Stand Your Ground is the new expression for right to kill blacks with legislative approval. It has just received legal sanction in Florida with the Zimmerman case and his acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin a seventeen year old unarmed black youth.The shooting was justified on the grounds that Zimmerman felt threatened and had no way of knowing that the youth was unarmed. The case was further complicated by the fact that it took authorities some forty-four days to even consider arresting the shooter.
Zimmerman, who was a member of neighbourhood watch, pursued and confronted the youth despite being instructed not to do so by police radio. The worrying thing about this case is that no matter what action Martin would have taken, he would'none the less'have ended shot. Had he run, had he been armed, the result would have been the same. We have no way of knowing exactly what words were exchanged. All we have is the sworn statement of Zimmerman that he felt that his life was threatened after he confronted this youth, who was on foot while he, Zimmerman, (by car) had pursued the youth whom he felt was acting in a suspicious manner.
This case calls to account two fundamental principles of American justice. One is the right to bear arms and the second is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly, in the case of black youth that right of liberty is seriously curtailed.
Had young Martin been in the company of a white person, he would probably have reached home alive. Little has changed in that regard since emancipation. It is hypocrisy to pretend any different. Straying too far from the plantation without written permission will still result in corporal punishment and in, more often than not, death: the greatest corporal punishment of all. Still, the most frightening thing about the Zimmerman decision is that it gives carte blanche to any white vigilante to act on impulse and be assured that they can walk free from the most flagrant act of gun violence as long as there are no witnesses present who could be classed as credible.
The incident took place in the racially charged state of Florida. There was a general reluctance to even bring the case to trial. The shooter, George Zimmerman, took it upon himself to leave his car and confront Martin who was returning home from a grocery store and had nothing more lethal on his person than a bag of candy. What could he have done to defend himself from a handgun?
Although the solution to every problem by the NRA and the other gun lobbyists in America is yet more guns, I don't think in this instance, even they would have advocated that young Martin be armed. The question then is: should George Zimmerman have been less fanatical in his desire to be a policeman? What was it (other than the boy's race) that made him feel that he was under threat even when advised to simply stay in his car unless he witnessed actual criminal activity?
There were two people present but only one survived to give their version of the tale. But in actuality there were a host of other characters that took part in that tragedy. When you have a society which is privatized and prison oriented. A society ruled by scarcity and greed, and a general atmosphere of fear and violence with a talk show host stirring up the atmosphere of racial tension daily (in fact, instructed to do so by managers and sponsors). If you are being constantly encouraged to never travel anywhere unarmed even when taking your children to school or church, what other result could there be but a shooting murder?
From young Trayvon Martin's standpoint, what must it be like to know that if you dare to venture beyond your home or neighbourhood, there is always the possibility that you'll be gunned down with impunity. Florida is filled with Latinos and Haitians and blacks from the South. It is a toxic mix of anger and resentment over years of racial abuse and discrimination at the hands of police and the powers-that-be which control business and housing. It is ridiculous to even attempt to claim that race was not a factor in this trial.
It must be understood that it is money which determines politics in America. Florida has spent a great deal of money to ensure legislation and this stand your Ground is a result of powerful Republican lobbyists.
It was the then Governor Jeb Bush (brother of George, and the one who was so very instrumental in getting him elected president) who in 2005, signed into law statute 776 which states: A person has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if they think deadly force necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony like robbery. And so the law only requires law enforcement and the justice system to ask three questions:
(a)Did the defendant have the right to be there? Yes.
(b)Was he engaged in lawful activity at the time? Yes.
(c)Could he reasonably have been in fear of his death or great bodily harm? Possibly.
And so, having very cleverly restricted the area of the trial to these three, George Zimmerman was able to leave court a free man. His attorney made certain that the issue of profiling never entered the discussion. And even more cleverly, he never allowed his client to take the stand.
America is a place of paradox and irony. One would think that having a black president would be clear evidence of a more liberal attitude in America regarding blacks and the justice system. Not only have things not improved, they have gotten significantly worse. Young blacks are now more at risk than ever. What is evident is a general feeling of resentment which has resulted in a backlash. The atmosphere is very much like post-Reconstruction when whatever small gains were put in place were quickly abolished and more and more draconian laws enacted. Now you get only as much justice as you can buy. Money determines justice if not right. Lobbyists determine legislation all the way to the Supreme Court because lobbyists determine appointments. Corporations have achieved human status and the right to be regarded as people whereas the individual has lost any right to be heard. Talk about irony. The situation becomes so absurd that it is as if the victim, Trayvon Martin, should be made to apologise for forcing Zimmerman, the shooter, the inconvenience of having to kill him.
Once we take the stand your ground ruling as acceptable, we condone the lawful murder of unarmed black youth in any circumstance where the defendant can claim intimidation or threat as a defence. What is really on trial, however, is history. And what we're asking is that our youth pay the price for all the guilt and fear of America. If we simply accept this verdict, we may as well paint a bull's eye on their chest and send them out to be slaughtered. We can never call this state of affairs acceptable.
We, all of us, have need of illusions. We pretend and allow things to happen. I, for example, need to believe that it is the state of Florida which is responsible for young Trayvon's death, when I know in my heart of heart's that it could happen with equal ease up North in cosmopolitan New York or Boston. It could happen just as quickly at the hands of uniformed officers or plain clothed-men with an agenda and the case would vanish without trace or murmur. But I can't accept that. I need my illusions.
The president has appealed for calm. But when does calm mean comatose?
Editor-in-Chief's Note:Edgar Nksosi White is a novelist and playwright. His novel, The Rising is available on Amazon