New Capitol Hill group looks for ways to avoid the next Trayvon Martin

Kate Irby

Tracy Martin, the father of the late Trayvon Martin, appeared on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for the first time since George Zimmerman’s non-guilty verdict, advocating for a positive legacy of his son’s death.

“People tell you that no positive can come out of death, but I disagree wholeheartedly,” said Martin. “Because it is what we can do tomorrow as a nation, as a people, to stop someone else’s child from being killed. That’s certainly a positive.”

Martin was speaking at the first hearing of the Congressional Caucus of Black Men and Boys, a group started to discuss how society can fix issues that disproportionately affect African-American males, such as racial profiling, employment opportunities and the quality of education.

Speakers repeatedly brought up amending or repealing stand-your-ground laws.

“We believe there should be an amendment to the stand-your-ground law that simply says you cannot be the initial aggressor,” said Benjamin Crump, Tracy Martin’s attorney. “You cannot start the confrontation. You cannot pick the fight, and then shoot the person, put your hands in the air and say, ‘I was standing my ground.’”

Besides Martin and Crump, the discussion included Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, and Kweisi Mfume, a former president of the NAACP and former Maryland congressman.

David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, cited statistics denoting the importance of early education, including that children in third grade who are reading below their grade level are six times less likely to graduate high school. At age 5, Johns said, 56 percent of low-income black children are not prepared for kindergarten.

“Access to high-quality early education, for African American boys especially, can be the difference between a pathway that leads to the White House and one that leads to the jailhouse,” he said.

The committee room was packed both with men in suits and others in jeans and baseball caps, part of a demographic the group was specifically trying to address. Though timely because the hearing was held less than two weeks after Zimmerman was found not guilty in Trayvon Martin’s murder, the caucus was started back in March.

In a press conference last week to talk about the Zimmerman verdict, President Barack Obama called for the re-evaluation of laws on local levels to ensure they don’t disadvantage African-Americans, as well as for conversations like one Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

But Obama also expressed doubts that political conversations were the way to get results, saying they often ended up “stilted and politicized.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified attorney Benjamin Crump as the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family. He is the attorney for Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father.

By Kate Irby
McClatchy Washington Bureau