Amidst growing public outrage, the Justice Department and the FBI have begun an investigation into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen, by a neighborhood watch captain who local police declined to arrest.
More than 435,000 people, including celebrities such as movie director Spike Lee and musician Wyclef Jean, signed a petition on Change.org, a social action website, calling for the arrest of the shooter, George Zimmerman.
“The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
The shooting occurred on February 26 when Zimmerman spotted Martin walking home from buying candy and iced tea at a convenience store.
Zimmerman, patrolling the neighborhood in his car, called the 911 and reported “a real suspicious guy.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about,” Zimmerman told dispatchers, adding, “These @!$%#s. They always get away.”
The dispatcher, hearing heavy breathing on the phone, asked Zimmerman: “Are you following him?”
“Yeah,” Zimmerman said.
“Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher responded.
Several neighbors subsequently called 911 and reported a scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin. While some of the callers were still on the phone, cries for help were heard followed by a gunshot in the background.
“I recognized that (voice) as my baby screaming for help before his life was taken,” Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, told Reuters.
“(Zimmerman) was reacting to the color of his skin,’’ Fulton, said Monday on NBC’s Today show. “He committed no crime. My son wasn’t doing anything but walking on the sidewalk, and I just don’t understand why this situation got out of control.’’
Police declined to arrest Zimmerman. Prosecutors are reviewing it. Police cited Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, enacted in 2005. The Florida law allows a potential crime victim who is “in fear of great bodily injury” to use deadly force in public places.
Ben Crump, the victim’s family lawyer, said Zimmerman should not be protected under the Stand Your Ground law. “It’s illogical, you can claim self defense after you chase and pursue somebody,” he said. “That’s a courtroom defense. That’s not something the police accept on the side of the street.”
Five years after Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was enacted, a 2010 review by the St. Petersburg Times found that reports of justifiable homicides had tripled, and a majority of cases were excused by prosecutors or the courts.