Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, pleaded with the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to roll back “stand your ground” self-defense laws.
Fulton claimed such laws were partly responsible for the death of her son, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
“This law does not work,” Fulton said. The hearing, headed by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, was titled “Stand Your Ground Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force.”
“I wanted to come here to talk to you for a moment to let you know how important it is that we amend this ‘stand your ground’ because it certainly did not work in my case,” she said.
Martin was shot and killed Feb. 26, 2012 after an altercation with Zimmerman, who claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense.
The hearing, which was postponed in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., gathered testimony from Fulton and Lucia McBath, the mother of another slain black teen named Jordan Davis.
Lawmakers also took testimony from Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan, who claimed that the self-defense law disparately impacts minorities.
The current law, said Sullivan, “tells Floridians that they can incorrectly profile young black children, kill them, and be protected by stand your ground laws.”
But John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, rebutted that claim saying that blacks — especially poor blacks — benefit most from the law.
“In Florida, blacks make up about 16 percent of the population, but they account for 31 percent of the state’s defendants invoking stand your ground laws,” he said. Lott contended that black defendants who invoke the law as a defense are acquitted “almost eight percentage points more often than whites.”
The link between stand your ground and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been hotly debated. Zimmerman’s supporters say that the law did not apply to the shooting case. Zimmerman waived a stand your ground hearing, instead employing a classic self-defense.
Zimmerman’s lawyers maintained that because of the nature of Martin’s attack, he was unable to retreat. Zimmerman claimed that he was on the ground on his back as Martin rained blows down upon him. He was acquitted of second-degree murder in the case.
President Obama weighed in on stand your ground several days after Zimmerman’s acquittal on July 13th.
“And for those who resist that idea, that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” Obama asked.
“And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws,” the president added.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Cato scholar Ilya Shapiro and Lott all pointed out that as a state senator Obama supported a 1961 Illinois law extending the castle doctrine, a legal concept on which stand your ground is partly based.
In opening statements, Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, blamed the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for their role in helping push stand your ground.
Durbin has also targeted both groups.
Shortly after the Zimmerman trial, Durbin sent a letter to nearly 300 ALEC backers, seeking information about their financial support. ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling called the request “intimidation.”
Currently, just over 30 states have passed some form of stand your ground. In 2005, Florida became the first state to vote on it. The law was pushed by then Gov. Jeb Bush and was approved unanimously by Florida’s Senate. It passed the Florida House by 94 to 20.
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