WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s administration pledged Monday to continue a yearlong investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death and determine whether to file federal charges following a state jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman.
While Obama took the unusual step of speaking publicly about a case in a state court, he stopped short of criticizing the Florida jury that handed down its verdict late Saturday.
Instead, he used the case to push for a series of gun control measures that were defeated earlier this year after an elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
“The president wanted to convey that he felt that the death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy for his family, for a community, but also for the country,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “And he wanted to express his view that we should ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to foster compassion and understanding in our communities and to stem the tide of gun violence, as well as how we can prevent future tragedies like this from happening.”
Zimmerman, 29, who has a white father and a Latina mother, argued that he was defending himself when he shot Martin, 17, as the black teen was walking home through a Sanford, Fla., gated community in February 2012.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the case provides an opportunity for the nation to discuss “complicated and emotionally charged issues.”
“We are resolved 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,” he said at the anniversary celebration of the predominantly African-American sorority Delta Sigma Theta.
Zimmerman’s acquittal has led to demonstrations across the nation and questions from civil rights organizations. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed an NAACP petition calling on the Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation while thousands have signed a White House petition asking Holder to file charges against Zimmerman.
Carney said Obama would not get involved in the Justice Department investigation.
“This is a decision made by the Justice Department, by career prosecutors, and all questions about how that process is undertaken should be directed there,” he said. “And that is not something the president involves himself in.”