Eric Holder 'Concerned' About Trayvon Martin Shooting Case

Attorney general on DOJ investigation into possible civil rights charges during NAACP Conference.
26:11 | 07/16/13

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Transcript for Eric Holder 'Concerned' About Trayvon Martin Shooting Case
This is a special room. Report from -- -- I'm -- -- in New -- witness ABC news digital special report one day after saying his Justice Department would at least consider civil rights charges against George Zimmermann. Attorney general Eric Holder is set to address the NAACP convention in Orlando Florida. Annual conference is in Orlando this years to little more than twenty miles from Sanford where. Unarmed black teen -- on -- was killed early last year. -- want to go now to Washington with ABC's Pierre Thomas who is joining us appear. I want to talk about the NAACP first what are they doing to build public support for civil rights case against George -- Where they're applying a lot of pressures what they're doing they've got a petition which they say is now one million strong. Urging the Justice Department to prosecute George Zimmermann. For they say violating -- on margins rights. Given that what is the likelihood that -- Justice Department will in fact prosecute. Well it's a very high bar they would have to reach to prosecute. He can't be about negligence if they have to be able to approve. The George Zimmerman in all of his actions leading up to -- -- on Martin's death. Was guided -- race and racial bias. Racism discrimination that's the reason that he took the steps he did. That led to Trayvon Martin's death that's a very hard -- reach and we'll have to see what evidence they can produce but that's. The bar that has to be reached is very hard. And it taking a look back at the NAACP. Convention is going on right now Homeland Security secretary. Kathleen Sebelius was at the podium there and as we -- we're just waiting. For the attorney general to make his -- the podium. But here I wanted to ask you if Iran were in -- -- to be tried and convicted in -- on federal civil rights charges what is the potential for a sentence. Well you know we're we're still looking at a range it can -- it could be in some cases life in prison. When there's a murder involved. But again you know the you have to wait and see how the evidence in the case is brought forth and see what the sentencing guidelines would be. So don't -- to talk too much more about that until we know those details right. Absolutely absolutely yesterday. The attorney general -- speak to a national -- traditional African American sorority women yesterday. And he had this to say. We are also mindful of of the pain. Felt by our nations surrounding the tragic. And unnecessary shooting death. Trade on Martin in Sanford Florida last year. So what can spend that take away -- -- from those comments yes -- specifically in what we just heard. Well you know that the attorney here general used to -- unnecessary. Again I found that he was trying to strike a balance between. Acknowledging his concern and the concern of many in the African American community that particular -- delta -- Davis story isn't. Of one of the largest black sororities. In the country. So he was balancing speaking to their concerns about this case but -- so. His remarks he went on to say that -- -- case would be gathered by the facts and the evidence. So he was walking a -- -- -- tight but I think there -- a lot of people particularly the African American community and we're saying -- -- That. Zimmerman. Kicked him out between seven and 8 PM at night not a late hour of the night and -- question from many people is why did George Zimmerman you. They run -- program. All right and now -- to get on to Orlando where the attorney general is at the podium speaking let's listen. -- -- Thank you. I know you do. Well thank you all for sex a very warm introduction and thank you -- for those kind words. It is a pleasure for me to be here in Orlando today. And it's a privilege to join president jealous. Chairman -- your national board of directors and my good friends secretary Donovan and secretary Sebelius and celebrating. The NAACP is a 104 annual convention. And re committing ourselves to your important work. Now I am proud. To be in such good company this afternoon. Among so many obvious friends. Courageous civil rights leaders like Julian Bond. Passionate men and women who have dedicated themselves to bringing our. Our nation to get. Addressing common challenges. And focusing attention on the problems and the inequities that too many of our citizens continued to face. Even as this convention proceeds. We are all mindful of the tragic and unnecessary shooting death. This afternoon I want to assure you of 2 things. I. Am concerned about this case. And and as we confirmed last spring. The Justice Department has an open investigation. Into it. Now. While that inquiry is ongoing. I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take. But independent of the legal determination that will be made. I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly. Honestly. And openly. About the complicated. And emotional charged issues that this case is race. Years ago. Some of these same issues drove my father to sit down with me to have a conversation. Which is no doubt familiar to many of you. About -- was a young black man I should interact with the police. What to say. In how to conduct myself if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way that I thought was unwarranted. Now I'm sure my father felt certain