Black lawmakers Wednesday called on Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s death in Sanford last month, reports Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida.
The unarmed black 17-year-old was shot on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who is claiming self-defense and has not been charged.
Martin’s family has maintained all along that Zimmerman should be charged, and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, agreed, saying that if Martin had been white and Zimmerman black, Zimmerman would have been arrested by now.
Siplin said Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, who said this week that a grand jury will review evidence in the case, should step aside because he regularly deals with the local sheriff.
“We’re not contesting the veracity of the current prosecutor, but…he has a relationship with the sheriff’s department, the police department and the city of Sanford, and we think he should step down,” Siplin said.
Siplin also announced a senatorial fact-finding mission to Sanford. He said he will be joined by two other black senators, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, whose district includes the home of Martin’s mother, and Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who will be the Senate Democratic leader next year, along with three white Republicans: Sens. Joe Negron of Stuart, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers and Ronda Storms of Valrico. The group will examine the status of African Americans in Sanford within the next month, Siplin said.
Siplin, who is leaving the Senate in November because of term limits, alleged that in Sanford, whites and blacks are not treated equally by law enforcement.
“The police [have] a history of stopping black folks and taking their fingerprints, or searching their cars without permission. You either let them take your fingerprints, or they threaten to take you to jail,” said Siplin.
The Seminole County State Attorney’s Office and the Sanford Police Department did not immediately return calls for comment.
The shooting death and Zimmerman’s self-defense claim have reopened debate over the 2005 “stand your ground law”,” under which people who feel threatened don’t have to retreat from their attacker before using violence.
Braynon said he believed the law had “empowered people to become vigilantes.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, sent a letter to House Speaker Dean Cannon, requesting that a select committee be formed to review the self defense law.
“While no action of any governmental entity can restore the life of Trayvon Martin, I believe it is imperative that the Florida Legislature take this matter seriously and action be taken to prevent future tragedies of this kind,” Thurston wrote.