Policy & Law

A brutal reprise in Florida

In regard to the senseless shooting death of another young black male in the state of Florida, I think that there is little that hasn’t been said already.  How many different ways can we describe the Kafkaesque upending of American jurisprudence through stand-your-ground laws nationwide?  Who has to die before those responsible for this horror show have a moment of self-reflection?  Certainly, someone other than a black teenager.  It’s bad enough that we have become a culture that now codifies its respect for property, or real estate, or human pride above a fundamental and once-paramount respect for human life.  Now, it seems, with the death of Mr. Davis at the hands of Mr. Dunn, we have defenders of the assailant actually suggesting that the right to end an argument about loud music with lethal force has a place under these vile statutes.  

To that end, let’s simply repost an earlier essay written for the Miami Herald and archived elsewhere on this website.  The argument still plays properly.  Nothing has changed. All the same logic — or appalling lack of logic — inherent in stand-your-ground legislation still applies, of course.  And the Florida state legislature, which is directly responsible for the continued increase in such slayings statewide, remains just as inert and content with the bloodletting.  Nothing is different since I filed this op-ed save for the fact that another Floridian is dead, and more lawyers are now getting paid to argue on behalf of another frightened, angry and untethered fool who believed himself legally and morally justified to have taken human life rather than yield to the tyranny of a too-loud stereo.  Don’t tread on him.   And if you’re young and black and living in Florida, don’t tread at all.

That too many of the men and women who govern us continue to defend this transformational revolution in American criminal law is both sad and astounding.  That there will be more such shootings to come is entirely certain, and, no, this won’t be the last time that I’ll be tempted to dig this piece out of the archives:

From The Miami Herald, March 25, 2012
Reprinted with permission.

Almost a quarter-century ago — in the halcyon days when human life was seen as more precious than property and people were regarded as something more than impoverished and non-influential corporations — I happened to be present at the tragic and needless shooting death of a black teenager.It was 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland and I was a journalist embedded in the city’s homicide unit, a bystander to a particular tragedy involving an elderly white homeowner and a black kid shot in the head while trying to steal a dirt bike.

As the kid crept from the homeowner’s rear yard with the bike, the old man stood in his rear window, raised a rifle, and shot the juvenile dead. He readily acknowledged that he had done so, noting that he had been a victim of prior thefts and that given his age, he saw no other way to stop the crime. After all, it was his son’s bike. And it was his home. And in shooting the teenager to death, he was protecting all of that. He was a kindly man, exceedingly polite to detectives and prosecutors, unfailingly sincere in his answers:

“Did you feel that you were in personal danger? When you fired the rifle, were you acting in self-defense?” asked the lead prosecutor.

“No,” replied the elderly gentleman. “I feared that he was going to steal my son’s bike and get away with it. I’m tired of having stuff stolen.”

That long-ago case bears only slight resemblance to the horror show now taking place in Sanford, Florida. There, the victim, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was not trespassing on anyone’s property. Nor is there any reasonable indication — a trained law officer calls it “probable cause” — to suggest Martin was doing anything wrong, save for walking in public while black. And just as clearly, George Zimmerman, 28, was not defending his own property, or anyone else’s, when he shot Martin.

And yet a reading of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — and nearly 20 statutes enacted in other states under a template championed by gun advocates — suggests that the real difference between the two cases is even more fundamental:

The manslaughter — if not the murder — of Trayvon Martin may well be street legal. In its zeal to champion property owners and the gun lobby, the state of Florida — specifically its legislature and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law — have created a legal hole through which the proverbial truck can be driven. Whether by ignorance or neglect, Florida’s leaders have created a world in which anyone can set their own personal standard for taking human life, provided they tell themselves they “reasonably” believe that in doing so they are responding to a potentially lethal threat.

It’s no wonder that professional law enforcement officials oppose these new laws. They are, at best, a license for any fool with a firearm to shoot anyone he decides to fear, and at worst, an invitation to murder.

Conservatives often argue that personal responsibility is the doctrine by which America will heal itself, and yet “Stand Your Ground” offers exactly the opposite. Rather than holding people accountable for taking human life and keeping the burden of proof on those citizens who choose to kill, the new standard requires society to prove that the taking of human life wasn’t necessary.

For American justice, this is not a brave new world. It’s an ugly one.

In practical terms, it’s true that we have, as a society, always accepted a stand-your-ground standard for our law officers — the men and women who are uniquely authorized by the state to take life as a matter of instant, personal deliberation. Every prosecutor understands that regardless of how much training an officer receives, and regardless of how experienced the officer, the decision to use lethal force is terrifyingly subjective. Decisions are made in an instant. Even good cops — well–trained and committed to using deadly force only in the necessary extremity — can, on occasion, produce a bad shoot.

For that reason, grand juries all across the country are told in the wake of a questionable police shooting: “If you believe that the officer thought his life, the lives of fellow officers, or the lives of citizens were in jeopardy, and if you can conclude that it was reasonable for the officer to so believe at the time — even if it turns out that he was wrong — then you should not indict the officer.”

Any more lax standard would give the men and women we charge with protecting society a carte blanche to kill without proper oversight; anything less would make them personally responsible and legally vulnerable for necessary, yet terrifying decisions that we ask them to make in seconds, under considerable duress.

But to grant private citizens — untrained, unsupervised, beholden only to their individual thoughts, biases and capabilities — the very same standards as we give sworn, trained law officers? To allow them to walk the streets and apply deadly force as they see fit, with only their own sense of their own reasonableness to guide them? Really?

The state of Florida and others like it have lost all sense.

That these laws sailed through legislatures and were signed by governors is indicative of a craven national culture, a panicked bunker mentality that now approaches the pathological. Despite becoming the most incarcerative society in the history of the planet, despite spending more and more of our national treasure on prisons and probation officers, drug courts and sentencing judges, despite the elimination of parole and the proliferation of mandatory sentencing, we are still ever more angry, ever more lethal, ever more afraid. Based on the scope and reach of our criminal justice system, Americans are now either the most evil people in modern history, or our view of ourselves, our neighbors and our national collective has been utterly corrupted by our own cowardice and rage.

William Blackstone, the great English jurist, argued famously that a true moral standard for our common law demands, from all of us, a principled, collective restraint: “Better that 10 guilty men escape punishment than that an innocent suffer.”

This is a legal ethos that goes back to the Old Testament, to Genesis itself and Abraham pleading to a just God: “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked?” And God, of course, finding validity and honor in the argument, agrees to spare even a Sodom or a Gomorrah if a righteous minority might be found.

Not so in the gated communities of the great state of Florida. There, today, the possibility that some sneak thieves might escape with some color televisions, or car stereos, or stolen lawnmowers is counted as too great a price for our society to long endure. Better to shoot the odd, innocent teenager death on the street than to tolerate such an affront to American property rights.

All of us are debased by this. All of us — as Americans, as human beings — are simply worth less in this coarsened, brutish culture. Trayvon Martin was worth less, certainly — he was, by standards of the state of Florida, entirely expendable. And with these laws on the books, he will not be the last.

