Most people are asking whether Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law should apply to George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain who killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin. That’s the wrong question. A better one is, given the circumstances: Did the law protect Trayvon when he physically confronted Zimmerman?
In a word, yes.
Looking at the 2005 law from a different perspective — through the eyes of 17-year-old Trayvon instead of Zimmerman’s — is critical because the debate over what happened on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., is being misframed.
Some facts are undisputed: Trayvon was walking home from a nearby 7-Eleven store, where he had purchased a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea, when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who was driving an SUV. Zimmerman dialed 911 and reported seeing a suspicious Black male in the gated townhouse community.
Though he had no proof, Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon appeared to be high on drugs. When Zimmerman confirmed that he was following Trayvon, the 911 operator specifically told him to stop following Trayvon and that police officers were on their way to the scene. Instead of following instructions, Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon.
What happened next is unclear because we are left only with Zimmerman’s version of events. We do know that shortly before he was shot to death, Trayvon had been talking on his cell phone with his girlfriend. She later told Trayvon’s family lawyer that he told her he was being followed by a strange white man. She urged him to run away from him.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman told police he lost sight of Trayvon and got out of his SUV to follow him on foot. Zimmerman said he was returning to his vehicle when Trayvon allegedly approached him from the rear. The two exchanged words and began fighting. The neighborhood watch captain claimed Trayvon knocked him to the ground with a punch in the nose. Zimmerman said Trayvon climbed on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk.
Zimmerman told police that he began yelling for help, but two voice experts hired by the Sentinel concluded that the voice heard screaming for help on the 911 tapes was not that of the neighborhood watch captain. During the scuffle, Zimmerman pulled his 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun and fatally shot Trayvon once in the chest.
Police said that when they arrived, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had cuts on the back of his head.
Those details were leaked by police to the Orlando newspaper in hopes of bolstering Zimmerman’s case. However, even if everything Zimmerman said is true — which is doubtful — he was clearly the aggressor, not the victim. He was the one who pursued Trayvon against the advice of the 911 dispatcher. And with police officers en route, he decided to leave his SUV and hunt for Trayvon.
Even supporters of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law don’t believe Zimmerman should be allowed to hide behind the controversial legislation.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, told the Tampa Bay Times, “They got the goods on him [Zimmerman]. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid. He has no protection under my law.”
Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law when he was governor of Florida, agrees.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” he said. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
Florida statute 776.013(3), known as the Stand Your Ground law, says, in part:
(a) person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Trayvon was clearly operating within those boundaries when he faced-off against Zimmerman. He was a guest in one of the townhouses and therefore had an undeniable reason to be in the neighborhood. He had no duty to retreat simply because Zimmerman was the aggressor. And Trayvon had every right to believe that the person who had been stalking him was intent on inflicting great bodily harm.
Regardless of how Zimmernan’s family tries to spin the facts, it was Trayvon Martin who had the clear right to stand his ground. Whatever he did to Zimmerman was totally justified. And Zimmerman had no right to kill a 17-year-old youth carrying only a bag of candy and iced tea. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
As I’ve talked to friends this past week, including a high-level, African-American business executive, there have been two initial responses, as they watched the Trayvon Martin tragedy unfold. The first was shock and outrage that such a high-potential, innocent young man could have been murdered in cold blood, in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. The second was: That could very easily have been me.
The most frightening aspect of the teenager’s murder is that it was entirely arbitrary, random and subjective. He just happened to have come from buying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea that evening. He just happened to have crossed paths with an apparently deranged man, who reached an entirely subjective conclusion that young Mr. Martin, an “A” and “B” high school student, simply had no right to be in that neighborhood at that time. It was simply the “luck of the draw” that his assailant, a man named George Zimmerman, whom the media has described as a “white Hispanic,” happened to be armed.
Much to my surprise, I, too, am coming down on the side of those who have said young Martin’s murder was not just about race. In the final analysis, it isn’t just about race, but it is, largely, about rampant handgun insanity. Or, maybe in honor of the New York Knicks’ point guard, we should call it “Gun-Sanity.”
What happened is about the absolute, free-wheeling, unchecked power of the National Rifle Association, and the inability and unwillingness of our elected officials to stand up to it.
