Sunday, December 10, 2017
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.

Comments

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17