Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin support the repeal of Stand Your Ground Laws nationwide.
The most absurd moment in the Travyon Martin Stand Your Ground killing came on March 13, when Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stated that he could not arrest George Zimmerman because there were no grounds to disprove George Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. That was the moment anyone in their right mind should have concluded that Stand Your Ground laws are ridiculous. When you get to kill the other guy, claim self defense and walk, solely because you claimed self defense, we know we have a problem.
The fact that Zimmerman carried, and used, a firearm while serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer should have been enough for Bill Lee to conclude that something was amiss. The fact that the police didn’t even test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol, while Travyon Martin’s body was tested, should be enough for any observer to conclude the presumption of innocence afforded shooters claiming self defense has been exponentially expanded by the Stand Your Ground laws that are now found in more than two dozen states.
Why We Should Repeal Stand Your Ground Laws
Stand Your Ground laws should be repealed because:
1. They require “law enforcement officials to prove that a suspect did not act in self-defense. [NYT] ” This burden of proof is a bridge too far on the presumption-of-innocence continuum. You cannot prove motive with confidence on the basis of circumstantial evidence when the other guy happens to be dead.
2. They protect shooters from civil suits, where the burden of proof for a civil judgement is lower. This means that when the state doesn’t press charges, no civil options remain to the victim’s family.
3. Many of the victims have been unarmed--12 of 13 studied in a recent Orlando Sentinel investigation.
4. Police chiefs do not understand the laws, and thus abrogate their duty to fully investigate in the first crucial hours following a shooting, allowing vital forensic evidence to be destroyed.
5. Clueless gun owners, like George Zimmerman, who are inclined to ignore or misunderstand regulations regarding use of a firearm, will falsely believe they have rights that they do not, in reality, possess.
6. They encourage vigilantism by codifying a set of assumptions that magnifies the real degree of threat posed by “suspicious” persons possessed of unknown intent. This effect is exacerbated by racial profiling, as well as outright racism, and further fueled by the now infamous “hoodie effect.”
7. They represent an attempt to “normalize” the use of firearms in situations where the standard of proof is that of “feeling threatened,” a standard that is not codified with a shred of objective criteria under the laws.
8. People under investigation for having committed a crime involving the use of a firearm already possess a presumption of innocence.
9. They serve to reinforce the brutality of American society, driven by a paranoid sense of threat experienced by certain armed civilians.
10. They represent a license to kill. And, as I have said before, it’s not gun nuts who bother me, it’s nuts with guns. I agree with Chattanooga, Tennessee gun enthusiast Sally Peterson who told WRCB TV, "You can't approach a person and draw your gun. I just think there are too many wannabe cops.”
Perhaps Stand Your Ground laws, also known as “Shoot First” laws, should be called Last Man Standing Laws, because the last man standing in a fatal altercation calls the shots, so to speak. And it seems to me that the last man standing in a Zimmerman-Martin type situation always claims self-defense. The expansion of this presumption of innocence creates an impossible situation for prosecutors when there are no witnesses, which plays nicely into the hands of those who would commit murder, intentional or otherwise. While it has always been a goal of those so inclined to avoid witnesses, under Stand Your Ground laws they really do have a free-shot zone.
State legislators from across the nation have begun to call for the repeal of the law, echoing the comments of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said, “This could happen to anybody — it doesn’t have anything to do with race or political party.” In Georgia, civil rights advocate Rev. Markel Hutchins announced his intention to file a lawsuit challenging that state’s Stand Your Ground Law.
Conservative papers in conservative states, papers like the Wichita Eagle, are calling for the reconsideration of Stand Your Ground laws on the grounds that they can be construed as “license to kill” laws.
What we need here is for Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, to reach out to the more than one million signers of the Change.org petition calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest to sign a petition calling for the repeal of the laws nationwide.
Momentum for Repeal Builds in Florida
The Orlando Sentinel called for repeal of all Stand Your Ground laws as early as March 21, stating in an editorial, “‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in Florida and other states should all be repealed. At best, they are redundant. At worst, as in the Trayvon Martin killing, they are nothing but a license to kill.”
Even before that, on March 25, Rev. Jesse Jackson called for making the repeal of Stand Your Ground the centerpiece of a voter registration drive in Florida, citing some 700,000 unregistered black voters who might be motivated by the prospect of the law's repeal.
On the issue of Florida gun laws, the leadership of another paper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has been notable. According to the New York Daily News, the paper’s finding that in 13 stand-your-ground cases 12 of the victims had not been armed sparked Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) call that the Justice Department review these laws nationwide.
Buddy Jacobs, general counsel of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, cited the Stand Your Ground law’s unintended effects on cases involving drug killings in calling for its repeal during a task force hearing, saying, “Our conclusion is that this law ought to be repealed. We don’t think it’s a thing we can tweak.”
Protesters in Florida calling for the repeal of Stand Your Ground got Senator Marco Rubio’s attention this week. According to NBC Miami, Rubio said, “I don't know what happened in this case, but 'Stand Your Ground' does not allow you to chase somebody and shoot them," he said. "So I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, but if it happened in this case or in any other case, 'Stand Your Ground' doesn't apply.”
But Senator Rubio may be wrong about this. The dearth of facts regarding the specifics of the altercation, combined with the Stand Your Ground effect of forcing the government to prove that the perpetrator did not act in self defense may in fact allow for a possible chase-and-shoot killing to stand for what Zimmerman claims it to be. This remains true even though he has now been charged with second degree murder. That’s what’s wrong with Stand Your Ground laws. That, and the death of Trayvon Martin.
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Other Articles in this Series
Trayvon Martin’s Deadly Skittles Run - March 19, 2012
Veto the Minnesota “Shoot First” Law - February 28, 2012
Shooting First in Minnesota - May 11, 2011