The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state murder case.
The decision comes as outrage over the verdict poured from street demonstrations and church pulpits across the country. The jury's decision also renewed debates over racial profiling, gun control, self-defense and equal justice.
President Barack Obama, calling the 17-year-old Martin's death a tragedy, urged calm reflection, a message shared by religious and civil rights leaders hoping to ensure peaceful demonstrations.
"I know this case has elicited strong passions," Obama said in a statement. "And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."
His statement reflected the widespread national attention on the case. The White House rarely issues formal responses to trials that do not directly involve the president or federal government.
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The Justice Department opened an investigation into Martin's death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges to proceed. A six-woman jury found Zimmerman, 29, not guilty of those charges Saturday night.
The department said in a statement Sunday afternoon that the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida are evaluating the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.
"Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction," the statement said.
The Justice Department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have previously been acquitted in related state cases, including the Rodney King police beating case in Los Angeles.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous Sunday started a petition calling for a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman. Civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson also called for a civil rights prosecution.
Neither Zimmerman nor Martin's family publicly spoke or issued statements Sunday.
Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said in an interview on CNN that his brother was still processing the reality that he wouldn't serve prison time for the killing. George Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, maintained the shooting was an act of self-defense.
Acknowledging the national outrage over the verdict, Robert Zimmerman said his brother is "going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life."
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara suggested Zimmerman's safety would be an ongoing concern.
"There still is a fringe element that wants revenge," O'Mara said. "They won't listen to a verdict of not guilty."
The demonstrations and rallies across the country were mostly peaceful, but in Oakland, Calif., some people broke windows and vandalized a police squad car Saturday night.
Churches made note of the verdict Sunday morning, with many leaders speaking about the case and urging peace in the aftermath. Some congregants wore hooded sweatshirts, as Martin had when he died, or shirts with the teen's picture. Martin was shot while walking through the gated Sanford, Fla., town house community where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.