TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's "stand your ground" law works and should not be overturned, but the standards for neighborhood watch groups should be looked at by the Legislature, a state task force concluded Friday.
The 44-page report released by Republican Gov. Rick Scott's office said people have a right to feel safe and secure in Florida and have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack. Most of the recommendations had already been made public.
The report, however, recommended that legislators look at neighborhood watch groups. The parents of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed a year ago by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, had asked the task force to change the 2005 law.
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton asked the task force last June to support a "Trayvon Martin amendment" to the law, which would make it harder for someone who starts a fight to use a self-defense argument under the law.
"Just review and amend it," Fulton said then. "I had to bury my son at 17. He was committing no crime. He was doing no wrong."
Zimmerman claims self-defense. He has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge.
The 19-member Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection, which held meetings in seven different Florida cities, recommended to Scott and the Legislature that the role of neighborhood watch participants should be limited to observing, not pursuing, confronting or provoking potential suspects.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin walking through his neighborhood, a gated community, in Sanford. Martin was walking back to a house he was staying at in the community after a trip to a convenience store. Zimmerman started to follow him because he thought he looked suspicious. Despite a police dispatcher telling him "you don't have to do that," Zimmerman got out of his truck to pursue Martin.
They got into a fight and Martin was shot.
At a September hearing in West Palm Beach, task force members acknowledged that "stand your ground" cases were not uniformly handled across the state.
Task force vice chairman R.B. Holmes, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, has noted that Florida's "stand your ground" law "is associated with an increased death toll that falls disproportionately on minority groups" and that "shooting a person in the back, as he is trying to escape, is, by definition, not self-defense."
Florida's Republican-led Legislature has stood solidly behind the law and would've likely opposed any recommendation that it should be repealed.