(Photo: Reuters/David Manning)
Assuring members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that he was concerned about the Trayvon Martin case, Attorney General Eric H. Holder on Tuesday condemned controversial "Stand Your Ground" Laws for turning too many innocent people into victims.
"It's time to question laws that expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods," said Holder in his address to the annual convention of the NAACP in Orlando, Fla. that was broadcasted nationally.
He was just 25 miles away from Sanford, Fla., where jurors acquitted former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Saturday.
"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, if no safe retreat is available," he explained.
"But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age old requirement that people have a duty to retreat outside their home if they can do so safely," said Holder. "By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent."
"It is our collective obligation, we must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent," he said on the matter.
Before that, however, Holder assured the NAACP members his office is taking a thorough look at the Trayvon Martin case.
"I know the NAACP and its members are deeply and rightly concerned about this case, as passionate civil rights leaders, as engaged citizens and most of all as parents," he said. "This afternoon I want to assure you of two things. I am concerned about this case," he said to applause.
"As we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it. While that enquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take," he added.
Holder admitted to instances where he had been profiled in the past even once while he was a federal prosecutor. He also talked about the burden of a family tradition in which his father had to advise him on how to interact with law enforcement.
After Trayvon Martin's death, he said, he was forced to have a similar conversation with his own 15-year-old son.
"Trayvon's death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I had hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy," said Holder.
While highlighting that America had made significant progress concerning race relations, Holder said there was much more to be done and challenged the nation to confront stereotypes and prejudice.
"I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly, honestly and openly, about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised," said Holder.
"We must confront the underlying attitudes, the mistaken beliefs, and the unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments," he added.