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The parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin have been in Washington, D.C., the past two days, meeting with Democratic lawmakers and pleading for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Fla., neighborhood watch volunteer who shot their son.
I talked today with the boy's father, Tracy Martin, 45, about the whirlwind of attention the case has drawn, the latest claims made about his son's role in the Feb. 26 incident in Sanford and his hopes for an arrest.
Martin said the outpouring of support from across the nation, and even from other countries, has been "overwhelming."
"It feels really good to know the nation is taking a stand and supporting justice for Trayvon," he said. "Me and my family want all of our supporters to know we are indeed grateful for everything that they are doing and have done for us."
And, said Martin, he "won't rest" until Zimmerman is prosecuted.
Last week, the parents met with Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by the governor to investigate their son's shooting. Local authorities had not arrested Zimmerman. The Miami Herald, CBS News and ABC News report that at least some Sanford police officials wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, but that the local state attorney said they needed to get more evidence.
Corey has since signaled that building a case against Zimmerman may be difficult. She has said that self-defense, which Zimmerman has claimed, can be a formidable legal argument for prosecutors to defeat. She has also acknowledged that the charged political climate surrounding the case makes her job challenging.
Yet Martin said he came away from the meeting with Corey feeling encouraged:
"After speaking with Ms. Corey, it certainly gives a little more hope than what we had at first. We had no faith whatsoever in the Sanford Police Department. Let me make this clear: I'm not placing the blame on the whole Sanford Police Department, but on those who were involved, those who made critical decisions and those who are doing things such as leaking information. There are some decent police in that department that don't deserve to be labeled."
The family also met with Justice Department and FBI authorities, who have opened a probe for potential civil rights violations. Supporters of the family, including the parents' attorneys, believe federal authorities should indict Zimmerman for a hate crime because he allegedly uttered a racial epithet on a 911 call to police in which he reported that a young black man — Trayvon — was acting suspiciously in his neighborhood.
Martin declined to say whether he believed the shooting is a hate crime:
"They will have to decide whether it's a hate crime or not. ... I think my son was racially profiled, that that was the motive. I don't know the mindset of Zimmerman, but from all accounts, from the 911 tapes, it clearly shows he was profiling my son."
As for reports that Zimmerman claims he was attacked and beaten by Trayvon before he shot the teen, Martin dismissed that as an attempt at scapegoating:
"He's just trying to cover his tail. Knowing Trayvon, why would he approach an individual not knowing what this individual was capable of doing, whether or not this individual had a weapon on him? It's outrageous that this guy would claim that my son would be attacking him.
"That's a slap in the face. To have murdered my son, and then turn around and say 'I murdered him because he attacked me,' that's just hard for me to believe. Hopefully the courts will find it hard to believe as well."
This week, friends of Zimmerman have gone public to defend him. The most vocal of them has been Joe Oliver, a former television anchor. Oliver claims he's spoken with Zimmerman about the shooting and believes that he acted in self-defense. Martin, for the first time, appeared exasperated at Oliver's defense, saying:
"Did he listen to the same 911 call that we listened to? I mean, I guess he's just trying to defend his friend. He has every right as an American to defend his friend. That's his duty. ... But me, as a father, it's my duty to defend my son. How does Joe Oliver know what was going on with George Zimmerman that night? Nobody knows what was going on at that particular time except Trayvon and Zimmerman. Zimmerman is going to make himself look like the good guy; Trayvon is dead."
Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. More On Martin And Oliver:
Oliver is African-American and has said he sympathizes with the outrage of other blacks over the shooting, but insists that Zimmerman wasn't motivated by racial bias. Some blacks and others have interrogated Oliver about his relationship with Zimmerman or suggested it's a ruse designed to diffuse blacks' anger at Zimmerman.
But in his response to the question about Oliver, as you can see above, Martin didn't address the issue of the other man's race. He focused instead on his exasperation with what Oliver has been saying.
[Corey Dade is a correspondent for NPR.org.]
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