home
RSS
My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill
The author says Florida legislators who supported the state's "stand your ground" law are responsible for Trayvon Martin's killing.
March 28th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill

Editor’s note: Edward L. Queen II directs the D. Abbot Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.

By Edward L. Queen II, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The true architects of the Trayvon Martin killing not only will not go unpunished, they also will go unnamed.

Those who created the conditions for Martin’s killing - those who, one might say, invited it - were the Florida legislators who voted for a law that undid not only decades of positive law regarding self-defense but also centuries of legal tradition.

In promoting “stand your ground” laws, self-proclaimed conservatives become grossly irresponsible radicals, drastically and dramatically undoing centuries of accumulated wisdom in their evisceration of the traditional formulation of self-defense.

They rip apart the traditional understanding of the legitimate use of deadly force in self-defense and invite people to kill.

Traditionally, the law understood deadly force to be justified in self-protection only when an individual reasonably believed that its use was necessary to prevent imminent and unlawful use of deadly force by the aggressor. Much of the tradition also argued that deadly force, outside of one’s immediate home, was not justified if a nondeadly response, such as retreating to a safe place, would suffice.

In adopting its "stand your ground" law in 2005 (officially Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013) the Florida Legislature, along with 20 other states with similar laws, both expanded the understanding of when deadly force is acceptable and eliminated the duty to retreat.

Florida’s law in particular remade the very nature of self-defense, turning what had been an “affirmative defense” into a presumption of innocence.

Before the passage of these “stand your ground laws,” most jurisdictions in the United States required one to demonstrate that one was acting in self-defense, that one had been attacked, that one reasonably feared for one’s life and that it was reasonable to use deadly force to protect oneself.

Unfortunately, Florida’s law expressly presumes that the individual using deadly force in self-defense had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. It also immunizes the individual from arrest or even being detained in custody, hence the failure of the police to arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting Martin.

One can only be shocked at this law’s idiocy. It is, simply, an invitation to kill.

Under the “stand your ground” law, any liar who kills someone and can concoct a reasonably plausible story cannot be arrested by the police or even taken in for questioning. Lest one think the Martin case is exceptional, justifiable homicide/self-defense claims have tripled since the law’s adoption, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The law also places police officers in a difficult situation; the killer’s story often cannot be contradicted because the person in the best position to challenge it is in no position to do so. That individual is dead - silent and cold.

That many people, including the legislators who authored the Florida legislation, have said the facts, as they emerged later, suggest that Zimmerman may not have acted in self-defense changes nothing.

The problem with the law is that, absent the outcry that followed, the facts would not have emerged. Unable to arrest and question the killer and to pursue the case, police find themselves in a situation where they are prevented from gathering the facts.

This structural limitation is exacerbated by the biases and prejudices that the officers bring with them regarding race, age, gender and criminality, to name just a few.

In their thoughtless attempts to undo the wisdom of centuries, extremists in the Florida Legislature went out of their way, if not to legalize murder, at least to decriminalize it. Each legislator who supported the law had a hand in Trayvon Martin’s killing and perhaps others.

With its craven attempt to garner votes by purportedly expanding individuals’ abilities to protect themselves, the Florida Legislature has made all of us targets and each of us a potential victim.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward L. Queen II.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Florida • Opinion • Race

soundoff (870 Responses)
  1. c

    Also, I dont believe for a minute any of the posts on here that are racial vomit are real. I believe they are a bunch of bull in order to stir things up.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  2. c

    Two things happened that night. Zimmerman was on watch and wrongly brought his weapon. I believe he wanted to act the hero and catch the person or persons responsible for the 8 break ins in the neighborhood. Trayvon was someone they didnt recognize and it was pouring rain. Too much adrenaline on both parts. I believe there was no racial profiling, the profiling was " we have had break ins and I dont recognize you from the neighborhood and you are acting shady in the rain' But, the Jacksons and Sharptons who are capitalizing on this should be ashamed of themselves. They are never down here in New Orleans trying to help the massive black on black crime, and daily murders. What about Detroit? If they are concerned about the young black kid today they should be in those places. Not blowing a crime out of proportion to advance their agenda

