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. ThinkAgain

    @Chris: "Bessy the gun was not pulled until martin was on top beating zims head into the concrete."

    That's Zimmerman's version of events. For all we know, Zimmerman was on top and when he murdered Martin, the recoil from his gun knocked him over and lead to his injuries.

    July 14, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    @Bill from Georgia: "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?"

    According to Justice Department statistics ("Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008"), 84% of white people killed every year are killed by other whites.

    Where's the outrage regarding that?

    July 14, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Justice

    RIP TM the Lord has the final answer ,what I need everyone to do ; close eyes vision your son ,nephew ,grandson ,cousin ,brother he is 16 years old going to the store in the evening in the rain talking on his cellular phone to a friend joking ,laughing having a conversation , (what young ppl do ) aren't you praying no one kills him and return home safely ? Do you really believe a grown man ,in his environment ,18 months of defense training ,has a gun was is in more fear of his life then a minor ,not in his comfort zone ,unarmed ? Who is likely more afraid a grown man with a gun or child ? Just saying if it was yours ,how would you feel ?

    July 14, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  4. Craig

    So to get by the "Double Jeopardy" they want to send him to prison the shady way. This country is going into the toilet! Eric Holder is the CRIMINAL here....he should be in prison for all the crap he has done/swept under the table/etc. Good lord. If Zimmerman survives the civil trial....He will probably be killed in a fluke accident....No win here. Justice system is really messed up.

    July 14, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  5. What a mess!!

    Martin jumped Zimmerman, beat him up and threatened to kill him. Zimmerman defended himself as best he could. Whatever preceded that is irrelevant. What's so hard to understand about that, people? The REAL problem here is the media, which fanned the flames of racism from day one. I hope GZ sues the media for infringing on his civil rights, which he will never, ever have again.

    July 14, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  6. king

    it is very hard being black in America because white folks doesn't see things the way they do. how can a people be just 12 percent of a country population and makes up 90 percent of the prison population. doesn't any one finds that kind of odd. why is 7 times more blacks are incarcerated for the same exact crimes that white folks does, why does the local sheriff sees blacks as products to market in the the justice system and not human beings that want the right of every Americans. i know its one thing when blacks are outraged when stuff happens to them, its a total other reason when whites are outraged when stuff happens to their race, their is no competition. so these folks standing up saying that the American justice system is fare, they must be seeing thing from the privileged side of the fence, because the people on the other side will tell you quick, this justice system is far from fare.

    July 14, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Billy

    Justice Was not served! A child Is dead, and now his killer is out free! Welcome to America everybody.

    July 14, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  8. Donkey Party

    Funny how the "pro-life" right-winger filth are so quick to embrace Zimmerman as one of their own, even though he murdered a child in cold blood. How do you scum live with yourselves? Justice was not served, justice was made a mockery of.

    July 14, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. Mike Krouse

    George Zimmerman (GZ) reported a “suspicious person” or a “person acting suspiciously” on his call to the police. Later in his description of the “suspicious” person did he describe him as a “black” male. It is my belief that GZ would have reported and described a “white” male the same way. The comments he made, ie “foul mouth”, was directed toward the crimes that had been committed in his neighborhood, not the “black” person. This is NOT a “black/white” issue even though some want to make it that way. When GZ started to walk back to his car he discontinued to be a threat to Trayvon Martin (TM). No witness or video on that??? How are you going to convict? I ask you: If you think you see a person committing or in your opinion about to commit a crime in your neighborhood, what would your call to the police sound like?

    July 14, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  10. rs

    I wasn't on the jury, I didn't hear the case as it was presented in court. Zimmermann may indeed be "innocent" as the law is written in Florida. These "Stand and Fight" laws pushed by ALEC, the NRA, and the GOP however have created a hunting license mentality. You can apparently call someone out (against PD advice), accuse someone of a crime when there is no evidence, and if they get the slightest advantage on you, you can shoot them dead.
    Anyone who thinks that is "justice" is sorely mistaken.

    July 14, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  11. Bessy


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

    That is questionable and proven to be so during the trial.

    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.

    Exactly my point.

    July 14, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  12. disqus_m4RzRjSnrs

    Obama, Holder, Sharpton, Jackson and Truly Jealous will have Zimmerman hung on the White House grounds. It will be posted on Face Book......So much for trials.

    July 14, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  13. rs

    Big Daddy Lou
    The Black power brokers continue to keep divide in this country.
    Reverse the roles, or remove race entirely from the equation- But if this were the case of a white 17 year-old with Skittles and a soda being followed by a Black "security guard", and the white teenager would up dead, it doesn't take genius to image the court result might be very different.

    When the Supreme Court implies our nation has somehow achieved "post-racial" equality (in voting rights and affirmative action), I think they need to look really closely at entities like ALEC, and the GOP, for them it is still 1950 in Birmingham.

    July 14, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. adesertrider

    "A tragedy is not always a crime." There was not good judgement exercised on either side of this incident. Still, it had nothing to do with race and to try to make an end run around the system by bringing civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the wake of his not guilty verdict is frankly disturbing. Let's stop with the anger about the "injustice system" and the "unfairness" of a non-black being acquitted of killing a black. Where is this anger about black-on-black crime, or even black-on-white crime which is disproportionately higher than white on black crime? This isn't racism, it's facts. The number one killer of young black men is other young black men! The implications of bringing "civil rights" charges against Zimmerman do not bode well for the future. The precedent established if this happens will bog down the entire legal system and detract from real issues. Will anyone who gets into an altercation with someone of a minority race risk being charged with civil rights charges regardless of who instigated it? Also, until it is recognized that minorities can be guilty of racism too there can never be any justice under the system when dealing with "hate crimes."

