In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing, the first official meeting of the Florida Governor’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection convened recently.

The 17-member panel, led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and the Rev. R.B. Holmes, wasted no time creating its mission, scope, guiding principles and schedule. During the nearly four-hour meeting on May 1, it also made clear the goal to complete its assignment in an “unbiased” and “transparent” matter that will be void of emotional or personal agendas.

The task force will review the intent, application or implementation of Chapter 776 of Florida’s state laws–also known as the justifiable use of force chapter–in regards to the role it plays in law-enforcement, prosecution, defense, and the judicial system as a whole. Through research, expert panels and input from Floridians, the task force will gather data to create a report and recommendations in regards to Chapter 776 for Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature by March 2013–the start of the next legislative session.

The panel, which includes attorneys, judges, prosecutors, legislators, clergy, neighborhood watch persons, law-enforcement officers, and activists, agreed to hold its first meeting on June 12 in Sanford, Fla.

Sanford is the location where unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who used self-defense or the “Stand Your Ground” law–which is a part of Chapter 776–as justification for his actions.

The task force was formed in response to Martin’s death. Zimmerman was charged by the state with second-degree murder. He was recently released from jail on a $150,000 bail.

The panel also made plans to meet on July 10 in Desoto County, on Sept 12-13 in Miami (Martin’s hometown), and Palm Beach County. In October and November, the group plans to meet in Pensacola and Jacksonville, respectively. According to Carroll, all meetings will be held in public office buildings that can accommodate citizens comfortably and the panel’s goal to abide by the Sunshine laws, which allow the public to attend such meetings.

The group’s goal of transparency and community participation has already paid off as more than 700 emails have been sent to the task force. Administrative staff for the task force indicated that they will review and respond to each email.

Despite controversy and criticism surrounding the makeup of the group (members were selected from a pool of applicants), the diverse mix of occupations, ethnicities and backgrounds proved to come in handy during the meeting, as each member was able to offer the experiences of their community members and their professional expertise in the fields that are most affiliated with the use of justifiable force.

“Before the task force had even convened its first meeting, the press had already speculated what we will and will not do,” Carroll said. “They have already discounted this task force as politically unbalanced.”

She added: “So it’s a mischaracterization to assume that this task force is not balanced.”

By Kanya Stewart
Trice Edney News Wire