Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. criticized "stand-your-ground" laws in a speech to the NAACP convention on Tuesday, just three days after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
During his speech to the NAACP national convention in Orlando, Fla., not far from Sanford, Holder said laws like Florida's “sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods" by “allowing – and perhaps encouraging – violent situations to escalate in public."
"These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if – and the 'if' is important – no safe retreat is available," he said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, it was the first instance in which the attorney general publicly condemned such laws.
Some form of stand-your-ground law exists in 25 states, including Florida. In the Zimmerman case, the law was mentioned heavily during the early investigation of the shooting. But Zimmerman's lawyers chose not to base their defense on the law, instead arguing that it didn't apply because he lacked any way to retreat.
Federal investigators opened an investigation into the death of Martin last year and Holder said the Justice Department will determine if civil rights charges should be filed against 29-year-old Zimmerman, reports the Washington Post.
“These laws try to fix something that was never broken,” Holder said in a line that prompted loud applause from the delegates. “The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent.”
On Saturday, a Seminole County jury with no black members found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Martin. The acquittal has sparked protests across the nation, including in New York, Los Angeles and throughout Florida.
Holder also spoke out against the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Voting Rights Act. This decision, by overturning "pre-clearance" in Southern states, invites Congress to create new formulas based on state data to determine which states should be more closely monitored on protecting voting rights. Holder said instead of waiting for Congress to create a new formula, he is instead shifting Justice Department resources in order to concentrate on enforcing out other provisions of the act.
”Let me be clear. This was a deeply disappointing and flawed decision. It dealt a serious setback to the cause of voting rights. And like all of you, I strongly disagree with the court’s action," he said.
During his speech, Holder shared personal conversations he had with his own 15-year-old son about living as a black man in America, especially the way he should communicate with police. This, he said, was the same conversation his own father had with him growing up.
"I had to do this to protect my boy," he said. "We must confront the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs, and unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments."