Just days after George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder for shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Congress held its first hearing on racial profiling in America. Our Erin Billups has more.
UNITED STATES -- The shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin has thrust the issue of racial profiling into the national spotlight.
"The senseless death of this innocent young man has been a wakeup call to America," Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said.
Tuesday, the U.S. Senate held its first hearing on the issue in 11 years. Democrats like Congresswoman Fredrica Wilson, who represents Martin's neighborhood, hope with renewed attention on the issue, they can build momentum to pass legislation.
"The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow have lead to serious economic and criminal justice disparities and fuel prejudice against black boys and men. Trayvon Martin was a victim of this legacy," Wilson said.
While other lawmakers were more hesitant to label Trayvon's death an act of racial profiling, they are calling for the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, which would prohibit local and state law enforcement agencies from profiling based on race and religion or risk losing federal funds.
"I think it's time that we move forward in guaranteeing to every citizen of this country equal justice under the law," said Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin.
It's a bill opposed by law enforcement unions, who say it is too broad, limiting officers' ability to do their jobs.
"This bill provides the solution to a problem that does not exist unless one believes that the problem to be solved is that our nation's law enforcement officers are patently racist," said Captain Frank Gale, Fraternal Order of Police National Second Vice President.
Democrats say another solution would involve closing a loophole in the Department of Justice's racial profiling guidance.
Tuesday, 13 senators and 53 house members sent a letter to the Attorney General asking him to do just that.
"In essence these expectations are a license to profile American Muslims and Hispanic Americans," Durbin said.
The End Racial Profiling Act remains in committee in both the House and Senate.