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Attorney General Holder Has a Compelling Reason to Consider a Zimmerman Prosecution

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 7/17/2013, 11:53 a.m.

Zimmerman was not a police office and did not abuse his power in killing Martin under the color of law. However, he was acting in a quasi-legal capacity as a one-time neighborhood watchman who had close ties and collaboration with local law enforcement. This in effect bestowed on him the presumption of authority to take action to stop and question an individual he considered a crime suspect. This was the rationale that federal prosecutors used in the Rodney King beating case to bring civil rights charge against the four LAPD officers that beat King. The linchpin was that they acted in an official capacity when they violated King’s rights.

The Justice Department scrupulously tries to avoid a dual prosecution of a defendant acquitted in a state court. It goes to great lengths to shield itself from the charge that it’s bowing to media or public pressure to prosecute. This is why the percentage of civil rights prosecutions it authorizes is infinitesimally low. Yet in the Martin slaying there are crucial federal interests in ensuring the rights of individuals to be free from undue harm because of their color, age, and being in a public area merely because someone perceives they shouldn’t be in and then acts on that perception with no cause other than that belief or perception.

If the Justice Department gives serious consideration to the civil rights violations in the Martin case, it will again send the strong message that civil rights violations will always be subject to full and public scrutiny by federal prosecutors. This is exactly why Attorney General Holder has a more than compelling reason to consider a Zimmerman civil rights prosecution.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.