"And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these 'Stand Your Ground' laws, I just ask people to consider -- if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"
That question was part of President Obama's reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman. And there is a good answer to it -- an emphatic yes.
The obsessive media coverage during the Zimmerman trial has now given way to sloppy post-verdict analysis. Activists and journalists -- including Obama and the New York Times editorial board -- are looking for laws to pass and change as a way to make sense of what they perceive as a miscarriage of justice.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law has now become the target of choice -- specifically, the legal principle that exists in a majority of U.S. states (either by statute or case law) that there is no "duty to retreat" for those attacked in places where they have a right to be.
The crusaders against this law are adopting a perplexing and illogical argument. They are suggesting that because a 17-year-old boy was attacked by an armed stranger in a public place, we should react by weakening legal protections for people who are attacked in public places. They seem unaware that their argument implicitly endorses Zimmerman's contention at trial, that Trayvon Martin somehow posed a threat to him.
|‘Black homicide defendants in Florida have had a higher success rate invoking Stand Your Ground than white ones have.’|
Zimmerman did not invoke "Stand Your Ground" at trial -- instead, he claimed to have killed Martin in simple self-defense. As the liberal Mother Jones magazine had to concede even in its own crusading piece, the Stand Your Ground defense was incompatible with both Zimmerman's and the prosecution's version of events.
That's why, although the jury was reminded in its instruction that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat from danger, it is difficult to believe this was determinative in the state's failure to prove its case against him.
But look again to Obama's question, and imagine an alternate universe in which he survived that night's struggle, and Zimmerman did not. Martin, who had every right to be where he was, tells police that the decedent came from behind and reached for his gun -- and that the only way out that he saw was to lunge for it himself.
As the two struggled on the pavement and Martin slammed his head on the concrete, Zimmerman refused to let the gun go, right up to the moment his body went limp.
Prosecutors might have accused Martin of ambushing Zimmerman. They might have cited Zimmerman's call to police before the incident as evidence he was not out to harm the boy and posed no threat. They might have argued that if Martin really felt threatened, he should have run away. And Martin might have had his life-or-death decisions second-guessed by a jury with prejudiced attitudes toward young black men in hoodies.
This is where Stand Your Ground comes in. It protects people who are attacked in such situations. It bars prosecutors from citing the failure to flee from danger as proof of guilt. And where a defendant can show that's the only plausible argument the state has, the Florida version lets judges prevent the case from ever going to trial.
Stand Your Ground did not kill Trayvon Martin, nor did it allow his killer to walk. But if things had turned out differently that night, it might have protected Martin's rights, as it has for many victims of attack in Florida. And especially for black defendants.
Given the racially charged nature of the Zimmerman trial, it's worth mentioning, as the Daily Caller's Patrick Howley reported last week, that black homicide defendants in Florida have had a higher success rate invoking Stand Your Ground than white ones have.
That's what the crusading writers and the president are missing in the rush to make some change, any change.