Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: A duty to retreat from a Fla. law as it stands

There is a difference between respecting the jury's verdict clearing George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and acknowledging the essential injustice of a Florida law that all but encourages reckless behavior. The verdict Saturday says less about race in America than it does this nation's capacity for violence. Another innocent life has been lost, and the nation searches again for some meaning beyond that the tragedy was lawful.

The jury late Saturday cleared Zimmerman of second-degree murder and a lesser charge of manslaughter in the February 2012 fatal shooting of Martin in the Central Florida city of Sanford. The neighborhood watch volunteer had ignored a police dispatcher's advice and followed the 17-year-old as he walked home from a convenience store in a gated, suburban community. Zimmerman — concerned about burglaries in the area — confronted Martin, and claimed he shot the unarmed teen in self-defense after Martin knocked him to the ground and beat his head on the concrete.

The prosecution presented an incoherent narrative at trial, but the case was hard from the start. Authorities initially sent mixed signals about whether a crime took place, and race (Martin was black, Zimmerman is Hispanic) interjected a sharp and polarizing emotion into the case. The jurors owe the nation some insight into what led to an acquittal; a fuller understanding of the verdict could ease public tensions. But a major factor was the Florida law that gives people wide latitude to use deadly force to defend themselves — even if they cause the confrontation.

While Zimmerman did not seek immunity from charges under "stand your ground," he apparently benefited from a less-discussed part of the 2005 law that expanded protections for using force in self-defense. Before the law, defendants had to show that they used every reasonable means to avoid danger before using force. But "stand your ground" removed the obligation to retreat in most circumstances. Zimmerman not only had no legal duty to retreat, the judge said in jury instructions, but the right to stand his ground and meet force with force.

In the most comprehensive effort of its kind, the Tampa Bay Times last year examined 200 "stand your ground" cases and found that the law has worked to free killers and violent attackers whose self-defense claims seem questionable at best. In nearly a third of the cases examined by the Times, defendants initiated the fight — and still went free. A former Republican state senator who sponsored the bill said the law was never meant to protect defendants who put themselves in harm's way. But the criminal justice system has been blind to that intent, as defendants merely have to show reasonable cause to fear bodily harm.

The most productive way to channel the frustration with the verdict is to change Florida's "stand your ground" law to recognize that individuals who initiate confrontations are not then immune from responsibility of the consequences. Legitimate self-defense cases would still be protected, but it would remove the near-amnesty that people have to act recklessly, putting themselves and others in harm's way. The law as it stands is an invitation to more bloodshed and heartache, and a society more divided.

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Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18