Now, for every case as unambiguous as this one — every case in which the gun-wielding assailant was, say, foolish enough to call police and provide evidentiary equivocations to dispatchers, or in which the victim left evidence of his own honest fears in a corroborated cell phone call to a girlfriend — there will be others in which someone simply walks up and shoots someone they dislike, or fear, or resent.

Now, by the grace of unthinking legislators and cynical governors, murderers can simply declare that they were in fear for their lives, or acting in self-defense, and, absent enough evidence to the contrary, investigators and prosecutors and jurors will be hard-pressed not to rule such thoughts and actions “reasonable” and therefore legal.

A quarter-century ago in Baltimore — a city contending with crime problems more profound than Sanford — a hard decision was made by law enforcement professionals serving a healthier, more courageous America. There and then, prosecutors looked at the case of a young man shot dead for the crime of theft, and they asserted for a society in which the taking of a human life is justifiable only in the most desperate extremity.

True, their suspect was an old man. True, he had been defending his property. And true, too, that prosecutors had no intention of seeing such a defendant incarcerated for his heedless use of lethal force, that they knew they would soon be negotiating with lawyers over a guilty plea and a term of probation for manslaughter. They didn’t want an old man in prison. But neither did they dare to send the wrong message, to suggest to all of us that there are acceptable reasons to kill, if indeed, you do not need to kill.

They charged the crime.




  • I cannot believe I JUST found this site. So happy you are musing online. Thank you for taking the time. Now I am going to take the time to peruse. Keep on keeping it real.

  • I don’t know about anyone else, but I get angry when someone starts repeating talking points or facts of this case that are not verified. It has disgusted me to see some people immediately take the position of “he got what he deserved” or to accept the facebook picture that was passed around that made Travon out to be a thug or gangbanger which was found to be of a different Travon Martin.

    To be exact, this kind of complete moron.


    Yesterday a right-leaning website called Twitchy ran a picture of George Zimmerman in a suit and tie next to what they claimed was a picture of Trayvon Martin with no shirt and sagging pants. Twitchy is owned and operated by Michelle Malkin, a conservative pundit who is a frequent guest on Fox News. The picture of Zimmerman was real, but the picture of Martin was not. After Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at the left-leaning organization Media Matters, tweeted a screenshot of the article Twitchy posted the following correction:

    “Correction, 8:56 pm ET March 25, 2012: We made a mistake. The photo on the right is not of the Trayvon Martin who was shot by Zimmerman. We apologize to our readers and to the Martin family.”

    These are the people who used to stay silent because they knew if they opened their mouths, they’d be exposed as idiots. Today, some of these people believe they are knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects because they pay attention to news that is not any smarter than they are and is designed to inflame their deep seated bias or distrust of minorities, gays, women, or the poor.

    Yesterday on the Martin Luther King Holiday, I saw a Facebook post with a picture containing 2 quotes from Rush Limbaugh. The caption read “Happy MLK Day from Rush” One of the two quotes was “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies”. It is horrific in that so many people feel and think this way and at the same time funny in the sense that it exposes the lunacy of people who would be committed to a laughing academy if the world was on it’s proper axis.

    The fucking joke is on us. Half the country thinks toxic and fact challenged spokesmen for ignorance like Limbaugh are role models or statesmen,. When you fan the flames of hatred and ignorance, what do you think is going to come out the other end?

  • I am curious, there is a paragraph early in this piece about how Martin was not breaking any laws, no was Zimmerman protecting his property or anyone else’s. Is there no allowance in the author’s mind for the account offered by George Zimmerman, in which he claims that he was physically accosted by Trayvon Martin? During this altercation, according to Zimmerman of course, there was a struggle over Zimmerman’s weapon that ended in martin being fatally wounded. There seems to be evidence backing up Zimmerman’s account.

    If true, Martin would have been committing a crime of assault and Zimmerman defending his own life. My reading of this piece (at 1 in the morning, so maybe I err) was that it is not necessarily about the Martin shooting, but about stand your ground laws generally. Interesting, that the Martin case was cited as an example of stand your ground gone wild, when there is still dispute about the facts. If Zimmerman’s story is accurate, that would seem to be a rather obvious self-defense case.

    Thus, my original question. Is Zimmerman’s account totally rejected in the mind of the author? If so, why?

    • You are coming in mid-confrontation.

      Why not go back a few short moments to the time when Martin was walking on a public street, confronting no one and was himself confronted by a self-appointed arbiter of public safety. He was confronted and queried — and the mere questioning of his presence by the way is something that a sworn police officer, without probable cause, would not be able to do while compelling an answer. Do you understand that about your Constitution.

      Zimmerman had no legal justification whatsoever for compelling any answer or response or halt by Martin. Martin was within his rights to say, go fuck yourself and keep walking. He was within his rights not to be queried about his whereabouts, or about his purposes. To do so and insist on your quasi-authority as a neighborhood watchman is to violate the 4th Amendment rights of another citizen. And clearly that is the premise behind this confrontation.

      Had Martin been allowed to walk while black in a Florida subdivision, he would be alive. Had Zimmerman not been armed, he would not have managed the arrogance to confront of a fellow citizen without any probable cause to believe that the citizen was engaged in a crime. Had he not confronted that citizen without probable cause, the confrontation would not have elevated to fisticuffs. And had he not been armed in that confrontation, it would have remained a fistfight. And had the state of Florida not hideously corrupted hundreds of years of self-defense common law, Zimmerman would not have been empowered to make such appalling and destructive decisions.

      Do you understand your Bill of Rights? Martin has the right to walk and be black and not to answer the curious queries of an untrained but armed police-want-to-be who has no legal status to detain or question or compel evidence from a fellow citizen. But hey, he stood his ground. And now a teenager who wasn’t committing any crime when he was first approached is dead.

      And you’re still hungry to find a way to blame the victim.

      Sad. Really.

      • Easy. I’m not “hungry” for anything except good enchiladas and drawing conclusions based on the facts of a case, so why not dial down the hostility a notch?

        I’m no genius, but I have a reasonable grounding in the Constitution and case law. My understanding is the Bill of Rights limits the power of government. Zimmerman was not an instrument of Government, as is a police officer. Zimmerman was a private citizen. Martin owed Zimmerman no response to any inquiry, Zimmerman lacked any authority to detain, arrest, or search. There is no need for “probable cause” for a private citizen to make an inquiry of a person, just as there is no legal requirement for that person to stop and respond to such an inquiry.

        The Stand Your Ground (SYG) statute doesn’t apply (as I’m sure you probably know) if the person using defensive force initiated the confrontation. However, even if Zimmerman initiated a confrontation, as legal scholars smarter than I point out, he still retains the right to self-defense, independent of SYG.

        I am not necessarily defending SYG laws, just questioning the use this case as an ironclad example of how awful these laws are when there is still so much about the case that is unknown.

