Commentary: Trayvon Martin's Killing Places Needed Spotlight on Appalling Florida Law

The so-called "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida is now the subject of national scrutiny following the claim by George Zimmerman that he acted in self-defense.

Posted: 03/20/2012 04:59 PM EDT

If there is any nugget of reason to emerge from the outrageous murder of Trayvon Martin, it might well be in the national outrage that is emerging from Florida’s senseless “Stand Your Ground” law, which enables people to use deadly force against a person whom they perceive as a threat.
 
The law is being invoked in the case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. As anyone who pays even scant attention to the news would now know, Martin was a high school junior who was walking through a gated community last month.

Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense although Martin was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.

While the national media has turned its attention fully to the case of the horrifying shooting of Martin, they are also shining a spotlight on this hideous law, which enables people who perceive they are being threatened to use deadly force without first seeking to back away from the potential altercation.

It is nothing short of a state-sanctioned license for vigilante law, where anyone who fears anyone can shoot them to death. And it’s not just a nightmare confined to Florida. Since the legislation became law in Florida in 2005, 16 other states have adopted similar laws.

To add important perspective to the matter, the “Stand Your Ground” law was passed by the Florida legislature in 2005 with strong support from the National Rifle Association, which said the law was “on the side of law-abiding citizens.”

It is a law that had frequently been cited in a number of incidents. They include a 2006 case in which a man sprayed a vehicle carrying a known gang member with 14 bullets  and the 2011 case of a man who was cleared of any wrongdoing after stabbing a man in the head with an ice pick during a road rage incident, according to legal and media accounts.

Civil rights leaders and others are rightly calling for action to be taken to address the "Stand Your Ground" law. And they are right to do so. The law is an invitation for anyone with a gun to shoot another person in a panic of imaginary confrontation.

 

Since the law went into effect, reports of justifiable homicides have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The law has been invoked to brush off violence resulting from road rage, arguments in bars and even a gang gunfight. In fact, two gangs in Tallahassee were immersed in a shootout during which a 15-year-old boy was killed. The charges were dismissed by a judge citing the "Stand Your Ground" law.

 

"We're going to pursue this with the Justice Department, asking them to determine whether this law represents a violation of people's civil rights," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, in an interview with BET.com. “People should not have the right, based on their imagination, to kill people.”

For example, Sharpton reminisced about an experience he had in street activism in New York City in the early 1990s. Sharpton pointed out that, after leading a protest march in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, he was stabbed by a local resident.

Under the Florida law, Sharpton said, "I should be entitled to shoot anyone who might approach me at a rally who I might perceive to pose a threat to me. But that’s not the kind of country we want."

 

Indeed not.



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