WASHINGTON — As Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, entered a crowded congressional hearing room Tuesday, time stood nearly still.
A Justice Department witness speaking to a panel went silent, yielding to the camera clicks from dozens of photographers focused on the parents of the 17-year-old whose Feb. 26 death in Sanford has sparked a national conversation about injustice and how people see young black men in America.
Trayvon's parents spoke only briefly at the event, sponsored by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and billed as a briefing on racial profiling and hate crimes. But they thanked the panel for a forum, so that as Trayvon's father said, his son "did not die in vain."
"I'd like to say thank you," said his mother, Sybrina Fulton. "Thank you for the support. As I've said before and I'll say again, Trayvon is our son, but Trayvon is your son. A lot of people can relate to your situation, and it breaks their heart like it does ours. Thank you for everything."
"He's sadly missed, and we'll continue to fight for justice for him," the father said.
The forum was led by Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the House Judiciary Committee's ranking member. No Republicans participated. It didn't examine any particular legislation — but it did give nearly 20 members of Congress an opportunity to talk about the role of the federal government in addressing racial profiling and prosecuting hate crimes.
"Today is not to examine the specific facts of the case," Conyers said. "That will be left to the Department of Justice and the state investigation that is under way. Our job is to understand the legislative and legal concepts that exist to consider what can be done to prevent similar tragedies from happening again."
Trayvon was shot to death Feb. 26 while serving out a school suspension in the Central Florida city of Sanford, where his father's girlfriend lives. A neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, called the police to say he saw someone in a hoodie who looked high on drugs, and was suspicious because he walked too slowly in the rain.
The unarmed teenager carried Skittles and iced tea, and was talking to his girlfriend on the phone, records show. Zimmerman told police Trayvon jumped him, punched him in the face and slammed his head on the ground, according to an account published by the Orlando Sentinel.