Breaking down the stand-your-ground law
    In the Trayvon Martin case, Florida's gun laws might allow a guilty man to walk free. Photo by Wesley Fryer on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

    It’s often said that the devil is in the details, but in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin, the devil is in the lack of clarity.

    On Feb. 26th in Sanford, Fla., the 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who was serving as a neighborhood watch coordinator, utilizing a program that,  “provides citizens with the opportunity to make their neighborhoods safer and improve the quality of life,” according to  

    Yet today, Zimmerman walks as a free man, liberated from incarceration by Florida’s adaptation of a “Stand Your Ground” Law, a code that allows a man or woman to use deadly force if they feel like his or her personal safety is at stake in order to prevent tragic and unjustified homicides. However, this law, Florida Statute 776.012, actually propagates what it aims to avoid because of its fatally broad nature.

    But when applied to the killing of Trayvon Martin, one of many troubling questions comes to mind: With a loaded gun on his person, why did George Zimmerman feel threatened enough by a 17-year-old carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea to slay him as he screamed for help?

    We may never know for certain the complete progression of events that led to Martin’s death, or why Zimmerman felt it necessary to his protect his own life to shoot Martin in the chest, which is precisely why Statute 776.012 needs to be changed.  

    Florida’s law is a breeding ground for tragedy, as the most heinous crimes can now be excused based on the assailant’s claim that he or she felt threatened, regardless of the circumstances may be. 

    Very little evidence points to Martin being in a position to threaten — let alone kill — Zimmerman, if for nothing more than the fact that Zimmerman was armed while Martin was not. Yet by providence of this law, what Martin did that night is enough justification for his life to be taken away from him and for Zimmerman not to be held accountable because he felt threatened by a boy with candy and a drink.

    To prevent tragedies like the one that occurred in Sanford from happening again, or at least hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable, the State of Florida must give a concrete definition of what constitutes a mortal threat. 

    It may seem foolish or impossible to legally define what someone perceives as dangerous, but if history is an indicator of anything, it is that broadness is a gateway to injustice.

    Following the conclusion of the Civil War, Southern states instituted “Black Codes” that inherently limited the rights of the newly freed slaves. One such code instituted by Mississippi in 1865 states that groups of African Americans (with or without Caucasians) deemed to be, “unlawfully congregating…shall be deemed vagrants, and on conviction thereof shall be fined…and imprisoned by at the discretion of the court.” However, the code never specified what constituted unlawful congregation, which opened the floodgates for arbitrary and un-constituted arrests.

    The fact of the matter is, nothing we know about what transpired on Feb. 26 seems to warrant Trayvon Martin’s death. Just as we can’t assume or explain what exactly happened on the night that Martin was killed, the State of Florida shouldn’t be allowed to assume Zimmerman was within his rights to kill Martin even though he claims his life was in danger. This claim has been made despite the extreme imbalance power established by Zimmerman’s gun. Nothing but Zimmerman’s word seems to justify the application of Code 776.012, and because Americans have the right of innocence until proven guilty, he is free because of a lack of concrete information. In essence, under the law Zimmerman is innocent because he says he’s innocent.

    Yet, this is exactly what Code 776.012 allows and provides. Zimmerman’s “fear” pulled the trigger of the gun that took Trayvon Martin’s life, but the law that allowed that to happen is devastatingly unspecific.


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