Columbia, SC–As thousands of people across the country call for an arrest in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, South Carolina state Rep. Bakari Sellers is calling for the repeal of part of South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law that’s like Florida’s.
“It is a knee-jerk reaction, for two reasons,” Sellers, D-Denmark, says. “One, Trayvon Martin could have very easily been Bakari Sellers, so for me it gets personal and emotional. But two, I feel bad that it took the death of a kid I don’t know and two states away for us to at least review the law.”
Martin was shot and killed last month in Sanford, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman says the shooting was in self-defense … and police say they have no evidence to dispute that.
But Martin was carrying only a can of tea and a bag of candy he’d just bought at a convenience store and was walking home when he was shot.
South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law says if you’re someplace you have a right to be, you have no duty to retreat and have the right to use deadly force if you reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent death or serious injury to you or somebody else.
Sellers introduced a bill Thursday that would repeal that law.
“You would still have the right to protect yourself,” he says. “You’d just have to try to retreat and mitigate so we don’t have warrantless, needless murders like we had down in Florida.”
Defense attorney Jack Swerling, who’s defended a number of self-defense cases, says he supports Sellers’ bill to repeal the law.
“What this law has done is created this issue that, if you feel like you’re threatened, you don’t have to avoid the confrontation, you can just stand your ground and shoot to kill. And that’s what causes me concern,” he says.
Both say there’s no need for this law because of self-defense laws that have been around for centuries.
But Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, a retired police officer and a co-sponsor of the law that passed in 2006, says the law is needed.
“I firmly believe that if I have a right to be somewhere, I have the right to defend myself,” he says.
He says the shooting of Trayvon Martin doesn’t highlight a bad law.
“For someone to do what happened in Florida appears more vigilante than it does self-defense, and I think the facts will bear that out,” he says.