By Dan Scanlan
The Rev. R.B. Holmes 9center) joined a group of Baptist ministers from Jacksonville and across the nation in a plea to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to “repeal or repair” the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. He spoke at Jacksonville’s First Timothy Baptist Church, where he was once pastor.
“Repair it or repeal it” — that was the plea from senior Baptist preachers from Jacksonville and across the nation Wednesday regarding Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of recent shootings in this city and elsewhere.
The pastors are preparing for Monday’s “Stand Your Ground” Prayer and Justice March in Tallahassee with The Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other activists.
Flanked by pastors in the church he led before leading Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. R.B. Holmes said it was time for them to “stand our ground” in opposition to the self-defense law. The pastors were at Jacksonville’s First Timothy Baptist Church for the National Baptist Convention’s Moderators/Pastors Conference.
“This Stand Your Ground law has proven to be used unjustly and unwisely,” Holmes said. “Persons who may be full of hatred, fear and frustration have used this law to express their frustrations and fears and hatred and sometimes racist attitudes. It is high time now for black pastors in particular across America to speak truth to power.”
Stand Your Ground came up again in Jacksonville’s recent Michael Dunn trial. The 2005 law allows people to use deadly force when they feel their lives are in danger, and declaring it in court provides immunity from prosecution. Although not used in Dunn’s defense of his first-degree murder charge for shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis in 2012, it was discussed before and after the jury found him guilty on other charges. The jury was hung on first-degree murder, so the judge declared a mistrial on that count. State Attorney Angela Corey has said she will prosecute him again on the same charge.
State House and Senate Democrats filed measures this year to repeal or amend the law, but those bills haven’t fared well as the new 60-day session starts this week.
Holmes said the law has brought about “great confusion and controversy,” even among judges, prosecutors and jurors.
“The Jordan Davis case should cause a great sense of awareness and righteous indignation for a person to kill a young man because of loud music and really bring about a mistrial because of the confusion around the Stand Your Ground laws,” he said.
Holmes is head of the Tallahassee chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Sharpton. He is also vice chairman of the governor’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, formed last year to look at Stand Your Ground and other programs that relate to public safety.
The pastors also planned to meet with Corey on the case of Marissa Alexander.
The 33-year-old Jacksonville woman was convicted in 2012 of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Alexander has claimed she fired a warning shot at her estranged husband, resulting in her arrest.
The case faces a July 28 retrial after an appeals court threw out her original conviction due to other issues. It drew national attention after Alexander was denied immunity under Stand Your Ground.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549