WASHINGTON -- Sybrina Fulton, the mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, made an impassioned plea before a congressional committee Tuesday to amend "stand your ground" self-defense laws.
Fulton testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the 2012 death of Martin, who was shot while walking home unarmed in Sanford, Fla. The jury's decision in July sparked nationwide outrage, as protesters took to the streets to decry racial profiling and demand a review of stand your ground laws.
"It's very hurtful to know that Trayvon was only simply going to the store to get snacks. Nothing more, nothing less," Fulton said. "It's important to keep that in mind, because teenagers like to be independent at times. And he was simply going to get a drink and some candy."
"That tells me right there his mentality," she added. "He wasn't going to get cigarettes or bullets or condoms or items of that nature. He was going to get candy. He was not looking for any type of trouble. He was not committing any type of crime."
It was Fulton's first appearance before members of Congress, who showed signs of taking up the application of stand your ground laws in the immediate aftermath of Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict. The laws, which exist in some form in about 30 states, allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense, rather than retreat, when they feel threatened with "great bodily harm.
Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, spoke a week after Zimmerman's acquittal at the inaugural meeting of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, where lawmakers pledged to renew the debate on race and racial profiling in the United States. President Barack Obama addressed the issue in what were widely regarded as unprecedented remarks about his personal history with racial bias.
But attention on Capitol Hill quickly shifted away from the renewed debate on race. Congress departed for August recess and upon their return, members were consumed by other pressing issues like possible military intervention in Syria and the government shutdown.
Fulton pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to make stand your ground laws a priority, and urged them to think of the message they are sending. Florida's stand your ground law "certainly did not work" in her case, she argued.
"The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today," she said. "We need to do something about this law when our kids cannot feel safe in our own community."
But the likelihood that Congress would intervene to revise the laws remains slim, as Republicans pushed back before Fulton spoke on the federal government's role in changing the law. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned the purpose of the hearing and accused lawmakers of using Martin's death to advance their own political agendas.
Both Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) argued that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority and jurisdiction to dictate how criminal laws should be shaped at the state level.
"The idea that states are less intelligent or less able to discern their citizens' needs is a mistake of federal proportions," Gohmert said.