No Sleep Until There’s Justice for Trayvon
The NAACP and others are looking to feds to bring civil rights charges
against George Zimmerman.
By: Janell Ross
At 4 a.m. Sunday, when some of the
nation’s major news organizations
and conservative blogs remained on
vigilant lookout for riots in the wake
of the George Zimmerman verdict, a
group of almost 200 people gathered
in public spaces and private homes
all over the country. Civil rights and
social-justice activists down South,
strategists on the East Coast and
grassroots organizers out West came
together for a hastily organized
conference call. A single idea was
already taking shape. If Million A woman marches at a protest in New York City a day after the Zimmerman verdict.
Hoody marches in New York; (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
Sanford, Fla.; Miami and dozens of
other communities had helped to push the state of Florida to arrest, Zimmerman — a one-time mortgage-industry worker and
charge and try George Zimmerman, couldn’t those same forces be neighborhood-watch volunteer who first described Trayvon as a black
peacefully mobilized again to demand that the federal government guy “up to no good” when he spotted the 17-year-old strolling
through the gated community where Zimmerman lived — walked out
bring criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman?
of Florida state court a free man Saturday. Florida tried and failed to
The federal government — the only entity above the possible blanket convict him on second-degree-murder or manslaughter charges and
civil and criminal immunity that Zimmerman may be able to secure cannot attempt to do so again, said Tamara Lave, a professor at the
in state court — could investigate and file federal civil rights charges University of Miami’s law school and a former public defender.
against Zimmerman. Before sunrise, more than 200,000 people had
actually co-signed on the idea, attaching their names to an NAACP And even as calls for Trayvon’s family to file a civil wrongful death
online petition. So many people visited the NAACP’s website that suit against Zimmerman mount, that, too, seems like an unlikely
some time early Sunday morning, the organization’s server option for any sort of redress, Lave said. The state’s now notorious
“Stand your ground” law allows individuals to request a hearing in
state court, and if they can prove that their actions were lawful and
“It’s important for people to understand at this time, that this is not covered by the “no duty to retreat from danger” clause in “Stand your
over,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the NAACP’s president and chief ground,” then a court can grant the individual blanket immunity from
executive officer. “The justice system still has more plays to make.” civil and criminal charges.
Justice Department officials released a statement Sunday afternoon
confirming that federal staff will continue a probe into Zimmerman’s Zimmerman did not request immunity when facing criminal charges.
actions and the ideas that may have motivated him the night he shot In a civil suit, he could and very likely would do so to protect any
and killed Trayvon Martin. And Jealous, a lawyer and longtime assets he may have, including cash donated to him by supporters,
Washington operative, said Sunday he spoke directly with a senior Lave said. “If that happened, and it is extremely likely that it would,
given that he has just been acquitted, no one can bring a civil case
official inside the Justice Department just after the verdict.
against him, not even Trayvon Martin’s parents,” Lave said.
“The short of it?” Jealous said about the conversation with an official
he would not identify. “They said they are looking into it, seriously, Federal criminal court — hate-crimes charges or allegations that
and that it may take a long time.” Jealous described any effort to Zimmerman violated Trayvon’s civil rights — may be the family’s
guess at the likelihood of federal charges as inappropriate and only hope for any kind of redress, she said. But such a case won’t be
easy. Federal prosecutors will have to rely on some of the same
evidence and what Lave called the “shoddy” early investigation
Early criticism — coming primarily from the right — of the call for conducted by Sanford police that hamstrung the state prosecutors.
federal intervention amounts to nothing more than “cynical” attempts And unlike civil court, federal criminal prosecutions require the
to discount the magnitude of the injustice doled out in a Florida state government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
courtroom this weekend, Jealous said. “I think most people of good Zimmerman would also have a right to a federal jury trial and the
sense, people of all races, know that in this country a hoody and dark option not to testify in court. The federal government can’t bring
charges simply because of public pressure, she said.
skin are not reasonable grounds for suspicion,” he said.
see TRAYVON page 4