Sunday, February 18, 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: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18
Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Immigrants brought into this country illegally as children by their parents may be wondering whom to trust. The political theater being played out in Washington hasnít settled the status of either the "Dreamers" or the estimated 11 million other undo...
Published: 02/13/18
Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

While it came as little surprise, the Tampa Bay Raysí selection of an Ybor City site near Tampaís Channel District as the best spot for a new stadium is an important milestone in the effort to keep Major League Baseball. Now comes the hard work of de...
Published: 02/09/18
Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

After pummeling public education so soundly last year, itís little surprise Republican state legislators are mounting another attack on public schools, teachers and local districts. The mammoth education bill passed by the House last week is loaded w...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/13/18