Trayvon Martin’s Death Drawing Scrutiny of ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

March 22, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

The tragic slaying of a Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old in Florida, is drawing scrutiny, albeit far too late, of public policy that celebrates a Wild West mentality.

The law, enacted in 2005, dubbed “stand your ground,” provides great legal protection to those who kill others outside their homes, claiming they used deadly violence in self-defense. Under pressure from outraged citizens and public interest groups, such as the NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice said earlier this week it would investigate the killing of the young African American.

Part of the mounting pressure included 911 recordings that revealed that George Zimmerman, a “watchman” for a Sanford, a community near Orlando, was ordered to stay put as police had been dispatched to the area. The 911 recordings also reveal that Zimmerman, a large, 28 year-old, refused to heed the 911 operator’s plea, responding, “They always get away,” before leaving his car to pursue the youngster.

In a piece for The Nation, Bryce Covert says the so-called stand your ground laws, which have been adopted by 20 other states, are not only rooted in romanticism of a “cowboy-esque” mentality, but also in a “deep distrust in the police force.”

“Beyond emboldening individual actors,” Covert continues, “this distrust has real consequences on police forces’ ability to ensure protection and justice. It weakens and distorts the force itself.”

As noted recently by The New York Times, the Florida law was pushed by the National Rifle Association. Likely not terribly surprising was the involvement of the conservative lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Writing for Media Matters for America, Matt Gertz notes that Florida’s law is “virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC’s Civil Justice Task in August 2005 – just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature – and approved by its board of directors the following month.” 

Gertz also provides video of a 2008 interview with an ALEC resident fellow explaining how his group “works with the NRA to push similar legislation through its network of conservative state” lawmakers.

Despite the scrutiny of the Florida law, early indications are that some state policymakers are obstinately supporting the measure. Gov. Rick Scott when asked earlier this week about the law would only concede, “Any time we see something like that we have to review and make sure we’re not giving people the opportunity to use the law unfairly.”

In a letter urging the DOJ to investigation the matter, the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches said it had no confidence that, “absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation.”

The Conference’s letter also noted that Martin “was a star student and athlete and had never been in trouble. When he was shot to death just eight houses away from where he was visiting his relatives, he was ‘armed’ only with a bag of skittles and a can of ice tea.”

Zimmerman, however, the Conference continued had, according to press reports, “a violent history, having been charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence in 2005.”

Steven Gray, writing for The Root, says the slaying of Martin is “a consequence for our thirst for guns. Consider this: Every three hours somewhere in America, a child dies as a result of gun violence.”

Gray concludes, in part, that presidential leadership is needed. The president, Gray says, “alone can’t break our love affair with guns. But it’s hardly unreasonable to expect him to play a more muscular role in shaping the debate.”

[image via werthmedia]