A Few Thoughts on "Stand Your Ground" Laws
After days of fear and outrage (and precious little else) virtually painting Zimmerman as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, we're now in the backlash days of political anus twitching (mostly by the NRA and its supporters) and seeing Martin painted as some sort of street-hardened gangster.
Neither portrait stands up to scrutiny. Both are offensive and hurtful.
And even if Zimmerman does turn out to be a Charles Bronson wanna-be vigilante who ignored simple instructions by the police or if Martin turns out to be a teenage pot dealer (or even just less angelic than the most popular photo of him out there wants us to believe he was), the fact remains that their lives were/are much more complicated than the tragic event that led one to kill the other, and it's grotesque to reduce either to a caricature to score political points.
The inescapable facts here for me are that Martin's life is over, and the murky details surrounding that tragedy would seem a good reason to review Florida's so-called Stand Your Ground law.
No law is perfect, and you can find anecdotal evidence to argue against the wisdom of literally any one on the books. But the issue that's driving the nation to the brink of riots over this isn't whether or not Martin truly threatened Zimmerman's life and the shooting was in self-defense, but rather that with Martin dead and Zimmerman very highly motivated to claim self-defense, we have too many unanswered questions to just let it go. Why that's important beyond the potential for injustice to Martin's family, is that with no arrest or trial, the public never gets anything close to satisfaction that they're not complicit in letting a killer, who will possibly do it again, go free. Add in the fear that this killing was racially motivated (again, something an investigation or trial could help dispel, if it's not true), and you have a public complicit in letting a racist killer go free, possibly to kill people he doesn't like the skin color of again.
In short, the fact is that the law has been revealed to be dangerous and idiotic in this regard: the surviving person of such altercations has every motivation (including the lack of any perjury consequences) to lie about what happened. Essentially, if they concoct even a reasonably credible account of what happened, they win all in the eyes of the law. They walk free. The dead obviously don't. This is an imbalance and, therefore, an injustice.
But the very powerful and politically intimidating National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters would prefer to separate out the investigation of this killing from a critique of the Stand Your Ground laws:
I'll submit it's probably more likely because the media know the kind of money and political pressure the NRA will bring down on the heads of anyone who tries to change it.
National Rifle Association lead lobbyist Marion Hammer – one of the architects of the stand-your-ground law now figuring prominently in debates over the Trayvon Martin shooting death in Sanford, Florida – says she won’t be baited into arguing the merits of the law while the case is still being investigated.
In the wake of last week’s growing outcry over the fact that the acknowledged shooter, George Zimmerman, has not been charged, Gov. Rick Scott Thursday tapped an outside prosecutor to investigate the death and a task force to review the 2005 law.
Scott, too, says further action should await the results of the investigation.
And in any case, Hammer said Monday, “the law should not be on trial. The law did not do anything wrong.”[...]
“I have seen the media predict that nothing will change,” Hammer said, “and that’s probably because the media understands that there’s nothing wrong with the law.”
I'll also submit that anyone without ideological (or paid) reasons to claim there's "nothing wrong with the law" can easily see how that's not true. There is plenty wrong with the law. At the very least, because the police just let Zimmerman go, citing the Stand Your Ground law as their reason why, his claim of self-defense is harder to prove (or disprove):
Police have not released the incident report, and because there has been no arrest, there is no arrest report to examine. A mugshot that might have showed the extent of Zimmerman’s alleged injuries is not available, again, because there was no arrest.Remember, we're talking about the loss of a human life here. I can't accept that in that context it's too much inconvenience or a violation of one's civil rights for the survivor of a deadly altercation to cooperate with the police in providing evidence of the claim of self-defense in some official manner.
More than that, the law is seriously flawed in how it essentially assists in any desired cover-up of an unjustified homicide. We don't need to imagine the real-world consequences of this:
Since the law was passed, the number of “justifiable homicides” has tripled. Last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.” This week, the state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, told the Times, “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.” Gang members, drug dealers, and road-rage killers are, according to Meggs, all successfully invoking Stand Your Ground. “The person who is alive always says, ‘I was in fear that he was going to hurt me.’But the NRA insists "there is nothing wrong with the law." I would hope we could all agree that if a law assists people in freely murdering other people, there is something wrong with it.
It's time to review Stand Your Ground laws.