|After Zimmerman: In Defense of “Stand Your Ground” Laws|
By Ashton Ellis
Thursday, July 18 2013
Since its earliest days, the Obama administration has been guided by the mantra, “never let a crisis go to waste.” At the time, the phrase helped explain why President Barack Obama and his advisors used the economic crisis he inherited to ram through a costly and completely unrelated overhaul of the nation’s health care system. Now, Attorney General Eric Holder is using a similar sleight-of-hand to turn George Zimmerman’s acquittal into an activist agenda to repeal a law that had no bearing on the outcome of Zimmerman’s trial.
The law being targeted by Holder is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. Traditionally, a person can avoid prosecution for killing someone if deadly force is used in self-defense. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute extends this protection to those who “reasonably believe it is necessary to [use deadly force] to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another…” In practice, all “Stand Your Ground” does is remove the traditional requirement that a victim must retreat, if possible, from an aggressor before defending himself.
Though it’s perhaps an interesting thought experiment whether Florida and the thirty-plus states that have adopted a “Stand Your Ground” statute should have done so, the law is totally irrelevant to the outcome of Zimmerman’s trial. As one of the prosecutors stated during his closing argument, “This case is not about standing your ground.” That’s because Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked the law as a shield. Instead, they relied on the traditional protection of self-defense.
It’s easy to see why. The defense’s theory of the case is that Zimmerman – a neighborhood watch volunteer licensed to carry a concealed handgun – got into a fight with Trayvon Martin after Zimmerman noticed Martin’s suspicious behavior and began following him. According to Zimmerman’s statement to police, Martin got on top of him and slammed his head repeatedly on concrete. Fearing for his life, Zimmerman shot Martin dead. With the confrontation stated that way, the defense didn’t need to use “Stand Your Ground” because Zimmerman was unable to retreat once the beating started. With retreat an impossibility, all that was left was to convince the jury that Zimmerman was justified by self-defense in killing Martin.
As a Columbia law school graduate, as well as a former federal prosecutor, Eric Holder knows that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute has nothing to do with the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy. But that didn’t stop one of the most partisan attorneys general in American history from politicizing the law to please a valued liberal constituency.
Speaking at the annual conference of the NAACP three days after Zimmerman’s acquittal was handed down, Holder acknowledged the distinction but then immediately linked the law and the trial:
“Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflicts in our neighborhoods,” Holder said. “These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if – and the ‘if’ is important – if no safe retreat is available.”
He continued, “But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely. By allowing or perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
By using the Zimmerman verdict to push for repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws, Holder is seeking to redirect the anger of an organization that is demanding the Department of Justice “do something” about this perceived slight to the black community. Already he has opened a federal investigation into whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights. But that case is unlikely to go anywhere for the simple reason that there is no evidence that Zimmerman considered Martin’s race before, during or after the incident.
Refocusing the NAACP’s ire at Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law will be even more foolish since African-Americans in the state are much more likely to be protected by it than whites. Since the law went into effect in 2005, “Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total ‘Stand Your Ground’ claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites,” according to an analysis of crime statistics by The Daily Caller.
Eric Holder has a crisis on his hands, and as a member of the Obama administration he’s looking for a way to make the most of it. Using a tragic death and a fair trial as a smokescreen to attack a commonsense but unrelated law is yet another proof that he is unfit for the office he holds.
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