Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Few Thoughts on "Stand Your Ground" Laws

I suspect it's simply not human nature, but it sure would be nice if everyone could stop projecting all their political opinions onto the 17-year-old kid who was killed in Florida and the 28-year-old man who shot him, and just let the investigation continue without preemptively turning either into a monster or a martyr.

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:

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 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.

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.

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22 Comments:

Blogger Mark Barry said...

Well said.

3/27/2012 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When President Barack Hussein Obama chimed in with Treyvon is my son B.S I Barfed massive chunks. wow what happened to due process????? Zimmerman is fucked.

The President is a Opportunistic Cannibal. Look, I agree the kid did not deserve to die and it's a fucked up mess.

Go back and watch The Death Wish movies Edward, Don't insult Charles Bronson.

3/27/2012 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think Obama managed well in his response to the question. He was clear that he didn't want to influence the investigation, but he remains, also, the President of the grieving family and the other Americans who likewise fear for their sons as long as this law remains on the books.

As for you barfing massive chunks, might I suggest you chew your food a bit longer? :-)

3/27/2012 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Sorry...can't let the vomit thing go. It just rang a bell with the statement Santorum made about vomiting when he heard Kennedy reassure the nation that he wouldn't be taking orders from the Vatican.

It brings to mind something Sartre once wrote about disgust (paraphrasing here): for what is disgust but an incipient vomiting, and what you vomit must surely have already been inside you.

3/27/2012 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg Edward, please stop.

3/27/2012 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

if you're the same anonymous...you started it.

3/27/2012 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The tenor of this argument over this incident (in the media as well as the post of Anonymous)is what disgusts me. I agree with Ed that the law needs to be revisited, as well as a reexamination of neighborhood watch groups. I also know that by Obama saying what he said, the President wrongly injected himself into a local matter and clearly took a side long before a grand jury could hear the evidence. At most, he should've simply offered his sympathies and let the process take course. A constitutional scholar should know better (read: Obama knew exactly what he was doing). Meanwhile, Spike Lee is tweeting Zimmerman's home address and the Black Panthers have a bounty out. The more that trickles out on this case, the more it has shades of Richard Jewel in Atlanta, the Duke lacrosse case, and JonBenet Ramsey.
-Anonymous 2

3/27/2012 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok Edward ,imagine President George W Bush. I know its difficult I dont like to think about him either. But Just Imagine a White Kid Gunned down by a African American Block Watch Captain. And President Shrub Chimes in Oh he was the son I never had. all Hell would break loose.

One of my fav Bronson Movies.
Once upon a time in the West.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW-jSa9_k3M&feature=related

3/27/2012 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous 2,

We'll have to disagree as to how Obama should have responded to a question he was asked by a journalist. To quote the constitutional scholar/President:

"I’m the head of the executive branch and the attorney general reports to me, so I’ve got to be careful about my statement to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now, but obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I’m glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the gov of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what’s taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out, how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws, and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident. But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. "

In other words, as I read it, he didn't "take a side" as much as empathize with the grieving family. It was a human answer to a human tragedy. I understand that if you were the Zimmermans that his answer might seem lopsided, but the Zimmermans have time for the truth to set their son free. Trayvon is gone, and many people in the nation are fearful and outraged. The president made the right call in answering the question in my opinion.

As for "Richard Jewel in Atlanta, the Duke lacrosse case, and JonBenet Ramsey," who's taking sides now?

3/27/2012 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

imagine President George W Bush

OK, now I see your point Anonymous 1. I suspect you're right.

I'll revert to my initial point (and note I didn't drag Obama into this): that it would be nice if everyone could stop projecting their political opinions onto the case.

3/27/2012 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not taking sides, Ed. When I first heard of this case, like most, I was outraged. Zimmerman was painted as a lunatic, gun-toting racist. But then "facts" began to emerge. Zimmerman was a block-watch patrol in a neighborhood with an increasing crime problem. He is bi-racial and married to an African American woman. His black friends are now coming to his defense. Zimmerman has a broken nose and a wound on the back of his head, put there by Martin, who, witnesses say, punched him in the face and slammed his head into the cement. Martin, was initially identified as "an unarmed teen," "a good kid" who was once suspended for being tardy. He is actually 6'3" and has been suspended three times, once for having stolen women's jewelry and being in possession of a burglary tool. And, as for Obama, I think his comments fanned the flames, which resulted in the actions of Spike Lee and the Black Panthers. This incident does not merit a Justice Dept. investigation. All that said, other than that a young man was shot and killed, I don't know what is true and what is not. So I don't disagree with the point of your original post, just on this point. And I'm not taking sides. I just don't believe what I read and hear from a mainstream press that feeds on conflict and would love nothing more than a race riot to bump the ratings.. - Anon 2

3/27/2012 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

The hypothetical does not hold, because were the reverse the case, G.W. Bush would never have had the address the matter. The black man would have not been given the benefit of the doubt. He would have been arrested immediately.

3/27/2012 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anon 2

When I first heard of this case, like most, I was outraged. Zimmerman was painted as a lunatic, gun-toting racist.

