U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the NAACP Tuesday that Trayvon Martin’s death was “unnecessary” and “tragic” and questioned the wisdom of stand-your-ground self-defense laws that lead to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of the unarmed teenager in Sanford, Florida.
“I want to assure you of two things: I am concerned about this case and as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it,” Holder said during a keynote speech at the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” Holder said. “These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if – and the “if” is important – no safe retreat is available.”
Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted Saturday of killing Trayvon Martin on a rainy street on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense but prosecutors said Zimmerman was guilty of racial profiling and murder because he followed Martin only because he was black.
Holder said it’s time to openly address racial profiling in America.
“And we must confront the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs, and unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments,” he said.
Holder told NAACP members that years ago his father talked to him about how a young black man should interact with the police, what to say, and how to conduct himself if he was ever stopped by police.
“The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year, and the discussions that have taken place since then, reminded me of my father’s words so many years ago,” Holder said.
“And they brought me back to a number of experiences I had as a young man – when I was pulled over twice and my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to a catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. I was at the time of that last incident a federal prosecutor,” Holder said.
Holder said Trayvon Martin’s death forced him to have a conversation with his 15-year-old son like his father did with him.
“This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down,” Holder said. “But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy. I am his father and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world he must still confront. This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways.”
“As important as it was, I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son isn’t the only conversation that we engage in as a result of these tragic events,” he said.
Holder, meanwhile, called a calm and rationale conversation about Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal by an all-female jury that did not include any African Americans. Anti-Zimmerman protests are being planned in 100 cities across the country scheduled for Saturday.
“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly – and openly – about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder said. I hope that we will continue to approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most – Trayvon’s parents – have demonstrated throughout the last year – and especially over the past few days.”
“They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure – and one that as a father, cannot begin to conceive,” Holder added. “As we embrace their example – and hold them in our prayers – we must not forego this opportunity to better understand one another. “And we must not fail to seize this chance to improve this nation we cherish.”