A memorial to Trayvon Martin outside The Retreat at Twin Lakes community where Trayvon was shot by George Michael Zimmerman on March 23, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. (Getty Images/Mario Tama)
A month to the day since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, more questions remain than have been answered. A community and a nation wait for the investigation to unfold. At the heart of the tragedy, is a law that many Americans have become familiar with since the national spotlight shifted to what happened on a rainy day in February.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, which grants immunity to anyone who uses deadly force, inside or outside their home, if they can reasonably claim to have been defending themselves, is the reason George Zimmerman is not behind bars.
The 2005 law has come under scrutiny by opponents who say it is responsible for the death of an innocent young man. High-profile Florida Senator Marco Rubio supported the law as a state legislator. He says it’s a positive step that the Justice Department has launched an investigation, but is preaching caution when it comes to the law.
“Let’s let the Justice Department go in — these are professionals, they’ll know what they’re looking for — before people rush to judgment on whether a change in law is (necessary),” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I voted for it and I think there is rationale behind it but we have no idea whether that applies at all in this case,” he said. “I think that’s very important to understand.”
Representative Luis R. Garcia, Jr., a Democrat, says “Stand Your Ground” should either be overhauled or completely scrapped.
“Since the law was enacted there have been several cases of people following their attackers to practically execute them,” he says.
During the period between 2005 and 2010, self defense or “justifiable homicide” deaths nearly tripled compared to the period from 2000 to 2004.
“The NRA (National Rifle Association) and the Tea Party are running amok in our state,” Garcia says, adding that laws permitting guns in parks, in the Capitol and in the parking lot of someone’s workplace have been passed in recent years. “The cherry on top of the cake is they also reduced the cost of the fee to pay for a gun license.”
Republican Representative Ana Rivas Logan, of Miami-Dade, says the “Stand Your Ground” law is about protecting possible victims.
“The intent of the law is to give victims a way to defend themselves in an aggressive situation,” she says. “Before this law — the criminals had all the rights. They could come to your home, vandalize your home, rape your wife, pilfer your home and you had no rights to defend yourself.”
Nonetheless, Logan says in this particular instance, something went wrong. She says the situations described by Garcia – where a victim chases an attacker and kills them – would be a misuse of the law. She says this happened with Zimmerman as well.
“An innocent person was killed who did not deserve to die,” she says. “The individual misused the law, that’s what this appears to be.”
Garcia says the law is only being looked at now because of the outcry over the circumstances of Trayvon’s death.
“If there wasn’t public uproar, this would be another African-American teenager taken for a hoodlum, who was killed,” he says.
“Geraldo Rivera said something about his hoodie but no one has the right to take another human life because of the way they look.”