Sen. Siplin calls on Scott to appoint special prosecutor in Trayvon Martin caseby Dara Kam | March 21st, 2012
UPDATE: Senate President Mike Haridopolos also says “no” to a special committee on the use of the “stand your ground” law.
“The Senate President feels that Governor Scott is currently taking all of the appropriate steps to address the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin. Additionally, the Senate President is confident that the circumstances surrounding this shooting will be closely examined by lawmakers, and if the Senate concludes that laws need to be revised they will be addressed in the future,” Haridopolos’s spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley said in an e-mail.
State Sen. Gary Siplin and a coalition of other black lawmakers are asking Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate last month’s shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer near Orlando.
Trayvon Martin was killed last month by George Zimmerman, whom police identified as white but whose family says is Hispanic, in a gated community in Sanford on Feb. 26. Zimmerman, who has not been charged with any crime, has said he shot the high school student in self-defense after a confrontation.
The shooting, now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and local authorities, has sparked an international furor with civil rights leaders demanding Zimmerman’s arrest and a probe into selective prosecution of white-on-black crime.
Siplin, an Orlando attorney whose district neighbors Sanford, said the community is plagued by a “plantation” mentality and asked Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to quell racial tension.
“In my community today, they’re very upset. They’re very excited. They’re ready to ignite,” Siplin, a Democrat and a laywer, said at a press conference in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
Scott’s office said the governor received Siplin’s request and his legal staff is reviewing it. Yesterday, Scott met with a group of black lawyers and others who also asked for a special prosecutor and as well as a racial profiling task force.
Siplin, joined by fellow Democratic Sens. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens who are also black lawyers, also intends to conduct a “fact-finding mission” in Sanford within the next month to identify inequities in treatment between blacks and whites.
“I live near Sanford. I know it’s kind of like a plantation,” he said. The meetings will “make sure we take testimony about some of the needs, the bastions of racism there” and enable lawmakers to file bills or fund budget items “to make sure that the vestiges of racism that have been identified that have existed in Sanford for over 100 years can be slowly chipped away to make sure that Sanford is returned to the 2012 century.”
Senate Health and Human Services budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he would participate in the town hall meetings to “make sure we have equal access to services throughout Florida.”
Martin’s death has renewed criticism of Florida’s first-in-the-nation “stand your ground” law that allows individuals who feel threatened to use deadly force to defend themselves. Zimmerman has invoked the law in his defense.
Smith said he intends to file legislation to close a vague area in the law. And Braynon, who represents the district where Martin lived, called on Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to form a special committee to look into the use of the law, which he said “empowered people to become vigilantes.” On Wednesday, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, made the same request of House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
Apart from the the Justice Department, a Central Florida grand jury will meet next month to investigate the shooting, and Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assistance in the probes. The Sanford Police Department is also investigating.
Cannon told Thurston, who is also a black lawyer, he doesn’t see the need yet to appoint a special committee, Cannon’s spokeswoman Katie Betta said.
“He didn’t feel legislative action was necessary at this time but would continue to review the various investigations and would be open to the possibility in the future if there’s a determination made that legislative action is necessary,” she said.