“It is going to be a difficult case for the feds,” said Lave. “But that
being said, prosecutors are supposed to be interested in justice. And
even a loss in federal court would send a powerful message that this
kind of conduct is not OK.”
The automatic, almost reflexive and unexamined links that some
Americans make between young black men, crime and danger are fed
and reinforced almost every day in most movies, commercials, music
and even on some news networks, said Rashad Robinson, executive
director of Color of Change, a nonprofit social justice organization.
Color of Change plans to mobilize people outraged by the
Zimmerman verdict to push for federal charges and a sea change in
media depictions of young black men, Robinson said.
“People may be inclined to dismiss this, but we need look no further
than young, black men like Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant and
Jordan Davis to understand the power of media to shape these
negative perceptions, and that those ideas can have grave
Since Trayvon’s death last year, conditions at the shooting scene have
changed, and some witnesses and people with valid information may
have become harder to find or moved away. And the town’s mostly
conservative white residents are said to largely support Zimmerman.
But civil rights investigations are frequently challenging.
A special Department of Justice division created to investigate
unsolved or unresolved race-related cases involving crimes that
occurred decades ago has extra resources for its work. This cold-case
unit has identified 112 cases with 125 victims, according to the
division’s most recent report to Congress. It has since closed 89
cases and prosecuted just three.
The numbers are discouraging, and under previous conservative
administrations civil rights prosecutions of even current cases became
rare, said Christina Swarns, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s
interim litigation director and director of the criminal justice project.
But, this is 2013, a time when faith in the criminal justice system and
its pursuit of justice should be affirmed, Swarns said. So, the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund has also joined the call for a federal investigation.
“If the states are unwilling or unable to provide justice, the federal
government has to step in,” Swarns said. “It just can’t be that black
children can be killed because of their race, there’s no answer and we
all go home.”
Janell Ross is a reporter in New York working on a book about race,
economic inequality and the recession, due out next year.
Failure Is Not An Option