at that time. It my parents' generation would be last it had to worry about such things for their children. Since those days -- countries indeed change for the better. The fact that I stand before you -- the 82 attorney general of the United States. Serving in the administration of our first African American president proves that. Yet. For all the progress that we've seen recent events demonstrate that we still have much more work to do. And much further to go. The news Trayvon Martin's death last year. And -- discussions that have taken place since then reminded me of my father's words so many years ago. And they brought me back to a number of experience is that I had as a young man. When I was pulled over twice. In my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I'm sure I wasn't speeding. Well when -- was stopped. By a police officer while simply running to catch a movie that night in Georgetown. In Washington DC. I was at the time of that last incident. A federal. Prosecutors. Trade -- death last spring cause me to sit down. To have a conversation. With my own fifteen year old son. Like my dad do with me. This was a father son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son. And -- -- more knowing in the ways of the world. I had to do things to protect my boy. I -- his father. And it is my responsibility. Not to burden him with the baggage here is long gone. But to make him aware of the world -- he must still confront. This. This is a sad reality. In a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways. As important as it was. I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son. Isn't the only conversation that we engage in as a result of these tragic events. In the days leading up to this weakens verdict some predicted and prepared for -- And waves of civil unrest across the country some fear that the anger of those who disagreed with injury might overshadow an obscure the issues of the heart of this case. But the people of Sanford in for the most part thousands of others across America rejected this destructive -- They prove. They prove wrong those who doubted their commitment to the rule of law. In across America diverse groups of citizens from all races backgrounds and walks of life. Our -- overwhelmingly making their voices heard as American citizens have the right to do. Through peaceful protest. Rallies individuals designed to inspire responsible debate not to incite violence and division. And those who conduct themselves in -- contrary manner not honor the memory of treatment mark. I hope. I hope that we will continue to approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity. The -- who have lost the most trade bonds parents. With the same dignity that they have demonstrated throughout the last year and especially over the past. Few days we should be proud of those two people. They suffered a pain that no parent should have to -- And one that I as a father cannot begin to concede. As we -- -- embrace their example -- as -- hold them in our prayers. We must not frugal this opportunity to better understand one another. And we must not fail to seize this chance to improve this nation that we cherish. Today. Starting here. In starting now. It's time to commit ourselves to a respectful. Responsible dialogue about issues of justice and equality. So we can -- division and confusion with understanding. And compassion and ultimately. With truth however hard that is. It's time to strengthen our collective resolve to combat gun violence. But also time to combat violence involving more directed toward our children. So we can prevent future tragedy. And we must confront the underlying attitudes. The mistaken beliefs. And the unfair -- unfortunate stereotypes. That serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments. -- separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation's attention. It's time to question laws. -- senselessly expand the concept of self defense and so dangerous content look. -- -- -- These laws tried to fix something. That was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if and the gift is important. If no safe retreat is available. But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense an age old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat. Outside their home. If they can do so safely. By allowing and perhaps encouraging. Violent situations to escalate in public such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies as law and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent. He is our collective obligation. We must stand our ground. To ensure. We must stand program. To ensure that our laws reduce violence and take a hard look at laws that contribute. To more violence and they prevent. We must also seek a dialogue -- attitudes about violence and disparities that are too commonly swept under the rug. By honoring the finest traditions established by generations. Of NAACP leaders and other nine violent nonviolent advocates throughout history. And by paying tribute to the young man lost is like here last year. And so many others. Whose futures have been cut short in other incidents of gun violence of the past too often unnoticed. In our streets. And we must do so by engaging with one another in a way that is at once. Peaceful. Inclusive and respectful. And strong. As we move forward together I want to assure you that the Department of Justice will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts. And the law we will not be afraid. We are committed. