Stand Your Ground, Racism, and the Second Amendment

I want you to do a little thought experiment. Don’t worry, if you have had a long day and your brain is tired, it won’t be too hard. If you’re a Teabagger and are not very smart, it won’t be too hard. If you’re a middle class white person with concerns about brown people moving into your sleepy suburb and all your wealth and privilege came to you more or less by accident and your morality, such as it is, comes to you mainly by default, it won’t be … well actually, for you this might be hard but I’m sure you can do it.

Here’s the scenario. The white teenage son of the white police chief of a middle class community in Florida is walking home from the corner store having bought skittles and gummy bears. It is night and it is dark. The neighborhood through which the young white man is passing is mostly black, and one of the black people who lives there, a black man in his 20s or 30s who has a record of violence, and who is carrying a firearm, follows the young white man for a while, then eventually chases him down and confronts him. People nearby hear the young white boy yelling “help help” for a while, then they hear a gunshot. The white boy, the son of the police chief, is dead, and the big black man with the record of violence admits to having shot him, but makes a claim that it was in self defense even though he chased the boy before shooting him dead, and the boy was unarmed.

Still with me? Good. The next part of this thought experiment gets a bit tricky.

The police have arrived. They observe that the teenage son of the police chief is dead. Several neighbors have called in to 911 and reported the same thing, and people at the scene are now being interviewed and they are all saying the same thing as well: It is confirmed that the black guy chased down the white kid and shot him, but he, the big scary black man with the gun, is now claiming self defense.

The police at the scene are faced with the question of what to do when they catch up to the black man. Here are some of the options:

1) Shoot him on sight and say he made a false move.
2) Shoot him if he makes any actual false moves, or arrest him.
3) Wrestle him to the ground violently, put hand cuffs on him, drag him down to the police station, work him over, place him under arrest; later, the criminal justice system puts him in prison for life where, as a killer of a cop’s family member, he is later murdered by prison guards who are never identified or charged.
4) Hear his pleas that he shot the boy in self defense and let him go, don’t file charges. Call the coroner to pick up the body.

Imagine, if you will, that this scenario plays out a hundred times in Florida and other southern states. Imagine that we record what occurs each time and we make a chart. Using the numbers in the list above to label the histogram, what do you think that histogram would look like? I think it would look like this:

Expected police response to a black guy shooting an unarmed white guy.

Now consider what happened when George Zimmerman gunned down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. It was the same scenario described above but the victim was a black kid and the shooter was not black. Now, before you go ballistic about me playing the race card here, let me make something very clear. In the thought experiment, I set it up so that a black man shoots an unarmed privileged and connected white boy and ask you to imagine the outcome. You did not seriously consider that the police would say “oh, OK” on hearing that it was self defense, letting the guy go. No one with two neurons to rub together would ever consider that as a possibility. It does not matter if George Zimmerman was acting in a racist manner or not for this to be a racial problem. When the black man is the perp, he receives the full attention of the police force and suffers the full weight of the law, plus more, and there is sometimes a death sentence without justice. When the perp is a white man something more like real justice happens. That is racism.

There are two possible reasons that George Zimmerman did not get arrested for having committed the murder of Trayvon Martin. One is that this is truly a racial event, and the local police saw this as one of their own putting down a black boy. Zimmerman did say to the cop something like “These assholes are always getting away.” This time, the asshole did not get away. The other possibility is that Zimmerman is not being held responsible for what he did because of the NRA, the gun lobby, and the political activism and campaign donations of the gun-nut community and their unabashed political power. This would be because Zimmerman was (according to some) exercising his right to “stand his ground” under Florida’s relatively new “stand your ground” law.

The “stand your ground” law removes the time honored rule codified in many laws and clarified in many court cases that you must beat a retreat if threatened, and allow the authorities to take over for you. The “stand your ground law” was passed in Florida and has been considered in many other states because, it is said, the police will never arrive on time to save or protect you, so you better be able to carry a firearm and shoot when you feel threatened. So far, I don’t know of any cases where someone has properly acted to “stand his ground” though there are numerous cases where people violently attacked others–using firearms or not–in public places, in states where lots of people carry firearms legally and demand to do so in order to defend themselves or others from felonious violence, where there was not any citizen response of any kind. And now, we have a case of a person “standing his ground” by stalking, running down, and executing a young man who’s only crime was that he liked skittles. And, this case happens where even if the young man who was murdered in cold blood was actually committing a crime, the police could have easily gotten there in time and dealt with him. (I note, based on a comment by Gwen on another post, that Zimmerman had called the police about once a day for several weeks prior to this event, reporting suspicious activity, clearly showing some sort of mental derangement. Clearly he should not have been permitted to own a gun and he should have been charged long earlier for abusing the 911 system. One wonders if he was linked to the police force some way, via friendship or family ties.)

