The way Gov. Rick Scott handled the student protesters who’ve been camping out in his office this week made me think of Mary Jane Saunders, the former president of Florida Atlantic University.
Saunders got the student-protest treatment in March while she defended a decision by the university’s board of trustees to sell the naming rights to FAU’s football stadium to a private prison company.
Saunders’ initial reaction to the protesters was that they were griping about something that had already been settled.
“This is a done deal,” Saunders had said.
The governor has been trying the done-deal approach this week after student protesters called on him to convene a special session of the legislature to address the state’s self-defense laws in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Immediately following Trayvon Martin’s death, Governor Scott called a bi-partisan Special Task Force with 19 citizens to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law,” his office released in a prepared statement. “This task force listened to Floridians across the state and heard their viewpoints and expert opinions on the law. The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned, and Governor Scott agrees.”
It wasn’t for Saunders. It was more like wishful thinking. Selling naming stadium rights to a private prison company with a checkered past was so egregious, that it really didn’t matter what the board of trustees had decided.
The deal was eventually undone, and so was Saunders, who ended up losing her job.
Scott’s engaging in the same kind of wishful thinking with the state’s self-defense laws.
The task force report he cites as validation that nothing needs to be done actually contains the argument that supports the gripes of those protesters in his office.
Sure, it’s not in the official recommendations of the task force, which was led by former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll — an NRA lifetime member who has since been banished to Internet-casino purgatory — and stacked with the lawmakers who ushered the 2005 law into place.
You have to look at the final appendix of the 44-page report, to a letter written by Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, a task force member who saw the problems with the state’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law.
Rundle recommended that the law’s language that says a person has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force” should be conditioned on one extra thing.
That person claiming the right to stand his or her ground has to be the person “who does not initially provoke the force,” she recommended.
In other words, you can’t initiate a confrontation, and then kill somebody because that person fought back and was causing you “great bodily harm.”
This would have made a world of difference in the Zimmerman case. Here’s the instruction the judge read to the jurors who found his actions justifiable:
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Now imagine if that jury instruction had started like this: “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and did not provoke the force, and was attacked …”
Suddenly, the guy who got out of his truck with his loaded gun to confront an unarmed teenager has a higher legal hurdle to jump.
And it’s a hurdle that was recommended by one of the state’s own Stand Your Ground Task Force members.
Which makes Scott’s done-deal gambit all the more hollow.
Wishful thinking didn’t convince protesters at FAU to accept a stadium named after a prison. And wishful thinking won’t persuade those protesters in Scott’s office that a reckless law written by the NRA is beyond reproach or revision.