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I have absolutely no doubt that racism played a fatal role in Martin's murder, and I have absolutely no doubt that racism plays a persistent, vicious, destructive role in national politics and culture.  Racism was woven into the fabric of our nation too early and for too long for it to disappear in a decade or even a century.  Not until my parent's generation and my generation are dead and gone will the United States begin to reap the full rewards of the work of abolitionists, civil rights workers, freedom riders, and the other Americans who have planned, marched, litigated, and sacrificed their safety and lives.  But racism is not the aspect of Trayvon Martin's murder that disturbs me the most.

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law emboldened George Zimmerman to track and murder Trayvon Martin, and provided the Sanford police department with an excuse not to even charge or arrest Zimmerman.  Reverend Al Sharpton is quoted in the New York Times as saying that “People can’t take the law in their own hands,” but in Florida, and in other jurisdictions with similar laws, that's not true anymore.  Together with the bizarre proliferation of concealed carry gun laws, these laws threaten the basic structure of our criminal justice system and our society.

The Florida law is written in such a way that murderers and assailants can justify their actions on the basis of their feelings.  Forget evidence, forget eyewitnesses, forget histories of racism or violence – if someone claims that they felt threatened (as Zimmerman has claimed), no crime has been committed – at least, not in the eyes of the Florida legislature.  This is an astounding development.  Many news organizations referred to Zimmerman as a "neighborhood watch captain," as though this designation somehow conferred legitimacy.  Claims of self-defense in Florida murders have risen dramatically, including mutual claims in gang wars.  Is this where we want to go as a nation?

There are probably other Trayvon Martins out there – innocent men and women who have been murdered by overzealous or actively malevolent actors, egged on by a national tolerance for violence and a contempt for the principles of civilization.  We are fortunate that the courageous and powerful voices of the African-American community have been raised to protest Martin's murder.  But the threat of the Florida law, and similar laws in 20 other states, is independent of the evils of racism.  It threatens all of us, regardless of our skin color or belief system.  The fact that these laws provide a cover for racists is obvious.  What's less obvious is that they provide cover for much, much more.

Repeal the Florida law, now.  Repeal all the Stand Your Ground laws, now.  For that matter, repeal all the concealed carry laws, and all the other legal aberrations that celebrate the right of the individual to substitute his emotions and pathologies for the rule of law and the common good.  Human beings will always do bad things, but we shouldn't be giving them legal and moral cover.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is simply not true: (17+ / 0-)
    Forget evidence, forget eyewitnesses, forget histories of racism or violence – if someone claims that they felt threatened (as Zimmerman has claimed), no crime has been committed – at least, not in the eyes of the Florida legislature.
    The law simply states that in a claimed self-defense shooting, though an investigation may take place, the state may not arrest or prosecute unless it has established probable cause to do so, and that should it do so without establishing probable cause, a judge can award damages.

    There was probable cause all over this case. Zimmerman was never protected under Stand Your Ground. He was protected by corrupt and/or inept cops.

    Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

    by Robobagpiper on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:05:11 AM PDT

    •  what do you mean (0+ / 0-)
      an investigation may take place
      a person is shot to death and the cops dont feel compelled to ask why or how was it done.

      that sounds like a total disregard for human life and safety. not to mention the injustice in such an omission

      "It's never too late to be who you might have been." -George Eliot

      by live1 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:43:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "May", in the language of the law, means (11+ / 0-)

        "permissible", not "possible" as is often used in common speech ("it may or may not happen"). It is a limitation on what the state is permitted to do; not a statement of what it morally should do.

        That is, until probable cause is established that a shooting is not legitimate self-defense, the state may not arrest or prosecute someone reasonably believing they used lethal force in self-defense or to prevent a forcible crime against another, and opens itself to civil liability if it does. The instant probable cause that the action was illegitimate is established, this restriction against arrest or prosecution is lifted.

        The state is permitted (i.e., "may"), under the law, to investigate the shooting - this clause is specifically there to preclude the affidavit of the shooter being the end of the matter, contrary to the usual mis-depiction of this law. The particular law does not require an investigation - and that may well be a defect. IMO a grand jury investigation should be convened to investigate every homicide, justified or not, to take matters out of the hands of police and prosecutors who selectively enforce the law.

        Who determines the validity of probable cause? Ultimately a judge will, once a prosecution has begun (hence, the provision allowing said to award damages if arrest and prosecution occurs absent probable cause).

        But I have to ask, what's wrong with "probable cause" being the bar for arrest and prosecution? In every other circumstance, this is something we liberals advocate.

        Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

        by Robobagpiper on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:57:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Last I heard a grand jury does not investigate (0+ / 0-)

          anything. They bring charges.
          And  if a grand jury was to investigate, say in this case they would do so after a lapse in time, chain of custody issues come up. witnesses disappear. I dont see it.

