- Faith & Family
Florida citizens were given their first opportunity to support or refute the State’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law which has come under national attention and increased criticism since the February slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by 28-year-old George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, eventually charged with second-degree murder and recently ordered back to prison after his bond was revoked, claimed self defense in the shooting. But because of the wide discretion that the law allows and amidst a bevy of recent shootings in which people, like Zimmerman, have attempted to invoke the Stand Your Ground law as a means of legal defense, Scott was persuaded to put together a task force that would examine the merits of and problems with the law.
But while citizens were taking to the microphone to provide public comment to the 19-member Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection, outside the parents of Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, joined a contingency led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several civil rights organizations in a march and rally. Ironically, both the task force meeting and the rally were held in the Longwood community — just a few miles away from Sanford where young Martin was shot and killed.
Public views vary on the law
During the first phase of the all-day public hearing, law enforcement officials testified how the law impacts their jobs. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade Police Department Sergeant Thomas Hixon, Homicide Bureau, were among those who gave reports.
Critics of the task force question if any changes will be recommended, even with the inclusion of public testimony, given the fact that the majority of the members support the Stand Your Ground Law, including its chairperson, Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll. Carroll voted in support of the law during her stead as a state representative as did fellow task force member State Senator Gary Siplin [Orlando].
“When I voted for the bill, four hurricanes had hit Florida in 2004 and people were looting and taking advantage of folks,” Siplin said. “Every member of the Senate, Blacks, whites, Democrats, Republicans, Jews and Catholics, voted for the bill. We [the task force] will reexamine the law and others to see if there is a racial trend. If so, we’re going to have to address it.”
Siplin was referring to claims that the law has been used in the defense of whites more so than Blacks. According to FBI statistics, 34 percent of cases that involved a white shooter killing a Black person between 2005 and 2009 were deemed justifiable under the law. But when a Black shooter killed a white victim, the killing was deemed justifiable only three percent of the time.
Carroll was unavailable for comment but when the task force was first convened said, “It is a mischaracterization for anyone to presume that this task force is not balanced.” Her comment was made after she stated that she did not know the views of 15 of the 19-member panel’s position on the law or if they favored or disfavored gun laws.
Derek E. Bruce, a highly-respected Black attorney from Orlando and another member of the task force, says he believes Scott and the state legislation will listen closely to its recommendations.
“I wouldn’t want to invest the type of time and energy into this if I didn’t believe something fruitful and beneficial would come from it,” he said.
Protestors call for repeal of law
Chris Brown, spokesperson for the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign that sponsored Tuesday’s march and rally, says he hopes members of the task force and legislators alike will take heed to increased criticism of the Stand Your Ground law.
“We would like to send a message that the public is voicing outrage over reckless shoot-first laws in Florida and across the country,” he said. “We hope they either repeal it or reform it to make it a rational law.”
To that end, in early April State Senator Chris Smith [Ft. Lauderdale] formed an independent panel to review the law. The panel, comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, police chiefs and law professors, took a closer look at the 2005 law and its ambiguous language. It allows citizens to use lethal force anywhere they are legally allowed to be to prevent “death or great bodily harm.”
In a 21-page report, the panel pointed to “overwhelming documentation of the law’s use and more importantly, its abuse.” The panel also urged a strict revision that would have sent Zimmerman into immediate police custody.
“Our goal is to prevent a system tantamount to lawlessness, where any person can, within a matter of seconds, render himself investigator, judge, jury and executioner, all in one,” Smith said.
Smith wanted his panel’s recommendations to be reviewed by the task force, but a spokesperson for Scott said it was not the place for “public comment.” Smith says he will sponsor a bill during the 2013 Florida Legislation that will make sure his group’s recommendations get fair consideration.
According to Brown, the Second Chance campaign has collected 340,000 signatures on petitions that ask for the Stand Your Ground law to be either revised or repealed.
By D. Kevin McNeir