Trayvon Martin: 'Shoot first' law under scrutiny

The fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida has prompted protests demanding the arrest of the perpetrator, who says he was acting in self-defence. How much force does the law permit?

On a dark and rainy February night, George Zimmerman sat in his car in Sanford, Florida, a legally-carried 9mm pistol by his side.

There had been a rash of crime in the community, Mr Zimmerman later said, and on that night, the neighbourhood watch volunteer grew wary when a young black man in a hooded sweatshirt appeared.

In a recording of a 911 call released by police, Mr Zimmerman, in his truck, tells a dispatcher that a “real suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs” was walking through the neighbourhood.

Mr Zimmerman, 28, can be heard huffing and puffing as though he is running, and he tells the dispatcher he is following the person. The dispatcher says: “OK, we don’t need you to do that.”

Seconds later, a confrontation and a struggle ensued, and a shot was fired. Trayvon Martin, 17, was struck in the chest and died. Mr Zimmerman was detained and questioned by the local police department, then released without charges. He told police Martin had started the fight and that he shot in self-defence.

The incident sheds light on Florida’s seven-year-old self-defence law, which critics say is too lenient. The law, nicknamed a “stand your ground” or “shoot first” statute, gives protection from criminal prosecution or civil liability to people who claim self-defence after a shooting or violent incident.


Back when I was involved with neighborhood watches, I know the police were often concerned that such activity could lead to vigilantism. I have to wonder if that isn’t what happened in this case.

The thing I completely don’t get, is why Zimmerman followed the kid after he was specifically advised not to. Florida’s law may be lenient, but what does self-defense have to do with pursuing a person who is not inside your home or on your private property?

As for that rash of burglaries: someone from the neighborhood watch tonight said there had been eight burglaries, the majority of which were by young black men. What is the majority of eight? The gentleman fails to enlighten us. Why can’t he just say how many, if the proportion was that impressive?

Black men, especially youth are profiled like no other sub-group and it is time for this ridiculous practice to stop. Unequal punishment for the same crimes and suspicion of criminal activity simply for having the audacity to breathe, are what these kids are up against. For the sake of all our kids I hope this death is the one that ends up making racial profiling a crime.

The 17-year-old high school junior had been watching the NBA All-Star game at his father’s house and stepped out to buy a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea when he was killed.

The stand-your-ground laws, as currently written and interpreted, are just begging to be abused. They are going to need substantial amendments that rigidly circumscribe their use if the states that have them have justice as a priority.

This case, however, has nothing to do with stand-your-ground laws. George Zimmerman did not stand his ground, he actively pursued a minor he had no right to accost, shot him as he begged for his life, then admitted to the shooting.

Sure, he claims self-defence, but a claim of self-defence is an affirmative defence. By claiming self-defence, Zimmerman has shifted the burden of proof back onto himself. The state of Florida does not have to demonstrate that Zimmerman’s admitted actions were wrong, he has to demonstrate that they were right.

Sadly, they are profiled for a reason. Check the statistics. sad but true.

There is no justification for racial profiling. A person is not a statistic - if he’s not doing something wrong,* leave him alone*. Just because justice is far from blind doesn’t mean we have to drink the Kool Aid.

Self defense against what–a guy carrying skittles candy?

You can organise statistical methods so that your data can reveal certain kinds of information while failing to expose other kinds of information. There’s always room for error whenever you take any sort of measurement, especially where people are involved. And numbers don’t stand by themselves.

But even with reliable information in mind – statistics don’t justify profiling.

Shoot a kid who’s doing nothing wrong, you walk around free as a lark.

Shoot the ground to stop a suspected burglar, you get arrested for ‘reckless conduct’.

Now I have definite proof that the “law is an a_ _”!

Judging by his statements to the emergency operator, and the volume of reporting he made about blacks in the neighbourhood, I think that this is racist vigilantism.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragic case of faultless victim like Trayvon to gather enough outrage for a law to be changed. Rosa Parks, for example, wasn’t the first lady who gave up her seat on a bus, but hers was the first case of a faultless victim to again enough attention to propel the civil rights movement. Have a look:

I don’t even think it matters whether Zimmerman was racist or not. Heaven knows, that lot will be with us always. The real problem is profiling based on what a person looks like. It is practiced even by people who are not racist and it’s dangerous. How many innocent kids need to die for us to deal with that simple fact?

Tonight I know many mothers, myself included, are going to sleep with a frown on their hearts. Until enough parents see their sons in Trayvon’s face, nothing is ever going to change.

I wanted to add this to my earlier comments, but when I was ready to provide a civil response it was too late to edit the post.

I am a young man of colour. I have been stopped by police for being in the wrong place for no apparent reason. I have been followed in shops (both higher- and lower-end) for no apparent reason. I have been given suspicious looks because I was black at an almost entirely white party. And if I had been born darker (I’m mixed-race) like some of my friends and family, it would have been worse. When I read about Trayvon’s murder, I think about how easily he could have been one of my cousins, my siblings, my friends–or even me.

I’m not sure what I can say, in a civil manner, for you to understand what little difference some numbers say, when I have to put up with someone’s suspicion that I look “dangerous” – except that if you had to put up with it, you wouldn’t be keen to say “sad but true.”

Young men do stupid things in the heat of the moment. Choices made can have a lifetime of consequences. If a man is protecting his home is one thing but to follow someone is sometimes very illadvised. But what if a person who he was following broke into comeone elses house and caused harm. Protection of homes is tanamount in my opinion, protection of property does not in itself call for lethal force

There was a time where I followed a drunk driver for 30 miles talking to a police dispatcher who wanted me to follow the vehicle into a third county. There is a time when you realize that the police are not coming to help and you have to make a decision. The choice I made was to drop out of the following of the other vehicle because the police just were not going to be there in time and I was not going to challenge a drunk when my wife was in the care and i was mot than able to defend her if needed. I just wasn’t going to put her in danger. I chalked the whole affair to ineffective police cooperation. The police had a vehicle description and license # and they didn’t come through in this instance for whatever reason.