        I’m not holding Zimmerman up as a hero; I’ve got no horse in this race. You’ll find no disagreement from me that Zimmerman’s choices were not wise that night. They had tragic consequences. “Not wise”, however, is not the same as “not legal.”

        PS-If my perception of your contempt for me is incorrect, please accept my apologies.

        • There’s no personal hostility. None at all. But I have very low regard for all of the equivocations that are used to mitigate the fact that one man was armed and provocative and another man is unarmed, provoked and dead.

          Being a civilian doesn’t entitle you to more rights under the law than law enforcement. Citizens can of course choose to approach anyone and ask any question they wish. Cops can, too. But both are also free to be ignored or told to go fuck themselves. A trained cop understands this and either figures out a way to manufacture some legal cause to compel the cooperation, or not. But either way he understands that there is no legal requirement by which he can continue the encounter absent probable cause. An ordinary civilian — unempowered by some sort of watchdog-vigilante status, or by a firearms carry permit, or by some new legal framework that respects pride and real estate more than human life — that citizen can, if they are aware of the limitations of their legal standing, go fuck themselves as they should. But an extraordinary, untrained civilian — someone who fancies themselves to have legal authority that they should not in fact have, someone armed with a concealed firearm, someone empowered by a new law that values real estate more than life — he can proceed to escalate that moment until violence ensues, at which point, being the only one carrying a concealed and deadly weapon, he can take a human life that should never have been at risk in the first place.

          Martin was unarmed and was walking. Zimmerman was armed and felt empowered to stand his ground and question Martin for being unarmed and walking. A confrontation resulted that would not have resulted if Zimmerman had picked up the phone and delegated his concerns to trained law enforcement officers who understand the practical application of probable cause and the absolute right of free citizens to resist interrogative efforts by officers. Do you understand that? A civilian or a cop can approach anyone ask them questions. But only a cop understands that he is not, without probable cause, entitled to cooperation. That is what the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. A cop can ask anyone anything. But one does not have to respond unless one is detained by the officer, and the officer can only detain you with probable cause. An ignorant, self-aggrandized neighborhood watch volunteer carrying a deadly weapon may or may not understand their lack of standing in attempting the approach. And that lack of understanding may indeed lead to escalation and violence and tragedy.

          That is what happened here. Zimmerman was no cop. He had no probable cause. And worse, he had no training to understand the tenuous legality of his authority. Meanwhile, Martin did nothing to require his cooperation or detention. So a confrontation began and an argument ensued. Zimemrman stood his ground against an unarmed man that he unilaterally approached and challenged. Martin is dead. Zimmerman is utterly unjustified, regardless of whether Martin was agitated enough by having his civil rights violated to have engaged in common assault or mutual combat. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman had the gun.

          The Stand Your Ground law may or may not apply, depending on the evidence presented. But Zimmerman’s attorneys are already invoking it as a means of mitigating against a judge’s or jury’s determination that the provocation here originated with him. And before that law is on the books, there is no ground on which he ought to have been standing. You are exactly right in one thing: The existing self-defense laws would allow for him to make the argument that he was in reasonable fear of death or serious injury when we elected to use deadly force against Mr. Martin. That was the legal standard before the Florida legislature butchered it. So why make his use of deadly force easier than that? Why make it a matter of pride or real estate rather than genuine fear of death or serious injury? Why, except that the gun lobby is now writing laws that obviate even their previous credo that guns don’t kill people, people do. Now, people aren’t even responsible for taking life. Shit just happens. The change in the law is appalling, unjustifiable and unnecessary — unless you value pride and real estate and property more than human life itself.

          Again, I have nothing at all to say that would negate or disrespect your personhood. But the arguments for equivalency between Zimmerman and Martin because Martin may have been moved to common, non-lethal assault during the confrontation, or even less, to become involved in some mutual non-lethal combat, are subject to my full disregard and contempt. There is a dishonesty in that false equivalency that goes to the heart of what went wrong and took a life in Florida.

  • […] The death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin sparked a debate about race, violence and guns. Months later another teen died in similar circumstances. Here, David Simon, creator of The Wire, and author of two of the best books I’ve read – Homocide and The Corner – discusses the “ugly” world of American justice. http://davidsimon.com/a-brutal-reprise-in-florida/. […]

  • Great article, David. And thanks for sharing the Miami Herald report. Reading this news story on a tragic day when 28 people (including 20 kids) lost their lives beause a psycho with a gun took his misery out on innocent people in a school in Connecticut, further proves the need for strict gun control. I was discussing this with a friend of mine, to which his response was, “People get testy when you try to limit their constitutional right to bear arms.” To him, and to others with this view, my response is: people get testy when they are uncomftorable with change; people get testy when discussing federal recognition of same-sex marriage; in 1967, after Loving v. Viriginia, people were testy when the Supreme Court allowed for interacial message. People will always be upset with much-needed change, but that does not mean change should not happen. To quote President Obama today in his reflection on the Connecticut shooting: ” …whether it’s a school in Newton, or a shopping mall in Oregon, a Temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago. These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods. These children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this…” That meaningful action begins with gun control.

  • Great post. One thing to remember about these laws is that most of them were drafted by out of state special interest groups and obscure think tanks and them rammed through, especially following the GOP big wins in state legislatures election during the 2010 elections. I think this is a big reason why they are vague, dysfunctional and opposed by law enforcement. Here in Minnesota the newly Republican legislature passed one based almost entirely on ones from out of state with none of the careful consideration or legislative committee work that you’d want in drafting such a big change in the law, fortunately it vetoed by the Democratic Governor.

    What strikes me is that while the debate over these laws often follows a left versus right divide, there doesn’t strike me to be anything particularly “conservative” about these laws. I’m no conservative but hasn’t local control always been a big ideal in conservative politics? For better or for worse this country has a legal system based on local elections for prosecutors, (some) judges and even law enforcement in the form of the county sheriff. This can lead to problems, at the heart of a lot of wrongful convictions are people trying to duck mounting political pressure (the Randal Dale Adams case in Texas and the Lori Roscetti case from the 80’s in Chicago come to mind) but it does keep prosecutors attuned to the wishes of their community. It seems to me that the conservative position would be to trust law enforcement and prosecutors, who you elect to preside over your community, to do their job and separate people who justifiably used self defense and those who are hiding behind these laws to escape their personal responsibility for their actions rather than let some out of state group re-write your criminal laws for you.

  • I got sidetracked and didn’t finish this thought.

    After Travon Martin’s death, false pictures that depicted a thug were widely circulated in email and in the media to generate cause for Zimmerman and justify the shooting. That is the reason we allow law abiding citizens to carry guns, isn’t it? To protect ourselves from the criminal element who would threaten us with life threatening consequences? What digusts me is that “he was black and they are all criminals and therefore deserved it”

    I meant to add at the end

    is being trotted out as a defense to encourage aquittal. This kind of defense is disgusting. We as a society need to put the focus back on the reasonable legal standard of proof in these cases. Was the life of the person in danger and was their only reasonable action to pull their gun and fire in self defense.

