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Trayvon Martin case raises issue of racial profiling

Wednesday - 4/11/2012, 7:23am  ET

Charles Rawlings (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Charles Rawlings holds a photo of his son DeOnte Rawlings, who was 14 when he was shot and killed. (WTOP/Micehlle Basch)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The death of black teenager Trayvon Martin inspired a community meeting in D.C. Tuesday night.

"In Sanford, Fla., we have not had so much as an arrest, much less a trial, both of which are necessary in our country to provide an impartial law enforcement forum to get the facts out," says D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. "That is simply not too much to ask for Trayvon Martin and his family."

Norton spoke at a D.C. Armory forum involving the D.C. Commission on Black Men and Boys, a group she established more than a decade ago.

Norton says the main point of the meeting was "to focus on eliminating the branding of African-American men and boys on sight as criminals or in other negative ways."

Two teen boys were invited to speak about their experiences. One was Ryan Washington, a sophomore at Gonzaga High School.

"Just the other week I was at the Apple Store and going in I was followed by a security guard," Washington said. "It's sad that I'm racially profiled."

Also invited to speak was the father of 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings, who was killed in in a 2007 shooting involving two off-duty D.C. police officers.

Charles Rawlings says his heart goes out to Trayvon Martin's family.

"When you lose a child and you're alone, people don't know what you're going through by yourself," he said.

"I didn't want to come here today," Rawlings told the audience of more than 100 people. "You know why? Because it's so painful that he's not there anymore. To hold him, to squeeze him, to see that big smile that he had on his face."

Rawlings held his son's photo as he spoke and wiped away tears when he was finished.

"When Congress reconvenes on Monday, I will introduce a bill designed to help local jurisdictions develop local racial profiling laws and programs," Norton said.

In 2005, a similar program was included in a federal transportation bill, but the program expired in 2009.

Norton says the bill she will introduce next week will not require states to take part.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)