The following is part of the testimony by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing titled “Ending Racial Profiling in America.” Last week, after 45 days, an arrest was finally made in the shooting death of my constituent Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon was a 17-year-old boy walking home from a store. He was unarmed and walking simply with Skittles and iced tea. He was profiled, followed, chased and murdered.
This case has captured international attention and will go down in history as a textbook example of racial profiling.
His murder affected me personally and it broke my heart again. I have buried so many young black boys; it is extremely traumatizing for me.
When my own son, who is now a school principal, learned to drive, I bought him a cell phone because I knew he would be profiled and he was. He is still fearful of law enforcement and what they might do.
I have three grandsons — a 1-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. I hope we can solve this issue before they receive a driver license.
I pray for them, even now.
There is a real tension between black boys and the police — not perceived, but real.
If you walk into any inner-city school in the African-American community and ask the students, “Have any of you ever been racially profiled?”, everyone will raise their hands. Boys and girls.
They’ve been followed as they shop in stores. They are unable to get cabs. They have been stopped by the police for no apparent reason.
And they know at a young age that they will be racially profiled.
I am a staunch child advocate; I don’t care what color the child. As a (former) school principal, school board member, state legislator and now in Congress, I simply care about the welfare of all children. They are my passion. But I have learned from my experiences that black boys, in particular, are at risk.
Years of economic and legal disenfranchisement, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, have led to serious social, economic and criminal justice disparities and fueled prejudice against black boys and men.
Trayvon Martin was a victim of this legacy, this legacy that has led to fear, this legacy that has led to the isolation of black males, this legacy that has led to racial profiling. Trayvon was murdered by someone who thought he looked suspicious.
I established the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys in the State of Florida when I was in the state Senate. I believe we need a council or commission like this at the national, federal level. Everyone should understand that our entire society is impacted.
A federal Commission on the Social Status of Black Boys and Men should be established specifically to focus on alleviating and correcting the underlying causes of higher rates of school expulsions and suspensions, homicides, incarceration, poverty, violence, drug abuse, as well as income, health and educational disparities among black males.
I have spent 20 years building a mentoring and dropout-prevention program for at-risk boys in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. It’s called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project. Boys are taught not only how to be productive members of society by emulating mentors who are role models in the community; they are also taught how to respond to racial profiling. It serves 8,000 young black boys and must be expanded. It is a sad reality that we have to teach boys these things just to survive in their own communities. But we do.
Black boys and men are valuable to society. They should not be profiled or shot dead for no reason. We need to have a national conversation about racial profiling now, not later.
The time is now to stand up and address these issues and fight injustice that exists throughout our nation.
Enough is enough.
Photo: Frederica Wilson