The U.S. Department of Justice had no comment on the $10,000 bounty the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) was offering for a “citizen’s arrest” of George Zimmerman, the 28 year old man who told Sanford, Florida Police he shot and killed 17 year old Trayvon Martin on February 26 in an act of self-defense.
According to a number of reports, the NBPP “called for the mobilization of 10,000 black men” to do the “arrest.” Zimmerman and his family have received death threats since the case became a national issue. Mr. Zimmerman has not been arrested by local authorities. Federal, state, and local investigations of the shooting are happening, and he is currently in hiding.
The bounty made its ways around social media, including Twitter, and attached itself to an unfortunate tweet. One individual decided to tweet what he thought was George Zimmerman’s home address. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the incorrect address out to his 250,000 followers. I discovered the address did not belong to Mr. Zimmerman and the actual residents were living in fear for their lives. Mr. Lee has since apologized and compensated the couple whose residence was targeted on Twitter.
In an e-mail response to an inquiry, DOJ Office of Public Affairs’ Xochitl Hinojosa wrote: “The FBI is aware of the statements and we are unable to comment at this time.”
Rep. Allen West, Florida Republican, posted a statement on his FaceBook page calling on the Justice Department to prosecute the NBPP for the bounty:
“I vehemently condemn the bounty poster emanating from the New Black Panther Party putting a $10,000 ransom up for the capture of George Zimmerman and call upon the US Department of Justice to prosecute their actions, clearly a hate crime. We have seen this type of abhorrent behavior from this group previously in 2008 as part of a voter intimidation action, it is reprehensible. To openly solicit for the death of an American citizen, with reward, is not in keeping with the laws of due process which governs this Constitutional Republic. However, this is to be expected when irrational voices dominate our public dialogue and are fueled by an ideological driven media. I am concerned that that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is being hijacked by malcontents.”
It appears authorities on multiple levels are focusing more on the shooting than the NBPP bounty at this point, though.
Hinojosa told the L.A. Times on Thursday, “We have an ongoing investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin and it is a parallel investigation. We are providing resources to the state while we do a thorough investigation.”
FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier also told the L.A. Times, “The parallel investigation we’re running is specifically focused on the death of Trayvon Martin and more specifically, were there any violations of his civil rights? We are not investigating the Sanford Police Department, which has been a little confusing for folks.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, however, did issue a statement on Thursday in response to bounty threats from the NBPP:
“We have taken steps to ensure that the investigation into the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is fair, measured and thorough. Justice is ill served when there is a rush to judgment. We are a nation of laws and we must let the legal system work. Talk of bounties and retribution has no place in this dialogue, and they compound tragedy with tragedy.”
The City of Sanford also issued a statement on March 24 saying: “The City of Sanford does not condone the actions and recommendations of the New Black Panther Party. The City is requesting calm heads and no vigilante justice.” The statement adds, “Attempts by civilians to take any person into custody may result in criminal charges or unnecessary violence.”
The Obama Justice Department has been criticized over it’s handling of the NBPP before, specifically the 2008 case regarding the NBPP and voter intimidation at the Philadelphia voting polls. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was under fire for being too lenient on the NBPP, to which A.G. Holder finally said:
“When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, and to compare what people were subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia—which was inappropriate, certainly that…to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all, for my people.”
The New Black Panther Party Leader, Hashim Nzinga, who issued the $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman’s capture last Saturday, was arrested on Monday, according to Reuters, at the office of his probation officer. Mr. Nzinga was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.