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Monday, March 26, 2012

I Can't Stand Your Ground

Ever wonder about the dangers of too much Vitamin D?  I present to you the State of Florida.

All you need to do is watch the Today Show to start getting an uncomfortable feeling about the Sunshine State.  Yes, it boasts beaches, Disney World, really fit outdoor exercisers, and no state income tax.  But for every tax exemption, there’s a hanging chad.  For every princess there’s an Aileen Wuornos.  For every Tim Tebow there’s a Casey Anthony.  For every piece of protect-the-Everglades legislation, there’s a Stand Your Ground statute.

The Stand Your Ground statute is at the heart of the most recent controversy to be exported from Florida.  When most of us think of self-defense, we think of the laws that say that a person cannot be guilty of murder when they killed someone because there was no other option; because if they did not, that person would have killed them.  A Stand Your Ground statute is self-defense on steroids: it says that killing your aggressor to protect yourself doesn't have to be your last option.  You don't have to find some other way to save yourself, like running away or hiding until the police arrive.  If you think someone is probably going to kill you or really hurt you, plant your feet, aim, and shoot.

In this case, a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain,” George Zimmerman, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who at the time was talking on the phone to his girlfriend while he returned from buying soda and skittles.  Zimmerman, who first told the 911 operator that Trayvon posed some sort of vague threat to his gated community, now says Trayvon also posed an immediate threat to him.  Such a threat that Zimmerman had to shoot Trayvon dead at what must have been point-blank, or nearly point-blank, range.

Zimmerman doesn’t deny killing Trayvon.  The only debate is whether Zimmerman was “justified” in ending the life of a kid whose greatest crime that night was that he wanted to satisfy his sweet tooth.

The only justified reaction to Zimmerman's gross paranoia is the amount of attention the ensuing tragedy has garnered.  The Today Show and its journalistic peers cover the case and its developments at every broadcast.  Trayvon’s parents are now as recognizable as his sweet face is in the various pictures that have been released to the media.  Wearing your hood up has taken on a grave significance. 

Zimmerman’s friends report that, when Zimmerman realized the event wouldn’t just “blow over” as he’d hoped (his/their words), he went into hiding.  I hope he’s not expecting sympathy.  Much (hopefully most) of America is outraged that Zimmerman can pick his own hide-out, maybe in his favorite neighborhood-watch community.  He can concoct cockamamie theories about the people he sees walking down the street.  He can eat his skittles in peace.

And it’s all because the Sanford, FL police came to the conclusion, in about a week’s time, that there was no chargeable crime. 

Yes, that’s right – people spend more time in a single vacation at the Magic Kingdom than it took the police to decide that Zimmerman didn’t do anything wrong in the eyes of the law.

There are only two options here: either the Sanford police are legal geniuses, or the Sanford police are human disasters.  Florida's Stand Your Ground law reads, in relevant part:
a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if . . . he . . . reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself[.]

Phrases like “reasonably believes,” “necessary,” and “imminent death or great bodily harm” raise thorny legal issues that lawyers spend entire trials trying to prove or disprove.  What’s more, a sister statute provides that the Stand Your Ground law doesn’t even apply if the person who claims it as a defense was himself the aggressor in the circumstances that lead to the victim’s death.  So, for example, if Zimmerman pursued Trayvon down the street and tried to stop him from running away by tackling him, and Trayvon fought back to try to escape, and THEN Zimmerman shot him, well, in that case, Zimmerman couldn’t claim protection under the law.  You know, kind of like if exactly what the evidence indicates happened were to have actually happened, Zimmerman would be a murderer.

Luckily for Zimmerman, within days the police bought his story that he was in imminent physical danger when he tailed a kid who was walking away from him down the street.  Luckily for Zimmerman, the police agreed that killing Trayvon was therefore necessary.  Luckily for Zimmerman, seven years ago Florida passed its Stand Your Ground law.

If it can be said that good comes from a tragedy such as this, I suppose here the “good” could be Trayvon’s martyrdom to the movement against Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and elsewhere.  Why any citizen needs to be empowered to instigate a shoot-out in the ways of the Wild Wild West is beyond me.  Why the law should bless a killing in all but the most dire, narrowly and carefully defined circumstances is something I need explained to me by someone other than the NRA lobby and people who cite the Second Amendment with the same basic understanding as those who kill in the name of God.  I don’t pretend to be the final authority on either, but I’m confident that neither God nor the Constitution tells us to or wants us to use our fellow man for target practice.

I don't want the George Zimmermans of the world deciding who looks cagey, who shouldn't be out on the street, and who needs to be pursued on foot.  The other "good" thing here is that clearly much (hopefully most) of America doesn't either.  From the President to the Miami Heat to the thousands of protestors to the nearly one million signatories of online petitions to the old man at church yesterday who stood up and called for prayers for Trayvon and his family to the Jane Does like me, people are giving Zimmerman and those of like mind a clear, simple message: Not On Our Watch.

UPDATE: For some reason, this post has stopped displaying the correctly-spelled last name of the shooter.  I understand that his last name is as spelled, for example, here.


  1. this article might interest you.

  2. Very interesting! Thanks for passing it along.