    April 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  3. t-bone

    Black people suffer from comprehension problems.
    Its the only theory i can come up with.
    How on earth else can they keep making stuff up and trying to spew it as facts.
    Facts like: when the 911 dispatcher told zimmerman that he didnt need to follow him, black people keep on saying that he continued to follow him and then confronted trayvon. however, if the black folk could read, they would have see that when the dispatcher said that, he turned around and went back to his car. The incident happened right there at his car. How do you suppose that happened? it happened because poor little Trayvon had to prove how much of a bad a$$ thug he was and he went after zimmerman to teach him a lesson.
    Bottom line: Trayvon got himself killed by going after the wrong person.
    I wish every person carried a weapon, then all the little thugs could be in the ground where they belong.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  4. Jay

    Black guy gets shot and is unarmed after he beats down a white guy who challenged why he was hanging around looking in windows. The kid should still be alive if he never pulled a deadly weapon...end of story. Yes this did bring racism to the forefront...some of it was a bit of an over-reaction though.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Martin

      strong 6" 1" athletic guy with two deadly weapons,( fists for punch, and hands to bash skull on pavement,) gets killed when 5" 9" guy finally shoots the big guy who is on top of him attemping to kill him.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • t-bone

      you can die of a crushed skull just as quickly as a bullet wound.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • t-bone

      the only thing that changed that day is that we got another ticking timebomb off the streets.
      The kid was already in a downward spiral and now he doesnt get to take someone out with him.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  5. Martin

    Martin, a strong athlete at 6' 1", made a wreckless spur of the moment decision to attack the much smaller 5' 9" Zimmerman. This is why Zimmerman acted within his legal right to stop Maritn from bashing his skull. The press really painted such a false picture as a young 14 yr. old kid walking along eating candy getting snipered by a crazed neighborhood watch white guy. Shame on the press.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • REALITY

      My Brother, My Brother,
      As a WHITE American living in America, my fear and hatred of BLACK Americans is so paramount, that I must embrace every opportunity to inject my venom of stupidity and ignorance, regarding the reality of RACIAL PROFILING in America. As a coward, I hide anonymously in my home, concealing my face behind my computer, that I may impart my innermost darkness and evil of RACISM upon society. Sometimes when hanging out with the boys...the KKK that is, I feel somewhat empowered as we hide underneath our HOODIES....oops, I mean HOODS. Even while wearing my costume, I still find it hard to escape the cowardly person that I am. What a miserable life I have, never really having understood who I am, or my worth. You see, my parents raise me to believe that I was superior then people of color. But DANG BLASTED @#%...the more I live, the more I realized that people of color are not only my equal, but in most cases, more educated, innovative, talented and skilled than I. Please understand that my ignorance of hate towards people of color was handed down from my parents. Hopefully I will not spend the rest of my life in gross darkness and ignorance. Maybe one day I will face my fears of black people, enabling me to embrace justice for all people, that I may live in peace, harmony and REALITY with all of humanity.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • J.W

      Zimmerman was bigger than Martin as far as weight is concerned. How do you know that Martin is stronger?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  6. REALITY

    As a WHITE American living in America, my fear and hatred of BLACK Americans is so paramount, that I must embrace every opportunity to inject my venom of stupidity and ignorance, regarding the reality of RACIAL PROFILING in America. As a coward, I hide anonymously in my home, concealing my face behind my computer, that I may impart my innermost darkness and evil of RACISM, upon society. Sometimes when hanging out with the boys...the KKK that is, I feel somewhat empowered as we hide underneath our HOODIES....oops, I mean HOODS. Even while wearing my costume, I still find it hard to escape the cowardly person that I am. What a miserable life I have, never really having understood who I am, or my worth. You see, my parents raise me to believe that I was superior then people of color. But DANG BLASTED @#%...the more I live, the more I realized that people of color are not only my equal, but in most cases, more educated, innovative, talented and skilled than I. Please understand that my ignorance of hate towards people of color was handed down from my parents. Hopefully I will not spend the rest of my life in gross darkness and ignorance. Maybe one day I will face my fears of black people, enabling me to embrace justice for all people, that I may live in peace, harmony and REALITY with all of humanity.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  7. rita krishna

    then Zimmerman needs to prove that he needed to stand his ground. and when this cannot be proven then it becomes a senseless killing

