Trayvon case the focus as Philadelphia City Council urges state to repeal ‘Castle Doctrine’ expansion

When several state House and Senate lawmakers wore hoodies outside the Capitol in early April to express outrage about the Trayvon Martin killing, some suggested repealing the state’s “castle doctrine” law.

That law — which enables people to use self-defense if he or she is threatened with a weapon on their property — has been portrayed as a weaker version of the Florida “stand your ground” law at the heart of the Trayvon case.

It was also on the minds of Philadelphia City Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Bill Greenlee and Marian Tasco who sponsored a resolution urging state legislators to repeal its expansion of the law “before someone in Pennsylvania experiences the loss and anguish of a preventable death.”

Council approved that resolution on Thursday afternoon with Republican Councilman Brian O’Neill as the lone dissenting vote.

Jones references Obama comments

In speaking about the resolution prior to the vote, Jones borrowed a line from President Barack Obama in saying “my sons look like Trayvon Martin.” He noted that he, too, has been known to be out in public drinking iced tea and eating Skittles “sometimes even in a hoodie.”

“I’ve been to too many ‘teddy bear’ vigils,” the Fourth District councilman said, alluding to gatherings at scenes of fatal shootings. This law “gives people who have ill intentions a reason to shoot. It becomes a ‘Wild Wild West’ mentality. We have to send a signal to Harrisburg, and to those people, because we see the effects of it here. We need to send a signal to let people know it’s time to ceasefire.”

Councilman Dennis O’Brien, a former state representative, explained that when the “castle doctrine” was expanded, it gave “people the right to use deadly force without [first] retreating.” The argument to remove an obligation to retreat if possible was because of a fear that “every bad guy would just say ‘I was in fear for my life.'”

Trayvon ties tenuous

Asked why he voted against the resolution, O’Neill said that he — as well as members of the state house and senate — supported the “Castle Doctrine.”

He also disputed a connection between the law in Florida and Pennsylvania, noting, for example, that Pennsylvania does not allow town- or neighborhood-watch members to perform armed patrols as what is alleged to have happened in the Trayvon case.

“Many laws could be passed in Florida to prevent this kind of thing from happening,” O’Neill said. “However, I understand the emotions involved.”

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