Law not the real issuein Trayvon shooting.
With all the hoopla, it is worth understanding exactly what "stand your ground" laws mean and how they affect changes in the use of firearms.
So-called "stand-your-ground" and "castle" laws are expressions of the well-known premise of self-defense when a person is charged with murder, assault or similar crime. Self-defense is an affirmative defense - if a jury finds it to be true, the defendant is acquitted. The defendant is generally required to provide pre-trial notice of self-defense; the prosecution must then disprove the defense.
In most states, the defense of self-defense is available only if the defendant was unable to retreat or run away from the threat. If someone comes at you and you have a gun, you must retreat if possible instead of shooting. You may use lethal force only when you are unable to retreat, and the threat of death or harm is imminent.
This retreat requirement is generally not required when you are in your home and someone enters illegally, even when the intruder is not known to be armed. This is the so-called "castle" law. Your home is your castle, and you may defend it against intruders - you are not required to run away.
The "stand-your-ground" law extends this exception to the streets. Under this law, if your life is threatened you are no longer required to retreat. You may stand your ground and defend yourself or another against a real threat of violence.
In Florida, where all this is storm began, a defendant has an opportunity to have a judge hear a "stand-your-ground" self-defense motion early in the proceedings. If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that such defense is applicable, the court can dismiss the charges.
This is what makes what happened to Trayvon Martin so bizarre. Trayvon did not have crime on his mind, nor weapons in his hands - only Skittles and iced tea. George Zimmerman was armed, and he pursued. So absurd is this application of the law, the Florida legislator who sponsored the "stand-your-ground" legislation came out to openly state these facts do not apply to this law.
That is what lies at the core of so many in the black community expressing outrage. What transpired was not about the law, but about the law enforcement.
Consider this same scenario with a slightly different twist:
George Zimmerman, over several weeks, makes the same numerous calls to 911 about "suspicious black men." On the night when he calls about Trayvon, he is told not to pursue him, yet pursues him with a loaded firearm. While in pursuit, Trayvon tells him to get away or leave him alone. Now, imagine that Trayvon is armed, turns to face his pursuer, sees his firearm and shoots Zimmerman dead. Where do you think Trayvon would have spent that night, and where do you think he would be today? If you did not immediately answer "jail," well, therein lies the rub.
The same law targeted as the source of this problem would not have applied to Trayvon truly standing his ground against a real live armed pursuer. Without the pressure and national attention garnered by the black community, it is questionable whether Zimmerman would have ever been arrested.
Moreover, consider that the police held Trayvon's body for three days, searching his blood, body and background for incriminating evidence. They never took Zimmerman's blood to search for drugs, and were not interested in uncovering any incriminating evidence against him. If Trayvon had been the shooter we can rest assured they would not have examined Zimmerman's dead body for drugs - instead, we would have heard about "another black thug" in a hoodie who killed an innocent protector.
Speaking of the hoodie, no sane person, and no national news commentator, would think of announcing to the world that a rape victim's clothing were as much to blame as the rapist. Our nation left such thinking behind a long time ago, and we are better for it. Yet we are not past ranting about blacks and their clothing. The loudest outrage seems to rest more on the guns and the gun laws. A black congressman expressing his outrage by wearing a hoodie under his suit jacket was quickly marched off the House floor for violating the dress code.
If a black man killed a Klansman, would anyone say the hood was to blame?
In Eugene, at the recent rally for Trayvon Martin, three teenagers spoke about being singled out by police. Good kids by anyone's standards. It reminded me of how there is nowhere for them to go. It reminded me how twice the citizens of Eugene voted for a meaningful Police Review Board, and how twice the city government gutted it into paralysis reminiscent of the infamous three monkeys - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. To paraphrase Cat Stevens, "So tell me, where will these children play?"
Brian Michaels is a Eugene attorney.