By Bob Allen
A Florida pastor running for president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., is spearheading a national effort to mobilize the African-American faith community against “stand your ground” laws permitting the use of deadly force in self-defense.
R.B. Holmes, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., says the 2012 shooting deaths of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, an unarmed teen killed during an argument over loud music in a convenience store parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla., should galvanize African-Americans the way injustice sparked the civil rights movement 50 years ago.
“The black church over the last several years has become too quiet, too passive and too disconnected when it comes to challenging policies, programs and persons that degrade and devastate our people,” Holmes said March 25 at the National Press Club in Washington.
Holmes, one of a half-dozen announced candidates to succeed outgoing President Julius Scruggs when the 7-million member denomination meets for its 134th annual session Sept. 1-5 in New Orleans, used the platform to announce both his candidacy and formation of a 40-member National Pastors’ Task Force to repeal or amend stand your ground laws that are on the books in more than 30 states.
In March Holmes joined Al Sharpton and other activists in a march of hundreds to the Florida State Capitol to protest a law passed in 2005 that permits using “force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another” when there exists “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm.”
“When Trayvon was a controversial issue and people said ‘we don’t know if we want to get involved,’ Reverend Holmes was on the front line,” Benjamin Crump, a civil-rights attorney told reporters in Washington.
Crump, who is honorary co-chair of Holmes’ presidential campaign with Glenda Hatchett, known as “Judge Hatchett” from the courtroom-based TV reality show on BET from 2000 until 2008 that still airs in syndication, said stand your ground is “not only a bad law; it’s a biased law.”
In attendance were not only the parents of Martin and Davis, black teenagers whose assailants were charged with but not convicted of murder, but also the mother of Michael Giles, a former U.S. airman serving 25 years in a Florida prison for what his supporters argue was an act of self-defense.
In 2010, while on active duty with the United States Air Force and stationed in Tampa, Fla., Giles, a married 26-year-old father of three, had recently finished two tours in the Middle East. One night he went with a friend to a Tallahassee night club where a fight broke out among members of fraternities from nearby Florida A&M University.
Giles, a concealed-carry weapon permit holder, was reportedly not part of a brawl involving an estimated 30 to 40 young men, but he got separated from friends and returned to his car. When someone from the crowd punched him at random and knocked him to the ground, Giles said he pulled out his gun and fired a single shot into the leg of his attacker because he feared for his life.
Giles was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He had no criminal background but was not offered a plea bargain. His crime carried a mandatory 25-year sentence, which the judge in his trial said seemed harsh but was what the law required.
His mother, Phyllis Giles, sponsors a petition with more than 100,000 signatures on Change.org calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Clemency Board to commute her son’s sentence.
“Her son said stand your ground, but it don’t work for us when we say stand your ground,” Crump said introducing Phyllis Giles. “When her son said stand your ground, he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.”
Scruggs, 72, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., and elected in 2009 to a five-year term as president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., said last year he would not seek a second term.