  • It is sad to see people armed to the teeth and reaching too quickly for their guns to settle arguments. This is going to lead to more shootouts and more deaths

    I agree with David that these stand your ground laws need to be repealed so that the consequences of reaching for your gun unless you are in clear and verifiable mortal danger are clear. If people know that they will be convicted and sent to prison, then there will be less of these events.

    That would only work with the more reasonable persons among us, but that would be a start. I believe that the reason that most law enforcement do agree that laws like this is that so many people are not reasonable. For every reasonable person there is likely one who is angry, frustrated, and some who are unstable or delusional. We have spree killings like the Dark Knight massacre at regular intervals..

    I know that this is somewhat off subject in this context, but I feel that there are many side issues that need to be addressed to accomplish positive changes in this area. These concealed carry gun and self defense laws that have been championed and almost universally enacted these last number of years encourage people, including the less stable among us to settle their disputes with guns.

    My first real job was selling fishing equipment and long guns for hunting at a sporting goods store. I used to actively enjoy target shooting. I do not support blanket gun control, although I would like to see it harder for the unstable among us and for criminals and gang members to buy a weapon. The ease with which that is accomplished that now is disturbing.

    We are all against the unstable and the criminals possessing and carrying firearms. The hard part is telling who will keep their cool when they think about reaching for their gun and who will sell guns to criminals. These laws that give the blanket immunity of self defense to anyone who says that they felt threatened are dangerous. After Travon Martin’s death, false pictures that depicted a thug were widely circulated in email and in the media to generate cause for Zimmerman and justify the shooting. That is the reason we allow law abiding citizens to carry guns, isn’t it? To protect ourselves from the criminal element who would threaten us with life threatening consequences? What digusts me is that “he was black and they are all criminals and therefore deserved it”

    When we sold guns for hunting at the story, one of the questions that we had to ask firearm purchasers on the federal form that is required for all gun sales was “have you ever been adjudicated mentally deficient” or spent time in a psych ward. That is one of the questions we need to ask as the entire country arms itself like we are back in the old west, isn’t it? Are we arming a lot of the the unstable, angry, and just plain nutty people out there? Many times, we don’t find out who shouldn’t have had a gun until it is too late.

    When I first read this story on Yahoo news, one of the comments said something to the effect of
    it was only a matter of time before someone took out their anger over the election and shot a
    black person. That is a sad statement, but given the level of anger that our political debate stirs up when they use race and class as a weapon, it is somewhat accurate.

  • Brilliant argument, Mr. Simon, as usual. I will always admire your pointing out of hypocrisy and endless quest against institutional actions that lessen the worth of human life, whether it’s laws that replace safety with property rights or machines that replace people (Wire season 2 was the best, I don’t care what anyone says).

    My Tea-Partying friends (who recently came to the conclusion that government was too big and taking our liberties as of January 2009) and I occasionally argue the 2nd amendment thing. They LOVE pointing out that Chicago and D.C., both cities that have enacted handgun bans, are frequently the most crime-ridden. “Yeah, gun control sure works there. Look how many homicides there are! I bet that if more good people had guns, the crime rate would go down.” To that, I point out that this would make sense if the crime taking place was simply armed thugs robbing upstanding citizens, and that the VAST (all?) majority of shootings, robberies, and assaults are drug/gang related, and that they take place in neighborhoods that you would have no reason to be in. Do you really feel your civil right to protect yourself is being violated because you can’t pack heat while touring The Mall?

    Anyway, thank you for continuously giving me ammo for these arguments. No pun, btw.

  • It’s interesting to me when those who fully trust government to cure all ills of society talk about gun laws & dabble w/ 2nd amendment rights. Always so energizing to hear about Florida and a law that catches the ire of every progressive with an axe to grind. We never seem to hear anything about Chicago and the 400+ murders in 2012 alone (most victims african american males that are killed by other african american males) & the fact that the windy city has some of the strictest firearm laws in the country. Nah, the media & white liberals don’t want to talk about that, it doesn’t fit their paradigm and could quite possibly destroy their entire argument. What does fit their paradigm is a southern state that is politically split between both mafia famalies, I mean parties, w/ a controversial law that allows for individuals to protect themselves & their families.

    What this really is about is politcal advancement for the left. Keep moving the football and frame the debate into one about race where you use the media to do what it does best, bait and use scare tactics to make minorities think they’ll be hunted down & shot by crazy white people for wearing a hood or blaring music. You full well know that Florida is one of the most diverse states in the country and as long as you can hold Florida in the elections, you’ll have a good chance of keeping your Cartel in the WH. You’ll also garner some support from sympathetic white collectivists that haven’t had and original thought for years & just regurgitate Paul Krugman & Huffington Post nonsense til their blue in the face.

    It’s all pretty amusing (other then the deaths, that is actually pretty sad regardless of how one lives their life) to me when you break it down and see what the real goal is here. Your using people to try and gain power. And once in full power you’ll get rid of all these gun laws and the fix the system the way you want it. I mean, Chicago & Detroit have proved collectivism to be right, correct?

    • Meanwhile, it’s uninteresting to me when someone begins their argument by characterizing others as “those who fully trust government to cure all ills of society…”

      Perceiving the world through the prism of ideology makes for some useless, straw-man arguments. Ad hominem ones, too.

      Why don’t you try to rephrase your argument on the merits or demerits of the law in question, eschewing your more emotional contempt and stereotyping of those who don’t adhere to your ideology. See what comes. Perhaps you will engender an argument about the actual effect of an actual law on jurisprudence in these United States.

      The uselessness of ideological puritanism, from every quarter, is apparent in your remarks. Last I checked, every major law enforcement group in America was opposed to stand-your-ground legislation. And, last I checked, the law enforcement community was populated and represented by far more conversative and libertarian thinkers than liberals. Liberals were in short supply in the Baltimore Police Department that I covered for more than a decade, and yet strangely, the best criminal investigators I know all think these laws are dangerous and destructive to the society.

      Seriously, calm down, lose the ideology and simply think about the substance of a given issue. You’ll bring a better and more worthwhile argument to this or other forums, I promise. Sometimes an issue is about something other than your pre-conceived political identifications.

      • “Last I checked, every major law enforcement group in America was opposed to stand-your-ground legislation. And, last I checked, the law enforcement community was populated and represented by far more conversative and libertarian thinkers than liberals”

        Law enforcement groups (and their union representation) are opposed because they have as much regard for the constitution as our politicians. They want less freedom for us and more power for them. I would argue that some (notice I said some) law enforcement are not much more then revenue generators for the politicians & local governments in current times. In return for their service, some are eligible to retire in their 40’s & 50’s and have life long pensions courtesy of the taxpayer.

        I don’t disagree that law enforcement has more so called “conservative” people in it. But those are your Sean Hannity, John McCain & Mark Levin modern day “conservatives” who endorse the drug war, foreign wars, drone warfare & even the use of drone spying on our own citizens. That is what the republican party has become and I truly hope it goes the way of the dinosaur.

