The law became a target of protests earlier this year when local officials cited it as the grounds for not charging George Zimmerman with the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder after nearly two months of protests in Florida and nationwide.
Davis and three friends, all African-American teenagers, were parked outside a gas station Nov. 23. Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old software engineer who is Caucasian, argued with them over the loud music they were playing. Dunn then fired at least eight shots into the teens’ vehicle, several as they were driving away. Davis was struck and killed.
Dunn was arrested the next day at his home in Satellite Beach, about 170 miles south of Jacksonville, after police traced his license plate. He is pleading not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, claiming he saw a shotgun in the teens’ car. The police say they found no weapon in the vehicle.
Press reports say it’s likely Dunn will argue that his actions were protected under the Stand Your Ground law. This law, adopted in Florida in 2005, states that a person is immune from prosecution for use of deadly force in public if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
This and similar laws around the country are also sometimes referred to as “shoot first” or “make my day” laws because the shooter has no “duty to retreat,” meaning they don’t have to attempt to walk away from or de-escalate a situation before using deadly force.
Reuters reported that Ron Davis, a retired airline worker and Jordan’s father, said Dec. 5 he is beginning to campaign against Stand Your Ground “because that law emboldens people to carry firearms and to use them if somebody looks at them sideways.” Two days later he joined Rev. R.L. Gundy, Florida state president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at a press conference outside the gas station where Jordan Davis was killed, calling for protests against the law.
Davis’ death comes right after a commission set up to review the Stand Your Ground legislation in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing issued an initial report largely supporting the law. The 19-member “Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection” was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and includes the legislators who sponsored the law. It held seven hearings across the state earlier this year.
Speaking against the law at a hearing in Cutler Bay, near Miami, was Arlene Byrd and Ruby Mosely. Byrd’s son, Kijuan Lamar O’Neal, was killed June 1 by security guards at a nightclub. Mosely’s son was beaten to death by the owners of a convenience store in 2010.
“Repeal it. It doesn’t help,” Mosely said, reported the Miami Herald. “We have a law for self-defense. What was the purpose of this law?”
At the Cutler Bay and other hearings, several members of the task force took the lead in defending the law. “The law is to protect law abiding citizens from violent attack,” said task force member and defense attorney Mark Seiden, the Herald reported.
The task force website reports it received more than 11,000 public comments by phone, email and mail, more than 70 percent in favor of Stand Your Ground. It posted a draft report Nov. 13 that states, “All persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner.” It then recommends some minor modifications to clarify some terminology and review guidelines for neighborhood watch groups. The task force is supposed to present final recommendations in the coming weeks.
Ron Davis said there will be a candlelight vigil in Jacksonville Dec. 15 for his son and against Stand Your Ground, and other actions in the near future.
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