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DOJ officials to meet family of Trayvon Martin

U.S. Justice Department officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday with the family of a black youth whose slaying while he walked unarmed in a Florida neighborhood has triggered a firestorm of protest.

Justice officials including Roy L. Austin Jr., the deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and Robert O’Neill, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, will sit down with Trayvon Martin’s family and their attorney on Thursday in Florida, according to a department statement.

Martin was shot and killed Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who told police he was acting in self-defense.

Zimmerman, 28, had called police from his car after he saw Martin walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

According to the 911 tapes, Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something . . . they always get away.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow, saying an officer was on the way. Minutes later, Martin was shot in the chest.

No charges have been brought against Zimmerman. Along with the Justice investigation, a local grand jury will consider evidence in the case.

Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Monday, “I don’t understand why this man has not been arrested . . . let a judge and jury decide if he’s guilty.”

Lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents, said at a news conference in Florida on Tuesday that the teenager was on a cellphone with his girlfriend in Miami when he told her he was being followed, according to the Associated Press. She said Martin told her that he was trying to get away.

Zimmerman’s family described him as “a Spanish-speaking minority,” and his father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel saying his son did not target Martin because he was black.

But the case has spurred outrage among African-American leaders, and concern about Florida’s gun laws.

The Justice Department announced earlier this week it would conduct an investigation into the killing of the 17-year-old. But lawyers at the department say it will be difficult to prosecute under federal law.

Civil rights law protects against “hate crimes” or actions by police officers, but Martin’s shooting may not have either of those elements, two officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still under federal review.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.

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