- Faith & Family
When Florida’s “Castle Doctrine” law was passed in 2005, it was said that the law was intended to give rights back to law-abiding citizens, removing the “duty to retreat” if one was attacked in places like their home or their automobile. It further prohibited criminals and their families from suing victims for injuring or killing the criminals who had attacked them. But since its inception, the number of justifiable homicides, according to the FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement], have risen significantly. In 2004, 8 felons were killed by private citizens — the number of deaths rose to 18 in 2005. But by 2009, 45 people had been killed at the hands of private citizens.
Officials are quick to point out that no direct correlation can be made to the now highly-contested “Stand Your Ground” law [the popular name for the “Castle Doctrine, SB 436]. Even with the increased number of killings in Florida, Blacks who were members of the State Senate and House and voted on the bill in 2005 say that it was never intended to be used to protect people like George Zimmerman, the murderer of Trayvon Martin.
A look back at Miami in 2005
According to State Senator Larcenia Bullard, in 2005, citizens of Miami were “disheartened by the manner in which law enforcement was handling home invasions [break-ins] and people who were being attacked in their car.”
“My office had become bombarded with complaints and people were fed up,” said Bullard, 64. “People were being attacked on roadsides, on the turnpikes and even in gas stations. The perpetrators were not being prosecuted and citizens turned to their elected officials for help. That’s why I supported the bill.”
“I voted for the bill so people could legally protect themselves in their homes and in their cars,” said State Senator Gary Siplin, 57. “There was one case of a woman in Texas who called 911 because someone was breaking into her home and she wanted to know what she should do. The operator told her to protect herself and her infant child — she shot the intruder. Miami was facing countless similar situations and our people needed to be able to legally defend themselves.”
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, 69, was a member of the State Senate in 2005. She says that her own home had been broken into three times in a two-month period and three cars were stolen from her driveway during the time that the bill was being considered.
“We heard plenty of riveting testimony when the Criminal Justice Committee of the Florida Senate was considering what has come to be known as the “Stand Your Ground” law,” she said. “State Senator Evelyn Lynn, then 77 and white, was robbed at gunpoint while she was in her bedroom and alone. Based on the law at the time, she would have had to retreat before she could use deadly force to protect herself. She moved to a new home and was robbed again one year later. The bill passed unanimously in the State Senate but none of us anticipated that it would be used to protect the murderer of an unarmed child who was being racially profiled.”
Should the law be repealed?
Siplin says he stands behind his vote but believes that prosecutors need to correctly enforce the law.
“I don’t see how anyone can believe that cases like Zimmerman’s can invoke the “Castle Doctrine,” he said. “The law does not apply to the actions he took that led to Trayvon Martin’s death.”
Former State Senator Tony Hill, 54, now the federal policy director for the City of Jacksonville, says that Martin was the one standing his ground — not Zimmerman.
“Unfortunately, we live in a country where people can’t always go where they want or dress as they please without being harassed or in this case murdered,” he said. “We still need more information to get to the bottom of what really happened but I would not repeal the law. I think we need to focus on section three of the law and be more clear about the places that one can legally take steps to defend themselves — in their homes and in their cars. Zimmerman wasn’t in either place.”
Not everyone supported the bill
Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, 69, then a member of the State House, says she opposed the law because “the legislation’s definition of what is a ‘reasonable threat’ was too subjective.”
“I foresaw that something like this would give the accused too much leverage in a situation like Trayvon Martin’s. We knew we were engaged in a battle when the bill came to the House floor. We knew that this law would promote an atmosphere of living in the wild, wild west or a shoot out at the OK Corral. I proposed legislation two years later  to narrow the definition of ‘reasonable threat’ and to limit the immunity it offered but it never made it to the floor. Should the law be repealed? Yes, immediately!”
Wilson says if she had it to do over again, she would vote against the bill.
“I would put the fear for my own safety aside for fear that this law would unjustly allow someone to use it as an excuse to take the life of an innocent child,” she said.
Bullard believes the Martin case has awakened the state of Florida and the nation.
“There are still some serious problems in this state and in this country when it comes to racism,” she said. “Racism is still very much alive. This law has been misinterpreted and used in ways in which it was never intended. Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin and should be arrested and tried in a court of law.”
Wilbert Holloway and Rod Smith were unavailable for comment.
By D. Kevin McNeir