Dan Master| News and Features Editor
The Southern Florida town of Sanford finds itself dealing with the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s murder at the hands of George Zimmerman.
According to Trayvon’s girlfriend, she was on the phone with him when Zimmerman and he confronted. Trayvon told her he was being followed by someone, which caused him to put his hood on and try to get away from his pursuer. Trayvon’s headset fell following a verbal confrontation. That was all she heard.
Zimmerman was a part of a community watch program. Details are still sketchy, but while on watch last week Zimmerman encountered Martin on his way home from a convenience store where he purchased skittles and a soft drink. Zimmerman called authorities, something he did 46 times in the past 14 months, to inform them of Martin’s supposed “suspicious” behavior. Authorities advised Zimmerman to stand down. Zimmerman did not listen. Trayvon Martin was only 17 years old. He had no criminal record.
Trayvon was an African-American and Zimmerman was not which has caused many people to argue that this was a racially charged incident. The Justice Department began an investigation in that case on March 19th to determine the specifics of the case.
Whether or not Zimmerman is to be convicted on murder charges still remain to be seen. 7 years ago Florida adopted a law called “Stand Your Ground.” The law was lobbied for largely by the National Rifle Association and also criticized heavily by law enforcement officers. The law says that no matter where a killing is committed- a car, a supermarket, a home, etc.- that it is okay if it is in self-defense. The question remains: was Zimmerman in danger or was he just trigger happy?
The protests following Martin’s murder are now widespread. Rallies were held in Washington and New York City with notable people like Rev. Al Sharpton leading. The rallies were deemed the “Million Hoodie March” because Martin was supposedly wearing a hoodie at the time of his murder.
Criticizing the “stand your ground” law as well as Zimmerman’s implementation of that law, Sharpton said that people cannot take the law into their own hands in such a blatantly wrong way.
“People can’t take the law in their own hands,” Sharpton said.
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, created a social media campaign to raise awareness to their son’s murder. On change.org there is a petition in circulation that aims to obtain a guilty verdict for Zimmerman .
The people of Sanford did not agree with the Police Chief’s handling of the situation and on March 21st the town council voted in a 3-2 majority for a vote of no confidence in the chief.
Responding to the council’s vote, Chief Bill Lee announced his resignation on the afternoon of March 22nd to a nationally syndicated news audience.
The chief’s resignation was perhaps a reflection of how Floridians are beginning to understand that “stand your ground” law needs to be updated, clarified and amended. Even one of the authors of the bill has expressed concern over its controversial nature.
“Nothing’s ever finished in the legislature, I learned that. Everything can always be re-addressed,” State Rep. Dennis Baxley said.
Commenting on the situation, Florida governor Rick Scott, said that the prosecutors have to make sure that Zimmerman does not unfairly benefit from ambiguous legislation.
““Any time we see something like that we have to review and make sure we’re not giving people the opportunity to use the law unfairly,” he said. “You want to do everything you can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The term “self-defense” that is used in the legislation is ambiguous, according to William Eddins, a state attorney and president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. Eddins wants to make sure that no one unfairly benefits from “stand your ground’s” ambiguous meaning like Governor Scott.
“Self-defense is now used more widely than it was under the old law,” said Eddins. “It is a very broad law in terms of the availability of the defendant to try to take advantage of this law. It has created more litigation for the state in cases involving violence and in murder cases, in particular.”