The Florida Legislature should call a special session immediately to address and fix the “Stand Your Ground” law before it authorizes another act of unjustified self-defense. Any time we pass a law that lends itself to gross injustice, we have indeed legalized lawlessness.
Many Democrats in the 2005 Legislature predicted the very outcome that has happened in Trayvon Martin’s case in their opposition to the passing of this law. Today, as the Trayvon Martin situation unfolds, our legislative leadership has to address the results of this law in front of the nation and now the world.
People say this case is about a bad law, not about race. I don’t think the problems with the law have anything to do with race. Conversely, I do think the killing of Trayvon Martin is all about race. The Martin killing is about racial profiling. It’s also about George Zimmerman not being black. If Zimmerman were black, he would have been arrested immediately and required to prove self-defense.
In comparison, less than 100 miles away from Sanford, where Trayvon was killed, a similar case occurred in 2010. In that case, Trevor Dooley, a black man, killed a white man and claimed self-defense based on the “Stand Your Ground” law. Mr. Dooley was eventually arrested and put on trial for manslaughter. While his fate is currently pending, Mr. Dooley clearly was not afforded the same confidence in his statement of self-defense as was given to Mr. Zimmerman, who was charged several weeks later.
Both the failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman and the killing of Trayvon are all about race. If Trayvon were white, I believe he would be alive today. President Barack Obama, who
is usually very careful about invoking race, spoke
candidly and personally about this issue. The president’s comments suggested that he too thinks race is at the core of the Trayvon Martin killing.
The tragedy in the Trayvon Martin case has brought universal pain to our human family. What we have uncovered is the idea that people process individuals of color in a negative light and that fact can result in death. As black men, we bear the burden of other people’s suspicions as they relate to stereotypes of us. Because of this, we change the dialect and tone of our voices, we smile in excess, we dress conservatively and do many other things to appear approachable and trustworthy.
It should not just be our responsibility to not appear intimidating or, as Geraldo Rivera naively stated, “to not put our kids in hoodies.” This is America and even with a hood on, Trayvon Martin should have been given the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to eat his Skittles and drink his tea. At the very least, he should have been afforded the opportunity to be pursued and questioned by real law enforcement officers trained to adequately evaluate the situation.
I write this from the perspective of an American who understands that our country has much to fix, yet so much to be proud of. It would be untrue for me to suggest that all racism and prejudice that once prevailed and plagued our society is dead in our world today but we can appreciate and rally around the fact that so much has changed on our race relations front.
America is a tremendous nation. In our relatively short time as a country, we have come such a long way together as “we the people.” Now, we must all take a moment and look inside ourselves and we should ask ourselves the question: What is it that I can do within myself and what can I do within my family and community to continue the progress and growth of our great nation?
We are a people naturally emboldened as a nation because we have all stood with the world against great threats and we have overcome and triumphed together. We still, and may always, have more work to do with respect to race, because there will always be something new or unfamiliar that we will face.
While the Trayvon Martin case has challenged us as a country, we must reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and Thomas Jefferson’s vision. Our modern-day manifest destiny, the belief that all men are created equal, must continue to be the glue that binds us together as Americans. We must make the tough evaluations and challenge our own images and thoughts of hoodies and hoods, ex-criminals and color. I know we are willing and we want change and always justice for all, including Trayvon Martin.
Sean Pittman is an attorney with the Pittman Law Group, a lobbying and law firm based in Tallahassee. He may be reached at 850-216-1002.
Photo: Sean Pittman