(Reuters) - The parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February, told a Florida task force on Tuesday that the state’s Stand Your Ground statute is “a bad law.”
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin asked state lawmakers to make changes in the statute to eliminate the gray areas.
“There is something seriously wrong when there is a minor child who was unarmed and he’s dead right now and there is a law that the person is using to try to defend himself against killing a kid,” Fulton told the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection. “Please, I beg you, review the law again.”
The task force was created after the Martin shooting by Florida Governor Rick Scott to review the state’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use deadly force if they feel their life is in danger or fear great bodily harm.
The meeting at a church in Longwood, not far from the town of Sanford, where neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman killed Martin on February 26, is the first of several meetings to take place around the state.
Martin’s parents also attended a lunchtime rally outside the meeting where a petition to repeal the law was presented with more than 375,000 signatures collected by Second Chance on Shoot First, a national campaign co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The 19-member panel is tasked with recommending changes to Florida self-defense laws and other safety issues in time for the 2013 legislative session, which begins in March.
As it is written, Fulton said, the law led a neighborhood watch volunteer to follow her son, confront him and after an altercation kill him.
“He was committing no crime. He did nothing wrong,” she said.
“It’s a bad law. These laws are set up basically for the shooter to take an innocent life,” said Tracy Martin.
Martin’s death has caused a national uproar and debate over racial profiling, guns and similar self-defense laws in place in more than 20 states.
Advocates of the Stand Your Ground laws say they provide better security for law-abiding citizens who need to protect themselves when law enforcement cannot be called in to help.
Critics say the Florida law is ridden with ambiguity that can lead to unnecessary deaths, and has also been inconsistently applied by prosecutors.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and is in jail awaiting trial. He told Sanford police after he shot Martin in a struggle on the ground that he fired his gun in self-defense because he feared his own life was in danger.
Martin was returning from a convenience store in a gated residential community in Sanford where he was staying with his father when he was spotted by Zimmerman, a white Hispanic.
Establishing who is the aggressor in a close-quarters shooting “can be difficult,” Thomas Hixon, a Miami-Dade County homicide detective, told the panel. “There may be a lack of witnesses or lack of evidence to support the claim (of self-defense),” he added.
After hearing legal experts debate the scope of the law, many speakers said the law as written gives too much leeway.
“A law of this magnitude should be simple enough for the general public to understand,” said Joe Tillman of Jacksonville.
“What I heard here today that there is no understanding of the rules of engagement,” said Tillman, a U.S. Army veteran. “It boils down to a lot of different opinions from a lot of different offices depending on which county you are in.”
Writing by David Adams; Editing by Doina Chiacu