I figure all my U.S. readers know that, last night, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black, 17-year-old who was walking home through a gated community after buying Skittles candy and a watermelon-flavored drink. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, argued that he shot the teen in self-defense, even though Zimmerman was the one who initiated a confrontation by following Martin despite a police dispatcher saying, “Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” during a call Zimmerman placed to 911.
Even if you know all that, you might have missed the article that ProPublica (MrB’s organization) published in March 2012 about the “Stand Your Ground” law that worked in Zimmerman’s favor. It explains:
“Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a ‘duty to retreat’ from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can ‘stand your ground’ outside your home, too.”
“The ultimate intent might be good, but in practice, people take the opportunity to shoot first and say later they had a justification. It almost gives them a free pass to shoot.”
According to Slate, the kind of law that doesn’t require a person to retreat from a confrontation was originally seen as a boon to female domestic-violence victims, who might have no safe place even within their own homes. In reality, a Florida woman named Marissa Alexander — who invoked the “Stand Your Ground” law — was last year sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she claimed was a warning shot into a wall during a confrontation with her abusive husband. The prosecutor of that case — the same Angela Corey who prosecuted Zimmerman — argued that Alexander shot directly at her husband, endangering the lives of his two sons as she did so. One thing there’s no disputing is that no one was injured or killed in that incident, unlike the Zimmerman case, in which there is a dead teenager.
ProPublica wrote about five notable “Stand Your Ground” cases. They include this one from January 2012:
“…a judge in Miami tossed out a second-degree murder charge against Greyston Garcia after he chased a suspected burglar for more than a block and stabbed him to death. The judge decided the stabbing was justified because the burglar had swung a bag of stolen car radios at Garcia – an object that a medical examiner at a hearing testified could cause ‘serious harm or death.‘ The judge found Garcia was ‘well within his rights to pursue the victim and demand the return of his property.'”
Twenty-four other states have “Stand Your Ground” laws. ProPublica lists them here. You’ll probably want to memorize that list so that you’ll know in which states people can claim that chasing you down is part of a self-defense strategy.
In much lighter news, on Friday the Wall Street Journal published a good interview with my main pimp, Ice-T. “Hip hop now is pop music,” says Ice, who is working on a new album as well as promoting a new documentary. The movie, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, is about Robert Beck, “a criminal in 1930s Chicago who turned his life around and published his memoirs in the late 1960s.” Ice-T’s own name is a tribute to Iceberg Slim. Ice-T’s name also happens to be a symbol of one of my finest moments at the Wall Street Journal, where I was employed in the early ’90s. I single-handedly saved the paper from the embarrassment of referring to the rapper-turned-actor (and husband of my obsession, Coco) as “Iced-Tea” in a headline. Please, hold your applause.
While I was writing this and thinking of both the too-short life of Trayvon Martin and the 1990s Wall Street Journal, I remembered a wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning story that ran in the Journal while I worked there, about a kid who, at the time, was just a year younger than Travyon was when he was killed. This story has a happy ending but I warn you that you might cry anyway while reading Ron Suskind’s 1994 feature about Cedric Jennings, a black 16-year-old from a violent Washington, D.C., high school who dreamed of going to a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He made it, but it was tough going. While he wasn’t accepted by M.I.T. for college later, he got into the Ivy League, graduating from Brown University.The full story of that educational odyssey is told in Suskind’s 1998 book, A Hope in the Unseen. After graduating from Brown in 1999, Jennings earned master’s degrees from both Harvard and the University of Michigan. The Washington Post marked the 10th anniversary of the book’s publication by catching up with Jennings and Suskind in this story. Jennings is giving back: the District of Columbia Youth Advisory Council website says he has served since 2008 as the director of the Council’s Office of Youth Programs.
If that’s not enough reading for you, here’s what was on the blog this week.
- Monday: A Stephen Sprouse jacket and a David Bowie exhibit.
- Monday: Justluxe.com did a long interview with me.
- Tuesday: Read my Huffington Post story about singer Amy Gerhartz.
- Tuesday: Want to be on the Huffington Post yourself? Send me photos of your sandals.
- Thursday: Madonna was a leader in the fight against AIDS.
- Friday: Wearing new shorts.