President Obama on Sunday called the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin a “tragedy” and urged calm one day after shooter George Zimmerman was acquitted, saying that America was a “nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America,” said Obama in a statement.
Obama urged Americans to “ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.”
The verdict to acquit Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, an unarmed black teenager, during an altercation, led to protests nationwide and debate over the nation’s gun laws and racial profiling.
The jury’s decision though split lawmakers, with many Democrats urging the Justice Department to investigate the evidence and bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
“This isn’t over with,” vowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The Justice Department said Sunday that it was reviewing the case closely, but did not commit to pressing charges.
“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department's policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” said DOJ spokeswoman Dena Iverson.
Iverson noted that the department first looked into the case last year and said the DOJ would be joined by the FBI and U.S. attorneys from Florida in reviewing the evidence and state trial.
Some, though, argued that that the case should be closed and criticized Obama, whom they accused of politicizing the killing ahead of the trial.
Obama had spoken about the controversy last year, telling reporters that if he had a son he’d “look like Trayvon.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Sunday said Zimmerman, who said he acted in self-defense, should never have been prosecuted.
“The evidence didn’t support prosecution, and the Justice Department engaged in this, the president engaged in this and turned it into a political issue that should have been handled exclusively with law-and-order,” he said.
Obama made no indication whether he would welcome federal criminal charges against Zimmerman, but used the case to discuss the broader issue of gun violence, which he has made an administration priority since the mass shooting last December at Sandy Hook elementary school.
“We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis,” Obama said. “We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.”
“As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
Following Sandy Hook, which left 20 children and six adults dead, Obama announced a series of executive actions to tackle the problem. But the president’s main gun control priorities, including universal background checks for firearm sales and bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, require congressional action.
A flurry of bills introduced in the wake of the school shooting have stalled in the face of opposition from gun-rights advocacy groups and many members of Congress, who express concern about infringing on Second Amendment rights.
This story was last updated at 5:07 p.m.