Presidential leadership on the Verdict
President Obama weighed in Sunday on the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, asking Americans to respect the jurys not guilty verdict and reflect on ways the nation might curb senseless gun violence.
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America, Obama said. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.
I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if were doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities, Obama added. We should ask ourselves if were doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, thats a job for all of us. Thats the way to honor Trayvon Martin."
After more than sixteen hours of deliberation, a Florida jury has found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last February.
The verdict brings to a close a case that has led to passionate debate over the past year, often focusing on issues of race and gun control.
One of the key issues was Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law, which allows deadly force to be used by a person who believe he or she is in imminent danger, have made this case a flashpoint in the media. Throughout the case, the fact that George Zimmerman fired the bullet that killed Trayvon was never in dispute, but rather it was the details of the events leading up to that fateful moment that were debated throughout the trial, with Zimmerman's defense using the "stand your ground" law as its justification for the shooting in February 2012.
Legal Point of View
The case centered around whether Zimmerman acted in self defense and drew national attention to Florida's law, which allows people to defend themselves with force if they feel threatened in their home, business, car, or a place where they "have a legal right to be." At least 22 states have a similar law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
While Zimmerman did not ultimately use the "stand your ground" defense in his case, Sanford police did not arrest him until almost two months after the shooting because of the Florida stand your ground rules that require police to have specific evidence to refute a self defense claim in order to arrest someone claiming self defense. The police initially did not have evidence to disprove Zimmerman's self-defense claim, said former Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr.
It was not until the case drew national attention and a Department of Justice investigation that prosecutors found evidence to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to undertake a review of the case and encouraging Trayvon Martin's family to pursue civil action against Zimmerman.
Across the country, at least 22 states have "stand your ground" laws, with varying degrees of requirements for when citizens may use deadly force to protect themselves; including Rhode Island. Before these new laws were put in place beginning in 2005, people who felt threatened outside their home were required to flee from an attacker before they were allowed to use force to defend themselves.
The new laws make clear, however, that if someone feels threatened either inside or outside their home, they do not have to run away and are legally justified in using force to protect themselves. Some states just allow people to defend themselves in their homes or businesses, while others extend the law to cars or any place someone "has a right to be." The Zimmerman case drew national attention to the "stand your ground" laws, which were promoted by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council through model legislation and advocacy.
In a study of "stand your ground" laws commissioned by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers found that in states with "stand your ground" laws, the number of homicides had significantly increased from the years before the law was enacted. They found that the provision that allows self-defense "in any place a person has a legal right to be" is the driver of the increase in homicides. The increase in homicides, they argue, negates the claim that these laws reduce crime.
Rhode Islands self-defense law is based on the castle doctrine and is a stand your ground state, meaning crime victims do not have a duty to retreat before using physical or deadly force against attackers. The law extends the right of self-defense from the home to any place a victim has a lawful right to be.
The states statute reads:
In the event that any person shall die or shall sustain a personal injury in any way or for any cause while in the commission of any criminal offense enumerated in ?? 11-8-2 11-8-6, it shall be rebuttably presumed as a matter of law in any civil or criminal proceeding that the owner, tenant, or occupier of the place where the offense was committed acted by reasonable means in self-defense and in the reasonable belief that the person engaged in the criminal offense was about to inflict great bodily harm or death upon that person or any other individual lawfully in the place where the criminal offense was committed. There shall be no duty on the part of an owner, tenant, or occupier to retreat from any person engaged in the commission of any criminal offense enumerated in ?? 11-8-2 11-8-6.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day what are we as Americans left with? It would appear that if we continue to act as a society of Ostriches with our heads in the ground to avoid addressing the issue of bias in our society, things remain the same. The issue has to be addressed in our homes, in our schools, universities, churches and public places, intellectually and with a goal of a meeting of the minds. To discuss infinitum (i.e. filibuster) the issue of race relations in America with no objective to implement recommendations that might evolve from public debate would be an extreme waste of time, but consistent with the US Congress inaction for the past 5 years.
Civil Rights organizations both for and against the decision will way in and depending on public outrage and media coverage, the issue may advance to the federal level. The two lawmakers who crafted the Stand Your Ground Law say the measure doesn't apply to the shooter of Trayvon Martin, and he should face charges. "He has no protection under my law," said Former Sen. Durell Peaden, one of the law's authors, The Miami Herald reported. "They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid." Peaden said that when George Zimmerman told dispatch that he was following Martin he lost his defense under the law.
There in lies part of the debate, when, how and by whom can deadly force be used. Guns, safety and street violence have become all to common in many American cities thus legislation like Floridas Stand Your Ground law is born. Hopefully in the wake of this immense firestorm that is about to erupt will be a re-growth of interconnected communities made up of Americans striving for a common goal of fairness even under the law.