Stand Your Ground Laws Legalize Murder
by Stephen Lendman
Across America, institutionalized incidents replicate 17-year old Trayvon Martin’s February 26 cold-blooded murder. A Black high-school student, he was shot and killed in predominantly white Sanford, FL.
He was unarmed, carried candy, a can of iced tea, and some cash. He threatened no one.
Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman killed him in cold blood. He claims self-defense. Critics call it a hate crime. Police tapes show he’s obsessed with law and order, suburban life minutia, and Black males, especially hooded youths perhaps.
A 2011-established Neighborhood Watch group appointed him captain. It was set up to help local police. Son of a white father and Latina mother, he’s a former altar boy turned killer.
In 2005, he was charged with assaulting a police officer during an altercation over a friend’s underage drinking arrest. A first-time offender, he avoided a felony conviction. The same year, his former fiancee accused him of domestic violence. He counter-charged in response. In 2006, the case ended when both injunctions expired.
According to Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee:
“Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred. He was in fact on a personal errand in his vehicle when he observed Mr. Martin in the community and called the Sanford Police Department.”
NAACP President Ben Jealous said:
“The reality is that this chief had probable cause to lock up a man who shot a boy in cold blood – because he shot a boy in cold blood – and he failed to do that.”
Trayvon’s father Tracy said:
NAACP President Ben Jealous For him to be murdered by someone who weighs more than 100 pounds more than him, more than 10 years older than him, this is an outrage.”
Others feel the same way and want charges filed. More on that below.
Stand Your Ground Laws: A License to Kill
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law allows deadly public force if authorities or individuals fear assailants pose serious threats. The law and others like it in 20 or more states expand the so-called Castle Doctrine.
US Legal.com defines it as follows:
“In criminal law, (it’s) an exception to the retreat rule. The retreat rule allows a person the use of deadly force while protecting his/her place of abode, its premises and its inhabitants from attack such as from a trespasser who intends to commit a felony or inflict serious bodily injury or harm.”
“This defense justifies such conduct constituting a criminal offense. This is also termed as defense of premises, defense of habitation and dwelling defense.”
In fact, Stand Your Ground laws and others like it legitimize vigilante justice.
Institutionalized Violence and Murder
Trayvon Martin’s murder replicates numerous past incidents.
On January 1, 2009, Oakland, CA transit officer Johannes Mehserle killed Oscar Grant in cold blood. Unarmed, he threatened no one and didn’t resist. Yet he was thrust face-down on the ground, shot in the back, and murdered. Videotape on at least four cameras confirmed it. USA Today said five bystanders taped it.
Justifiably, the entire community erupted. In July 2010, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Though virtually unprecedented, Grant’s family, relatives and friends demanded first-degree murder. His mother Wanda said “Oscar was murdered and the law has not held the officer accountable.” Jurors didn’t comment.
Police brutality, including murder, is systemic across America. Little is done to constrain it. Rarely are law enforcement officers prosecuted. Evidence shows Blacks and other minorities face harassment, verbal and physical abuse, false arrests, and cold-blooded murder.
In February 1999, New York cops fired 41 shots, struck Amadou Diallo 19 times, and killed him while he stood unarmed in his apartment building vestibule.
In 2006, New York cops murdered Sean Bell in cold blood. Celebrating the eve of his wedding, they fired dozens of times at him as he emerged from a nightclub unarmed and unthreatening. Prosecutions didn’t follow.
In February, NYPD cops illegally entered unarmed Ramarley Graham’s home. With no search warrant or legitimate probable cause, they shot and killed him in his kitchen.
Similar incidents occur often. Killer cops are absolved. Occasionally, disciplinary reprimands follow.
Although police departments stipulate officers should only use deadly force when their lives or others are threatened, thousands of cases show they use it indiscriminately.
As a result, hundreds of claimed justifiable homicides occur annually. FBI statistics and independent reports document them. At most, police are mildly disciplined.
A 2009 ACLU report titled, “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in the United States” showed racial minorities are systematically victimized without cause in public, when driving, at work, at home, in places of worship, and traveling. Too often it’s violently at the hands of authorities.
A “major impediment to (prohibiting it) remains the continued unwillingness or inability of the US government to pass federal legislation (banning the practice) with binding effect on federal, state or local law enforcement.”
Nor do authorities comply with provisions of the 1994 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). It obligates all levels of government.
The Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies was designed to prohibit federal officers from engaging in racial profiling. In fact, it’s flawed and does little to stop it. It omits “profiling based on religion, religious appearance, or national origin.”
Nor does it apply to state and local law enforcement where police brutality is institutionalized. In addition, it specifies no enforcement mechanisms or punishments for violators. As a result, it actually promotes profiling and abuse, including false arrests, beatings and killings.
Candidate Obama promised a “Blueprint for Change,” prohibiting and criminalizing racial profiling, mistreatment, police brutality, and related violence. Another promise made, another broken.
On March 23, Law Professor Jonathan Turley called Stand Your Ground, Make My Day, and earlier Castle Doctrine laws abusive and unnecessary, saying:
“These laws address a problem that does not exist. There are ample protections under the common law for individuals to use the privilege of self-defense, including reasonable mistaken self-defense.”
“Legislators are now feigning complete shock at the potential for abuse under these laws after refusing to consider the warnings of critics in passing” them.
Florida’s law states:
“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.”
Turley said it “reads like a stump speech where sound bites become elements of a criminal defense. The result is sound bite justice.”
On March 21, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page headlined, “An invitation to murder?” saying:
Trayvon’s killing is all too familiar “to those of us who have raised young black males.” Any “suspicious looking” Black youth can be killed in “self-defense.”
“Prosecutors, gun-control advocates and other critics called it a ‘shoot-first’ law and, more bluntly, a ‘license to kill and go free.’ Born in controversy, the law is living down to the low expectation of its critics.”
Trayvon’s case and hundreds like it show why legalized murder laws demand repealing. More likely, tougher ones will be enacted followed perhaps by greater numbers of killings.
Public Rage Demands Justice
Protest rallies across America demand justice for Trayvon. Over 500,000 signed an online Moveon.org petition, wanting Zimmerman prosecuted.
For what it’s worth, political Washington noticed belatedly. Weeks after the killing, Obama’s Justice Department said its Civil Rights Division and FBI would investigate. How many previous “investigations,” in fact, sanitized what should have brought prosecutions.
Florida’s Brevard and Seminole counties announced April 10 grand jury hearings on the case. Expect little more than disciplinary indictments at best.
Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a special prosecutor appointment to “ton(e) down the rhetoric and preserv(e) the integrity of this investigation.” It suggests more coverup than justice.
A Final Comment
Trayvon won’t be the last Black youth vigilante justice victim. Blame goes well beyond killer cops. America’s violent culture shares it. Wars and violence are glorified. The nation’s homicide rate is highest among all Western nations. It’s gun culture makes buying them simple.
Systemic violence, shootings, and deaths follow. Without addressing the root cause, America’s institutionalized racism, and states licensing cops to kill, expect nothing ahead to change.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.