Trayvon Martin's Legacy Has Nothing to Do With Stand Your Ground


The memory of Trayvon Martin has transcended the George Zimmerman case, as Martin has become a symbol for activism. In the aftermath of the verdict, some are calling for further action against Zimmerman, but others are looking to inspire social and legal reform. One of the initiatives seeks to repeal Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. It has been suggested that the law perpetuates a "shoot first" mentality, and gives individuals a way to game the system and claim self-defense during murder trials. While this may be so, one should not ignore that this case was not decided on the basis of Stand Your Ground. Using Martin's death as a springboard to try and eliminate the law is misguided. The law was not evoked by Zimmerman's defense team, and as a result, the case doesn't reflect upon the Stand Your Ground Law.

The law, which states that, "a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first," has been the subject of immense criticism over the past year. Following Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the annual convention of the NAACP, and stated that the law, "senselessly [expands] the concept of self-defense,” and that, "The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent.” There is validity to Holder's comments. The law eliminates the responsibility of an individual to attempt to flee in the face of imminent danger, and gives the individual the legal right to address the danger in question with deadly force, which could result in an increase in violent actions when an individual feels threatened. 

Stand Your Ground has important legal implications, as was pointed out by a post on the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog. Joshua Dressler, a professor at Ohio State University's Michael E. Moritz College of Law, points out that, "the statute itself places the burden of persuasion regarding self-defense on the prosecutor — to prove that the defendant did NOT act in self-defense." In the case of George Zimmerman, Stand Your Ground did not apply. Andrew Branca, a Massachusetts lawyer and the author of The Law of Self-Defense, concluded that, based on Zimmerman's testimony, "at the moment George Zimmerman used deadly force in self-defense his attacker was pinning him to the ground and reaching for his gun .... Under such circumstances no reasonable avenue of self-defense exists, so there is no duty to retreat even absent 'stand your ground.' " 

On Tuesday, 75 people gathered in Florida Governor Rick Scott's office, and asked him to call a special session of the state legislature in order to address the Stand Your Ground Law. Immediately following Trayvon's death, the governor had taken action by assembling a special bipartisan task force of 19 citizens, which reviewed the law. The task force interviewed multiple experts and individuals, and recommended that the law not be overturned. Still, the peaceful protesters' intentions may be sincere and honorable.

In a moment of apparent danger, it is very difficult to discern proper action. I believe in one's right to self-defense, but I also believe that laws such as Stand Your Ground can, at times, provide legal grounds for the unnecessary use of force. I believe that Trayvon Martin's memory has the power to inspire national movements that address the issues of racial perceptions and gun violence, and while I respect the resolute feelings some have regarding Stand Your Ground and the perpetuation of violence, using the Zimmerman case as ammunition to change this law is not effective, because the two are not related.