The inexcusable killing of seventeen-year-old Travyon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 brought to mind the murder of Emmett Till back in 1955. Martin had done nothing wrong. He was unarmed, and he’d gone out to buy a bag of skittles when the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, viewed him as suspicious and then allegedly shot him dead.
That Zimmerman has not yet been charged compounds the outrage. You can bet a million dollars that if the roles were reversed, that if Trayvon Martin had shot a white neighborhood watch captain, then Trayvon Martin would have been arrested right away, jailed, charged, and convicted. Hell, he’d likely face the death penalty.
But when a white man shoots a black man dead in Sanford, Florida, even in the year 2012, the white man gets a pass.
One obvious reason is racism. Another is the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, which the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council pushed through, as the “Center for Media and Democracy reports.
This law, and others like it in states across the country, including Wisconsin, authorizes and immunizes vigilanteism. The Florida law states that some has “the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
The Florida law is as broad as they come. All the killer needs to show is a reasonable belief that a threat existed. Now, in the case of Trayvon Martin, it sure doesn’t seem like there was any threat whatsoever. But if, in the killer’s mind, there was a reasonable belief in a threat—and can racism be called reasonable?—then the killer gets off the hook.
In Wisconsin, the vigilante can’t go out into the street and do the killing. The law that Gov. Scott Walker signed last December requires someone to be unlawfully and forcibly breaking into a “dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business.” But “dwelling,” under Wisconsin statutes, includes “driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, fences, porches, garages, and basements.”
There was a case about a killing on a porch in Wisconsin on March 3, when a 20-year-old drunk college kid named Bo Morrison went onto a homeowner’s porch. The homeowner shot him dead and was not charged because of the “Castle Doctrine” law. By the way, Bo Morrison was black, too.
These statutes, and the permissive gun laws that go with them, are an invitation to modern-day lynchings.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Romney May Fall Into Trap of Picking Santorum for VP."
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