Most people are asking whether Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’
law should apply to George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch
captain who killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin. That’s the wrong question. A
better one is, given the circumstances, did the law protect Trayvon when he physically confronted
In a word, yes.
Looking at the 2005 law from a different perspective –
through the eyes of 17-year-old Trayvon instead of Zimmerman – is critical
because the debate over what happened on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. is being
Some facts are undisputed: Trayvon was walking home from a
nearby 7-Eleven store, where he had purchased a bag of Skittles and a can of
Arizona iced tea, when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who was driving a SUV. Zimmerman
dialed 911 and reported seeing a suspicious Black male in the gated townhouse
Though he had no proof, Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon
appeared to be high on drugs. When Zimmerman confirmed that he was following
Trayvon, the 911 operator specifically told him to stop following Trayvon and
that police officers were on their way to the scene. Instead of following
instructions, Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon.
What happened next is unclear because we are left only with
Zimmerman’s version of events. We do know that shortly before he was shot to
death, Trayvon had been talking on his cell phone with his girlfriend. She
later told Trayvon’s family lawyer that he told her he was being followed by a
strange White man. She urged him to run away from him.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman told police he
lost sight of Trayvon and got out of his SUV to follow him on foot. Zimmerman
said he was returning to his vehicle when Trayvon allegedly approached him from
the rear. The two exchanged words and began fighting. The neighborhood watch captain claimed
Trayvon knocked him to the ground with a punch in the nose. Zimmerman said
Trayvon climbed on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk.
Zimmerman told police that he began yelling for help, but
two voice experts hired by the Sentinel concluded that the voice heard
screaming for help on the 911 tapes was not that of the neighborhood watch
captain. During the scuffle, Zimmerman pulled his 9 millimeter semi-automatic
handgun and fatally shot Trayvon once in the chest.
Police said that when they arrived, Zimmerman was bleeding
from the nose, had a swollen lip and had cuts on the back of his head.
Those details were leaked by police to the Orlando newspaper
in hopes of bolstering Zimmerman’s case. However, even if everything Zimmerman
said is true – which is doubtful – he was clearly the aggressor, not the
victim. He was the one who pursued Trayvon against the advice of the 911
dispatcher. And with police officers en route, he decided to leave his SUV and
hunt for Trayvon.
Even supporters of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law don’t
believe Zimmerman should be allowed to hide behind the controversial
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored
the bill in the House, told the Tampa Bay Times, “They got the goods on him
[Zimmerman]. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid. He has no protection
under my law.”
Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law when he was governor
of Florida, agrees.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,”
he said. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase
after somebody who’s turned their back.”
Florida statute 776.013(3), known as the Stand Your Ground
law, says, in part:
(a) person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and
who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no
duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force
with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is
necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself
or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Trayvon was clearly operating within those boundaries when
he faced-off against Zimmerman. He was a guest in one of the townhouses and
therefore had an undeniable reason to be in the neighborhood. He had no duty to
retreat simply because Zimmerman was the aggressor. And Trayvon had every right
to believe that the person who had been stalking him was intent on inflicting
great bodily harm.
Regardless of how Zimmernan’s family tries to spin the
facts, it was Trayvon Martin who had the clear right to stand his ground.
Whatever he did to Zimmerman was totally justified. And Zimmerman had no right
to kill a 17-old-old youth carrying only a bag of candy and iced tea.
George E. Curry,
former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National
Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and editorial director of Heart
& Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry
can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow
him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
Who Cares about Trayvon Martin?
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