    April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Martin

      the nose injury from the punch, the head injury from having his head bashed on the pavement, his screams for help verified by an eye wittness, are proof enough. As last resort he shot his attacker who was on top of him trying to bash his head in and take away his weapon. RIP

      April 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • c

      Rita, how do you know what is going on behind the scenes, all you have is what you see on tv and read in the paper. Dont try a person based on speculation

      April 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  8. malick

    If i have a problem with someone, all i have to do is move down to Florida, provoke him so he can land the first punch then just shoot him.... Really, what a stupid and coward like law

    April 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • t-bone

      so, youre just going to ignore the haed smashing on the sidewalk?
      this is the ignorance im talking about.
      You people keep acting like this was just no big deal.
      TRAYVON WAS ATTEMPTING TO KILL HIM.
      What part of a crushed skull = death dont you comprehend?
      Get a grip on reality.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  9. whatIsay

    Well as I see it. This is not justifiable. We have not even seen Zimmerman to see a broken nose. Why? Why if he is not under arrest has he not shown himself. Why because his good old daddy told him what to say and is hiding him out. It wasn't Zimmermans' voice that I heard screaming. That was clearly the voice of a 17 year old boy. And to think was he yelling for help because that ass hole was pointing the gun at him? and did Travon lunge forward to defend himself and Zimmerman shot? He probably if at all broke his own nose. He did not even try to see if the boy was alive. Please, he should be arrested. This was NOT self defense. And if you believe that you are just as dangerous as Zimmerman.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  10. kathy

    ZIMMERMAN HAD NO UNFORM ON IF WAS NOT SEEN AS ANY THING BUT A MAN LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

    April 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • c

      Were you there? Do you know what he said to Trayvon before the scuffle? Do you know what Trayvon said to him? Do you know if Zimmerman decided to take the 911 operators advice and head back to his vehicle and was jumped by Trayvon? Do you know if Zimmerman tried in vain not to use his weapon? You do not have all of the facts

      April 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  11. kathy

    did zimmerman father work in VA COURT

    April 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  12. Mike

    Doesn't the law state that you cannot be the aggressor? So the real question is simply was Zimmerman the aggressor in this situation. Despite the initial race baiting from the media coverage, the more and more that comes out seems to be showing that the case is not as clear cut as everyone thought. Yes, Zimmerman followed Martin but then the story gets fuzzy. Zimmerman says he lost Martin and then Martin confronted him as he was walking back to the car. And even if Zimmerman did catch up to Martin and start questioning him, is that legally aggressive behavior? The true aggressor in my opinion is whoever throw the first punch in the actual altercation that led to the shooting.

    That point is impossible to prove one way or the other so legally I don't see how Zimmerman would ever be convicted. Neither could the DA and that is why no charges are pending. It's a tragic event and Zimmerman might indeed be the monster that the court of public opinion has already judged him to be but in an actual court of law you have to have prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone. Our system is built this way because as a society we put so much stock in freedom and would rather have a guilty person walk than send an innocent person to jail.

    April 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • rita krishna

      under this law Zimmerman has to prove that he had to stand his ground so how can he win this case his ownself if he cannot prove that he had to stand his ground.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • c

      The police officers said Zimmermans jacket was wet and had grass stains on the back. Indicating he was on the ground. The enhanced video shows two significant gashes on the back of his head. He didnt get those after Trayvon was shot? So when did that happen? It had to have happened before. If Zimmerman wanted to just shoot Trayvon, why wait until Trayvon was on top of him punching him in the nose? It sounds like he yelled first, he would have not yelled before the gun shot if he wanted to shoot Trayvon then yell to claim self defense.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  13. Political Gods

    repeal my state of Florida(s) stand your ground fun law, NOW.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  14. CommonSense

