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Are Floridians Really This Afraid?

The shooting of Trayvon Martin should be a wake-up call for all Floridians.

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

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Christopher Nank March 21, 2012 at 05:48 PM
http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/20/us/florida-teen-shooting-law/index.html?hpt=hp_bn2 A note from the author: This is the article citing statistics on justifiable homicides in FL before and after 2005, not the one in the post above. My apologies!
richard mcdonnell March 24, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I would agree with you Chris. I also think that the race issue makes it all the more tragic and complicated. I think we need to search our own hearts and minds to see what really lurks below. I would be a liar if I did not admit that I struggle with socio-economic and racial stereotypes. I have never been anti gun, but perhaps in an environment where such tensions exist, this law does nothing to ensure public safety, but only grief and loss for all parties involved.
Christopher Nank March 25, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Thank you Richard! I'm not necessarily "anti-gun" either, but this law worries me -- the ways in which it could be potentially mis-applied and that it encourages, as you say, a MORE dangerous environment.
Andy Warrener March 29, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Here is a link to the law itself: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0776/Sections/0776.013.html I personally see nothing wrong with the law. It allows you to protect yourself from an assailant as long as you are not somewhere you are not supposed to be. It lets you not surrender yourself as a victim. Unfortunately, and obviously we live in a state where violent crimes happen. Even more unfortunate, is that we ARE on our own to protect ourselves. In a violent encounter, seconds could make the difference between life and death; your own life or death. Calling the cops will pretty much never save you from a crime. Police are just there to clean up the mess afterward. If we could rely on police to protect us, they would have got to Zimmerman before he chased after Trayor. Would you say they are not able to get there fast enough? This only further proves my point that you cannot rely on police for protection. Violence is quick and shocking. If we surrender our right to defend ourselves, what are we submitting ourselves to? To address your second point - How many of those "justifiable homicides" would have been regular old "homicides"? You go from the assailant being killed to the innocent victim being killed.
Andy Warrener March 29, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I also wholly disagree that walking away from trouble is the best way to avoid it. If the water buffalo tries to ignore and slink away from the lion, the lion will pursue and eat him. If the buffalo rallies and shows the lion how difficult it will be to take him down, the lion will go after another, probably smaller or sicker buffalo. If you try to not make eye contact and slink away from someone that is eyeing you to rob you, I promise that perp will come after you when he sees that fear and how easy it will be to get you. Jesus does talk about turning the other cheek. However, I don't think he meant, "if they take your wallet, let them cut your throat". Is there another side to that? Sure. Once in a while you will get a guy that takes it too far or tries to hide behind Stand Your Ground. Small price to pay to shed victimhood. I would not want to raise my kid in an area where they were compelled to roll over and take whatever the crooks are trying to perpetrate. I think residents and visitors should take comfort on the fact that they are allowed to defend themselves from violent crime. Just because the wanna-be vigilante is trying to hide behind this law is no reason at all to call the law into question, in my opinion.
Andy Warrener March 29, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Trayvon. Sorry about the name thing, wasn't looking
Christopher Nank March 29, 2012 at 07:40 PM
My point was that the entire distinction between "victim" and "assailant" gets further (and unnecessarily) blurred by this law. Also -- the world is a violent place, no question. A certain amount of risk is inherent in living life. We are never going to make the world (or our communities) 100% safe, no matter what protections we offer or what misguided steps we make to defy this reality. And it's just my opinion that this law encourages violence more than it discourages it. It's also my opinion that the increase in "justifiable" homicides suggests -- it doesn't prove, by any means -- that the law has emboldened people to use violence. Of course there's no way of knowing, without examining each case individually, which ones would've been prosecuted as homicides before the law passed.
Andy Warrener March 30, 2012 at 04:07 AM
I'll warrant you that and agree that is the biggest drawback to the law. My point is that the alternative is even more scary.
nick April 01, 2012 at 02:34 AM
He has been called many names: vigilante, murderer and killer. But the fact is that George Zimmerman was a good Samaritan who patrolled his neighborhood to keep a watch out for thieves and suspicious people. While many of his neighbors were asleep or glued to their TV sets, George was looking out for their well being as the neighborhood watchman. Many people wish that there was a George Zimmerman in their neighborhood.
Christopher Nank April 04, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Nick, I would disagree, but my whole point here was to discuss the more undesirable side effects of this law (Stand Your Ground), not to attack or praise George Zimmerman.

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