Pressure grows for federal charges against George Zimmerman
US attorney general describes Martin death as ‘tragic’ and ‘unnecessary’
US Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to speak more about the Zimmerman case when he addresses the annual convention of the NAACP. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Political pressure has grown on the Obama administration to bring a federal prosecution against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murdering the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Weekend protests following Mr Zimmerman’s acquittal on Saturday and the promise of another day of action next Saturday over the verdict has sparked a national debate about race and renewed the US department of justice investigation into the shooting of 17-year-old Mr Martin in Florida last year.
Eric Holder, US attorney general, said the department shared public concerns over “the tragic, unnecessary shooting death” and vowed that federal prosecutors would continue to investigate.
“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder said in a speech in Washington.
“We must not – as we have too often in the past – let this opportunity pass.”
There will be further pressure on Mr Holder today when he addresses the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in Orlando, not far from the courthouse in the town of Sanford where Mr Zimmerman was acquitted.
Mr Holder is expected to speak about the case in greater detail in his speech to the conference.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have signed online petitions by the NAACP urging the department of justice to bring federal charges against Mr Zimmerman.
A Florida jury found the 29-year-old neighbourhood watchman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after concluding he had acted in self-defence.
Mr Zimmerman had followed Mr Martin, who was returning to relatives in the gated community from a nearby shop, and shot him with a legally held gun after Mr Martin knocked him to the ground and punched him.
Civil rights activists want the US government to take criminal charges under federal law covering hate crimes. Prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Zimmerman, who is of white and Hispanic origin, shot Mr Martin because he was black.
Mr Holder, the first black attorney general, said yesterday the department of justice would continue to act “in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law.”
The White House said President Barack Obama would have no role in deciding whether federal charges are brought against Mr Zimmerman.
“Cases are brought on the merits and the merits are evaluated by the professionals at the department of justice,” said the president’s spokesman Jay Carney.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said vigils for Mr Martin would be held in at least 100 cities across the US next Saturday.
“It’s not over and we are going to make sure it’s not over,” he said in a radio interview.
Describing Martin’s killing a tragedy, Mr Obama said on Sunday that the jury had spoken, and he urged “calm reflection”.