By Carrie Dann, Political Reporter, NBC News
The mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin spoke out against New York City's "stop-and-frisk" practice Sunday after a federal judge called the tactic unconstitutional and unfair to African-Americans and Hispanics who are disproportionately targeted for scrutiny by law enforcement officers.
"You can't give people the authority -- whether it's civilians or police officers -- the right to just stop somebody because of the color of their skin," said Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon was killed in a February 2012 altercation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
In July, a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Zimmerman has said that he acted in self-defense after Martin assaulted him.
Benjamin Crump, Fulton's attorney, argued Sunday that Martin's death was the result of racial profiling similar to the system used for the "stop-and-frisk" practice.
"We know that Trayvon Martin was profiled for something that night, on February 26, 2012, and he had broken no law," Crump said, adding that any form of profiling is a "slippery slope" that can endanger innocent minorities.
Zimmerman's legal team has argued that Zimmerman did not target Martin based on race and that the neighborhood watch volunteer was made into a "scapegoat" as the case became the basis of national debate about race relations.
"I think that things would have been different if George Zimmerman was black for this reason," attorney Mark O'Mara said after the verdict. "He never would have been charged with a crime."
A spokesman for Zimmerman's legal team was not immediately available for comment.
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin cited Martin's death in her lengthy opinion this week calling the New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" tactic "a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data." Police officials dispute that the practice involves profiling, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told NBC's David Gregory that the stop-and-frisk practice saves lives and reduces violence that is committed disproportionately by minorities.
"We need some balance here," he said. "The stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities. And that unfortunately is in big cities throughout America. We have record low numbers of murders in New York City, record low numbers of shootings, we're doing something right to save lives."
Kelly added that the use of the police policy should not be equated to the Martin shooting, which involved two civilians.
Tom Winter contributed to this story.
First published August 18 2013, 8:07 AM