Problems with Stand Your Ground

Like many Americans I felt very conflicted last Saturday when the verdict was determined on George Zimmerman’s innocence. To say the least, it did not sit well with me.  Though I do not question the jurors’ interpretation of the law, in my opinion there is something very wrong with the “stand your ground” law in the first place. For my international readers, if I have any, this controversy stems from the “stand your ground law” in Florida (and some other states). It allows a person to defend their space if they feel threatened even by killing the person that seems threatening.  The law provides a very vague definition of what it means to feel threatened. It is really hard to define personal space and what covers a threatening feeling.  Many individuals see this law as a perpetuation of “gun culture” or part of an epidemic of vigilantism.

In February of last year, a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was on his way home with a bag of skittles, an ice tea and a cell phone. The neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, was suspicious and began trailing Trayvon with his car. He called the cops and they told him to retreat, but instead Zimmerman made the decision to confront the unarmed teenager.  Next there was a confrontation, Zimmerman removed his gun, and shot Martin.  It seems to me that Zimmerman could have stayed in his car or gotten back in his car. Our communities become more dangerous when it is legal to shoot when you feel threatened, even when you could just walk or drive away.

I think this case really brought to life the pain and underlying racism found in our culture left offer from slavery and segregation. Many African Americans were struck by its familiarity to similar prejudice they had also faced before. Even President Barak Obama described this in an intimate discussion of his own experience with racism. A strong presence of gun lobbyists and very cemented attitudes on race seem to have hindered success in amending stand your ground laws.  There is an intersection between gun laws and racism.  Though racism has improved in our country, we still do not live in post racial society. Obama raised some important questions that I think stuck with many. If Martin had shot Zimmerman and used the stand your ground law as defense and you feel ambiguous or question Trayvon’s legitimacy when thinking about that scenario, then there is a big problem with the law.

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