          "It's never too late to be who you might have been." -George Eliot

          by live1 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 07:07:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Grand juries recommend charges (12+ / 0-)

            based on a preponderance of evidence that such are merited.

            If there were any doubt as to the existence of probable cause restraining the prosecutor's hand, a grand jury recommendation would remove that.

            And on the contrary, summary arrest and presumption of probable cause puts innocent self-defenders into interrogation rooms where one coerced statement can ruin a legitimate defense - especially when the self-defender belongs to a disadvantaged group.

            What, again, is wrong with probable cause being the standard for arrest and prosecution under any circumstance?

            Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

            by Robobagpiper on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 07:12:51 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  The blame lies on the lazy/inept/corrupt.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        theatre goon

        loca police and LE officials.  Not the law.  None of Zimmerman's actions were defensible under the law.

  •  yes racism is the issue (14+ / 0-)

    since plenty of black, latino, native american men get murdered like this in states that don't have a Stand Your Ground law.

    sure there are other issues - including laws, police brutality, the criminal injustice system - but racism and systemic racism are a root cause

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:09:15 AM PDT

  •  regarding racism and Trayvon (4+ / 0-)

    here is Sadly No on RW coverage of the incident
    http://www.sadlyno.com/...

    I am seeing allegations that the Trayvon Miller case is just a Democratic plot to resurrect Obama's election prospects and some people seem to be believing this

  •  No. (16+ / 0-)

    I will not tolerate calls to repeal laws that validate the human right to self defense on the part of the uninformed.
    And I CONDEMN you for exploiting the murder of this innocent young man

    Repeal the Florida law, now.  Repeal all the Stand Your Ground laws, now.  For that matter, repeal all the concealed carry laws, and all the other legal aberrations that celebrate the right of the individual to substitute his emotions and pathologies for the rule of law and the common good.
    to advance your political agenda. That is contemptible. You should be focused on justice for this young man to be faced by his killer, not your obviously per-existing agenda.

    "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State ..."- Vermont Constitution Chapter 1, Article 16

    by kestrel9000 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 06:20:02 AM PDT

  •  This is simply not true. (9+ / 0-)
    The Florida law is written in such a way that murderers and assailants can justify their actions on the basis of their feelings.  Forget evidence, forget eyewitnesses, forget histories of racism or violence – if someone claims that they felt threatened (as Zimmerman has claimed), no crime has been committed – at least, not in the eyes of the Florida legislature.
    Here is the provision in the Florida statute.
    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.
    I cannot just shoot someone because I feel threatened. In making such a statement you have shown that you really don't understand the law. The Castle Doctrine removes the requirement of the duty to retreat before lethal force can be used against a person who is attacking you in your home. Stand your ground laws remove the requirement of the duty to retreat before lethal force can be used against a person who is attacking you in a public place.

    The only thing these laws do is lower the threshold of where lethal force can be used they do not change the threshold of when lethal force can be used. Both the Castle Doctrine and the Stand your Ground laws require that the person under attack must reasonably believe that lethal force is necessary to to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves, others or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

    The Castle Doctrine and Stand your Ground laws provide protection to people who are being attacked, they do not provide protection for attackers.

    Any power that government amasses will not be relinquished and any right we give up we give up forever.

    by oldpunk on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 07:07:42 AM PDT

    •  Look at the implementation of the law (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oldpunk, Lost and Found

      In particular, look at the statistics on "justifiable homicide" in Florida since 2005 and especially the gang incident.  Also, look at the discussions on DKos and elsewhere on the "reasonableness" and how that plays out in the real world.

      Thoreau said, "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."  In the pre-Castle doctrine, the presumption of threat is greatly bolstered when you find an intruder in your house.  I still don't feel that the only or immediate answer is to shoot them, but I understand the thinking there.  By moving this out into the wide world, the rule of law is diminished and the potential for unintended ( or perhaps intended) consequences is greatly increased.

      And by the way, George Zimmerman presumably just shot someone because he felt threatened, and because he felt empowered by the law.

      •  The statistics are meaningless without (7+ / 0-)

        an examination of the cases to determine if they were justified shootings that were correctly protected, or unjustified shootings that were incorrectly protected. All we know from the law is that shootings that were not considered justified before became such.

        This could as easily be because people acting in legitimate self-defense before the law were passed were being prosecuted for failing to retreat.

        Similarly, "reasonableness" is just one of many conditions that must be satisfied for a shooting to be protected under this law.

        George Zimmerman chased down a man with openly expressed racial animus against the instruction of a 911 operator. That is in no way protected by this law, his "feeling threatened" notwithstanding.

        Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

        by Robobagpiper on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 07:52:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed, how the law a law is written and (6+ / 0-)

        how it gets implemented are two different things but poor implementation of a good law doesn't change a good law into a bad one. The proper implementation / enforcement of this law could very well be lacking. The data from Florida that I have read doesn't go into as much detail as I believe is necessary to properly evaluate the level and effectiveness of the laws implementation.

        You mentioned that you don't feel that the only or immediate solution is to shoot an intruder in your house, but you understand the thinking. The Castle Doctrine doesn't make the use of lethal force the only or immediate solution to an intruder. Prior to the Castle Doctrine you could use lethal force but only after you tried to retreat. Now, with the Castle Doctrine you don't have to retreat before using lethal force. Stand your ground laws work the same way but for public spaces.

        Are Stand your ground laws necessary? Personally I don't much care for the idea that I should be obligated by law to retreat if attacked. That's just all upside down for me but not for everyone. You know as well as I do that we have natural fight or flight instincts and those instincts are very strong. I believe that for most people their first natural reaction to being attacked or to any serious danger is to get away, flight. If they can't get away, if they are cornered their next natural reaction is to fight.

        I think it is likely this is what the vast majority of people do when attacked. I just don't believe we need a law that says a person must try to retreat if under attack. Retreating may very well be the best option but that, for the most part, cannot be determined until the attack is already underway. Since the state cannot be there with me during the attack to determine whether or not running away or fighting is the best option, the choice to flee or fight must remain with the individual.

        Mr. Zimmerman says he felt threatened, I think that is unlikely because he initiated contact. There is no evidence of him being in danger of being killed or harmed and there is no evidence that Trayvon was in the process of committing a forcible felony. Mr. Zimmerman is going to be charged, he will go to trial and I believe he will be found guilty of manslaughter at the very least.

        Any power that government amasses will not be relinquished and any right we give up we give up forever.

        by oldpunk on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 08:35:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not an opponent of individual ownership of (0+ / 0-)

    firearms. I think there is room for responsible legal limitations on ownership and use of guns. Apparently this is an "alec" law. Strike one.
    Apparently, this law has been used in numerous cases of dubious merit since its passage. Strike two.

    "Second amendment rights" issues have been and are being exploited by the NRA, the firearms industry, and demagogues and suspect organizations in order to hustle money, incite fear and loathing, and break down and divide our society.

    The facts coming out about Zimmerman seem to support some kind of pathology involving the beating of women, the hatred of "others" and the obsession with authority and with guns.

    Responses on this comment thread seem to show a hypersensitivity to any sort of responsible questioning of our obsession with guns as some kind of solution to our problems.

    Gun owners should at the very minimum be required to own liability insurance in the event of an accident or misuse.

    I don't think the law is the central and most important fact here. I think the most important fact here is how did the gun function within Zimmerman's pathology in such a way as to almost make this incident, or some similar incident, inevitable or highly likely.

    I'd rather have a buntle afrota-me than a frottle a bunta-me.

    by David54 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 07:49:10 AM PDT

    •  Responses on this comment thread speak to (7+ / 0-)

      the fact that the law doesn't permit what the diarist claims. It is far narrower in scope.

      Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

      by Robobagpiper on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 08:02:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I need some help with this. (5+ / 0-)
      Apparently, this law has been used in numerous cases of dubious merit since its passage. Strike two.
      Is that apparent as in understood or as in seemingly.

      Any power that government amasses will not be relinquished and any right we give up we give up forever.

      by oldpunk on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 08:49:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, this is becoming a common claim... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        oldpunk, Robobagpiper, deedogg, PavePusher

        ...but I've seen no actual support of it -- beyond stating that the number of justifiable homicides has increased in Florida.

        That could mean much, or nothing.

        Unless one can show that this increase is actually of non-justifiable homicides wrongfully ruled as justified, then the statistic does not indicate that this is a bad law.

        Yes, I often dress as a pirate. Your point?

        by theatre goon on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 09:00:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  There have been diaries posted in the past 48 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        oldpunk, Lost and Found

        hours which mentioned the rash of killings shortly after the passage of the law in which it was invoked.
        I'll post the links when I run across them again.
        How a law is used and the repercussions of its use after passage is a good determinant of whether it's a good law or not.
        Ideology and theory about how it should work take a back seat to the facts.
        I'm sure we'll see the facts come out about this incident, and about this law.

        I'd rather have a buntle afrota-me than a frottle a bunta-me.

        by David54 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 09:01:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It is quite evident that you do not... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    theatre goon

    1. Know what the law says.

    2. Understand what the law says.

    Everything after that is corespondingly erroneous.

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