Let's leave aside (for now) the questions of legal culpability or of race or what might happen to George Zimmerman, the man who at this moment stands accused in the public mind (if not legally) of fatally shooting 17-year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, near Orlando.
The specifics of the event itself are all still being digested and reactions and consequences are still being sorted out. There is news coverage here, courtesy of CNN.com, as well as commentary from a variety of sources: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/justice/florida-teen-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_c1
The law that might exonerate Zimmerman is the real, more pressing issue here.
Why does Florida need the "Stand Your Ground" law, passed in 2005? What kind of mentality does this law reflect -- a vision that the world is this dangerous, totally hostile place? I ask these questions only half-rhetorically; I really am not sure of the answers. If one discounts the effect of lobbying by gun-rights advocates, the rationale for the law is apparently that the world out there is violent and unpredictable, and that law enforcement is not able (or worse, not competent or willing) to protect the populace.
The available information says otherwise -- that the nation is getting safer every year (according to FBI statistics on violent crime from 2006-2010). Laws like Florida's make it a more dangerous place.
The average number of "justifiable" homicides per year in Florida has tripled since the "Stand Your Ground" law went into effect, according to statistics cited in the CNN article linked above. This means a good number of the perpetrators of these killings may very well have been indicted for murder if the killings occurred before 2005. It also suggests the law has emboldened people to use deadly force. We are taught everywhere from our earliest youth on (Sermon on the Mount, anyone?) to walk away from trouble if we can - that this is not only the safest, but most logical way to avoid further violence.
This law encourages people to
respond violently. Is that really the kind of community, the kind of society,
we want? What possible dangers are out there that could possibly warrant this
kind of law? Again, these are not rhetorical questions: I would gladly pose
them to the lawmakers who created this piece of legislation. I'd like to know
what their thought process was in crafting it; what pressures they may have
been responding to, or what desires of their constituents; what chimeras, and
phantom menaces, guided their rhetoric in explaining the necessity for the law.
Florida's status as a "shoot first" state should worry all residents and all visitors. It should concern any parent raising (or considering raising) a child here. It should give tourists pause when planning a Disney vacation. It should make all of us who live and work here reflect on the values and worldview inherent in such a law as "Stand Your Ground."
I include here a link to a 1991 short story by Nadine Gordimer titled "Once Upon a Time." She is South African, but the setting and the theme ought to be familiar to and chillingly relevant to anyone who's lived in Florida since 2005. It was intended, I believe, as a warning.
Hopefully, for us, the death of Trayvon Martin is the last warning sign we'll need here in our state. http://www.nexuslearning.net/books/Elements_of_lit_Course6/20th%20Century/Collection%2015/OnceUponaTime.htm