On Friday, President Barack Obama, bowing to the growing media attention surrounding the murder of the young man, stepped forward in the White House Rose Garden and strengthened considerably a horribly weak statement on the subject that had been provided by his White House spokesman, Jay Carney, just two days earlier.
Some things the president said that morning made sense, such as when he pointed out: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” I can see that. It seemed a warm, natural and timely thing to say.
But, then again, there were parts of his statement that, unfortunately, came off like political gobbledygook, or “Newspeak,” from George Orwell’s “1984.” That was certainly the case when the President said, when pressed about whether race had played a role in the young man’s death, “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen — that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”
Here was my reaction to that: While the president was saying those things, the TV stations should have run a series of sub-titles and translations, at the bottom of the screen, under his image, that said: “I know very well how this happened and I know how the laws that permit it to happen get on the books, in the first place. I know that it is the gun lobby that pressures me and other elected officials to pass laws that encourage greater sales of handguns. I am also absolutely certain that, with their campaign contributions and their threats of political revenge on election day, there is virtually no opposition to ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws or expanded ‘Castle Doctrine’ legislation, when they come up for a vote."
In 2005, Florida became the first state to expand a citizen’s right to use deadly force for self-defense. It expanded the definition of the legal right to use weapons for such self-defense, beyond the home, to “any other place where he or she has a right to be.” Over the past six years, 23 other states have expanded their “Castle Doctrines” to remove the necessity that the shooter first take a step back and retreat, before firing.
In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, last year, for example, the vote to expand the “Castle Doctrine” and to make that gun law look very much like “Stand Your Ground,” was carried 45-5 in the Senate, and 164-37, in the House.
Perhaps, not coincidentally, the FBI has reported that Americans set a new all-time record for gun-purchase-related instant background checks, in 2011, at 16.4 million, a 14.2 percent increase over 2010, the year in which the previous record was set.
As proof of the correlation between gun sales and relaxed gun laws, the National Rifle Association said the record number of gun sales, last year, could be attributed to the fact that more people said they need guns for self defense. According to one NRA spokeswoman, the surge of gun sales is also related to the national economic downturn, “…prisoners are being furloughed; police officers are being laid off.”
As further evidence of the chilling relationship between “Stand Your Ground” laws and gun sales, it should be noted that states with “Stand Your Ground” showed dramatic year-to-year gun sales increases, as compared to states without it.
Those sales have brought the number of civilian-owned guns in the country up to 270 million, or approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people. Those figures rank the U.S. at number one among the 179 countries in the world, as to the rate of gun ownership. By comparison, China has 4.9 guns per 100 people, Pakistan has 11.6; Iran has 7.3; Germany has 30.3; Angola has 17.3; and South Africa has 12.7.
The exceptionally high rate of gun ownership in the U.S., has, not surprisingly, produced an average of 15,930 homicides, each year, from 2006 to 2010. The U.S. gun-related homicide rate at 10.3 per 100,000 population is substantially higher than the 6.3 in France, the 2.9 in Italy, the 1.6 in Germany, the .46 in England, the .24 in Singapore, and the .07 in Japan.
Can you spell "Wild, Wild West?"
It’s clear that the NRA, with 4 million card-carrying, gun-toting members who go to the polls, without fail, to vote for politicians who support their weapons-related agendas, and which donated more than $18 million to members of Congress over the past two decades (82 percent to Republicans) is a feared political force.
It appears, now, for example, that, with public support for gun controls having dropped, according to the Gallup polls, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent, today, President Obama seems to have lost the will to speak the “truth” to the power of the NRA.
But, there’s a strong case that the solution to this problem extends beyond the lack of political will of the Executive, Legislative or Judicial branches of government. If we want to recognize the whole truth, we have to face up to the fact that the power to prevent future Trayvon Martin incidents resides within each of us.
If we want the prospect of future random killings to stop, Black folks are simply going to have to rekindle the flame that led us to “selective patronage” campaigns, strategic civil disobedience, targeted corporate boycotting and demonstrations. It’s my strong belief that someone other than us is going to have to feel discomfort and pain, before anything different will take place. We haven’t seen much of that in a long, long time. Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard, instead, lots of rhetoric, but not much in the way of action designed to make the private sector or high-ranking elected officials squirm. After all, this IS a presidential election year.
