President Obama Urges Respect for Zimmerman Acquittal; Silent on DOJ Action
The President has issued a brief statement:
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
I’m not sure what there is to say on that front. Many are waiting for the other shoe to drop: Will the Obama Justice Department pursue a civil rights action against Zimmerman?
My guess is that he won’t. Zimmerman wasn’t an agent of the state or part of an organized hate group. Indeed, aside from inferences based on his actions that night, there’s no evidence that he harbors any especial anti-black animus.
But, The Hill reports, there’s nonetheless pressure to do something.
The NAACP and other leading civil rights groups are pressing for Holder to open a federal case against Zimmerman, after he was found not guilty on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges by a Florida jury.
Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, facing a difficult decision on a controversial case that has grabbed the nation’s attention and sparked renewed debate about racial profiling.
In a statement from NAACP President Ben Jealous, the civil rights group said they were “not done demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.”
“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,” said the group in a petition unveiled Saturday night. “Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today.”
On CNN Sunday, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson also demanded that the Justice Department “intervene” and “take this to another level.”
Congressional Democrats are likewise applying pressure:
Many Democratic lawmakers are also joining those calls, with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tweeting a message from Jealous asking for the DOJ to act.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted he was “deeply saddened” by the verdict, but was “pleased that DOJ is continuing to evaluate evidence.”
The DOJ launched a review of the shooting earlier this year and Holder said that they would take proper action if they had evidence of a civil rights crime.
So is the Senate Majority Leader, although, in Reid’s case, it’s rather tepid:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Sunday urged the Justice Department to review federal charges against George Zimmerman who was acquitted in Sanford, Fla., of murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
“I think the Justice Department is going to take a look at this. This isn’t over with and I think that’s good. That’s our system, it’s gotten better, not worse,” Reid said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
Reid said he accepted the not-guilty verdict on murder and manslaughter charges.
“I am a trial lawyer and have [brought] over 100 cases to a juries. I don’t always agree with what the jury does that that’s the system and I support the system,” Reid said.
Thus far, at least, Holder is maintaining his boss’ public stoicism:
“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 Holder in a speech in April to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
But Holder had cautioned in subsequent remarks that the DOJ faces a “very high barrier” when seeking to bring federal criminal charges in such cases.
My strong guess is that there’s no federal case. There’s quite likely to be a civil suit, however, as there was in the OJ Simpson murder case, with substantially lower burdens of proof. Sadly, however, I fear that the legal system is not Zimmerman’s biggest problem.