        No true “libertarain” who values freedom & individualism above all else would justify the tactics used by many in law enforcement these days. The police state in our culture is an unfortunate result of the warfare and welfare state brought on by decades of awful foreign policy & free handouts (corporate & entitlement) courtesy of the politicians.

        What really makes me most sad are the nights when I’m driving home from work & get off exit 55 off 95. I’ll drive down the ramp and 3 out of 5 nights the MTA has some sucker pulled over. Usually its a minority leaving Walmart that doesn’t see the stop sign by The Sun. It’s a game for these folks, you can tell they have to do it or they’ll lose funding for their budget & their cadet class might go down next year. They have to justify the numbers to someone all in the name of “our safety”. The results as you know are obvious. Less than 20% violent offenders in our prison system.

        Re: the stand your ground law and your repsonse, I totally disagree. It’s all about politics, and everytime liberals can use the race card, it triumphiantly furthers their agenda. Race is one of the most uncomfortable things in our society and it is used brilliantly and cunningly by the left.

        • Sometimes the race card is a race card. And sometimes, race matters, truly and deeply. It did to Trayvon Martin, walking in a Sanford subdivision that was being self-policed by someone who equated demographics with probable cause. And it did to Mr. Davis, playing his stereo loudly at a gas station. If you want to pretend that the American pathology of race isn’t being accessed and transmitted through stand-your-ground legislation, you certainly can. But the racial composition of the growing number of casualties to these statues argues convincingly otherwise.

          That this interferes with your political identification and allegiances doesn’t make it any less true, sorry.

          The libertarian contempt for the communal, for the shared responsibility of citizens to each other, to a society, and to a republic — this is what drives me to abject disregard for the ideology as a means of building anything other than a selfish and second-rate nation. We will have to disagree on the merits and demerits of liberty as a political rallying cry when it is so cleanly severed from responsibility. I will not convince you and you will not convince me.

          But laying aside your political grievances for just a moment, there is still this new legalism, which is the core of the essay upon which you have chosen to vent: For hundreds of years of English common law and American jurisprudence, the responsibility for taking a human life rested with the taker of human life. Once they had acknowledged the act itself and been proven to have undertaken the act itself, it was incumbent upon those who had committed homicide to prove that there was mitigation for the life-taking. If there was actual evidence that the homicide occurred in self-defense then the means to present that evidence already existed throughout the entire criminal justice system.

          Now, however, we have gone further and tilted the scales of justice. Now, it is incumbent upon the state to prove a negative, effectively — to prove that it was unreasonable for the life-taker to have believed he was in sufficient jeopardy to use lethal force. Get that? Now, before holding a citizen responsible for killing another citizen in twenty American states, a prosecutor must first prove that it was implausible or unreasonable for the murder to have been in self-defense. Until this point in American history, it was the opposite. It was incumbent on those who took human life to prove with actual evidence — and not merely through their state-of-mind suppositions, and their sense that there was no other way to proceed if they desired to maintain their real estate and pride — that they were obliged to kill, that their use of lethal force was the only alternative.

          That is the issue here. It’s the issue whether you are conservative or liberal or libertarian or Marxist. As a legal doctrine, stand-your-ground is transformative and revolutionary. And it is worthy of reconsideration regardless of who we choose to vote for and what ideology we embrace. That is why law enforcement groups oppose the sea change. Not because it interferes with constitutional purity, or because they are in your eyes reactionary bastards, but because it upends years and years and years of the most basic precepts of our common law, beginning with the Biblical invocations against killing.

          And right now, as a simple fact, the greater share of the growing number of victims of stand-your-ground legislation happen to be people of color, which, if you know any such folk or be of that hue yourself, can also be of some reasonable and immediate concern. Clearly, from your remarks, you care little about this reality. But other citizens are of the opinion that a civil rights challenge and affront to any one of us as Americans, regardless of our tribe, is ultimately an affront to us all. That value, too, is embedded in the constitutional protections we all enjoy.

          Does any of that matter to you as much as your political passions? Or is all mere grist to grind in the abstract cause of ideological argument? Mencken’s Postulate, famously embraced by libertarians, declares that if A, in an effort to improve B causes harm to C, then A is a scoundrel. I am no libertarian but I find truth in Mencken’s wit. Sometimes, the prime directives of libertarianism provide insight and a relevant solution. But sometimes not. Sometimes, A in an effort to improve B attempts some act of reform because B is a fellow citizen and in genuine need of relief and consideration, and because by reforming on behalf of B, we make all of us — A and B and C — stronger and safer. Such is the case here, with these vile laws.

          After reading much of what is offered on this website from libertarians, and reading much elsewhere, I have my own theorum to add. Simon’s Postulate is not near as pithy as Henry Mencken’s; he was a world-class wit, after all. But here goes: Show me someone who evaluates all facts and events through the prism of ideological purity — be they fascist or Marxist, conservative or liberal or libertarian — and I’ll show you someone who is ready to utter something irrelevant, stupid or even downright inhumane.

          To render that postulate moot going forward, see if you can muster an opinion about the actual phenomenon of stand-your-ground laws and the bodies on the ground that addresses the actual legal issues at stake, as well as the circumstances under which the law is being argued and invoked. And see if you can do so without resorting to dogmatic political arguments that label conservatives as this, or liberals as that, or even libertarians as being such. See if facts can interest you as facts, or if issues can have value unto themselves. Address problems not as opportunities to find fault with other ideologies or to exalt your own, but as something to be solved or addressed through actual, practical and specific interventions.

          I’m arguing, based on the actual merits and the actual outcomes, that these statutes are dystopic and brutalizing. I’m saying they are bad laws for conservatives who believe in crime and punishment and individual responsibility. I’m saying they are so for liberals who believe in civil rights. And I’m saying they are libertarians who believe that you ought to be able to play a stereo too loud or not answer the questions of a citizen’s watch enthusiast without being shot to death. And more than that, I’m saying that any political ideology that rationalizes such an outcome isn’t worth much spit. Either defend the laws and these outcomes, these shootings that keep happening. Or don’t and address your specific solution.

          I know that you want libertarianism addressed and codified and asserted. But in practice, if you’re trying to show how libertarian ideals resolves an actual dilemma here, you’ve provided nothing but an overarching name-calling of your opponents. It’s not only ineffectual and off-point, it’s boring.

  • Mr. Simon, I’m forever indebted to your outstanding writing and tv show for broadening my perspective and understanding of what has occurred in our urban cities. My inner city Denver high school was 50% black and my eyes were opened to a culture and world, that previously I had been sheltered from, and looking back i’m very thankful for experiencing such a diverse learning environment. Honestly The Wire helped me put so many pieces together that had been floating in my mind. Unfortunately when I went to college, there were very few minorities and I encountered an academic culture that seemed to view the world in this post racial idealistic worldview that refused to acknowledge any inherent biases or misconceptions, and that made for honest discussions about race to be almost impossible. I’m currently completing my MA in English Literature in Switzerland ( for reasons of almost free tuition and a desire to to take a break from the U.S.), and am taking an excellent course in African-American Literature (where The Wire is a primary text, I was surprised how well it is known in Europe). I want to write my thesis on African American art in relation to drug culture and the drug war. I was wondering if there were any primary or secondary texts you would recommend? Again thank-you for all that you have done and are continuing to do to fight to salvage our cities.

