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Those who feared that the shutdown of the federal government would curtail the continued persecution of George Zimmerman need not worry.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder assured the faithful that the civil-rights investigation into the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., was “ongoing.”
Holder, who had summoned reporters to boast of a federal lawsuit against North Carolina for its new voter ID laws, told the media that the Department of Justice would release information on the Zimmerman case as soon as possible.
Those paying attention, which excludes most of the media, knew that the real investigation ended more than a year ago.
The federal investigation started weeks after the shooting when the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, wrote a letter to Holder asking him to put the FBI on the case. Crump’s allies in Congress circulated that same letter to keep the pressure on Holder.
A notorious obstructionist on issues unfavorable to the White House – the New Black Panther party voter intimidation case comes quickly to mind – Holder did not take long to weigh the pros and cons of the Zimmerman case.
On March 19, 2012, days after receiving the letter from Crump, ABC reported that the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida would all investigate Martin’s death.
By Monday, April 2, FBI agents were already in Florida questioning individuals in an Orwellian “parallel investigation” that focused less on Zimmerman’s actions that fateful night than on his thoughts, past and present.
By day two of the FBI investigation, agents Elizabeth Alexander and Matthew Oliver were grilling lead Sanford PD investigator Chris Serino.
For starters, Serino, himself a Puerto Rican, viewed Zimmerman as “not a racist.” Wrote the agents, “Serino believed that ZIMMERMAN’S actions were not based on MARTIN’S skin color rather based on his attire, the total circumstances of the encounter and the previous burglary suspects in the community.”
Serino told the FBI that he “did not believe he had enough evidence at the time to file charges,” but he named three Sanford PD officers who “were pressuring him to file charges against Zimmerman after the incident.”
These were Sgt. Arthur Barnes and officers Rebecca Villalona and Trekelle Perkins. According to the Miami Herald, Barnes and Perkins were black, and Villalona was married to an African-American. Serino implied that these officers were also leaking information about the case.
The officer who concerned Serino most was Barnes, who was “friendly” with Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father. For his part, Barnes told the FBI that the black community might well be “in an uproar” if Zimmerman were not charged. The FBI quoted Barnes as saying, “The community will be satisfied if an arrest takes place.”
Team Trayvon members had reason to be optimistic. A week after the FBI launched its investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder addressed Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Washington, D.C.
There, improbably, he thanked Sharpton “for your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve, and the promises we must fulfill.”
This was the same Al Sharpton who had threatened to occupy Sanford if Zimmerman were not arrested immediately, the same Sharpton who perpetrated the Tawana Brawley hoax, the same Sharpton whose attacks on a “white interloper” in Harlem inspired a follower to kill seven of his employees, the same Sharpton who in the wake of anti-Semitic riots in Crown Heights boasted, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”
Holder did have one thing right. Sharpton was tireless. Conceding the role mob pressure played in the undoing of Zimmerman, said Sharpton, “We had to march to even get a trial.”
Sharpton’s efforts paid off. In April 2012, the State of Florida arrested Zimmerman for second-degree murder. In July 2012, however, Florida state prosecutors quietly released to Zimmerman’s attorneys the results of the FBI’s investigation into Zimmerman’s racial bona fides.
As the Miami Herald reported, the FBI had interviewed some 35 of Zimmerman’s friends, neighbor, and co-workers, and, to a person, they “had never seen Zimmerman display any prejudice or racial bias.”
The most revealing of the FBI interviews was with Zimmerman’s one-time fiancée, herself Hispanic, with whom he lived for a period of time. Although not at all hesitant to document his imperfections, the young woman told the FBI that Zimmerman “never exhibited any biases or prejudices against anyone and did not use racial epithets of any kind.”
His neighbors seemed most appreciative of Zimmerman. Witness No. 47, a Puerto Rican female, described Zimmerman as “always friendly and a very nice guy.” Despite the opportunity to comment on the race of suspicious people in the neighborhood, “She never heard him say anything derogatory about any group or individual based on race, religion etc.”
According to Witness No. 46, “Everyone [she] knew liked Zimmerman,” who was “really concerned” and “really nice.” He never made any racist comments.
The FBI also learned that a year before the shooting death of Martin, Zimmerman, an Obama supporter, spearheaded the successful campaign to get justice for a black homeless man who had been punched out by the well-connected son of a white police lieutenant.
Zimmerman headlined the fliers he passed out with a famous quote from Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
He might more accurately have quoted another Anglo-Irishman, Oscar Wilde: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
To pacify the mob, the State of Florida, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House conspired to put an innocent man and good-deed doer, himself a minority, in prison for the rest of his life.
If that’s not a civil-rights violation, it’s hard to imagine what a violation is.