Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the killing of Trayvon Martin a “tragic, unnecessary shooting." But Mr. Holder gave no indication whether the Department of Justice would pursue federal charges against George Zimmerman, the shooter in the case, now that Mr. Zimmerman has been acquitted of criminal murder and manslaughter charges in Florida.
Speaking before the national convention of Delta Sigma Theta, a predominantly black college sorority, Holder noted that the Justice Department will continue its ongoing investigation into the matter and said he is “mindful of the pain felt by our nation” as a result of Trayvon’s death.
If nothing else, the tragedy should push Americans to hold an honest discussion about the “complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised," said Holder. He added that the dignity of Trayvon's parents over the past year should be an example for all.
“Even as we embrace their example and hold them in our prayers, we must not forgo this opportunity to better understand one another and to make better this nation we cherish,” said the attorney general.
Civil rights activists are pushing the Justice Department to file federal civil rights or hate crime charges against Zimmerman. Many of these activists allege that Zimmerman’s racial profiling of Trayvon, a young black man wearing a hoodie, as a threat is what led to Trayvon's death.
The NAACP’s website crashed over the weekend due to the number of people attempting to sign its online petition for the US to pursue a civil rights case.
Legal experts note, however, that to win such a case, federal prosecutors would have to surmount high legal obstacles. In essence, they would have to prove that Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, shot and killed Trayvon primarily due to the latter’s race.
Zimmerman’s attorneys, in response, would surely argue as they did in the state trial: Zimmerman shot in self-defense, and race had nothing to do with it.
In his Delta Sigma Theta address, Holder attempted to convey sympathy without actually saying what the Justice Department plans to do.
“I want to assure you that the department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law.... We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth,” Holder said.
On Tuesday, Holder addresses the NAACP’s national convention in Orlando, not far from Sanford, Fla., where the shooting occurred. It’s possible the nation’s top law enforcement official will take that opportunity to lay out a bit more of a map as to how the Justice Department is planning to proceed. It’s also possible Holder will continue to not really say anything until he has a “go” or “no go” decision to announce.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said President Obama will not be involved in this prosecutorial decision.
“This is a decision made by the Justice Department, by career prosecutors, and all questions about how that process is undertaken should be directed there. And that is not something the president involves himself in,” said Mr. Carney.