WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department reiterated Sunday that its own investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin remains open as some members of Congress and outside groups called for a civil rights case against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted by a Florida jury.
The statement noted the “limited” nature of federal civil rights laws, which typically involve acts by public officials, such as police officers. A 2009 federal law, the Matthew Shepard Act, allows prosecution in some cases of people who commit crimes of violence that are motivated by bias, which could include a victim’s race. But the law carries a high burden for proving intentional discrimination.
Last year, administration officials first announced the federal investigation of the case, which is being conducted by the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the middle district of Florida, and the FBI. Officials continue to review evidence generated from their investigation into the death of the Florida teen and are expected to evaluate evidence presented at the trial in state court.
“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” the Justice Department said.
Earlier in the day, President Obama said in a statement that the February 2012 death of Martin, 17, was a tragedy for the nation, but that “a jury has spoken.”
He called on Americans to reflect on whether “we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.”
Some members of Congress and the NAACP have called for the Justice Department to pursue a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
"We hope that once everything has happened that can happen here in Florida … that DOJ will act and will hold Mr. Zimmerman accountable for what he has done,” Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, told CBS Sunday. "What you have to do there is show that race was a factor in his decision-making. And there seems to be plenty of evidence that suggest that race may have been a factor.”
“There’s a precedent here that I think is very dangerous, that not only did the jury find Zimmerman innocent, even of lesser charges, but, you also validated the stand-your-ground kind of laws that are in other states,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a leader of the House Progressive Caucus, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Clearly there are grounds for civil rights charges here,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “We always said there would be a Plan B.”