Roland Martin talks with former federal prosecutor and the current Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency Michael Williams about the possible civil rights charges the Department of Justice could file against Zimmerman.
Plus, Williams explains why he believes it’s going to be tough for the Department of Justice to file charges against George Zimmerman, saying, “they have a tall, tall mountain to climb. It’s going to be tough. Based on what I know now.”
Read the full interview below.
ROLAND MARTIN:… The big question now is obviously what’s next? What are the legal options? One of them is whether or not the Department of Justice will file federal charges against George Zimmerman. The question is though how tough of a road will they have?
Joining me right now, he is the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, but before he was appointed to that job, in a previous life he was a federal prosecutor. Prosecuted hate crimes and others on civil rights charges. Michael Williams joins us this morning. Hey, Michael. Good morning.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Good morning, Roland. How are you doing?
ROLAND MARTIN : Walk us through this, Michael, because people, people just say, oh, hey, you can go after him for federal charges. What must the DOJ meet? What requirement must they meet to even get to that point?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : There are two principal elements in any federal civil rights, criminal civil rights trials, one is that the defendant has to be motivated by racial animosity, or some kind of group animosity, in this case it would be racial animosity.
But the second one would be that he has to deprive the victim, Mr. Martin, or some kind of federal protected interest. And the law is very specific about what that is. In the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Act, it says it has to be depriving him of being engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, or maritime, or territorial affairs. I don’t think either of those would be in place here. To deprive him of voting rights, or public accommodations, or engage in a public facility …
TOM JOYNER: Or just trying to go home from the store.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Well, but see, Tom, that’s not exactly commonplace to the federal law.
TOM JOYNER: No?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : He was walking down a private street in a gated neighborhood.
And so one of the things we do know is that being the criminal section of the Civil Rights division have some of the best prosecutors in this country. They’ve got the best law enforcement agency in the world. They’re going to dispatch those folks if they haven’t already done so, they’re going to back there separate and get …
TOM JOYNER: But what civil rights of Trayvon’s did Zimmerman break?
SYBIL WILKES: Could they use in a case?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : And that’s what they’re going to have to find. That’s why I said they’re going to dispatch those prosecutors.
TOM JOYNER: He didn’t call him the N word or anything like that, he wasn’t part of a hate group organization.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Well, let’s do this Tom.
TOM JOYNER: Okay.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Let’s assume that there’s overwhelming evidence that he was motivated by race. Let’s just put that to the side. That only gets you half way. Now we got to find, the prosecutors are going to have to find a federal protected interest. And that’s going to be the tough challenge.
ROLAND MARTIN : So the federal protected interest means was he denied, as you said earlier, denied something, being Trayvon, going from the store to the home that the law explicitly says someone cannot prevent him from doing?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : It explicitly says, in the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd law that was filed after I left the agency back in the ‘80s, but it’s there. Instate or foreign commerce, it says maritime or territorial affairs, in Section 245 it lists education, voting, public accommodations, public facility. It lists what those federal protected interests are.
TOM JOYNER: So what does the Department of Justice have if they’re going to file charges? What do they have?
SYBIL WILKES: What would you suggest that they do?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : What I would urge us all to do, let’s let those fabulous lawyers at the DOJ, and those fantastic FBI agents go do their work. And let them go try to find something. Maybe Mr. Zimmerman said in his Home Owners Association meetings that he didn’t want black folks in the neighborhood. Maybe he’s concerned by too many black folks coming through there. Maybe, maybe there’s evidence of that.
TOM JOYNER: But that didn’t come up in the trial.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Well, it didn’t come up in the trial maybe because it wasn’t necessary in the state murder case. There was evidence, they didn’t need that in the state verdict case.
ROLAND MARTIN : And also remember the judge also precluded the prosecution from bringing up racial profiling. They could mention profiling, but they couldn’t mention racial profile. And so, Michael, what you’re also saying is that there could be some potential evidence at the Prosecutors State trial did not bring up that could be used against him in a potential federal trial.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Right. Because it wasn’t necessary in the state case. There are different elements. There is different evidence that’s required. You know, I prosecuted a home burning by a young white supremacist in Louisville, Kentucky. And before he burned down the house he told his buddies, “I don’t want black folks over here.” He told him, the African American mother, with her three kids, moving in, when they left to go get the rest of their stuff, and come back …
TOM JOYNER: That’s pretty clear-cut.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : In the meantime he’s burning it down.
SYBIL WILKES: So would you use Zimmerman saying that they have gotten away with this too often, and those guys never get caught, in reference to black suspects in the home robberies?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : We got to tie the federal interest. What you just laid out is probably racial motivation. Now you got to tie, let’s say the house, I don’t want them living in my neighborhood.
TOM JOYNER: Or I don’t want you walking from the store to your …
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Ah-ah, Tom, walking …
TOM JOYNER: That’s too vague, huh?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : It’s not a federal protected interest to walk on a private street in a gated community. He wasn’t walking on the highway. He wasn’t trying to get to the interstate.
TOM JOYNER: Okay, if you were a betting man what would you bet would be the chances of the Department of Justice.
SYBIL WILKES: Knowing what you know and experienced what you have.
TOM JOYNER: Knowing what you know and the experience that you have, what are the chances of the Department of Justice getting justice for Trayvon.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : The reason, Roland and I had this conversation is because I tweeted yesterday that they have a tall, tall mountain to climb. It’s going to be tough. Based on what I know now, let’s just base it on what I know now. We’ve got the best law enforcement agency in the world.
TOM JOYNER: Wait to see what they have.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : And some of the best prosecutors in the country.
ROLAND MARTIN : They got to uncover something, but …
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : If the evidence can be developed, they will develop it.
TOM JOYNER: Interesting.
ROLAND MARTIN : Michael Williams, Former U.S. Prosecutor.
TOM JOYNER: When are they going to file charges? The Department of Justice.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS : Oh, no, no, the DOJ lawyers take their time. It will be deliberate, they’re going to go down, they’re going to interview everybody in Sanford, Florida to try to make this case. They won’t do it in a hurry.