The mother of Trayvon Martin said Monday that she believed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law played a role in her son’s shooting death, but she wasn’t ready to support a boycott of the state for not changing the self-defense law.
“The thing about this law is I just think it assisted the person who killed my son to get away with murder,” Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, said at a National Bar Association event in Miami Beach.
“I think we have to change these laws so people don’t get away with murder,” she said, adding that her son was unarmed and peacefully walking back to his dad’s place when he was initially pursued by George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman successfully pleaded self defense in the killing. A jury acquitted him on July 13 in Sanford.
But the exact role of Stand Your Ground in the case isn’t clear. Only two jurors have spoken up to CNN and ABC, and just one referenced the law, which allows a person to more easily use deadly force without having to first retreat in a confrontation.
Zimmerman’s legal team didn’t focus on mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, however, saying that a common self-defense justification was all the 29-year-old man needed because he reasonably feared that Trayvon, who jumped him, was going to gravely injure him during a fistfight.
The National Bar Association, echoing calls from the Dream Defenders protestors occupying a part of Gov. Rick Scott’s office in the state Capitol, has called on Florida lawmakers to repeal or amend the law.
But Scott and the Republicans who control the Legislature say it’s not necessary. Since the law was passed in 2005, they note, the violent-crime rate has declined and polls show a majority of Floridians favor the law.
Justifiable homicides, however, have increased as well. And black lawyers like John Page, president of the National Bar Association, said Monday that more laws that can allow for more shootings will disproportionately affect blacks.
When asked about the potentially small role Stand Your Ground might have played in the case, Page said the question answered itself.
“Why do you need the law then? There is a common-law right to protect yourself,” he said.
Benjamin Crump, Fulton’s attorney, said the law was a “solution in search of a problem” that is causing more trouble than it’s worth.
“We shouldn’t call it Stand Your Ground. That sounds dignified,” he said, before referencing the famous one-liner of the Dirty Harry movies. “What we should call is it what it is: Make My Day laws.”
Crump and Page also pointed out that the association and other black leaders have spoken about the high African-American homicide rate for years and called for numerous ways to address it, from better policing to more gun control to better government programs.
Page also said he believed race played a role in the Zimmerman case.
A recent batch of Florida and national polls show there’s a clear racial divide between black and white opinion over the case. Blacks opposed the verdict overwhelmingly, whites strongly support it.
Critics of the verdict have called for a boycott of Florida until it changes Stand Your Ground. So far, Stevie Wonder is the most notable entertainer to take up the call.
But Trayvon’s mother was more circumspect about a boycott.
“I can’t say that I’m in support of it, but not in support of it,” she said. “But I think people have a right to free speech. And if that’s their way of showing how they feel, to express themselves about the verdict, then I think that’s something they can do.”