Activists Call for Civil Rights Charges Against Zimmerman

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 14 2013 12:41 PM

NAACP Calls on Department of Justice to File Civil Rights Charges Against Zimmerman

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NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson have called for the Department of Justice to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

He may have been acquitted Saturday night, but George Zimmerman could still be held responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death. The NAACP, the country’s oldest and largest civil rights group, has called on the Department of Justice to seek federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, the organization’s president, Ben Jealous, told CNN Sunday. The NAACP posted an online petition urging Attorney General Eric Holder to “address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.” The petition caused NAACP’s site to crash but within the first few hours more than 100,000 people had signed it, the organization wrote on its Twitter account.  

The NAACP wasn’t alone. Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the verdict a "tragic miscarriage of justice” and said that federal civil rights charges needed to be filed, reports USA Today. "No matter how you look at this situation, if it were not for the actions of Mr. Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin would still be alive with his family today," Anrwine said. Several Democratic lawmakers have also joined the calls for the Department of Justice to act.

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The pressure to act puts Holder in a difficult position, notes the Hill. Even though Holder had said that the Department of Justice was ready to take action if it found evidence of a civil rights crime, he also warned “a very high barrier” must be crossed in order to seek charges.

Darryl Parks, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, refused to say whether the family supported the NAACP’s call for a civil rights case. "The beauty of our country is that we have several tiers of government, several aspects of laws and that different times different aspects apply," Parks said, according to Politico. "Different laws apply at different times, different places apply at different times. That would be a different arena."

Meanwhile, Benjamin Crump, another attorney for the Martin family said that a civil lawsuit is being considered, although he emphasized no decision has been made yet. “They are certainly going to look at that as an option,” Crump said on ABC News. “They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don’t want their son’s death to be in vain.” In a civil suit, wrongful death is easier to prove than murder or manslaughter, notes CNN.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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