Everybody is talking about the the murder of Trayvon Martin. I for one, am overjoyed that the public is paying attention. But as with most things, there’s an aspect of the way this story is being reported that is escalating my already overactive bitchiness.
The reporting on this story suggests that George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested because of the heinous “stand your ground” law that was passed in Florida in 2005. That’s just flatly not true. George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested because the police department in charge of the investigation, didn’t care to investigate. Whether their incompetence was racially motivated or not, is something that will eventually come out (I hope).
Here’s the deal with “stand your ground”. It applies to situations where a person is confronted with mortal danger from another person. Normally, when you’re confronted with a mortal threat, it is your duty to do everything you can before using mortal force yourself. This includes running away. The “stand your ground” law removes that obligation to flee, but it doesn’t remove the requirement that you be confronted with mortal danger. In other words, if someone is waving a butcher knife in your face, and you happen to be armed with a gun, you can shoot them without first trying to get away. It does not give you the right to shoot someone who is waving a bag of fucking skittles in your face. Skittles are not a mortal threat so this law doesn’t apply to such a situation. At this stage in this story, “stand your ground” does not apply.
I bring up that it doesn’t apply yet because I’m concerned that focusing on it now will have two potentially adverse affects on the eventual outcome if this situation. The first thing I’m concerned with, is that talking about the law deflects from the inaction on the part of the police force. We need to stay focused on their actions and the motivations behind those actions. If their actions were a product of inherent racism, we need to make sure to expose that. Secondly, I’m worried that going after “stand your ground” now leaves advocates for it’s repeal open to criticism from the NRA and the politicians they’ve bought. The criticism will be framed by accusing liberals of wanting to repeal a law that we never wanted in the first place. As I said, this law doesn’t play into this story yet. The time will inevitably come to scrutinize this law, but it’s too soon.
“Stand your ground” was cited by the Sanford police department as being the reason why for why they just accepted Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. They’re lying to deflect. We need to keep advocating for an investigation of the police force instead of focusing in on the law. If you’re running around talking to your friends about how this law led to Trayvon Martin’s death, you would be wrong. And you would be wrong in a way that allows for proponents of this law to accuse you of pushing this agenda.
Don’t worry, you will have the chance to shine a light on this law. That opportunity will come if the police stick to their initial excuse of using this law not to do their job, or when the defense will invariably use this law as part of their strategy. I’m not sure the police will stick to their story. The backers of these laws (yes, they’re trying to pass them all across the country) must by now, see that letting the police use it as their excuse jeopardizes their precious neanderthal law. I don’t believe they will allow that to happen. But I do believe that Zimmerman’s defense attorney will use it.
My point here is that you should stick to the facts when discussing this case. Making false claims about how this law played into what happened opens you up for legitimate criticism. We can win this debate by focusing in on the facts at hand. We risk losing it when we distort the facts.