In speaking to the NAACP last week in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Attorney General Eric Holder performed a serious disservice to his audience and to his office. By suggesting that the Department of Justice might pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman for Martin's death, Holder encouraged the belief that racism motivated the shooting.
Calling the shooting "tragic and unnecessary," Holder said, "Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly -- and openly -- about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised."
But his remarks were anything but honest or open. Instead of focusing on the actual events that led up to the shooting, he chose to talk about his own brushes with prejudice and police bias.
"Years ago," he said, "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 how as a young black man I should interact with the police, what to say, and how to conduct myself if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way I thought was unwarranted."
Though Holder didn't divulge the contents of his talk with his father or his subsequent talk with his own son on the issue, one can assume it didn't include a recommendation to confront the person suspected of being a racist, much less pound his head against the ground. But evidence at the trial suggests that's what happened on the night Zimmerman shot Martin.
Eyewitness testimony coupled with photographs of injuries to Zimmerman's head and face suggests that at the point of the shooting Martin had become the aggressor and Zimmerman the one under attack -- which one can speculate is why the jury voted to acquit Zimmerman.
If Holder had been honest with his audience, he would have admitted that both Zimmerman and Martin made bad decisions that ended in Martin's death. We never will know exactly what happened that night, but we do know some of what occurred and how events spiraled out of control.
In the wake of a flurry of break-ins in the gated community where he acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman was overzealous in pursuing Martin. He should not have gotten out of his vehicle after he was instructed to remain in it, even to locate the nearest address to properly direct police, as he claimed. Had he stayed in place, Martin would be alive.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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