I don’t know what happened on February 26, when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Probably the only person who knows exactly what happened is Zimmerman himself. Whether Zimmerman acted out of fear for his life (and therefore in self-defense) or out of racism has been widely debated. Zimmerman claims that Martin punched him, and various witnesses have said that they saw him with a bloody nose and lying on his back on the ground. On the other hand, because Martin was black (and Zimmerman part white and part hispanic), numerous people and organizations assume that Martin was shot because he was black. If Zimmerman decided that Martin looked suspicious because of his race, pursued him, and provoked a confrontation, then that would not only be racist of him, but would likely be murder. But if Zimmerman is telling the truth, then he acted in self-defense and did nothing wrong.
It’s always great to debate the facts known about a case and form opinions about what happened. But the New Black Panther Party went too far when they handed out flyers that read, “Child killer of Trayvon Martin wanted dead or alive.” And Minister Mikhail Muhummud, a regional director of that organization, went too far by saying that Zimmerman “should be afraid for his life.” It is wrong to call for someone’s death when you don’t know all the facts about a case.
It’s also wrong to demonize “Stand Your Ground” laws such as the one passed by the Florida legislature in 2005, giving people the right to use deadly force if they reasonably believe that their safety is threatened, whether they are in their homes or in public places where they have a right to be.
The Martin family’s lawyer criticized this law, saying, ”You can’t go pick a fight with somebody and then say, ‘Oh, self-defense.’” But that’s not what the law allows. CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said, ”If you’re the first aggressor, if you are pursuing, you cannot avail yourself of this self-defense claim.” Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley said, “Nothing in Stand Your Ground’ authorizes (you) to pursue and confront.” And Governor Jeb Bush added, ”Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
Stand Your Ground laws give people the right to defend themselves with deadly force when someone aggresses against them, instead of having a duty to retreat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you aggress against someone, you forfeit your rights, and no one should ever be punished for defending themselves against an aggressor.
Whatever happened to Trayvon Martin, whether George Zimmerman is at fault or not, is undoubtedly tragic, but it is not the fault of Stand Your Ground laws and is not a reason to chip away at the right to self-defense.