Tenn. Black Caucus Calls For Review Of 'Stand Your Ground'

Jul 19, 2013
Originally published on July 19, 2013 11:31 am

Trayvon Martin’s parents spoke on Thursday morning for the first time since George Zimmerman was acquitted of all criminal charges in the shooting death of their unarmed teenage son.

In their appearance on the Today Show, Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton said they are still in shock and disbelief over the verdict.

When asked whether race played a role in the killing, Tracy Martin had no doubts.

“Was he racially profiled? I think if Trayvon was white, this would have never happened,” she said.

In the wake of the verdict, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators has called for the rejection of stand-your-ground laws, currently on the books in 20 states.

The 17 members of Tennessee’s Black Caucus are also calling for a review of that state’s stand-your-ground law, which — like Florida’s law — does not require citizens to “retreat from violence” if they feel threatened outside their home.


  • Larry Miller, state representative in Tennessee and chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators.
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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. This morning, the parents of Trayvon Martin broke their silence publicly for the first time since the not guilty verdict in their son's death. Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton said they are in shock. Tracy was asked if he felt race played a role.

TRACY MARTIN: Was he racially profiled? I think that if Trayvon had been white, this wouldn't have never happened.

YOUNG: Tracy Martin, speaking on "The Today Show." Of course a jury found that George Zimmerman defended himself under Florida law. And now there's a call nationwide to look at the Stand Your Ground laws. They basically say people who feel threatened don't have to retreat. Now, the law was not used by the Zimmerman defense team, but it infused the case.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators is calling for a review of all 20 state Stand Your Ground laws. And Tennessee's black caucus is calling for a review of its law. State Rep. Larry Miller, chair of Tennessee's Black Caucus of Legislators, joins us. Thanks for joining us.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LARRY MILLER: Thank you, and let me first, the Tennessee Black Caucus, we want to extend our condolences to the Martin family, and we support the Department of Justice interview and investigation, and we also want to look at the review of Tennessee's Stand Your Ground laws.

YOUNG: Well, let's find out why, because, as you know, and we just said the law was not used in the Zimmerman case because it required the defense team to go through pretrial proof that Zimmerman felt threatened. They said at the time that they didn't feel the need to do that, and they didn't want to expose what their defense was going to be. So they went with basic self-defense.

Given that, why go after the Stand Your Ground laws?

MILLER: Well, if you recall, one of the jurors, when she made her public statement, overwhelmingly one thing that had a major bearing on their decision was Stand Your Ground law. That is key. That is important. It's a law that we need to look at. We passed our law back in 2007. And what, what's interesting, I had an opportunity to meet with my legal department yesterday in Nashville, and one of the questions I proposed to the legal department, do you have neighborhood watch in your community? And she said yes.

I said, well, do you know who your neighborhood watchman is? She said no. Next question - did the community, residents of that community, come together and say, OK, we will appoint and/or elect you as a neighborhood watchman? She says no. So in my mind, any individual that decides they want to be a neighborhood watchman, they can pack a gun and they can ride in that neighborhood, and they can act like law enforcement.

We think we need to look at that in reference to Stand Your Ground laws.

YOUNG: So you think the combination of the law and the fact that people are taking it upon themselves to be neighborhood watchmen is the toxic mix. But I just want to go back to something you said about the juror. In the Florida case, the defense team did not use the Stand Your Ground law, but in Florida, jurors are instructed that they have to abide by the Stand Your Ground law.

In other words, someone under threat does not have to retreat. So the juror did hear that instruction. Is this something you want to look at in Tennessee, that maybe there will be a disconnect between the law and what the juror's told?

MILLER: Exactly, because in Tennessee law, looking at some of the provisions, for an example, the threat or the use of force against another is not justified if a person using force (unintelligible) the exact force used or attempt by the other individual if the person using force provoked the other individual's use or attempted use of unlawful force, unless the person using force abandons the encounter or clearly communicates to the other the extent to do so.

So there's a lot of vagueness in the law, and of course we are not trying to retry the case in this particular interview, but I think we have to be very careful about allowing individuals who, for whatever reason, appoint themselves as what I would consider in some cases judge, jury and executioner.

YOUNG: Well, what do you think your chances are? You've got a largely Republican legislature, and we know that the laws' origins were with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. They were the lobbyists that were behind both the Florida law and the law in Tennessee. It's a model law that they were pushing. This is a group made up of nearly 2,000 conservative legislators. So it's not just your state legislature, but there are a lot of lobbyists behind this law.

MILLER: Absolutely, and I will do all I can to try not to make it a political statement and/or a political repeal per se, and try to reason with my colleagues. We may or may not need to change our laws in Tennessee. And keep in mind, whenever we pass laws, we pass laws, and then we hope and wait until the public is engaged in those certain laws and how - what impact will those laws have on the general community.

YOUNG: That's Larry Miller, Tennessee state rep, chair of Tennessee's Black Caucus of Legislators. Their 17 members have called for a review of that state's Stand Your Ground law. Representative Miller, thanks for speaking with us about it.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.