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March 22nd, 2012

Shooting Death of Teen Raises Questions About Florida Law


The death of a teenager in Florida and the lack of an arrest for the man who shot him has provoked passionate discussions around the country about racial profiling and the Florida law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.

Demonstrators chant at the Million Hoodies March in New York City. Hundreds of protesters marched from Manhattan’s Union Square, calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking back from a local convenience store to his father’s girlfriend’s house in a gated community when he was spotted by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain.

Zimmerman called 911 and told a police dispatcher that a “black male” was acting “suspicious.” Zimmerman ignored a warning from the dispatcher not to pursue Martin and a violent confrontation ensued, leaving Martin dead. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, told local police he acted in self-defense.

The police declined to charge Zimmerman, saying there was not enough evidence to disprove his claim of self-defense.

Trayvon Martin’s death sparks outrage

Thousands of people have joined rallies in New York City and Miami and civil rights leaders are planning more demonstrations in other cities. Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, addressed the huge crowd in New York nicknamed “A Million Hoodie March.”

“We’re not going to stop until we get justice for Travyon,” his father said. “George Zimmerman took Trayvon’s life for nothing…. My son did not deserve to die.”

Trayvon’s mother told the crowd, “Our son is your son. This is not about a black and white thing. This is about a right and wrong thing.”

The U.S. Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor has convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman in the death of Martin.

The Associated Press also reported Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee is stepping down temporarily because he has become a distraction to the case.

Critics argue that Florida’s law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defense. The shooter can argue they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the victim who was shot and killed.


Why wasn’t Zimmerman arrested?

Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to defend themselves with deadly force as long as they “responsibly believe” it is necessary to protect themselves.

Since this bill became a law in 2005, 31 states including Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia have adopted similar laws.
The “Stand Your Ground” law expands the “Castle Doctrine” that designates a person’s home, or in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or business, as a place in which the person has certain protections and immunities. If this person is attacked in their home, they have the legal right to protect themselves using deadly force.

Prior to Stand Your Ground, a person had to “retreat first” or use non-deadly force to defend themselves against a threat or harm. The use of “deadly force” was authorized only to defend against a direct threat or great bodily harm (including the use of a weapon) or during the commission of a felony such as a home invasion.

In passing the “Stand Your Ground” Law, the Florida Legislature expressed its intent that no person should be “required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack.”

However, in response to public outrage, the lawmaker who sponsored the law in 2005 wrote an opinion essay for FOX News.

“Mr. Zimmerman’s unnecessary pursuit and confrontation of Trayvon Martin elevated the prospect of a violent episode and does not seem to be an act of self-defense as defined by the castle doctrine,” wrote Republican Dennis Baxley of the 24th district in Florida’s House of Representatives. “There is no protection in the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law for anyone who pursues and confronts people.”

— Compiled by Imani M. Cheers for NewsHour Extra

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