Few people thought they would, right? Holder’s teased friendly audiences from time to time with vague promises that “justice” would be done but even he’s been at pains to note that civil-rights cases are hard to win. I think that, ever since the Rodney King trials, the public has a hazy sense that if a state prosecutor can’t get a conviction in a racially charged case that’s gotten national attention, the feds will swoop in and file their own charges as a fallback option. It’s not a matter of law, it’s a matter of politics: If people are sufficiently angry about the state verdict, the DOJ will do its best to placate them by trying to get a conviction of its own.
Not this time, though.
The federal investigation of Zimmerman was opened two years ago by the department’s civil rights division, but officials said there is insufficient evidence to bring federal charges. The investigation technically remains open, but it is all but certain the department will close it…
“I was watching the whole case pretty closely for two years, and they didn’t do anything except take those 40 statements [from witnesses],” [Zimmerman attorney Mark] O’Mara said. The statements “suggested that George acted in very non-racist ways. He took a black girl to the prom. His best buddy was a black guy. He mentored two black kids. He sought justice for a black homeless man beaten up by a white cop’s son.”…
The difficulty in bringing charges in the Martin case highlights the challenges for investigators in federal criminal civil rights cases. Under federal law for hate crimes, prosecutors would have to show not just that Zimmerman followed Martin because of his race but also that he shot the youth intentionally because he was African American.
The feds still want to look at a computer owned by Zimmerrnan that wasn’t examined by state investigators, just in case he sent any “yes, I shot him because I hate black people” e-mails to someone.
Obama tried to warn lefties more than a year ago that charges probably wouldn’t be filed. Holder was looking at the evidence, he assured them, but….
But beyond protests or vigils, the question is: Are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government. The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
I thought there was a 10 percent chance Holder would file charges notwithstanding the unlikelihood of conviction (and yes, I realize that’s unethical) just to signal that the feds did their part in trying to send Zimmerman to prison. But maybe the politics of that wouldn’t have worked: A dubious prosecution might have alienated some of the working-class white voters that Democrats are trying to woo back and an acquittal would have disappointed black voters while calling into question O’s and Holder’s competence. The only thing that strikes me as surprising about today’s news is the timing. The whole point of having the DOJ take its time in investigating, I thought, was to let the Zimmerman case slip quietly off the public’s radar so that the eventual decision not to bring federal charges wouldn’t anger people. And the case has slipped off America’s radar — only to be replaced by the Michael Brown shooting, which might very well also result in the defendant going free. Why leak this news now when the Missouri grand jury is just weeks away from announcing whether Darren Wilson will be charged? This will only compound the disappointment and frustration among black voters if Wilson walks.