There was a similiar instance where the outcome was entirely different and a man died because the following vehicle follwed the individual home and the man took exception to being followed home and the made with the gun killed a man because he didn’t stop his pursuit. This is similiar to the incident that started this thread.

Again, some people make bad choices for what they consider a good reason and people pay. This was also a situation where slow police response was involved. I feel I made a good decision and this other person made a drastically poor decision.

People have to realize that you don’t follow a person home to make what they consider a citizen arrest with any power of arrest.

I would defend my home and the home of a neighbor, but not property. I don’t think that this makes me an evil person just someone who doesn’t want to make a lawyer rich for a bad decision that I could make. I would defend life and limb but not property which can be replaced. A life taken cannot be replaced. This is something I know full well.

I hope this makes sense because I am tired.

I heard tonight that there is loop holes in my florida’s stand your ground law. Ititially is was touted to be an affirmation of the castle docrine but now it seems to have evolved into something else.

If we consider Trayvon’s murder a hate crime then it does matter whether Zimmerman is a racist, but your point about common racial profiling is very important. There seems to be a myth that racism doesn’t exist or is justified because society has moved on to subtler prejudices. I suppose the belief in that myth comes from a failure to challenge authority, a lack of self-honesty, a lack of caring…either way, whatever precaution is justified by racial profiling, what good did it do for Trayvon?

But the act of racial profiling deteriorating to an act murder isn’t the only worry here. As I tried to explain to another poster, we’re also talking about an act of racial profiling deteriorating to the point that people of colour are made to feel uncomfortable in our public and private life – and it’s a discomfort that white people don’t put up with.

The sad thing is that the “Stand Your Ground” law is theoretically supposed to protect people like Trayvon Martin from people like George Zimmerman. The 911 call from the woman in the house, where you can hear Trayvon screaming for help as George walks up to him and shoots him to death is blood-chilling.

I dislike “hate crime” laws because I think it’s too hard to get into people’s heads to the degree necessary to prove that hate was a motivation. In this case Zimmerman may have disliked Blacks, but did he shoot because the man was Black, or because he is a thug with overblown and misdirected sense of vigilante righteousness? Did he make a habit of intimidating and bullying Blacks? Without these elements known for certain I’m uncomfortable with calling this a “hate crime”, but I’m not uncomfortable saying that it appears to be a blatant case of premeditated murder. I’m not saying that Zimmerman went out that night with the intent to kill someone, and definitely not this man in particular, but the fact that he was patrolling the neighborhood with a gun (not bad in and of itself, but it shows intent to use one way or another, whether for good or ill), that he chased this man down (if he felt threatened, as per the “Stand Your Ground” law, why did he chase him down while the guy was screaming for help) and shot him as he was screaming for help shows an intent to kill another person in cold blood.

Rather than a hate crime I think this is an example of a twitchy guy living out a cop fantasy with a deadly weapon, and that’s plenty bad enough to get the fullest possible penalty. I would much rather have a dozen house-prowlers walking the streets than one man like George Zimmerman; God forbid he thought I, or my children, “looked suspicious”.

Peace and God bless, and pray for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman!

Peace and God bless!

Well, I also see a general problem in allowing civilians to own handguns, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

I didn’t listen to the 911 correspondence; reading the transcripts was disturbing enough.

However, some cases are far clearer than others, and when we know racially-motivated crimes happen, there must be a law to protect the victims and society from such criminals. We have murder laws even though it’s difficult to get into murderers heads and prove their motives, in order to protect victims and society from murderers.

I’m afraid your assessment doesn’t make sense.

You’re hesistant to say whether Zimmerman committed a hate crime because hate crimes are difficult to establish, due to ambiguities in Zimmerman’s intent.

But you’re confident that Zimmerman committed not only murder, but a certain kind of murder, when murder can also difficult to establish due to ambiguities in the accused’s intent. At this time, the last few minutes before Zimmerman shot are unclear. Assuming there will be a trail, clarifying those few minutes would be crucial to establishing Zimmerman’s intent.

While I don’t dispute Zimmerman had a vigilante bent (he showed interest in being a cop and volunteering for the neighbourhood watch) to suggest he was only “a twitchy guy living out a cop fantasy” dismisses the racial components of this case.

I just listened to the audio recording available at the news article’s website. The teenager is walking away when George Zimmerman gets out of his car, goes after the teenager, and eventually shoots him. This teenager did not attack Zimmerman, but quite the opposite - Zimmerman went after the teenager and attacked him.

This incident may well lead to a further escalation of street violence. People who walk on the streets will justifiably become alarmed and may shoot first and ask questions later if they see that they are being followed by someone, like the innocent and peaceful teenager was followed by George Zimmerman.

Not only do I agree with you, so do the guys who drafted the “Stand Your Ground” law in the first place.

The authors of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law say the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin probably should be arrested and doesn’t deserve immunity under the statute.

The comments from the Republican lawmakers came the same day state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat, urged the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators to call for the law to be repealed, amended or subject to legislative hearings. Trayvon’s mother lives in Braynon’s district.

But the lawmakers who crafted the legislation in 2005 - former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley - said the law doesn’t need to be changed. They believe it has been misapplied in the shooting death of Trayvon by a Sanford crime-watch captain, George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has not been charged because, police said, it appears he acted in self-defense. The Seminole County state attorney’s office decided Tuesday to take the case before a grand jury.

“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”

Peaden and Baxley, a Republican, say their law is a self-defense act. It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat from an attacker and can meet “force with force.” Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another.


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