July 14th, 2013
10:02 AM ET
10 years ago

NAACP talking to Justice Department about Zimmerman case

Updated 12:22 p.m. ET on Sunday 7/14

(CNN) – Leaders at the nation's oldest civil rights organization have spoken with senior members of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's team at the Justice Department about pursuing federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, NAACP president Ben Jealous said Sunday, though Holder himself has noted the high bar for establishing a hate crime.

Speaking to chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union," Jealous said he hadn't yet spoken with Holder himself, but that in conversations with Justice Department officials, he had pressed the federal government to continue investigating the death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

"We are glad what they began months back continues, which is a serious reviewing of everything that came out in this case, everything that was known before this case," Jealous said.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Martin in February 2012, was acquitted by a jury late Saturday on state criminal charges. A federal civil rights investigation was previously opened in the case, and on Sunday the Justice Department said it would assess whether civil rights charges could be filed.

"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 agency said.

Yet in order for federal charges to be brought against Zimmerman, the Justice Department would need to establish that a hate crime was committed, a legal burden Holder has said in the past would be a challenge to meet.

"For a federal hate crime we have to prove the highest standard in the law," Holder said in April 2012. "Something that was reckless, that was negligent does not meet that standard. We have to show that there was specific intent to do the crime with requisite state of mind."

President Barack Obama, who spoke in personal terms about Trayvon Martin in the aftermath of the teenager's killing more than a year ago, did not publicly react to Saturday's verdict. A White House official referred to the Justice Department's statement when asked about the NAACP's calls for federal civil rights changes against Zimmerman.

On "State of the Union," Jealous argued those charges were a necessary step, given certain factors in the Zimmerman case.

"They will make a choice about whether or not they will pursue criminal civil rights charges. We are calling on them to do just that," he said. "When you look at (Zimmerman's) comments, when you look at his comments about young black men in that neighborhood, about how they felt specially targeted by him, there is reason to be concerned that race was a factor in why he targeted young Trayvon."

Speaking later Sunday on CNN, Robert Zimmerman Jr., the brother of George Zimmerman, contended the federal investigation had yet to produce any evidence of racism.

“We welcomed, actually, that investigation through the FBI when they originally started investigating George,” he said. “They've investigated, I think, about three dozen of his closest friends and acquaintances. And there is not any inkling of racism. In fact, there's evidence to show the opposite.”

Groups like the NAACP need to “cool their jets, give everyone some time to kind of process what's going on,” Zimmerman said. “Agitation doesn't help us. It doesn't do anybody any good right now.”

On Saturday, Jealous and the NAACP released a statement saying they were "outraged and heartbroken" over the not-guilty verdict, which the group's leader explained further in the CNN interview.

"We're upset with the situation in this country. As black parents raising black boys and black girls in this society, it feels so often that our young people have to fear the bad guys and the good guys," he said. "The robbers and the cops and the self-appointed community watch volunteer who thinks he's keeping people safer."

Politicians from both parties weighed in on Saturday's verdict during appearances on television Sunday morning. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, calling Martin's death a "tragic event," said he respected the jury's decision.

"Although there may be people on either side of this that don't agree how this came out, the fact is we have the best judicial system in the world and we respect it," he said on CNN. "It's my opinion that a very thoughtful case was made by each side, the jurors made the decision, and we will live with that."

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he accepted the verdict as fair.

"I don't always agree with what the jury does, but that's the system," said the Nevada Democrat. "And I support this system."

On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an outspoken Republican, blasted Obama's administration for becoming involved in the Zimmerman case, arguing it had been turned into a political issue instead of a legal matter.

"The evidence didn't support prosecution and the Justice Department engaged in this. The president engaged in this and turned it into a political issue that should have been handled exclusively with law and order," King said.

Filed under: Justice Department • NAACP
soundoff (145 Responses)
  1. Jerry

    what a great country we live in...if they cannot get you the first time, they will get you in some other way...just to appease a group of people.

    July 14, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  2. Debc2

    Only when asked by the non emergency worker did Zimmerman say he "thought" it was a black male. He was asked! He did say "these punks always get away". Punks come in all colors. It was dark. Trayvon was covered from head to toe with clothes. I don't think he knew what color Trayvon was until he approached him and according to his call to non emergency, proves the same. "I THINK" he's black. He was asked. We are told that we have due process. We are told that we must respect the decisions of a jury of our peers. The government should not change or interfere with a jurys decision or else we should throw out the judicial system altogether. We don't always get the outcome we want but we must accept it. We cannot just throw a human sacrifice into the volcano every now and then to ease racial tension. It never works and it is unfair to us and our system.

    July 14, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  3. Name Doris Drummond

    I live in Sussex County De. I have followed theZimmerman trial. I agree that the Justice Department should further investigate this case.This case was an injustice to Trayvon Martin's death and the Martin family.Please donot allow this case and the injustice to Trayvon Martin's for we as law abiding individuals to say courts are corupt and can be sweyed by a formal judge and a stand your ground law that is just a corrupt.

    July 14, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  4. Jopa

    94% of black murders are killed by another black (DOJ stat)...why doesn't the NAACP focus on that and worry about the other 6% once they have made some progress in their own backyard?

