‘Stand Your Ground’ – The Exercise of the Law
The title of this essay refers to the propensity of many of us to act as if trials are conducted in the press, and as if we have the information necessary, as a case develops, to jump to conclusions and then to take action accordingly. The killing of a 17 year-old black teenager, Treyvon Martin, by a Neighborhood Watch captain, George Zimmerman, is one such example. Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground‘ law, a variant of the ‘Castle Doctrine,’ is on trial here, too, as the shooter remains at large and un-charged because his actions allegedly fall under the purview of this law. (It is hard to imagine that confronting a minor on the street and then invoking self-defense in any presumptive ensuing scuffle could be justified, but again, we do not conduct trials in the press, and only the grand jury, plus a few others, will have access to all of the relevant evidence, witness testimony, et cetera, necessary to to decide whether to prefer charges against Zimmerman.)
It is clear that many who urge action now do not know what the law says. It may also be the case that the law did not apply in this case, and that Zimmerman’s actions are not justified by it. The danger here is that more than one innocent life may be unnecessarily lost, as emotionalism, exploited by the sensationalist and agent provocateurs among us, may lead to violence, perhaps widespread and difficult to control. The ‘long, hot summers’ of 1967-8 may return, with the tinderbox of economic depression, alienation, poverty, debt, decade-long war and the memories of past injustice having made fertile ground into which this seed of vengeance falls.
It is urgently incumbent upon the authorities, in a situation like this, to act swiftly and to render a clear, easily understood message as to why the shooter is charged, or not. To allow a situation like this to simmer, hoping that it goes away, is a strategy of capitulation to chance, misplaced hope, and the actions of outsiders. It invites the trouble that it seeks to avoid.