I’ve been staying away from writing about the controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin because I wanted to hear all of the facts first, but today I realized that any new information that may come out is irrelevant to how I feel about this tragedy.
There is a serious illness in our society that is growing more dangerous regardless of what investigators may find regarding the assailant’s (Zimmerman) motives. Despite being late to the blogosphere regarding this, I was instantly drawn to the case and 100% of my concern has been toward the untimely death of this young man and the suffering his family endures.
My initial gut reaction, it should come as no surprise, was (and remains) that Trayvon Martin was completely innocent and was the victim of profiling from an unprofessional, careless, and probably racist application of neighborhood vigilantism.
The tragedy has a number of strange and suspicious circumstances, but I believe the conversation with the young man’s girlfriend, during the event is the most conclusive evidence in terms of Martin’s innocence. There is inconsistent testimony, unclear or possibly manipulated police work and an odd sequence of conclusions drawn by Zimmerman that lead me to believe the worst; that an innocent young man was killed for wearing a hoodie while walking through a private neighborhood (where he legitimately belonged).
Perhaps he was splashing around in the rain while on the phone with his girlfriend and that led someone, pre-disposed to vigilante behavior with no legitimate training, to play cop, and to conclude that this kid was trouble. It may be that Martin even got the better of this fake-cop and, perhaps, he was “on top” of Zimmerman as has been stated by at least one witness, but that still doesn’t justify why he was being stalked and apprehended and there is no justification for ending the life of a boy armed with nothing but Skittles.
The investigation will continue and I will table my thoughts for now in terms of what actually happened; I want to talk about a broader issue surrounding this case which I believe is the result of moral decay spawned by fear: Castle doctrine.
Castle Doctrine, such as the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, is dangerous due to the nature of many citizens who are carrying guns without the necessary and logical training they need to curb violence rather than create more; they also challenge the concept of impartial justice as defined by the Amendments to our Constitution. Castle doctrine states that a person’s abode (or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or place of work) is a place in which the person has certain protections and immunities and may in certain circumstances attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.
“Stand Your Ground” law, is a broader realization of that doctrine. It states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. I understand the support that follows this legislation, as I myself have considered what I would do if my children were threatened or in defense of my own person; I would attempt to destroy any threat to my family, and most probably would defend myself to any degree necessary if I thought my life were in jeopardy, but this doctrine is symptomatic of a greater sickness permeating modern society; the sickness of fear and suspicion; it is a degeneration of justice.
It is what we are seeing in Arizona with profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal. It is witnessed by American imperialist expansion due to the fear of enemies overseas; it is the creation of the Patriot Act that challenges our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to…fear of losing our freedoms.
The problems with these initiatives are not the concepts of protecting our domicile, our family or our person, positions we ALL share but in the language that accompanies them: “without becoming liable to prosecution.” This is a sharp turn to the right (or left, I’m not drawing political lines) that compromises the foundation of liberty and justice.
The Castle doctrine implies that if a person has to consider their legal grounds that they will not act appropriately to protect themselves, so by eliminating that concern, they will. But by making such an action immune to prosecution it also means that justice becomes less relevant than what a sane society must demand from its judicial charters. Most private citizens are not criminologists, law enforcement officers, detectives or self defense experts and this doctrine empowers them to make professional, trained decisions that can determine life or death.
In Florida alone, where the Martin case has taken place, the law has resulted in self-defense claims tripling and all but one killed has been unarmed. Critics argue that the law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot and then claim self-defense because they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only other witness is the victim who was killed. Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous: “Whether its trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”
Again, I understand why many people are saying, “Enough is enough! I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree. The question becomes HOW while maintaining a just and civilized society. We have a long history in America of creating shorthand solutions to longhand problems and that’s what Castle doctrine follows. A law that exonerates a shooter because they make what appears to be a fair claim of self-defense is reckless and ultimately un-Constitutional. Put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime.
Own a firearm if you believe you should, and stand by your Constitutional right, but in my view everyone possessing a lethal weapon for the purpose of defense should have to pass at least an entry level instruction on criminology and prove firing proficiency and knowledge of safety. I simply don’t understand why we put logical compliance demands on every other potentially lethal kind of equipment such as motor vehicles yet have relatively lax restrictions on owning and operating firearms; a single function mechanism designed to kill.
I know…eyes rolled to Heaven upon reading “an entry level instruction of criminology” but that’s how successful policy is implemented. You study American history to become a citizen, you study rules of the road to drive a car, businesses require that their leadership attend seminars to move up…is it far-fetched to think that people owning an instrument that when misused can end an innocent person’s life should be held to the same standard?
In a 2007 National District Attorneys Association symposium concerns were voiced that the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law could increase crime as criminals could use the law as a defense for their crimes. They questioned safety when more people are carrying guns, and they concluded that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict. The report also noticed that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger. The report specifically notes that racial and ethnic minorities would be at greater risk due to negative stereotypes.
That report was dead on. We honor the life of Trayvon Martin not with our sorrow or our anger but by bringing sanity to our laws. It’s time to replace suspicion and fear with logic and reason.