Here’s a warning: If Mr. Zimmerman, the so-called “white Hispanic,” is allowed to get away with what he so clearly did, with the blessing of “Stand Your Ground” and its supporters, we should not be surprised to see the Trayvon Martin incident replicated.
Talk is cheap. It’s time for action beyond things like the media-friendly “hoodie marches.” It’s also time, now, for our reasonable white and Hispanic friends to join in. They should know that they are not immune, either, to “Stand Your Ground” and its deadly implications.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, will be charged in the 17-year-old's death, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce charges against the 28-year-old Zimmerman at a 6 p.m. Wednesday news conference, the official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press. Corey confirmed that an announcement on the case would be made in Jacksonville but didn't elaborate. The person said Zimmerman's arrest is also expected soon.
The official didn't know the charge and spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Corey had said late Tuesday, after Zimmerman's attorneys announced they were withdrawing from the case, that she would have an announcement on charges within 72 hours.
The two attorneys said they no longer were representing Zimmerman because they haven't heard from him since Sunday.
"As of the last couple days, he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails," attorney Craig Sonner said. "He's gone on his own. I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to."
However, the person with knowledge of the case said law enforcement knows where Zimmerman is. His former attorneys have said he is in hiding and suffering from high levels of stress from the intense public scrutiny he is under.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder also said the Justice Department is conducting a thorough and independent review of the case after launching its own investigation three weeks ago.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla., a gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen during the fight. He wasn't arrested partly because of Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic. -- (AP)
With a single phrase, Rachel Jeantel, that friend of Trayvon Martin's, may have lit a fuse in the trial of his accused killer.
Asked by the defense what Martin told her on the phone that night when he first spotted George Zimmerman, she testified a "creepy-ass cracker" was following him. There is nothing illegal about that. Jeantel said she didn't even know it was a racial slur, and numerous commentators have noted that some in Florida use the term in a non-derogatory, colloquial sense.
But for plenty of rural, white southerners, "cracker" is a demeaning, bigoted term, and its appearance does nothing to help the prosecutors.
The origin of cracker is murky. Some sources suggest it came from overseers who commanded slaves. Others say it derives from a Scottish word for boasting. At The Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Bill Ferris says it emerged in the 1700s as a descriptive term for drovers who used small whips to move their livestock through the pine barrens along the Gulf of Mexico. "They were basically poor people. White people. A class of people who were landless."
Initially, cracker was not a pejorative term, but Ferris says it has become one, the equivalent of redneck. Its meaning and intensity as an insult depends on who is saying it and who is listening. For example, a white who might not object to being called a cracker by another white might consider Martin's use of the phrase offensive and evidence of ill intent.
In the circumstances described in court, Ferris notes, it was more likely a quick way for Martin to say he was in danger. "If it is used by Blacks (among themselves), it is usually with one meaning: Watch out. He didn't say it to Zimmerman. He said it to convey a message to a friend. He said, 'trouble is coming.'"
Still, even if Martin knew precisely what the term meant and said it with all the venom he could muster, does that matter?
Maybe. Under Florida's hate crime laws, Martin's words could potentially have been used against him had he survived the encounter and Zimmerman had taken the worst of it. That may seem far-fetched, but a state handbook advises that a hate crime may have occurred "if the commission of (a) felony or misdemeanor evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity..."
Complicating the matter further: Despite suspicions among many case watchers that Zimmerman followed Martin largely because he was African-American, the only mention of race from the defendant in his call to the police that night about a "suspicious guy" came when he was questioned. "This guy," the dispatcher asks, "is he white, Black, or Hispanic?" Zimmerman responds, "He looks Black."
All of this may seem pointless to people who focus on the central fact of this case: No matter how the conflict began, police say it ended with an armed man killing an unarmed one. The debate over cracker may furthermore seem arcane to people who live north of the Mason-Dixon line, where cracker is seldom heard, and even when it makes an appearance, it is not freighted with decades of history. To be sure, cracker is not on par with the n-word, but it is nonetheless a sharp racial insult that resonates with white southerners even if white northerners don't get it.
