House Judiciary Democrats Encourage Department of Justice to Review Trayvon Martin Shooting Under Federal Hate Crime Laws

Mar 22, 2012

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee led by Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging the Department of Justice to review the shooting of Trayvon Martin under a federal hate crimes statute.  Under federal law, it is a crime to willfully cause bodily injury because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.  Mr. Martin, a 17 year old African-American, was shot dead while walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a white, self-proclaimed “neighborhood watchmen.”  Mr. Zimmerman asserts he shot Mr. Martin in self-defence and Sanford Police Department declined to arrest him.  As information has been made more publically available it appears to cast doubt on Mr. Zimmerman’s assertion that Mr. Martin threatened his life and previous statements attributed to Mr. Zimmerman seem to indicate he was motivated by race.  This week, local officials finally convened a Grand Jury to consider charges against Mr. Zimmerman three weeks after the shooting occurred.    

“We are extremely concerned that the conduct of the Sanford Police Department creates the appearance that local officials are unwilling to enforce the law equally and may encourage citizens to believe that they can take the law into their own hands with impunity,” wrote the members.  “Congress passed updated federal hate crimes authority to guard against the failure of local officials to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute misconduct motivated by race or other protected characteristics and to ensure justice for victims and their families.  We therefore encourage you to explore the applicability of federal hate crime and other federal laws that may be implicated in this case.”

Additionally  the members praised the Department of Justice for announcing that Community Relations Services staff from the Department’s Civil Rights Decision will be assisting Sanford, Florida residents and officials in addressing any tensions that may arise in the community as a result of the matter.     

“We are heartened by the speed of the response from the Department of Justice.  Through your measured use of federal authority, the family of  Trayvon Martin and concerned citizens around the Nation can now more comfortably rely on the fact that the ends of justice will be served.”

The text of the letter is available here.