SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California lawmakers donned hoodies Thursday to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot to death last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
At a Capitol press conference, members of the Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses called on the federal government to intervene in the investigation while using the case to highlight the problem of racial profiling in America.
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer, told police that Martin looked suspicious because he was hearing a hoodie, and Zimmerman followed him for several minutes. He has admitted to shooting the teen but has not been charged, claiming that he acted in self-defense.
One by one, lawmakers spoke from a podium adorned with a hoodie, as well as a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles -- the items Martin was carrying when he was shot.
"Though I didn't personally know him, nor is he a constituent of mine, I know thousands of Trayvon Martins," said Democratic state Assemblyman Steven Bradford. "I know thousands of African-American and Latino young men and boys who are victimized every day in America simply because of the color of their skin."
Lawmakers were especially outraged at remarks by Fox News Channel commentator Geraldo Rivera that Martin's choice of clothing was as much responsible for his death as the neighborhood watch captain who shot him.
"How can a young man with nothing more than candy in his hand and a soft drink be gunned down and now be accused of causing his death simply by what he was wearing, the same hoodie that Bill Belichick wears every Sunday on the sidelines of an NFL football game," Bradford said. "Why isn't he menacing? Why isn't he threatening?"
The case has sparked national outrage and demonstrations. Police have said that Zimmerman, 28, is protected by a state law allowing someone who feels threatened to stand his or her ground and meet force with force. Critics have noted that Martin, 17, was walking back from a convenience store with only a cellphone, the Skittles and the iced tea.
As new footage from the night of the shooting emerged showing no obvious signs of injury to Zimmerman, California legislators called on authorities to arrest and prosecute the neighborhood watch volunteer.
"This should not be done in the press. This should be done in the court of law," said Democratic Assemblyman Warren Furitani. "Having this one month pass without charges being brought against this individual for shooting an unarmed young man ... You can talk about schoolyard fights about who started it, what happened. This person killed another person."
Earlier in the day, state Democratic state Sen. Curren Price presided over the state Senate in a hoodie. The chamber adjourned in memory of Martin, with a half dozen senators wearing the jackets as well and sharing personal stories of discrimination.
Democratic state Sen. Roderick Wright said Martin had become the "21st-century Emmett Till," a reference to the 14-year-old boy who was abducted, mutilated and slain in Mississippi in 1955 after he supposedly whistled at a white woman.
"God help us if in the United States wearing a hoodie warrants capital punishment," Wright said. "Wearing a hoodie is not a crime."
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services