Stand Your Ground: An Explanation of the Law

Image courtesy of wtxl.com

Image courtesy of wtxl.com

 

The Stand Your Ground law (specifically the version used in Florida, location of the Zimmerman trial) has been talked about and referred to a lot in recent weeks, and especially after George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. The problem, though, is that many news outlets have not adequately defined and described the law. In order to fully understand the events that led up to the trial, the crime itself, and the verdict, one needs to understand that law. So, this post is to help explain the law for readers.

According to usnews.nbcnews.com:

Normally, a citizen has a duty to retreat when confronted with what they perceive to be deadly force. The Stand Your Ground doctrine mostly removes that, meaning citizens who feel threatened are no longer required to try to quell a situation first before having the right to use deadly force in self-defense.

There are three parts to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law:

  1. It states that a person is presumed to have reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when using defensive force if an intruder has broken into his or her home or vehicle and is justified in using force.
  2. It states that a person does not have a duty to retreat if he or she believes death or bodily harm is imminent.
  3. It provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.

The parts of the law that directly apply to the Zimmerman case are the 2nd and 3rd. In the time period immediately after Trayvon Martin’s death, Zimmerman was initially not charged with a crime because he was deemed, based on his description of the altercation and shooting of Trayvon, to be innocent of any crime. He claimed that he felt so threatened by Trayvon (although he is older and much larger in stature than Trayvon) that, after trying to fight back, he simply had to shoot Trayvon to death. Under the 2nd part of the Stand Your Ground law, this is permissible. Therefore, based on the 3rd part of the law, he was immune to a criminal prosecution of Trayvon’s death. He was only charged with a crime after the outpouring of public frustration and anger over the law.

It is very interesting to note that while Zimmerman’s defense team never used Stand Your Ground as a criminal defense in court, the judge instructed the jury to keep the law in mind anyway, causing at least one juror’s decision to be swayed by it. If that doesn’t constitute injustice, I don’t know what does.

Also important to note: this law was enacted with copious amounts of support from the National Rifle Association under a Republican-dominated state legislature in Florida. Florida was the first state to enact the law in 2005. In all, 22 states have since enacted this kind of legislation, according to CNN.com.

In any event, this “shoot first, ask questions later” law is unjust and should be removed from the books immediately.

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Stevie Wonder Boycotts Performing in Florida Over Zimmerman Not Guilty Verdict

Stevie Wonder – photo courtesy of comicvine.com

 

According to Slate.com:

On Sunday night, Stevie Wonder declared that he would not perform in Florida until the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is abolished. His boycott is politically savvy, morally righteous, and it could be enormously important.

While Stevie Wonder’s boycott of an entire state might have exerted real pressure in, say, 1976, in 2013 it’s almost entirely a symbolic act. But symbolic acts are often the first step toward kicking off concrete ones, and we should imagine what would happen if like-minded artists followed suit.

Beyoncé in 2013 might not be Stevie Wonder in ’76 but she’s not far behind, and her husband is said to be a figure of some renown. Rihanna’s 8.4 million Instagram followers felt her outrage on Sunday. If these [and other] artists were to join in Wonder’s boycott, the bottom lines of club promoters and festival organizers and concert arenas would start to look different in a hurry.

Stevie Wonder went on to say that he will not perform in any state that has Stand Your Ground laws in place.

As the article discusses, this may be more symbolic than anything else since Stevie Wonder has not released an album in quite a few years. This may also seem to some like a publicity stunt, but Stevie Wonder actually has quite a deep history with the Civil Rights Movement, according to Slate.com:

Stevie Wonder, some people might scoff, should stick to making music. But Wonder is one of the two or three most important American musicians walking the earth (Bob Dylan, maybe Aretha Franklin; end of list), with an unsurpassed track record for melding music and activism.

In 1961, a year before “Little” Stevie Wonder released his first album for Motown Records, two of the biggest stars in American music, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, made headlines by refusing to perform before segregated audiences in the Jim Crow South; Charles opted to pay a breach-of-contract fine rather than sing in Augusta, one of the largest cities in his home state.

In the 1980s, Wonder was the musical spearhead of the campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, and lent his talents to USA for Africa and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

So his decision doesn’t appear to be a “Dancing With the Stars” kind of grasp for the spotlight. Seeing that his decision has made headlines in the news, other stars who decide to participate will likely bring more media attention, and more financial pressure on music venues, to result in some real change. Obviously, it won’t only be up to celebrities, but their high visibility and influence on fans could definitely help.

Stevie Wonder’s decision is an incredibly brave one. It will be interesting to see if other celebrities are brave enough to do the same.