Trayvon Martin Killing and Distrust of Government

Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin

Bryce Covert, in an opinion piece for the Nation, says that Trayvon Martin was not the first victim of someone who took the law into his own hands. She is concerned about the notion that citizens can get things done better than the police and says that Trayvon's death proves that's not the case.

It seems the grieving family of Trayvon Martin, the slain 17-year-old whose killer has thus far gone free due to a claim of self-defense, may get some justice. The US Department of Justice announced today that it will investigate the killing and the local police's bumbling investigation into the crime.

But we still need to talk about the conditions under which this crime took place. Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, even though the 911 operator Zimmerman had called to report Martin’s “suspiciousness” told him not to pursue. The law that may have emboldened Zimmerman, and that has most definitely shielded him from proper prosecution, is referred to as Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Passed in 2005, it kicked off a wave of similar legislation across the country that expanded the rights of civilians who use lethal force in self-defense, undoing the former requirement that they retreat from confrontation when possible. And as Liliana Segura reported in 2008, “The new laws are particularly expansive in that they go beyond the boundaries of private homes to include cars, workplaces or anywhere else a person may feel threatened.” Months after Florida passed its bill, similar legislation was proposed in more than twenty states.


At the time, a critic warned the law could “turn Florida into the OK Corral,” Segura reported. And that warning has played out. Martin was not the first victim of cowboy-esque figures taking the law into their own hands. Segura reported the case of 61-year-old Texan Joe Horn, who saw a pair of black men on a neighbor’s property and, out of frustration that law enforcement wouldn’t arrive in time, went outside and shot them both, once again against the desires of the 911 operator. As he said in the call transcript, “I ain’t letting them get away with this shit.”

Echoes of that sentiment can be heard in the 911 transcript of Zimmerman’s call. Before getting out of his car and taking matters into his own hands, he says, “They always get away."

Read Bryce Covert's entire piece at the Nation.

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