As Gov. Rick Scott continues to resist calls for a special legislative session to consider changes or repeal of the controversial stand-your-ground self-defense law, House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he will call hearings on the issue in the fall.
Weatherford’s announcement Friday was immediately seen as a victory for The Dream Defenders youth protesters who have been occupying a part of the Capitol building in Tallahassee for more than three weeks.
But whether the speaker wants a serious examination of the law – widely believed to have been the chief cause for the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin – remains to be seen.
Rutherford picked as chairman of the hearings Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who is an unapologetic defender of the law which removes the requirement to retreat in the face of danger.
“I don’t support changing one damn comma of the stand-your-ground law,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times which carried Weatherford’s announcement. “It would be reactionary and dangerous to make Floridians less safe to pacify uninformed protesters.”
Gaetz said he wants to have the hearings. “Right now, the only voices on stand-your-ground are coming from the radical left. I want an opportunity to give a full-throated defense of the law.”
He can expect those voices to continue to speak out on the law.
Democrats in the Legislature are conducting a poll to see if they can force a special session but that is unlikely since it will require agreement by at least 96 legislators.
Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, announced July 31 that he has launched a website, FloridaStandYourGround.org, “to inform and enlist the public’s engagement” on the issue.
“This is how we begin the discussion, by informing the people,” Smith said. “The website is a one-stop information center for anyone who wants to know more about the law, what it does, how it’s being misused and the proposed changes to fix its dangerous flaws.”
Earlier in July, Smith started a Twitter campaign called #HearTheBills, and sponsored legislation this year that would have ended automatic immunity from arrest and taking oneself to a fight – two of the most controversial provisions of the Stand Your Ground law. The bill was never heard and Smith says he is re-filing it in the upcoming legislative session.
Meanwhile, a petition drive launched by Trayvon’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton calling on the 30 or so states with stand-your-ground laws to review them got more than 146,000 signatures soon after it was launched on the website Change.org.
“We’ve started this petition on Change.org as a matter of making sure that no other family will ever have to go through what we have been through,” Fulton said. “No parents should ever have to know what it feels like to watch your child’s killer walk free.”
So far, the highest number of signatures on the petition are coming from Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida. Live signature totals may be seen atchange.org/changefortrayvon.
The controversy over the law, especially after the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict, continues to attract prominent national figures. Following the acquittal, President Barack Obama, in a national comment on race in America, said such laws should be reviewed. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also called the law into question and said the Justice Department is looking into possible civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
Veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona supports the call to review the legislation, telling CNN, “I’m confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will, because it is a very controversial legislation.”
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it’s not ‘black’ or ‘white’ issue, it’s a wrong and right issue,” Fulton has said.
Entertainer Stevie Wonder was among the first to call for a boycott of Florida and Miami-Dade attorney-activist H.T. Smith announced last week discussions are taking place on a possible statewide boycott of some sort, with a decision to come in mid-August.
Smith led the successful Boycott Miami campaign in the 1990s after area officials snubbed Nelson Mandela during the anti-apartheid hero’s visit to Miami Beach after his release from 28 years of imprisonment in South Africa.
Entertainer-civil rights activist Harry Belafonte visited Tallahassee shortly after the Zimmerman acquittal and he also called for the repeal of the law.
So too has the Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, and more recently, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson called Florida the “Selma of our time” and an “apartheid” state, and likened Scott to George Wallace, the racist former governor of Alabama who stood in the door at the University of Alabama to try to block the entry of two black students.
Scott called on him for an apology but Jackson was not backing down.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he cited the state’s voter laws and incarceration rates of blacks versus the general population as examples of “apartheid-like conditions.”
Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition started by Jackson, said there was no need for an apology.
“The governor has a deafening ear to the cries of those asking him to take a moral stand, not a political stand,” Grant said.
Grant said Jackson made his comments not only in response to the Zimmerman verdict but because of the case of Marissa Alexander.
Alexander, who is from Jacksonville, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a bullet at a wall to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her.
A judge refused to let her use a stand-your- ground defense.
*Material from the Associcated Press was used in preparing this story.