    July 14, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  15. Bobbie Cason

    chasing a person in the dark with a loaded gun may not be against the law but it certainly is an act of aggression.

    July 14, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  16. rs

    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.
    Yes, we are a nation of laws. Zimmermann, who did track down, and called out a young black teenager (against police advice), and shot him to death was indeed found "innocent" in a court of law- given the "Stand and Fight" law- no surprise. He still is responsible for taking a life that he did not have to- and yes, he is still at risk in a civil suit. Just as if he was responsible for serious injury or death in a car accident, or caused some sort of injury accident at work.

    July 14, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  17. rs

    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?
    Good question. However it is irrelevant here. Martin's only "crime" was being in a gated community. Your first point is more salient- when you choose to carry a gun, you are ultimately responsible to what happens when it goes off.

    July 14, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  18. rs

    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."
    Totally irrelevant- no surprise. Martin was neither accused of committing a crime, nor convicted of one. He was a Black teenager in a gated community. This was not a case of "Black on Black" crime, and the "security guard" disobeyed a police directive. Sure, given the ALEC-inspired "Stand and Fight" law, Zimmerman is innocent (as after calling out Martin, Zimmerman lost control of the situation and shot and killed an unarmed teenager). Zimmerman however IS liable for a death of a teenager, and just like causing a death or serious injury in a car accident, he could stand trial in a Civil Court- one where he will have to take the stand.

    July 14, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  19. jsbremer

    By racially profiling and isolating themselves from all other races, the NAACP is far more racist than any act of racial discrimination. Organizations like the NAACP are the primary reason we still have racism in this day and age. If I were to start a NAAWP, it would be a 'hate crime'. Ridiculous.

    July 14, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  20. j

    It is a shame that in this country people don't see that it is about race. Regardless of what you want to say, things are still not fair for African Americans. If whites were treated and still treated half the way that Blacks were and still are, they would not be making those kinds of statements. If you are a Black youth, you are probably 70% times more likely to be stopped like Travon Martin and by police than a white youth. Zimmerman had no reason to stop him or pursue him. The fact that he lied numerous times and now has gotton away with murder is very sad. Because at the end of the day, a 17 year old unarmed youth is dead at the hands of an adult with a gun that pursued him when told by police not to. For some reason, why do people feel that Tra Von had no right to protect himself. You only have Zimmermans word that he was getting back in his car when Tra Von approached him and a fight pursued. Why was he even out of his car? He was looking for the youth and approached him. If he was still in his car and the youth came up to his car, he could have driven away. Like NJ in another posting said. The FACT still remains a child, yes a child is dead. Had Zimmerman done what he was suppose to do which was observe and report, he would still be alive. That is all that matters. Justice was not served and for people to blame the victim is crazy.

    July 14, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  21. ccc

    lol, Rambo? He did follow trayvon and then trayvon jacked him up, if trayvon had been Hispanic too, there would be no issue, stop blaming everything on everyone but yourself

    July 14, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  22. John

    Since too many so-called civil rights leaders and a willing media are using this case to inflame racial and politic strife, it’s time to set aside sympathy for Martin and his family. Our leaders must speak the blunt and honest truth – based on the facts presented at trial.

    Martin caused his own death by assaulting another person.

    Maybe Martin thought Zimmerman was a sexual deviant. Maybe he became angry thinking he was racially profiled. Regardless, Martin assaulted Zimmerman and had he lived, Martin likely would have been charged with assault and battery.

    CNN commentators and guests claiming Martin was gunned for no reason, armed with nothing but skittles and tea, are purposefully ignoring the FACTS and dangerously feeding the flames of racial animosity.

    July 14, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  23. J

    If the Justice Department is going to investigate this case, are they going to investigate every murder case? If not every case, then what criteria will the department implement to decide the particular cases to investigate? Does this apply retroactively?
    How much will this case's investigation and others cost?

    July 14, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  24. Splasher6

    In 513 Days Between Trayvon Dying and the Zimmerman Trial Verdict, 11,106 Blacks Have Been Murdered by OTHER BLACKS. Zero media outrage

    July 14, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  25. Tyrone S.

    As a Black American I am offended that this President is telling me to 'honor Trayvon Martin'. This 6 foot tall 'teenager' assaulted and seriously hurt an innocent Hispanic American man who had to resort to defending himself with a weapon (just as anybody would in a similar situation). Trayvon Martin gives all Black Americans a bad name. Treyvon Martin was a violent person, all the evidence supports that fact and the jury in a court of law obviously came to the same conclusion. In fact, Treyvon Martin was suspended for 10-days from his school for serious fights he caused when this incident with Mr. Zimmerman occurred. Using Treyvon Martin as a 'symbol of civil rights' in this country offends me and offends many of my fellow Black Americans. There are many better Black American people/situations to justify civil rights expansion than using the Treyvon Martin case. In fact, people who are against civil rights probably would want us to use a flawed person like Treyvon Martin as our example – because it makes us look even more stupid. This President should stop commenting on a local / state issues and focus on fixing the federal government. Lastly, when is the President / DOJ going to bring a civil rights case against OJ Simpson for killings his white wife and her white boyfriend? This President brings shame upon me and my fellow Black Americans.

    July 14, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
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