The Trayvon Martin shooting is, without a question in my mind, a terrible tragedy. It should never have happened. It is all the more tragic because of a very bad law. The “stand your ground” statute in Florida actually permits someone to provoke a violent reaction but, if the reaction is life threatening, to respond with deadly force. That means if two gunslingers meet in the middle of a Florida street, whoever kills first wins the justified homicide race. For proof that his life was in danger, he can point to his slain foe with a gun in his hand.
Yes, Mr. Martin was unarmed, but one eyewitness says he saw Mr. Martin beating Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter. Another eyewitness saw the opposite happening, so all we have left is Mr. Zimmerman’s testimony, and he did have injuries to his face and head consistent with his account of Mr. Martin attacking him. So why did Mr. Martin attack, if that’s what he did?
Maybe it was the same stupid law. The law allows for people to stand their ground, instead of requiring a duty to retreat. A duty to retreat means a person needs to get away from a confrontation and let police handle the situation. In a stand your ground law, one can stand and engage an opponent based upon one’s judgment.
In this case, imagine what has to be going through the mind of a 17-year old walking home in the dark on a rainy night when some strange guy in a truck pulls up beside you and demands that you come talk to him. That’s a terrifying situation, and I can understand why Mr. Martin would not want to give any information to or comply with Mr. Zimmerman’s commands. We tell our children that strangers could kill them – and that is exactly what happened here.
Had Mr. Martin killed Mr. Zimmerman, the same law would have justified the homicide. Without a duty to retreat and let potentially cooler heads prevail, or at least heads that can be identified as policemen – and I’m leaving the racial controversy with the local force aside – the Florida law as written allows any pair of individuals that doesn’t understand each other completely to open fire, rather than try to understand what’s really going on.
Bad laws make for bad situations. Not only has this law contributed to the Martin shooting case, it’s also used by criminals to justify murders of rivals. Is that really what Florida wants on its hands?