In the wake of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, there has been a renewed interest in repealing “stand your ground” laws in the state of Florida.
No other case has garnered as much interest or illustrated the misapplication of the controversial law more than that of the case of Marissa Alexander.
Alexander was sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot, that hit no one, during a confrontation with her then-husband who had a history of abusing her physically. The fact that Alexander, a domestic violence victim, was denied use of ‘Stand Your Ground’ to facilitate her claim of self-defense has served as an example for some of how the law is not equally applied to all races and all genders.
The Florida cabinet meets with Governor Rick Scott every Tuesday morning, and State Senator Dwight Bullard sent letters to three members of the governor’s cabinet Monday, requesting that Alexander be granted a pardon and released from prison. The letter was sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi, the state’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Attwater, and the Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putman.
In order for the governor to grant a pardon, two members of the cabinet must also support it. In the letter, Bullard writes, “[Alexander] was denied a defense under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ protections, and was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Surely Ms. Alexander had a clear right to defend herself and not retreat from the middle of an altercation in which her life and safety were at stake,” Bullard says in the letter.
According to the Florida constitution the governor has the authority to “suspend collection of fines and forfeitures, grant reprieves not exceeding sixty days and, with the approval of two members of the cabinet, grant full or conditional pardons, restore civil rights, commute punishment, and remit fines and forfeitures for offenses.” The state’s constitution gives the governor “unfettered discretion” to deny clemency at any time for any reason.
Despite the uphill battle, Senator Bullard told theGrio, he is optimistic about the chances Governor Scott will acknowledge public opinion and increased pressure, and grant Alexander’s pardon. “When [the Florida government] looks at the facts of the case it’s obvious, and that’s what gives me optimism,” says Bullard, “Opponents of ‘Stand Your Ground’ didn’t have much to look forward to [after the Zimmerman verdict] but between the success of the Dream Defenders who have been protesting for weeks in the capital, people are now doing a serious analysis of the flaws in ‘Stand Your Ground’ and this will carry over to Ms. Alexander’s case. For the everyday citizen [it] is hard to understand how one person [George Zimmerman] goes free claiming self defense for killing an unarmed teenager and another person goes to jail for killing no one.”
“These facts should create an uneasiness and from the political standpoint it would be in the best interest of the governor to pardon Ms. Alexander.”
Senator Bullard has been an opponent of “Stand Your Ground” since its inception, saying that, “It’s the misapplication of ‘Stand Your Ground’ as it relates to minorities and to women and their ability to use it. The legislation plays into stereotypes. [In the case of Trayvon Martin] it played into the stereotype that a 17-year-old black male is more aggressive and criminal,” said Bullard.
“With the great work of the Dream Defenders, we hope there is a domino effect. Pressure put on policy makers will carry over to other areas. [Governor Scott’s] lack of movement on key social justice issues [including restoring voting rights for felons and racial profiling] will definitely haunt him when he runs for reelection next year. The entire Florida cabinet is also up for reelection next year and if they choose not to do the right thing, the voters are paying attention,” said Bullard.
The likelihood of a pardon is slim but this moment is unique, as “Stand Your Ground” and the Zimmerman verdict have put the national media spotlight directly on the state of Florida. What may have begun as a local crime story or something that governor may have hoped would fade out in the weeks since George Zimmerman was acquitted, has actually picked up momentum.
“As a policymaker, the misapplication of ‘Stand Your Ground’ screams time for this law to be fixed,” says Bullard. Only time will tell whether Governor Scott hears the call.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.