WASHINGTON, April 23, 2012 – In the aftermath of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s death earlier this year, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has come under extreme scrutiny. George Zimmerman, the man responsible for shooting Martin on February 26th 2012 in Sanford, Florida, was released on $150,000 bail yesterday.
The story rocketed to international media attention after Zimmerman, who never denied shooting the unarmed Martin, was allowed to walk free immediately following the incident. Sanford police deemed Martin’s death to be justified under Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
Absent any investigation into Zimmerman’s motivation for originally pursuing the victim, his previous offences, or his state of mind at the time, it was determined that the shooting occurred as an act of self-defense. This determination supposedly barred police from taking the shooter into custody.
It was only following an international outcry against the actions of Sanford police that Zimmerman was finally arrested.
Never mind the fact that Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed ‘neighbourhood watchmen’, first tracked and then engaged the victim after being specifically told not to do so by an emergency dispatcher. Never mind that this is yet another example of how damaging America’s lax gun policies can be to American communities.
What’s so wrong with this story is how much it reeks of the undue influence of private for-profit organizations in drafting harmful legislation. When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association helped draft the original Stand Your Ground legislation in Florida in 2005, critics argued that the law had the potential to do more harm than good.
They were right.
At the time, former Miami police chief John F. Timoney’s stated that the law was “unnecessary and dangerous “ and that it “[encouraged] people to possibly use deadly force where it shouldn’t be used”. His opinion has clearly been corroborated by recent events – and was eerily prophetic in suggesting the law actually encouraged individuals to act with extreme measures, even when alternative courses of action were available.
His criticism was ignored, and the law easily passed the Republican-dominated Florida legislature. Seven years and the death of an unarmed teenager later, there has been a considerable backlash against the two organizations involved in drafting Stand Your Ground . It’s not surprising that the NRA has been roundly criticized for its role in crafting the law, nor is it surprising that the organization has remained silent on the Trayvon Martin case.
But the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which claims to “advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism”, has sought to distance itself from its role in drafting Stand Your Ground in recent weeks.
In an April 17th press release, the 2012 National Chairman of ALEC and Indiana State Representative David Frizzell announced that “we are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues” in favour of “re-investing those resources” in the development of economic policy.
Although the press release made no mention of Stand Your Ground or the Trayvon Martin case as the rationale behind the decision to disband the organization’s task force responsible for spearheading the original legislation, it’s interesting to note what was said in a statement made on ALEC’s website three weeks earlier.
On March 26th, the organization denounced those “using this tragedy to further their political ends” calling it “as callous as it is cruel”. Apparently, Florida’s Stand Your Ground rule was “the basis for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s mode legislation, not the other way around.” The statement continues by asserting that “it is unclear whether this law could apply to this case at all.”
Shame on those who want to use a senseless murder to change an even more senseless law. If the actions of ALEC were not questionable enough, their pathetic response to a national tragedy should certainly raise some eyebrows. The hypocrisy of this group is almost beyond belief.
Besides the fact that Stand Your Ground clearly encourages vigilantism, it also plays off the dangerous suspicions of individuals. It is not consistent with the Second Amendment that gives individuals the benefit of the doubt in cases of ‘justifiable homicide’.
What’s more, the warnings of critics like police chief Timoney have also been confirmed by raw data. Statistical analyses have been conducted that demonstrate a marked increase in ‘justifiable homicides’ in Florida (and in other states that have similar legislation based on the Florida model) since the introduction of Stand Your Ground in 2005.
The law was an aberration of justice from the very beginning. Regardless of one’s ideological beliefs, at base it is the task of government to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. The enaction of this law was an abdication of the state’s responsibility to do so.
Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott announced the task force to look into the controversial law in a press conference on April 19th. The first meeting is set for May 1st in Tallahassee. Hopefully it’s not too little too late.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.