Lawmakers call for changes to Florida's SYG law

Legislators, civil rights activists release list of recommended changes

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Local legislators, the NAACP, and multiple community leaders held a news conference Friday calling for "common sense" changes to Florida law in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson has organized the news conference. She was joined by Rep, Mia Jones, Rep. Reggie Fullwood and local civil rights activists in voicing their complaints about the Stand Your Ground law and other self defense statutes.

Sen. Gibson's office says the news conference was held in response to deep community concerns regarding the acquittal of the neighborhood watch volunteer. 

They are recommending specific changes to Florida's self-defense statues, including:

  • Eliminating the granting of self-defense immunity if the defendant took himself to the fight when he could have stayed in a safe place instead.
  • Specifying that immunity is not available to aggressors.
  • Specifying that immunity provisions do not restrict law enforcement agencies' right and duty to fully investigate use of force cases when a person claims immunity/self-defense.
  • Providing less confusing language for adopting jury instructions: justifiable use of deadly force is allowed only when a threat is imminent, and when a person cannot safety avoid the danger before resorting to the use of deadly force.
  • Requiring law enforcement to issue guidelines for neighborhood watch programs which would prohibit neighborhood watch participants from pursuing and confronting.

"These common sense changes we are advocating do not affect a person's right to self defense, but they stop the ability to hide behind self defense when you bring yourself to a fight."

Thursday night, after meeting with protestors who had camped out for three days outside his office, Gov. Rick Scott said he would not ask the Legislature to revisit Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which has become increasingly controversial in the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal.

"Now right after that happened I put together a task force of 19 individuals, bipartisan, they traveled the state they listened to ordinary citizens, they listened to experts and they concluded that we didn't need to make a change in the law and I agree with their conclusion," Scott said.

NAACP leaders and Rev. Al Sharpton have been traveling Florida this week, protesting the law after Zimmerman's acquittal. Rev. Jesse Jackson was in Jacksonville, Sharpton was in Orlando.  A 100-city "Justice for Trayvon" protest is scheduled for Saturday, including a march noon at the Duval County Courthouse.

"Why, because there's a law in this state called Stand Your Ground that is the worst violation of civil rights of state law in this country," Sharpton said.

While most of the politicians that have joined in the call for changing the Stand Your Ground statute are Democratic, Republican Sen. John Thrasher told Channel 4 he was open to revisiting the law.

"If you can improve a law and you can make it fairer, we certainly ought to stand by doing that," Thrasher said.

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