Justice Department to Investigate Martin Killing

Frederick Carter | 3/20/2012, 11:47 p.m.

Outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin reached Washington Monday as the Congressional Black Caucus called on the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the shooting death of the Florida teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. And by late in the day, the Justice Department had announced it will launch an investigation into Martin's killing.

"We urge the Department of Justice to immediately and thoroughly investigate the shooting death of Trayvon Martin as a hate crime," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). CBC chair, said in a statement. "This case compromises the integrity of our legal system and sets a horrific precedent of vigilante justice."

Cleaver added that "as a nation we cannot, should not, and will not ignore, Trayvon's brutal murder and the inconceivable fact that his killer remains free."

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in response to a reporter's question about whether President Barack Obama had planned to weigh in on the case, said, "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," he added.

But late Monday, Justice Department officials announced they were sending its community relations service this week to Sanford, Florida to meet with authorities, community officials and civil rights leaders "to address tension in the community."

"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," the agency said in an emailed statement.

Martin, 17, was fatally shot in a gated community in Sanford last month by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain who thought the teen looked suspicious as he walked back from a convenience store carrying only a package of Skittles and an ice tea.

Zimmerman saw Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood and called 911 to report a suspicious person. He went against the advice of the 911 dispatcher and followed Martin, who was walking home from the store with the bag of Skittles in his pocket.

The teen, described by one of his teachers as an "A and B student who majored in cheerfulness," lived with his mother in Miami, but was visiting his father and stepmother at The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford.

The shooting - and apparent shoddy handling of the case by local authorities - has spurred anger in the black community and put an intense media spotlight on the local police. Local killings of blacks rarely garner national attention. Trayvon Martin's case has.

The drumbeat for justice got only louder after 911 calls from Zimmerman and witnesses were released. The tapes raise questions about the motive of the shooting and seem to weaken Zimmerman's argument that he shot Martin in self-defense.

Neighbors have also spoken out in recent days and described Zimmerman as an over-zealous Neighborhood Watch member. The Miami Herald reported that Zimmerman, a criminal justice student, called police at least 46 times since January 2011 to report disturbances, break-ins, or windows left open. In nine of those calls, he reported he saw someone or something suspicious, the paper reported.