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What Good Can Be Salvaged from the Trayvon Martin Case

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Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman walks free. Was justice served?

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/23354940@N03/9280339883/: Hood Up! Justice for Trayvon Martin
Hood Up! Justice for Trayvon Martin by musyani75

That answer depends on who is asking the question. It should be a national outrage that this question splits us along both racial and political lines, but this has all become too predictable for outrage on these grounds. If we focus on the facts of the case the verdict divides us and there is no chance for reconciling our opposing views. If we shift the focus to our racial divide the glacial pace of reconciliation is measured in generations and no satisfactory solution can be seen. If we shift the focus to politics the question of justice will fade like an echo in the wind of endless partisanship. But focusing strictly gun laws in Florida may hold some slim hope for something good to come out of Trayvon’s death.  If this trial has done anything useful, it has been to drawn attention to the crazy legal framework that informed this verdict.

Who instigates a conflict that turns deadly has always been a factor in determining guilt. The concept is that deadly conflicts are be avoided at the earliest possible stage, before they turn deadly. If you initiate the conflict, the onus is on you to end it before someone gets hurt. The “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere upends this logic. Now, whoever walks away from a murderous gun fight can legally claim it was self-defense, even if the dead guy was unarmed. It is mostly a reasonable assumption that the survivor of a deadly conflict must have felt their life was in danger at some point.

In Florida, you can now walk up to anyone in the street, provoke them into assaulting you physically and then shoot them in self-defense. You are no longer held responsible for their death. If this was not the intent of the “stand your ground” laws, it is the absurd practical implication following this verdict. These laws, with their faulty legal premises, need to be overturned.

Still I have to wonder what the legal outcome would have been if Trayvon also had a gun and ended up shooting Zimmerman first. Would days pass before he was arrested and charged?  Would he have been acquitted by this jury?

If the only twist to this story was that Trayvon had managed to turn the barrel of Zimmerman’s gun around at the last instant to kill him, would the legal premise of the stand your ground law have been applied to Mr. Martin?  Would the actions of the police and the outcome of the justice system been different?  These questions are too important to ignore, but I am afraid the best answers to them depends largely on what we teach our children.

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1 Comment

  1. avwalters says:

    Stand your ground i s an embarrassment. It fuels the vigilante fervor that justifies the idea that it’s okay to go out hunting for trouble–and to believe that that trouble has a different color of skin.

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