Hope for Hate-Crime Charges Against Zimmerman?

Update: The Department of Justice, considering possible charges, has restarted its investigation.

Protesters call for George Zimmerman's arrest in March 2012. (Getty Images)
Protesters call for George Zimmerman's arrest in March 2012. (Getty Images)

The next day the Orlando Sentinel reported that the U.S. attorney’s office had “a team in Sanford … speaking to people in the course of its investigation,” which would be “not be a murder or manslaughter investigation but a parallel one into whether the shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, violated Trayvon’s civil rights.”

Weighing in on Sanford, Fla., television station WFTV‘s report on the investigation, legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said that for a successful prosecution, the government would have to prove “that Mr. Zimmerman acted out of hatred toward African Americans. That’s why he came into contact with [Trayvon]. That’s why he shot and killed him.”

Mother Jones reported that Tom Perez, the DOJ’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, echoed that sentiment. He reportedly emphasized in meetings with civil rights leaders and legislators that the bar for prosecuting Zimmerman under federal hate crimes law would be high.

Since then: A July 2012 announcement by the FBI said it found no evidence that Zimmerman was motivated by racial bias or hatred. Still, there’s been no official word by the Department of Justice on a final decision not to press charges.

So, is this really closed case, or is the federal government waiting to see how the state case turns out before deciding whether to proceed (against Zimmerman, or with respect to broader issues covering the practices of the Sanford police)? It’s what some are wondering about as the Florida jury deliberates.

Asked at Thursday’s daily briefing whether the DOJ is “watching for the outcome” of the state criminal case, and whether the verdict will inform its decision about whether to file civil rights charges, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “I don’t know the answer to that. I would ask the Justice Department.”

The Root reached out to the Department of Justice on Wednesday with questions about the possibility of federal charges and did not receive a response before the deadline for this piece.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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