Sabria Chowdhury Balland :
Laws are supposed to solve problems, not create them. Laws are supposed to provide clarity and objectivity, not create ambiguous uncertainties leading to questionable justice. Laws are meant to provide society practical guidelines on living together peacefully and harmoniously, not to create discord among racially and ethnically different people in society. In all these respects, it is clear that “Stand Your Ground Laws are a failure.
A “Stand Your Ground Law” states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense without any obligations to retreat when faced with a reasonable perceived threat. These last three words are operative in understanding the illogical aspects of this law, not to mention the abusive ways in which it has been applied. More than half of the states in the United States have some sort of “stand your ground law” in the books.
Controversies stemming from “stand your ground laws” reached a boiling point in the shooting of a 17 year old Florida teen, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood patrol watchman, George Zimmerman. The latter had perceived Martin to be armed and a potential threat, even citing that he was attacked by the teen, therefore applying the “stand your ground law”, shooting and killing Martin. However, at the time of his death, it was found that Martin was far from being armed. In fact what was perceived to be a weapon was actually a bag of candy and iced tea. Martin lost his life at the age of 17 due to this. Zimmerman was acquitted of his crime. Justice?
Once again, the controversy and irrationality of “stand your ground laws” has been seen in the shooting of another 17 year old Florida teen, Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn. In this case, Dunn shot and killed Davis, after an altercation over the loud music Davis and his friends were playing. There are no accounts of Dunn being attacked by Davis or any of his friends, no threats and no questions of self-defense. What resulted however due to the Dunn’s application of “stand your ground laws” was the murder of an innocent teenager. To add to the injustice of the case, Dunn was recently convicted on three counts of “second degree attempted murder” for a clear case of murder!
Both Martin and Davis were African American teenagers. Should it be surprising that the African American community fears that the law does not protect young males of color when in a confrontational situation with white people? This once again opens a can of worms and creates discord among races in society rather than what a law is clearly expected to do…to create harmony and provide justice. That is a far cry from what the definitions of a law entails.
The basis of “stand your ground laws” is that individuals should be able to use deadly force when they believe that they are confronted with a dangerous situation and remove themselves from harm’s way. In fact, it appears more often than not that “stand your ground laws” encourage acts of retaliation through the use of deadly force. Having said that, in the case of Trayvon Martin, the circumstances leading to his death are hazy and in the case of Jordan Davis, there was clearly no basis for any application of this law by all accounts as he and his friends did not in way present any danger to Michael Dunn.
Therefore, what “stand your ground laws” imply is that a person merely imagines or believes that he or she is in danger. However, believed perceptions of being in danger are arbitrary and rely on a person’s subjective reasoning. Permitting this line of reasoning to use deadly force clearly demonstrates that “stand your ground laws” are clearly flawed and unfortunately increase the potential for increasing violence leading to wrongful deaths based on misunderstandings, miscommunications and racial prejudices. Is it therefore legally and morally responsible for an individual to assume a situation of danger and act as the judge, jury and executioner? It would lead any sane person to question this principle of “shoot first and ask questions later”.
According to the police and prosecutors, “stand your ground laws” have allowed countless individuals to literally “get away with murder” by claiming self-defense, using deadly force in situations that have led to unnecessary deaths. Furthermore, such absurd lines of reasoning, for lack of a better word, have resulted in unjust rulings such as the acquittal of George Zimmerman and that of attempted murder charge against Michael Dunn (“attempted” murder for having committed murder).
Clearly, had the state of Florida here both of these very tragic incidents occurred not had “stand your ground laws” in place, two seventeen year old boys would still be alive today, not to mention the countless numbers of other individuals who have lost their lives in vain due to these laws.
(Ms Sabria Chowdhury Balland, English and French Professor by profession, is a coulumnist on US and European politics and legal issues for Int’l publications. She contributes regularly for the New Nation. Email: [email protected], twitter:@SabriaBalland)