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Trayvon Martin Update: Justice Department Might Take Up Case, Zimmerman Attorney Says It's Time to Return His Gun

The Justice Department announced Sunday that they will review the facts of Trayvon Martin's death to see if civil rights charges against George Zimmerman are warranted.
 
 
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Trayvon Martin's father Tracy Martin and his mother Sabrina Fulton at the Union Square protest against Trayvon's shooting death.
Photo Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

The Justice Department said yesterday they will review the facts of the Trayvon Martin case to see if civil rights charges against George Zimmerman are warranted. The announcement came the day after Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed the unarmed Martin near his father’s home in Florida, was acquitted by a jury on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The Justice Department had opened a preliminary inquiry in 2012 after the shooting, but they closed it to allow the state case to proceed. Now they will look into the case again.

“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,” the department said in a statement.

But the bar is high for federal civil rights cases. “It is not enough if it’s just a fight that escalated,” Samuel Bagenstos, a former Justice Department official, told the New York Times. “The government has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant acted willfully with a seriously culpable state of mind.”

The NAACP is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to open a federal case against Zimmerman. “It is time for the Department of Justice to act,” the group said in a petition directed at Holder. “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.”

The Martin family could also take further action in court by suing Zimmerman for wrongful death in a civil case.

Meanwhile, protests sparked by the acquittal of Zimmerman occurred nationwide.

In New York City, thousands of protesters rallied in Union Square and amassed in Times Square. At least 15 protesters were arrested last night by the New York Police Department. In Los Angeles, police reportedly fired rubber bullets at protesters who were blocking traffic. One person was reportedly arrested during the demonstration. The police told the Los Angeles Times that some demonstrators “threw rocks and D-cell batteries at police.”

And President Barack Obama weighed in after the verdict as well. He used the occasion to talk about the scourge of gun violence.

“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,” said the president. “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.”

Obama’s comments were a stark contrast to what Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, told ABC News. O’Mara said that it was time for Zimmerman to get his gun back.

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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