Today marks a somber two-year anniversary, mourning the brutal and untimely death of Trayvon Martin. It also marks another full year in which nothing has been done to change the “Stand your ground” law partly responsible for Trayvon’s death.
Oh, we’ve been hearing quite a bit—but, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same as actual movement on the issue. Despite the outrage and rising cost of innocent life, there is no mounting political cause or push afoot, save scattered press conferences, picketing and hashtags.
What we’re missing now is a highly visible political machine that is actually going about the business of dismantling “Stand your ground.”
Instead, we find ourselves twisted in knots of outrage, but it does nothing to change the reality on the ground. We’re on social media fuming with unbridled anger over the verdicts because it’s not what we expected or wanted. Talk shows blaze up into a lucrative spilled-milk industry of snarky pundits spitting verse and testing talking points. Just as the election of President Obama ushered in a wave of mainstream-media new hires who could talk about “postracial America,” so, too, did Trayvon’s death spark a second wave of talking heads who could spar about it.
Keyboards are tapped furiously to create organizational press releases that seek immortality in a hectic 60/60 news cycle. Some take to making fashion statements; others take to penciling in time for a protest or two. More screaming. More shouting. More crying, and a little more hoodie-wearing and fist-pumping that has yet to change the minds of the legislators who passed the laws. The Daily Show gets in on the act with hilarity (because the national discourse refuses to give the issue the seriousness it deserves), and late night offers emotional consolation prizes through more slapstick.
While an argument is made that the original intent of “Stand your ground” was to serve as a crime- and domestic violence-deterrence tool, clearly something went horribly wrong in the execution. If that was the case, then Florida resident Marissa Alexander wouldn’t have even faced the prospect of 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Instead, we’re watching nauseating examples of judicial malfeasance take place, from the acquittal of George Zimmerman to the complication of Michael Dunn’s verdict in the case of Jordan Davis’ killing.
What’s new, though? Where, exactly, do we find the same amount of political muscle that birthed “Stand your ground” in an attempt to kill it in its current form? Many of the states with SYG laws—places such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere—are also home to influential blocs of African-American state representatives and senators. They are also home to some of the largest populations of black folks in the land.
Black state legislators were always on the legislative front line of the issue, even as we talked incessantly about the role of the shadowy conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing SYG. There was a tremendous amount of finger-pointing at Republican politicians during the early days of “Stand your ground” law outings, yet very little reflection on the Democratic governors who went along and signed the laws or the Democratic lawmakers (many of them black) who provided political backing. Seven black Florida state senators and four black House members voted “Yes” on passage of that state’s fateful “Stand your ground” law in 2005—including now Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
When asked about it, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, an influential consortium group representing more than 600 black state legislators in the United States, described a robust effort to repeal “Stand your ground” laws.
“As a body, the NBCSL strongly opposes ‘Stand your ground,’ or shoot-first, laws,” explained caucus president and state Rep. Joe Armstrong (D-Tenn.) to The Root. “This is evident in our 2013 Policy Resolution, Opposing Stand Your Ground Shoot First Laws, calling for the repeal or reform of ‘Stand your ground,’ or shoot-first, laws where they are in place.”