SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers donned hoodies Thursday in the Capitol to express outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black teen shot to death by a self-styled neighborhood watch leader in a case that has generated an impassioned national debate about race and justice.
The lawmakers, led by the legislative Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses, adjourned in memory of Martin as pressure grew around the country for Florida authorities to file charges against the alleged killer, George Zimmerman.
"Why, in America, almost 150 years after slavery, is African-American life not valued at the same level as their white counterpart?" said Assemblyman Steve Bradford,D-Inglewood. "If the roles were reversed, I assure you, there would be an African-American in jail right now facing possibly the death penalty."
Hoodies have become a symbol of protest after Fox News host Geraldo Rivera urged parents of black and Latino youngsters to not let children wear hoodies in the wake of Martin's killing. "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was," he said, drawing outrage across the country.
Highly charged accusations have criss-crossed the country over what happened, with Zimmerman's defenders saying he shot Martin in self defense, claiming that Martin broke his nose in a fight. But videotape of Zimmerman being brought to the police station shows little
Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles said Florida's justice system has "turned a blind eye" to the killing, which reminded him of a shocking racial killing of the 1950s.
"I grew up in the aftermath of Emmet Till's murder in 1955, when parents would warn us how to act around white people so we would not become another Emmett Till," Wright said. "Trayvon Martin has become the 21st Century's Emmett Till."
Till was a 14-year old black boy murdered in a sensational racial killing in Mississippi after he reportedly flirted with a white woman. The case led to national scrutiny of racial injustices in the South, just as Martin's death has led to a national furor.
In a rare display of bipartisanship, Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said the case "should be of great concern to all Californians. I hope we see this as an opportunity to come together, to find the truth, to allow justice to be served."
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said that wearing a hoodie was an "effort to try to stand in the shoes of young black males who we know are often targeted for harassment, discrimination and are immediately suspect by virtue of the color of their skin and what they wear."
A trial for Martin's killing must be held, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said.
"At the very least, there should be some proceeding where the facts can come out," Lieu said. "I don't see how they can look at this case and simply decide that the person acted in self-defense ... unless, frankly, they were racist."
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said she was saddened that she had to sit down with her 12-year old son to describe what the racial epithet "coon," meant. Zimmerman, at one point in his conversation with the 9-11 dispatcher, called Martin a word that many believe is "coon." The word could be the basis of a hate crime, an option being explored by the U.S. Department of Justice.