Raleigh, N.C. — The shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida last month highlights the fears many black parents have about racial profiling and their own sons.
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., said he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 in self-defense, but civil rights advocates are calling for his arrest. They note the Zimmerman was following Martin, who was returning home from a convenience store, and that the laid-back teen had no weapon.
President Barack Obama called the incident a tragedy on Friday and said it needs to be fully investigated.
"I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how something like this happened," Obama said. "That means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."
The context is clear to civil rights advocates. State NAACP President Rev. William Barber said black teens are always at risk of being considered criminals.
"We live under the burden that, when our young men leave the house, we have to tell them things like, 'Don't have anyhing in your hand. Don't take off and run,'" Barber said.
The NAACP is holding a regional meeting in Raleigh this weekend, and Martin's death is a hot topic.
Tennessee NAACP leader Gloria Sweet-Love said black mothers have to have conversations with their sons that other mothers don't.
"We teach them that, if they're stopped on a traffic stop, that you put (your) hands on the top of the wheel so that you will not be shot on a country road," Sweet-Love said.
Comilla Sampson's son, Shaquille, is 16, and she said she worries what happened to Martin could happen to him.
"I constantly tell him that you're being looked at, you're being judged," said Sampson, secretary of the South Carolina NAACP.
She said she wants to change the way people look at teenagers like her son, and Sweet-Love said no child of any race should be at risk just walking down a street.
"That's what we plead – that the people of goodwill stand up and say this is wrong, this has to stop," Sweet-love said. "We've got to stop race-baiting. We've got to stop hating each other, and we've got to love each other because we're all God's children."