Monday, March 19, 2012

Self-Defense, Murder and the State of Florida

Killing of Teen Trayvon Martin Becomes National Story:

Now that 911 recordings show how a white Florida man continued to follow a 17-year-old black boy even after police advised him not to — and captured the sound of the man killing the unarmed youth with a shot to the chest — Trayvon Martin's family wants the FBI to take over the investigation into his killing.

The gunman says it was an act of self defense during a Neighborhood Watch patrol.

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin of Miami, was walking from a convenience store to the home of a family friend in a gated community in Sanford on Feb. 26th. He was confronted by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious person but before police arrived, the two struggled and Zimmerman shot and killed the teenager. Community members are demanding Zimmerman's arrest but Sanford Police say they don't have sufficient evidence to dispute his claims of self defense."
In fact, if you get beyond race and ethnicity for a moment, one of the dirty side-stories in this case is the State of Florida's recent expansion of its "Stand Your Ground" law regarding self-defense. As critics warned at the time, it would eventually become a "right to kill in self-defense" law.
The Florida House of Representative has passed a "Stand Your Ground" law that will allow citizens to use deadly force in a public place to defend themselves if they believe they are in danger of death or great bodily harm -- without trying to run away first.

The new bill expands the right of self-defense from the home, where Florida residents already have the right to defend themselves with deadly force without first trying to escape.

Many state courts have ruled that citizens have the right to defend themselves in their homes, but Florida courts have expanded that right to include employees at work and drivers attacked in their vehicles. The new Florida law was proposed to codify those court rulings.

And so you have "Neighborhood Watch" vigilantes like the alleged gunman in this case "patrolling" their 'hoods with state-sponsored impunity. These "stand your ground" laws, common throughout the south in the past decade, have basically put the burden of proof on the eventual victims. The current defendant's claim of self-defense, in the absence of video, audio or eye-witness evidence to the contrary, trumps the victim's ultimate demise.

And while it's very easy to beat up on the local, Sanford, Florida police for not making an arrest, a brief read of Florida law suggests there may not have been much they could do about it given the freebie that the vigilantes, er, "neighborhood watch patrols," received from the state a few years ago.

If you listen to the 911 tapes, it's clear there is racial profiling going on, that the gunman was told by 911 operators not to pursue the victim, and that the victim was unarmed. We don't know all the facts at this point, but it does appear that Trayvon Martin was killed because he fit the profile of the "criminal element": a young, black, male (the "they keep getting away with it" the defendant talks about in one of the phone calls to police).

But the bigger crime here is that unless the feds get involved to prosecute the case under federal law, Martin's death probably won't be prosecuted under Florida law.

And there is your sad testament to these idiotic, neo-vigilante gun laws passed in the 00's (and written about here at TPE).


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