Two Years After Trayvon's Death, Miamians March and Mourn Prospects for Reform
photo by Christian Beltz
A crowd of twenty-somethings congregated in front of the Miami-Dade Courthouse last night adorned in black hoodies and somber faces. Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the local teen whose shooting by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman sent shockwaves across the nation. And as Florida's Stand Your Ground law keeps the state in the news this week for all the wrong reasons, the crowd mourned both Martin and the prospects for reform.
"This event serves as a reminder, a reminder to never forget," said Gerald Jean-Baptiste, a Miami native and English as a Second Language Instructor at Miami Edison Senior High School. "I am Trayvon Martin, our students are Trayvon Martin and it's important that we have conversations like this with them."
As the group made a symbolic march from the courthouse steps to the Torch of Friendship at Bayfront Park, they were met with a mix encouragement and disdain from onlookers in the downtown area. Some joined in the protest chants others heckled and cursed out marchers.
It's clear that even after two years, the Martin case still opens deep divides among South Florida residents.
Other Stand Your Ground controversies have only added fuel to the fire. A week ago, a Jacksonville jury was unable to conclude if Michael Dunn, was guilty of murdering Jordan Davis, an African-American teenager at a gas station back in 2012.
Although Dunn, 47, was convicted on lesser chargers of attempted second-degree murder, he was able to beat his most severe accusation under the Stand Your Ground law.
Later that same week, a judge in Sanford, Florida -- the same town where Trayvon was killed -- was forced to return guns to a blind man who walked free under Stand Your Ground after killing his friend in a drunken house fight.
"There's a lot of grey area when it comes to the 'Stand-Your-Ground' law," said Andrew Hecht, a civics teacher at North Miami Middle School who marched last night. "It gives a too much justification for the use of deadly force, it practically absolves them of any responsibility."
Yet reform still seems unlikely in the Republican-dominated state legislature. One bill to revisit the law has already been killed in the House before the session even starts. Martin's parents plan to join Davis' parents and Rev. Al Sharpton in Tallahassee next month to lobby for the law's repeal.
The law's ambiguity is further exemplified in the case of Michael Giles, an ex-Marine who was sentenced to 25 years after firing one shot into an attackers leg during a brawl outside a Tallahassee nightclub in the spring of 2010. Giles claimed self-defense but was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder. Giles is currently fighting the decision, petitioning Governor Rick Scott for clemency
While the debate surrounding Stand Your Ground continues to swirl, a small vigil beneath The Torch of Friendship reminded everyone in attendance that once these laws pass, they become real, with real consequences.
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