The fatal shooting of an unarmed 17 year-old African American last month in Florida continues to generate widespread attention as celebrities have begun to speak out and demand justice.
Weeks after neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman claimed self-defense for his shooting of Trayvon Martin, the federal government is now looking to get involved in the matter.
More than 435,000 people, many alerted by tweets from celebrities like movie director Spike Lee and musician Wyclef Jean, signed a petition on Change.org, a social action website, calling for the arrest of the shooter, George Zimmerman. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced they have opened an investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting in Florida of an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin.
The federal government will now review the case, however, is expected to face stiff challenges.
Under growing public pressure, the Department of Justice announced Monday that it would conduct a review of the case, but added the qualification that the “government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids.” Complicating matters, Florida state law allows a person the right to stand their ground and use deadly force if they feel threatened. The Justice Department recognized that, stating that “negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.” The federal government can’t prosecute Zimmerman for murder or manslaughter, so any prosecution for civil rights violations must prove Zimmerman took Martin’s life because of prejudice.
According to reports, the teenage victim was unarmed and called out for help prior to Zimmerman’s fatal shooting.
Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening last month and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket.
By Florida law, deadly action can be taken even if the aggressor is unarmed.
Under the law in Florida and other states, it appears to make little difference that someone in Trayvon’s situation was unarmed. The laws in Florida and other states with similar laws do not require there be an actual threat, only that the shooter “reasonably believe” he or she is in mortal peril, says Utah lawyer Mr Mitch Vilos.
Check out coverage of the case below: