George Zimmerman's acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case has started a debate on Stand Your Ground laws. PHOTO: Reuters
Stated simply, Stand Your Ground laws sound like basic self-defense: if someone is threatening you, you do not have to retreat, you can stand your ground and use deadly force. It’s stark, but hey, it’s a harsh world out there. Do we really want laws that force you to run away from an attacker? Shouldn’t it be legal to stand your ground?
Yes, and self-defense laws already cover those situations. The Stand Your Ground Laws, which currently exist in some form in 30 states, allow for aggression not included in normal self-defense laws. If this sounds like a dubious claim, look at these acquittals that happened using the Stand Your Ground defense.
1. Deounce Harden, 27, went to a car wash to confront his girlfriend’s ex-husband, Steven Deon Mitchell, who he had been fighting with. The two men began arguing, and Harden shot and killed the Mitchell, who was unarmed, and did not initiate the fight. No files were charged against Harden whose actions were “justifiable” under Stand Your Ground laws, according to the state prosecutor.
2. A 72 year-old man shot and killed a 7th Day Adventist who was on a major spiritual high. The Adventist was doing cartwheels and banging his fists on parked cars. He then ran around an apartment complex, where he banged on doors and windows of random homes. Witnesses described him as out of control, but not necessarily threatening. The shooter was not charged.
3. An insulting remark to a man on a boat set off a fight that landed the fighters in the water. The fight ended as Timothy McTigue, 44, shot the other, Michael Palmer, 23, in the back of the head as Palmer was climbing out of the water. The shooter claimed that the victim had been trying to drown him, but the prosecution pointed out that the shot had to have come from enough distance that the two men were not a direct threat to each other, and that the victim was retreating. The shooter was acquitted using the Stand Your Ground defense.
4. A 70 year-old man killed his wife’s lover as they were having sex in their living room. The man claimed that he thought his wife was being raped. The wife claims she was “blackout drunk” and didn’t remember a thing. The man was exonerated on the Stand Your Ground defense.
5. Cordell Jude, 22, shot and killed Daniel Adkins Jr, 29, a mentally disabled man who walked in front of Jude’s car at a Taco Bell drive-thru, waiving a dog leash. Jude claimed that he thought the leash was a metal pipe. No arrest has been made in the case.
There are many more examples. Some more egregious than others, but what they make clear is that Stand Your Ground has been used to justify aggression, and not just self-defense, and that a perceived confrontation is all that’s needed for some juries or prosecutors. The Tampa Bay Sun Times reports that the Stand Your Ground defense is nearly 70% successful, and that it is 73% successful when the victim is black, as opposed to 59% successful when the victim is white.
We are talking about Stand Your Ground laws because of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting, but that incident is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Stand Your Ground defense is available in more than half of the states.
Based on what we know of the Zimmerman trial and of Stand Your Ground cases in general, can we say with confidence that Martin had an equal right to shoot Zimmerman? And isn’t that true in many of these cases: that either person could have killed the other and gotten away with it?
This is why Stand Your Ground laws have to go.