WASHINGTON (AFP) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged a rethink of “stand-your-ground” self-defense laws following the acquittal of a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in Florida.
Addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Holder acknowledged the anger stirred by the racially-laced trial of George Zimmerman, found not guilty Saturday of murdering Trayvon Martin.
“Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” Holder said on Tuesday.
“These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if — and the ‘if’ is important — no safe retreat is available.”
Zimmerman’s trial lawyers did not explicitly invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law, arguing instead that he acted in self-defense in a confrontation with Martin in February last year.
But the case has stirred up controversy around such laws, present in some 30 states, which assert that citizens can use lethal force — rather than retreat — if they sense their lives are threatened, wherever they might be.
The trial’s outcome has reverberated this week with a string of protests around the country and one juror, known as B-37, appearing on television to discuss the case. Four other jurors late Tuesday, however, issued a statement seeking privacy.
Holder said earlier that “by allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public,” stand-your-ground laws undermine public safety.
“The list of resulting tragedies is long and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent,” Holder added.
Critics of the verdict from the six-woman and mostly white jury argue that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin — who had no criminal record — and was able to kill him with impunity because of a biased criminal justice system.