On Monday afternoon, the US Department of Justice appealed to civil rights groups and the general public across the country for “tips” on George Zimmerman in their pursuit of potential federal civil rights charges against the just-acquitted defendant in the Trayvon Martin killing. The DOJ actually went so far as to set up an e-mail address to allow such tips: [email protected] The email address is slated to go operational by the end of the week.
Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Orlando Sentinel that the DOJ had held a Monday conference call “calling on us to actively refer anyone who had any information” that would help build a case against Zimmerman. “They said they would very aggressively investigate this case,” Arnwine stated.
In the convention center lobby here, the same phrase — the title of an old Spike Lee movie — keeps popping up: “Do the right thing.”…
Gary Bledsoe, vice chairman of the NAACP’s legal committee, said that he heard enough during the three-week trial of George Zimmerman to convince him that race played a role in the killing of Martin. The 17-year-old was unarmed but, according to defense attorneys, initiated a physical fight after Zimmerman began tailing him.
Especially compelling, Bledsoe said, was a statement Zimmerman made in a call to a non-emergency police line after spotting Martin walking through his community in Sanford, just north of Orlando: “These a–holes, they always get away.” Any linguist would say Zimmerman’s comment had racial connotations, Bledsoe said.
“There are so many references with clear racial undertones,” Bledsoe, a Texas civil rights lawyer, said in an interview. “You can break down the language.”
“My prayers are with the Martin family and with every family who loves someone who is lost to violence,” [Hillary Clinton] said in an almost 30-minute speech. “No mother, no father, should ever have to fear for their child walking down a street in the United States of America.”…
She said she knew this week has “brought heartache, deep painful heartache” to families in the wake of the not guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial last Saturday…
“Yesterday I know you heard from the Attorney General about the next steps from the Justice Department and the need for a national dialogue,” she said. “As we move forward as we must I hope this sisterhood will continue to be a force for justice and understanding.”
Plus, as much eagerness as there is to hear more from Obama, there’s a widespread worry any more direct statement from him could spoil the Justice Department action that Attorney General Eric Holder renewed his commitment to on Monday.
“If there’s a voice that we want to hear in this administration, it’s the voice of the U.S. Department of Justice,” said NAACP President Ben Jealous, arguing that his focus is on building pressure for civil rights prosecution and a civil case against Zimmerman that would force the shooter to take the stand. “I told the president a long time ago that we expect him to be commander in chief, not advocate in chief.”
Freshman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) agreed. Finding a way to prosecute Zimmerman is the priority, not dissecting what was in the president’s statement or what wasn’t.
Federal civil rights statutes had a different genesis. They were enacted not to supplement state prosecutions, but because of the failure of the states to take seriously the civil rights of their citizens. The federal government was stepping in to fill a gap that widened in post civil war America, when African Americans were victimized and state law enforcement stood silent. The federal government was doing what the states couldn’t or wouldn’t do…
But all of this is an abstraction: The question is whether the federal government should step in following this verdict at this time. As The New York Times reported, there were problems with this state prosecution, problems unquestionably related to state politics and its self defense laws, which seemed to enable deadly force at a point far earlier than other states or the common law. The prosecution was delayed; witnesses were not interviewed immediately; evidence gathering was delayed. And the state trial took place before a six person jury – a jury whose size necessarily meant it would be less representative.
The problem is that many of these issues will be replicated at the federal level — what was Zimmerman’s motive, and what he reasonably believed the law privileged him to do. And the federal jury – drawn from a wider, and largely suburban area – will be even less diverse—as many federal juries are. The federal government should look carefully at the issues. Another verdict ratifying Zimmerman’s conduct – if that should happen – would help no one.
There is an argument for federal prosecution in cases in which uniquely federal interests are at stake or in which state and local officials prove themselves unwilling or unable to pursue wrongdoers. There’s no question state officials failed to dispense equal justice in the Jim Crow South. Yet there is no distinct federal interest in a local homicide, no matter how often it appears on cable news nationwide. Here in Ohio, federal prosecutors turned a violent intra-sect religious dispute into a federal case by showing that an involved weapon had, at one time, traveled in interstate commerce. This is absurd.
Undue assertions of federal authority are bad enough. It is even worse when federal prosecutors wait in the wings to second-guess acquittals by local juries. The Supreme Court may have concluded that a separate federal prosecution for the same crime does not violate the constitutional protection against “double jeopardy,” but that does not mean federal prosecutors are right to intervene in a high-profile case when a jury decides not to convict. Local officials made every effort to convict George Zimmerman, and there is no reason to believe the jury failed to fairly consider the evidence presented. Our justice system is premised on the idea that the government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and sometimes a jury finds the government fell short. That some are disappointed in the verdict is an insufficient basis for the feds to take a second swing.
Observe that what the Justice Department has announced is an investigation, not a prosecution. This is the same pedantic distinction Holder drew when he was caught misleading Congress in connection with the surveillance of Fox News correspondent James Rosen. Investigation is cost-free for Holder. The only one who gets harmed is Zimmerman, because he has to live in fear of prosecution, and the continued investigation means a continued spotlight which implies continued harassment by the hard Left. Holder only gets hurt if he actually tries to file charges – he will be humiliated if the grand jury refuses to indict or a jury (or the trial judge) laughs the case out of court.
As I argued last year when Holder did his Sharpton collaboration, (a) the civil-rights statutes are of dubious constitutionality in terms of federal jurisdiction over intrastate activity by private citizens that involves no federal interest; and (b) even if that were not so, a federal civil-rights case against Zimmerman would be weaker than the state murder case – if it is possible, there is even less evidence that Zimmerman intended to interfere with Martin’s enjoyment of a recognized federal civil right than that Zimmerman possessed the criminal intent required to sustain a murder conviction. So when all is said and done, I believe the Justice Department will not indict Zimmerman, the trial would be too embarrassing for DOJ…
Expect a reprise on Zimmerman. Holder tells the Left he is aggressively investigating; but tells Congress he is just poking around in a responsible way, hasn’t really done anything in the way of filing charges, and respects the verdict in Florida. No charges get filed, but the racial-grievance industry has a green-light to continue agitating, Zimmerman endures the anxiety and expense of a continuing threat of prosecution, and we all watch the spectacle of our justice system used as a tool of racial politics and political fundraising.
As some of us warned five years ago, to confirm Holder as attorney general was to guarantee politicized justice – that, after all, is what “social justice” is.
“Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” Holder said…
“But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely,” Holder said. “By allowing — and perhaps encouraging — violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
He called for a “hard look” at the laws. The crowd applauded as he said “we must stand our ground.”
Via the Corner.