Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill called the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin a "murder" and the result of racial profiling, as they hosted the black teen's parents at a high-profile briefing Tuesday.
"I tell my son, you have to be careful (wearing) a hoodie," Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat who is black, said. "Trayvon was murdered for walking while black in a gated community."
Martin's parents also spoke at the House Judiciary Committee briefing on hate crimes and racial profiling. Organized by House Democrats, the briefing brought the heated national debate over Martin's death and the handling of the shooter to the halls of Congress for the first time.
The hearing was scheduled as new details emerged about the incident. A friend of the shooter has come forward to defend him, and one version of events has claimed Martin struck the shooter before being killed.
Sybrina Fulton, mother of the late teen, and father Tracy Martin arrived shortly after the briefing began at 3 p.m. and received a small applause.
"I'd like to say thank you for the support," Fulton said. "Trayvon was our son. Trayvon was your son."
Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, also called for a moment of silence for Martin, 17, who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer Feb.. 26 in suburban Orlando, Fla. The case remains under investigation, and no charges have yet been filed against the gunman, George Zimmerman, who has claimed self defense.
Family members and others have demanded Zimmerman's arrest, saying the teen was the victim of racial profiling. Zimmerman is Hispanic, with white ancestry.
The briefing was organized by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and other Democrats. Among those on the witness list were Robert “Bobby” Parker, retired director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and Albert E. Dodson Jr., chairman of 100 Black Men of American.
“Travon was murdered,” Rep. Fredericka Wilson, D-Fla., said at the briefing. “Racial profiling and lax gun laws all contributed to this tragedy.”
Wilson, who represents the Miami area in which Martin went to school, said after the briefing, “Trayvon was hunted down like a rabid dog, shot down in the street.
Civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton say Zimmerman targeted the unarmed Martin. The debate has turned to questions about whether Zimmerman should be arrested despite possible -- though controversial -- protections under the state’s so-called Stand Your Ground law that allows residents to defend themselves against force.
However, gun-rights advocates and even Zimmerman lawyer Craig Sonner have said the law does not apply to the case.
Protests in Miami, New York and other major U.S. cities helped fuel the national debate. Federal Justice Department officials are investigating, and President Obama entered the dispute last Friday when he called the killing a tragedy and said, “If I had a son, he would look just like Trayvon."
GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich also expressed their sympathy, though Gingrich criticized the president's comments. Other details have emerged over the past 48 hours, including news reports citing police sources with evidence that the shooting began with a few words exchanged, before Martin knocked down Zimmerman with a punch and allegedly pounded his head on the sidewalk.
A friend of Zimmerman defended him Monday, telling Fox News that Zimmerman is the victim. In addition, news reports have said Martin was in Orlando because he was suspended from his Miami-area school for having in his possession a baggie with marijuana residue.
On Monday, the family also said Martin had earlier been suspended for tardiness and truancy.
Sharpton, family attorney Benjamin Crump and others have said the reports are an attempt to demonize Martin and have no relevance to the shooting.