Both of these–racism or gun nuttery–could apply at the same time, of course. Zimmerman could have acted in a racist manner. Perhaps he had been looking for a black kid to execute. Or, perhaps he’s just a vigilante who had been looking for a chance to gun down anyone handy. Or, perhaps the latter applies to him generally, but the former was opportune; if you shoot a black kid to death, the local police would be less concerned than, say, if the scenario in the thought experiment (above) had played out. In truth, we can’t separate the issues of gun violence and overzealous worship of guns and gun ownership from the issue of race and racism. For the most part, “right to carry” and “stand your ground” and “castle defense” and “you can pry my guns out of my cold dead hands” attitudes and arguments are white, and often over-white, as in white supremacist, racist, and rather tea-flavored, if you catch my drift.

It is utterly astonishing that Zimmerman has yet to be arrested, even after this incident has received national, and negative, attention. Perhaps something violent has to happen. Perhaps some white kids have to get popped, or a downtown business district burned to the ground, or a half dozen police cars torched and tipped over. I hope not. I hope the authorities act quickly to bring this matter to a close, and then, that state legislatures around the country that have passed “Stand your ground” or similar gun-nut favoring laws undo their idiotic decisions, and those considering such legislation drop the matter. Also, I hope we all recognize that the gun lobby has lost a lot of ground on this one. This event shows the gun nuts for what they are, and it shows what happens when they get their way.

I personally don’t have a problem with well regulated gun ownership (which this event in Florida is not an example of!) but I do think that the Second Amendment needs to be repealed, because it gives the pro-gun lobby cachet they can never earn on their morals.

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29 Responses to Stand Your Ground, Racism, and the Second Amendment

  1. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    I have a very hard time applying the “stand your ground” law … Zimmerman was not standing his ground, he was in pursuit.

    He made the initial call from his car, and the shots were fired well outside his car. That’s taking the offensive, not standing your ground.

  2. CyberLizard says:

    I live in Sanford, FL I’m not familiar with the particular neighborhood this happened in but apparently it’s not uncommon for armed (white) men to be patrolling the streets. Sometimes under the guise of the Neighborhood Watch, as this loon was, and sometimes they are security company men paid for by the HOAs. These “security officers” drive the streets. Oh, and stand guard during the summer at the pool. To make sure the hoodllums (or people who haven’t paid the HOA dues) don’t use the facilities.

    One evening I was cleaning my garage when I heard a ruckus. I didn’t pay much attention because people are always out in the streets, playing basketball, hanging out, being people. When the normal sounds gave way to screams and shouts of, “He’s got a gun!”, I started paying attention. Went in side, got my family behind concrete block walls and called 911. Turns out the paid security guard wasn’t a fan of teh blacks hanging out on the streets and sidewalks. In front of the houses they live in. A few racial slurs tossed out to the congregants and, what do you know, he felt “threatened” and pulled his gun. Old white dude thinks that’s the best way to interact with the people he’s ostensibly paid to protect.

    I’m not sure what happened to him. I know I was interviewed by the police and, later, by the president of the security company, but I don’t know the result of the action. Or if the HOA still employs them. I’m one of those dealing with foreclosure and haven’t paid my dues. Not exactly welcome to speak at HOA events.

    This whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. The fucker needs the gavel brought down hard on him. Completely unacceptable. I heard on the news that the police claimed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to dispute his claim of self-defence. Person standing there, smoking gun literally in hand, dead boy on the ground, and you don’t even bring him in for questioning?!? I heard they didn’t even do any sobriety or drug checks on Zimmerman. I hope he goes down and the Sanford police go down with him.

  3. MadScientist says:

    “This time, the asshole did not get away.”

    I disagree; it sure looks like he’s got away with it. Apparently killin’ off dem picaninnys makes ya a “citizen of good standing” and in FL that’s a “Stay Out of Jail” card. I guess it’s not so surprising; remember the “Hanging Chads”? Black folks in FL have no rights except to say “yessuh”.

  4. JAMES COLT says:

    ONLY GUNS WILL PROTECT YOU FROM THE TYRANNY OF GOVERNMENT. FUCK THE US GOVERNMENT, STATE GOVERNMENT, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT. TURN YOUR GUNS ON COPS NOT INNOCENT PEOPLE.

