HL Lee

HL Lee
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
January 01
With a wife and two daughters, I sometimes have more thoughts in my head than sense. Always I hope that the arc of history moves forward, so this blog is my attempt to jot down things as they are, or as I see them, so we can remember the here and now. Or, as T.S. Eliot wrote: We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.


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MARCH 26, 2012 9:18AM

The Madness of "Stand Your Ground"

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 By now the shooting of Trayvon Martin has shocked the country. The barest facts are this:

  • On February 26 of this year, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman, a 28 year old man of white/Hispanic background, shot Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black man.

  • George Zimmerman weighs 240 pounds (est.) and Trayvon Martin weighed 150 pounds (est.)

  • George Zimmerman had a gun and Trayvon Martin had no weapons, only a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

Simply because George Zimmerman asserted that he was acting in self-defense, the local police didn't detain him for questioning, didn't administer a drug or alcohol test, and didn't do a background check.

In what world can one man shoot another and just walk away? Florida, apparently. From Florida Statute 776.013 concerning justifiable use of force, the "Stand Your Ground" law, in effect since 2005, a person after being attacked:

has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

I'm not a lawyer but the intent is clear and the result now is especially clear. Also, not being a lawyer, I can't discuss legal issues or their nuances with any expertise—others have and will much better than I ever could; nevertheless, two consequences frighten me:

  • After being attacked, a person has no responsibility to avoid or run away from a confrontation, meaning that use of deadly force can be the first response—not the last.

  • Belief, which in the absence of evidence is feeling, provides sufficient justification to use deadly force.

The NRA has pushed such laws—why? I don't know what's in its heart. The superficial reason for “Stand Your Ground” laws is to make people safer by giving them the right to use guns under broader and broader circumstances. Supposedly, easy use of guns deters crime, but I fear the effect is the opposite.

U.S. nuclear strategy concerning the former Soviet Union depended on Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which would launch catastrophic retalliatory strikes in response to a nuclear attack. The deterrent value of MAD depends on both players being rational, and on each knowing that the other has weapons locked and loaded. MAD produced a (barely) stable equilibrium that avoided nuclear conflict and kept the peace.

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law creates its own brand of Mutually Assured Destruction—one that doesn't deter but instead encourages tragedy. Too many people, consciously or unconsciously, behave according to the "Cheney Doctrine," or the "One Percent Doctrine," promulgated by former Vice President Dick Cheney. He asserted that even if an unimaginable event has just a 1 percent chance of occurring, one should act as if it is certain. Unfortunately, by this thinking the presence of concealed weapons in states like Florida almost necessitates shooting first and asking questions later.

Therefore, I fear that George Zimmerman's life is in danger. Regardless of the result of any legal action, regardless of whether he is found guilty of any criminal act under Florida law or any law, George Zimmerman shot another person because he felt threatened. Let's take away the names and look only at the situation.

I would feel uncomfortable sitting in a bar next to a man who has killed someone. A man with an itchy trigger finger is threatening to me and likely to anyone else. I would leave as quickly as possible, but someone else may reasonably believe that he is in mortal danger and act by shooting preemptively.

If claiming self-defense is exonerating, then one person can kill another with no legal consequences, especially since the dead can't tell their side of the story, and especially if there are no witnesses. Endless rounds of vigilante justice may result. B kills A and claims self-defense. C kills B in retaliation and also claims self-defense. Then D kills C and E kills D.  This cycle is madness. Mutually Assured Destruction. All one needs to avoid a murder charge is the belief—the feeling—that use of deadly force is necessary. By the One Percent Doctrine, evidence need not apply.

The opening lines to a Morris Albert song from the 70's might be an apt soundtrack to Florida's “Stand Your Ground" law:

Feelings, nothing more than feelings

. . . . .

Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,

Wo-o-o . . .





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You forgot to address this last part:
"to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

That seems to justify Zimmermans actions, and I'm no lawyer either!

In Florida it's not safe to look at someone, period! I know, I live here!------
That especially applies if you're a black kid, wearing a hoodie --- in a predominantly white gated community. Hell, everyone knows blacks kids don't live there!
Great arguments but you are incorrect. The first reason is that you take this law out of it's context and fail to notice the most important thing. That this law is not mad. The law is totally sane. In fact this law is Trayvon's best defense. People are getting this bass ackwards.

With all due respect to all of this, it never fails to amaze me how people talk, talk, talk, about this case and it’s mostly race, race, race– which is totally legitimate for that is the ugly underbelly in America. This infestation of racism pollutes our body politic and is a disgrace on a great Nation.

But what troubles me most is that people also talk, and jabber hysterically about this law when they haven’t even troubled themselves to go read the freakin’ statute  so they might at least have a thimble full of knowledge demonstrating they have a clue what they are talking about.  Essentially it comes down to what Randolph McLaughlin, attorney for the family of Kenneth Chamberlain said speaking about that case on Democracy Now and comparing the police there to Zimmerman here. You can’t provoke a situation and then respond to it, "Oh, I had to use deadly force to protect myself."  That really is all of it in a nutshell. Superbly stated.

But if we are going to trash a law (when the real trash is law enforcement) we should at least go read it. This is easy. This is not rocket science.  If anyone is going publish their opinions credibility helps.  The law in question here is really simple enough for a 17-year old to understand.

Read "Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?"  as well as the follow up commentary and I think you will agree that the ONLY person who can rely on this law as a defense is Trayvon Martin.

Indeed, even as to the alleged fight that broke out the legal consequence is the same. Under the plain and simple language of this law and the facts as we know them, The ONLY man with a right to stand his ground was Trayvon Martin and the only one legally authorized by law to meet force with force as that 6' 3" 140 lg boy against a 5. 9' 240lb gorilla with a gun.  

“Suspicion” will NOT suffice under this statute. Read it. Much more  must be specifically shown.  Did Trayvon fight back? Is this even a relevant question? If you were 140 lb  skinny teenager  displaying none of the BEHAVIOR SPECIFICALLY required before one can even evoke this statute (just read it!) and 250 gorilla jumps out of a car and comes after you as you are retreated from his aggression what would you do?  What would and person do? Waht they have a right to! Stand your ground and meet force with force if necessary to prevent great bodily harm.

Notice, once you read this simple and clear law, one person and one person only has the factual and legal right to assert on their behalf.  And that ONE person was Travyon Martin.  I rest my case.