The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday closed its investigation into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin without filing hate crime charges against his killer, George Zimmerman.
"Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a devastating tragedy. It shook an entire community, drew the attention of millions across the nation, and sparked a painful but necessary dialogue throughout the country," Holder stated.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder in 2013. He claimed he had acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Martin on February 26, 2012, maintaining that the boy had attacked him, while others said he targeted the black teenager on purpose.
Federal investigators launched their probe into the shooting after widespread outcry over the lackluster effort by local police and prosecutors to arrest and charge Zimmerman.
To classify the shooting as a hate crime, the investigators would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had intended to kill Martin because he was black. Acting out of negligence or recklessness would not have been enough to charge him.
Martin's death nearly three years ago focused a national spotlight on the issues of racial profiling and gun control, particularly Florida's controversial 'Stand Your Ground' law. The case drew heated, widespread debate over details of the incident, as well as civil rights protests which erupted around the country.
Many of the questions involved whether Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watchman with a history of violence, had reason to feel threatened by Martin, a black 17-year-old in a hoodie carrying nothing but Skittles and an iced tea. Martin had been in the area visiting his father and was returning home from a corner store when Zimmerman spotted him and called 911. Against the advice of the emergency operator, Zimmerman followed Martin with a gun, leading to the shooting.
The image of Martin and his hoodie became a familiar symbol of the discrimination faced by men and women of color in the U.S.
The investigators reportedly met with Martin's family on Tuesday to inform them of the decision before announcing it. The family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, who also represented Michael Brown's family, told the New York Times, "This is very painful for them; they are heartbroken. But they have renewed energy to say that we are going to fight harder to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else’s child."
In the years following Martin's death, a spate of high-profile extrajudicial killings of unarmed men and women of color in the U.S. has continued to fuel the growing civil rights movement against racial profiling and police brutality.