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Teen's death draws attention to Florida's "Stand your Ground" law

Left, George Zimmerman, 28; Right, Trayvon Martin, 17
Left, George Zimmerman, 28; Right, Trayvon Martin, 17

The shooting death of an unarmed black teen last month in Orlando is drawing protests and calls for action. Lynn Hatter reports the shooter, a 28-year old white neighborhood watch volunteer, is the target of a state attorney investigation. The shooter claims self-defense. The case has sparked a national outcry and stirred racial tensions.

The victim was 17-year old Trayvon Martin. The shooter, 28-year old George Zimmerman.  Monday, protests were held in the Orlando suburb of Sanford where the shooting occurred. The way Sanford police handled the case was also protested in Tallahassee by students from Florida State and Florida A&M Universities. FAMU student Ciarra Taylor, says Zimmerman’s actions reflected more about society, than race.

 “Maybe he was afraid. Maybe he wasn’t. But I feel like there is a lack of due process in either way. Whether its waiting for George Zimmerman to get his due process, which should have been had weeks ago.” 

According to 911 tapes released Monday,  Zimmerman reported what he says was a “suspicious person.”  In the following interaction, the operator tells Zimmerman not to pursue Martin.

 Are you following him?  [Yeah.]  Okay, we don’t need you to do that.  [Okay.]  

Later on, a confrontation occurs between Martin and Zimmerman which results in Martin being shot. Zimmerman says it was in self-defense. But Natalie Jackson, one of the attorney’s representing Martin’s family, says Zimmerman was the aggressor, and that the 911 recording poke holes in his self-defense  claim.

 “You can use force if you believe that you are in imminent danger of great bodily harm, and you have exhausted every reasonable means of escape.”    

Martin was visiting family in the gated community where the shooting occurred. Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law”, which is being used for Zimmerman’s self-defense argument, the use of force is allowed if a person feels they are in danger. It also grants them some immunity from prosecution.  Martin's family wants federal law enforcement officials to investigate his death. Right now, the case is in the hands of the state attorney’s office.


Update: Governor Rick Scott has called upon the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist the state attorney's office in it's investigation. And, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced it's own investigation into the case.

"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," said DOJ spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa in a statement. "The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident."



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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.