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After Trayvon Martin, Discussing Racial Profiling In D.C.

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Charlie Rawlings spoke about his son DeOnte, who was 14 when he was killed in an incident with two off-duty D.C. police officers.
Martin Di Caro
Charlie Rawlings spoke about his son DeOnte, who was 14 when he was killed in an incident with two off-duty D.C. police officers.

Racial profiling was the topic of discussion last night at a community meeting in Southeast D.C. It was prompted by the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, which sparked nationwide protests. About 100 people attended the panel discussion organized by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton's (D) Commission on Black Men and Boys. 

Whether it's by the police, a store clerk or even a teacher at school, black residents told Norton's commission they are treated differently. Ryan Washington, 17, says despite being a good kid and good student in high school, the first thing people see when he enters a store is the color of his skin. 

"I'm followed until I get to the cash register, and then when I open up my mouth they are put at ease because of the way I speak," Washington said.

Norton said the killing of Trayvon Martin should spur D.C. residents to eliminate what she calls the "branding" of African American men and boys on sight. 

"It's so widespread throughout our country that it will not be eliminated unless residents of all backgrounds and public officials and the public alike take steps on their own," she said.

Charlie Rawlings choked backed tears during the meeting as he remembered his son, 14-year-old DeOnte, who was gunned down in a shooting incident in 2007 involving two off-duty D.C. policemen.  The cops were not charged, and the Rawlings family received a settlement from the city.

"Because it is so painful he's not there … to hold him, to squeeze him,to see that big smile that he has on his face," Rawlings said. "And nobody is locked up, and they are still walking around."

Another speaker, Barry Hudson, has two teenage boys, and he had plenty of advice on how to keep them out of trouble. He's also the mentoring chairman for the group 100 Black Men of D.C. 

Parents should make sure their kids know the law, and know their rights, Hudson said.

"Sometimes they are getting harassed in situations where they shouldn't be," he said. "My sons and I were in Georgetown and I told them to go down the street before me. The guy in the store pretty much was harassing them because they were looking around for sneakers."

Norton plans to introduce a bill in Congress to reestablish a federal grant program for states to develop racial profiling laws, to collect and maintain data on traffic stops. 

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