    July 14, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. John

    Typical black outrage. Sharpton and Jackson as jumps on the band wagon. I'm surprise Paula Deen is not being blamed. A Hispanic kills a black man and white America is blamed

    July 14, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  6. Theresa

    Trayvon was an innocent young man,zimmerman tried to take things in his on matter and got away with killing Trayvon Martin I beleive zimmerman didnt want to see young black guys around his living area,he should be punished for killing & getting away with it,for being prejudice & trying to play cop he got off scott free with murder & he knows that...its not fare to the Martin family at all #NO JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN -SAD-

    July 14, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  7. Just a thought

    As a teacher, i have observed the inequality in education. Until education becomes Our Nation adopts the successful example of other nations, including Giving Back! When all parents rich & poor set the example of the principles Our country, including the right to a free education our country, we will continue status quo with increasing failure of a Nation! EDUCATION = EQULITY! We have lost sight of the fact that rights come with responsibility.

    July 14, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  8. Ray E. (Georgia)

    All if not most of the evidence was known. No mystery of what happened. The Jury made the right decision. It is unfortunate of what happened to this young man. There were reports that a lot of break ins in the area and they were all young black men. So the correct thing for the NAACP to look into is why this is happening. It appears there will always be a double standard. When some crime happens in a black area the police are in the wrong. But when black on black crime happens the same people want protection.

    July 14, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  9. Jonnylotech

    Jopa....because they are racists, pure and simple.

    July 14, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  10. Jerome

    The NAACP is reinforcing the stereotype when they act like this.

    July 14, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  11. Stacy

    Contact you Congressman Monday morning !!!! This witch hunt has to stop.

    July 14, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  12. wayde

    Jopa, 83% of white murders are done by whites. What's your point?

    July 14, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  13. don in albuquerque

    I do believe in the rule of law, and I believe in the trial by a jury of your peers, and that without new evidence their finding should be final. But I am not foolish enough to believe that justice is always served. If the tables had been turned, leaving all the same leading up too the shooting, and Martin had had a gun, would he have not been standing his ground? Next will come the civil suit. We all remember OJ's case I would think. OJ won the murder case, but lost the civil suit and was basically ruined. Justice served. OJ will remain a pi rah for the rest of his life, as I am sure Zimmerman will also.

    July 14, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. Big Daddy Lou

    The Black power brokers continue to keep divide in this country. They need to get over this black and white issue. The black people are presented more avenue's for a good life than ever before, it is up to them to take advantage of them.I would like everyone to realize they are only using Mr. Martin's death to keep there divide going . If this was two white people where would the NAACP be? I can tell you no where because it does not serve there cause. The cause is divide !

    July 14, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  15. RAJ

    Never bring Skittles to a gun fight.

    July 14, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  16. Common Sense

    Why is the NAACP not focused on the real issues of black on black crime. The DOJ overextending their position to pursue this would be another example of how the race hustlers of Sharpton and Jackson have too much influence on American society. His peers acquitted him, why not focus on something that could make a difference....the lost lives in Chicago perhaps? We cry for equality but the NAACP focuses on creating indifference.

    July 14, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. islander

    Zimmerman should be brought up on other charges for surly he's a wannabe cop that profiled and killed an unarmed youth..Zimmerman thinks he's above the law and the law as bent it's kneen to him..Now hear it is his lies have set him free....

    July 14, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  18. Tom in Anna

    You have to be kidding, a Hispanic (Zimmerman is Hispanic by definition if a Black is a African American) then Zimmerman should pursue a hate crime against Martin. Maybe every time a White gets shot by a Black, it should be classified as a Hate Crime not just a crime.

    July 14, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. Catmandew

    How many times will Zimmerman have to go to trail on this? He was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. If he had been a black man and done this it wouldn't even be in the news. In general blacks are so prejudice. If Treyvon had been white the NAACP wouldn't even look at this either again showing more prejudice on their part. It also wouldn't be in the news in that case. So the case was heard and the state lost move on people Martin chose to double back and confront Zimmerman. By making that choice and attacking him which is proven by the testimony. Martin caused the incident if anything Zimmerman should be filing for the suffering and heartache!

    July 14, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  20. Elbet

    This is not about race, why does the black community persist in making that charge? If it had been a white boy shot, Zimmerman would never have been charged. Plus Obama in his high office as president of the U.S. should never have made any comments. This just adds fuel to the fire. Let it rest, it is over, justice has been served.

    July 14, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  21. micoz

    Isn't it amazing that now the NAACP doesn't believe in trial by jury for "whites" who are really Hispanics? (Shows the stupidity of all racial classifications, doesn't it?)

    If the Justice Department indicts Zimmerman, it will be a case of politically and racially motivated double jeopardy. It would be a a gross insult to Zimmerman's individial rights, a gross insult to the Constitution and Bill of Rights fopr all Americans. This isn't the civil rights era of the 1950's or 1960's anymore. It was a multi-racial jury that ruled unanimously that Zimmerman is not guilty.

    If Obama and Holder pursue this political, racist federal prosecution, the Constituiton means nothing anymore. American justice will be mortally wounded on the alter of Obama's hatred for the Bill of Rights.

    July 14, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  22. BluejayFl

    Bring up the civil suit, the wrongfully death of T.Martin. He is going to make al. Lot of money now... let's take all he's got! People owning guns need to have insurance to cover damages.

    July 14, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. John Riley Goldsmith

    La Raza needs to talk to the Justice Department about Black violence against hispanics and women in this country which are also serious problems. The major problem with this case is Florida's bizarre jury of six handling a felony case like this. In almost any other state this case would have been heard by a jury of 12 which, as the U.S. Supreme Court noted is much more likely to be diverse including the perspectives of minorities like men and black people.

    July 14, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. Jim

    Is it possible to sue the NAACP for harassment?

    July 14, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  25. CZGuy

    Naacp are racists

    July 14, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
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