Attorney General Eric Holder told the NAACP convention in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday that the Justice Department is still investigating whether to bring federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, who was declared not guilty only three days ago by a Florida jury. Holder also condemned "stand your ground" self defense laws that have passed in dozens of states, saying they "sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."
The conference was held just a 30-minute drive from where Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted on self-defense grounds.
Holder blasted the laws that remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force when attacked in public, saying they allow and perhaps encourage "violent situations to escalate in public" and "undermine public safety." The conference applauded when Holder told them to "stand our ground" and change the laws.
Holder got personal in his speech, saying that Martin's death prompted him to have a "conversation" with his 15-year-old son about how to act if he is ever stopped by police.
The NAACP has organized a petition urging Holder to charge Zimmerman with a hate crime that has garnered more than a million signatures.
“I am concerned about this case and as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it,” Holder said. “While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take.”
Holder recalled how his father talked to him years ago "about how as a young black man I should interact with the police, what to say, and how to conduct myself if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way I thought was unwarranted." Holder thought he wouldn't have to have the same conversation with his own son, but did, after Martin's death, he said.
"Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me," he said. "This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy."
Holder also recounted the times he had been stopped by police and had his vehicle searched, even though he was sure he wasn't speeding. One time, "I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to a catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C," Holder said. "I was at the time of that last incident a federal prosecutor."
McClatchy reported that the FBI – which interviewed nearly three dozen people in the case – found no evidence that racial bias motivated Zimmerman to shoot Martin. Zimmerman is half Hispanic, Martin was black.
Holder also expressed disappointment in the recent Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. He announced that the Justice Department would allocate more resources to enforcing the parts of the law that remain intact.