WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking about the George Zimmerman acquittal at the NAACP annual convention in Orlando, Fla., urged that laws like Florida’s “stand your ground” statute allowing people to use licensed firearms when they feel threatened should be invoked only after the person first tries to retreat from a dangerous situation.
“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” Holder said. “These laws try to fix something that was never broken.”
Zimmerman was carrying a firearm concealed in the back of his pants waist when, he said, Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, suddenly assaulted him and then started beating his head on the ground. At that point, Zimmerman told local police, he pulled out the weapon and shot the 17-year-old.
It is exactly that kind of situation that the Florida law permits, but that Holder believes should be invoked only when “no safe retreat is available.”
He said, “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.”
Otherwise, he 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.”
He also reiterated that federal prosecutors have an “open investigation” into the shooting.
“While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take,” he said.
And the attorney general described how in his youth, his father spoke to him about how to interact as a young African American in a confrontational situation, guidance that Holder after the Martin shooting passed on to his own son, who was then 15.
And he recalled being stopped by police in Washington, D.C., when he was a young federal prosecutor.
“This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways,” Holder said.
— By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times