Did you inadvertently insert a period after "outraged"?

The rest of your comment reads as if perhaps you did.

By that I mean, there has been a great deal of new information about the shooting come out over the past few days, but you're citing only that which would bolster the case that Zimmerman was justified. What about the news that the police didn't use Martin's cell phone, which they had, to figure out who he was, but rather left his corpse in the morgue for three days? What about the leak at the Sanford Police station (see here Washington Post).

In other words, for me to believe you're not taking sides, you would need to be a bit more balanced in the info you highlight.

Which is my point in a nutshell. It's so easy for us to cherry pick among what's known here to draw conclusions...when really we should all express sympathy to the family and wait for the investigation findings.

As for the notion that "This incident does not merit a Justice Dept. investigation. " I would counter that ordering a DOJ investigation is one tool at the President's disposal to be used to help prevent more violence. Yes, the people tweeting home addresses and calling for violence need to be reprimanded and asked to also wait, but the President acted properly in my opinion by sending a signal that he's aware of the threat of riots and such and he's using his office to ask everyone to take a deep breath.

3/27/2012 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

One other point of clarification, Anon 2. I think you're mistaken about Zimmerman having a black wife , although most of what I read suggests his black friends/acquaintance vouch for him.

3/27/2012 07:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://abcnews.go.com/US/george-zimmermans-attorney-friend-speak-trayvon-martin-incident/story?id=15999256#.T3MJgtV7R8E

3/28/2012 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I saw that story, Anonymous, and hope it helps balance out the public opinion before the investigation findings are released. I also saw this story, though: Zimmerman accused of domestic violence, fighting with a police officer

All of which takes me back to the idea that both Zimmerman and Martin are/were much more complex human beings than they're being portrayed as and THAT suggests we should all hold judgment until we have more facts.

3/28/2012 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Further fueling the "please wait until the investigation is complete" is this video that would appear to contradict the earlier reports that "Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered"

It's not the the highest of quality, but ABC News says it footage of Zimmerman being taken in for questioning the night of the shooting, but there appear to be no injuries, no blood, no signs of struggle at all:

George Zimmerman on Police Surveillance

Moreover, it suggests that the earlier reports with supposed leaks from the police were not at all consistent with what you see on the tape.

3/29/2012 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an almost unique real time illustration of the old self defense laws and changes caused by the 'Stand Your Ground ' laws

I am referring to the 'Joe Horne' case in which almost the whole incident was recorded on tape

Both the voice of the controller and Joe Horne can be clearly heard

When listened to from the point of view of the Stand your ground laws it;s reasonable to speculate that

The dispatchers voice sounds like the embodiment and spirit of the older laws

The voice of Joe Horne is the embodiment and spirit of the newer Stand Your Ground law. (He cites the changed law in the tape)

The difference in ideas, approach and manner appear to be a direct measure of the changes between the old law and the 'Stand Your Ground' laws

4/01/2012 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an almost unique real time illustration of the old self defense laws and changes caused by the 'Stand Your Ground ' laws

I am referring to the 'Joe Horne' case in which almost the whole incident was recorded on tape

Both the voice of the controller and Joe Horne can be clearly heard

When listened to from the point of view of the Stand your ground laws it;s reasonable to speculate that

The dispatchers voice sounds like the embodiment and spirit of the older laws

The voice of Joe Horne is the embodiment and spirit of the newer Stand Your Ground law. (He cites the changed law in the tape)

The difference in ideas, approach and manner appear to be a direct measure of the changes between the old law and the 'Stand Your Ground' laws

4/01/2012 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Jme said...

I have enjoyed your dialogue on this subject. I would like to insert that what we do know is that when the dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following Trayvon e replied "yes". At that moment he was in the wrong. Trayvon did not ear the conversation, and thus was not able o hear the police say "we don't need you to do that"... Therefore all Trayvon knows is that someone is following HIM, whether he stops or not. I don't think you should be able to claim, I was wrong the first 5 of 7 minutes of the Incident I initiated... But I suddenly got right 2 minutes before I killed someone. He was guilty when he followed him, guilty when he replied yes that he was chasing him, and guilty when he shot him.

4/19/2012 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That's actually my opinion on it as well Jme.

Once he disobeyed the police to stop following Martin, for whatever reason, Zimmerman stepped outside the realm of reasonable self-defense.

The police were on their way, and even if Martin were a burglar who was climbing into house, Zimmerman was in the wrong to approach him.

He had been told the police were on it, and he should not follow the suspect.

He forfeited any "reasonable" expectations for personal safety by ignoring their instructions.

4/19/2012 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Jme said...

My thing is that it doesn't matter whether he ignored the polices' instructions or not. Trayvon was not aware of the police instructions and therefore wouldn't know that he was following him and then just stopped because the police told him to. He is a grown 28 year old man, he does not need to be told to not chase/follow someone.
It also doesn't matter if he sold or smoked weed, stole a wallet, or was 6'3, even if he was perfect (which NO ONE is) he would have been labeled "suspicious", killed, and put away like nobody important.

4/19/2012 09:33:00 PM  

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