Without a doubt, the Zimmerman verdict was simultaneously a stark reminder of how little the life of young black men meant in America as well as the very real consequences of unmitigated gun violence. What could have simply become a national tragedy overshadowed by the next news cycle has instead turned into a call to action by the Dream Defenders and the NAACP for Florida and other states to pass a set of policy principals called “Trayvon’s Law”. These set of laws create a legislative response that would greatly reduce the opportunity for another tragedy like the one that befell the Martin family. The key components to the Trayvon’s Law consist of:
–Repealing Stand Your Ground Laws: “Pundits may argue that the Stand Your Ground Laws weren’t part of the [Zimmerman] defense, but the reality is that it was part of the jury’s consideration. The spotlight and validation that the case has given to Stand Your Ground makes our country less safe,” says Ahmad Abuznaid, the Legal and Policy Director for the Dream Defenders. Indeed, a study done by the Tampa Bay Times of 200 Stand Your Ground cases shows that the law is applied unevenly in Florida and yields inconsistent outcomes. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a Black person faced no penalty under the Stand Your Ground Law compared to 59 percent of those who killed a White person. The Times also notes that “in nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim and still went free”, even those who shot their victims in the back.
-Ending Racial Profiling: At the heart of what happened to Trayvon Martin is the issue of racial profiling that labels certain people as “suspicious” and worthy of stop and frisks, surveillance, or worse. Currently, there is no effective law against racial profiling and no consistent data on its occurrences. In the example of New York City—where Black and Latino men make up 87% of those stopped and frisked—few of those stops ever uncover any actual laws being broken. Yet the city maintains that stopping higher number of minorities is inherently necessary even though Whites stopped are still more likely to be found with carrying a weapon. Laws against racial profiling and data on its occurrences could provide victims with a concrete mechanism to have their grievances heard in court.
-Mandating Law Enforcement Data Collection on Homicide Cases Involving People of Color- Without an investigation into Zimmerman’s criminal history, the Sanford police immediately took him at his word that he’d shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. It took more than 2 months for charges to be brought against Zimmerman after nationwide protests put pressure on Sanford police. For many, it reinforced the perception that police do not “serve and protect” people or communities of color in America even as young Black men are disproportionately victimized by violent crimes. Many of those crimes remain unsolved, further casting doubts on how interested police departments are in solving crimes involving victims of color. Data desegregated by race would allow a systematic and scientific investigation on how police handle homicides in different communities.
Additionally, the Dream Defenders have been advocating for an end to the “School to Prison Pipeline” in Florida that disproportionately suspends and criminalizes students of color for minor infractions. “Trayvon wouldn’t have been in Sanford if he wasn’t suspended for marijuana residue. If he hadn’t been in Sanford, he wouldn’t have died,” concludes Abuznaid. Cases like that of 16 year old Kiera Wilmot, who was arrested for a harmless science experiment gone bad have also brought nationwide attention to the School to Prison Pipeline in Florida. According to the American Prospect, Florida continues to lead the nation in school based arrests with almost 14,000 in the 2011-2012 school year. Moreover, forty-nine percent of all those suspended in Miami-Dade County where Martin attended school are Black even though Black students make up only a quarter of enrollment. An end to this policy would being to address the criminalization of youth of color that can prevent them from future employment and educational opportunities.
Already, the Dream Defenders note considerable resistance from Governor Rick Scott of Florida to making any of these changes, especially to the Stand Your Ground laws. Yet turning the loss of Trayvon Martin into an opportunity to make society safer for other youth of color—to allow them to not be defined by the vagaries of their youth and to actually grow into adults able to voice their own life experiences – simply an act of self-preservation for communities of color. Speaking on behalf of the Dream Defenders on the prospect of getting Trayvon’s Law passed, Abuznaid notes that, “If people see that the youth-especially low income youths and youths of color- have the political will to do this in Florida, they know that it can be done anywhere”. Hopefully our politicians take this as a sign that the public support is behind them standing their ground against the lobbies and passing Trayvon’s Law.
France François is the award-winning blogger and strategic communicator behind the Black in Cairo blog. You can Follow her on Twitter @FranceF3