SANFORD, Fla. — Rallying in front of the Sanford Police Department headquarters, members of the New Black Panther Party ripped President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for not responding forcefully enough to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
Mikhail Muhammad, the southern regional minister for the New Black Panther Party, told The Daily Caller that he thinks that the DOJ’s decision to get involved in this case came “a little too late.”
The DOJ didn’t decide to get involved until after Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown pressed Holder for federal help on the case. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division finally announced it was launching an investigation into the case on March 19, according to The Miami Herald, nearly a month after Martin was killed.
“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,” an unnamed DOJ spokesperson told The Herald. “Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
“The community has lost confidence in our government,” Muhammad, the leader of a small Thursday afternoon protest, said. “He [Holder] waited to make a decision to step in. Why? To appease the black community? To make them believe that we’re citizens?”
Muhammad said he doesn’t have confidence in Holder’s ability to handle the case correctly and is concerned that Holder is only interested in political spoils he may reap from the tragedy.
Another Panther, James Evans Muhammad, the national education director of the Black Power Movement, told TheDC he wants Obama to speak up and — as one of his supporters — is upset the president has thus refused to do so. (RELATED: Embattled Fla. police chief steps down temporarily)
“I’m waiting, and I must say this, having been a manager of Barack Obama’s team, when is the president going to speak on this? The president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, has failed to speak on the issue of the racial divide. He’s dealing with economics, he’s dealing with war, he’s dealing with foreign affairs, but Mr. President, I will say to you, as one of your supporters, you have not addressed the issue in America of racial divide.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney was first asked about the incident the same day the DOJ jumped into the case, March 19, and essentially declined to comment.
“We here in the White House are aware of the incident, and we understand that the local FBI office has been in contact with the local authorities and is monitoring the situation,” Carney said when asked. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin’s family, but obviously we’re not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.”
Pushed further after a reporter pointed out to Carney how the president did get involved in a similar, but much less serious, case when a Harvard University professor ran into issues with local law enforcement, Carney demurred.
James Evans Muhammad told TheDC that while he thinks that Harvard professor Henry Gates should be commended for what he’s done for the black community, he believes Obama is missing out on an opportunity to help everyday black Americans.
“I have to say to my brother, Mr. President, it’s beautiful to sit down and have a glass of beer, and in that situation, no one lost their life, and our Harvard professor Henry Gates, he should be honored and recognized,” James Evans Muhammad said. “But, these are the people at the grassroots level, black and white — understand this — black and white, who support you.”
The Panthers are calling for a citizen’s arrest of Martin’s shooter, accusing him of “murder,” and are distributing flyers around Sanford saying he needs to be taken in “dead or alive.”
The tragic debacle began when a self-appointed neighborhood community watch captain, George Zimmerman, killed Martin in late February after the two apparently wrestled each other. Zimmerman — a Hispanic male who was originally incorrectly described in media reports as a white male — alleges he shot Martin in self-defense.
A law Florida passed in past decade, dubbed the “Stand Your Ground” law, allows people to use deadly force when they believe it’s necessary for their own self-defense. However, newly released 911 calls and other records indicate that Zimmerman may have initiated a confrontation with Martin before feeling he needed to use deadly force.
Zimmerman has not been arrested, and local police claim they believe he acted in self-defense in accordance with the “Stand Your Ground” law. Even so, scores of activists, organizations and politicians — including Florida Republican Rep. Allen West — have called for Zimmerman’s arrest. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stepped down Thursday afternoon amid the uproar surrounding Martin’s death.
Martin had only been carrying his cell phone, a pack of Skittles and an iced tea when the incident occurred. Protesters have adorned their signs with packs of Skittles as well.
While only about fifty people were in attendance at Thursday afternoon’s rally, the Panthers’ protest served as a precursor to the rally MSNBC host and liberal firebrand the Rev. Al Sharpton is organizing here Thursday evening.