In a recent article, the United States Department of Justice has opted not bring charges against George Zimmerman who is responsible for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The Department of Justice has completed its investigation with an outcome that parallels the laws concerning hate crimes. The difficulty with prosecuting George Zimmerman for the Trayvon Martin Killing has more to do with the letter of the law and not the emotions of many Black Americans.

Trayvon Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) was a 17-year-old African American from Miami Gardens, Florida who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. Martin had gone with his father on a visit to the father’s fiancée at her townhouse at The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford. On the evening of February 26, Martin went to a convenience store and purchased candy and juice. As Martin returned from the store, he walked through a neighborhood that had been victimized by robberies several times that year. Zimmerman, a member of the community watch, spotted him and called the Sanford Police to report him. Zimmerman then followed Martin (despite being told not to do so) on foot to ensure that Martin would not try to steal anything from the neighborhood. Moments later, there was an altercation between the two individuals in which Martin was shot in the chest. Zimmerman, who was injured in the altercation, was not charged at the time of the shooting by the Sanford Police, who said that there was no evidence to refute his claim of self-defense and that Florida’s stand your ground law prohibited law-enforcement officials from arresting or charging him. Zimmerman was eventually charged and tried in Martin’s death and a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter in July 2013.

On February 24, 2015, the Department of Justice officially closed its investigation of the Trayvon Martin shooting. The federal inquiry was started to pursue “an independent investigation” into the shooting after local police officials and prosecutors were slow to arrest and charge Mr. Zimmerman; they argued that Florida’s self-defense laws would make it difficult to prove a criminal case. Gov. Rick Scott then appointed a special prosecutor who eventually charged Mr. Zimmerman.

Federal investigators interviewed 75 witnesses, reviewed all the material gathered by the State of Florida and examined evidence relating to Mr. Zimmerman’s encounters with law enforcement after his acquittal, according to a statement. But none of that was enough to prove that Mr. Zimmerman, who is part Peruvian, killed Mr. Trayvon Martin because of his race.

According to Wekipedia, in both crime and law, hate crime (also known as bias-motivated crime) is a usually violent, prejudice motivated crime that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group. Examples of such groups include but are not limited to: ethnicity, gender identity, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Hate crime” generally refers to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the types above, or of their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).

A hate crime law is a law intended to deter bias-motivated violence. Hate crime laws are distinct from laws against hate speech in that hate crime laws enhance the penalties associated with conduct that is already criminal under other laws, while hate speech laws criminalize a category of speech.

Because George Zimmerman has allegedly never participated in any acts that indicated that he hated the Black people, the United States Department of Justice does not have the legal standing to charge him with a hate crime for the death of Trayvon Martin.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
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