The murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., has rightfully raised howls of outrage far and wide.
His senseless death, hopefully, will not be forgotten. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn something from it and start facing head-on the problems caused by this gun-crazed culture.
Martin’s killer – 28-year-old George Zimmerman – was not arrested simply because he claimed he felt threatened by Martin, a 17-year-old who was peacefully walking in a neighborhood.
Zimmerman, following Martin, told a police dispatcher, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good; he is on drugs or something.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow the “suspect,” but he did anyway.
Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood-watch group, was not supposed to be armed when on duty. But he was, and he used his gun to kill..
Martin’s death is raising all kinds of interconnected issues. Why have so many states, including Florida, adopted the “Stand Your Ground” laws? These laws give people a right to use deadly force when they feel an imminent threat from someone in their proximity. That is the excuse Zimmerman gave. Florida enacted such a law in 2005. Since then, there have been 93 uses of force in Florida by people who claimed they felt imminently threatened, and 65 of the alleged threateners were killed. No doubt, some deaths were justified. People absolutely have a right to defend themselves from attackers, no matter where it happens. But how many of those incidents were simply unprovoked acts of cold-blooded murder after which the perpetrator blithely invoked the “Stand Your Ground” law as a convenient excuse? There can be no doubt “Stand Your Ground” is a synonym, too often, for “License to Kill.”
It’s a needless law, one that encourages loose cannons and vigilantes. If someone kills an attacker because of imminent threat, that fact can be established through an investigation, resulting in exoneration.
Martin’s death has also raised, once again, the issues of profiling, hate crimes, stereotyping, police corruption, guns and the gun lobby.
African-Americans and other darker-skinned minorities tend to be singled out in statistically higher numbers than whites for suspicion, probable cause, traffic stops and other forms of “attention” that add up, too often, to nothing but harassment.
Many attacks and killings are motivated by blind, unprovoked hatred, leaving many people vulnerable – as if they are targets.
Stereotyping and assumptions can put many people in jeopardy to the unstable whims of sickos.
Gun-lobby groups, including the National Rifle Association, have pushed for “Stand Your Ground” laws in all the states. Most recently, to his credit, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed such a bill after it was passed in the Minnesota Legislature.
Most, if not all, of the above problems seem to have coalesced tragically in Martin’s death. He was a young black man, walking in a gated neighborhood. He was wearing a hoodie (a stereotyped clothing item of gang members). He was likely a victim of “profiling” by Zimmerman, who was wrongfully carrying a gun. Zimmerman was a zealous loose cannon disobeying the advice of a police dispatcher. He was acting more as vigilante than public protector. He used the “Stand Your Ground” excuse. He was believed on the spot; he was not arrested. The police seemed to have circled the wagons and brushed off the incident. Even if all of the above don’t turn out to be true, one thing is certain: Zimmerman should not have been carrying that gun in his capacity as a neighborhood watchman.
If Zimmerman truly did feel threatened or if he was attacked by Martin, let him prove it — in a court of law.
In the meantime, let’s get rid of these “Stand Your Ground” laws. They are nothing but a barbaric regression to the Wild West where gunslingers flourished and many an innocent man, woman and child lay dead in the mean streets.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.