One Time Too Many

It only took one bullet to kill Trayvon–only one bullet to deprive two parents of their child, to deliver a family immeasurable sorrow. Just one bullet to spark national outrage, to reignite conversations about race and to force us to reexamine the set of laws our society puts in place to allow people to defend themselves. On February 26, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old boy, was shot to death by a neighborhood watchman outside Orlando, FL. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman, claimed that Trayvon posed a threat to the watchman’s well-being. But what did police find when they searched Trayvon’s corpse? Nothing but a box of Skittles. Via a series of self-defense laws in place in Florida, Zimmerman has yet to be charged with any crime. National outrage continues, and rightfully so. The “Stand Your Ground” law stipulates that, “a person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself … against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if {he}… reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself…” The law contains a massive loophole, one which can be easily manipulated by criminal defense attorneys. In the justification of the use of deadly force, how can courts measure whether someone was actually justified in the use of such force? Without a clear, detailed set of criteria, this element of the law can be easily twisted and contorted. Unless lawmakers can clarify the provision allowing for the use of deadly force by defining what constitutes a threat to an individual’s well being, their constituents must take it upon themselves to evaluate the law’s validity. CBS Miami reported that after the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law was passed in 2005, the “number of ‘justifiable’ deaths increased by 283 percent.” People like Zimmerman have used “Stand Your Ground” as a cover for murder. What is even more disconcerting is that 16 other states have imposed some form of the “Stand Your Ground” law. When people use “Stand Your Ground” as a justification for murder, they bastardize the very notion of self-defense. Therefore, “Stand Your Ground” and similar self-defense laws in all states must be repealed because these laws can be so easily corrupted and manipulated for evil intentions. What’s more: Trayvon Martin was black. George Zimmerman is not. As much as we try to avoid talking about it, we cannot understand Trayvon’s shooting without taking into account the inevitable. I do not accuse Zimmerman of being intentionally biased, racist or prejudiced against blacks. Nor do I suggest that he acted on a desire to kill a black man. But, I do propose that it is likely that his judgment was corrupted by the nagging stereotype of the delinquent criminal, gang-banging, black hoodlum. Yet I doubt Zimmerman even imagined the possibility that this boy had never once been in trouble with the law or that he was unarmed, two things that were proved, in the end, to be true. Many might accuse me of playing the race card here, but they must first ask themselves, “If Trayvon were white, would he have been shot?” As a black man, I have resigned myself to the knowledge that I could have just as easily been Trayvon, shot dead for the world to see. Race has become the elephant in the room: we try so hard to avoid it, but its presence is always with us. In moments like these, when the country’s attention is focused on the racial implications of an isolated incident, we should take the opportunity to have meaningful, national dialogue about race. Beyond the talking heads of news media, we must evaluate, individually and collectively, what race truly means to us. Trayvon’s death can either serve as a turning point for race relations in our country or it can simply push Americans further away from one another. What will happen when the outrage dies out? What will happen when black preachers stop preaching about Trayvon’s death? What will happen when the protests stop? What will happen when we once again become infected by the menacing disease of apathy? The fact of the matter is that the protests cannot stop if we wish to see real change in state and federal laws. We must take advantage of this rare moment, however somber it is, to earnestly evaluate the validity of “self-defense” laws used to justify heinous crimes. The tragedy of Trayvon would not be nearly as tragic had justice been served to George Zimmerman. The very idea that someone who could murder a child in cold blood can remain free after one month should make us all sick to our stomachs. Moreover, we must once and for all take the time to evaluate the evolving status of race relations in this country. It only took one bullet to draw this problem to the forefront of the national consciousness. How many more will it be until we solve the problem? Junius Wiliams is a two-year Lower from Newark, NJ.