  5. Pingback: Gun Control and Stand Your Ground : Greg Laden's Blog

  6. robertbaden says:

    Ont thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that some people think they can look at a person of another group and ,based on what group that other person belongs to, determine how likely he is to be a threat.

  7. gwen says:

    Greg, the incompetent police also did NOT test Zimmerman for drugs, alcohol or gunpowder residue. All SOP in a competent investigation. ALSO, the first responder was a Narco, NOT a Homicide detective. The Narco compromised the investigation by asking Zimmerman leading questions instead of letting him tell them what happened, and was also ‘correcting’ the witnesses, so their story would match what he wanted to hear. The case has been hopelessly bungled, perhaps beyond repair.

  8. Drivebyposter says:

    @James Colt
    Who will protect us from fucking psychopaths like you?
    We’re all the late Mr. Martin, you’re fucking Zimmerman in this situation. Guns are your first and only means of problem solving, and thus you are a problem yourself.

  9. Azkyroth says:

    Greg, I’m not sure leaving a comment openly advocating murdering police officers untouched is wise. >.>

  10. WMDKitty says:

    One word: Clusterfuck. And it just keeps getting worse.

  11. El Grande says:

    This is the case throughout the country. In CA, the cops love to kill brown and black kids.

  12. Greg Laden says:

    Azkyroth, you mean Colt’s comment? Imma leave it because you have to leave some of the crazy shit up or no one will believe you later when you refer back to it. If I get time later I’ll change his font to Comic Sans. In the mean time, if any police investigative agencies want his details, they won’t need to bother with a warrant.

  13. Krakus Es Krackin says:

    A KKKoward with a gun is very dangerous! Always shoot the KKKoward first.

  14. kyoseki says:

    The other possibility is that Zimmerman is not being held responsible for what he did because of the NRA, the gun lobby, and the political activism and campaign donations of the gun-nut community and their unabashed political power.

    My money’s actually on this.

    The shooting I can well believe was racially motivated, by a guy who obviously had a hard on for authority (neighborhood watch? Sounds like he applied for the police and was turned down) and was likely just looking for an excuse to fuck someone up, I’m sure he thought he was “on patrol” looking for undesirables.

    But while the killing itself was likely racially motivated, I’m having a hard time believing that the police would protect Zimmermann on the same grounds. He’s at least partly Hispanic, and racist pricks generally don’t consider “white-ish” to be close enough.

    It seems more likely that if the cops were truly racist in this instance, they’d want Zimmermann behind bars as well just out of sheer vindictiveness.

    He was also booked for assaulting a police officer in 2005, so even if, for some reason, he had enough juice to get the charges dropped, I’m sure the cops themselves aren’t his biggest fans.

    The only picture I can find of him is his booking photo; http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2012/03/19/Trayvon-Martin-010.jpg

    So while the media is playing up the racism angle insofar as the police are concerned, my money’s actually on him having family with some kind of connection to the local political establishment, coupled with Florida’s (apparently pretty awful) stand your ground law and the fact that nobody seems to have actually seen the event.

    That said, it should be in the hands of the judicial system at this point, he should have been arrested and charged and let the courts sort it out, the fact that he hasn’t suggests something is very wrong, but I’m still not buying a simple racism explanation yet.

    Of course, this all assumes that the police force are, in the majority, Caucasian, if it turns out that the Sanford police are majority Hispanic and chose not to prosecute “one of their own” then I’ll stand corrected.

  15. khms says:

    Of course, this all assumes that the police force are, in the majority, Caucasian, if it turns out that the Sanford police are majority Hispanic and chose not to prosecute “one of their own” then I’ll stand corrected.

    Florida? Hmm … Ex-Cuban boat people minority? I seem to recall those being rather on the conservative side on average. And a rather important group in FL politics. No idea how “hispanic” they tend to be in looks.

  16. StevoR says:

    @2. CyberLizard : HOAs

    HOAs = ???

    @4. JAMES COLT raves : What the ..!?!

    Ok, firstly, did you know using all capital letters online equals shouting and is much frowned upon by most, well online folks?

    Secondly, did you just say *what*? (Jaw hits floor, rereads again and again to triple check.)

    Whoah, yes you did just say what I thought you said!

    Now I’ve been known to post drunk myself & say stupid things I’ve later regretted myself on occassion but seriously, you .. Wow. (Shakes head) ..

    Does it occur to you that among those reading blogs there will be police officers – and their families and friends? (No, not in my case specifically but in others.)

    Did you know that once you click that ‘submit comment’ button its up there and out of your control for all time? Well, nera enough and far as we know – unless you’re betting on it being deleted somehow or feeling reassured by the fact that no one is likely to read it and react to what you’ve said ever which … well don’t count on that is all.

