ORLANDO, Fla. — Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said Wednesday that he is planning to lobby against Florida’s self-defense law prior to next month’s 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington, D.C.
Sharpton made his comments during a speech on the final day of the Baltimore-based NAACP’s national convention in Orlando. Flanked by NAACP President Ben Jealous and Martin Luther King III, Sharpton called Florida’s stand-your-ground law the “worst violation of civil rights in the country.”
Sharpton said he hopes to make Florida a test case for abolishing similar laws in more than a dozen other states. Most of the laws say a person has no duty to retreat if he is attacked in a place he has a right to be and can meet force with force if he fears death or great bodily harm.
Sharpton’s comments came a day after Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated to the NAACP that the Justice Department has an open investigation into what he called the “unnecessary shooting” of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Until we can overturn stand your ground, we risk more Trayvon Martins,” Sharpton told the crowd. “We cannot have our sons and daughters lives on the line for anybody who wants to pursue them and shoot them and say it was self-defense.”
George Zimmerman was acquitted over the weekend of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Martin’s February 2012 shooting death.
The town of Sanford, where Martin was shot, is about 20 miles from the convention site in Orlando.
Sharpton said his efforts in Florida will start during a three-day conference beginning Tuesday in Miami, organized by his National Action Network.
“Out of that we will plan a Florida initiative around stand-your-ground, for Sanford and everywhere else. But it will be with a strategy,” Sharpton said after his speech. “When I first came to Sanford, it was with a strategy. And I do not believe on just coming in, whipping up emotions without a strategy and plan.”
Sharpton was expected to attend a march in Martin’s honor on Wednesday night, but said he would instead visit with Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.
However, Sharpton will lead will lead a national “Justice for Trayvon” day in 100 cities this weekend to press for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. The rallies and vigils will occur in front of federal court buildings at noon Saturday in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.
Martin Luther King III echoed Sharpton’s efforts and said that some Florida-specific boycotts were also possible.
“We may have to look at not consuming Florida orange juice,” he told the crowd.
The comment came a day after musician Stevie Wonder vowed not to hold concerts in states that have stand-your-ground laws.
Jealous said the NAACP doesn’t have any plans to boycott orange juice, but is ready for an uphill fight in Florida against stand-your-ground.
“I think Florida has made itself ground zero for the repeal of stand-your-ground law,” Jealous said. “We don’t want to live in the Wild Wild West and be proud of it.”
Also in attendance was Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke as part of a panel to discuss efforts to reinstate recent changes to the Voting Rights Act as the result of last month’s Supreme Court decision.
Jackson said that his biggest fear was that inactivity by groups regarding the recent change could bring about “a radical speed of gerrymandering” that he said drastically change the political landscape.
Sharpton said that part of next week’s conference in Miami would also address that issue.
Sharpton said he believes the key to changing the law in Florida and two dozen states around the country is by attacking it legislatively.
“In the 60s our fathers would go to Alabama to change some of the state laws and then go to Mississippi and then go to Georgia,” Sharpton said. “We’re mindful of the fact that there is an election here next year, and a lot of people are going to need a lot of votes and a lot of people are gonna have to make a lot of decisions.”