That said, ask Ferris what impact the word will ultimately have on public opinions of this trial, and he is succinct. "I would say none." Views of justice, he says, are inextricably linked to racial attitudes. Many Blacks will see this trial one way, many whites another way, just as they did in the case of O.J. Simpson.
But the broader public does not matter. What matters is the jury. And it is hard to imagine how it can help the prosecution for those six southern women to know Martin spent some of his final moments uttering a racial insult, no matter what he intended. -- (CNN)
The acquittal of George Zimmerman incited a growing number of protests across the nation as legions of angry people raised their collective voice in a cry of “Justice for Trayvon.”
But while the demonstrations are justified and have been mostly peaceful, some community leaders and social experts are concerned that the emotional response to Zimmerman’s acquittal is overshadowing a problem as deep, if not deeper than the perceived racial hatred that murdered Trayvon Martin.
That problem is the never ending violence that young Black males inflict against each other virtually every day across America. From coast to coast, in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, Black America is murdering itself over drug turf, bruised egos, minor altercations and petty insults.
Over the July 4 weekend in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, 72 people were shot, 12 of them fatally. In Philadelphia from July 12 to July 15, 10 people were murdered and in almost all cases, in both cities, the victims were Black and Hispanic males, many of them between the ages of 17 and 34.
It’s an ongoing urban war of senseless violence that plays itself out in every major city in America and one that, experts agree, outdistances even the racial violence the Ku Klux Klan committed against Black Americans at its height.
But the answer to the question of where is the outrage over Black on Black violence may be as simple as the fact that the national media is ignoring it.
“I think we really have to understand exactly what it is we’re talking about here,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, president and co-founder of Black Men at Penn. “I think that there has been a lot of outrage over the senseless violence, otherwise you wouldn’t have groups like the Father’s Day Rally Committee or Men United for a Better Philadelphia, or Mothers in Charge or Black Men at Penn, or any number of anti-violence organizations. The media just prefers not to touch it. The demonstrations over the Zimmerman verdict are sexy and have all the trappings of a good story. There’s a lot of emotion there and the media elites promote the narrative. People are outraged, it’s just not being covered — certainly not on the national level.”
The statistics of the high homicide rates in Black communities are well-publicized and it’s well known that Black males, specifically young Black males, are at a high risk of dying by gun violence. According to two reports produced by the Violence Policy Center, in 2009 and 2010 Pennsylvania was third and second in the nation respectively in the number of African Americans murdered.
In 2009, 388 Blacks were murdered in Pennsylvania — 302 of them in Philadelphia. In 2010, 419 Blacks were murdered in Pennsylvania — 306 in Philadelphia.
“When it comes to Black and Latino males gunning each other down, I can tell you that both Republicans and Democrats are mostly silent on the issue,” said Bilal Qayyum, executive director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “When it comes down to it, it is an American problem, not a Black American problem. I’d bet that if you took a national poll and asked the average American what were their two biggest concerns, the first would be jobs and the second would be crime.”
A statistical analysis by the Philadelphia Police Department for the years 2007 to 2010 showed that the majority of murder victims in 2010 were African Americans at 79.1 percent while white victims were just 19.6 percent. The report goes on to state that African American represent the overwhelming majority of the 1,332 murder victims in Philadelphia during the four years analyzed. African American males constituted the majority of the murder victims — 945 or 70.9 percent for the four years analyzed and 743 or 55.8 percent were between the ages of 18 to 34.
The self-inflicted genocide taking place in the African-American communities didn’t happen overnight, social experts say, and many of the factors contributing to it weren’t spawned in the Black community. Systemic racism, government apathy, the poor quality of education in many predominantly Black public schools and the loss of living wage jobs have all played a part in creating the ongoing bloodshed.
“I’m not surprised there’s no real discussion on the issue of Black and Latino males murdering each other, because we’re talking about a segment of the population that’s not part of the landscape,” Lassiter said. “These young men are seen as a permanent underclass, as sub-human and ostracized from society. To raise these issues means you have to talk about institutional racism and the white supremacy that spawned it, the high incarceration and drop-out rates. When it comes to this kind of violence there isn’t a real effort on the part of the power elite to address it. Poverty is a ‘no-no’ and Black male violence is a ‘no-no.’ I want to have the conversation about Black on Black violence, but we can’t have it without also addressing the white supremacy that created the conditions that cause it. It’s set up for you to hate yourself and to kill yourself.”
