TALLAHASSEE — The Rev. Al Sharpton and other leaders of a protest march on the Capitol rallied more than 1,000 people against the state’s “stand your ground” law Monday, threatening a boycott of Walt Disney World and Tropicana products.
“This is your ‘warning shot,’” said Jamal Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore.
The reference was to a Jacksonville case in which a woman, convicted after firing a shot in the direction of her estranged husband, wasn’t allowed to claim immunity under “stand your ground.”
The law allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee. Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature, now in session, have said they see no need to repeal or modify the law.
Bryant and others said the tourism and beverage giants, both indelibly tied to the public image of Florida, were complicit in the state’s moral failure for allowing the “stand your ground” law to remain on the books. He gave them until April 4, the 46th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, to meet with him before facing a full-on boycott.
As he spoke, volunteers handed out cards with a picture of a hand squeezing an orange with the state’s outline and Tropicana’s toll-free customer service number.
On the back was the number for Disney World’s corporate office and the headline, “We Are Standing Our Ground.”
“Florida understands that ‘money answereth all things,’” Bryant said, quoting from Ecclesiastes.
Representatives for both companies couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Although speakers said the contentious self-defense law was “not a black issue, but an American issue,” a persistent theme was that whites have been killing blacks with impunity under “stand your ground,” while blacks have been punished for asserting their same right to self-defense.
“We’re here because Florida is stuck on stupid,” said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat.
The drive against the law started with the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen shot and killed by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford in February 2012.
Zimmerman was later acquitted. He didn’t claim a “stand your ground” defense but parts of the law were used in jury instructions.
Several in the crowd wore shirts that said, “I am Trayvon,” “Never Again” and “Legalized Murder,” with the words “stand your ground” circled and slashed out.
Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old black teen, was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a white software developer, in Jacksonville in November 2012.
Dunn was recently convicted on charges related to shooting into a carful of teenagers, Davis included, after a loud-music incident. The jury, however, deadlocked on a first-degree murder charge in Davis’ death.
“‘Stand your ground’ needs to be repealed – it’s a license to kill,” said Jabari Mickles, 21, of Detroit, Mich. “The law dehumanizes people by making the assumption that we’re all criminals that have to be killed.”
On the other hand, Marissa Alexander, 33, of Jacksonville, was convicted on aggravated assault charges for her warning shot. An appeals court later overturned the conviction because of errors in jury instructions.
Alexander, who is black, will be retried; she could face a 60-year sentence if convicted.
“Our black youth are already struggling, and now they’re getting gunned down under a wrongful law,” said Niger Ali, a Tallahassee woman who attended the rally. “This has to stop. It’s gone too far.”
The parents of Martin and Davis also attended the rally, as did family members of Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he reportedly flirted with a white woman.
“We never imagined how many people would be hurting because of this law,” said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother. It’s “absolutely, positively wrong.”
Sharpton, a longtime civil rights activist and talk show host, said he was in Tallahassee to call attention to an unjust law.
“I didn’t come down here to start trouble,” Sharpton told the crowd. “I came to stop trouble.”