Protesters call for federal civil rights lawsuit in Trayvon Martin case

Protesters around the country on Saturday are calling on the Obama administration to prosecute George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, on civil rights grounds.

The demonstrations come after President Obama downplayed the possibility that Attorney General Eric Holder would take the case, calling it an issue for "state and local" law enforcement.

Martin's parents were scheduled to lead protests in New York and Miami in partnership with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who said demonstrations would take place in more than 100 U.S. cities. 

ADVERTISEMENT
For days, activists have rallied around the goal of a Justice Department (DOJ) suit against Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Sanford, Fla.

Zimmerman's attorneys argued that he acted in self-defense, but many have alleged that racial bias was a factor in Martin's killing. The 17-year-old was unarmed at the time he died.

The acquittal has prompted a massive backlash against "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and other states, which Obama criticized Friday in an impromptu press briefing.

"If we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit the situation — is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?" Obama asked reporters.

"It seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws," he added.

DOJ is conducting its own investigation in the case to decide whether to bring discrimination charges against Zimmerman.

Obama said law enforcement should receive more training to ward off racial bias, but he sought to lower expectations about a federal civil rights suit.

"Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels," Obama said.

"I know that [Attorney General] Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here," he said.  

In Miami, meanwhile, protesters prepared for a full day of rallies, shouting "Hey, hey, DOJ! Pick up the case now." 

During an interview on CNN, Tracey Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, said support in Miami and across the country has been “overwhelming.”

“It sends a message to the nation that we’re not going to sit back and let our children be killed and don’t say anything about it,“ he said.

--This report was originally published at 9:50 a.m. and last updated at 1:09 p.m.