Monday, July 15, 2013

Most MD Attorney General & Governor Candidates Quiet on Trayvon Martin // PLUS: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground" Law

UPDATE: Maryland Juice just caught remarks from Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown at an address before this morning's NAACP Annual Convention in Orlando. The gentleman who introduced Brown noted that Maryland's Lt. Gov. would be the first black governor elected south of the Mason Dixon line since Virginia Governor Doug Wilder last served, and he also highlighted the state's recent work at expanding voting rights and abolishing the death penalty. Notably, Brown highlighted the importance of reducing prison disparities and made the following remarks about the Trayvon Martin case (excerpt below):
LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN: Our country mourns the loss of a 17 year-old son, and we struggle as caring Americans to process the recent jury decision. I have two sons and, like all parents, I want to do all I can to protect them from injustice, ignorance and pain. But this tragic death makes it clearer than ever before that our children are subject to the world we prepare for them. Each of us, families, neighbors, even strangers, have an obligation to contribute to a better, safer world for all of our children, not just those we raise. As a nation, we can do more, and we must. We must do more than simply protect them. We must fight to build communities that nurture them, that look first for their potential, not their threat. While our thoughts and prayers go out to the Martin family, they should be accompanied by a renewed commitment to protect all children, nurture tolerance and fight for justice.

Below Maryland Juice publishes an article from our new writer Dan Furmansky about the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Dan highlights the limited response from Maryland elected officials, including those seeking the office of Governor and Attorney General. Interestingly, the round-up below highlights response to the Trayvon verdict from Delegate Heather Mizeur, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and even former GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele... but few other candidates for statewide office in Maryland have weighed in. See Dan Furmansky's piece below:

DAN FURMANSKY: The verdict came down, and perhaps, like me, you couldn’t turn off the television. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, face plastered with a creepy smile, offered a rambling pseudo acceptance speech at her post-verdict press conference, arguing, “This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said on CNN that he thinks "our justice system is colorblind." Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said much of the same: "The American way is colorblind." At least Quinn also disparaged the "Stand Your Ground" law at the center of the Martin case, saying "we don't have it in Illinois, and we don't want it." On ABC's This Week, Sen. Orrin Hatch said that "at least from all that I watched, it seemed to me that it was an accurate verdict" and that it appeared to him that justice was served.

Really?  Is this what justice looks like?

Can anyone—even those who believe the jury rightly decided the decision based upon the law and the evidence presented—honestly say that justice has been served when George Zimmerman walks, taking his gun with him? Can anyone say justice was served while they look Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin square in the eyes?

Trayvon Martin is yet another sad chapter in a much larger story about the role of racial assumptions and racial profiling in our justice system, our society’s love affair with guns, and the lopsided dispensation of justice based on the race of victims.

To the latter point, the Tampa Bay Times just released extensive analysis on application of Florida's "stand your ground" law, citing an array of examples that reek of vigilantism, not self-defense.  It's no shock there are racial disparities with the success of the law's application depending on the victim's race. Or that concealed weapons permits in Florida now stand at 1.1 million, three times as many as in 2005 when the law was passed. The Tampa Bay Times explains (excerpt below):
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Florida's "stand your ground'' law has allowed drug dealers to avoid murder charges and gang members to walk free. It has stymied prosecutors and confused judges. It has also served its intended purpose, exonerating dozens of people who were deemed to be legitimately acting in self-defense. Among them: a woman who was choked and beaten by an irate tenant and a man who was threatened in his driveway by a felon.
Seven years since it was passed, Florida's "stand your ground" law is being invoked with unexpected frequency, in ways no one imagined, to free killers and violent attackers whose self-defense claims seem questionable at best.

Cases with similar facts show surprising — sometimes shocking — differences in outcomes. If you claim "stand your ground" as the reason you shot someone, what happens to you can depend less on the merits of the case than on who you are, whom you kill and where your case is decided.

Among the findings:

Those who invoke "stand your ground" to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.

Defendants claiming "stand your ground" are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.

The number of cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using "stand your ground" in ways state legislators never envisioned. The defense has been invoked in dozens of cases with minor or no injuries. It has also been used by a self-described "vampire" in Pinellas County, a Miami man arrested with a single marijuana cigarette, a Fort Myers homeowner who shot a bear and a West Palm Beach jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier....

CONSERVATIVE ORIGINS OF FLORIDA'S "STAND YOUR GROUND" LAW - “Stand Your Ground” laws are model legislation endorsed and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has promoted undemocratic and unjust voter ID laws that disenfranchise young people, people of color, and the elderly from voting. Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, was based on a model bill that was created by ALEC. ALEC Exposed, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, describes the process through which ALEC’s “model” legislation takes shape:

Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line.  Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations… Participating legislators… then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law.

On the ALEC Exposed web site, several Maryland politicians are listed as having a relationship with ALEC, including Governor-wannabe and Republican Delegate Ron George.

Thankfully, while a large number of states have Stand Your Ground laws, in Maryland, the Court of Appeals has ruled that (excluding one’s home or business) an accused claiming the right of self-defense must not have been the aggressor or provoked the conflict. The force used must have not been unreasonable and excessive. 

WHERE ARE MARYLAND'S STATEWIDE CANDIDATES ON THE TRAYVON MARTIN VERDICT? - Given how important this ruling is, I wondered what candidates for office here in Maryland had to say about the issue. On Facebook, Anthony Brown posted this photo from the NAACP Convention, but notably did not offer any words about the verdict:

This is somewhat surprising, since I received an email in my inbox from Roslyn Brock Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, comparing Trayvon to Emmett Till, urging people to call on the Justice Department to file charges against Zimmerman, and noting that her “Responding to these injustices was a focus of my address to the 104th annual convention of the NAACP tonight.”

While I may have missed a press release or a social media post from one of the candidates for Governor or Attorney General on the issue, and while I respect that even campaign staff have a right to take the weekend off, I found it notable that there was radio silence on the matter.

The only comments on the case I could find from any of the candidates were from Heather Mizeur, who urged her followers to help the NAACP collect signatures to urge the Department of Justice to open up a civil rights case against Zimmerman:

Other Maryland politicians did weigh in as well. See the Tweets from Rep. Elijah Cummings and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele below (via Yahoo news):

In Baltimore, several hundred people rallied at the inner harbor to protest the verdict, echoing calls from the NAACP, Color of Change, and MoveOn for people to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to take action against Zimmerman. The Baltimore Sun covered the rally, but did not mention any politicians in attendance (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: The Baltimore-based NAACP and the pastor of a city mega-church were among those calling Sunday for a federal civil rights case against George Zimmerman after the Florida man was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
Meanwhile, a crowd numbering between 300 and 400 rallied at Baltimore's Inner Harbor to register frustration and dismay with the late Saturday verdict in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.... 
And in thundering, emotional services Sunday morning, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore told congregants that he and perhaps 100 other pastors will travel to Washington Tuesday in hopes of speaking to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr....
But even as he vowed to go to the Justice Department about the case, he encouraged people to bring "that same anger" to the ongoing spate of killings in Baltimore and funnel it into efforts to make the city safer. His church is planning a gun buyback event in August.
"Pray that we will begin to have a restoration of the value of human life," Bryant said....

It’s clear this verdict has captured the attention of the country. Progressives are confused, sad, angry, and outraged. I think we’ll all be curious to see what our candidates for Attorney General and Governor have to say about the matter.

Raising heart and voice,


P.S. You can sign the NAACP petition to the Department of Justice here:

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