Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday criticized “Stand Your Ground” laws, telling the nation’s largest civil rights group — just miles from where Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was killed — that such statutes encourage public violence.
“By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder told a NAACP conference in Orlando. “The list of resulting tragedies is long and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent. 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.”
Such laws allow people to use deadly force if they believe they are being threatened in their neighborhoods or places of work. “Stand Your Ground” came under scrutiny after neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman — acquitted Saturday night of murder charges — killed Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.
The NAACP and other minority groups are calling on the Justice Department to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Before Holder’s remarks, the NAACP said it had collected more than one million signatures demanding that Zimmerman be prosecuted by the federal government.
As he did Monday, Holder said his department was investigating the high-profile shooting. However, the Justice Department has to show that Zimmerman was motivated by racial reasons when he decided to shoot Martin to charge him with committing a hate crime.
Speaking more broadly, however, Holder said the violent episode should ignite a national discussion about race in America.
“Today – starting here and now – it’s time to commit ourselves to a respectful, responsible dialogue about issues of justice and equality so we can meet division and confusion with understanding, with compassion, and ultimately with truth,” he said.
Holder also told the crowd that, in the wake of Martin’s death, he talked with his own son about the “world he must still confront.”
“As a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy,” Holder said, reminiscing about days when he says police officers targeted him because he was black.
The White House has declined to weigh in on whether the Justice Department should charge Zimmerman. Obama spokesman Jay Carney reiterated on Tuesday that a “jury has spoken,” deflecting a barrage of questions about the administration’s plans over the polarizing incident.