MIAMI GARDENS – Prominent political leaders in the African-American community joined together in a meeting headed by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to plan strategy to force repeal of the state’s stand-your-ground self-defense law.
Elected officials present included state Sen. Chris Smith, state Reps. Perry Thurston and Gwyn Clarke-Reed and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan.
The stand-your-ground law, which eliminates the requirement to retreat, is under intense scrutiny since then neighborhood crime watchman George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in a confrontation in a Sanford gated community where the unarmed Miami Gardens teenager was visiting his father.
“We find ourselves in the state of Florida in a crisis right now because we have lost one of our young men in what we consider as a horrible, horrible incident and people are angry and upset because Mr. Zimmerman was not found guilty,” Wilson said at the Monday meeting held in her office in Miami Gardens.
Kimberly Gonzalez of the Dream Defenders Leadership Council, noted members of her organization have been occupying a part of the Capitol to press Gov. Rick Scott to call a special legislative session to discuss the law.
“We have committed to staying there until the demands we seek are met. It’s time for us to hold our government accountable,” Gonzalez said.
The Dream Defenders are raising funds and arranging transportation to bus more supporters to Tallahassee. While the momentum is growing steadily, the Dream Defenders and elected officials acknowledged at the meeting that forcing the repeal of the law would not be easy. Democrats, who mostly want the law abolished, are outnumbered in both the Senate and the House. But Wilson said the community has the power to make it possible. She predicted that a loss of jobs and tourists due to negative publicity for Florida will pressure the Legislature to act. She added it will likely be difficult and expensive for lawmakers to be productive in Tallahassee when the new session opens in September because of the large number of people who will be protesting and sitting in.
“Yes, all of the changes have to rest with Republicans. But we are hoping that they understand that this is a crisis for this state,” Wilson said. “The nation has put Florida under a microscope. Our whole economy rests on tourism and we do not need bad marks on Florida. I do not think the cruise industry, Disney World and the governor are taking the matter seriously.”
This is not the first push to take the stand-your-ground law off the books. More than a year ago, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan sponsored legislation in the commission urging the state to convene a panel to review and repeal the measure.
Scott eventually appointed a blue-ribbon commission to study the issue and take public input but it recommended the law stay.
Jordan will renew her call with another motion in the commission on Sept. 4 again urging legislators to review and repeal the law. She is hoping for a different outcome this time.
“Basically [the law is] saying it’s okay to go out, pick a fight with someone and it’s okay to kill them,” Jordan said.
Smith convened a separate task force to study the law, comprising defense attorneys, state attorneys, professors and law enforcement officials. He said his panel received no attention from Scott. He said recommendations from his task have led to a bill which he will sponsor in the Senate.