    Peter Gietl

  • To be fair though, I think in this last case the shooter has been swiftly arrested and charged.

    It’s funny, I tend to view all of this as at least partially resulting from the declining emphasis on good police work. Police departments, as has often been mentioned, have shifted their focus away from protecting the communities they are paid to protect, and so citizens feel they have no choice but to get a gun and try to do the job themselves. That leads first to cases like the Martin case (where there’s at least some gray area) and next to cases like this one where an angry, hateful citizen is in a position where he’s opening fire on somebody with next to no provocation.

    It is unfortunate that race ends up being the primary conversation in a problem whose issues (in my opinion) go much deeper. And I do think that some of the demagogues in the black activist community (not to mention the sensationalistic media) deserve some of the blame for that. We’d better served to look at the deeper issues, instead of just trying to determine how racist the shooter was.

    • And yet the new statute remains as a plausible hurdle for every prosecutor in Florida and other states that enacted such.

      In the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit where I spent a year, it was considered strong strategy to convince a suspect in an interrogation room to make a claim of self-defense because in Maryland the hurdles to a legitimate claim of self-defense were consistent with actual situations in which the threat to life was profound and proveable.

      Sorry, but this is about race and nothing but and it is a systemic threat to young black males. And the two cases you are discussing involve instances in which the defendants approached and provoked the victims, not the other way around. And the victims were not carrying or brandishing firearms. And yet two young black males are dead.

      There are times when white people want to say something is not racial and sneer at black demagoguery. And they can do so because the systermic racial bias is not self-evident. Stand-your-ground statutes and their actual use against actual human beings is not the place to do that. If you think there isn’t a fundamental racial component to this, you are being willfully, almost desperately obtuse.

      Before the NRA and callow lawmakers got involved in this legislative disaster, there was the ability to make a legitimate self-defense claim established in every state of the union, and indeed, it is a foundation of our common low. You can make that defense in presenting evidence to police investigators, or before a grand jury, or even after indictment in proffer sessions with prosecutors. And then you can offer it again at trial, before a jury of your peers. And somehow that wasn’t enough.

      You are equivocating before a vile, inhumane obscenity. It used to be said by gun-rights advocates that guns don’t kill people, people do. Now those same folks are arguing that people don’t even kill people, that shit just happens. You aren’t being fair at all. You are excusing an immoral denigration of human life under the law.

      • I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of my position at all, although part of that may be due to poor wording on my part. My only point was that somewhere along the line it became acceptable in some circles (legal and otherwise) for a man to grab his gun and try to mediate a dispute that has nothing to do with him or that poses no threat to him. There are reasons for that that go beyond race, and I think those need to be examined instead of everybody just going to their corners and defending their points of view. In other words, there will always be racists, the goal as a society should be to make sure they’re not grabbing guns and blowing people away because of it.

        I was not at all intending to excuse the obscenity of the crime itself. I apologize if I gave any offense to Mr. Simon or anybody else.

        • There may be reasons for it that go beyond race. But the racial reason is right there, smack dab in the middle. And the first time a black man shoots a white kid in Florida and claims he was standing his ground, this will become self-evident.

          • There was a black guy that shot a white guy to death in Florida not too long ago over an argument about a kid skateboarding on a basketball court, in front of the victim’s eight-year old daughter no less. And the guy was an Iraq war veteran. Could you imagine? You go and risk your life over there day in and day out for a year or two, make it out unscathed only to come home and get killed by some grumpy old asshole in a suburban neighborhood. I don’t think race had anything to do with that one, though – just another fucking idiot that probably shouldn’t have been given a permit to carry.

            The guy actually just got convicted of manslaughter a couple days ago, at which point he pulled the race card saying that if he was white he would’ve walked. Nope, sorry. You shoot an unarmed war veteran to death in front of his eight-year old daughter and a jury is gonna convict, “stand your ground” law or not.

            Me, personally, I think it’s Florida. There’s just something about that place that drives people insane. Must be the heat or something. Either that or it just attracts crazy people. It attracts a lot of selfish assholes, I know that. Everybody barricades themselves in these gated neighborhoods with guard shacks at every entrance and cameras all over the place. And they all have a million home owner’s association-type rules – can’t have dogs, can’t plant flowers, can’t do this, can’t do that. Everybody down there thinks it’s their own private little sanctuary, like they have a right not to be inconvenienced in any way by anyone else. Anyway, yeah… Florida’s nuts. I mean, every time some crazy shit hits the national news it’s almost a guarantee that it happened in Florida.

    • I cannot understand your point on this one. Perhaps you can argue class or other prejudices on some isolated cases but I do not see your point of a “deeper” issue that race, unless you just want to discuss fear. And by fear I have to go with fear of another race.

      • My point is just that so many times where something like this happens we simply chalk it up to “This person was a racist”, punish that one person, and then forget about it. If a person fears a specific race, they don’t choose to do so arbitrarily. They do it because of their perception of the characteristics of that race or group. The real conversation should be about why we come to (often misguided) conclusions about that specific race. Is it a legitimate fear at times? Is it based on falsehoods and misconception? Some of both? You have to understand the fear if you have any point of overcoming it.

        As for the stand-your-ground laws, I think there are a terrible idea. But I think most people would agree that the country has gotten less racist, not more, over the past several decades, but yet these laws are a relatively new phenomenon. Why is that? I have no idea but I’d like to see the question really answered instead of obscured the way it has been now.

        Again, just to reiterate though, as conversations of this sort tend to get a little heated on all sides, I am in no way excusing the actions of the perpetrator in this case nor would I argue Mr. Simon’s point about the racial disparity in the law’s application.

        • But honestly, the point is that your point is off-point.

          This is a law we are talking about. And the effects of that law on the ground. And this law enables people — good people, smart people, foolish people, racists, anyone, whoever — to invoke a standard for self-defense that we as a society only allow reluctantly for trained law officers. Now anyone with a gun, if they believe themselves to be under significant threat and can conjure even a vague scenario that argues for such, can take a human life with less chance of being legally responsible for the action. And we know, certainly, that people of color — engendering fear as they do merely by being people of color; if you’ve tried to be black and drive a vehicle in these United States, or walk at night through a fashionable neighborhood, you know the drill — are more vulnerable to this dynamic.

          So why would you go out of your way to deny that racial dynamic? It’s entirely reasonable and appropriate to bring up the racial proclivities that are already evident under the use of these laws. Trayvon Martin is dead. He has now been tethered to another young black victim. And elsewhere in Florida and in other states, similar violence has occurred against unarmed people of color in the wake of this new legal standard. To ignore them is entirely disingenuous. And to now suggest that you were merely trying to open it up to a discussion of why racism occurs is even more disingenuous, frankly.

