Sharpton: 'Florida will be ground zero' in Stand Your Ground fight

Hundreds of marchers are joining the Rev. Al Sharpton, the parents of Jacksonville teen Jordan Davis and Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin, members of the Dream Defenders and others this morning in opposition to and calling for changes to Florida's hotly contested "Stand Your Ground" law.

In the fashion of the protest the night the not-guilty verdict against Martin's killer was delivered, hundreds made their way less than a mile away from the Leon County Civic Center to the Florida Capitol to again urge lawmakers to address the 2005 law.

"It's a flawed law," Sharpton said. "Because you don't need an actual threat. All you've got to do is believe a threat and you can use deadly force."

Those looking for change have been adamant that self-defense laws are applied disproportionately among minority populations and believe force should be used only after all other options have been exhausted.

It allows individuals to use of force to defend themselves if they feel threatened and has been at the root of two high-profile deaths of 17-year-old teens in Florida over the past two years.

Martin's killer, Sanford neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, was acquitted of second-degree murder by a Seminole County jury in July. Duval County jurors last month declared a mistrial in the murder charge of Davis' killer, Michael Dunn.

Sharpton said polling Florida legislators in their districts was the first step to national change.

"Florida is the first state to enact the law in 2005," he said. "We came back to where it started to begin where it will end."

A full repeal of the law was shot down by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee in November; other bills, still potentially in play in the Legislature, would tweak Stand Your Ground to include, primarily, a necessary obligation to retreat, using force only after that option has been exhausted.

Some of them change the situation that put Zimmerman in the position to pursue Martin. SB 130, by Sen. Chris Smith D- Fort Lauderdale, would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop county or municipal police training programs for neighborhood watch programs and not allow immunity to the aggressor in a situation.

The bill had favorable support in the Senate Judiciary Committee in October and has potential to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee.

A House bill filed by Orlando Democrat Bruce Antone draws a harder line on self defense.

HB 33 allows the use of force, except deadly force and in the case of thwarting a felony, and removes the bar placed on law enforcement from arresting an individual for using force unless there is probable cause the force used was unlawful.

The bill has two more committee meetings and has yet to be heard in the same House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that voted down a full repeal 11-2 in November.


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