Rep. Bobby Rush, a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, donned a hooded sweatshirt on the House floor this morning, breaching decorum to make a blistering statement about the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
“Racial profiling has to stop,” the Illinois Democrat said, removing his blazer to reveal a gray sweatshirt, pulling up the hood, and donning sunglasses. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”
The hoodie has become an iconic symbol of protest in recent weeks after Martin, a 17-year-old who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, was shot Feb. 26 in Florida by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. Zimmerman reportedly told police he acted in self-defense.
Activists and state lawmakers around the country have donned hooded sweatshirts in solidarity with Martin’s family. On Friday, black and other minority staff groups did so on the East Steps of the Capitol. Rush is the first Congressman to do so on the House floor, however.
The presiding Speaker Pro Tempore cut off Rush — donning hoods is prohibited by House rules — but not before the lawmaker said the shooting was racially motivated and unleashed a tirade against those who wear “official” clothes.
“The death of Trayvon Martin is indeed an American tragedy. Too often this violent act, which resulted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, is repeated in the streets of our nation,” he said. “I applaud the young people all across the land who are making a statement about hoodies, about the real hoodlums in this nation, particularly those who wear official ... clothes.”
Rush is no stranger to the subject. A former Black Panther who represents an urban Chicago district, he has stated in interviews that in the 1960s, the police murdered Fred Hampton, a leader in the group.
Martin’s parents were on Capitol Hill Tuesday to attend a Democratic Judiciary Committee meeting.
A Democratic aide said that last week members of the CBC were encouraged to wear hoodies on the House floor, but decided against it. Rush’s move was a surprise to the group, the aide said.
The Martin killing has become an extremely racially polarizing event, and another lawmaker weighed in today.
The New Black Panther Party, a controversial black political organization, has offered for a $10,000 ransom for Zimmerman’s capture. Florida Rep. Allen West (R) released a statement saying that the bounty is “clearly hate crime.”
“I vehemently condemn the bounty poster emanating from the New Black Panther Party putting a $10,000 ransom up for the capture of George Zimmerman and call upon the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute their actions, clearly a hate crime,” West posted on his Facebook page. “To openly solicit for the death of an American citizen, with reward, is not in keeping with the laws of due process which governs this Constitutional Republic. However, this is to be expected when irrational voices dominate our public dialogue and are fueled by an ideological driven media. I am concerned that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is being hijacked by malcontents.”