Does stand your ground support vigilantism?

caines | 10/18/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Push for repeal of shoot-first laws gains national momentum

On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, as he walked to a family members home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. Today his name has become synonymous with stand your ground laws that allow admitted killers like Zimmerman to claim self-defense. What lawmakers fail to make plain is that with these kinds of laws in place, families that must deal with the pain of losing a loved one have few legal options in the way of financial compensation that could be charged against the shooter. With that in mind, while Governor Rick Scotts Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection met on Tuesday, Oct. 16 in Jacksonville, the parents of Trayvon Martin, along with leaders from the National Urban League and the Central Florida Urban League were hard at work, lobbying for a repeal or at least a revision of stand your ground laws in Florida and throughout the U.S. Martins parents have also launched a website and political committee that they hope will give [their] family a voice in the political process. According to Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martins family, the site will be used to educate voters, candidates and elected officials on the impact these laws have on victims and their families. The biggest thing the family is saying is that this is not about Trayvon because hes now dead murdered in fact, Crump said. We cannot sit idly by and not act while more and more states consider putting stand your ground laws on their books. Sabryna and Tracy dont believe their efforts will help them secure justice for their son, but they hope that if other children are killed their families wont have to go through the same legal obstacles that they have just to make sure that justice prevails. If you look at other cases in Florida and across the U.S., it seems that everyone is claiming stand your ground as their defense. Even the Kijuan Byrd family in Miami, for whom I serve as the attorney, are dealing with a shooter who said he was standing his ground and then shot their son in the back. Theres something terribly wrong with that picture and with the law as it now stands.

Is task forces goal to recommend change or to maintain status quo?

The task force has held public meetings in Longwood, DeSoto County, West Palm Beach and Cutler Bay prior to Tuesdays session in Jacksonville. However, it has not met in Miami Gardens, the home of Martin, much to the dismay of Trayvons parents and others who say Scotts group has not made it easy for many Blacks to testify due to the chosen locations. Critics of the task force, including the Second Chance Campaign, a coalition of national and local civil rights groups and members, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, say that Tuesdays meeting was an opportunity for an all gun lobby-affiliated panel to provide expert testimony an action that they say sends the wrong signal. The task force has wrapped up its series of public hearings but for its final act, it wont hear anything from victims or about the mounting evidence that these laws are more than ill-conceived theyre dangerous, said Marc Morial, president/CEO, National Urban League. Some 15 or 20 states are looking at changing their laws to mirror Floridas stand your ground law. If they pass, there will surely be more George Zimmermans who will justify aggressive profiling that will lead to another persons death, like Trayvon. The law as it now stands encourages vigilantism and violence. Allie Braswell, CEO for the Central Florida Urban League, is one of the key members of the Second Chance Campaign. He says that he has little faith in change coming as a result of the task forces series of public hearings. I testified at the last meeting in Cutler Bay and have been watching the process throughout its entire course, he said. I have been taken aback by their rigid stance that the law should remain in place. Theyre hearing public testimony and have afforded plenty of opportunities for folks to speak but its as if most of them have already made up their mind. I think theyre just going through the motions. One has to question why Scott refused to bring the task force to urban areas of Florida like Miami or Miami Gardens so that he could hear a different set of views views from a large number of Blacks. Braswell says he provided a list of seven points to the task force when he testified and will be forwarding those suggestions to Scott. He hopes the task force will at least consider them. The law as it now stands is ambiguous and we need to make sure that there is equity across the board, he said. I doubt that the task force will recommend that the law be repealed but at least they can move for it to be reformed. Other vocal critics of the task force and Scotts selection of its members include State Representative Dwight Bullard and State Representative Barbara Watson. Meanwhile, Task Force members State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and State Senator Gary Siplin, at the task forces initial meeting in Tallahassee and in subsequent meetings, made a motion that the group meet in Miami Gardens. According to the records, their motion was ignored by the members of the task force. Despite numerous calls and e-mails to Scott and the task force chairwoman, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, requesting an interview and updates, our requests were ignored. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com