Fla. Senate Urged To Keep Vetting Currently Stalled Stand Your Ground Tweak Bill

Apr 11, 2014

Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew speaking at a press conference Friday calling for changes to Florida's Stand Your Ground law. He's joined by Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), Sen. Democratic Leader Chris Smith, the bill's author, and Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee), who tried to repeal the law last year.
Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

The bipartisan bill to tweak Florida’s Stand Your Ground law appears stalled in the Florida Senate. And, several groups, including the so-called Dream Defenders, joined the measure’s author in calling for further discussion to changing the controversial law.

Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith has been working side by side with Altamonte Springs Republican Senator David Simmons in trying to make changes to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

Smith says the legislation is needed to address some of the recent decisions associated with the law.

“One jury sent a message that you can track down kids, kill them, and walk free. Another jury sent a message that you can shoot into a van of kids and still not get convicted of murder. And, as we see even recently, more and more people are availing themselves of provisions of Stand Your Ground that should not be availing themselves of that,” said Smith.

Both Simmons and Smith filed separate bills last year, which never got called up for a hearing. This year, though, they decided to work together, and the measure has passed two of its four committees.

A few weeks ago, it passed its second committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee—but Smith says it was later referred back to that same panel.

“And that’s usually done with the consultation with the president. So that’s mild resistance. But I think the president has two weeks to go to do the right thing and get the bill to the floor,” added Smith.

It’s Alpha Day at the Capitol, and members of the Alphi Phi Alpha fraternity stood with Smith to speak in favor of getting the measure heard. That includes the frat’s Florida District Director Matthew Bradford, who quoted a well-known member of the black collegiate fraternity.

“Dr. Martin Luther King stated ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent upon things that matter. We in this organization cannot be silent when things like Stand Your Ground exist. Although we support the efforts of Senator Chris Smith, as far as SB 130, we are supporting an end to Stand Your Ground. It needs to be done away with. No other family should have to deal with what the Trayvon Martin family, the Jordan Davis family, did as far as losing a child. We have to end Stand Your Ground,” said Bradford.

And, the group calling themselves the Dream Defenders weighed in on the issue too. They’re the group that spent about a month in the Capitol building last summer, in protest of the George Zimmerman acquittal. Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, calling national attention to Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws.

Dream Defender Executive Director Philip Agnew, who’s also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, also spoke.

“Something must be done for young black me in this state. Something must be done for young black families in this state. Something must be done on behalf of the poor in this state. And, I’m proud to stand behind, alongside, and in this moment, in front of men, who are ready to act on those values,” said Agnew.

Chair of the legislative black caucus and Tallahassee Democratic Representative Alan Williams also spoke at Friday’s press conference. He tried to repeal Stand Your Ground last year, but it failed at its first hearing in a bipartisan vote against his bill.

Still, he says it’s worth it to try to change the law as well. And, he says Governor Rick Scott needs to use his office to put weight behind the bill.

“These men, who are fathers, who are brothers, who are uncles, grandfathers, who are community leaders, are calling on the Legislature to provide leadership. We’re calling on Governor Rick Scott to provide leadership. We want him to use his pulpit—his bully pulpit—to tell the legislature, ‘send me a bill that repairs Stand Your Ground,’ and if he doesn’t, then the voters of Florida should stand their ground,” said Williams.

The measure contains several suggestions that came from the Governor’s task force as well as another that Smith called for as well, following the death of Trayvon Martin. It includes further defining what an aggressor is, putting guidelines in place for neighborhood watch programs, and allowing innocent bystanders or their families to sue if that person gets caught in the crossfire of someone defending themselves.

Stay tuned next week when we hear from the main author of Stand Your Ground, and his thoughts on the matter. CLICK HERE for that story.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.