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that in every case. In every circumstance. In every community justice must be done. Four. For more than a century this organization. Founded in 1909. The NAACP has led efforts to do just that standing on the front lines of a fight to ensure security opportunity and equal treatment under law. Especially in times of need and moments of danger you have dared to seek opportunities for progress and growth. Challenging this nation to aim high to become better and to -- ever closer to its founding ideals. Under the banner of the NAACP. Courageous men and women but WEB du bois Walter White. Charles Hamilton Houston Ida B wells Rosa Parks Martin Luther King Jr. And countless others whose names may be less familiar whose contributions are no less important have raised their voices. To advance our common pursuit of a more perfect union. If stories prove that. Today's civil rights leaders can best -- the progress of the last century by planning for the challenges of the next. There examples remind us that as recent events illustrate -- work is far from over. And it's time to acknowledge once again that we have much more to do. After all we come together today in another moment of need. During the year defined by historic milestones including just last month the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous stand in the schoolhouse door. When two brave young students enlisted the advice of NAACP lawyers supported the Justice Department. And the protection of the National Guard to step past governor George Wallace and integrate the University of Alabama. Fifty years ago last month. One of those students Vivian Malone. Would much later become my sister in law. Although she passed away several years ago much too soon. Her courage made a strong impression on me when I was a young man. Her stories and others like it drove me to. Dream of a career in public service and led me to spend my first summer. In law school working. At the NAACP. Legal defense fund. And Indians memory inspires me to think often of the historic speech. -- president John F. Kennedy delivered on that fateful night when -- integrated University of Alabama fifty years ago last month. When he addressed the American people. Expressed his support for Vivian and her classmate James Hood. And describe the cause of civil rights as a a moral issue. And to use his words that is as old as the scriptures and as clear. As the constitution. In that extraordinary moment president Kennedy urged his fellow citizens to refuse to accept that anyone could be denied opportunity. Denied education. Or denied the future of their choosing just because of the color of their skin. And he called on congress to pass sweeping civil rights legislation outlining a series of proposals that would mattered deeply to be included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the landmark voting rights act of 1965. Once signed into law by his successor president Lyndon Johnson. These proposals affirmed in codified into law the greatest of American ideals that all are created equal. They established. They established protections. For the rights to which every citizen in every eligible voter. Is entitled. And they came to represent nothing less than the foundation of the modern civil rights law -- fortunately. Last month. Important piece of this foundation was was chipped away when Supreme Court invalidated key part. The voting rights act. Over the years. And significant in the past eighteen months. This provision called pre clearance. Allow the department to take swift action against numerous jurisdictions that adopted rules or procedures. With either rate discriminatory purpose or effect. It served as they -- potent tool for addressing inequities in our elections system. And it prove the effectiveness of a legal mechanism that it puts on hold any new voting changes until they have been subjected to a fair and thorough review. Let me be clear. This was a deeply disappointing. And flawed decision. -- -- It dealt a serious setback to the cause of voting rights. And -- all of you I strongly disagree. With the court's action. -- -- after all as we've seen over the last eighteen months numerous successful decisions in the department's voting rights act cases have proven that. Far from being an antiquated relic of a bygone era. Such a process frequently resulted in approvals for fair and impartial voting changes while allowing the department to work with jurisdictions we just problems. Wherever they occur. For instance just last year. A federal court noted the vital function. -- pre clearance played in protecting black voters who would have been disproportionately impacted by a photo ID law in South Carolina. Because of the department's engagement with the state during the administrative review and later litigation. South Carolina officials changed. How their new voting statute will be implemented in future elections and to eliminate what would have otherwise been a dramatic discriminatory effect. Another court cited the voting rights act and blocking a Texas congressional redistricting map that would have discriminated against Latino voters. Noting that the parties and this is a -- Provided more evidence of discriminatory intent in we have space for need to address here and quote. That's a federal court. These cases and many others illustrate that these problems are real. They are significant. They -- the foundations of our democracy and they are of -- -- not yesterday. In fact despite last month's ruling every member of the Supreme Court has agreed that as the Chief Justice wrote