Saturday, March 24, 2012

Insanity in the American Criminal Justice System

The murder of 17-year-old Travyon Martin has lead me to question the difference between the intent and application of laws in my country.

I don't own a television set for a very good reason: TV makes me angry.

Today I was with someone who does own a television, watching McLaughlin Group together.  And one of the stories infuriated me.

The case involves two issues: first, a law whose intent I largely agree with.  Second, an application of the law that I feared.

The law in question is Florida's "stand your ground" law, which includes:

"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and 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."

I remember when this law was passed.  

As a woman and a gun owner, I do agree with the spirit of the law.  I like the idea that a rapist might want to think twice about attacking me because I am free to defend myself if I feel threatened.

However, even at the time I remember saying "What I'm worried about is that this will be less 'stand your ground,' and more 'scared white person justifying shooting an innocent black man.'"

The case of Travyon Martin is far worse than I ever imagined.

According to the 911 tape played on the McLaughlin Group (not available yet online, McLaughlin Group here), George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Martin, called 911 during the event.

What did he say?  He didn't say "help, a young man is stalking me."  He didn't say "A man is carrying a gun."

What he did say was that he was following a young African American man.  And the operator on 911 told him to stop.

How there can even remotely be a debate about this case is beyond me.  Zimmerman deserves a fair trial, but he hasn't even been arrested.

Zimmerman, by all appearances from the 911 call, stalked and shot a young man in cold blood.

If anyone had a "right to stand their ground," it was the 17 year old teenager being stalked by a creepy, fat 28-year-old weirdo.

But the police are saying that Zimmerman (who is white), was merely defending himself against the unarmed (black) Martin.

This is ludicrous.  This is like saying that Dennis Rader the BTK was merely "standing his ground."

But the country isn't paying attention.  Why?  Is it people like Al Sharpton who, honestly, cry "wolf" about racism so often that when these real problems come up they're ignored?  Is it because the case is too complicated for the short attention span of an ADD-riddled American populace?  Is it not "sexy" because it's a poor black teenager in Florida?

In my opinion, this should be a major issue of public debate, both on the issue of racism and what happened as well as on the ideals of law vs. how law is applied.

I'm utterly sickened by it.


  1. You know this story ticked me off. But Florida law enforcement HATES this law, because, unlike some of the similar laws, it doesn't allow for arrest of the shooter except in limited circumstances. It's bad law.

    1. Yeah, I think that's the one, 100% here: "Stand Your Ground" is pretty stupid.

      I'm getting frustrated because this is getting like other famous cases - Jon Benet, Casey Anthony, etc. - where the news gives conflicting reports and it becomes a Rorschach in the public about "what really happened." Preconceived notions will influence perception.

      I think something that might be hugely helpful is a large-scale statistical analysis of these cases and where they're applied.

      I think it's like the death penalty: in each case it's really hard to show it's racist/sexist/etc., but when you have huge numbers of cases the picture becomes pretty clear.

  2. Re: you last paragraph - that's how Major League Baseball figured it out. It wasn't the specific decision of picking a manager that was racist, it was the record of having few minority managers. So now a team HAS to interview - not necessarily hire - a minority candidate. Surprise! More minority managers!

  3. What's "more"? Six I guess is "more," but in 2006 it was what, one?

    Also honestly have a whole thing about "If ability to play has nothing to with being a manager, why are there no women managers?"

    Anyways, in my end of the universe, the sports thing is a bit of a sore spot. The whole "Bugger you, I like women's soccer. Why would I want to watch a sport I've played like twice (e.g. football)? Why would I want to read a book written by a male athlete on how to train?" I do, but I wish there were more good "I'm a runner/soccer player and here's how I train and eat" by women.

    Anyways... a person comes off as an angry feminist type if they say stuff like that...