The nation’s top law-enforcement officer told an African-American sorority Monday that he would lead an effort to change Americans’ beliefs and judgments about race, following George Zimmerman’s Sunday acquittal in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Attorney General Eric Holder blamed racial attitudes for the killing.
“We are resolved, as you are, to combat violence involving or directed at young people, to prevent future tragedies, and to deal with the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs and stereotypes that serve as the basis for these too-common incidents,” Holder told the long-scheduled meeting of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Martin was a 17 year-old black youth in Florida.
“I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honesty about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder said, while pointing his finger for emphasis.
“We must not, as we have too often in the past, let this opportunity pass,” he said, reminding listeners of the episode in 2009 when he called Americans “a nation of cowards” for not talking about race in the way he wished.
However, Holder did not use the speech as an opportunity to explain beliefs that he believes are mistaken, nor to offer data that shows suspect attitudes and stereotypes are either commonplace or incorrect.
Holder was appointed as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
Holder’s effort to blame racial misunderstanding for the initial shooting is unjustified, said several lawyers.
“State prosecutors… tried to prove that throughout their entire case and there was no evidence of it,” said Hans Von Spakovsky, a former justice department lawyer now at the centrist Heritage Foundation.
“The jury didn’t buy it,” he told the The Daily Caller.
Moreover, “FBI reports are now also out in the public domain and the FBI itself admitted there was no racial animus,” he added.
“The Sanford Police Department did not indicate race was a factor when they were originally investigating the case,” Ron Christie, a lawyer and a former official in President George W. Bush’s White House, told TheDC.
“There’s zero evidence that for Zimmerman…race was a motivation,” said Tom Fitton, president of the civil rights law firm Judicial Watch, adding that there is even some evidence suggesting Zimmerman had no racial animus.
Zimmerman’s mother is Hispanic, but he is routinely described in media reports as “white,” or a “white Hispanic.”
Holder used this speech to suggest repeatedly that “the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin” was caused by racial attitudes, and promised the African-American audience that he would take additional action.
“We are cognizant of the fact that the state trial reached its [not guilty] conclusion over the weekend,” he said. “The Justice Department shares your concern, I share your concern, and as we first acknowledged last spring, we have opened an investigation into this matter.”
“I want to assure you that the department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and he law,” Holder said. “We are committed to stand with the people of Sanford [in Florida], with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, to address community concerns and to promote healing.”
Holder did not say he would defend the safety or civil rights of Zimmerman, who is facing numerous death threats.
“There are a number of activists, like Holder, Al Sharpton, and frankly the president, who want to view all concerns like this through race and racial grievances,” said Fitton.
“They have a right to their personal view,” he said, but not “to promote that ideology through the Justice Department and prosecutions.”
“Is the Justice Department an agency that the American people can have confidence in that will fairly administer the law?” “The answer to that, based on we’re seeing and what we’ve seen, is No,” Fitton told TheDC.
“You have to wonder who is running the Justice Department,” Fitton said.
“Al Sharpton or Eric Holder? And does it make it make a difference?
Caitlin McClure contributed to this story.