Florida's Stand Your Ground law may seem faulty, but 23 other states would have acquitted George Zimmerman on the same doctrine.
Naysayers can continue to allege that Stand Your Ground played no role in George Zimmerman's verdict, yet the court's jury instructions prove otherwise. It is true that Zimmerman's attorneys framed the case as one of self-defense. But after closing arguments, when Judge Debra Nelson instructed the jury on how to determine the defendant's guilt or innocence, she said,
"If George was not engaged in unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself..."
The law effectively turns an aggressor into a victim if he believes his life may be at risk. The logic is faulty, and gives more leverage in the courtroom to the living than the dead. But for now this the law of Florida, and actually of almost half the country as well.
Twenty-four states have either codified Stand Your Ground, or have embedded the statute into already existing self-defense law.
Stand Your Ground was first introduced with good intention. This law was supposed to rectify domestic violence cases. Advocates argued: How can a woman retreat if she is being attacked in her own home?
Yet today, the law has become so manipulated, and even racialized, that abused women are not guaranteed protection anymore. Here's another outrage from Florida: In 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot into a wall, trying to scare away her estranged, abusive husband. During her trial even he admitted to the repeated physical abuse. But the judge would not allow Ms. Alexander to evoke a Stand Your Ground defense, citing that she could have run from the house. The jury deliberated for only 12 minutes. Alexander, a mother of three with no prior record, is serving 20 years in prison.
Now, I do believe the Trayvon Martin tragedy is much bigger than Stand Your Ground. It’s bigger than allegations of racism. It’s a story of white privilege in our justice system and how little the ruling class values black men.
Many say, "But George Zimmerman is also Hispanic!" While that is true, the matter is of little consequence. His name, skin color, and his features evoke the image of a ordinary white guy. And that image our society has constructed of him is much more important than his true identity. Sadly, given that Zimmerman's brother has already started to imply Martin was a drug dealer and gangster, we could say the same for Trayvon.
Yet Stand Your Ground cannot be ignored as we continue discussing the implications of this verdict. Because while the law aims to empower citizens, it also allows vigilantism by protecting those who use deadly force in an unwarranted fashion.
George Zimmerman may be innocent, but Stand Your Ground is guilty nonetheless. It's about time justice was served.
Uchechi Kalu is the politics intern at PolicyMic. If you think this is good stuff, then Follow @chechkalu