Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the so-called “stand-your-ground” laws that were a prevalent theme in the case of George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch volunteer was found not guilty last weekend in the 2012 death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Holder said that his comments in a speech to the NAACP were “separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention.” But speaking in Orlando, Fla., just miles from where the shooting and subsequent trial took place in Sanford, it was hard not to notice the connection.
“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defence and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defence for using deadly force if – and the “if” is important – no safe retreat is available,” Holder said.
Zimmerman did not cite the law as part of his defence. But it was originally cited by police as a reason he was not arrested. It was also in the jury’s final instructions that guided them in their deliberations, and an anonymous juror told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday that it played a role in her decision.
“We must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely,” Holder said.
“By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and – unfortunately – has victimized too many who are innocent. It is our collective obligation – we must stand our ground – to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.”
Holder exhibited a very personal tone when discussing Martin’s death with the crowd. He said that he was “concerned” by the case and that the Justice Department would consider “all available information” when determining whether to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
Holder relayed stories of his own personal experience with racial profiling, which he said were prompted by Martin’s death last year. He told the crowd of when he was pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike when he wasn’t sure if he was speeding. He said that, as a federal prosecutor, he had been stopped by a police officer “while simply running to catch a movie” in Washington.
He also said that Martin’s death caused him to have a conversation with his own 15-year-old son.
“I am his father and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world he must still confront,” Holder said. ‘This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways.”
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