Scott announced today that he has selected the members who will serve on the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which will be chaired by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., the pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, will be the vice chairman.
The governor’s office, in a news release on the task force, noted that the governor was “continuing his commitment to seeing that justice, due process, and the rule of law prevail in response to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.” The governor’s office noted that the task force would have responsibility to thoroughly review Florida Statute Chapter 776 and any other laws, rules, regulations or programs that relate to public safety and citizen protection.
The members will study Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law and make recommendations to the governor and Legislature on ways to improve public safety in Florida.
In announcing the appointments he had made to the task force, Scott noted, “We are a nation of laws, and I am committed to letting our legal system work to ensure the people in our state are safe and protected. I have the utmost confidence that Lt. Governor Carroll and Reverend Holmes are the best people to lead the review of Florida’s citizen safety laws.”
The Florida Civil Rights Association has called on the state to take another look at Stand Your Ground, the law that allows individuals to use deadly force as a defense if they believe they’re being threatened or if they think their life is in danger.
But the death of Martin has put the law back in the spotlight, by civil rights activists who say the black teenager was armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and an iced tea and did not pose a threat to anyone.
The association has also called on the governor to reopen 68 cases in which people were charged with a violent crime, then successfully used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to gain an acquittal.
They also want Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam – whose office issues gun permits — to pull the licenses of those 68 individuals, as well as the gun permit held by George Zimmerman, the Sandford man was got arrested and charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Martin.
Since Stand Your Ground was passed, 130 people have used this law as a defense, and in 68 of those cases, the defendant was found not guilty. Civil rights activists say the law comes close to making it legal to bring a gun to a fistfight.
Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch commander at a gated community in Sanford who claimed he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Martin. When Zimmerman was not initially charged in that death, it led to allegations of racial bias and racial profiling, of corruption or incompetence within the Sanford Police Department, and of a justice system that values the life of African Americans less than whites. Martin was black, while Zimmerman is of Hispanic descent.
Martin had been walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend at a development known as The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Seminole County on Feb. 26. Zimmerman was reported to have called the Sanford Police Department to say he’d witnessed suspicious behavior in his development, and it led to a confrontation between the two men.
Martin was shot death at the scene.
Responding officers handcuffed Zimmerman and took him into custody, but he wasn’t formally arrested. Although it’s been reported that the lead homicide investigator wasn’t convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and wanted to charge him with manslaughter, the state attorney’s office responsible for Brevard and Seminole counties refused, citing insufficient evidence.
Martin’s parents and their attorney began speaking out, demanding to know why Zimmerman had not been charged when a teenager was left dead. Soon there were protests outside of Sanford City Hall and the Sanford Police Station that just got larger by the day. Prominent civil rights leaders, including Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, attended the rallies and called for a full investigation.
As national news cameras flocked into Sanford to cover the protests, Gov. Scott intervened and appointed Angela Corey, of the state’s 4th Judicial Circuit, as the newly assigned state attorney in the investigation of Martin’s death. Last week she indicted Zimmerman for second degree murder.
Scott also formed a task force to look into the killing, intended to convene after Corey had completed her investigation.
“As law enforcement investigates the death of Trayvon Martin, Floridians and others around the country have rightly recognized this as a terrible tragedy,” Scott said when he first announced that the task force would be formed. “Like all Floridians, I believe we must take steps to ensure tragedies like this are avoided. After listening to many concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time, protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens – especially the right to feel protected and safe in our state.”
Today the governor announced that in addition to Carroll and Rev. Holmes, the other members of the task force would include Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley; State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, author of the Stand Your Ground law; former state Supreme Court Justice Kenneth B. Bell of Pensacola; State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford; Orlando Attorney Derek E. Bruce; Criminal defense lawyer Joseph A. Caimano Jr. of Tampa; Edna Canino of Miami, president of the Florida Embassy League of United Latin American Citizens, Council 7220; Gretchen Lorenzo, neighborhood watch coordinator for the Fort Myers Police Department; Judge Krista Marx of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida; Maria Newman, neighborhood watch volunteer with the City of Melbourne; Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit; Stacy A. Scott of Gainesville, assistant public defender with the Eighth Judicial Circuit; Attorney Mark Seiden of Miami; state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando;
During its first meeting, the governor’s office noted, the task force would develop a mission statement and establish locations for future meetings and public hearings, and then in the coming months, would hold public hearings, take testimony, solicit ideas and review issues related to “the rights of all Floridians to feel safe and secure.”
The first meeting will be Tuesday, May 1 in Tallahassee at the Florida Department of Transportation headquarters.
The public is invited to provide input by e-mailing the task force at CitizenSafety@eog.myflorida.com, and can follow the activities of the task force on Twitter @FLCitizenSafety.
“We look forward to hearing from the citizens of our state about their concerns and recommendations for keeping our state safe,” Carroll said. “Governor Scott has tapped a diverse and qualified group to carefully review our laws and our policies.”
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