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Trayvon Martin case: use of Stand Your Ground law or pursuit of a black teen?

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The 911 tapes, plus a report Tuesday from a girl who says she was talking with Trayvon on the phone just before the shooting, suggest that Zimmerman may have run after the teen. If true, that could allow the Justice Department to help draw the line on so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws and reaffirm civil rights protections for young men who draw suspicion by virtue of their skin color.

“The Stand Your Ground law was not intended to authorize vigilante action on the part of neighborhood watch guys when they have suspicions about the motivation of some kid walking through the neighborhood,” says James Wright, a sociologist who studies gun violence at University of Central Florida in Orlando. “To simply say this case is ambiguous and therefore can't be prosecuted opens the door for a lot of nefarious” actions to take place. In that way, he says, “this case could help draw the line between what's right and legally justifiable and what goes beyond that.”

“With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids – the highest level of intent in criminal law,” the Justice Department said in a statement, upon announcing it would investigate Trayvon's death. “Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”

The case has sparked outrage across the US, as well as rallies and protests on college campuses and in the Orlando, Fla., area.

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