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Florida Teen's Shooter Faces FBI Scrutiny


We're following up now on the fatal shooting of a black teenager by an Hispanic neighborhood watch leader. That shooting took place three weeks ago in the central Florida town of Sanford. So far, no charges have been filed against George Zimmerman, who says he was acting in self-defense when he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The African-American community is frustrated. And yesterday, student protesters were out in Sanford, demanding the shooter be arrested. Mark Simpson, of member station WMFE in Orlando, has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) We want justice. We want justice...

MARK SIMPSON, BYLINE: A response came late last night, when the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will be conducting its own investigation into the shooting. At the center of anger and attention in the Trayvon Martin case stands a 28-year-old criminal-justice student with a gun permit. George Zimmerman, police records show, was a habitual caller to 911.


SIMPSON: The shooting occurred shortly after Zimmerman made this call. Martin was walking back from a 7-11, where he bought candy and a drink. He was unarmed. Zimmerman was following him. Neighbors heard screams, saw a scuffle and called authorities. No charges have been filed against Zimmerman. He claims self-defense.

Last month's shooting took place in a small, gated community called The Retreat at Twin Lakes. Construction worker David Brown is African-American and lives in the neighborhood. His 16-year-old son also had an encounter with George Zimmerman.

DAVID BROWN: He ran my son into the house, and I was in the shower. And I looked down, and I see him standing at the back door. And my son comes in and say, the police is down there. So I get out of the shower and I come out, and it's George Zimmerman with the cops.

SIMPSON: Brown says his son was wrongly accused of stealing a bike. A Hispanic resident who didn't want to be recorded says that Zimmerman seemed like a good guy - and introduced himself to new neighbors, and warned about a series of break-ins.

In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman's father described his son as a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who is Trayvon Martin?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (In unison) We are.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who is Trayvon Martin?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (In unison) We are.

SIMPSON: Across town, student protesters converged on the state attorney's office.

ESE IGHEDOSA: What does the Sanford Police Department's failure to make an arrest say about the value of a young person's life? By refusing to arrest George Zimmerman, law enforcement has empowered a citizen to take the life of a child, with no consequence.

SIMPSON: Ese Ighedosa is a second-year student at Florida A&M University Law School. Organizers met with a state attorney staffer, and asked why an arrest hasn't been made. The answer students were given yesterday morning was that the investigation was ongoing. Late last night, though, the U.S. Justice Department announced that the FBI will be investigating the shooting, and looking into possible civil rights violations.

The mayor of Sanford, Jeff Triplett, who's white, says the next few weeks are going to be critical.

MAYOR JEFF TRIPLETT: You know, the healing process that needs to go on, finding out the answers that are - to the questions that are being asked, you know, we've got a lot of great people in our community and – you know, both black and white - that hate this for our city.

SIMPSON: Sanford has a history of mistrust between the black community and local authorities. Last year, the police chief was removed from office over a delay in arresting another officer's son for beating a black, homeless man. Community relations staff from the Justice Department will be traveling to Sanford later this week, to address tension in the community.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Simpson in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Simpson