African-Americans from all walks of life have for the past few weeks been publically mourning and protesting the death of Trayvon Martin. It’s very likely, however, that members of other communities also have had their Trayvon moments, from recalling their own brush with racial profiling and other forms of discrimination to questioning whether they’ve ever been guilty of judging a person based on the color of his or her skin or the kind of clothing that person was wearing.
But after the tears have dried and, hopefully, justice has prevailed, where do we go from here? How does the nation prevent more tragedies like Trayvon’s?
That was one of the questions asked during the House Judiciary Committee briefing held this week to examine the incident and racial profiling. One of the answers most frequently suggested centered on the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011, which would prohibit the use of racial profiling by law enforcement officials and prohibit them from using race as a factor in criminal investigations.
“We also need continued congressional focus on the negative rise in societal stereotypes around Blacks and other minority groups and their intersection with the increase in armed, malicious hate groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center report highlighted last week,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
George Zimmerman may have forever altered the image of community watch groups made up of motley crews of well-meaning neighbors whose only goal is to keep an eye out. His overzealous vigilantism has elicited a call for much greater oversight of such organizations.
Arnwine also urged cities and counties to create independent civilian review boards to investigate and prevent the sort of police misconduct the Sanford Police Department is being accused of.
Daniel Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, cited gun laws in states like Florida that make it too easy for anyone to own a firearm, even with sketchy backgrounds like Zimmerman’s. An incredulous Gross said that in Florida gun licenses are issued not by law enforcement officials, but by the state’s agriculture department, “the same agency charged with issuing permits to pick tomatoes or transport livestock,” and anyone can get one without leaving home.
Gross and Arnwine both called for the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, “where all of a sudden instead of just protecting their home turf from an invasion, people are using these laws as a license to kill.”
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(Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)