Eric Holder, the outgoing U.S. attorney general, said it’s too hard to prosecute federal civil rights cases amid protests suggesting that the rights of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and other black youths across the nation have been violated. In the remaining few weeks of his more than six-year tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official, Holder will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes, he told Politico in an interview this week. That would make it easier for federal officials to bring charges in a future Brown- or Martin-type case, he said.
“I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something that I am going to be talking about before I leave office,” Holder said in the interview. “I think that if we adjust those standards, we can make the federal government a better backstop -- make us more a part of the process in an appropriate way to reassure the American people that decisions are made by people who are really disinterested.” Lawyers at the Justice Department were researching the possible reforms of civil rights laws, including a toughening of hate crimes provisions or broadening the standard for “deprivation of rights” under the law, Politico reported.
Earlier this week, the attorney general announced that George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot the 17-year-old Martin three years ago after their confrontation in a central Florida gated community, would not face federal criminal civil rights charges because there was “insufficient evidence” to support a violation of the teen’s rights. Holder also appeared to hint in the interview that there would be no federal charges for Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who killed Brown last August. Holder said that the Justice Department’s investigation of the Brown case would be complete by the time he left office, expect around mid-March, after the U.S. Senate confirms his successor, Loretta Lynch.
Young African-Americans this week were expressing frustrations and hopelessness over the lack of federal prosecutions and, in some cases, state charges for police officers who have killed young black men. In the Politico interview, Holder said people should look at his overall record on civil rights issues.
“We have done independent, thorough investigations in all of the matters that we have examined, and we have brought record numbers of cases against police departments around this country,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would be able to look at this Justice Department over the last six years and say that we’ve been anything other than aggressive in trying to root out inappropriate police conduct while, at the same time, trying to establish -- or re-establish -- bonds of trust between communities of color and people in law enforcement.”