After thousands of protestors rallied, federal officials launched an investigation and the national media directed a laser-like spotlight on the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Gov. Rick Scott took two significant moves Thursday to involve himself in the case.
Scott spoke with the current state attorney handling the case—who then decided to step down to avoid the “appearance of conflict of interest,”—and announced a new task force to study the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law and other parts of the case.
Trayvon, a black high school student from South Florida, was shot dead while walking home in Sanford last month. The shooter, volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, has not been arrested. That has sparked national outcry of police malpractice and racial profiling.
The local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, is now off the case, and has been replaced by Angela B. Corey of Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit in Jacksonville, Scott’s office announced Thursday evening.
The state’s first black Lieutenant Governor, Jennifer Caroll, will lead a new task force that will look into the issues surrrounding the case, including the state’s Stand Your Ground law and possibly racial profiling.
On Tuesday, a group of about 50 attorneys marched to Scott’s office, urging the governor to take a more proactive stand in the case and to set up a task force on racial profiling, which many believe was at play in the shooting death of Trayvon, a black high school student.
“In order to ensure that we will not return here again, your office should form a task force addressing the problems of racial profiling and the abuse of police and prosecutorial discretion,” Tallahassee criminal defense attorney Mutaqee Akbar told Scott during an impromptu meeting in his office Tuesday.
It was one of several rallies across the country this week, as the nation’s attention focused on Florida and one of its most controversial laws. On Thursday, thousands of people rallied in Sanford to protest the handling of Trayvon’s case.
Protesters in the street and some prominent lawmakers have called for a repeal of the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force to protect themselves.
This week, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, called for the Senate to hold hearings on how the law is being applied. Martin, who was visiting his father in Central Florida, lived in Braynon's district.
"It shouldn't be that, if you feel intimidated by someone, you can pull a gun on someone and shoot them? That's not the kind of law we need," Braynon said.
Scott said a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection will take a closer look at the 2005 law, and other issues surrounding the case.
“After listening to many concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time, protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens - especially the right to feel protected and safe in our state,” Scott said in a release.
The task force will convene after the investigation takes place, and will include public hearings.
In addition to Carroll, Reverend R. B. Holmes, Jr., the pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, has agreed to be the vice-chair of the task force. Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Legislature's Republican leadership--some of whom co-sponsored the Stand Your Ground law--also supported the new task force.
In 2005, several Democrats in Florida’s House of Representatives predicted the Stand Your Ground law would lead to tragic deaths, racial profiling and a case of legislative regret.
“If you vote for this, you are going to be very upset and in a few years you will be back trying to fix this bill…because innocent people could be shot,” said former Rep. Kenneth Gottlieb, D-Hollywood.