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Justice Department Reviews Possibility of Civil Rights Case Against Zimmerman

July 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Attorney General Eric Holder called the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin "tragic," but he did not comment on whether the federal government would file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. Gwen Ifill reports on how Americans -- who turned out for vigils and protests this weekend -- are reacting to the verdict.
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GWEN IFILL: The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin echoed across the country today. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer weighed in, amid protests against the verdict and demands for federal action.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: We are also mindful of the pain felt by our nation surrounding the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

GWEN IFILL: Attorney General Eric Holder used a Washington speech to address the outcome of the Zimmerman trial and to issue an appeal.

ERIC HOLDER: I believe this tragedy allows another opportunity for this nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised.

We must not as we have too often in the past let this opportunity pass.

GWEN IFILL: The Justice Department is reviewing possible civil rights charges against Zimmerman, but Holder gave no indication of what the decision would be.

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ERIC HOLDER: I want to assure you that the department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law.

GWEN IFILL: Zimmerman insisted all along that he acted in self-defense in his confrontation with the 17-year-old Martin, who was unarmed. Late Saturday, a six-woman jury acquitted the neighborhood watch volunteer of both second-degree murder and manslaughter.

WOMAN: We, the jury, find George Zimmerman not guilty.

GWEN IFILL: In the hours that followed, protesters gathered in cities across the country demonstrating against what they viewed as a miscarriage of justice, from Florida.

PROTESTER: I’m a black youth, and just to see one black youth die, that’s crazy. It’s like, when is it going to stop? It’s been going on for too long.

GWEN IFILL: To Ohio.

BRIA MCNAIR, protester: I was hurt by it just because I didn’t feel that justice was served. Even though it may have been in self-defense, I think he should have had to accept some responsibility for what he did.

GWEN IFILL: To Arizona.

TAJ LOO, protester: It’s so important that we be able to trust that the laws that our nation has apply to all of us equally for us to all be able to buy into the system.

GWEN IFILL: Others interviewed around the country said the jury got it right.

WOMAN: I don’t think the prosecution did enough and I think that the defense did.

JAMES TAFELSKI, supporter of the Zimmerman verdict: You see little bits and pieces and you have to speculate and think of the whole trial, just from those little pieces, whereas the jury, they look at the whole trial. They see all the evidence and they have everything to consider.

GWEN IFILL: For the most part, the crowds who came out to protest the verdict were peaceful, but there were scattered incidents. Late Saturday, in Oakland, California, demonstrators vandalized buildings and smashed car windows.

And last night groups of protesters in Los Angeles threw rocks and bottles at police. Six people were arrested for failing to disperse.

President Obama acknowledged the emotionally charged verdict in a weekend statement.

It read in part:

“This case has elicited strong passions, but we are a nation of laws and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”

Today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, the president will play no role in whether to pursue federal charges against George Zimmerman.

But civil rights organizations and others are pressing action, with plans to hold 100 vigils and rallies at federal buildings across the country this Saturday.

Trayvon Martin’s family also had the option of filing a civil suit against Zimmerman.