    Let's see: the law's been in place for 7 years, 20 million residents, 80 million + tourists annually and this is the FIRST incident? Seems to me that the law is actually pretty well written. And no, it isn't a license to kill. One cannot be the aggressor and claim protection under this law (it's VERY specific). Perhaps telling the truth, instead of trying to advance your agenda through rhetoric, would be more productive.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mark Devenney

      This law invites people to "legally" kill minorities. Al the person has to do is claim self-defense. Crazy. Zimmermann should fry for what he done.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Martin

      the police facts and eye witness accout indicated Martin was the agressor in the acutal attack. Martin made a foolish move to smack down Zimmerman and try to take his weapon and smash his skull. That's why he was found face down.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  15. Chandler

    This has Duke LaCross Case written all over it.

    At first Zimmerman is described as a White Man, Then he is described as a Light Skinned Hispanic then he is described as Hispanic as a way to drive this case into a white black thing. Even when Blacks are killing each other of Air Jordons.

    I have no idea why people are not looking at only one side.....everyone is saying that Justice must be served. I think when the facts come out the 6 foot 3 black MAN got his Justice that night.

    April 4, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • BRan

      can you try that again in english?

      April 4, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Mark Devenney

      You are a racist fool. Go join the KKK idiot

      April 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  16. Zaphod

    As written and interpreted the Florida "Stand Your Ground Law" is close to a "License to Kill". Everyone has the right to self-defense, but self-defense cannot be preemptive.

    April 3, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • CommonSense

      The law is very clear: you cannot be the aggressor and claim protection under this law.

      April 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Libby

      Yes, but you can LIE about it and say you weren't and it is basically your word against... NO ONE unless there were witnesses.

      April 4, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  17. Pig in a Poke

    a bit better than an invitation to get your beat off the sidewalk and die wouldn't you say Mr. Queen.

    April 3, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  18. Justice for All

    Queeny you are totally wrong. Personally, if I didn't like the law I would try to change it. Here you have a guy volunteering his time to protect his neighborhood. Now I would be very skeptical about going out at night, knowing there is a law like this and there are armed people protecting my neighborhood. So I think Tavons parents should have taught him better and been more aware of the surrounding situation and the law.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • gocart mozart

      Your name is meant ironically I assume.

      April 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  19. getoffthebandwagon

    Queen, Americans have EVERY right to defend themselves, the ones they love, and their property. Or have you conveniently forgotten one of our freedoms – the right to bear arms?

    People, what is wrong with you?? Why is everyone giving up their rights. Are you crazy or just stupid?!

    April 3, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • gocart mozart

      It would seem that Trayvon Martin should have had a gun in order to defend himself.

      April 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  20. TheRegulator

    Mr Queen, you're insane. They hire people like this to write stories? No wonder this country is going to sh!t.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • MarineVet

      TheRegulator, you gain absolutely zero credibility with your infantile name-calling. It's always the first refuge for the weak-minded.

      April 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • TheRegulator

      MarineVet, I'm not attempting to gain credibility...so I guess I got you on that one? Infantile name-calling...really? Calling someone insane is categorized as infantile? I don' think I've ever heard a child use the word "insane." Refuge for the weak-minded...you don't even have a clue who I am. I could be Stephen Hawking or Michio Kaku for all you know.

      I'm simply making a statement that this author has no idea what he is talking about and his opinions are baseless. YOU as a veteran should understand this more than anyone. If someone is on top of you beating your head against the pavement - AND you are legally carrying a concealed weapon...are you telling me that you would not use that weapon to stop the threat against your life?

      This law does not give citizens an invitation to kill - it gives them an invitation to save their own lives without having to worry about being prosecuted for it. The author of this article leads the readers to believe that people are now killing other innocent people just because of this law.

      Bottom Line:
      Regardless of the laws and the place, if my life is being threatened and I have the ability to stop that threat...you better believe I'm going to!

      April 4, 2012 at 11:04 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.