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Neighborhood watch leader may have uttered racial slur before shooting

The self-appointed neighborhood watch leader who gunned down an unarmed black teen may have uttered a racial slur before the shooting as he spoke with Florida police dispatchers, WFTV.com reported.

The tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 phone call is unclear, but he may have said “f---ing c--ns,” under his breath as he followed Trayvon Martin. The dispatcher told him he did not have to follow the teen, but the confrontation took place moments later.

WFTV had an audio expert listen to the call, who said the word was "punks," according to the report.

Zimmerman, 28, has not been charged in the Feb. 26 shooting. He said he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense. Police called Zimmerman white, but his family says he is Hispanic.

The killing sparked heated reaction.

Martin's parents are set to attend a Million Hoodie March in his memory Wednesday night in New York's Union Square.

At a town hall meeting Tuesday evening in Sanford, Fla., civil rights leaders urged residents to remain calm but demand that the shooter be arrested.

The case has ignited a furor against the police department of this Orlando suburb of 53,500 people, prompting rallies and a protest in Gov. Rick Scott's office Tuesday. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to "address tension in the community."

Earlier in the week, the federal agency opened a civil rights probe into the shooting, and in Florida, Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case.

At the town hall meeting, more than 350 people packed into the Allen Chapel AME Church.

People jumped to their feet and cheered when local NAACP leader Turner Clayton Jr. said the federal Justice Department should not only review the investigation but also take over the Sanford Police Department.

Other civil rights leaders said the city's police chief should step down.

"This is just the beginning of what is taking place," Clayton said. "We're going to make sure justice prevails."

Earlier Tuesday, an attorney for Martin's family revealed the teenager told his girlfriend just moments before he was killed that he was being followed.

"'Oh he's right behind me, he's right behind me again,"' 17-year-old Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend on his cellphone, attorney Benjamin Crump said.

The girl later heard Martin say, "Why are you following me?" Another man asked, "What are you doing around here?"' Crump said.

Crump told reporters Tuesday Martin cried out when a man bearing a 9-mm. handgun came at him. Police said Zimmerman, who was found bleeding from his nose and the back of his head, told authorities he yelled out for help before shooting Martin.

"She absolutely blows Zimmerman's absurd self-defense claim out of the water," Crump said of Martin's girlfriend, whose name was withheld.

Martin, who was in town from Miami to visit his father in Sanford, called his 16-year-old girlfriend in Miami several times on Feb. 26, including just before the shooting, Crump said.

The discovery of the lengthy conversations, including one moments before the shooting, was made over the weekend by Martin's father, who checked his son's cell phone log, Crump said.

The teenager told the girl on his way back from the store he'd taken shelter from the rain briefly at an apartment building in his father's gated community, Crump said. Martin then told her he was being followed and would try to lose the person, Crump said.

"She says: `Run.' He says, `I'm not going to run, I'm just going to walk fast,"' Crump said, quoting the girl.

After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thought she heard a scuffle "because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech," Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard gunshots.

The last call was at 7:12 p.m. Police arrived at 7:17 p.m. to find Martin lying face down on the ground.

Zimmerman was handcuffed after police arrived and taken into custody for questioning, but was released by police without being charged. Police have interviewed Zimmerman twice since then.

Crump called the treatment patently unfair and asked if Martin would have received the same treatment if he had been the shooter.

"We will not rest until he is arrested. The more time that passes, this is going to be swept under the rug," Crump said.

Crump said he plans to turn over information about the call to federal investigators; a grand jury in Seminole County is also likely to subpoena the records. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also involved in the state case.

Former federal prosecutors said there are limitations to a Justice Department civil rights probe, which typically would involve a sworn law enforcement officer accused of abusing his authority.

In this case, they said, it's not clear whether Zimmerman had any actual law enforcement authority or if the Sanford Police Department did anything improper. Zimmerman had a permit to carry a gun, but it was not required for his neighborhood watch patrol.

During the town hall meeting in Sanford, Florida Rep. Geraldine Thompson promised the law's repeal would be a top priority for the state legislature's black caucus.

"If vigilante justice becomes the norm, will visitors feel comfortable coming to our state?" she said.

An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman had drawn more than 700,000 signatures at website Change.org as of early Wednesday. About 50 defense attorneys and protesters filled the lobby in the governor's office Tuesday to deliver a letter seeking an independent investigation and a task force to study racial profiling. They applauded when Scott came out of his office to talk to them.

Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s father, delivered a letter to the Orlando Sentinel indicating that the depiction of his son in the media has been misleading.

The letter says he was raised in a multiracial family and “would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever. The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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