The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is in one respect typical of the cases in which the “stand your ground” defense is invoked. Someone with a gun claimed the right of self-defense against someone who was unarmed.
An analysis of 192 Florida homicide cases in which the “stand your ground” defense was invoked indicates that in at least 135 cases, the victim was unarmed, and in at least 121 cases, the killer had a firearm. But the killers did not have to prove they were in physical danger. All they had to do was to make the case that they thought they were in physical danger. Maybe the deceased also thought they were in danger. But they’re dead. They don’t get to give to give their side of it.
I don’t deny there is a right to self-defense, nor to know which of these cases really were self-defense. But it is hard to believe that so many people with guns were put in fear of their lives by people who were unarmed.
George Zimmerman reportedly had a broken nose and abrasions on the back of his head and Martin reportedly had abrasions on his knuckles. There must have been some struggle between the two, and it is possible that George Zimmerman thought that Trayvon Martin threatened his life. But Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it also is quite possible that Trayvon Martin thought he was threatened by a scary guy who’d been following him in a van and on foot, and decided to stand his ground. I think so, too, although of course I have no way of knowing. Only two people knew the full story, and only one survived to tell his version.
Click on Stand Your Ground and Trayvon Martin and Trayvon Martin Update for the thoughts of Ta-Nehisi Coates on his web log for The Atlantic. The comment threads on these two posts are worth reading. Here’s one comment.
I have two nephews, a little younger than Trayvon. If they were walking home, by themselves, in the dark, I would have always counseled them to avoid strangers, to definitely avoid talking to, answering questions from, or engaging with strangers, to try to get away from any stranger who appears to be behaving in an odd or threatening manner, and, if all else fails, to fight that stranger like hell.
Almost every defense I’ve seen of Zimmerman talking about how he had a right to be in a public space, to walk where he wanted, and so on, is true, but it overlooks just how terrifying that behavior is, and how many of us have been trained ourselves and have trained others to fear confrontations with strangers and to assume the worst of anyone we don’t know who would approach us in the dark (and for good reasons).
Even if Zimmerman’s account is fairly accurate, it sounds like it would be terrifying to be in Martin’s position. I don’t see how people can’t see how scary Zimmerman’s behavior was BY HIS OWN ACCOUNT. Even if he had a legal right to do it, I’m baffled that people don’t see how terrifying and threatening it was. It is literally the nightmare stranger-danger scenario we warn kids about.
What advice should I give my nephews about avoiding a situation like this? Cooperate with the stranger? That seems even worse. I don’t know. The whole thing just leaves me distraught.
via Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Click on Stand your ground law, Trayvon Martin and a shocking legacy for an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times of homicides in which the “stand your ground” defense was invoked.
Click on Florida’s ‘stand your ground law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how the law is applied for more analysis by the Tampa Bay Times.