On Tuesday, the families of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis testified before a Senate hearing reviewing the ever-controversial Stand Your Ground laws. Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton said that clarification is necessary in preventing tragedies like what happened to her 17-year-old son, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Stanford, Florida last year.
Fulton told the Senate Judiciary Committee that, "By being unclear in when and how it is applied, Stand Your Ground in its current form is far too open to abuse.”
While Zimmerman didn’t actually use Stand Your Ground in his defense, the legislation does empower citizens to feel that they have the right to shoot in circumstances where they may not actually be in mortal danger. The laws, which were drafted and lobbied for by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are dangerous, with study after study showing that the defense overwhelming benefits White defendants who are accused of killing Black people, while Black people are not afforded the same benefit of the doubt before the courts. Stand Your Ground which is now the law in 22 states, eliminates a person’s “duty to retreat” allowing them to use deadly force if they feel like they are in serious danger. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law says that a person 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 reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”
Opponents argue that the problem with the law is that, in cases like that of Martin and Davis—another unarmed Florida teen who was gunned down by a White man who complained that he was playing his music too loudly— is that they create an environment of 'open season' on young Black bodies. Shoot first and invoke Stand Your Ground later.
Davis’ mother told the Senate panel yesterday, “That man [Michael David Dunn, the man accused of killing Jordan Davis] was empowered by the 'Stand Your Ground' statute…I am here to tell you there was no ground to stand. There was no threat. No one was trying to invade his home, his vehicle, nor threatened him or his family."
The NAACP also submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying of the controversial laws, “The NAACP is staunchly opposed to 'Stand Your Ground' laws. hey are applied in a racially biased manner, and the bottom line is, as we saw in Sanford, FL, that they make it easier for people to murder other human beings and not face any legal consequence. As such eviscerating any deterrent to gun related homicides, and even providing a road map to getting out of jail scot-free.”
Though 'Justice for Trayvon' was not served during the jury trial of his killer, the continued activism of his family and their supporters sends a powerful message. When invoked by Black men, Stand Your Ground works as a defense 59% of the time—compared to a whopping 73% of the time when invoked by a White defendant charged with killing a Black person. The need for changes to these laws (and the “Trayvon’s Law” legislation) have been highlighted by the NAACP as well as the Dream Defenders, who protested at Florida’s state house for nearly a month after the George Zimmerman acquittal. The increased activism around these shoot first laws do not seem to be dying down anytime soon, even as the mainstream media moves on to other issues. The pain that Black America felt surrounding the entire Trayvon Martin case will continue to repeat itself unless these laws, which allow Americans to kill each other with no fear of consequences, are eliminated nationwide.