The decision to kill someone should challenge us to think deeply about our values and our beliefs. Zimmerman’s decision to kill Trayvon Martin cannot be simply dismissed as “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”. Many opinions are swirling and panels of experts and activists have taken to the airwaves and to the streets to express frustration with the outcome of the case. Some commentators have mentioned the senseless deaths of hundreds of young black males every year, which far outnumbers the death statistics for any other category of American youth.
The legal deliberations over the “stand your ground” law support a value that you have the right to take someone else’s life because a law gives you the right to protect yourself. What scares me may not frighten you or anyone else for that matter but the law (I’m not a lawyer) seems to give you a right to do bodily harm or to kill. The facts of what happened that rainy night in Sanford are in question—Trayvon died and we will never know his side of the story. And many Americans think that’s just the way it is and the law protects the man who shot him. I support every American’s right to bear arms but I pray bearing arms doesn’t mean my neighbor has the right to shoot first and ask questions later. Some lawyers say the courtroom may not be the right place to look for justice. That is too bad for the Martin family who sought justice in the only place they could–the court.
Many states under the Castle Doctrine have permitted reasonable and deadly force to protect themselves in their home, “castle”. Generally, if you are outside your home, there is a “duty to retreat” when possible to avoid confrontation. The “stand your ground” law in Florida has no duty to retreat to avoid confrontation. When self-defense is invoked in Florida, the person is immune from criminal or civil prosecution. One can only wonder if Zimmerman would have exercised his “duty to retreat” prior to the 2005 law.
A growing number of states have passed similar Florida stand your ground laws or expanded the definition of the law. States with “stand your ground” laws include, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Other states may have adopted a stand your ground doctrine through their existing self-defense laws so those states are not included in this list.
To suggest that class and race have no place in this debate is to ignore the history and the relationship between race, class and justice in a country that practiced legal segregation until 1965. Our history is not debatable and no amount of admonishment of the law will wipe away our horror that innocent children could face dangerous times ahead. We have no way of knowing if Trayvon Martin feared for his life or great bodily harm, his interpretation of the events of that night will never be heard. This is and should be a defining moment for God-fearing folks and patriotic Americans to take stock of our beliefs and values. What kind of world are we leaving behind? Do we value human life enough to cherish each and every person or just some of them, some of the time but definitely not on a dark and rainy night…