Saturday, April 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: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Airís safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administrationís reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrierís high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Womenís work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castroís handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Natureís Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. ē The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18