Eric Holder to the NAACP: DOJ Still ‘Has an Open Investigation’ into the Trayvon Martin Shooting, ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws Must Go
David Martosko, Daily Mail (London), July 16, 2013
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assured hundreds of black civil rights activists Tuesday during the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida, that his Justice Department still ‘has an open investigation’ into the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the African-American teenager shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012.
He also offered a scathing critique of so-called ‘stand your ground laws’ in effect in Florida and other states. Zimmerman’s attorneys did not claim refuge under Florida’s version, which holds that the victim of a potentially deadly assault is not required to retreat to safety before using deadly force in return.
‘It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,’ Holder said. ‘These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if–and the “if” is important–no safe retreat is available.
Holder complained that ‘stand your ground’ laws have ‘eliminat[ed] the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely.’
‘It is our collective obligation–we must stand our ground–to ensure that our laws reduce violence,’ he said, ‘and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.’
A jury acquitted Zimmerman on Saturday in Sanford, Florida, just 30 miles away. But civil rights activists including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP president Benjamin Jealous have asked Holder to lodge federal civil rights charges against him.
‘Even as this convention proceeds, we are all mindful of the tragic and unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year–in Sanford, just a short distance from here–and the state trial that reached its conclusion on Saturday evening,’ Holder said.
‘Today, I’d like to join President Obama in urging all Americans to recognize that, as he said, we are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken. I know the NAACP and its members are deeply, and rightly, concerned about this case, as passionate civil rights leaders, as engaged citizens, and–most of all–as parents.’
‘This afternoon,’ he added, ‘I want to assure you of two things: I am concerned about this case and as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it. 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 then used the Martin case as the basis to lay out a political agenda related to ‘the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised.’
Those issues include gun rights and the ‘stand your ground’ laws.
The attorney general also attacked a recent Supreme Court ruling that nullified one section of the voting Rights Act of 1965. That section previously required states with a ‘history of discrimination’ against minorities to seek the approval of the Justice Department before making changes to their voting procedures.
Under President Obama, the DOJ had used that legal requirement to stop several southern states from implementing laws requiring voters to show IDs at the polls.
Still, he said, ‘the Justice Department will continue to monitor jurisdictions around the country for any changes that may hamper voting rights. We will not hesitate to take aggressive action–using every tool that remains available to us–against any jurisdiction that attempts to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling by hindering eligible citizens’ free and fair exercise of the franchise.’
He also said he had ‘directed the Department’s Civil Rights Division to shift resources to the enforcement of Voting Rights Act provisions that were not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling – including Section 2, which prohibits voting discrimination based on race, color, or language – in addition to other federal voting rights laws.’