The death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin has finally received national attention. Accounts of the tragedy that originally were limited to local news outlets and distributed through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media have now reached the likes of CNN and MSNBC. There is great outrage over the senseless and heartless slaying of this beautifully innocent boy, whose crime of being Black with a hoodie on while walking through a predominantly White neighborhood without a freed slave badge without visible freedom papers, resulted in his death at the hands of a self-proclaimed “neighborhood watch captain” with no legal jurisdiction over the community in which he was “patrolling.”
There is widespread rage toward George Zimmerman, the 26-year-old man shooter (who, unlike his victim, had a criminal record) and toward police in Sanford County, Florida for not arresting and prosecuting him. Claims such as, “if the situation were reversed, Trayvon would have been in jail!” or “White people can just kill a Black boy with no repercussion,” has, in a sense, shifted what should be a human rights and/or a legal issue to an issue of race, which oftentimes serves to undermine the ability to bring about a collective consciousness to the underlying issue: the law.
The Castle Doctrine (known as the "Stand Your Ground Law") could very easily be described as a "neo-lyniching law" and has been quietly accepted by 38 States to date. As it is written, the law itself seems reasonable. It affords ordinary citizens the right to use deadly force, usually within their homes, vehicles, or businesses, in order to protect themselves when there is “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury” without criminal prosecution. However, the problem is that the Castle Doctrine and its extension to public places has crashed with open carry policies, racist and stereotypical ideologies that shape the perception of “fear” and “threat,” the shift of racial power dynamics that gun ownership affords, and the general inability of human beings to balance the right to bear arms with non-violent methods of conflict resolution.
While many are arguing that “it is the law,” I can assure that it is not. The very clear assertions that the “reasonable” fear, “imminent peril of death or great bodily injury” MUST be present in order to justify the use of ‘deadly force’ have been minimized, allowing the law to be replaced by the subjective perception that the race and gender of the victim automatically justifies the fear that “justifies” homicide. Thus, it merely gives the ordinary White citizen the right to violate the Constitutional rights of Black citizens with no consequence, as it has been in the past and as it has been here, reflecting an equally painful present that screams loudly to the diminishing value that this nation places on “Black life.” Many have never heard of the Castle Doctrine. But the African American community, specifically, should get to know it quickly.Trayvon Martin’s death should be beyond comprehension, regardless of race, gender, class, or region. However, sadly, even in the 21st century's allegedly “post-racial” America this sort of killing is all too familiar.
The "Stand Your Ground Law " has been used to justify the homicides of people that most outside of their areas have NEVER heard of, like Mark Howard, Bobby Gadsden, Jason Arriolo, Raymond Mullman, Matthew Vittum, and even the police homicides of Charal RaRa Thomas--shot eight times through a vehicle occupied by his three minor children and a passenger. It is this law that police officers continue to utilize to support their blatant failure to adequately, ethically, and objectively investigate homicides and then to support their failure to arrest perpetrators. It is this law that has yielded a new term in law enforcement one that many have heard for the first time from Chief Bill Lee, “we do not have the evidence to ‘disprove’ the accounts of ….” which then places the burden of proving homicide on the “dead victim” who no longer has a voice. It is this law that is used to give grand juries cause not to indict. And it is this law that has resurrected lynching in America! So even if our protest and involvement brings Mr. Martin’s murderer to justice, there will be other Trayvon Martins in between the next case that reaches this level until we attack and dig up the root of the problem, that is the law that is being used to support and protect murderers from arrest and prosecution, rather than simply plucking a leaf.