you know quote again. Voting discrimination still exist no one doubts that and -- Its Chief Justice. Therefore the struggle for voting rights cannot be relegated to the pages of history. And this is why protecting the fundamental right to vote. For all Americans. We'll continue to be a top priority for the Department of Justice. So long as I have the privilege of serving as the attorney general of the united. Area -- growth we've been listening to the attorney general Eric Holder -- the end Italy's east. Tension in Orlando Florida. Attorney holder saying all available information will be examined her for the Justice Department takes any action in regards. To find any kind of civil suit. -- on Martin's case. -- want to bring in senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas from Washington DC. Here I want to ask you about some of the statements that the attorney general had made first -- -- -- -- DOJ does not doesn't fact have an ongoing investigation. Where those comments that the attorney general made in the very beginning did it lead us to believe in fact that those efforts have been doubled there increased. Well the in the case has been active and ongoing and is a criminal case that the Justice Department is investigating not a civil case they're looking at whether. To bring criminal charges against jurors -- Roman there in the midst of that investigation. It's been ongoing. For roughly about the same time as the investigation into. The shooting about the -- A police officials but they've been doing their own investigation what we don't know. Is exactly where they are in the process is -- more work to be done one thing we're being told is that they are going to review. All of the evidence by the state including evidence that they did not bring into the case for whatever reason. And I wanted to ask you because the attorney general had taken a bit of a personal -- and it's saying that. This case is reminded have a conversation he had with his -- some years ago when his father headed. Discussed with him about doing with police and that also relied of the attorney general conversation that he had with his own son. It seems -- a very personal appeal. Not -- to this audience but certainly as the investigation is ongoing. Well the attorney general is trying to walk a fine line if you will he's -- him -- the pain that he senses in the African American community which use -- part. At the same time he's saying look we have to go -- the facts and the law. Take us in the case that speech was extraordinarily personal for the attorney general as you said he spoke about. His. Conversation with his own father many years ago about what to do when dealing with police you have to be careful. In terms of how you deal with police and that after that -- on -- case. He felt compelled to have the same conversation -- his own fifteen year old son. Very interest saying. Of their will be I'm sure some critics who say that perhaps he shouldn't be sharing those feelings given affecting his department is investigating the case. But the attorney general will say that there will be career prosecutors making these decisions with -- isn't within his department. Or whether -- one of the moments that he had just in the very beginning of his speech is he said the fact that I stand before -- the 82 attorney general of the United States. Serving in the administration. Of our first African American president proves that yet for all the progress we've seen recent events demonstrate that we slept much more work to do. And much -- ago. And that seems to coincide very much with what the attorney general was saying -- offering it very personal narrative and also -- -- rather some of the events that have taken place from the reaction from the acquittal from George -- Yeah I mean look I think what he's saying is look clearly. When you have the nation's first African American. President and you have him as the chief law enforcement officer of the country the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the country. That clearly progress has been right. On the other hand. You have a case states if not racially. Motivated but there are allegations of it being racially tinged. He's saying that there are certain things that need to be sorted through. As you can see from the verdict does a pretty intensive dialogue going on in the country. -- depending on your perspective is quite hot -- and -- -- I wanted to ask you about the relationship between the White House and the Department of Justice in the following days. With the attorney general making those statements earlier -- at a sorority yesterday. And obviously that statements that he's making this morning as the White House given any kind of reaction. But the White House is basically said that the president you know is aware what's happened this statement the president put out a statement. Urging -- and that this was a moment of reflection. But the White House's may pretty clear that when it comes to investigating a criminal case. It's the Department of Justice that makes those calls. -- NBC's senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas in Washington -- thank you for your time. And as we will leave you of course have a complete write up on abcnews.com. As the attorney general continues to address the NAACP. At the annual convention being held in Orlando Florida for now I'm -- that's our New York with this ABC news digital special report. This has been a special. Report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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