Nearly a month after the tragic shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the U.S. Department of Justice, along with the FBI, has launched a full investigation into the matter. In the midst of uproar and strong racial tension, the teen's parents and supporters across the country are demanding justice.
In a statement released on March 19, the Justice Department explained that it would review all evidence in the case and take appropriate action. The probe will be performed in its civil rights division.
“With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids—the highest level of intent in criminal law,” the statement read.
The Department also said it would help Florida State officials with their probe.
The controversial case has sparked outrage across the country.
On Feb. 26 around dusk, Martin was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s home in Sanford, Fla. from an errand to a convenience store.
Meanwhile, George Zimmerman, a Hispanic 28-year-old member of a citizens patrol group spotted the teen and dialed 911 to report Martin, who he described as “suspicious.”
Though dispatchers urged Zimmerman to wait until authorities arrived in the neighborhood, he took action and followed the teen. Moments later, Zimmerman shot and killed the teen and claimed it was in self-defense.
When police and emergency medical officials arrived at the scene, Martin was pronounced dead with a gunshot wound in his chest. Police later found that the teen was carrying cash, candy and a container of iced tea.
After Martin’s parents and various civil rights groups across the country demanded the release of the 911 recordings on the day of the incident, they were finally released on March 16.
On the Sanford 911 tape Zimmerman, who told the dispatcher there had been break-ins in this gated community, said, "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something, These assholes always get away,” Zimmerman told the 911 operator.
Martin had no record of disciplinary problems as a student and no police record. In contrast, Zimmerman had been arrested in Orange County, Fla., in 2005 for resisting an arrest with violence and assault on a law enforcement officer, according to the Huffington Post.
Seven 911 tapes were posted on the Huffington Post web site March 16 of Zimmerman’s initial call together with subsequent calls from neighbors who reported gunshots and a fight between Martin, who was found to be unarmed, and Zimmerman, who is 100 pounds heavier.
The tapes came from the Sanford Police Department and had been posted on the city’s web site, which shut down after a surge of access attempts and citizen comments about the handling of the shooting.
The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network was among those calling for the release of the tapes. In addition, there are growing calls for Zimmerman’s arrest. The New Black Liberation Militia, a Black, self-styled survival group, announced March 16 that it plans to arrest Zimmerman and hand him over to federal authorities.
According to ABC News, Martin was on the phone with a female friend just moments before his death.
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on,” the girl recounted. “He said he lost the man. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
The girl explained that moments later, Martin did run, but said “the strange man” was back and cornered him. She said that she heard pushing over the phone and realized that Martin’s headset had fallen. She tried to call him back shortly thereafter but he didn’t answer the phone.
The Huffington Post reported that local residents have complained about Zimmerman's tactics as a neighborhood watchman in the past. Police said they have little evidence to counter Zimmerman's claims and, on March 13, Wolfinger said he will decide whether to prosecute. Law enforcement officials estimate their decision will take several weeks.
"What occurred here is tragic and horrific," James Davis, a 64-year-old Sanford resident told the Orlando Sentinel. "Every American citizen should be outraged." Davis and many others in the Sanford community believe Martin was shot because he was Black.
The killing has sparked uproar in Sanford's African American community, according to residents who say there has been an historically strained relationship between Blacks and police.
The Martin family and attorneys have held numerous press conferences outside of the Sanford Police headquarters and posted a petition demanding a thorough investigation on Change.org that had garnered nearly 547,484 signatures, as of March 20.
Despite a tremendous call for justice, Zimmerman may walk free due to a Florida statute called “Stand Your Ground.”
According to the Sentinel, the law prevents registered gun users from being prosecuted if they claim self-defense in situations where they feel endangered.
The law was introduced in 2005 after being spearheaded by the National Rifle Association.
Still, many believe that the February incident would have transpired differently if Martin had been the shooter.
Benjamin Crump, the Martins’ Lawyer said in a statement, “If Trayvon would have been the trigger man, it’s nothing Trayvon Martin could have said to keep the police from arresting him day 1, hour 1.”