TALLAHASSEE — The NAACP Florida State Conference has denounced a vote by the Florida House of Representatives rejecting a move to repeal the controversial “stand your ground” law.
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference and the Miami-Dade branch, dubbed the March 20 rejection “appalling and inexcusable.”
“‘Stand your ground’ has transformed our state into the Wild West, giving aggressors incentive to shoot first,” Nweze said in a statement. “This problem is compounded by the racial bias in too many communities that view all young black men as dangerous.”
Nweze said the nation’s oldest civil rights organization “is committed to bringing down this law.”
“We will be redoubling our efforts in the upcoming weeks and are calling on the millions of Floridians who share our commitment to join us in turning the tide,” she said. “We must end stand your ground in Florida.”
Broward state Rep. Perry Thurston Jr. said the House was forced into the vote by a petition signed by more than 1,200 people.
“Together, we made sure there was a debate on the floor and now we need to raise our voices for repeal and make sure Tallahassee hears us. There is more work to do,” Thurston said.
He said the law has resulted in more than 160 “preventable deaths” since it took effect. “Assailants should not walk free by being able to claim they ‘felt threatened’ when no real threat existed,” he said. “Our laws should do everything to prevent conflict. Instead, we are encouraging it. It is wrong and it needs to end.”
Instead of repealing “stand your ground,” the Associated Press reported that the House approved, also on March 20, a measure that would make it lawful for people to fire warning shots instead of retreating from the threat of death or bodily harm. The state Senate tentatively approved a similar bill.
The sponsor of the bill said it was inspired by the case of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she says was meant as a warning shot during a dispute with her estranged husband. An appeals court has ordered a new trial for her.
“The reason I got interested in this was not because I wanted to do anything with ‘stand your ground,’ said Rep. Neil Combee, R-Auburndale, the bill’s sponsor. “I didn’t want to repeal ‘stand your ground.’ I didn’t want to strengthen ‘stand your ground.’
He said that law wasn’t on his mind. “Marissa Alexander was on my mind.”
Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, questioned the definition of warning shots and asked how many would be allowed under the bill. Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, pointed out that even law enforcement officers are not routinely allowed to shoot warning shots.
Thurston tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to get rid of some of the major provisions of “stand your ground,” including alterations to the duty to retreat.
He explained that his amendment did not attempt to strengthen “stand your ground” and if the law couldn’t be changed then it should be repealed.
Thurston and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, had a heated exchange for nearly a half hour with Thurston arguing the warning shots bill would not have helped Alexander.
Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, said “stand your ground” has harmed African Americans.
A commonly used example is the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a murder charge for fatally shooting Miami Gardens resident Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford.
In another case, Michael Dunn was recently convicted of second-degree attempted murder after shooting into a car full of black teenagers. However, the jury deadlocked on a murder charge against him in the death of one of those teens, Jordan Davis, in Jacksonville.
Gaetz said that African Americans account for over 31 percent of “stand your ground” defenses despite being about 17 percent of the Florida population.
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who supports repealing “stand your ground,” said, “Don’t make this about color, make this about what’s right and wrong. Make this about life and death.’’
The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), which describes itself as “an activist member-based organization” comprising 18- to 35-year-olds, said the bill is “a disastrous piece of legislation” that expands the scope of “stand your ground.”
“The warning shot measure appears to be a much-needed improvement on its face but we believe it will only open up the floodgates for further intimidation of black people at the hands of vigilante gun owners and misapplication of the law,” BYP 100 said in a statement.
“There is no way to fix “shoot first” laws. They must be repealed,” the group said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Dr. R. B. Holmes, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, announced he is forming a 40-member National Pastors Task Force to push for the repeal of “stand your ground” in Florida and the more than 20 other states which have it on their books as well.
The task force is part of Holmes’ “Social Justice” platform in the “12 Point Action Vision Plan” which he is promoting as he seeks the presidency of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.
“Enough is enough. We need to take a deeper look at this legislation to make it abundantly clear that ‘stand your ground’ laws are not being used unfairly and unjustly, in reference to poor and minority communities,” Holmes said in a statement.
Holmes served as vice-chairman of the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection which Gov. Rick Scott created during the intense criticism of the law following Trayvon’s killing. The task force recommended the measure remain mostly intact.
Holmes said his recommendations included studying the issues raised by the law to ensure it “has been fairly and justly applied across racial and socio-economic lines.”