Travyon Martin's Death And 'Stand Your Ground' Laws
The dangers of these laws and gun violence in America
The tragic death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin has raised serious questions about race issues in the United States. The theory of a post-racial America, which many pundits proclaimed countless times shortly after President Obama’s election, seems to carry even less weight now.
Of course, Martin’s death has not been the only cause for intensified discussions about race and inequality. These societal problems are crucial and call for honest public debates that allow all Americans to assess race matters in this country.
But Martin’s untimely death points to another significant issue, and one that many Americans are not aware of: Stand Your Ground laws. When it comes to race and states that have a menacing history of racial violence, these laws are even more worrisome.
So, what exactly are Stand Your Ground laws?
These laws, which are on the books in 23 states, permit a person to use deadly force if they reasonably judge that they are facing a bodily threat. In some cases, such as in the state of Florida, the person under threat does not have the “duty to retreat.” Some state laws indicate the duty to retreat, meaning that the person who is under attack can be prosecuted if they use force and kill or injure the alleged attacker when alternative responses (“retreat”) are available. Florida does not have this stipulation. Moreover, most states have a law that allows this form of self-defense in the home, but the Stand Your Ground law goes beyond the boundary of a person’s property. This allows individuals to defend themselves in public spaces.
At this juncture, George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Martin, has not been arrested. He also claims that the teen attacked him and tried to grab his gun. Since Florida is a Stand Your Ground state, Martin’s family now must prove that Zimmerman didn’t shoot in self-defense.
More details are being revealed each day with the investigation.
Some witnesses now claim that they saw Martin on top of Zimmerman. But these stories conflict with a telephone call that Martin had with his girlfriend just moments before he was killed. In what was to be Martin’s last phone call he told his girlfriend that he was being followed. The attorney for the Martin family argues that Zimmerman instigated the violence, and is demanding that he be arrested.
Let’s assume for a moment that Zimmerman’s story is true, that Martin attacked him, and that’s why he used self-defense against the teen’s punches. Based upon the call that Martin had with his girlfriend and what he told her, it sounds like he felt threatened. But guess what? Martin didn’t have a gun. Instead, he had a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles. If there had not been a gun during this altercation between the man and slim teenager, there is a chance Martin would still be alive, wearing his favorite hoodie, making cookies for his younger cousins – something he loved to do when he babysat them – and able to go on with his life.
Sadly, gun lobbyists and the NRA dominate on Capitol Hill, and so another young person has been killed by a gun again.
The FBI estimates that there are 200 million guns in the United States. But we should pretend this was just another unfortunate “tragedy,” as several Republican politicians have asserted, and unrelated to gun violence and Martin’s unnecessary death, right?