FORT LAUDERDALE -- The discussion was supposed to have centered on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, not Trayvon Martin.
But the spirit of the 17-year-old who was shot dead in Sanford on Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer was readily invoked Thursday evening at the auditorium of the Main County Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
That's where a task force was meeting for the first time to talk about Florida Statute 776.012, the Stand Your Ground law, which so far has protected George Zimmerman from prosecution in Trayvon's death, and drawn national attention to the state.
The law says people have no duty to retreat from a confrontation, and may respond
with deadly force if they feel their life is in danger.
The panel was put together by State Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who didn't want to wait for Gov. Rick Scott to convene his own task force after the investigation into Trayvon's death is concluded. The 18 members of Smith's panel -- 17 were in attendance -- comprise prosecutors, law professors, defense attorneys and one other state representative, Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.
The members will now submit written suggestions to Smith on what changes they would like to see in the law.
About two dozen members of the public -- middle school children, political candidates, even a Canadian snowbird -- took to microphone to support or condemn the law.
Joe Budd, a financial adviser from Boca Raton, said violent crime in Florida dropped more than 20 percent since the law was enacted in 2005.
Mike Lameyer, a state Senate candidate sporting an American flag necktie, lauded Stand Your Ground as making the state safe for tourists. "Florida is clearly one of the safest states in the United States to travel in," he said. "I don't want to see any changes to the current law."
But Leona Theriault, a seasonal resident from Ontario for more than two decades, said she and her husband are thinking about not returning to Florida.
"The gun violence here is unprecedented," she said. "I feel outraged that people are standing here supporting the gun laws in this state."
Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, called for the law's repeal. "In a drug deal gone bad, people die and this is the defense," he said. "In a gang war, this is the defense."
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, a task force member, also blasted the law. "Stand Your Ground is a John Wayne kind of thing," he said. "We have to stop being John Wayne and start caring about other people."
The two public defenders on the panel, Carey Haughwout of Palm Beach County and Howard Finkelstein of Broward, were more cautious about the law, which they have utilized in court.
"The law has served my clients very, very well, and I'll put it out there for whatever you think it means," Finkelstein said.
"I do not support repealing the law," said Haughwout.