House Democrat proposes police registration for neighborhood watchmen

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Wednesday that she would soon introduce legislation that would cut federal funding to any state that doesn't require neighborhood watch programs to register with police.

Jackson Lee said her Justice Exists for All Act is a response to the trial of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges after shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator in the Florida neighborhood where the shooting took place.

"We will … decrease the incidence of gun violence resulting from vigilantes by reducing by 20 percent the funds that would otherwise be allocated … to any state that does not require local neighborhood watch programs to be registered with a local [law] enforcement agency," Jackson Lee said on the House floor.

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She said her bill would also use the threat of less federal money to entice states to change their "stand your ground" laws. Jackson Lee said her bill would only allow states to avoid a cut if their laws are amended to include a "duty to retreat."

"For states that do not require a duty to retreat, we will question their federal funding and assess their Justice Department funding and reduce it by 20 percent," she said. She was not specific about what the change might mean for state laws.

Florida has a "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force against others when they think their lives are in danger in certain cases.

In his trial, Zimmerman did not rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law, and instead used a traditional self-defense argument. Leaning on "stand your ground" could have allowed the court to decide early on in the case that Zimmerman's actions were protected, which would have ended the prosecution's option of pursuing criminal or civil charges.

Jackson Lee said her bill would also require the U.S. attorney general to study state-level "stand your ground" laws.

"Let's speak to the pain of the American people," she said. "Let's look at ways of fixing the law."

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