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Ridley-Thomas calls for federal prosecution of George Zimmerman

Crime, Law and JusticeTrayvon MartinGeorge ZimmermanEric HolderLos Angeles Police DepartmentMark Ridley-ThomasRodney King

The chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called on U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to file federal charges against former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman for violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman was acquitted in Florida criminal court this weekend in the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, and protesters have taken to the streets in Los Angeles every day since.

“Federal civil rights statutes allow for the criminal prosecution of ordinary citizens when racial motivation results in bodily injury,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wrote to Holder on Tuesday. “Federal intervention will do what the Florida court did not do: that is to squarely address the issue of race and the role that it played in the wrongful death of young Trayvon Martin.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that its investigation of the shooting death of Martin is ongoing, but department officials have said federal prosecution is unlikely because of the high burden required to prove intentional discrimination.

Ridley-Thomas said he felt compelled to act.

“There is a substantial amount of unfinished business in the matter of the death of Trayvon Martin, and my read of this is that communities across the nation feel similarly,” he said.

The supervisor, who was a junior high student during the 1965 Watts unrest and a city councilman during the 1992 riots sparked by the Rodney King verdict, noted that the current protests have been relatively peaceful, and said that was due to the restraint shown by the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I think it’s rather clear that the [current] response of the Police Department is substantially different and it goes to the quality of leadership in the department. The previous chiefs were more lightning rods,” he said. “I think Chief Beck has distinguished himself as an enlightened law enforcement officer who understands the balance that needs to be brought to bear to sensitive issues and is very, very diligent about constitutional policing. And that has made all the difference.”

He said he did not know whether the protests were ebbing, but said upcoming Days of Dialogue, where residents from throughout the community speak in small groups facilitated by mediators, would be an important vehicle for people to channel their frustrations.

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Twitter: @LATSeema

seema.mehta@latimes.com

 

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