In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, demonstrators have been calling for federal hate crime charges to be brought against George Zimmerman. In a previously scheduled speech at the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder assured the audience that the Justice Department is reviewing the case and “will consider all available information before determining what action to take.” (Many say it’s unlikely charges will be filed, and a federal civil rights prosecutor told the L.A. Times, “I’d be very, very surprised if we took it.”)
Holder then pivoted to another issue raised by protesters: The repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws. In his first public criticism of such laws, which are on the books in more than 30 states, Holder declared, “We must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.”
Holder, insisting that he wasn’t commenting on the Zimmerman case, said the laws “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense” and “try to fix something that was never broken,” since using deadly force if retreat isn’t possible has always been a legal defense. “We must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely,” said Holder. “By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
Earlier on Tuesday the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a press conference outside the Justice Department headquarters that rallies and vigils will be held on Saturday at noon in front of federal buildings in 100 cities to push for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. “We are not having a two- or three-day anger fit,” said Sharpton. “This is a movement for social justice.” Then civil rights leaders will gather in Miami next week to plan a campaign against “Stand Your Ground” laws, including a march on Washington on August 24. “As long as ‘Stand Your Ground’ is on the books, we will continue to have the potential of other Trayvon Martins,” said Sharpton.