The 19-member task force licensed to study the tenements of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law is sparking as much volatility as the law itself stemming from what some term as its clearly suspect recommendations.
After more than seven months of intense investigation, the Citizen Safety and Protection Force has suggested only minor tweaks be made to the statute which, at its core, allows citizens to expand perceived acts of self-defense to the point of using deadly force against their tormentor and not being legally required to remove themselves from any situation they view as personally threatening.
The panel was empowered last April, less than two-months after self-appointed Sanford community watch captain George Zimmerman took it upon himself to follow and confront unarmed teen Trayvon Martin as he walked back from a nearby convenience store in the direction of his father’s gated community home.
Within minutes of the encounter, Martin, 17, lay dead and the fiery debate over the legitimacy of such self-defense laws Zimmerman now maintains he was within his right in imploring have raged non-stop. Despite ignoring direct orders from police to cease in tailing the youth, Zimmerman remained free of arrest for nearly two months following the shooting. Ultimately, a public groundswell or outrage finally led to his arrest and he is now awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.
But now, some six-months later, wounds are being reopened anew as word of the task force’s advice to only make relatively inconsequential changes to the law, such as clarifying if shooters claiming self-defense should be granted automatic immunity from arrest or detention while an investigation plays out and if all such suspects should be free of the burden of having to pay for legal representation while still under such scrutiny, have surfaced.
“The task force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state. To that end, all persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner,” draft recommendations further stated.
As lead counsel for the Martin family, famed civil-rights attorney Ben Crump has been sure to peruse and comprehend all the fine print. “Clearly, the law is too vague on its face, because you have every Tom, Dick and Harry who shoots anybody now, for any reason, claiming Stand Your Ground,” he told local media. “In the Trayvon Martin’s case, it’s asinine that you can pursue someone, that you can be the aggressor and then shoot an unarmed kid and claim you were standing your ground. Until we fix this law, there are going to be a lot of asinine claims.”
David LaBahn, a member of the D.C.-based Association of Prosecuting Attorneys was perhaps even more poignant in his assessment. “An individual who chooses to kill another is given greater protection under this law than a law enforcement officer,” he said. “Prosecutors believe people have the right to defend themselves but offering immunity to those who choose to take others’ lives is problematic.”
LeBahn’s words take on added resonance given news of yet another troubling Florida shooting that surfaced late last week. Jordan Russell Davis, 17, was shot to death outside a Jacksonville convenience store at the height of an argument that commenced when his killer complained his music was too loud.