TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Parents of two black teenagers whose killings sparked heated criticism of Florida’s “stand your ground” law marched on the state Capitol on Monday, warning legislators of a political backlash unless they reform the statue.
“Florida is failing us,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, whose fatal shooting in 2012 led to the murder trial and subsequent acquittal of former neighborhood watch patrol guard George Zimmerman.
“Stand your ground will not stand,” Fulton said. “This law is wrong. Stand your ground is absolutely, positively wrong.”
Fulton spoke after Reverend Al Sharpton led a mostly black crowd of protesters on a short march to the steps of the Capitol, where the Republican-dominated legislature began its annual session last week.
A bill to repeal the 2005 self-defense law, which allows Floridians to use deadly force when they think their lives are in danger, was rejected late last year by a House committee. But a bill tightening some applications of the legal defense is still pending in the Senate.
Critics, including many civil rights groups, say the law passed under former Republican Governor Jeb Bush has created a license to kill for gun owners who hate or fear young black men.
Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, urged the roughly 500 protesters to get registered to vote in this year’s elections. He recalled that Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed a task force to hold public hearings on the law, but the panel recommended no changes.
“In eight months, if stand your ground isn’t changed, we’ve got to make a change in that office,” he said, gesturing toward Scott’s suite behind him.
“There is a groundswell rising up and calling for change,” added Lucia McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was gunned down by software engineer Michael Dunn during a confrontation over loud music in a highly publicized case that recently went to trial.
Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder for opening fire on the car of black teenagers in which Davis was killed. But the jury deadlocked on the murder charge.
The stand your ground law was not specifically used by defense lawyers in the Zimmerman or Dunn cases, but both men said they acted out of fear for their lives when they fatally shot their 17-year-old victims.
At Monday’s protest, AME Church Bishop Adam Richardson solemnly gazed at the parents of Martin and Dunn and said, ”These families have come into celebrity without asking for it.
“Florida is a dangerous place for black 17-year-old boys,” he added. “Stand your ground must go. We are mobilizing for November. A change has got to come.”
Editing by Kevin Gray and Tom Brown