Clearly I’m behind with my homework. I need to find out more about these “Stand Your Ground” laws, of which there are apparently 21 around the US.
It gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, regardless of whether the killing takes place on a street, in a car or in a bar — not just in one’s home, the standard cited in more restrictive laws. In Florida, if people feel they are in imminent danger from being killed or badly injured, they do not have to retreat, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. They have the right to “stand their ground” and protect themselves.
Say what? In Florida, even in a situation where retreat is possible and safe, they can opt to stand still and kill someone?
The story that seems to be emerging is that knife-edge vigilante George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking along a street in a “gated community” and decided to follow him and call the police to report the fact that Martin was walking along a street; the police told Zimmerman to stop following Martin; Zimmerman went on following Martin anyway, and caught up with him and shot him. Is that about right?
But they have this deranged law, so Zimmerman can just say it was self-defense, and the police can’t arrest him and prosecutors can’t prosecute him.
This is crazy. It’s stark raving nuts.
The lawyer for Trayvon’s parents, Benjamin Crump, said at a news conference on Tuesday that Trayvon was speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone minutes before he was shot, telling her that a man was following him as he walked home.
Trayvon told his girlfriend he was being confronted, Mr. Crump said. She told him to run, and he said he would “walk fast.” Trayvon was headed to the home of his father’s girlfriend after a visit to a convenience store, carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea.
Trayvon asked, “Why are you following me?” Mr. Crump said. The girl then heard a faraway voice ask, “What are you doing around here?” Mr. Crump added. Then Trayvon’s voice falls away.
“She completely blows Zimmerman’s self-defense claim out of the water,” Mr. Crump said.
Mr. Zimmerman had reported a “suspicious” person to 911 shortly before the encounter, saying a black male was checking out the houses and staring at him. Mr. Zimmerman, a criminal justice major, often patrolled the neighborhood. He had placed 46 calls to 911 in 14 months, for reports including open windows and suspicious persons.
In the 911 call, Mr. Zimmerman, using an expletive and speaking of Trayvon, said they “always get away.” The 911 dispatcher told him not to get out of the car and said the police were on their way. Mr. Zimmerman was already outside. A dispute began. Mr. Zimmerman told the police that Trayvon attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.
A “suspicious” person – because he was walking down the street. Aren’t there laws against calling the police for frivolous or invented reasons? That’s always been my impression. It’s also always been my impression that we’re allowed to walk down the street. Mind you, I do sometimes wonder, when I see those Neighborhood Watch signs in people’s windows – but I nevertheless retained the belief that as a matter of law we were all allowed to walk down the street.
The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, who fought the law when it was proposed, said: “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.”
It is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road rage encounters. Confrontations at a bar are also common: someone looks at someone the wrong way or bothers someone’s girlfriend.
Under the old law, a person being threatened with a gun or a knife had a duty to try to get away from the situation, if possible. Now that person has a right to grab a gun (or knife, or ice pick, as happened in one case) and use it, without an attempt to retreat.
We are a crazy people. We must be, to allow this kind of thing.
Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that his organization tracks laws in 21 states that extend the self-defense doctrine beyond the home. The usual label for such laws — “stand your ground” — is politically charged, he said, suggesting that a more apt label would be “Shoot first, ask questions later.”
Laws like the one in Florida allow situations like the Trayvon Martin killing, he said. “We’re heartbroken, but we’re not surprised.”
I feel dirty.