Did Trayvon Martin have a right to "stand his ground?"
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, April 08, 2012
4/08/12 at 3:38 AM
If Florida's stand your ground law applies to George Zimmerman, why can't it apply to Trayvon Martin?
This is one of the first thoughts that hit me, and probably a lot of other folks, while watching and reading about the story.
Martin, a 17-year-old kid in a hoodie, was shot dead by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, following what might have been a scuffle.
How the event actually played out is not yet known, and might never be known completely. Zimmerman says he was involved in a fight with Martin and that Martin had slammed his head onto a concrete sidewalk several times. Zimmerman says he had to shoot Martin in self defense.
Let's turn this around just a little. Imagine that you are Trayvon Martin. You are walking through a neighborhood, one you expect to be safe in because your dad is visiting his girlfriend who lives nearby. You notice someone following you in a car. The car stops, a stocky man gets out. He has a gun in his belt. He approaches you. A verbal confrontation begins. You know he has a gun and the conversation is becoming heated.
What do you do? You could run. If, however, you are black you know that's not a good idea. In fact, Martin was talking on his cell phone with a girlfriend when he noticed Zimmerman following him. The girlfriend told Martin to run. Martin said he wouldn't run but would walk really fast. It's a threatening situation. Fight or flee? This is when instinct often takes over. And, Martin being 17 and "invincible" and Zimmerman being an overzealous watchman, the outcome was destined to be bad.
Even if Martin "attacked" Zimmerman, might not he have been justified under the Florida stand your ground law? After all, Zimmerman had the gun. If Martin feared for his life was he not legally free to defend himself from a man with a gun? Does the law apply only to the person with the gun?
Last man standing
One of the weaknesses of this law is that usually only one person remains to tell the story. In this case, it's Zimmerman. We will never know if Martin felt threatened. We're not likely to find out if Zimmerman threatened Martin or if Martin threatened Zimmerman. There are only two good witnesses and one of them is dead. This is not "he said, he said," it's simply "he said."
One thing is sure, Zimmerman had the upper hand. He had the gun.
Florida is one of 25 states with some form of stand your ground. Most states have based their laws on the 2005 Florida law. Here, however, is an odd catch to the laws. In Florida, a person receives a mandatory three years in prison for pointing a weapon. In Oklahoma, the punishment is no less than one year in prison and no more than 10. If the person pointing the weapon has a concealed carry license, the punishment is a $1,000 fine and the revocation of the license.
In Florida and Oklahoma, if you shoot and kill someone and claim it as self-defense, you can walk away.
The punishment for killing someone can be less severe than pointing a weapon. How does that make any sense?
I don't want to be pessimistic, but I don't see any good outcome for the Martin-Zimmerman case.
Zimmerman is being called a racist hellbent on killing a black person. Martin's reputation is being sullied by those who try to paint him as a troubled youth.
The situation in Florida is not being helped by people such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seeking the spotlight and throwing gasoline on the fire. On the Zimmerman side, pro-gun groups are raising money for his defense.
A better test
I hope this doesn't become another Rodney King case. In 1992, five Los Angeles cops were videotaped severely beating King following a high-speed car chase. King was no angel. He had a record of violence. The officers were charged, but cleared by a jury. It seemed clear to everyone, even then-President George H.W. Bush, that the verdict was incorrect.
The not guilty verdict led to a week of deadly and costly riots in South Central Los Angeles. It became so bad that even King pleaded: "Can't we all just get along."
Given Florida's law, it seems that finding Zimmerman guilty will be difficult. Still, I wonder if the same would apply if Martin had prevailed in the scuffle.
Trayvon Martin is needlessly dead. George Zimmerman's life will never be the same no matter the outcome. Nothing will change that.
It's too late for either of them. Maybe the legacy of this awful event will be that the "stand your ground" law can be revisited. There must be a better test for innocence than the word of the sole survivor.
Original Print Headline: Whose ground?
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332