The Trayvon Martin Case Should Make Lawmakers Rethink Stand-Your-Ground Laws
How many of you were surprised to hear of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death? How many of you were surprised to hear of the motives? And now how many of you are shocked over the verdict? I can’t blame you. I won’t talk of this being an issue of racism but I will talk about this being an issue of faulty self-defense laws. Even if racism was an issue of this, it wouldn’t be the only issue. These laws need to be looked at in good detail.
First of all let us have a look at the Stand Your Ground law in the state of Florida that started this hullabaloo. It’s a law passed into legislation in 2005 while Jeb Bush was governor of the state at the time. If you want to have a look at the exact text of the law ,click here. The law states deadly force is unnecessary unless it appears the person feels such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The law appears to pretty much set the grounds for self-defense and its boundaries, right?
Obviously not. This was brought to my attention from a year-old video from Adam Buckley of A Dose Of Buckley. In that video he pointed out that in the year the Stand Your Ground law was enacted (2005), the number of murders in Florida increased by over 25%. He also pointed out that the per-year number of ‘justifiable homicides’ in the five years of the passing of the law was triple the number of justifiable homicides in the five years before the passing. That’s sad. Stats like those should make anyone want to reconsider either the law or the police and legal system involved in this. Also I liked how he referenced the mentality of the state of Florida. That could have something to do with it!
Now onto the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin side of that law. It was February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon Martin had celebrated his 17th birthday three weeks earlier. He lived in Miami Gardens with his mother and brother. He was an A and B student at Dr. Michael Krop High School. However it didn’t stop him from succumbing to the typical peer pressures of a teen like spray-painting graffiti and owning a marijuana pipe. He was also suspected of burglary once because of police searching him and finding jewelry and a screwdriver. However no evidence was found against him and he was dismissed.
Born to a German-American father and a Peruvian mother, 28 year-old George Zimmerman was an insurance underwriter on his way to completing a degree in criminal justice at the time. He had been married for years and had just moved to The Retreat at Twin Lakes just three years earlier. The previous year he was part of a citizens forum and even protested the fatal beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white police officer. Zimmerman had a history of violence such as assaulting a police officer while intoxicated in 2005. That same year he was also charged with assaulting his ex-fiancée.
Then there’s the neighborhood of Twin Lakes. The Retreat is a gated 260-home community in Sanford. The community was racially mixed with almost half the population white with 23% Hispanic and 20% black. Both George Zimmerman and the fiancée of Trayvon Martin’s father rented homes in The Retreat. The Retreat however had an unsafe feel for many of the residents. From the beginning of 2011 up to the date of Trayvon’s shooting, there were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one shooting. Police received over 400 calls to The Retreat during that period of time, mostly for suspected burglaries. Twin Lakes decided to start a neighborhood watch in September of 2011 and Zimmerman was selected to be the program’s coordinator. During the six-month period Zimmerman, who has been licensed to own a gun since 2009, made seven calls to the non-emergency line to the police. The most recent was more than three weeks before the shooting
Then the evening of February 26, 2012 was the moment when all hell started to break loose. Martin was returning to his father’s fiancée after leaving a convenience store. Zimmerman was driving by on a personal errand. Zimmerman then called police about what looked like to be a ‘suspicious person’ in the neighborhood. Zimmerman observed that Martin was walking around homes with his hand in his waistband. Two minutes later he told the police martin was running. Zimmerman followed him but was told by police not to do so. He stopped and the call ended. However Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other again, things turned violent and that’s when Zimmerman drew out his shotgun and fatally shot Martin. The bombshell: all Martin had on him was a can of Arizona ice tea and a pack of Skittles.
It took weeks of court meetings and legal discussions before Zimmerman was finally arrested for second-degree murder. Zimmerman pleaded ‘not guilty’ due to self-defense. The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was not used by Zimmerman’s defense team during the trial but is part of the required Jury Instruction of all Florida murder trials. Zimmerman even requested a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing but his defense elected to bypass it. Nevertheless Zimmerman was found not guilty.
I’m not going to deny that racial stereotyping may have something to do with the whole mess-up of justice but if it does, it’s not the only thing that is a mess-up. Just as much of a mess-up is the Florida self-defense laws like the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. In fact current Florida Governor Rick Scott responded to the heat of the highly-publicized news story by commissioning a 19-member task force to review that law just three weeks after the shooting. There were seven public hearing held all around Florida and there was a total of 11,000 comments from the public with three comments opposed to the law for every comment in support. Nevertheless the task force recommended against repealing the statute defending the use of self-defense. Several bills attempting to revise or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law since the task force have died before a committee hearing.
To sum it up, the shooting of Trayvon Martin was the result of a very paranoid person. George Zimmerman acted before he thought. He caused many alarms in the past and the shooting of Trayvon Martin tragically was his actions coming back to bite him. However a declaration of innocence would not be considered valid, except in the state of Florida. I’m confident in most other states, George Zimmerman would be found guilty and would receive a stiff sentence. They would see his shooting as a result of his paranoia rather than justifiable self-defense. Many people would believe that a black teenage boy in a hoodie is no excuse to panic and suspect crime in one’s area. However the jury in Florida thought otherwise. This is a failure of the law.
The Stand-Your-Ground law was already showing signs of the problem but were overlooked. The verdict of ‘innocent’ on George Zimmerman shows that the law cannot be overlooked any more. Not while someone like Trayvon Martin would be a victim of this. Will they revise the law, or bring it up for debate at the very least? Only time and the efforts of the state of Florida will tell.
WIKIPEDIA: Shooting Of Trayvon Martin. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin#Trayvon_Martin>