Sharpton, Ministers Call for Civil Rights Probe of Zimmerman

Shevry Lassiter | 7/16/2013, 1 p.m. | Updated on 7/16/2013, 4:14 p.m.
Rev. Al Sharpton held a press conference Tuesday in front of the U.S. Justice Department with more than 25 ministers, ...
Rev. Al Sharpton and several ministers from around the nation held a press conference at the U.S. Department of Justice building in D.C. on July 16, calling for the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations made against slain black teen Trayvon Martin. Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Rev. Al Sharpton held a press conference Tuesday in front of the U.S. Justice Department with more than 25 ministers, demanding an aggressive civil rights investigation of the Trayvon Martin case.

Sharpton, who said he has pressed the federal government to handle the case since last year, will send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of himself, the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, pushing for civil rights charges to be pursued.

George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon during a February 2012 confrontation in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, who said he fired his gun in self-defense, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges on Saturday, a decision that immediately sparked national outrage.

"Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home," Sharpton said. "He was not doing anything wrong."

Sharpton said he went to Sanford, Fla., in 2012 and met with Trayvon's parents, their attorney Benjamin Crump and the U.S. Attorney. The Department of Justice chose not to step in at the time, electing to wait until after the state trial to make a decision.

Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said the organization is planning a statewide drive against the Florida's "stand your ground" law, which permits the use of deadly force if someone fears for their life.

Sharpton said his organization will use Florida as a testing ground to challenge similar laws in 29 states.

"If we don't change the 'stand your ground laws, we risk having more Trayvon Martin cases because the law emboldens people," Sharpton said.

Sharpton is organizing "Justice for Trayvon" vigils in 100 cities across the country on Saturday, July 20 to press the federal government to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman. He and hundreds of ministers will hold prayer vigils and rallies in front of federal buildings nationwide.