POSTED: 11:43 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 03:05 p.m. HST, Jul 16, 2013
ORLANDO, Fla. » Attorney General Eric Holder today strongly criticized stand-your-ground laws that allow a person who believes he is in danger to use deadly force in self-defense.
Holder said he was concerned about the case of Trayvon Martin, in which George Zimmermann was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and said the Justice Department has an open investigation into what happened.
But he added: "Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation's attention, it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."
In an address to an NAACP convention, Holder said it's time to question laws that "senselessly expand the concept of self-defense."
The attorney general said the country must take a hard look at laws that contribute to "more violence than they prevent."
Such laws "try to fix something that was never broken," he said.
Florida is among the states that have stand-your-ground laws, and the issue played a role in the prosecution of Zimmerman, whose acquittal has spurred calls for the U.S. Justice Department to file criminal civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch volunteer.
Legal experts say a federal case would be a difficult challenge, with prosecutors having to prove that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin, who was 17 when he was shot during the fight with Zimmerman in February 2012.
On Monday, Holder had called the killing a "tragic, unnecessary shooting death" and urged the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues.
Holder today seemed to be shifting away from the Martin case to one of those issues — the debate over the stand-your-ground laws.
"There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if — and the 'if' is important — no safe retreat is available," Holder told the NAACP.
"But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely," he said.
In his comments referencing the Zimmerman case, Holder offered a story from his own personal experience — describing how when he was a young black man his father had told him how to interact with the police, what to say and how to conduct himself if he was ever stopped or confronted in a way he thought was unwarranted.
"I'm sure my father felt certain — at the time — that my parents' generation would be the last that had to worry about such things for their children," Holder told the NAACP convention. "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 hoped would not need to be handed down."
Yost reported from Washington.