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. Bessy

    Hey Folks, as I see this it is not a black or white issue. What it is, is a case of someone trying to play " Rambo ". He pursued a teenager with a gun. He never should have gotten out of the car, and he was told not to, and he had a gun pulled out. This was not new to him. He made calls frequently to 911 re: " suspects ". He should have been given some type of sentence and I hope they can get him with a civil suit. BTW, for you all who think it matters, I am white.

    July 14, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. Dirkadan

    I love how ALL of you are calling it a broken system... What Happened to Innocent until PROVEN guilty? Get your minds right! The media is responsible for you all thinking that this is murder. Seriously if a jury of YOUR peers found him innocent... Then he is. After all the prosecution was UNABLE to prove him guilty.

    July 14, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  3. Dooless

    CNN is still portraying Zimmerman as guilty. Now they are promoting the "WITCH HUNT" along with the state attorney of Florida, Obama, FBI and the State Department. The NAACP is a joke and compared Treyvon Martin to Medgar Evers and MLK, that is insulting to those men who attempted to make it better for the black community. Now we have gone completely in the opposite direction. The WHITE people need to wake up and rise up before it goes too far. Way passed equality. Here's an idea CNN try being objective for a change.

    July 14, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  4. rich

    why doesn;t the naacp get off there butt and get to Chicago, where dozens yes donzens of black youths are dying every month.. Are they scared of the :gangs???

    July 14, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. CB FL

    Well said.

    July 14, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. Jack in Atlanta

    If all the people moaning about the verdict took this moment to reflect on why they never decried Trayvon's racist comments or his resorting to violence in response to being followed/profiled then MAYBE this type thing wouldn't happen again. The moral of the story...violence leads to violence... and crackers don't play dat !!!

    July 14, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. matt

    a civil suit may be what it takes so that zimmerman attorneys can fully prove what a thug this "child" was, he was no child, he was thrown out of his own house for fighting, he bragged of his fighting prowess, it is very likely that after he left the 7-11 and prior to the confrontation he was smoking dope and who knows what else.....trayvon made an unfortunate and very bad decision to confront and beat the wrong "cracker", he won't make the same mistake twice and hopefully there can be a lesson taught to troubled youth not to make the same stupid decisions that he did. If there was no shooting and trayvon beat zimmerman to a pulp then he would have been tried as an adult under fl law, yet no one ever referred to him as that, only a "child"........children don't do/talk about drugs, fight mma style or use language that trayvon did

    July 14, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  8. Walter

    Where was the NAACP after OJ was set free?

    July 14, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  9. Name charpc

    What I'm going to say has been said. Where's the outrage for the blacks that were killed in Chicago? If Zimmerman were black there'd be no outrage, if Travon were white there'd be no outrage. There were many break-ins in that neighborhood, mainly blacks. The race issues are worse then ever since Obama took office. Remember he's only half black. This country, the once great USA, is falling apart. We've become a divided, racist, corrupt, selfish country. Kids are exposed to violence & immortality. What's this country going to look like in 10 or 20 years?

    July 14, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  10. justininrome

    And what evidence is there that would convince a Federal court of civil rights violations in this case? (None) – Can the former police chief of Sanford please have his job back now? And can the mayor please resign?

    July 14, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. Chris

    Bessy the gun was not pulled until martin was on top beating zims head into the concrete

    July 14, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  12. Bill from GA

    Point 1 When you go out with a gun and someone is killed, you should be held to a higher standard of accountability. If you carry a gun, you're responsible for that gun,

    Point 2 When we turn on the local news, or read about killings in Chicago, it is usually a black male doing the crime. That may not be the case in Oklahoma City, but it is in Atlanta. Where is the outrage, and accountability in the Black Community regarding that?

    July 14, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  13. Joe

    First of all when they asked for no riots that was profiling so let's be clear. if you think someone is dangerous you have profiled. That being said, if the jury system is not good enough and it is convict him no matter what and if I do not get the judgement I want I will keep after it - that is the most anti – American sentiment imaginable.. Respect the jury system and the decision of a jury. If you can not do that, you can go to Iraq where you are guilty til proven innocent. Too many had that approach guilty first and the fact the other side can not comprehend that based on the evidence he may have been innocent is baffling and troubling

    July 14, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. NJ

    It's very easy for everyone to pass judgment about everything but what really matters. The FACT still remains a child is dead and if Mr. Zimmerman just did what he was to suppose to do and that's observe and report this child would still be alive. Remove race from the equation and a child is dead and it seems that everyone has gotten away from that.

    July 14, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. Scott

    When is the NAACP going to be classified as a hate group. I have never seen such a racist bunch of people in my life.
    Zimmerman was found innocent, period. You only get one bite of the apple. Look at the picture of him, you can see the hate in Ben Jealous eyes.

