Shooting of Florida Teen Raises Questions About Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law

Two weeks ago, an unarmed Florida teenager was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain who claimed he was acting in self-defense.   Many argue that this shooting highlights certain problems with Florida’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground Law.’

Florida Self-Defense Laws

In 2005, Florida expanded its self-defense laws in the following way:

Before 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law:

  • Deadly force can be used if someone breaks into your home and you feel your life is in danger
  • Deadly force can be used if you are attacked outside your home and you cannot escape

After 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law:

  • Deadly force is OK if someone breaks into your home, car or boat
  • Deadly force is OK outside your home if an aggressor makes you feel that your life is in danger

As reported in the past, these changes have certainly led to some controversial incidents.  But arguably none are as divisive as the one involving Trayvon Martin, 17, and George Zimmerman, 28.

The Death of Trayvon Martin

On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin was walking toward his dad’s fiancée’s house in a gated community in Sanford, FL.  Dusk was setting in.

George Zimmerman photoZimmerman, the community’s neighborhood watch captain, noticed the teen, but he did not recognize him as being part of the community.

He promptly called 911 and reported to a dispatcher, according to WFTV, that a “suspicious looking black man” was prowling the neighborhood.

The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay put and that the police would be there shortly.

Zimmerman, a concealed carry permit holder, did not listen.  He grabbed his pistol and went out to investigate.

When the police arrived to the scene, Trayvon was dead.  Shot in the chest.  On him was a small amount of cash, a bag of Skittles and an iced tea.  There was no weapon.

Zimmerman told authorities that he acted in self-defense; that he and the young man got into a scrum (reports say that Zimmerman’s nose was bleeding and his shirt had grass stains on it when police arrived).

Given the evidence available, the police did not charge Zimmerman with any crime – ostensibly he acted in self-defense.

Family’s Reaction

Trayvon’s parents were outraged that the police let Zimmerman go.

“When you add it up, it just doesn’t even make sense,” said Ben Crump, the Martin family’s attorney. “Trayvon Martin, a kid, has a bag of Skittles. (Zimmerman) had a 9mm gun.

Trayvon Martin didn’t approach George Zimmerman, George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin. So how can he now assert self-defense?”

Crump also demanded that the police release the audio recorded by the dispatcher, reportedly one can hear gunshots on the tapes.

But police say that until the investigation is completed the tapes will remain unpublished.

Crump maintains that those tape contain potentially incriminating evidence against Zimmerman.

“It will tell us why (Zimmerman) just disregarded, just ignored the police instructions when they tell him to stay put, they’ll be there in a few minutes. On those 911 tapes is going to tell you why he said he’s not going to follow their instructions. And most importantly, it’s going to tell us his mentality when he confronted this 17-year-old kid,” Crump said.

Ongoing Investigation

Several days ago, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee held a press conference to answer questions about the investigation and to quell swelling public outrage.

“We are going to complete a thorough and fair investigation and present all the information to the state attorney’s office so justice can be rendered,” said

He explained that the police did not arrest Zimmerman because, again, there wasn’t enough evidence to challenge Zimmerman’s account of what had happened that night.

“The evidence and testimony we have so far does not establish that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense, at this point, with the evidence and testimony that we have,” Lee continued.

As for the issue raised about the 911 dispatcher’s advice to Zimmerman to stand down, Lee said that those were not mandatory instructions.

“That is a call taker making a recommendation to him. He’s not under a legal obligation to do that, so that is not something we can charge him with. But it would have been a good outcome … if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman never came in contact with one another.”

Public Outcry

The Black community is, to say the least, puzzled on why Zimmerman isn’t sitting behind bars.

“You’ve got a little dead black boy, and the community sees you protecting the shooter,” one man told CNN.

Another woman told CNN, “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, taking candy from a baby? But this person, I’m talking about every child, not just Trayvon Martin, whether he’s black, white, blue, yellow or green, it is easy to take a candy from a baby. It’s been said over and over and over again, but this person didn’t take the candy, he took the life and left the child.”

Your Reaction?

I’ll tell you my reaction real quick, when I wrote my first article on this topic, ‘Killing in the Name of Self-Defense: Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground Law,’ I said this upon reflecting on the law:

Context and circumstance are very important in evaluating whether or not deadly force is/was justified.

And what I’m trying to at least acknowledge is that there are circumstances where deadly force is legal, but may in fact be (for lack of a better term) overkill.

Obviously we don’t have all the facts yet about the shooting of young Trayvon, but for now, from what I can discern, my gut is telling me that this was an instance of overkill.  Zimmerman may have been too quick to pull the trigger.

Your thoughts?

I should note that I’m not advocating that lawmakers reverse Florida’s revised ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law, but it’s obvious that under this law there will continue to be gray areas and controversial scenarios that inevitably leave one disconcerted.

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