Stand Your Ground has become a ubiquitous phrase in Jacksonville since the trials of Michael Dunn and Marissa Alexander. On Thursday it was the focus during a town hall meeting at the studios of WJCT that included supporters and opponents of the controversial law.
The 2005 Stand Your Ground law removed the duty to retreat in Florida for those who believe their lives are in danger, allowed the use of deadly force and provided immunity from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits.
Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, the parents of a slain Jacksonville teenager, spoke against Stand Your Ground at the start of the program Thursday.
“We know this law is not a good law,” McBath said. “It does not protect citizens as it was designed to.”
Dunn, the man charged with killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis, never claimed Stand Your Ground. But Ron Davis said it may have led Dunn to think he could shoot his son. Also, Stand Your Ground permeated the case because it was in the jury instructions.
Co-host of the town hall meeting Melissa Ross of WJCT pointed out that polls show the majority of Floridians support Stand Your Ground. But Davis said most people don’t understand the law.
The law says you have a right to stand your ground if you have a “reasonable” fear for your life. But what’s reasonable to one person isn’t reasonable to another, he said.
And the law encourages confrontations by removing the duty to retreat, Davis said.
McBath also said she’s trying to put a human face on Stand Your Ground by traveling around the country and speaking about her son.
“A lot of people are very removed from the law,” she said. “They need to see the faces of people who are affected by it.”
Jordan Davis, a black teen, was shot at a Southside Gate gas station in November 2012 by Dunn, who is white and who’d previously complained about the loud music emanating from the car Davis was in.
Dunn later told police that when he asked the teenagers in the vehicle to turn the music down Davis became angry and started cursing him before getting out of the car with a gun and advancing toward him.
The other teenagers in the car said Davis did become angry and cursed at Dunn, but never got out of the car and didn’t have a gun. They said Dunn became enraged when Davis cursed at him, screamed “you can’t talk to me like that” and pulled out a gun and started firing.
Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder for shooting at the three other teenagers in the vehicle, Tevin Thompson, Tommie Stornes and Leland Brunson. But the jury deadlocked on whether Dunn was guilty of killing Davis, and a mistrial was declared.
Ciara Taylor, political director of the Dream Defenders, a group that held a monthlong sit-in outside the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott in opposition to the Stand Your Ground law, said the law was biased against minorities.
Statistics have shown that white people are more likely to get off than people of color when they claim Stand Your Ground, she said.
But Cord Byrd, an attorney who specializes in gun rights and Second Amendment issues, said self-defense has been an important part of the law for centuries, and Stand Your Ground is an extension of that.
Co-host Kent Justice of town hall co-sponsor WJXT TV-4, asked Byrd if Stand Your Ground wasn’t superfluous if self-defense is already allowed. But Byrd said Stand Your Ground was needed to protect law-abiding people from overzealous prosecutors.
Rod Sullivan, law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, said Stand Your Ground was a misunderstood law.
The law will be back in the spotlight soon when Dunn is retried for murder. Alexander, who was convicted of firing a shot in the direction of her estranged husband and his two children, is also asking for a second Stand Your Ground hearing.
Alexander had a Stand Your Ground hearing before her original criminal trial. A judge denied her self-defense claim and she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
But Alexander’s conviction was later thrown out on appeal and she is asking for another hearing before her trial begins.
Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470