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Foes Hit Jeb Bush's Record on 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

The push comes ahead of his speech at the National Urban League on Friday.

Liberal activists are highlighting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s role in “Stand Your Ground” laws ahead of his speech at the National Urban League on Friday.

Stand Your Ground laws generally make it easier for people to claim self-defense after using deadly force. In 2005, when Bush was governor, Florida became one of the first states to adopt a Stand Your Ground provision. These laws now exist in 24 states.

The Florida law drew national attention eight years later, after an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, was shot in Sanford, Florida in 2012 by George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges, and jurors in that trial were told to consider if Stand Your Ground protected his actions.

Zimmerman’s defense did not formally invoke the law. In remarks three years ago, Bush said the law had nothing to do with Martin’s death, arguing, “stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn't mean chase after somebody who's turned their back." (Martin at first ran away from Zimmerman, according to transcripts from the police dispatch call.)

In a speech to the National Rifle Association in April, Bush emphasized his role in establishing the Stand Your Ground law.

“In Florida, we protected people's rights to protect themselves," Bush said.

With Bush addressing the Urban League and speaking to a largely-black audience, the political arm of the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank with close ties to Hillary Clinton, released a detailed report this week suggesting Florida’s law had led to an increase in gun-related homicides and that those disproportionately affected minorities.

“Ten years should be enough time to recognize that stand your ground has been a failure and a mistake,” wrote Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP and now an official with CAP’s Action Fund, in an op-ed published this week in the Florida-based Sun Sentinel. “It is well past time for Bush to confront the pain, suffering and even death that resulted from the laws that he championed and signed as governor.”

Mark Morial, the president of the National Urban League, which is hosting the event Bush will be speaking at tomorrow, has also criticized Stand Your Ground laws. So have Democrats like former Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama as well as Arizona Sen. John McCain, a prominent Republican.

“The use of Stand Your Ground is why at the very instance the law enforcement there in Sanford, Florida, did not arrest George Zimmerman as they should have, at the very inception,” Morial said in a MSNBC interview in 2013.

Allie Brandenburger, a spokesperson for Bush, defended his record on criminal justice issues.

"Under Governor Bush’s leadership, Florida’s crime rate reached a 35 year low, decreasing by 32 percent. Florida’s violent crime rate decreased by 24 percent and crime committed with a firearm decreased by 19 percent. Governor Bush toughed sentencing laws for gun crimes ensured dangerous people were kept off the street and worked to make Florida a safer place to live, work and raise a family,” Brandenburger said.

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Ben Carson will also be speaking at Friday’s event in Fort Lauderdale. Bush’s remarks are likely to gain the most attention, because he is one of the GOP frontrunners and is speaking to a group that could be hostile to him.

Bush has also been criticized for being dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling the phrase “black lives matter” a “slogan”, and suggesting that O’Malley should not have apologized for saying “all lives matter.”

But Bush earned some plaudits from African-American commentators earlier this year during the controversy over the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

The former Florida governor was one of the first Republican presidential candidates to suggest the flag should be removed from the state’s capitol grounds, calling it a “racist” symbol. Bush had successfully removed the Confederate flag from Florida’s capitol grounds in 2001.