Lawmaker dons "hoodie" in appeal over Florida killing

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 28, 2012 4:53 PM
Lawmaker dons "hoodie" in appeal over Florida killing

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A national debate over the killing of a black teenager in Florida spilled into the House of Representatives on Wednesday when a Democratic lawmaker put on a "hoodie" - clothing that has become emblematic of those protesting police handling of the case.

Representative Bobby Rush, a prominent civil rights activist during the 1960s, shed his suit coat during a floor speech to reveal a gray hooded sweatshirt, known as a hoodie.

Rush then placed the hood on his head, a violation of House rules. But Rush wanted to make a point: that hoodies are unfairly seen by some as the clothing of troubled youths.

"Racial profiling has to stop, Mr. Speaker. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum," said Rush.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot dead on February 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claims he was acting in self-defense in shooting the unarmed youth in Sanford, a city near Orlando.

At the time of the killing, Martin was wearing a hoodie, worn by many protesters demanding Zimmerman's arrest. "A Million Hoodies March" was staged in New York last week in support of Martin's family.

Representative Gregg Harper, a Republican who was in the Speaker's chair presiding over the chamber, tried to stop Rush's speech by banging his gavel and telling the congressman to stop speaking.

But Rush kept talking and quoted biblical passages from the New Testament, as Harper's warnings nearly drowned him out.

A House security agent approached Rush just as the Democrat was ending his brief speech.

Long before Rush was elected to Congress, the 20-year House veteran participated in civil disobedience actions in the South, when black Americans were fighting for racial equality. He became active in the Black Panther Party, a leftist militant organization that fought police brutality of blacks. Its members sometimes clashed violently with police.

On Tuesday, a group of House Democrats strongly criticized police handling of the Martin case and pressed for Zimmerman's immediate arrest.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)