TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton led several hundred people on a march Monday to the state Capitol, where they rallied against Florida's "stand your ground" law.
Among those present were the parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin and the family of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun near her estranged husband. The crowd rallied on the Capitol steps across from Florida's Supreme Court.
"To have laws that tell people that they can shoot first and then ask questions later is a violation of our civil rights. I believe that law is inherently wrong," Sharpton said before the march began. "The law in effect says based on your imagination — if you imagine I'm a threat — you have the right to kill me."
Sharpton called Florida "ground zero" for the fight against 'stand your ground.'
Protesters waved signs saying "STANDING OUR GROUND" and wore T-shirts reading, "We are not a threat." Images of Martin were pictured on signs, shirts and drawings. Sharpton's National Action Network joined other groups in backing the rally.
Florida law says people who are not involved in illegal activity have the right to stand their ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if they reasonably believe it's necessary to avoid death or great bodily harm.
"It's just a blessing for everybody to come out and stand with us," Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, told the Associated Press. "Everybody trying to stand in solidarity and show that these laws that don't apply to us, we're here to change them. They have to be changed."
Martin's son was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who later was acquitted of second-degree murder.
"What the law is actually saying is this country doesn't value the life of black and brown kids. We want our kids to understand their lives are equal value of anybody else life," the elder Martin said.
Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature has declined calls to make any substantial changes to the stand your ground law enacted in 2005. Democrats the past two years have filed bills to repeal it or amend the law.
The protesters planned to attend Florida House and Senate criminal justice committees later Monday in hopes of exhorting lawmakers to act.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, of Jacksonville, spoke at the rally of the need for changes to the law.
"I've never seen a perfect bill and changes need to happen with this bill," Brown told The Associated Press afterward. "When they started, it had good intentions.
Protect your castle. But they have extended it to, you don't like the color of my dress and you feel threatened after you start a fight — there's something wrong with that.
You are the aggressor and I have no weapons."
"The sad thing, if the person is killed, then they walk. It's encouraging people to kill people. Is that the message you want to send in Florida?"
Last summer, members of a group calling itself the Dream Defenders held a monthlong sit-in at the state Capitol urging lawmakers to call a special session to overhaul the law. But Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders declined the request.
"This is the governor's opportunity to really show that he's a leader for all Floridians, not just the few," state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, told AP.
"Either he's going to rise to the occasion or he's going to miss the moment. We're hopeful that he sees this outpouring of folks coming out on a Monday to ask for support, to ask for leadership."
" … This was the first state that implemented 'stand your ground,' this should be the first state to repeal 'stand your ground.'
Also present Monday was the mother of Jordan Davis, a black teenager from Georgia who was fatally shot outside a Jacksonville convenience store in 2012 after an argument with a man over loud music coming from an SUV occupied by Davis and three friends.
Others at Monday's event included the family of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old shot and killed by a police officer while handcuffed in a train station, and the family of Michael Giles, a U.S. Airman sentenced to 25 years in a self-defense case.
The National Organization for Women and the National Bar Association sent representatives and some state lawmakers and radio personality Tom Joyner also were on hand.