Stand Your Ground Law Focus of NABJ Forum

At the National Association of Black Journalists’ Opening Plenary session “NABJ Live” on Thursday, Aug. 1, honorary convention chair Roland S. Martin discussed calls from elected officials and civil rights leaders to repeal or revise “stand your ground” self-defense laws, like Florida’s, that give civilians wide latitude to use deadly force against a perceived threat.

“It’s not about gun control. It is about self-control,” said Florida Rep. Alan B. Williams at the forum held in Orlando, Fla., adding the streets aren’t safer with justifiable homicide laws. “We hunt too,” Williams said, referring to recreational hunting, “but we just don’t hunt young men who are walking home and minding their business.”

The discussion was prompted by last month’s verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. On Feb 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a confrontation in a Sanford, Fla., gated community. Zimmerman had been following Martin because he thought he was acting suspiciously, and says he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Zimmerman was charged, and found not guilty, of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Protests were held in 100 cities after the verdict, and many protestors believe that Martin was targeted because he was African American.

“I think this case initially became about a racial discussion,” said panelist Yamiche Alcindor, a reporter for USA Today. “Then the law superseded race. The thought that you can follow somebody and kill them.”

Some protestors have also called to boycott Florida, while others want federal civil rights charges to be filed against Zimmerman. The Justice Department is investigating whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights when he shot the teen.

“In Florida, tourism is our number one industry,” said Williams, adding he hopes the stand your ground law gets revised. “Any time someone says we don’t want to go to Florida that hurts us… People need to tell the governor, not only are you hurting our safety, you are hurting our economic opportunity of our state.”

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