hearing heavily criticized the police investigation of the shooting.
The admitted shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, has not been charged or arrested.
"We are not trying the case here. It will be up to the Department of Justice to decide whether this was a hate crime. But we have a legislature that must work to end the killings of young boys of all backgrounds in America," said Jackson Lee, who along with other lawmakers expressed the need for a bill that would addressed racial profiling exercised by law enforcement authorities.
Some legislators have called on the Department of Justice to conduct a hate crimes investigation. Yet, the department has told Martin's parents that bringing charges for such investigation could be challenging.
Dozens of students from five high schools from Orlando packed the hallway leading to the hearing's room. Inside, people lined the walls as all seats were taken.
Martin's father thanked "everyone who is holding the legacy of Trayvon" during the forum.
Zimmerman shot Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., a small city north of Orlando. Authorities have said Martin was on his way home after buying candy and an iced drink at a convenience story, when Zimmerman spotted him and deemed him suspicious. Martin was wearing a sweatshirt with the hood draped over his head.
Authorities have said the two got into a scuffle. Zimmerman had a wounded nose, and Martin was shot in the chest. Authorities have argued that under state law they cannot arrest Zimmerman without probable cause.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they believe to be in danger of being injured or killed.
At the Tuesday's forum, lawmakers and witnesses condemned the Florida's law.
"I want justice to prevail," Green said. "I'm convinced that there should have been an arrest. There is a probably cause. A hoodie doesn't make you a criminal."