NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday the killing of Trayvon Martin was a “tragic, unnecessary shooting” and that the 17-year-old’s death provides an opportunity for the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues.
In his first comments since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Martin case, the attorney general said that Martin’s parents have suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure. He said the nation must not forgo an opportunity toward better understanding of one another.
“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised,” he said.
The Justice Department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
On Sunday, the Justice Department said it is reviewing evidence in the case to determine whether criminal civil rights charges are warranted.
“I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law,” Holder said in remarks to the 51st national convention of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
However, President Barack Obama said he’s not going to get involved in the ultimate decision whether to go forward or not, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“This is a decision made by the Justice Department by career prosecutors and all questions about how that process is undertaken should be directed there and that is not something the president involved himself in,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Six members of New York’s Congressional delegation spoke out Monday against the verdict in Zimmerman’s murder trial.
“At least in my view, George Zimmerman identified Trayvon Martin as a potential criminal because he was black,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
“Race was not taken into consideration in this trial, and so now it should be,” Rep. Gregory Meeks said.
Rep. Charles Rangel said this case is another chapter in the struggle for civil rights in America.
“And we cannot give up, we cannot give out and we cannot give in merely because of this tragedy,” said the longtime Harlem Democrat.
“Something is wrong with our legal system,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez. “There’s no way that you can justify this.”
Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson stood behind his controversial comments about the verdict.
“Trayvon Martin was followed only because he was a black teenager who was doing nothing. And I think if you listened to the trial, that was very clear,” said Thompson. “There was nothing that he did that should have provoked anyone paying attention to him. So, yeah, it was clear that attention was paid to him because he was black.”
Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday in Martin’s February 2012 shooting death, which has unleashed a national debate over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
The Justice Department said the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and federal prosecutors in Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, plus evidence and testimony from the state trial.
The NAACP and others are calling on the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
Meanwhile Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said he’s also not concerned about a wrongful death suit that may be filed by Martin’s family.
“All the information that did not make it into the criminal trial about Trayvon Martin is going to be very relevant to any civil proceedings, so I don’t know why they would want to risk that sort of damaging the memory of Trayvon Martin by opening themselves up to a review of that evidence,” O’Mara said.
Thousands of demonstrators from across the country protested the jury’s decision to clear Zimmerman in the shooting.
In New York City, the NYPD said 15 people were arrested, mostly on disorderly conduct charges, during Sunday’s protest that attracted over a thousand people in Times Square.
The protesters first gathered in Union Square for a rally dubbed “Hoodies Up for Trayvon.” They hoisted placards bearing Martin’s picture and chanted “Justice for! Trayvon Martin!”
“Trayvon Martin needed justice and the justice system failed him,” said protester Randy Jackson.
“All he had on him was a hoodie, Skittles and a juice,” said protester Laticia Livingston.
The marchers made their way to Times Square where they blocked traffic for more than an hour before continuing uptown and to the Bronx and then back to Harlem.
“A good thing that came out of this is everybody got together and we are here now for Trayvon Martin,” said protester Lavona London.
“When you see so many people feel so strong like this, you know something is wrong,” said protester Michelle McStay.
Earlier Sunday at Middle Collegiate Church, many congregants wore hooded sweat shirts in a show of solidarity. Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot.
Hoodie-clad Jessica Nacinovich said she could only feel disappointment and sadness over the verdict.
“I’m sure jurors did what they felt was right in accordance with the law but maybe the law is wrong, maybe society is wrong; there’s a lot that needs fixing,” she said.
Protesters also gathered in Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., along with a host of other cities.
In Los Angeles, police said they began making arrests early Monday morning after about 80 protesters gathered in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and an unlawful assembly was declared.
More than 100 Los Angeles police officers in riot gear converged on the crowd and ordered people to disperse. Police said they made seven arrests throughout the day, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The demonstrations came a day after Zimmerman was cleared of all charges in the February 2012 death of the 17-year-old Martin in Florida. Zimmerman has maintained the shooting was an act of self-defense.
Another protest is planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Hunts Point Plaza in the Bronx.
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