Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior Member of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committee, released the following statement today in response to President Obama's heartfelt remarks regarding his personal reaction to the Trayvon Martin tragedy at an impromptu press conference at the White House:
"I thank President Obama for the leadership he provided to the nation today. His heartfelt remarks regarding his personal reaction to the Trayvon Martin tragedy will go a long way toward bridging the divide between those of us who were shocked, saddened and disappointed by the verdict returned by the jury and those who believe the jury reached the correct result. I hope every American gets the chance to witness the President's powerful and moving account of his own shared experience with the reality lived every day by millions of young African American and Hispanic males in our country:
"You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.
"There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
"And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
"And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain."
"As Americans, we are justifiably proud of the exceptional nature of our country. As President Obama has observed many times, in no other country is his story possible. But it should be a sobering thought to all Americans that but for a random and different twist of fate, he could have been Trayvon Martin.
"This is the reality of life for so many young African American and Hispanic males across America and in my congressional district. Consider that in Texas and Harris County the likelihood that a prosecutor will seek the death penalty is more than three times higher for African-American defendants than for Whites. Regarding traffic stops in Los Angeles, relative to Whites, African Americans were 127 percent more likely to be stopped and Hispanics were 43 percent more likely to be frisked. African Americans were 76 percent more likely to be searched and 29 percent more likely to be arrested. But compared to Whites, African Americans who were stopped and frisked were 42.3 percent less likely to be found with a weapon. In other words, they were less likely, much less likely, to pose a real danger to the law enforcement officer who stopped them.
"Earlier today, I convened a "listening session" meeting of the Congresssional Black Caucus Justice Reform Working Group, which I co-chair with Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, and officials of the U.S. Department of Justice, who listened intently to powerful statements and stories by members of the CBC regarding the persistence of racial profiling, the Trayvon Martin case, and other matters relating to the protection of the civil rights of Americans. Especially poignant were the remarks of Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who shed his blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and is a living example of the sacrifices made by so many in the struggle for justice and equality.
"The listening session was very productive and I was pleased with the assurances received that the concerns expressed by CBC members would be considered seriously by the Department of Justice. Members of the CBC, which is chaired by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio, also considered the need for legislative responses to racial profiling and "Stand Your Ground" laws, such as the "Justice Exists for All of Us Act," (H.R. 5947) which I introduced in the last Congress and will soon reintroduce in this session of Congress.
"Yesterday, we also celebrated the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela, a man who was unjustly imprisoned for 27 years but was never embittered because his actions were motivated by truth and justice. Upon his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela urged his supporters to intensify their struggle for freedom, saying "to relax our efforts now would be a bitter mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive." So also it is with us who seek justice for Trayvon Martin."