Florida 'Stand Your Ground' Protest Continues

Monday, 12 Aug 2013 11:19 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Nearly a month after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a group of college and high school students remains camped outside the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott in its fight for changes to the state's "stand your ground" law.

The Dream Defenders, as they call themselves, arrived at the state Capitol in Tallhassee July 16, three days after Zimmerman's acquittal, reports The New York Times The students have vowed to stay until a special legislative session is called on "stand your ground" and other self-defense laws.

“I’ve had it going through the normal routes because it doesn’t work,” said Ciara Taylor, a Florida A&M University political-science graduate who became the group's political director after helping lobby lawmakers as a student.

"People tell us that certain things aren’t possible, but they are coming through every day. We are proving them wrong every minute."

Polls in Florida don't appear to be on the students' side.  Recent surveys show that much of the public favors the self-defense law, and Scott and the state's Republican-controlled legislature strongly support it.

Scott has said he won't call legislators back to Tallahassee for a special session.

The group has gained some ground, though. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said he will ask a House subcommittee to hold a hearing on the law this fall.  But that may end up being just for show. Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz, who would lead the subcommittee hearing, already has declared he has no intention of altering “one damn comma" of the law.

“I think you have protesters in the Capitol today who are protesting without a whole lot of knowledge about the fact patterns associated with 'stand your ground'”, Gaetz told the Times. “They are protesting for the sake of protesting, and we shouldn’t capitulate to that.”

Gaetz said he'll work with Democratic lawmakers on the hearing to make sure the debate is fair, but he questioned the sincerity of the Dream Defenders movement.

"Do you really think that there would be this great push to repeal the 'stand your ground' law if Zimmerman had been convicted?” he asked.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Don Gaetz, who is Rep. Gaetz's father, has rejected a request from Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith to convene a committee to discuss the law, even though he acknowledged that the students have been respectful and cooperative with authorities during their sit-in.

Florida was the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law in 2005. Strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, it allows people who fear serious injury or death to defend themselves regardless of where they are or if they can retreat or escape from the threatening situation.

Scott last year created a task force to examine the law after Martin's shooting, and the panel recommended that no changes be made. But, according to the Times, prosecutors and police have long complained that the law is too vague, gives judges too much power in determining how it can be applied, and can be misused by criminals to avoid prosecution.

Zimmerman's defense was not built around "stand your ground", but on simple self- defense. The law, however, was explained as a part of the judge's instructions to the jury in the case and also was a consideration in the prosecution's initial investigation.



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