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FL: Sharpton stirs racial unrest in Martin and Davis shootings

The Reverend Al Sharpton led a mass march on the Capitol yesterday with parents of two black teenagers whose fatal shootings focused international attention on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” gun law.

Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, and Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, said Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Legislative leaders supporting the 2005 law will suffer at the polls next November, if the Legislature does not change the statute.

“Florida is a dangerous place for black 17-year-old boys, like being a boy in Egypt in the time of Moses, or being a boy in Bethlehem in the time of Jesus,” Sharpton said. “‘Stand Your Ground’ must go. We are mobilizing for November. A change has got to come.”

“These families have come into celebrity without asking for it,” Bishop Adam Richardson of the AME Church told a crowd of about 1,000 protesters who filled Duval Street between the Capitol and Supreme Court.The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee has already rejected a bill by Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who sought to repeal the law, but legislation is pending in the Senate to modify some of its provisions and require training of Neighborhood Watch volunteers.

Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman, a Sanford Neighborhood Watch captain who was acquitted on a self-defense plea. Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville by Michael Dunn, who said he feared for his life in a confrontation with four black youths at a filling station convenience store. Dunn was convicted of attempted murder but a jury deadlocked on the murder charge, so he will be retried.

The “Stand Your Ground” law allows law-abiding citizens to use any degree of force, including firearms, when they believe their lives or the lives of others are in danger. The law repealed the previous requirement that people retreat, if possible, before standing their ground in a dangerous situation.

Tracy Martin recalled meeting with Scott, who appointed a special task force to study “Stand Your Ground” in 2012. The commission held a series of hearings around the state but recommended no major changes in the law.

“In eight months, if ‘Stand Your Ground’ isn’t changed, we’ve got to make a change in that office,” he said, gesturing toward Scott’s suite behind him.

Later in the day, the parents testified before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. There was no “Stand Your Ground” legislation on the agenda but the committee agreed to hear from them.

“This law doesn’t protect our children,” Martin told the committee. “I think this country values guns more than they do our kids, and something is wrong with that.”

Fulton said “our teenagers are afraid” and that their parents are fearful for them.

“I stand before you because I want you to see me as a mother — a hurting mother, a broken-hearted mother, a mother who this law did not benefit because I had to bury my son. He was absolutely no criminal and he was not doing anything wrong,” she said. “But it gives people with weapons the justification to say that they were standing their ground.”

Committee chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, thanked the parents for attending his meeting and said, “No mother should have to bury their child.”

Williams said he was not discouraged by House defeat of his repeal bill. Williams, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, mused that both slain youths were 17 and would have reached voting age this year.

“We must be Jordan Davis voters. We must be Trayvon Martin voters,” said Williams.

The protesters marched from the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center to the Capitol, with Sharpton and the grieving parents in the front row. Marchers chanted slogans and sang, many waving picket signs denouncing the gun law.

McBath, who teamed up with Fulton to campaign for repeal of the law after their sons were killed, said opponents will vote against supporters of “Stand Your Ground” in November.

“There is a groundswell rising up and calling for change,” she told the crowd. “The Sunshine State will forever be branded the gun-shine state.”

Michael Gold

St Augustine native, Michael Gold, is editor at Historic City News. He is an advocate for grassroots citizen journalism whose job is holding public figures accountable to the public. Founded on the Internet in March 2000, HCN has developed from a periodic newsletter, to an interactive platform, to a publication read by the area's most engaged citizens. Historic City News is focused on news originating from or having an impact on St Augustine and St Johns County. Contact by e-mail

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