Amid Trayvon Martin killing, Hill staffers gather to shine a brighter light on racial profiling


Angelle Kwemo, from left, Cedric Diakabana, Brandon Andrews and Michael McQuerry — all Capitol Hill workers — participate March 23 in a Hoodies on the Hill press conference/vigil for Trayvon Martin on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (Jahi Chikwendiu/THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 23, 2012

On a warm day more for short sleeves than sweatshirts, the hoodie- and suit-clad group might have been a bit uncomfortable. The heat, they said, was a small inconvenience when they think of what happened to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida teenager slain Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

More than 150 people gathered Friday for “Hoodies on the Hill,” a rally and prayer service outside the U.S. Capitol in honor of Martin. Associations of black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific Hill staffers, along with Greek fraternities, sponsored the event.

Ja’Ron Smith, president of the Black Republican Congressional Staff Association, said that many on the Hill represent communities with similar issues, he said.

“This gives us the opportunity to educate about race relations,” Smith said. “I think racial profiling is a real issue in our country, and it comes from ignorance.”

Smith said he, too, has been racially profiled and wanted to support and pray for Martin and his family.

“It’s unfortunate that somebody could die so young and not be able to experience some of the things that high school students experience, like prom and graduation,” Smith said.

Olubunmi Ijose, an intern for Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.), called for shooter George Zimmerman’s arrest and said people should have taken notice of the case long ago. The NAACP and African American leaders have a responsibility to stand for justice, she said.

“As a community, we have to bring attention or awareness to this situation so something can be done to make it a movement,” Ijose said. “We can’t let things like this go unnoticed.”

Aaron Jenkins of Operation Understanding DC said that Martin’s shooting can transcend the issue of race.

“The Trayvon Martin incident isn’t a black thing or a white thing or necessarily a Latino thing. It’s a human thing,” he said. “A life was taken based upon the bias and discrimination that one person had towards another without knowing them.”

Jenkins expressed the need to examine “Stand Your Ground” laws and to use the tragedy as an opportunity for conversation about the daily lives of teenagers. The case shows that the country has progressed in matters of racial prejudice, he said.

“I’m really glad to see the support the Martin family has received,” Jenkins said. “Any father, any mother — their fear would be to find out that their child has been killed. I think in that sense, the Trayvon Martin case is universal.”

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