WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday promised a "thorough and independent" investigation by the Justice Department into the death of the black youth Trayvon Martin who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Speaking at length for the first time about the incident, which has been in the national news for weeks, the chief U.S. law enforcement official acknowledged concerns among the black community about Martin's death.
"If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action," Holder said in remarks to the National Action Network, which was founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, who has championed the cause of Martin, who was black.
Holder said the FBI was assisting local law enforcement officials who are weighing whether to bring charges against the shooter, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member who is a white Hispanic.
Zimmerman, who has not been charged in the case, told police he shot Martin in self-defense. Police said they found no evidence to the contrary, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force against adversaries when they fear great bodily harm or death.
In order to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges, the Justice Department would have to determine a crime was intentional and also motivated by race.
Justice Department officials are meeting with local officials including law enforcement and civil rights leaders to try to ease some of the tension in Sanford, Florida, which has been the scene of numerous marches in support of the Martin family.
(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Bill Trott)