President Obama said Friday, “My main message is to the parents of Travyon Martin: ‘You know, if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon.’ And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Predictably, Newt Gingrich found a way to take the other side, calling the President's remarks “disgraceful” for “trying to turn it into a racial issue.” One can only presume that a flying saucer landed shortly thereafter and took Mr. Gingrich back to whatever Universe he lives in—obviously a place so distant and detached from our own that he is able to indulge the fantasy that without President Obama, race would not have entered the discussion.
President Obama's remarks, of course, were really just an acknowledgment of the obvious—that because race prejudice does exist—already, I mean, since it turns out that President Obama he didn't create race prejudice—black men are especially at risk to this highly questionable “Stand Your Ground” Law.
It made me think of the situation back in January where Arizona Governor Jan Brewer confronted Barack Obama on the tarmac of an Arizona airport. Governor Brewer later defended her finger-pointing by saying she “felt a little bit threatened” by the President.
I remember being surprised that she didn't invoke Arizona's “Papers Please” Law (SB1070) on him. She's the governor that signed it into law (and has pushed for Arizona to adopt Alabama's even more stringent variant). But it turns out SB1070 never went into effect. And, fortunately, Jan Brewer has said publicly that she isn't “birther.” So I guess President Obama was safe from being menaced, at least by her.
But what if there had been a “Stand Your Ground” Law in play when she was feeling so threatened. Might the President have been in danger? Would all that stood between him and an unprosecutable bad outcome be a personal choice on her part?
It's really quite scary to contemplate the implications of laws like these that offer such sweeping power of life and death with very little review.
Frankly, it worries me to visit Florida these days as a tourist. There was an incident in December, for example, where someone was stabbed in the head with an ice pick after a road rage incident, but the police didn't pursue it because they felt it was covered under the “Stand Your Ground” Law.
That case is not an isolated incident. The Tampa Bay Times reports that reports of justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect. Proponents argue this is what was supposed to happen, but the Times notes, “The law has also been used to excuse violence in deadly neighbor arguments, bar brawls, road rage—even a gang shoot-out—that just as easily might have ended with someone walking away.”
And that's the point, really. The use of deadly force where reasonably necessary for “self defense” has existed for a long time. The person doing the killing still has to stand trial, but can be acquitted. But they do have to defend their action, and show that the force was warranted.
Let me close with one last observation. MSNBC, like probably most news outlets, has been playing some of the George Zimmerman 911 tapes in the Trayvon Martin incident, with offensive words bleeped out.
That's because something bad can happen to you if you use offensive language on the public airwaves—unlike killing someone, which in Florida is really more of a private act and nothing the Florida government really wants to hassle you about.
This needs to change.
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