    Now I’m guessing that James Colt is NOT your real name but you do know that if people really want to work out who you are in Real Life and try hard enough to do so they’ll probably be able to discover it?

    Finally : Dude, really, do you think its okay and other than a very silly idea to go around threatening police – with death no less – ever? Online or not?

  17. george.w says:

    They call it “Neighborhood Watch” for a reason…

    Carrying a gun? This whole “Old West” mythology is way out of hand. Even the actual Old West wasn’t like that.

  18. CyberLizard says:

    @16 StevoR – HOA = Home Owners Association

  19. Raging Bee says:

    I guess what Colt was trying to say was that the black kid should have had a gun and used it to shoot the cops for not arresting the cracker who tried to kill him?

    Nah, didn’t think so.

  20. Raging Bee says:

    I do think that the Second Amendment needs to be repealed, because it gives the pro-gun lobby cachet they can never earn on their morals.

    No, it doesn’t need to be repealed. We just have to remind everyone that there’s a bit about “the security of a free State” that the NRA assholes aren’t quoting.

    Seriously, those bumper stickers you see at gun shows that say “…the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is all the proof you need of the pathological dishonesty that’s so pervasive in those circles.

  21. Kevin says:

    Don’t forget the fact that Zimmerman tried to be a police officer. I think its plausible that this fact is why the police thought that he is a person of ‘good character,’ as someone who has a record that is ‘squeaky clean.’ Aren’t all people trying to be police officers just trying to stop a little crime and make the world a better place? Heh.

  22. noastronomer says:

    From this article:

    http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/19/opinion-trayvon-martin-not-george-zimmerman-was-engaged-in-self-defense/?hpt=hp_t1

    I learn that the relevant section of the Florida statute says:

    A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be 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 or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

    Zimmerman didn’t stand his ground, he persued Trayvon. Zimmerman didn’t meet force with force, Trayvon offered no force. Zimmerman had no reason to believe that deadly force was necessary.

  23. Francisco Bacopa says:

    But suppose Trayvon Martin had responded with force? Would he not have been rightfully standing his ground? Zimmerman followed and confronted Martin. If the stand your ground law applies to anyone here it’s Treyvon Martin, not Zimmerman.

    Please not here that I am in no way suggesting that Martin acted violently toward Zimmerman, most of the evidence suggests he didn’t. I’m just saying that if Martin had been violent, he would have been standing his ground, while clearly Zimmerman was not.

    Follow, confront, kill. Sounds like a clear cut case of murder even with a stand your ground law. The mere fact that the victim used force after being followed and confronted (and there’s no evidence he did) should not matter.

    Imagine a murderer saying this: “I followed this guy and confronted him, he took offense at this, so I shot him. It was scary so that makes it OK.” Shit, 9/10ths of murders would be dismissed if this was a proper defense.

  24. StevoR says:

    @18. CyberLizard :

    @16 StevoR – HOA = Home Owners Association

    Cheers for that.

  25. madscientist says:

    @robert#6: Yup. That reminds me of some years ago in Australia’s capital city. Some wrinkled white cow was telling a police officer about a “terrorist”. The terrorist in question of course was just some kid having fun and tearing through the mall on a skateboard, but since he wasn’t white enough he was a terrorist. The cop says “well, if you can tell us what a terrorist looks like we’ll be very grateful; we don’t know what they look like.”

  26. Jason says:

    You are the reason that there is hatred in this country. Keep spewing your hate. It WILL catch up to you….

  27. ash says:

    @Francisco Bacopa #23

    excellent point! Dead on…

  28. hmm says:

    I say if the kid was white nothing would be said about it. If any thing of this nature involves black person the victim everyone gose after the white person. What happened to all of you after the girl accused the white boys of raping her at Duke? What did the revs say after she was exposed? Did anyone say anything aboout the two black kids that set the white boy’s head on fire two weeks ago?

  29. Greenlock827 says:

    Hears a fun fact. Did you know that people got run over today, and run over yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that? And even the day before that. Let me tell, those cars man. They screw with you. They really do. Anyone see my point yet? Let’s just ban cars. Everybody who owns a car is now a criminal because it was a machine used by someone else to commit a crime. That’s fucking stupid. It’s not the gun’s fault it was used to shoot someone, and it’s not other people’s fault that out of 6.8 billion people, there’s a rather large number of people that like to get trigger happy. Taking away the majorities’ rights, because of other people being stupid, is not the solution. Crack down on the dumbasses that don’t know when they should put the damn gun down.

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