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, however, successfully pleaded self defense by arguing he was ultimately and violently attacked by Trayvon. A Sanford jury acquitted Zimmerman July 13.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The exact role of Stand Your Ground — which allows a person who is in fear for his life or grave harm to use deadly force without having to first retreat — isn’t clear in the Zimmerman acquittal.
Only two jurors have spoken up to CNN and ABC, and one indicated the jurors discussed the law, which appeared in the jury instructions.
Zimmerman’s legal team, which approved of the jury instructions, didn’t focus on mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, however. They said a common self-defense justification was all the 29-year-old man needed because he reasonably feared that Trayvon was going to gravely injure him during a fistfight.
The National Bar Association, echoing calls from the Dream Defenders protesters 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.
“Their rhetoric doesn’t match the data,” said state Sen. Dennis Baxley who sponsored the original law and doesn’t want it changed.
Baxley was singled out Monday by John Page, the National Bar Association chief who suggested the Ocala Republican, a funeral director, had a financial motive in supporting Stand Your Ground.
“Rep. Baxley, I believe, his profession is a mortician,” Page said. “It’s not a way to draw up business.”
Baxley called the comments “unfortunate and callous. For 43 years I’ve served grieving families.... In the end, this wasn’t really a Stand Your Ground case and what you’re seeing here is a political agenda for the upcoming elections.”
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 needlessly “emboldens” people, leading to needless confrontations and violence.
“We shouldn’t call it Stand Your Ground. That sounds dignified,” he said, before referencing the famous one-liner from 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 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.”