Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which was heavily debated after Trayvon Martin was shot in February 2012, allows one to respond with force when attacked outside of the home. Holder warned that such laws allow for too much violence in the name of self-defense, adding that it is ‘common sense’ to retreat if possible, instead of resorting to force.
“People who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely,” he said. “By allowing — and perhaps encouraging — violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
Though the law was not invoked in the Zimmerman trial, it initially prevented police from arresting Zimmerman, and some argued that it contributed to his eventual acquittal.
“The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent,” Holder said. “It is our collective obligation; we must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.”
Holder said that protests over Zimmerman’s acquittal have included peaceful people exercising their constitutional right of free speech.
“Across America, diverse groups of citizens, from all races, backgrounds and walks of life, are overwhelmingly making their voices heard — as American citizens have the right to do — through peaceful protests, rallies and vigils designed to inspire responsible debate, not to incite violence and division,” he said.
However, not all protests have been peaceful demonstrations. Zimmerman has received plenty of death threats, and riots have swept through Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif. There was also an incident in Baltimore, Md., in which a group of black youths beat a Hispanic man telling him, “This is for Trayvon.”
Holder sympathized with Martin’s family in his speech and recalled his own personal struggles involving racial issues. He said Martin’s death last year caused him to have a conversation with his 15-year-old son about the issues he may face as a young black man.
The Attorney General confirmed that the Department of Justice is continuing their open investigation into the case, as well as again inferring there was racism in the Zimmerman verdict.
“We must confront the underlying attitudes, the mistaken beliefs and the unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments,” Holder said.