Sen. Dick Durbin Sets Racial Profiling Hearing

Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:20pm

As the nation focuses on the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced today that he will hold a hearing on racial profiling in America.

A Durbin spokesman said that the hearing “has been in the works for a number of weeks prior to” Martin’s death, but he expects the case to be discussed during the hearing, which is scheduled for April 17. Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

“I think it is certainly expected that it will come up,” the spokesman said, adding that the Martin case is not the focus of the hearing, nor does it come in response to the incident.

The case was not mentioned in a hearing advisory.

The racial profiling hearing is the first since before 9/11, Durbin’s office said. It will focus on “state immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona that subject Hispanic Americans to heightened scrutiny, discriminatory law enforcement against African Americans and anti-terrorism efforts that target American Muslims,” a release said.

“The hearing will also examine proposed solutions to racial profiling, including the End Racial Profiling Act, closing loopholes in the U.S. Department of Justice’s racial profiling guidance, and the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s enforcement of federal civil rights laws to prevent profiling by state and local law enforcement agencies,” according to the advisory.

Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who reportedly told a 911 operator that Martin was suspicious. Martin’s parents believe Zimmerman murdered their son because he was black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a gated community where his father’s girlfriend lived.

Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense, and, under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, prosecutors gave Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and released him.

The shooting and lack of an arrest has sparked protests across the country and a demand from the Congressional Black Caucus for a federal investigation, which is now under way. On Thursday, the CBC unveiled a resolution to honor Martin and also called for a repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.