Attorney General Eric Holder may be getting a reputation for saying what President Obama can’t, thanks to the irony of a black president. While Obama has shifted from calling for compassion to encouraging calm in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin, Holder spoke out against Florida’s "stand your ground" law during a speech at the NAACP convention in Orlando, FL, saying that the laws "create more violence than they prevent," by "encouraging violent situations to escalate in public."
Holder didn’t mention the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or the National Rifle Association by name, but his words are a reminder of the amount of blood on the hands of both groups.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday strongly criticized stand-your-ground laws that allow a person who believes he is in danger to use deadly force in self-defense.
Holder said he was concerned about the case of Trayvon Martin, in which George Zimmermann was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and said the Justice Department has an open investigation into what happened.
But he added: "Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."
In an address to an NAACP convention, Holder said it’s time to question laws that "senselessly expand the concept of self-defense."
The attorney general said the country must take a hard look at laws that contribute to "more violence than they prevent."
Such laws "try to fix something that was never broken," he said.
Contrary to claims that it had nothing to do with the Zimmerman verdict, Florida’s "stand your ground" law relates directly to both the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of Zimmerman for Martin’s murder. Zimmerman’s defense steered clear of a "stand your ground" defense, but the judge explicitly mentioned "stand your ground" in her instructions to the jury. Even before Zimmerman was arrested and charged, 44 days after ending Trayvon Martin’s life, "stand your ground" also played a role in the decision not to arrest Zimmerman that night, by making it difficult to arrest anyone who claimed self defense. Apparently, that was the intent.
Beyond that, I’d say that Florida’s "stand your ground" law – which Zimmerman studied prior to the shooting – gave him the green light to follow Trayvon Martin, first in his truck and then on foot, and even initiate the confrontation that ended in Martin’s death. During the 911 call in which he reported Martin as a "suspicious person," George Zimmerman indicated to the 911 dispatcher that he believes Martin might be "on drugs," and armed. (Zimmerman reports Martin reaching into his waistband for what he assumed was a weapon, but what was actually most likely the can of iced tea Martin had just purchased.)
Any of these assumptions should have been enough for Zimmerman to stay in his truck, but thanks to "stand your ground" Zimmerman had no "duty to retreat" or stay in his truck until the police arrived. In fact, the law allowed Zimmerman to escalate his encounter with Martin, until he finally felt a need to "stand his ground." Florida’s concealed carry law meant Zimmerman had all the firepower he needed to "stand his ground." On that Feburary night more than a year ago, it all made for a lethal combination.
We have ALEC and the NRA to thank for that, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s "ALEC Exposed" project
In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman as the unarmed high school student returned from a 7-11 with an iced tea and bag of Skittles. Police initially failed to arrest Zimmerman because of the state’s "Stand Your Ground" law, which goes beyond the traditional right to self defense by establishing a legal presumption of immunity if a killer claims they had a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The law has been described as an invitation to vigilantism and a "license to kill."
In March 2012, CMD reported that NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer helped draft the Florida law in 2005, and "stared down legislators as they voted" to pass it. Just a few months later, Hammer presented the bill to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force (now known as the Public Safety and Elections Task Force), and the NRA boasted that "[h]er talk was well-received." The corporations and state legislators on the Task Force — which was chaired by Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer of long guns — voted unanimously to approve the bill as an ALEC "model bill." Since becoming an ALEC model it has become law in dozens of other states, and the number of homicides classified as "justifiable" has dramatically increased.
And the NRA did its bit for concealed carry.
For many years, until this spring, the National Rifle Association (NRA) actually co-chaired the ALEC "Task Force on Public Safety and Elections." (The election bills are discussed in the section of this site titled "Democracy, Voter Rights and Federal Power.") ALEC bills include "model" legislation that advances the constitutionality of an individual’s right to bear arms, an argument vindicated by a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. The legislation also would likely benefit the firearms industry closely connected to the NRA.
Bills or resolutions in this area:
Trayvon Martin’s isn’t the only blood on the ALEC’s or the NRA’s hands. Jordan Davis is already being called "the next Trayvon Martin," after he was shot and killed in an argument over loud music, at a Jacksonville gas station.
In the backdraft of the Trayvon Martin debacle, Florida – and its bungling special prosecutor, Angela Corey – will be under fierce pressure to produce a conviction in the state’s other major stand-your-ground case. Last Thanksgiving, as amply detailed in these pages, Jordan Davis, the black son of two Delta Airline lifers, was gunned down before dozens of panicked onlookers at a crowded Jacksonville retail plaza on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. His killer, a mountainous, hate-spewing loner named Michael David Dunn, calmly opened fire, at point-blank range, on the red SUV in which Jordan and three friends, all well-raised, luminous teens, were sitting and listening to Chief Keef. That, and that alone, was the impetus for Dunn to roll down his window and pick a fight. By the time Dunn stopped shooting and sped away down 95, Jordan, the prince of Samuel Wolfson High School, was bleeding out in the back seat of the Dodge Durango. His death, at 17, punched a hole in the community, and shattered the lives of his parents and the boys in that car.
On its face, at least, the case against Dunn is more compelling than the one the state brought against George Zimmerman. There are, besides the statements of multiple eyewitnesses, Dunn’s incriminating remarks to his girlfriend, Rhonda Rouer, who was in the car beside him and has agreed to testify for the state. Also, no weapon was recovered from the boys’ car, though Dunn claimed days later that he saw the barrel of a shotgun leveled at him from their window. But because this is Florida, the birthplace of stand-your-ground and other gross corruptions of the Second Amendment, niggling details – like the facts, for instance – may not matter in the end. As the law is written, the case will come down to what Dunn believed he saw, not whether he had the basis to believe it. "In Florida courts, you don’t need to be right; you just need to believe that you are," says John Phillips, the prominent Jacksonville attorney who’s representing the family of Jordan Davis in its civil suit against Dunn. And though Dunn hasn’t made a motion for a pre-trial hearing on a stand-your-ground defense, the law will weigh heavily on the hearts of jurors, as it did at the Zimmerman trial.
And, like Zimmerman, it seems Michael Dunn will plead self-defense in his Florida trial.