Sen. Ted Cruz argued that “Stand Your Ground” laws actually benefit African-Americans at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday morning, and accused public leaders of exploiting Trayvon Martin’s death to inflame racial tensions.
Cruz tussled with the subcommittee’s chairman Dick Durbin, arguing that “the notion that Stand Your Ground laws are some form of veiled racism may be a convenient political attack, but it is not borne out by fact remotely.”
"It is always a tragedy when a child loses his life, and please know that we are all feeling your loss," he said, directing his comments to Trayvon Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and mother of fellow slain Florida teen Jordan Davis, Lucia McBath.
"Sadly, we know that some in our political process have a desire to exploit that tragic violent incident for agendas that have nothing to do with that young man who lost his life," he said. "We have seen efforts to undermine the verdict of the jury and more broadly to inflame racial tensions that I think are sad and irresponsible."
"I recognize that for the family you're simply mourning the loss of your son, and I understand that," he added. "But there are other players who are seeking to do a great deal more, based on what happened that Florida night."
Cruz argued that while the Trayvon Martin case came up repeatedly during the hearing, Stand Your Ground was "not a defense that [George] Zimmerman raised." Zimmerman's legal team never sought immunity under the Stand Your Ground law, but language from that law was included in the jury instructions.
"The notion that Stand Your Ground laws are some form of veiled racism may be a convenient political attack, but it is not born out by the facts, remotely," he added, noting that President Obama supported an expansion of a similar law when he was a lawmaker in Illinois. As has been pointed out in the past, the law Obama supported in 2004 is not as permissive as Stand Your Ground laws typically are, and notably does not permit the use of "deadly force" as Stand Your Ground does in Florida.
Durbin shot back after Cruz's remarks, pointing to the testimony from Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau.
"'Few issues have caused as much angst and raised as many deeply held concerns among our members and the communities we serve as that of Stand Your Ground laws,'" Durbin said, reading Shelton's testimony. "'These laws and their applications have sadly resulted in no less than the murder of people who were doing no less than walking down the street.'"
"This continued reference to inflaming racial tension, my friends, we've heard this before, over and over again," he continued. "We have problems with the issues of race in America that we have to face squarely, and when people are being discriminated against, whoever wherever in America, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights is not going to back away."
Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, spoke earlier during the hearing, imploring the lawmakers to make amendments to Stand Your Ground type laws.
"I just wanted to come here to talk to you for a moment to let you know how important it is that we amend this Stand-Your-Ground because it did not work in my case," she said to the committee. "The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today, and this law does not work. We need to seriously take a look at this law."
Sybrina Fulton and her attorney Daryl Parks will join Rev. Sharpton on PoliticsNation Tuesday to share their reaction to Cruz's comments. Tune in at 6 p.m. ET.