House Dem calls for Judiciary Committee hearings on Trayvon Martin case

A prominent House Democrat is calling this week for Congress to investigate the death of Trayvon Martin, days after a Florida jury acquitted shooter George Zimmerman on manslaughter and murder charges.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said last year's shooting death of the unarmed teenager and Saturday’s verdict "undermines the rule of law, erodes community trust in law enforcement, and exemplifies just how dangerous the combination of rampant fear and easily available guns can be."

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In a July 15 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the Illinois Democrat urged the panel to hold hearings on both the Martin case and gun violence in general "as soon as possible."

"When any child is gunned down and no one goes to jail, it is incumbent on lawmakers at the highest level of government to investigate whether justice has been done, whether the underlying law is just, and whether federal legislation could help avoid another tragic death like the death of Trayvon Martin," wrote Gutiérrez, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. "Even as crime has gone down across the nation, fear of crime, fear of violence, and fear of fellow Americans seems to be ever increasing."

Gutiérrez criticized Goodlatte and other Republicans on the Judiciary panel for failing to examine any gun violence issues this year, and he took a separate shot at GOP leaders for recently championing legislation that would empower local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws. That move, Gutiérrez warned, will only exacerbate the distrust between law enforcement and the minority populations they're charged to serve.

"We need an open discussion about how to establish and grow cooperation between the local police and all sectors of the societies they protect," he wrote.

His letter comes two days after the acquittal of Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin in February 2012 after confronting him in a gated Florida community where the teenager was visiting his father. 

Zimmerman argued that he acted in self-defense as Martin was slamming his head into the concrete sidewalk. Critics counter that Zimmerman initiated the confrontation by following Martin through the dark with a loaded handgun. 

Civil rights groups questioned how he could be allowed to stalk and kill an unarmed teenager with impunity, raising the issue of racial bias.

A jury on Saturday sided with Zimmerman, leading to nationwide protests, bringing new calls for tougher gun laws and renewing the age-old debate about whether the nation's criminal justice system is colorblind.

Gutiérrez, for one, thinks Congress should have a role in addressing those tough issues.

"I respectfully ask," he wrote to Goodlatte, "that you lead us in examining the panoply of questions left unanswered as George Zimmerman goes free and the Trayvon Martin family mourns."

The Justice Department is also reviewing the evidence against Zimmerman and the state trial to determine if they should press federal civil rights charges against him.

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