The parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin have launched a new website and political committee to take aim at the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law and similar laws across the country.
The website, Change For Trayvon, and committee of the same name, are intended “to give his family a voice in the political process,” according to the group’s mission statement.
“Your support will help engage the discussion across the country regarding stand-your-ground laws and the need to revise them so that there is required judicial or prosecutorial review before decisions are made,” the statement continues. “30,000 mothers and fathers lost their children to gun violence. The Change for Trayvon movement will shine the light on stand-your-ground laws across the nation. These laws allow individuals to shoot first and ask questions later.”
The site provides PayPal links for those wishing to make contributions, which “will be used to educate voters, candidates, and elected officials on the impact these laws have on victims and families,” according to the site.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, said the committee was formed in response to a growing number of states that have placed Stand Your Ground laws — which they believe prevented their son’s killer, George Zimmerman, from being immediately arrested — on ballots for the upcoming November election.
“The family is saying straightforward that it is not just about Trayvon; all of our children have the possibility of being a Trayvon and having to face this battle against the Stand Your Ground law and the way it’s written,” Crump told The Huffington Post. “They’re saying its too late for them, we can’t do anything about Trayvon. But it’s not too late for others.”
In the wake of Martin’s Feb. 26 killing by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member in Sanford, Fla., who claims he shot the teen in self-defense, so-called Stand Your Ground laws were scrutinized not only by supporters of Martin’s family, but also by legal experts and advocacy groups who say the laws are written in a way that allows broad interpretation and application and give people wide discretion in the use of deadly force.
Sanford police initially said that it would have been against the law and possibley a violation of Zimmerman’s rights to arrest him. But police arrested Zimmerman more than 40 days after the killing, not long after Florida Gov. Rick Scott assigned a special prosecutor to the case.
Scott also formed the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to hold town hall meetings, consult with legal experts, and make recommendations for possible changes to the law.
The task force has itself been controversial, with critics assailing it and Gov. Scott for appointing supporters of the law to the board, including two of the law’s authors.
The family’s announcement today comes on the eve of a meeting of the 19-member task force on Tuesday in Jacksonville.
“These laws allow people to shoot first and ask questions later,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, said in a video featured on the Change For Trayvon website.
“Worse, under existing Stand Your Ground laws, decisions on shootings are made even before a judge or prosecutor can review the case,” added Sybina Fulton, Martin’s mother. “Stand Your Ground is a solution in search of a problem, and it’s a terrible solution with tragic result, like the death of our son.”
The Change For Trayvon website also ups the ante in a media battle between the Martin and Zimmerman camps, as both sides work to drum up moral and financial support.
Zimmerman has given exclusive interviews to sympathetic cable news pundits. And his parents, friends and brother have defended him on various television news programs.
Meanwhile, Martin’s family has made the rounds on the major morning shows and have done countless primetime interviews.
The fight for support has also been waged on the Internet.
Zimmerman, who remains free on bail pending trial, set up a website early on, which he used to thank supporters and raise funds. That site was later taken down, at which time his defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, launched a new website, gzlegalcase.com, which has been used to publish evidence, court filings and various statements.
Zimmerman’s parents also launched a website in support of their son.
According to the Change For Trayvon website, laws similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law exist in 32 states “and have allowed people to escape responsibility.”
In Florida, the bill sailed through the state legislature in 2005 with bipartisan majorities. It was intended to strengthen existing self-defense laws after a series of major hurricanes raised fears of looting. But critics say the law is ambiguously written, which consequently has allowed some misapplication. Recent investigative reports suggest a troubling pattern in the application of the law, which seems to skew along racial lines.
Among the more controversial aspects of the debate are the law’s possibly biased application, its widespread support among gun rights advocates like the NRA and conservative groups like ALEC, and a number of recent high-profile shootings, including the Trayvon Martin case, in which people have attempted to invoke the law as a legal defense.