    July 14, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  16. Anthony

    @ NJ..... Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he had not attacked George Zimmerman. Since when was FWW (Following While White) an offense worthy of a beat down?

    July 14, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  17. Daniel penn

    I here you guys are going to further try to take action against George. What would happen if George was black, or, how many times do i here blacks saying cracker.im tired of al sharpton, jessy jakson, and all the rest that is so one sided. Take out the c.d. 'S from stores that say the f- word. Or,rape, or cracker, or , or, what ever. It is going to set off a bad thing. By the way, do you or al, jessy, read the Bible. If not, tell them to take reverend out of there first names. Hypocrites!!!!!!

    July 14, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  18. A Dad Too

    It is too bad that Trayvon Martin's father did not have the same discussion with his son that my father had with my brother and I when we were teenagers. In short, my father told us we were no longer twelve years old and you do not settle disputes or perceived affronts by fighting. We had reached the age where if we got into a fight we could go to jail for assault or worse. He further explained to us that you never know when the "other guy" might pull out a gun or a knife and kill you. This conversation took place about 45 years ago and it is more true today than back then. I have never forgotten what Dad told us and it has kept me out of trouble. I had the exact same discussion with my sons and it has also helped keep them out of trouble.

    July 14, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  19. jpmichigan

    Mr. Martin had choices, the one he choose was wrong. To sucker punch another causing a fractured nose and continue to beat him , causing injury was the wrong thing to do, but many don't think so. Zimmerman was charged, had his day in court, shown the facts by both prosecuter and defense to the jury and the jury looked at the facts and made their decision. We are a country of laws , and a justice system. The general media wanted to make it racial and so did the Presidents administration, I wish the trail was never televised!

    July 14, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  20. Ron L

    To me this is not an exclusively an issue of race but an issue of where does "authority" begin and end this type of situation. We have a teenager walking, minding his on business. We have a voluntary watchman for the neighborhood spotting the teenager. The concerned citizen calls the police and they tell him DO NOT PURSUE THE TEENAGER, STAY IN HIS CAR!! He ignores this advice because he feels pretty secure since he has a gun. There is no way of knowing exactly what was said, but you can be sure that a young black teenager is going to be on edge if he senses and sees someone following him he does not know. So, the confrontation happens and Mr. Zimmerman finds he has gotten himself in a position he can't handle without the use of his gun!! And Treyvon finds himself shot and dead. You have to understand that I am sure Mr. Zimmerman was not guilty of 2nd degree murder, but he is guilty of manslaughter because 1) He was told NOT TO bother Treyvon and his actions initiated the entire incident. So, does any neighbor watch person have the right to confront anyone they feel should not be in the neighborhood. It is a slippery slope and I think it is wrong to give even a well intending person the right to confront someone and them kill them when they are guilty of no crime. That is the core problem with this entire incident.

    July 14, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  21. veganheathen

    Schoolyard brawl....wouldn't you rather keep fighting for a few more .minutes than pull a gun and shoot someone? How
    About saying I have a gUn , back off.

    July 14, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  22. Pete

    It just came out how black kids in the community where Zimmerman was as watch commander in Sanford didn't like the way Zimmerman glared at them in passing in HIS NEIGHBORHOOD!! Zimmerman as a watch commander should have known almost everyone in that community as well because he went to HOA and community watch meetings and the community supposidly wasn't that large...How Zimmermans pistol once loaded couldn't release the bullet out of the chamber only way being discharged,what piece of crap gun also had no workable safety as well!!You as a responsible concealed gun owner carries around a gun in your back hip holster knowing that piece of crap could accidently discharge as well having no safety..This is why as a concealed permit,gun owner I want more strengent ,comprehensive gun laws and psychological testing as well because this incident whether guilty or not just goes to show as a volunteer he should've never had the gun there in the first place because I bet his community he was guarding didn't carry liability insurance and now they'll feel the rath of the Martins family in a civil lawsuit because they let him carry it knowing full well this could have happened and it did!!Liability insurance isn't cheap and if they go to court it'll break not only bankrupt the community but the Zimmerman family as well just like it did in the Simpson trial that cost him everything he owned as well and remember Simpson was found innocent as well wasn't he!!!

    July 14, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. Rick

    Civil suit against Zimmerman? Good luck with that, race baiters. Watch what George gets from his suit against NBC.

    July 14, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. Liz

    if you keep imposing on our children that because they are of color they will be attacked then they will never feel like they have peace in this country.....not everything is about color....and I think that African americans need to stop feeling like victims....if u want change u need to start changing your way of thinking...

    July 14, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. anonoymous

    As a black american I just pray that all of these hateful post are not felt by the majority of white americans. also i pray your child no matter the color is gunned down for just walking to the store but if they are and the kid is white i hope i get on that jury.

    July 14, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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