Author Elijah Anderson, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University, draws a finer distinction in terms of what drives the violence in Black communities and also the subconscious perceptions that led to Trayvon Martin’s death.
In his latest book, “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life,” Anderson talks about what he terms as the “iconic ghetto” and the media perception that Trayvon Martin is the new Emmett Till. Anderson said that the virulent ideology of white racial superiority was the cause behind the murder of Emmett Till. A different kind of racism was the perception that ultimately led to Trayvon Martin’s murder.
Both perceptions, he said, are born of America’s painful legacy of slavery and segregation and reflects the urban iconography of today’s racial inequality, namely the Black ghetto, a uniquely urban American creation.
Anderson said that the physical Black ghetto and its iconography is what whites and others often associate Black individuals with; burdening them with a deficit of credibility that on occasion manifests in acts of acute disrespect reminiscent of America’s racial past.
“The demonstrations are, of course, the product of decades of tremendous frustration and anger and certainly the death of Trayvon Martin is a water-shed moment. But I think a lot of people are missing the point,” Anderson said. “The Black ghetto has become a major icon in American society and culture, and as such, it serves as an important source of stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination. Because of this, Blacks operate under a deficit of credibility. The media is also caught up in this Black deficit of credibility. For example, let’s say a young white woman is being followed by an unknown Black man. There’s a confrontation and she’s getting the better of him and he pulls out a gun and shoots and kills her. No matter what he says or the witness saw, you can be certain he’s going to prison no matter the justification. George Zimmerman had what I call a ‘n——- moment’ a moment of acute disrespect. He saw a young Black man, wearing a hoodie who, in his perception, didn’t belong in his community. Trayvon was under the deficit of credibility. White racism killed Emmett Till, whereas the iconic ghetto killed Trayvon.”
One year after the killing of Trayvon Martin, community members gathered at Drexel University in West Philadelphia to raise awareness about the controversial Stand Your Ground laws and the affects they are having on African Americans.
“It was a wonderful event and one of the things that they really seemed to do was to create a call to action,” said Jacqueline Rios, a coordinator of Drexel’s Africana studies department who facilitated the event.
“One of the things that my job allows me to do is to put forth events that we know the community would really benefit from,” Rios said.
One of the things Rios said she is passionate about are the laws now ratified in several states across the United States and have been popularized by the Trayvon Martin case.
“There are just so many victims of these laws that we got an amazing moderator to discuss them,” Rios said.
Panelists consisted of Rakeem Miller, educator, Anthony Montiero, professor, and Gabriel Bryant, educator and activist.
“We all left that room with a greater since of purpose and we were hoping that the event would be about a call to action,” Rios said. The panelists discussed the history of the Stand Your Ground laws and how different states are using them in a way which they believe have serious consequences.
It was the hope of the organizers that awareness would bring subsequent actions to challenge current laws.
“After the event, networkers and guests were networking in response to the call put forth by the panelists and a lot of momentum was built and I hope we hope to be an integral part of keeping that momentum going,” Rios said.
Rios hopes to challenge the laws nationally as well.
“We just want people to be aware of the victims that Stand Your Ground has taken.”
One of the panelists, Gabriel Bryant, described the purpose of the event as to provide more information to the community about the Stand Your Ground law as it relates to those around the country who he says are targeted by such laws.
Bryant said that the Stand Your Ground laws originally arose from “Castle Laws,” which traditionally meant that a man’s home was his castle and that he could defend it by whatever means necessary and was not required to retreat.
Over time these laws begin to cover public places as well.
“It kinds of conveys a shoot first mentality. It kinds of widens and increase the number of homicides across the country,” Bryant said.
The event was moderated by Shesheena Brey.
The objective of the forum was not only show the role the Stand Your Ground laws have on the Trayvon Martin case but to bring awareness about several other victims of this law throughout the country.
“More importantly we discussed how we can be prepared for these kinds of things and we are teaching how we can prevent these kinds of things from happening again,” Brey said.
“People are using Stand Your Ground to cover up murder, to cover up homicides,” she said.
After weeks of protests across the United States, a special prosecutor has decided to bring second-degree murder charges against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges Wednesday at a news conference.
