LITTLE ROCK — The mother of an unarmed Florida teen shot to death by a neighborhood watch leader said Tuesday she wants justice for her son but is not against gun rights.
“My dad was a police officer for the city of Miami,” Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, told a group of black law enforcement professionals meeting in Little Rock. “You hear all these people saying we are against guns. I can’t possibly be against guns. I grew up with a gun in my house.”
Fulton and Tracy Martin, the slain youth’s father, were guest speakers at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives annual conference, which started Saturday and concludes today.
Martin, 17, was killed in Sanford, Fla., in a Feb. 26 shooting that has received national and international attention. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting.
Martin was black. Zimmerman has one white parent and one Hispanic parent.
Tracy Martin said Tuesday he was grateful to NOBLE for helping him and Fulton in the fight to see that charges were filed in their son’s death.
“The loss of a child you can never prepare for, but when your child is taken in such a hideous murder, whereas he’s murdered and he’s being made out to be the bad guy, then there’s a problem with that,” Tracy Martin said.
He pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to “seeking justice not only for Trayvon but for all of our kids, because this didn’t start with Trayvon and it’s not going to end with Trayvon.”
Talking to reporters later, Tracy Martin said profiling is wrong.
“No one should be afraid or have to hide inside their homes,” he said. “You should be able to walk outside your house at free will without being accosted or being charged with doing something wrong.”
Fulton said she at first asked herself, “Why me?” but later saw that she was in a position to help others.
“It’s not just about Trayvon right now, because Trayvon’s in a better place right now. So we have to fight for all kids,” she said.
Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin and Fulton, said the outcome of Zimmerman’s case will be far-reaching, in part because it may hinge on Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” law.
The law allows a person who is attacked in any place where he or she has a right to be to stand his or her ground and meet force with force if he or she reasonably believes force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. The person using deadly force does not have a duty to retreat even if retreat is possible.
Many states have similar laws. Arkansas has a more restrictive law that allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense without the duty to retreat only in the person’s home or on the curtilage, defined as the land immediately surrounding the home.
Critics of stand-your-ground laws have expressed concerns that they possibly could shield from prosecution a person who instigates or escalates a confrontation or unnecessarily follows or pursues someone.
In calls to a police dispatcher, Zimmerman said he was following Martin on the night the shooting occurred. The dispatcher told Zimmerman, “We don’t need you to do that.”
Crump said Tuesday, “If (Zimmerman) is not held accountable, then what happens when the next little child is shot and killed and the person says, ‘Oh, I felt in fear for my life’? It’s going to be that much harder for that family then to get justice because a precedent would have been set.”
Supporters of stand-your-ground laws say people should have the right to protect themselves and their families without having to retreat.
“This duty to retreat may sound fine at an Ivy League cocktail party; it doesn’t work very well in the real world of crime victims,” National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre said on Fox News last month.
LaPierre has also accused the media of sensationalizing the Trayvon Martin case.
NOBLE President Jiles Ship said Tuesday the organization does not support untrained citizens attempting to act as law enforcement officers, particularly people who “may have biased opinions of others.”
“Let the professionals do their job,” he said. “Of course we want citizens engaged in our crime-fighting effort, but we want you to be the eyes and ears of the community. When something appears to be suspect, give us a call and let us come out.”
About 1,000 law enforcement officers from across the U.S. and other countries attended the conference. Other speakers included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders; Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957; former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford, the first woman elected to that office; and civil rights activist William “Sonny” Walker.