- Faith & Family
In response to criticism from citizens here in Florida as well as additional outside pressure that extends throughout the U.S. and other parts of the globe, Governor Rick Scott recently appointed 17 people to examine Florida’s “stand your ground” law [FL Statute Chapter 776]. The group, formally called the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, has been charged with holding public meetings, taking testimony, soliciting ideas and reviewing all matters related to the rights of all Floridians to feel safe and secure.
And while it sounds encouraging on paper, several elected officials here in South Florida question whether the task force is really a “diverse and qualified group, as its appointed chair, FL Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll has said.
Carroll has gone on record, saying that there was an application process that was used to determine those who were interested in serving on the task force and subsequently chosen by Scott. But that’s not so, according to State Senator Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, 35, and several of his colleagues.
“I was the one that requested the task force immediately after the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin and was told that the Senate president and House
leader would each be appointing someone,” he said. “I told the president that I was interested. But no one I know ever saw or received an application. It’s kind of fishy if you ask me.”
State Representatives Dwight Bullard (Dist. 118), Cynthia Stafford (Dist. 109) and Barbara Watson (Dist. 103) each lodged the same complaint saying if there was an application none of them ever saw it or heard that it existed, prior to Carroll’s public statement.
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is the sole member of the task force from South Florida.
“My goal is to speak for preserving lives for all the members of my South Florida community as I have always done,” she said. “Prosecutors and many crime victims have felt that this law is flawed.”
Rundle did not comment on how she was chosen.
Bullard calls task force a “puppet show”
“I feel slighted as do my colleagues here in South Florida,” Bullard said. “We are all elected to represent our constituents but from West Palm Beach south, citizens are under-represented. It really undermines the importance of the southern region of the state, even though we make up 40 percent of the state’s tax base. The governor, in essence, chose to ignore the portion of the state that provides the most money for his coffers. This is nothing more than a puppet show. Anytime you don’t have even one person on the task force who opposed the bill [stand your ground], you’ve already limited the discussion and opportunity for change.”
The family of Trayvon Martin live in Miami Gardens, the district represented by Watson.
“Where is the balance in this task force?” she asked. “I think it would have only be right for Scott to give representation from the area where the incident occurred and where the family lives. When you look at the task force, it appears to be people from the northern part of the state and it silences the voices of Miami-Dade County’s citizens. As we reconsider this law, we have to be honest and see that it was pushed by the NRA for obvious reasons. We already had a self-defense law on the books. Stand your ground just brings more violence to our streets.”
Is a more balanced task force possible?
Braynon says he would rather see the law erased from the books but realizes that compromise is the key to change.
“I live in a district where there are some who support stand your ground, so it would be inappropriate for me to bring my own agenda to the task force,” he said. “But that’s not the way all of us think and my fear is that given the predilection of the current body to support the law, it looks like the fix is already in.”
Stafford adds that she is highly disappointed and believes that Scott “missed a golden opportunity to have a true and valid discussion regarding the law.”
“It’s important to have all of the voices from the spectrum included — since Trayvon was from South Florida it’s vital and would be beneficial to have someone from this community on the task force,” she said. “I’ll tell you this: based on the landscape and the tenor of things in Tallahassee, I doubt we’ve seen the end of people like George Zimmerman trying to hide
behind a very bad law. Rep. Bullard and I are working on legislation to address the issue — we don’t believe any change will come as a result of the task force — at least not in its current form. Meanwhile, Black boys are already dying at a disproportionate rate and we have a law on our state’s books that is tantamount to a license to kill.”
“The governor failed to represent the diversity that makes up this state — in essence he chose not to give voice to the regions of the state most often plagued by gun violence,” Bullard added.
State Senator Gary Siplin, Dist. 19, 58, is one of only four Blacks chosen for the task force, all of whom are from the northern part of the state.
“I approached the senate president during a committee meeting in Sanford and said I was interested in being on the task force,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about whether the members came from the northern or southern parts of the state nor have I taken any time to assess those who the governor chose. I just want to protect the people from Sanford because Black folks here need some help. They’ve been living under plantation conditions for far too long.”
Governor Scott and Lt. Gov. Carroll were sent questions electronically in preparation for this story. Neither they nor their press office responded nor did they return our numerous calls.
By D. Kevin McNeir