On Tuesday, as members of New York City congressional delegation called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a “thorough” investigation and possible prosecution of Florida neighborhood watch volunteer Robert Zimmerman in the killing of Treyvon Martin, Attorney General Eric Holder says he is “concerned” about the case.
“I am concerned about this case; and, as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it,” he said while attending the annual convention, in Orlando, Florida of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he was the keynote speaker. “While that inquiry is ongoing,I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take.”
“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly – and openly – about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder continued.
On Saturday, an all-female jury in Florida found George Zimmerman, 29, not guilty in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Jayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fl.
After three weeks of testimony, the jury rejected the prosecution’s claim that Zimmerman had deliberately pursued the teenager.
“We know that Trayvon Martin would have been living today if George Zimmerman had not pursued him with a firearm,” said Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, who represents the predominantly Caribbean 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn. “I am disappointed that the laws of Florida have failed to secure justice for Trayvon and his family,” added Clarke, a member of the House Committee on Small Business, Ethics and Homeland Security, and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
“Our children are not safe if private citizens have the authority to act as vigilantes,” she continued. “My prayers are with the parents of Trayvon Martin, who have demonstrated extraordinary courage in this awful tragedy.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District, adjacent Clarke’s, said Zimmerman “racially profiled Trayvon Martin, and then shot him dead in cold blood.
“The continuation of the Justice Department inquiry is a significant step in the right direction,” Jeffries said.
“Ultimately, a federal grand jury should decide if Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman because he was black in violation of our nation’s hate crime laws,” he added.
Harlem Congressman, Charles Rangel said he was “deeply saddened and angered that George Zimmerman has escaped responsibility for the shooting of Travyon Martin.
“The Justice Department should investigate whether there was a violation of our nation’s civil rights laws in this case,” he said.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, representative for the 10th Congressional District and Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said, like many Americans, he “watched the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death very closely and with a deep, abiding sadness.
“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has already announced that it will revive its on-going investigation and fully evaluate the evidence in this matter to determine whether separate federal civil rights charges may be brought,” he said.
“Such potential charges would be different than those brought under Florida state law,” he added. “I believe that such an investigation into possible federal criminal civil right violations is well-warranted, and I urge the Justice Department to move forward expeditiously.”
Congressman Gregory Meeks, who represents the 5th Congressional District in Queens, noted that the U.S. justice and political systems “include processes and procedures by which citizens can continue to pursue justice for Trayvon Martin, including – as my colleagues and I are doing today – calling on the Justice Department, first, to review this case for civil rights violations; and second, to monitor ‘stand-your-ground’ laws to ascertain whether they are having a racially disparate impact.”
For Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, of the 7th Congressional District, Trayvon Martin’s death is “a tragedy for all Americans.
“The Justice Department should swiftly investigate whether his civil rights were violated and if further action can be taken under existing statute,” she urged.
Congressman José Serrano, of the 15th Congressional District in the Bronx, said it is time to “reevaluate our laws and examine our society’s prejudices.
“One key first step is the Department of Justice’s important investigation into whether civil rights laws were violated in this case,” he said.
“Above all, we have to work to ensure that no child of any color fears for his life when he walks in his own neighborhood,” he added.
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams has also joined in the chorus of condemnation of the not guilty verdict by the Florida jury.
“The murder of Trayvon Martin is but the most recent example of profiling in America, a practice that is discriminatory at its best and deadly at its worst,” said Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
“Our society must be re-examined at every level, from law enforcement to criminal justice to the basic way we relate to each other,” added Williams, a vociferous critic of the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” tactics in which a disproportionate number of Blacks and other minorities are reportedly stopped and arrested.
“Laws like ‘Stand Your Ground’ (in Florida) are not only inhuman. They have exacerbated some of these basic problems,” continued Williams, the co-vice chair of New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “Furthermore, they are fueled by a gun culture that is literally killing our children one by one”.
Holder said laws like Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, which allow someone who feels in danger to respond with violence ,without retreating, must be “examined” because they eliminate “the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely.
“Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” he said.
“These laws try to fix something that was never broken,” he added. “There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if – and the ‘if’ is important – no safe retreat is available.
“By allowing and, perhaps, encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder continued. “The list of resulting tragedies is long and – unfortunately – has victimized too many who are innocent.
“It is our collective obligation – we must stand our ground – to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent,” he said.
Holder said the Justice Department will “continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done,” he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been one of many civil rights leaders urging Holder to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman, said on Tuesday he was organizing 100 rallies in cities around the country to press the Justice Department to bring the charges.
Sharpton did not say which cities are involved in the protests planned for this weekend.
The verdict has touched off national debates, outrage and protests about what many describe as the continued racial profiling and endemic discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.
Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense after the teenager knocked him to the ground, punched him and slammed his head repeatedly against the sidewalk.
In its not guilty verdict for murder or manslaughter, the jury agreed that Zimmerman was justified in shooting Martin because he feared great bodily harm or death.