The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, criticized Florida prosecutors for not being aggressive enough, and urged the federal government to determine whether Trayvon’s civil rights were violated.
“There is no double jeopardy here because they specifically said this was not about race,” Sharpton told the Today show. “It opens the door for the federal government to investigate what [Zimmerman] meant when he said, ‘They always get away.’”
To turn up the pressure, Sharpton promised demonstrations in 100 different cities on Saturday, each “led by ministers pressing the federal government to protect our rights.”
Responding to Sharpton and other leaders, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday he shared some concerns about the case — and pledged to continue an ongoing Justice Department investigation into possible violations of civil-rights laws.
Holder called the shooting “tragic” and “unnecessary.”
“We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tension, address community concerns, and promote healing,” Holder said at the anniversary celebration of the predominantly African-American Delta Sigma Theta sorority in Washington. “We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion — and also with truth.”
So far, however, the FBI has found no evidence that racial bias was a motivating factor in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting. Agents investigating the case last July determined that Zimmerman had not expressed racial animus at any time before the confrontation with Trayvon in a Sanford housing complex.
President Barack Obama also weighed in Monday, but did not address the federal investigation. Instead, the president used the case to push for a series of gun control measures that were defeated earlier this year after an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“The president wanted to convey that he felt that the death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy for his family, for a community, but also for the country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And he wanted to express his view… we should ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to foster compassion and understanding in our communities and to stem the tide of gun violence. As well as how we can prevent future tragedies like this from happening.”
Holder and two other Cabinet members — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan — will speak Tuesday at the annual NAACP conference in Orlando, not far from Sanford where the shooting took place. They are expected to speak about gun violence.
In Miami, faith-based leaders are heeding Sharpton’s call and planning a demonstration for 10 a.m. Saturday in front of the U.S. Department of Justice Building, 99 NE Fourth St., Bishop Victor T. Curry said.
“When it comes to cases like this, we have not had much success on the local or state level,” said Curry, the senior pastor at New Birth Baptist Church and president of the South Florida chapter of the National Action Network. “It has always been the federal government having to step in and right some of the wrongs.”
Curry said he had been urging congregants to remain calm “even if the verdict didn’t go the way many people thought it should have gone.”
“All we can do is ask the Obama administration’s attorney general, Eric Holder, to consider opening the case from the federal level and investigate it,” he said.
Additionally, a student group known as the Dream Defenders is planning a Tuesday morning rally at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.
“We will be going to Gov. Rick Scott’s office to make some demands on behalf of the youth of Florida,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, 28, the group’s legal and policy director.
Among the demands: the repeal of the “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives a person immunity from prosecution for using deadly force if the person reasonably believed he or she was in danger.
Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo and staff researcher Monika Z. Leal contributed to this report. McClatchy Newspapers White House Correspondent Anita Kumar contributed reporting from Washington.