U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder addressed Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) on Wednesday. A.G. Holder focused on both the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the voter ID laws the Justice Department is currently challenging. He led off describing the work the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ Sanford, Florida—the area of the Trayvon Martin shooting. George Zimmerman, the man who claimed to have fatally shot Martin in self-defense, was charged with second degree murder on Wednesday and is in custody.
Holder began his speech with a sympathetic tone towards Trayvon Martin and his family. However, he made no mention of the death threats Mr. Zimmerman and his family claimed to have received over the course of the last few weeks, since a $10,000 bounty was placed on Mr. Zimmerman’s head by the New Black Panther Party: (bolding is mine)
Just consider the fact that, even though overall national crime rates are at historic lows, today the leading cause of death for young black men – those aged fifteen to twenty four – is homicide. And that, on average, 16 young people are murdered every day.
How can our nation risk losing so many of tomorrow’s leaders, teachers, artists, scientists, attorneys – and pastors? The answer, of course, is that we can’t.
I know that many of you are greatly – and rightly – concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages.
As most of you know, three weeks ago, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into this incident, which remains open at this time – and prevents me from talking in detail about this matter. However, I can tell you that, in recent weeks, Justice Department officials – including Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez, and United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Robert O’Neill – have traveled to Sanford, Florida, to meet with the Martin family, the community, and local authorities. The FBI is assisting local law enforcement officials.
And representatives from the Community Relations Service – the Justice Department’s “peacemakers” – are continuing to meet with civil rights leaders, law enforcement officers, and area residents to address – and to help alleviate – community tensions. We’re also communicating closely with local, state, and federal representatives and officials.
In all of these discussions, we’re listening carefully to concerns – and emphasizing that the Department will conduct a thorough and independent review of the evidence.
Holder then turned to voter disenfranchisement and made no direct mention of an activist video showing a young Caucasian man being offered Mr. Holder’s voting ballot in Washington D.C.’s primary: (bolding is mine)
In recent months, the Division’s Voting Section has taken crucial steps to ensure integrity, independence, and transparency in our aggressive enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. And, as we’ve signaled through our recent actions – in South Carolina, Florida, and Texas – we will continue to oppose discriminatory practices, while also vigorously defending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act against challenges to its constitutionality. Let me be very clear: this Administration will do whatever is necessary to ensure the continued viability of the Voting Rights Act - our nation’s most important civil rights statute.
As Dr. King so often pointed out, in this great country, the ability of all eligible citizens to participate in – and to have a voice in – the work of government is not a privilege. It is a right. And protecting the right to vote, ensuring meaningful access, and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal issue – but as a moral imperative.
This means that we must support policies aimed at modernizing our voting systems; at ensuring that all eligible citizens have access to complete, accurate, and understandable information about where, when, and how they can cast a ballot; and at preventing and punishing fraudulent voting practices. It also demands that we engage in a thoughtful and truthful dialogue about where we should target our efforts – and where solutions are necessary.
We might begin by acknowledging the fact that instances of in-person voter fraud are extremely rare, a point that groups from different political affiliations have acknowledged, and numerous studies – by organizations from the Brennan Center to the Republican National Lawyers Association – have affirmed.
A.G. Holder continued to support the administration’s position that, while unacceptable, the “instance of voter fraud” is a “rarity.”: (bolding is mine)
Despite its rarity, any instance of voter fraud is unacceptable – and will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice.
There’s no dispute on this issue. And there’s no reason we should allow it to distract us from our collective responsibility to ensure that our democracy is as strong, fair, and inclusive as possible. Let me be clear once again: whatever reason might be advanced, this Department of Justice will oppose any effort – any effort – to disenfranchise American citizens.
Holder called upon NAN activists to help the DOJ stop voter disenfranchisement:
But achieving this goal cannot be the work of government alone. We will continue to need your help, your expertise, your dedication, and your partnership. And while I’m optimistic about the path we’re on and the place we’ll arrive, I cannot pretend that the road ahead will be an easy one. Many obstacles lie before us – and there are dark skies overhead. But if history is any guide – and I believe it is – positive change is frequently the consequence of unfavorable, not favorable, circumstance. Progress is oftentimes the product of darkness, not the light.