On Tuesday, the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder said that “Stand Your Ground” laws “sow dangerous conflict,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called her state’s version of the law “important” and a “constitutional right.” And Wednesday, Florida state Sen. David Simmons called Holder’s comments “inappropriate” and “inaccurate.” Stand Your Ground may be getting more attention now after the Zimmerman verdict, but the laws themselves don’t look like they’re going anywhere.
And that’s not for a lack of effort from critics of the self-defense policy. While the exact laws differ somewhat from state to state, Stand Your Ground laws justify the use of force in self-defense when there’s a reasonably perceived threat. It’s on the books in some form or another in more than 21 states. Florida was the first to adopt the law, and the state is the focus of the law’s critics now. Those critics range from Stevie Wonder (who has decided to boycott any state with a Stand Your Ground law) to the dozens of student activists who crowded Gov. Rick Scott’s office on Tuesday.
But the critics aren’t limited to Florida.
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The thing to understand here is that Stand Your Ground laws do not exist in some segregated section of Florida’s criminal code. They are not bracketed off from the rest of Florida’s “standard” self-defense laws. Stand Your Ground laws are integral to the very meaning of self-defense in the state.
I do not think you can argue that Zimmerman would have been convicted if not for Stand Your Ground. But you certainly can’t argue that the law had “nothing” to do with this case. And you most certainly can argue that SYG reduced the chances of Zimmerman being arrested. If that arrest hadn’t happened we probably would not be talking about this case right now."
In conversation, I keep accidentally referring to Zimmerman’s defense lawyers as “the prosecution.” Not surprising, because the defense of George Zimmerman was only a defense in the technical sense of the law. Substantively, it was a prosecution of Trayvon Martin. And in making the case that Martin was guilty in his own murder, Zimmerman’s lawyers had the burden of proof on their side, as the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin wasn’t a violent criminal.
This raises the question, who’s afraid of young black men? Zimmerman’s lawyers took the not-too-risky approach of assuming that white women are (the jury was six women, described by the New York Times as five white and one Latina).
"This is the person who … attacked George Zimmerman," defense attorney Mark O’Mara said in his closing argument, holding up two pictures of Trayvon Martin, one of which showed him shirtless and looking down at the camera with a deadpan expression. He held that shirtless one up right in front of the jury for almost three minutes. “Nice kid, actually,” he said, with feigned sincerity.
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I could very easily see how Martin, fully within his rights to walk back to his father’s home, could judge a strange man following him to be possessed of ill-intent.
What always shook me about this case, was not the belief that Zimmerman ruthlessly slaughtered a 17-year old child, but the act of putting myself in that child’s place, and seeing how I just as easily have ended making a decision to defend myself."