Zimmerman's Claim, and a Growing Trend
Trayvon Martin's shooter is not the only one to invoke self-defense under a "Stand your ground" law.
When the Situation Is Reversed
The Sanford police reaction was opposite to that of officers in Valrico, Fla. They arrested Trevor Dooley, who is black, after he fatally shot a white neighbor who was defending the right of kids to skateboard on part of a public basketball court. Dooley's invocation of "Stand your ground" was just one factor considered among what witnesses said. A pre-trial hearing is now under way before a judge, who will decide whether Dooley is off the hook because of the self-defense law or whether a trial can go forward with a jury considering witness testimony, among other things.
It is worth noting that the Martin slaying features something absent from the Dooley case: the argument, based in part on remarks made during Zimmerman's 911 call, that he targeted Martin because of his race -- because he was a black male.
A Growing Trend
Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says of the Martin case: "In previous years this would be a straight case of murder." But in 2005 state law changed with the advent of "Stand your ground," though as Way, the Tallahassee lawyer, notes: "It hasn't been the wild, wild West in Florida." He thinks there may have been only 10 to 20 true "Stand your ground" cases since the law took effect.
Florida is at the forefront of more than 20 states with such National Rifle Association-backed laws. In a 2009 report issued by the San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence, already there were alarms sounding about the danger to public safety and the hamstringing of police and prosecutors. From the report (pdf):
In recent years, the gun lobby has promoted the enactment of so-called "shoot first" laws, dangerous alterations to traditional self-defense principles that generally: 1) presume that a person's actions in using deadly force in self-defense were reasonable; 2) expand the use of deadly force in self-defense to locations outside the home; 3) broaden the situations in which a person can respond with deadly force to those where no imminent danger exists; and 4) immunize persons acting in self-defense from criminal prosecution and civil liability if they injure or kill anyone, including innocent bystanders, while acting in self-defense. Thus far, more than 20 states have heeded the gun lobby's call and adopted "shoot first" laws, also referred to as "no retreat," "stand your ground," or "make my day" laws.
The Tampa Bay Times has taken a strong editorial position against the law, which it labels a "menace."
The St. Petersburg Times has reported that the number of cases in which justifiable homicide is used as a defense has soared. By 2010, there were 100 such cases, up from 30 when "Stand your ground" became law; the defense was used in 93 cases and in most of those the defense was successful -- something that might work in favor of Trevor Dooley.
Meanwhile, with the Sanford police chief having stepped down for now, there may be some movement at the local level on the investigation into Martin's death. Also, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement might be able to make an arrest. And then there are the eyes of the feds.
The wheels of justice may finally begin to turn for Trayvon Martin.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a frequent contributor to The Root.