Sun, Jul

Justice Still Demands a Civil Rights Prosecution of George Zimmerman


JUSTICE-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a recent news conference that he will decide soon whether to prosecute George Zimmerman who was acquitted in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. Holder still has a compelling reason to prosecute Zimmerman and it’s not solely because of his arrest and jailing for an alleged assault on his girlfriend, with the added allegation that he pointed a gun at her. 

This is only part of the compelling reason for a federal prosecution.

The Justice Department had firm grounds after Zimmerman’s acquittal in state court to bring civil rights charges against him. The legal standard that federal prosecutors use in determining when civil rights charges should be filed is clear. A prosecution can be brought when the state prosecution was shoddy, inadequate, and inept. The prosecution’s appalling presentation of botched and contradictory evidence, grossly unprepared prosecution witnesses, and most important, the muddling of the charge, second degree murder was glaringly apparent in the state trial. 

Federal prosecutors must consider whether the state in essence failed through incompetence or deliberate intent to dump its case. It mattered little in Zimmerman’s trial whether it was one or the other the end result was the same, an acquittal which defied all legal logic. A strong case can be made from this that there is a substantial federal interest in insuring that a prosecution of Zimmerman is fair, professional and unbiased. 

There is still great evidence from the deeply flawed state prosecution that the Justice Department can obtain a conviction. Federal prosecutors must also be convinced that the defendant's action, in this case the gunning down of Martin, constitutes a federal offense. The federal offense was the violation of Martin’s civil rights. 

The defense and prosecution in the state agreed on one thing and that was that Martin did not commit a crime, was not even suspected of a crime, and was on a public thoroughfare when he was killed. The right to freedom of movement without the danger of undue harm is a fundamental right that's enshrined in constitutional law and public policy. It's inviolate. The courts have repeatedly upheld a citizen's right to freedom of access and movement in public places. 

Zimmerman’s confronting and then initiating the deadly events that unfolded clearly violated Martin's right to exercise his freedom of movement. This directly impacts on an individual's right to life and liberty. Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil right the instant he presumed that he had committed or at the very least suspected of committing a crime by walking on public sidewalk. The safeguard of that right must be a fundamental concern of federal prosecutors. 

There was audio evidence that strongly hinted that it was Martin who was screaming for help and therefore was under physical assault from Zimmerman. Therefore it was his life, not Zimmerman's that was in mortal danger. This is sufficient cause for federal prosecutors to question whether the jury ignored the fact that Martin was likely the victim. This is one of the basic ingredients in determining whether the jury nullified a compelling prosecution fact. 

The Martin case raised deeply troubling questions about the power of the law to protect citizens from their unimpeded right to life and safety. Federal prosecutors play a major role in insuring that where there's the suspicion that an individual's rights might have been violated for any reason not solely because of their race and gender that the power of federal law is brought to bear to insure that their rights are protected. 

Holder told the news conference that he still thought that a substantial part of the issues that landed Zimmerman in the defendant’s docket were “resolved” in the state trial. The operative word was “substantial” but that’s not the same as saying that all the issues were resolved. 

The one that dangles and demands redress is the violation of Martin’s civil rights. This right is violated when an individual is denied the right to be free from undue harm because of their color, age, and being in a public area merely because someone perceives they shouldn't be in and then acts on that perception with no cause other than that belief or perception. 

This is totally different than of a jury not finding enough evidence to warrant a guilty verdict on a second degree murder charge. A civil right is protected under federal law and is separate and apart from the ambiguity of the murder charge that Zimmerman was charged with in a state court. 

Holder is absolutely right when he says that there is a “high bar” in the federal standard for a second prosecution of a defendant acquitted in a state trial. But the moment that Zimmerman accosted Martin in a public space with no grounds for his action he plunged that legal bar. This is why justice still demands a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman.


(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media.) 







Vol 11 Issue 94

Pub: Nov 22, 2013









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