Demonstrators slam Alaska ‘stand your ground' law

mtheriault@adn.comJuly 21, 2013 

People who gathered Sunday in downtown Anchorage to protest the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial said the expansion this year of Alaska's self-defense law to include a "Stand Your Ground" provision could lead to a Trayvon Martin case here.

On Sunday, the group of about 50 people assembled in the parking lot of NAACP Alaska's offices at Third Avenue and Cordova Street downtown, many wearing hoodies in the heat, symbolically dressing like Martin on the night he was killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Speakers talked about the need to discuss the thorny issue of race, disparities in the criminal justice system and growing suspicion of House Bill 24, Alaska's own version of the "Stand Your Ground" law.

Zimmerman's legal team never directly used Florida's Stand Your Ground law as a defense during his trial, but the law ignited a still- simmering national debate about self-defense, race and the justice system. A judge in the Florida case cited Stand Your Ground in her instructions to the six-woman jury that acquitted Zimmerman.

"This Stand Your Ground law -- it's got to go," Wanda Greene-Laws, the president of Alaska NAACP, told the cheering crowd.

The law "promotes more violence than it's supposed to stop," she said.

The NAACP started gathering signatures Sunday for a letter asking the legislature and Governor to "reconsider their position on HB 24" and remove "Stand Your Ground" language from the law.

The law is overly broad, said Kevin McGee, a Vietnam veteran who acts as the NAACP Alaska's political action chairman.

House Bill 24 broadened Alaska's self-defense law by saying a person can use deadly defensive force "in any place where the person has a right to be." Alaska law had already protected armed defense in a person's home or workplace, or any place where retreat wasn't safe or practical during an armed confrontation. The new law removed the duty to retreat.

Governor Sean Parnell signed it into law June 20 in Palmer.

The National Rife Association lauded it in a June press release as a "landmark self-defense improvement law."

The bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, in 2011, found support in the House that year but didn't pass the Senate until 2013.

Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Sunday that the bill was "common sense legislation."

"I think it's a very logical thing. You have a right not to retreat from any place you have a legal right to be," he said.

For protester Dev Williams, a retired federal employee who was born and raised in Alaska, the news that Stand Your Ground had become law in Alaska brought up questions about how it might be applied to her own family.

"I can see my son walking through an area and asking someone, 'why are you following me?' " just as Martin allegedly asked Zimmerman before their deadly struggle, said Williams. "Well, is that part of stand your ground?"

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 

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