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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, let me thank the gentleman from New York. It is really an honor and a privilege to stand here with him as one of the freshmen Members in the 113th Congress to discuss an issue that has plagued this Nation for centuries.

I am here tonight to talk to you about an issue that has interested me for most of my life, and it is the issue around people having respect for one another, irrespective of their racial makeup.

I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, which is a town, the largest city in the State of New Jersey, with many suburbs surrounding that metropolis, and our travels in and out of those communities were fraught at some times with peril for young men. So that was 40 years ago.

But fast-forward to the past 18 months, and what do we have? We have the same situation still before us. A young boy armed with a bag of candy and a drink is profiled and followed. The car follows him, and then the individual gets out of the car and follows the young man on foot.

Now, at 17, I wonder how I would have felt if a car had followed me, a grown man gets out of the car and continues to follow me. It is a situation that I have thought about over the past 18 months because of my triplet children. Two are boys who just turned 15, so they're right around Trayvon Martin's age. And I wonder: Have I taught them enough to be safe? Will they find themselves in this position?

And on hearing the outcome of the verdict that Saturday evening, one of my young sons texted his mother to say what had happened and why had that happened, because we taught them in this Nation that justice prevails. And how the victim becomes the guilty party in a situation like this I still cannot understand, because it became about who and what this young man was and what he had done and what he had been doing rather than the perpetrator following him.

I was fortunate to be in New York during the time of the 100 rallies across the Nation in finding justice for Trayvon Martin. I proudly stood with Trayvon Martin's mother on Saturday, a dignified woman.

In all of this crisis and sorrow there must be in her heart, she's remained a dignified individual and only asked for justice for her son; not that people should act out in a manner in which the masses thought that they would, but to have a peaceful demonstration about the injustices that came out of that case.

Stand your ground. Did Trayvon Martin have the right to stand his ground? He was the one that was being followed. He was the one being profiled. When did he lose the right to defend himself?

We are in a difficult time here in this country, but it seems like we always get to this point at some time and we start the conversation, but we never finish it. We need to have an open discussion about the conditions that we find ourselves in as Americans, all of us. We need to understand both sides of the issue, all sides of the issue so we can move forward with this great experiment called the United States of America.

It is the greatest Nation in the world, it is true, and many come here to live the American Dream. Many nations emulate the United States. But we have a long way to go in this Nation as well. The injustices that we're facing are widespread and threaten some of the most fundamental rights of this country.

So I ask my colleagues, let's have that discussion. I ask the citizens of the United States, let's have that discussion so we can form that more perfect Union.

I have had situations in my life where I've found myself not in the exact situation of Trayvon Martin, but issues of racism that were perpetrated on me. But I'm not bitter towards an entire population. Those were individuals. We have to come to grips with prejudging people in this country.

And I'd just like to end with something Dr. King said:

In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

And my father, the late Congressman Donald Payne, who was a great teacher, humanitarian, and felt all people deserved the right to freedom, justice, and equality, taught me a poem very early on in my life, and I will end with that. It said:

Whether you have blonde fleecy locks or black complexion,
It cannot forfeit nature's claim;
Skin may differ in black and white,
But it is all just the same.
Were I so tall as to reach the poles,
Or span the oceans with my hands;
I must be measured by my soul,
The mind is the standard of a man.


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