Marching to the state capitol, the protesters hoped the demonstration would spur lawmakers to change Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, which has been a flash point recently in several high-profile shootings.
While various media outlets reported that “hundreds” of people were in attendance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized the event, tweeted that “thousands” were there.
Tallahassee police estimated that between 1,000 and 1,200 people attended the rally, a department spokesman told HLN.
Florida’s stand your ground law states that people who are not committing a crime have no duty to retreat and can meet a threat — or reasonable perception of a threat — with force, including deadly force.
At Monday’s march and rally, Sharpton told the Pensacola News Journal that stand your ground is a “flawed law … because you don’t need an actual threat. All you’ve got to do is believe a threat and you can use deadly force.” Also speaking out against the law was U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat from Jacksonville.
Florida was the first state to pass the expanded definition of self-defense back in 2005, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law. Current Gov. Rick Scott says he fully supports the law.
Sharpton was joined during the march by the parents of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, teenagers who were killed in separate shootings in 2012.
Both incidents sparked national debate. Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter by a six-person jury in July 2013. While Zimmerman’s attorneys did not invoke stand your ground as a defense, an explanation of the statute was included in jury instructions. Zimmerman incited controversy once again last weekend when he appeared and signed autographs at an Orlando gun show.
Davis’ shooter, Michael Dunn, was convicted of three counts of attempted murder — related to three friends who were with Davis at the time of the shooting — in February, but the jury deadlocked over whether Dunn was justified in fatally shooting the teen after an argument over loud music.
Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, filed a motion Monday to withdraw from the anticipated retrial, because Dunn is broke and cannot pay him, according to the Florida Times-Union. A court-appointed attorney will take up Dunn’s defense, the newspaper reports. Strolla will, however, maintain his defense of Dunn in the sentencing phase of the three attempted murder convictions.
A 2012 study by the Tampa Bay Times found that those who’ve invoked stand your ground as a defense were successful and have gone free about 70% of the time. There were also disparities when it came to the race of the victims and shooters, with the results showing that stand your ground defendants were more likely to prevail if their victims were black.
During the 2013 legislative session, a Democrat-led bill to fully repeal the law was voted down in subcommittee.
At this year’s session, several Florida lawmakers have proposed bills to change the current law.
Republican state Sen. David Simmons, for example, has proposed a bill that would limit who could claim stand your ground. It removes the law as a potential defense for people who provoke confrontations. It also would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to work on training protocols with neighborhood watches regarding the law.
A different proposed bill would make it easier for police to arrest shooters who claim stand your ground. And another Republican-backed bill would expand the law to cover “warning shots,” like the one used in the case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years for discharging her firearm during an argument with her husband. She has since been granted a retrial.
By Travis Nichols
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