          Racism exists and remains persistent for a number of reasons, and it will be so for the foreseeable future with some portion of the American populace. Given this, what is the core value of the original essay: That we get these laws off the books right fucking now? Or that we first debate the nuances of racism and all the other, unrelated phenomenon that might make someone shoot and kill an unarmed antagonist? Because you chose to ignore the first, elemental message and proceeded to the second, amorphous one.

          Let’s take this law down first. Then we can discuss and solve the national racial dynamic in total. No?

          • It bothers me that you jump to an assumption of being disingenuous in my remarks. I also feel that I went out of my way to be respectful especially after my first comment was not received the way I had intended it to be (again perhaps my fault), but that my respect was not returned. The person above me used much more inflammatory language than I did and was simply encouraged to “rephrase his arguments” and “lose the ideology” yet I was called disingenuous, despite my efforts to explain myself.

            I have very much enjoyed this board but, while I’ll remain a fan of you and your work, I think I’ll be steering clear of this website and its message board in the future. I thank you all (and Mr. Simon especially) for some very lively and well thought out discussion up until this point.

            • I apologize for this.

              I’ve clearly misinterpreted your purpose in being quick to jettison the racial fundamental to these deaths. It struck me that you were working harder than one should to dismiss something that, to me, is so basic to this dynamic and, frankly, entirely quotidian in the lives of people of color in this country.

              It came off to me as dismissive of something that is, I confess, obvious and profound in the deaths of Mr. Martin and Mr. Dunn and others. If you were not trying trying to argue that it wasn’t obvious or profound, you were presenting no evidence. And if you were not trying to be dismissive, then clearly, I misapprehended your purposes and replied in that light.

              So my apologies, genuinely, for suggesting any disingenuousness. It’s clear from your last reply that there was none.

              • The apology is much appreciated. I think a message board such as this can make it hard to determine whether a person is being dismissive or just trying to mention a tangential point. I think in this case it was made much harder by the fact that :

                1. This is an extremely emotional issue.
                2. I was participating mainly with the author of the article who is naturally much more articulate and informed on the issue than I am.
                3. I was using the discussion on this board as a distraction during a busy work day and likely not as focused on what I was writing as I might have been.

                In any event, I do in fact strongly believe that these 2 men would still be alive if were not for their race, and that the stand your ground laws have proved disastrous in practice. I certainly had no intention of suggesting otherwise.

                Again, thank you for the thought and I look forward to engaging on this board again in the future.


    • “It’s funny, I tend to view all of this as at least partially resulting from the declining emphasis on good police work.”

      I don’t see it as a decline on good police work. I see these laws as trickle-down effects because we don’t require police to actually justify their actions. Instead of forcing our law enforcement to abide by some basic rules, they’ve been handed easy outs. We’re passing on the bad habits to the citizens. It’s not much different from allowing the Armed forces to commit torture. When those service members filter into the law enforcement as police officers, those same skills will be used on the public at large with the full approval of mayors and governors and the scared public.

      As a black male, I fail to see anything funny about the stand your ground laws. As a father to a very tall 13 year old son, I find a certain amount of shame replacing my fatherly pride. My voice cracks, when I explain to him how he has a target on his back, and how he has to always watch his actions outside the home. “It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing, you have to worry about what you’re doing.” Not because he’ll get into trouble, but, because someone might kill him and not be in trouble. He’s a sweet heart in real life, but I know he can be portrayed as a devil once he’s dead. His voice gone, and no one bothering to remember what it sounded like. The last remaining thing will be the thoughts of his potential to create havoc, instead of being allowed to build upon dreams that would give anyone a rich full life to add to society’s fabric.

  • Let’s see, eleven people were blown to bits in the Gulf of Mexico and no one is doing any time.

    George Zimmerman hasn’t been tried and is walking around selling his autograph.

    Bradley Manning has spent over 900 days in jail and he’s only now getting his day in “court”.

    My hometown boy, Gerald Ford, pardoned Richard Nixon for violations of the US Constitution and there went any respect for the rule of law. It’s been all downhill since.

    Police officers killed an unarmed man in a wheelchair who was wielding a pen in a threatening manner. I don’t think they’ve been charged with anything.

    My point? America, despite all of the words to the contrary, only really cares about money. If you kill someone in the pursuit of profits, it’s all good. We codified that with cancer clusters a long time ago.

    Property rights are only respected if the “right” people are property owners. Eleanor Fairchild was arrested for trespassing on her OWN land when she tried to stop TransCanada’s bulldozers from clear cutting her land for the Keystone XL. Property rights are only respected if it is a corporation’s property.

    It’s much, much worse than you make out. Mr. Simon, are you a closet optimist?

  • I don’t believe it is possible to leave the NRA out of this discussion. It is the NRA that funds politicians that push such laws as “stand your ground”. They recently managed to pass a law here in Ohio which allows people to have guns in bars, which seems idiotic to me as alcohol and firearms clearly don’t mix.

    I do not have anything against the NRA’s standard mission of protecting second amendment rights. I am not a gun owner, but I can certainly see the logic behind allowing citizens to arm themselves. I am fine with all of that. An organization acting as a watch dog for 2nd amendment rights is probably necessary in our society.

    But it seems to me that NRA now uses some very suspect marketing techniques in order to build membership and fund themselves. They issue newsletters stating that “Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi WILL take your guns away” when there was never any such movement to do so. I know guys who are hunters here who will always tell you (if there happens to be a Democratic administration) that they fear their hunting rifles will be taken away. They often stoke unfounded paranoia in their members, paranoia which leads to bad legislation such as “stand your ground”.

    I think what we have here is an organization which is constantly trying to justify the amount of money they receive from members, and this is resulting in overreach. Outside of public awareness, I don’t know what a good solution to this problem would look like.

  • It’s simply unimaginable to me, the degree of coldness and inhumanity necessary to fire several shots into a vehicle for no valid reason, then drive away like nothing happened, spend the night at a hotel, see on television that you killed someone and feel nothing, then pack up and leave town as if the entire thing never happened. I can only hope that Dunn never draws another free breath, because he is a true danger to society.

