“Many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages,” Holder said to the civil rights group National Action Network. “If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action, and at every step, the facts and law will guide us forward.”
Martin, a 17-year-old African-American, was shot and killed in Florida by Hispanic Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman, who claimed he was acting in self-defense.
Martin was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law permits the use of deadly force in some cases of self-defense.
Prior to the shooting, Zimmerman called 911 to report what he said was suspicious behavior on the part of Martin. Zimmerman followed Martin home, despite the emergency dispatcher telling him not to do so.
Zimmerman has not been charged with any wrongdoing. On Tuesday, his lawyers said they would no longer represent him, as they had fallen out of contact with him.
Florida state attorney Angela B. Corey said she would release new information on the investigation within the next 72 hours.
Last month the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into the episode, following criticism that the local police department had botched its investigation.
“I also can make you another promise, that at every level of the Justice Department, preventing and combating youth violence and victimization is, and will continue to be, a top priority,” Holder said.
But speaking later in the day, when asked about it at a press conference on an antitrust lawsuit brought against Apple, the attorney general spoke cautiously about the “high bar that we have to meet to bring federal charges” against a suspect for a federal hate crime.
“For a federal hate crime, we have to prove the highest standard in the law,” Holder said. “Something that was reckless, was negligent, does not meet that standard. We have to show the specific intent to do the crime with the requisite state of mind.”
Holder also commented on the case at a more personal level.
“As a parent, I reacted to it,” he said. “This is a pain that no parent should have to endure. The notion of having to bury a child is something that is, I think in some ways for a parent, the ultimate pain. The primary responsibility we have in the Justice Department is to support the state in its ongoing investigation, to do our own thorough and parallel investigation which we are in the process of doing and try to resolve this matter in as fair and complete a way and as quickly as we can.”