Speaking out about the case of Trayvon Martin, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he is calling for the United States Justice Department to review Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, which enables people to use deadly force against a person whom they perceive as a threat.
Meanwhile,the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the FBI announced Monday that they have opened an investigation into the facts and circumstances of the shooting.
"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation. The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident," the DOJ said.
The Stand Your Ground law is being invoked in the case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed a 17-year-old black student who was walking through a gated community last month while carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
“People should not have the right, based on their imagination, to kill people,” Sharpton told BET.com.
In fact, the law has come under increasingly widespread criticism in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin death. The law enables people who perceive they are being threatened to use deadly force, without first seeking to back away from the potential altercation.
Critics have complained it is a license for people to engage in vigilante justice. Since the legislation became law in Florida in 2005, 16 other states have adopted similar laws.
Emmanuel Cleaver II, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “This case compromises the integrity of our legal system and sets a horrific precedent of vigilante justice. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus stand together in the name of justice for Trayvon. As a nation we cannot, should not and will not ignore, Trayvon's brutal murder and the inconceivable fact that his killer remains free.”
Sharpton pointed out that he himself was stabbed by a resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhust in 1991 after leading a march against police misconduct. Under the Florida law, Sharpton said, he would be entitled to shoot anyone who approached him at a rally whom he might perceive to pose a threat.
Sharpton said Zimmerman was not a police officer but instead a neighborhood watch volunteer, and Martin had no obligation to engage him in conversation.
“Travyon had no obligation whatsoever to stop for Zimmerman,” Sharpton said. “He might have reasonably thought he was someone trying to accost him.”
Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self-defense, yet no arrest was made by the police in Sanford, Florida, the Orlando suburb where the shooting occurred.
The police have released the 911 recordings between their officers and Zimmerman. The recordings make clear that Zimmerman was told by a police officer not to trail young Martin. Despite those instructions, Zimmerman confronted Martin and an altercation apparently occurred with the young man being shot.
Sharpton, who is the head of the National Action Network, will lead a rally on Thursday in Sanford, calling for Zimmerman to be arrested.
“Zimmerman should be arrested,” Sharpton said. “All the police have to do is to determine probable cause for an arrest. They don’t have to find him guilty. And if the situation here doesn’t amount to probable cause, I don’t know what does.”
He continued, “This young man was not committing a crime. He was not trespassing. And he’s dead. The police don’t have to decide Zimmerman’s guilt in order to arrest him.”
A DOJ Community Relations Service will be in Sanford this week to meet with civil rights leaders, community leaders, and local law enforcement to address tension in the community.
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(Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt/Landov)