  • Very well said Mr. Simon, and while I agree with you on the major points you make, I have trouble with one of the paragraphs you use to support your argument, on a couple of different levels. Most of your post is based in reason and logic; however I cannot understand your choice to use something as illogical and immoral as the Old Testament to bolster your points. “This is a legal ethos that goes back to the Old Testament, to Genesis itself and Abraham pleading to a just God: “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked?” And God, of course, finding validity and honor in the argument, agrees to spare even a Sodom or a Gomorrah if a righteous minority might be found.” My first issue with using the Old Testament or any revealed religion to make a reasonable argument is that revealed religion is so rife with illogical notions that it weakens the overall logic, reason, and common sense of the points one is trying to make. My second is issue is that the Bible is filled with such immorality it is sickening. This is a “book” that says slavery, rape, and genocide are acceptable actions as long as they are sanctioned by some cruel, arrogant, self-obsessed deity. What kind of “just God” tells his most loyal follower to kill his son just to see if he will do it? What kind of “just God” destroys a city because they like butt sex? Most historians believe Sodom and Gomorrah are fictional places so “God” did not destroy them, but let us assume he did. Were there no children in these cities when they were destroyed by this righteous “God”? Were they also guilty of the “crimes” of their parents? What about the many slaves in these ancient cities, are they judged guilty just like the children for something they have no control over? My third issue is that the partial impetus for these “stand your grand laws” and other beliefs of conservatives is very much rooted in revealed religion, in this case the Judeo-Christian tradition. Southern slave holders used their religion to justify their actions, demoting human beings to the level of property. While African-American are no longer considered property, that mind set has morphed into a belief that one’s private property is more important that the life of a perceived inferior people. This justification is rooted in the Old Testament, as well as most religions. All that being said, I wish to reiterate that I completely agree with your premise and that this is a tragedy; and this criminal needs to be charged immediately. It’s just that one paragraph has been stuck in my brain like a splinter all day while I was at work and I had to respond and get it out as soon as I had a chance. Also I am sorry if attacking someone’s religion appears as ad hominem, but it is not, I am attacking a part of your argument.

    • Thanks. But with regard to your concern about the Biblical cite, you’re overthinking it, honestly.

      I’m not quoting the Old Testament because I am the least bit theological, but merely as a historical point. I’m merely pointing out that a core value in the Western ethos even predates our common law — that our earliest moral codes have readily conceded that for the sake of not sacrificing an innocent, we are willing to allow the guilty to go free. This value is expressed in the common law adage that it is better for a hundred guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be imprisoned.

      I don’t know if that is the operant ratio in the American judicial system, or even a practical one. But the sentiment and the argument is admirable. And the origins of that high valuation of innocent life go back to the origins of Judeo-Christian thought. It’s a historical cite. Nothing more.

  • Are you aware of the shooting death of John T Williams by Seattle cop Ian Birk? Birk was allowed to resign and did not face any criminal charges. Practically speaking I think that qualifies as carte blanche to kill. Video of the incident is available on YouTube, so you can form your own judgement.

  • The wild west never died. Truly scary.

    It may not be a gun control debate but it’s closely related, what with guns being the weapon of choice and perhaps the only weapon that a person could justify (however weakly) the use of deadly force. Were Zimmerman or any other hero to use a knife or hammer or even his hands, the perceived violence and aggression would get him sent down. It’s the cold banality of pulling a trigger which allows this law to be so deadly.

  • Brilliant as always, I like how you hit on the hypocritical nature of not accepting responsibility for the crime. There are already laws protecting individuals who protect themselves. Florida is destroying itself with this asinine overreaching(or under i suppose) law meant to be used a political cannon fodder. I find it no coincidence that in both the Treyvon Martin case and this one the individual committing the the act was standing “his” ground, only after provoking the victims.

  • I am surprised that you applaud the decision to make sure the old dude in Baltimore didn’t do any time in prison, given that he intentionally murdered someone with premeditation.

    What is the moral calculus under which it was just that he did no time? Because he was old? Because he was sick of petty theft? Because he was honest and polite to the cops?

    I don’t get it.

    • Real world calculations by prosecutors living in the real world.

      This man was unlikely to be convicted of anything more than manslaughter by a Baltimore jury — and a veteran prosecutor would understand that. The average juror, upon hearing that the victim was trespassing and was shot while engaged in a vehicular theft, is probably not going to convict on even second-degree murder charges — especially when the defendant is an aged homeowner. And it’s possible that an acquittal could have resulted.

      Given that reality, getting a manslaughter conviction and a term of probation and suspended sentence is entirely practical. The term of probation could prohibit possession of a firearm and putting a suspended sentence over the defendant means that any further violation could result in jail time.

      If the purpose is retribution, then it is indeed a mild sentence. If the purpose is to send a message to the community that a defense of property over human life is unacceptable and to make sure this defendant never so acts again, then the plea was successful. But make no mistake: A jury hearing the facts of the case might likely decide to acquit regardless of the legal perameters, feeling that the trespass and theft was provocation enough. Everything is a calculation when you take a plea or go to trial.

  • As a resident of Baltimore and a former resident of southern states I don’t understand how these laws and this state of being can be considered anything less than modern-day lynching. It’s horrifying.

    • Well, that’s simply parallel structure, given that the drug war and the resulting prison-industrial complex has made us the jailingest nation on the planet — and largely by feeding people of color into the gulag. If stand-your-ground is legalized lynching, then the drug war is a legalized return to Jim Crow. All credit to Michelle Alexander for that insight, of course.

  • I am wandering a bit off topic, but hope you’ll forgive the trespass. David (and everyone here), have you ever seen the documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0307197/) . The movie is amazingly powerful, and puts Florida’s “justice system” under the microscope. Here’s a better summary from Amazon: “The Academy Award-winning documentary Murder on a Sunday Afternoon, which originally aired on HBO as part of its America Undercover series, is a troubling look at modern police investigation that unfolds in a story as compelling and suspenseful as any fictional drama.” Well worth the watch.

  • Too often the discussion gets hung up on the 2nd Amendment when the studies regarding access and the rate of homicide are inconclusive. The attitudes within the society look like the determining factor and laws like Stand Your Ground and other property laws, in my opinion, do have a direct relation to homicides.

    Deadly force should not be taught as a viable option even in self-defence. Your story illustrates how the use of deadly force in defense of property has created the idea that a person does not have to be threatened for them to feel justified in using deadly force.

    One thing I disagree with in the press article is the idea that the police are better equipped through training to handle these situations. I think that’s unrealistic and it really comes down to the individual. It’s also unfair to the officers when someone is killed who turns out to be unarmed because the reaction from the public is “But they are trained!”. You can train people to react under stress but I don’t think you can train them to identify when that reaction is needed in anything but obvious situations.

  • I second that bravo. And what’s it going to take for us to take a humble look at our horror show? A middle class suburban white person killed. Or a pretty blond white child. And if the person hiding behind the “stand your ground” law is a person of color? Things will change fast enough to make your head spin.

    It’s so sad to me the way our racism is right before our eyes yet so well obfuscated. I’m sure if someone hasn’t done so with the original publication of this, you’ll soon be accused of playing the race card.

    Thank you, as always, for speaking out on behalf of sanity.
    Katie Ford Hall

    • Thanks. This isn’t a gun-control debate and I’m glad you see that. This is an argument about the responsibility of individuals and the use of lethal force in a nation of laws. When gun-rights advocates attempt to codify the senseless and irresponsible use of firearms and to diminish the legal sanctions against manslaughter and murder, then the argument for private firearms possession is not strengthened. Quite the opposite.

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