The US Department of Justice confirmed today that it will look into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors should file criminal charges against George Zimmerman in the wake of his acquittal.
The department opened an investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
In a statement Sunday, the Justice Department said the criminal section of the civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.
The statement said that, in the government’s words, “experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation”.
This move follows demands from a furious NAACP for the Obama administration to intervene.
Already, over 100,000 people have signed up to an online petition and the NAACP has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging the Department of Justice to press civil rights charges against 29-year-old George Zimmerman.
In his first public statement since the verdict, President Barack Obama called for calm on Sunday after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, saying his death was a tragedy and that the country should seek ways to stem gun violence.
Barack Obama urged Americans to broaden “the circle of understanding and compassion” in their communities and put some of the emotion the case has aroused into curtailing gun violence.
On Sunday, Daryl Parks, an attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin was non-committal when asked if they supported the NAACP’s call for George Zimmerman to be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
When asked on Fox News Sunday if Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin and mother, Sybrina Fulton, supported such a move, Daryl Parks seemed to defer.
“The beauty of our country is that we have several tiers of government, several aspects of laws and that different times different aspects apply,” said Daryl Parks.
“Different laws apply at different times, different places apply at different times. That would be a different arena.”
Both Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton chose not to be in the Seminole Circuit Court when the jurors announced their decision just before 10 p.m.
George Crump, the family’s attorney, said that they will still be pursuing a civil case against George Zimmerman.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous was unequivocal in his response to the not-guilty decision by the Florida jury.
“We are outraged and heartbroken over today’s verdict,” Benjamin Jealous said in a statement.
“We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed,” he said.
Politicians such as Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson have all added their voices to the NAACP’s position and demanded the administration review the case.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, called the verdict “a sad day in the country” and “a slap in the face to those that believe in justice in this country”.
“I think this is an atrocity,” Al Sharpton said.
“It is probably one of the worst situations that I have seen.”
Jesse Jackson called the verdict: “Old South justice.”
“I’m disappointed and I’m saddened for the family,” Jesse Jackson said.
Benjamin Jealous said Trayvon Martin’s family may bring a civil suit against George Zimmerman but said federal criminal charges must be filed because evidence suggests race was a factor in the case.
He told CNN the black community is upset with a situation in which “our young people have to fear the bad guys and the good guys. The robbers and the cops and the self-appointed community watch volunteer who think that they’re keeping folks safer”.
Al Sharpton cited the example of Rodney King, the man whose videotaped beating by Los Angeles police triggered rioting two decades ago after a state criminal trial found the police officers not guilty.
Later, the Justice Department brought a federal case that resulted in the conviction of two officers.
However, after George Zimmerman was found not guilty on second-degree and manslaughter charges by a Florida jury on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder has been left with a decision of massive implications.
The enormous pressure on Eric Holder, the United States’ first African-American attorney general, will grow over the coming days – especially in light of previous statements made on the matter.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a review of the shooting and Eric Holder went on record to say that he would take appropriate action if there was sufficient evidence of a civil rights crime.
“If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action, and at every step, the facts and law will guide us forward,” said Eric Holder in a speech in April to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
However, in remarks subsequent to that, Eric Holder toned-down his comments, saying that the DOJ faces a “very high barrier” to bring federal criminal charges.
Eric Holder made personal remarks about the death of Trayvon Martin in April, saying “as a parent I reacted to it”.
“This is a pain that no parent should have to endure. The notion of having to bury a child is something that is, I think in some ways for a parent, the ultimate pain,” he said.
“The primary responsibility we have in the Justice Department is to support the state in its ongoing investigation, to do our own thorough and parallel investigation which we are in the process of doing and try to resolve this matter in as fair and complete a way and as quickly as we can.”
The full text of the NAACP’s petition to Attorney General Eric Holder
“Attorney General Eric Holder,
The Department of Justice has closely monitored the State of Florida’s prosecution of the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder since it began.
Today, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it is time for the Department of Justice to act.
The most fundamental of civil rights – the right to life – was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin.
We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.
Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today.
George Zimmerman shot dead Martin in Sanford on February 26th, 2012.
George Zimmerman, 29, maintains he shot Trayvon Martin, 17, in self-defense, while the state argued that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin and concluded he was a criminal.
For their part, the NAACP is trying to build a ground swell of support for its call for federal charges.