The decision to charge and arrest Zimmerman, who is now in custody, was long overdue.
Corey was right to charge Zimmerman for the shooting death of the unarmed African-American teenager Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando.
Zimmerman, 28, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, said the teenager attacked him and that he shot Martin as an act of self-defense.
But there is evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that much of his and his supporters’ version of what happened on the night of the shooting is not credible.
Martin was returning to the home of his father’s fiancée from a convenience store when Zimmerman ignored specific direction from a 911 dispatcher and started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious. At some point the two got into a confrontation, and Zimmerman used his gun and shot Martin to death.
Zimmerman told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman’s father said that his son suffered a broken nose.
However a video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting showed Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford police station walking, assisted without difficulty, with no visible bandages or blood on his clothing.
The shooting sparked resentment toward the police department because no charges had been filed against Zimmerman and the police appeared to have been less than thorough in their investigation of the case.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down, and the local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case as Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take over.
An arrest had been delayed because of Florida’s dangerous “stand your ground” law, which give people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat first in the face of danger.
Police cited the law as the reason for not charging Zimmerman. However even legislators and others who support the law said Zimmerman could not use it as a defense since he was the one who pursued an unarmed man.
The search for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin has now begun.
The controversy surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has put the disastrous “stand-your-ground” law under the spotlight.
The case of 17-year-old Martin, who was shot to death after an encounter with 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., has sparked national interest in the law.
Police did not arrest Zimmerman after he told them he had been attacked by Martin, who was not armed, and shot him in self-defense. In not arresting Zimmerman police cited Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
In 2005, Florida was the first state to pass a “stand-your-ground” law. Today it is among 21 states with such a law.
Pennsylvania has a similar law, known as the Castle Doctrine, which allows residents to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their homes or any public place.
“The significant difference in Pennsylvania law is that (the alleged aggressor) would have had to display a deadly weapon to justify a person using deadly force,” said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which provides training and support to the state’s 67 district attorneys.
Long said Zimmerman would have been charged under Pennsylvania law, according to an Associated Press article.
Some are skeptical that Zimmerman would have been arrested under Pennsylvania’s law.
“You have to define a deadly weapon, and the law doesn’t clearly do that,” said Thomas Baldino, professor of law and politics at Wilkes University. “So, the same could happen here if, for instance, the police determine that a baseball bat or a penknife is a deadly weapon, and they don’t make an arrest because of if.”
The “stand-your-ground” law and similar laws, including Pennsylvania’s recently expanded Castle Doctrine, are bad law because they encourage vigilantism.
Gun control activist John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said the law in Florida and similar laws in other states encourage a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality.
“‘Stand your ground’ is an excuse to kill anyone you don’t like and not be held responsible,” he said. “It is horrific public policy. It is racist-based public policy.”
In 2005, when the Florida legislature proposed the law, several police chiefs in Florida wrote a letter to the legislature opposing it, said John F. Timoney, a former chief of police in Miami and Philadelphia.
“Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like ‘stand your ground’ give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster,” wrote Timoney in a March 23 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.
Timoney points out that not only is the law dangerous, it is also unnecessary.
“Until 2005, in all 50 states, the law on the use of force for civilians was pretty simple. If you found yourself in a situation where you felt threatened but could safely retreat, you had the duty to do so. (A police officer does not have the duty to retreat; this is the distinction between a sworn police officer and the average citizen’s use of force.)”
Timoney argues that police are trained to de-escalate tense encounters with aggressive people, using deadly force as a last resort. “Citizens, on the other hand, may act from emotion and perceived threats. But ‘stand your ground’ gives citizens the right to use force in public if they feel threatened. As the law emphatically states, a citizen has ‘no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.’”
The “stand-your-ground” laws are dangerous laws that need to be rejected and repealed.
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department will take appropriate action in the killing of Trayvon Martin if it finds evidence that a federal criminal civil rights crime has been committed.
The attorney general made the comments in an appearance before a civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Holder said the department will conduct a thorough and independent review of the evidence in the Martin matter. One of the department's top priorities, said Holder, is preventing and combating youth violence and victimization.
The Justice Department launched an investigation of the Martin killing three weeks ago.
