Flanked by the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, civil rights leader and talk show host Rev. Al Sharpton called for the repeal of the state’s stand your ground law during a Monday march to the Capitol with several hundred supporters.
“The law is inherently wrong, whether it’s an unarmed teenager in Sanford or a man in a movie theater texting his babysitter,” Sharpton said. “It violates federal law.”
The mothers of Martin and Davis said they would work to repeal the law that they blame in the 2012 shooting deaths of their sons.
“I’m not here to accuse Michael Dunn of hiding behind the stand your ground law,” said Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis. “I’m here to accuse that law of giving him something to hide behind. I’m here to accuse the state of Florida and 25 other states of creating legislation that is nothing more than permission to kill. Florida, know this, there is a ground swell rising up and calling for change. I see that change arriving in the busloads that showed up here today and all the foot soldiers that have come to this point today.”
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McBath said gun culture in American had become a “runaway train” thanks to Florida.
“This is the state where stand your ground began,” McBath said. “Justified homicides have risen by 200 percent. If this Legislature cannot see the demon that is had unleashed, and make a change to an egregious law, America will take stock of that. The backlash will go beyond the talk show jokes and newspaper columns that sling new ridicule at Florida’s approach to justice. The anger will extend itself to tourism, commerce, industry and public perception.”
“I’ve come too far to give up now,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. “Florida has a problem and we need to help Florida fix its problem. I’ve heard (all this) talk about F schools. Well Florida is an F state. Because right now, Florida is failing us. Florida is failing our teenagers, Florida is failing our young men and women, Florida has to change this law now.”
Sharpton cast much of his speech in broad legal terms. Tension between state rights and federal law, a crucial clash in the civil rights movement, has come to define the stand your ground debate, Sharpton said on the steps of the Capitol, facing the Florida Supreme Court.
“State law cannot supercede federal law,” Sharpton said. “Segregation was a state law. The right to own men and women was a state law. The history of the civil rights movement was the history of state law vs. national and federal law. Trayvon Martin had the federal right to go home. Jordan Davis had the right, under federal law, to drive with his friends. The stand your ground law violates national and federal law.”
Joining Sharpton and the other speakers on Monday was the family of Emmitt Till, the Chicago teen whose 1955 murder for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi helped galvanize the civil rights movement.
“To go from whistling in Mississippi in ‘55 to loud music in Jacksonville in (2012) is not a lot of progress,” Sharpton said. “We must protect ourselves, yes, but protecting yourself is not having a social hallucination.”
Sharpton told reporters his National Action Network, which he formed in 1991 to promote civil rights, will campaign against the law through the elections.
“This is the beginning of a whole spring and summer offensive, to put pressure on not only the Capitol but we’re going to go into these legislative districts,” Sharpton said. “Homicides have gone up since stand your ground. We can’t talk about making guns more available, we ought to be talking about making them less available. The legislation they’re doing I think is deadly.”
But protests like Sharpton’s in Florida have so far proved ineffective. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the Capitol last summer, only to have his trip denounced later by Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders. A group called the Dream Defenders had a 31-day sit-in the Capitol that led to no changes in stand your ground, but did lead to a new rule that bans after hours protests in the Capitol.
An array of new gun legislation is proposed this year that would make guns more prevalent on school campuses and easier to gain access to concealed weapons permits. And polls show continued strong public support for stand your ground.
Sharpton said, despite these trends, he wasn’t discouraged.
“The NRA, which wasn’t around last year, waited strategically until this year when the Legislature’s up, which is why we’re here now,” Sharpton said. “The only reason it’s an issue is because of the protests. It will tip the political scales in Florida. You may end up deciding, in a close election, who the governor and the state legislature on this particular issue.”