"I know that many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages," Holder told the 14th annual convention of the National Action Network.
"If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action," said the attorney general. "I also can make you another promise: that at every level of today's Justice Department — preventing and combating youth violence and victimization is, and will continue to be, a top priority."
The attorney general says that Justice Department officials including Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, and U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill from Florida have traveled to Sanford to meet with the Martin family, members of the community and local authorities.
He says representatives from the department's Community Relations Service are meeting with civil rights leaders, law enforcement officers and residents to address community tensions.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla. a gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen during the fight. He wasn't arrested partly because of Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic. Martin was Black. -- (AP)
The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla. has dominated national news lately, with African Americans more than twice as likely as whites to follow the story very closely, according to a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The study, conducted March 22–25, found that 70 percent of African Americans followed the story very closely, compared to 30 percent of whites. Women were more likely to closely follow events surrounding Martin’s death than men, 40 percent to 29 percent. There was also a political divide, with 50 percent of Democrats saying they followed the story very closely, compared to 31 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of independents.
Older respondents followed the story more closely than younger people. The study found that 40 percent of those 65 and older followed the story very closely, trailed by the 50–64 age group (37 percent), 30–49 (33 percent) and 18–29 (26 percent).
When pollsters approached the issue another way by asking respondents to rank their top stories, there was also a sharp racial divide. Fifty-two percent of Blacks ranked the Trayvon Martin story as their top pick, followed by the presidential elections at 13 percent. Whites were almost evenly divided, with 20 percent ranking the death of Trayvon Martin as No.1, edging out the presidential election at 19 percent. Among whites, the economy was a close third at 17 percent. The economy was a distant third among African Americans, with only a 7 percent ranking.
The wide gulf between the views of whites and Blacks on race is nothing new. The two communities hold distinctly different views toward law enforcement officials. While whites tend the view cops as protective allies, many African Americans, especially males, live in fear of being mistreated by police officers.
A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of whites expressed a great deal of confidence in local police treating Blacks and whites equally. However, only 14 percent of African Americans shared that view. At the other end of the spectrum, 34 percent of Blacks expressed very little confidence in police treating Blacks and whites equally, a view shared by 9 percent of whites.
Interestingly, the national news media did not provide widespread coverage of the Feb. 26 Trayvon Martin shooting until a month later. In the meantime, the Black press and social media kept the story alive. Release of the 911 tapes and the public outcry that followed forced national media organizations to take notice.
A 2010 Pew study found that African Americans are highly critical of news coverage of their community.
“Nearly six-in-ten (58 percent) said that coverage of Blacks was too negative. Just half as many (29 percent) said the coverage was either fair (28 percent) or too positive (1 percent),” the report said. “By contrast, nearly half (48 percent) of whites said that coverage of Blacks was generally fair. Just 31 percent of whites thought that news coverage of Blacks was too negative.” In addition, 51 percent of Blacks said race relations received too little media coverage while only 24 percent of whites agreed with that opinion.
Undergirding all of those statistics are different perceptions about the existence of racial discrimination.
For example, 43 percent of Blacks said there is a lot of discrimination against African Americans, compared with 13 percent of whites. In the survey, whites were more likely to say Latinos were discriminated against more than Blacks (21 percent vs. 13 percent).
Eighty-one percent of African Americans said “our country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with whites.” Only 36 percent of whites agreed. A majority of whites — 54 percent — said “our country has made the changes it needed to give Blacks equal rights with whites.”
Many pointed to the election of President Barack Obama as a watershed moment for race relations in the U.S.
A Gallup Poll conducted the day after Obama was elected president in November 2008 showed that 70 percent of Americans believed race relations would improve as a result of his victory. Today, however, 48 percent of African Americans and 31 percent of whites believe race relations have improved under the president.
In addition, the glow from Obama’s election has faded over the past three years.
In 2009, 71 percent of Blacks thought the election of Obama was one of the most important advances for African Americans in the past 100 years; today that percentage has declined to 65 percent, a drop of 6 percent. Among whites, there was nearly a 20 percent decline, falling from 56 percent in 2009 to 37 percent today.
Although there should be universal outrage against a 28-year-old man shooting to death an unarmed 17-year-old, interest in the case, like so many other things in America, is heavily influenced by race. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.